October 23, 2011

All Japan celebrates their thirty-ninth anniversary by opening their doors to take on the world! Wrestlers from NOAH, Big Japan, DDT, and even AAA come out of the woodwork with their sights set on taking All Japan gold back to their home promotion.

Takumi Soya . . . looks years beyond his experience level in making a throwaway trios match fun to watch.

Masayuki Kono . . . puts on a very respectable showing against one of the shootstyle pioneers.

Jun Akiyama . . . finally wins the Triple Crown ten years after everyone initially expected it to happen.


Much like the junior trios match from June, this mostly exists to let BUSHI show off his stuff. The three veterans hold themselves back, and Yamato may as well not even be there, all he does is a single spear early in the match. BUSHI's flying is clearly the centerpiece of the match, and while he wasn't nearly as impressive, BLACK BUSHI looked good too. It'd have been nice to see Yamato get used more, even just for BLACK BUSHI to abuse and build to a hot tag to BUSHI. The exchanges between BUSHI and BLACK BUSHI are the best things of the match, although BUSHI finished him with the Firebird splash a bit too easily. The only thing lacking was a real sense of hate between them.


Even though this is the first Takumi match I've seen, I'm already sad that he was forced to retire due to injuries. Most rookies don't show anything in these types of matches, they're just pieces of meat to get killed by the veterans. Not Takumi! He takes quite a beating from Omori and Kea, but manages to get in just the right spot to keep you from counting him out completely. It's certain that he's not going to be winning the match for his team or anything, but he shows enough promise that it seems like a fair bet to say he won't be losing. He definitely doesn't look like someone who'd only been wrestling for nine months. There's not much else to see here, Fuchi and Nishimura have some fun with a head scissors sequence, and Omori and Kea are the grumpy vets. And MAZADA is pretty much only there to eat the fall from Kea’s TKO.


This is the first match that's completely skippable, unless super heavyweights throwing their weight around is what someone is into. There's really nothing for Doering to do except for the assist he gives toward the end with the big lariat, and blocking Akebono from making the save after Big Daddy hits the splash. Big Daddy looks like he actually slimmed down quite a bit from his time in the WWE as Big Daddy V, or maybe working alongside Akebono and Hama just make him look slimmer. But yeah, 'Bono, Hama, and Daddy are big guys and use their size and weight to their advantage in the ways you'd expect.


First Kono tears down the house with Suwama during the Carnival, and now there's this gem. It's nowhere nearly as good, overall, as the Suwama match, but it's a boatload of fun. Instead of playing the new bad ass heel on the block, Kono falls back on his legit background, and gives Funaki all he can handle. It's a million miles away from their mediocre Champions Carnival match. Kono takes Funaki by surprise being ready to fight right out of the gate, and forcing Funaki to get extra nasty (such as Funaki trying to hammer Kono's head into the mat to secure the armbar) to stay alive in the match. Kono shows he's done his homework by using a backdrop suplex to escape the sleeper, and shows he's able to stand toe-to-toe and trade strikes with Funaki. Funaki finally downs him with his head kick, but it looks more like a lucky shot than the death blow.


On the whole, this is really more of a graduation for Sanada and Soya than it is a loss for them. They were both ready to become contenders for the World Tag Titles, and they can't become #1 when they're too busy being #2. It helps that they'd worked a lot with the BJPW team because it lets them drop the match without risking any credibility, which isn't a given with any other team. This has some of the same issues with their title switch in June, namely that it takes some time for them to find their grove, and Sanada (while an improvement over June) still takes a backseat to Soya in pretty much every aspect.

The BJPW team looks much better here as the jerk outsiders. Okabayashi takes a cheap shot at Soya on the apron to let them double team Sanada early on, and when Soya gets his marbles together they hit him with their double German suplex to take him back out. They light up both of the AJPW boys with extra stiff chops and lariat shots, and look like they're trying to put Sanada in a wheelchair with the assault on his back, constantly taking turns body slamming him, and it pays off with how hot the crowd gets when Sekimoto locks Sanada in a crab hold. The only real weak moment of the match is right afterwards, Sanada gets out of the hold and does a Flair flip when getting whipped to the corner and follows with a springboard dropkick. Sanada hot tags Soya right after that and he's just about perfect. Because Soya is such a beast, he's able to give and take just as big a shot as either of the Big Japan guys, and he shows off his own power with his dead lift vertical suplex and catching Okabayashi with a DVD.

The last third or so of the match has taking turns feel to it, both teams bust out some nice stuff, but it's rather easy for either team to take advantage. Again, Sanada comes off like the weak link, even though he's supposed to be the team captain. The big sequence out of the AJPW team is a frankensteiner from Sanada, followed by a diving lariat from Soya and the standing moonsault from Sanada for a near fall. The problem is that the standing moonsault has already proven to not be a successful move for him. While Soya is doing all he can to knock Sekimoto and Okabayashi around the same way they did to them (catching a charging Okabayashi with the DVD was especially nice), Sanada has to fall back on the same spots that didn't have any success before. Even though he drops the fall, the finish puts over Soya as much as possible. Okabayashi hits three big lariat shots and Soya doesn't go down, so Okabayashi just plants him with a powerbomb and drops a big splash to give them their second title reign. If only Sanada had stepped up as much as the other three to make this an improvement over the June match, it might have stolen the show. ***

KAI © vs. KENNY OMEGA (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)

With all the head spiking, I wasn't sure if I was still watching All Japan or if this was actually a NOAH match. I'd expect this from a Kanemaru/Takaiwa match, but these two should be able to do better. The big improvement they have over Kanemaru/Takaiwa is that Omega actually sells the effects of having his bell rung, but that's the extent of it. There's a fun moment early on when Kenny mocks Mutoh and tells the fans that they're number one, and KAI responds by booting him in the face and laying a decent sized beating on him, with a diving foot stomp, some stiff strikes, and a LAT off the apron. KAI's control segment goes for so long, and with KAI no-selling anything Omega tries to start a comeback, that he winds up making Omega the sympathetic one.

It doesn't help that Omega decides to fall back on his overly flashy offense, while KAI is the one whose goal seems to be to hurt Omega as much as possible. They also add in a couple of stupid sequences where KAI blows off a Dragon suplex and spikes Kenny with a German, and Kenny sells that for all of two seconds before jumping back up to give KAI another Dragon suplex. Kenny gets spiked on two separate occasions with a reverse rana, the second being off the ropes, and proceeds to get to his feet and hit a stunner and try the Croyt's Wrath off the top for a near fall. When KAI kicks out, Kenny does a regular Croyt's Wrath (the fourth or fifth one by this point) to finally keep KAI down. It's just like Kanemaru with the brainbuster, only slightly worse because I don't think I've seen him use one off the top for a near fall and then go back to the regular one (or maybe I have and I’ve blocked it from my memory).


The AAA team seemed to try hard, they had a few nice tandem spots and their bumping and selling was very good (Ozz took a slingshot into the corner and seemed to be channeling Curt Hennig), but it was a wasted effort considering who they were working against. Muta is so motivated that he takes a chair to the grapefruits and calmly gets up and walks away. Aside from some decent slaps, I didn't expect anything out of KENSO, and he met expectations. The best thing out of the champions was a nice dive sequence from all four of them, and the two dives from the luchadores were much better. KENSO accidentally slaps Muta and Muta lays him out with mist and a Shining Wizard, and the AAA boys swoop in the pick up the pieces with Ozz finishing KENSO with the Ozz driver (Omega driver/Awful Waffle). Ozz and Cuervo look like a fun act, although it helps that they're a fresh act for All Japan, so it should be interesting to see how they look when working other teams.

SUWAMA © vs. JUN AKIYAMA (Triple Crown)

The last third of the match is the best stretch of it, with both of them trying to dig down deep to win, and finding simple and effective counters to halt the other's momentum. Probably my favorite moment was Akiyama trying to crush Suwama's head with multiple knee strikes, including taking off his knee pad to add to the effect. The only real issues here are the stupid suplex no-sell and pop up sequence they do (the same one that Suwama and Nagata were smart enough to avoid in June), and a couple of questionable things from Suwama, he kills the idea of the Last Ride being his big finisher by thoroughly killing Akiyama, hitting the move, and failing to keep him down. Suwama also gets planted with an Exploder and kicks out at one so that he and Jun can have a big slap exchange and get nowhere. Luckily, that stupidity is counterbalanced with moments like Suwama's counter to the front neck lock, and Akiyama dropping Suwama with a surprise knee strike. Suwama gets a great near fall from a flash inside cradle, and ten years after everyone thought it would happen, Jun Akiyama wins the Triple Crown after digging out the Sternness Dust Alpha when several Exploders and even the Exploder '98 wouldn't keep Suwama down.

The first two-thirds isn't bad or anything, but the pace is rather slow, and it feels like they're taking turns. They have a fun feeling out sequence on the mat, then its Akiyama's turn to have a long control segment with typical Jun offense, and then its Suwama's turn with his typical spots. Sure, Jun's back selling is good during this time, but Jun's back being hurt doesn't lead to anything special. Not that anyone would think Suwama could make Akiyama tap out, but the seed was there for a nice tease. Suwama was lacking the confidence of the company ace that he was showing in other matches with outsiders like Omori and Nagata, although Akiyama is a much more accomplished outsider challenger. If you like seeing heavyweights throwing big bombs at each other, then you won't want to skip this, and it's one of the better Triple Crown matches of the modern era, but it's still below par for the Triple Crown's heyday. ***1/2

Conclusion: Only the super heavyweight tag match and, arguably, the junior title match are skippable. But the rest of this card is the consistent fun that I've come to expect from All Japan. I can definitely recommend picking up this card.