March 20, 2012

KENSO . . . makes a throwaway eight-man tag somewhat watchable, yes, I said that KENSO did that!

Takumi Soya . . . puts on the performance of his career, which, sadly, was already close to being finished.

Seiya Sanada . . . continues to disappoint when he gets a chance to really shine.


While this was fun at times, it never really got out of first gear. Everyone pretty much did their stuff, which was both good and bad. The only ones that really stood out were Raijin, Gillette, and Yamato, Gillette’s flying was impressive, as was Raijin’s mean streak. Yamato stood out for the wrong reasons, because of his goofy no-selling, especially when Tanaka was laying into him with kicks, and his blown spots. Yamato’s ugly dive to the floor kicked off the dive sequence, with Raijin being smart enough to know that he couldn’t pull it off, so he opted to jump from the apron. Everyone else looked fine, with the only real highlight being KAI countering Kaz’s wheelbarrow into a German, but it was obvious they were holding back and letting Raijin and Gillette have the spotlight. The idea seemed to be to show that Raijin was ready to finally make waves, and the way he was kicking around Yamato and KAI showed some truth to that, but he still wound up laying down at the end for Gillette’s SSP, and soon after donned the SUSHI mask.


I’d normally be upset with eight men getting less than eight minutes, but with some of the (lack of) talent in here, it’s probably for the best. Kea and Nishimura have a decent wrestling sequence, highlighted by exchanging bridging snap mares, and then tag out so that Yoshie and Hama can have the battle of the flab. As much as I hate to give KENSO credit for anything, he showed that he can get the crowd to wake up, and proved his craftiness by avoiding some big shots from Akebono. KENSO’s tag to Nakanoue is the sign that the end is near, and while he doesn’t show much for brains, but the kid shows he’s got guts for trying to unload on ‘Bono with typical young lion offense before he gets squashed like a grape. I’d have liked to see what Nakanoue might have had to offer, but with minimal Yoshie and Hama, and an entertaining KENSO, I’ll take what I can.


To no surprise at all, this is a total spot exhibition. But, while SUGI’s spots are the ‘fly around and look pretty’ type, such as the tightrope hurricanrana, Ronin’s are of the “look pretty and kill you type’ like the slingshot senton to the floor, and the double powerbomb spot, where after powerbomb number two, Ronin picks SUGI back up and throws him over his head! Of course, this is SUGI’s return match to All Japan, so he picks up the win with a Dragonrana, but forget about him, I want to see more of Ronin!


As far as structure goes, this isn’t anything too surprising, it’s pretty much how one would expect a match involving the company ace and a relative rookie against an established outsider team. But, being structured in the typical manner isn’t a bad thing in the least. Misawa and Akiyama perfected the concept of the ace being paired with someone far below him back in 1996. What makes this work so well is that, unlike 1996 Akiyama, Takumi isn’t completely useless. Sure, Takumi gets in over his head, and he winds up losing the match for his team, but, he also takes advantage of the help from Suwama to hold his own for a bit against the champions. One of the champions favorite sequences are the dual Argentine Backbreaker, Takumi is at the mercy of the hold, but Suwama finds an escape and then pushes Sekimoto in Okabayashi to free Takumi. Takumi quickly slaps a stretch plum hold on Okabayashi, while Suwama gets his ankle lock on Sekimoto. In a moment’s notice, Takumi went from looking like he was going to lose, to trying to get the win, with Suwama being regulated to keeping the illegal man at bay.

In fact, his whole performance here could basically be seen as a coming out part of sorts. It’s easily the biggest match of his career, challenging for the titles on a Sumo Hall card, and he came to impress. When Okabayashi is lighting him up with chops early on, Takumi’s reaction can only be described as selling while not selling. It’s clear that they’re hurting, but he does his best to fight through it and show the Big Japan team that he won’t just be pushed around. Unlike Yamato in the opening match, it doesn’t look goofy at all, it looks totally plausible. Not to say that this is one person show by any stretch, when he’s in the ring Suwama looks as dominating as you’d expect the company ace to. After seeing them abuse Takumi, it’s fun watching Suwama turn the tables and lay into them with his double chop and throw Okabayashi around with the belly to belly. Suwama’s goal of being the next Jumbo Tsuruta is an obviously lofty one, but matches like this show that he’s easily surpassed Misawa when it comes to working with lower ranked wrestlers and letting them shine, while still remaining strong.

The only thing that this is really lacking in, was a credible near fall for Takumi toward the end. He took the best shots of the Big Japan team and kept fighting back. He survived the Stacked German and the big splash, and stayed alive in the crab hold longer than anyone thought he could, before Suwama could finally break it. But, all he comes back with is a single flash cradle after playing possum. It was a great spot, and woke the crowd up to rally behind the kid, but it would have been nice to follow up with him getting a near fall from a counter or a surprise move from him that Sekimoto didn’t see coming. Considering the finish was a deadlift Germans suplex, Takumi countering an attempted German with a go-behind and German of his own would have worked. Sekimoto could just get to his feet and lariat him to the ground and then do the deadlift to finish him off. Nonetheless, this winds up being an incredible performance, despite the less than stellar finish. Current All Japan often has the stigma of being fun, but not being up to the level of New Japan. But, this is a case where All Japan (and Big Japan) churned out a match worthy of standing alongside some of the better New Japan matches of the year. ***½

KENNY OMEGA © vs. SHUJI KONDO (AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title)

This is the best Kenny Omega match ever! Of course, he’s wrestling Shuji Fucking Kondo, so that’s not exactly a surprise. The premise here is rather simple, Omega makes the crowd hate him (and boy, do they ever hate him), and Kondo gives him his comeuppance in the form of a few truly sadistic bumps. The Original II on the apron was bad enough, but then he followed up with the rail ride. There’s another big one later on, when Kondo seems to go for The Original, but instead does a Tombstone instead of the usual powerslam. But, Kenny also shows that he didn’t just luck into the title, and he surprises Kondo with something big of his own, like the Dragon suplex on the floor, and his jumping knees to stop the KKL. The really good thing about this is that Kondo doesn’t let Kenny get away with anything too goofy, early on, he tries to halt a charging Kondo by yelling “Stop!” but Kondo just smears him down with a lariat. A little bit later, Kenny dodges the Lanzarse, and is so busy celebrating, that he turns right into another one.

The only really irritating thing here is the repetitive finishers, and it’s actually Kondo that’s worse about it than Kenny. Kenny, impressively, lifts Kondo up and does the Croyt’s Wrath for a near fall, and then lifts up Kondo for a second, only he cradles him afterwards for another good near fall. Kondo seems hell bent on the KKL, and Kenny smartly cuts it off with strikes to the arm while he charging, but Kondo prevails. Kenny takes the huge bump and barely kicks out, but Kondo quickly tries for another one, forcing Kenny to leap to his feet for the jumping knee. Of course, they go to the finish right afterwards, which is pretty much flawless, with Kenny opting to not roll the dice on a third Croyt’s Wrath, and go with something that will sure keep Kondo down, the Electric Chair driver. Considering how irritating Omega’s win over KAI, and his IWGP Jr. Tag Titles match the prior January were, I didn’t have much hope for this, and I’m glad to see I was wrong. ***1/4


Nagata going over Kono is fine (although, Kono would have benefitted more from winning here than during the Champions Carnival), but the way it happens isn’t very satisfying. Kono defers too much to Nagata, which wouldn’t matter if this was a special NJ vs. AJ attraction match, but this is supposed to be a grudge match with Kono looking to avenge Nagata injuring his mentor. Kono needed to really step up his game, and he wasn’t able to do it. Nagata is fine with what he brings to the table, he bloodies Kono, pastes him with stiff shots, and even tries to make him submit in front of Funaki. Kono should have gotten angry and tried to give Nagata a taste of his own medicine tenfold, but he didn’t have it in him. Considering the fact that they were in a cage, he had the perfect way to bloody up Nagata (which wouldn’t look all that out of place, considering his show stealing match with Suwama during the Carnival the year before). The only time it seems that Kono truly comes to win, when he bleeds Nagata dry with the sleeper and then does a series of running knees, but the camera angle shows that Kono isn’t making solid contact. The finish itself is fine, considering Nagata was winning, Nagata outwrestles Kono to escape his armbar and get one of own, and he lets that go in favor of going for the KO ref stop with a high kick and backdrop. This should have been an all out war, but instead, it was an at-times fun match, with the wrong man going over, but, the wrong man was the right man considering the performances they put on.


If this had Tenzan in place of Kojima, it might have been worth the time spent on it. Tenzan has always been best in the gruff heelish role, and getting to abuse the young gun is right up his ally. It doesn’t help that Sanada doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, more often than not, just watch him take Kojima’s chop flurry in the corner and more or less stand there frozen. There’s another stupid moment when Kojima whips Sanada into the corner and Sanada decides he wants to do the Kawada spot where he can’t even go along with it, but he waits too long before doing it. Sanada also didn’t see fit to bring any credible offense with him, not that Kojima gave him a whole lot of chances to show anything off. Sanada’s big offensive move is catching Kojima with a Cobra twist during a cris-cross sequence, and it worked more because it was amusing than any other reason. Add in a goofy elbow exchange that goes on for far too long, and a finishing sequence where Kojima pretty much kills any chance of Sanada getting any sort of rub from the match. Sanada surprises Kojima with a roll up, and follows up with a Tiger suplex for a near fall, and then charges into a lariat, with Kojima doing nothing more out holding out his arm, and getting pinned. Just like Kono before him, Sanada needed to step up his game for the occasion, and just like Kono before him, he failed to do so.


Where Sanada and Kono failed, Soya succeeds. Of course, Soya has the benefit of not having the spotlight completely on him, he’s only the junior partner, but he still manages to step up his game for the occasion, and isn’t the deer in the headlights that Sanada was. Ozz and Cuervo more or less do what’s expected of them for this type of match and nothing more. They cheat like crazy to give the fans a reason to want to see Omori and Soya dethrone them, and add in some swanky dives and spots, like you’d expect out of a good luchadore team. When it’s a fair fight, Omori and Soya are able to easily handle them with their power advantage, Soya’s charging Dominator in the corner is the best spot of the whole match. But, the Mexicans always have a trick up their sleeve to turn the tide of things, like sneaking in a foul.

The overbooking drags this down a couple of pegs, but, at the same time, it makes the eventual win of Omori and Soya that much sweeter. Omori seems to have it won, but Ozz pulls out the ref and a bunch of chairs get involved with some dire consequences for the home team. But, Soya eventually makes the big save that leads to the finish, when he thwarts a double team, and drops Ozz with a lariat, and then plants Cuervo with his DVD. That one big assist was all that was needed for the tide to turn. Omori finally gives Cuervo the Axe Bomber, and the World Tag Titles come back home. With how frustrating it was to see Sanada get several big chances to shine, and fail to deliver, it’s great to see Soya make the most of his first big chance.

JUN AKIYAMA © vs. KEIJI MUTOH (Triple Crown)

At first, it looks like Mutoh and Akiyama watched Okada vs. Naito and decided to prove that a couple of old goats can put on a match like that too. They were fifty types of wrong! It starts out with Mutoh going after Jun’s knee, which was smart of him, it takes away Akiyama’s best strike and softens him up for Mutoh’s big moves like the figure four and Shining Wizard. Mutoh has success for a while, but gets too cocky, and walks himself into a front neck lock, and then it’s Akiyama in control working over Mutoh’s neck. But, neither have the offensive array that Okada and Naito showed, and Jun’s selling isn’t in the same universe as Okada’s. Akiyama’s best moment of selling was a running knee off the apron, which he sold nicely after he came down, but nothing else was even close. As they moved toward the finish, Mutoh may as well have not even touched his knee.

Mutoh and Akiyama also make Kenny Omega look like a genius for protecting major spots, with a pop up sequence of Exploders and Shining Wizards, along with a bunch of Akiyama’s running knee strikes, just in case anyone thought Mutoh’s extended period of sharking on the knee actually mattered. Jun manages to even top that bout of stupidity by getting hit with Mutoh’s moonsault, and then sitting up and trapping him in the neck lock. The one nice touch they have is when Akiyama charges for another knee and Mutoh surprises him with the rana for a good near fall. But once that’s over, it’s back to business, until finally Akiyama keeps Mutoh down with the Sternness Dust. Only a few years ago, Mutoh seemed to be having a career resurgence as IWGP Champion, and Akiyama was having good matches with Masao Inoue of all people, but they both looked far away from that level on this night.

Conclusion: A couple of good outings make this a solid enough show, but the main event and disappointing outings from Kono and Sanada take the wind out of the sails.