March 1, 2008

All Japan has easily been my favorite promotion to follow so far this year. Their booking is both logical and lots of fun. It’s sad that they’re still on such a small scale, especially with how dull NOAH has been. There’s plenty of anticipation and excitement for this PPV: SUWAMA finally gets his hands on TARU, The Voodoo Murders attempt to win both heavyweight and junior heavyweight gold, and twenty five years after his brother, Dory Funk Jr. calls it a career.

T28 . . . shows off some breathtaking aerial skills and gives me hope for the future of All Japan’s junior division.

SUWAMA . . . takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ to show that he’s ready to move up the ladder without the Voodoo Murders.

Hiroshi Tanahashi . . . shows great courage (or an abundance of stupidity) by doing everything he can to anger Dangerous K.


There isn’t anything bad here, but aside from a few cute spots, there isn’t anything notable. All four of them show that they have potential, but that’s to be expected of the young boy match. Suruga is the best one by far, he’s part of every worthwhile moment of the match. The best spot comes early, with Suruga and Soya having a chain snap mare exchange, where they just keep giving each other a snap mare. It’s nothing too special, but it’s unique and they execute it well. Suruga also smartly builds up to the finish, the crab hold as a finisher is a prerequisite for these matches, but Suruga is good enough to work over Otis’ back a bit first, and after Otis gets the rope break, he plants him with a backbreaker and slaps in on again for the win. More often than not, matches like this wind up only having value years later as a sort of “How were they then?” type of experience, after the rookies gain more experience and notoriety. But with Suruga recently announcing his retirement, this is more of an indication of what possibly could have been.


Wow, this is quite the fun junior trios match, aside from the spunkiness meets nastiness theme, there isn’t much as far as storytelling goes, but they’re so good with their execution and timing that the match still comes together very nicely. T28 (pronounced ‘Tetsuya’ although I don’t understand the translation) and his team does some very graceful flying, while the heel team sticks with their trademark brawling. There’s a really cool moment early on when T28 sends MAZADA to the floor and gets thrown in a back drop, only for him to do a handstand on the apron and catch MAZADA in a twisting head scissors. Tokyo Gurentai winds up getting two extended control segments, one on Yamato and the other on KAI. You’d expect them to brawl, but they pull off some sweet double and triple team moves, and TAKEMURA gets some nice near falls, a fisherman’s buster for Yamato and a sunset bomb to KAI.

The match breaks down after T28 hot tags back in and both teams get their chances to win. Yamato and KAI set up T28 to give NOSAWA his 450, and Tokyo Gurentai clear the ring so that NOSAWA can give T28 the Michinoku Driver. But in the end cheating and experience overcomes flying and spunkiness when NOSAWA catches T28 with a kick to the grapefruits and rolls him up for three. Between young guys like T28 and KAI, the rise of talented wrestlers like Kondo, Nakajima, and Hijikata and All Japan bringing in veterans like Silver King and El Samurai, All Japan looks to have the best junior heavyweight division in all of Japan.


There are cool moments here, but this doesn’t come together as well as the last match. It doesn’t help that the babyface team doesn’t have anything as dynamic as T28's flying, Kaz pulls out a few flying spots, but on the whole, nothing that any of them do matches up, not just in the air but in general. There is some good comedy in the early going with ZODIAC and Kaz. Kaz tries to hang with him and of course gets overpowered and trapped in a bear hug. Kaz can’t fight his way out, so he just screams in ZODIAC’s ear to get free. Tanisaki and Doering more or less do the same thing, only without the screaming or the smaller guy outsmarting the bigger guy. The babyface team also knocks around Tanisaki to the point that they almost put sympathy on him. After that the match basically features all six of them pairing off, ZODIAC and Joe are the two big bulls, knocking heads and trying to see who’s tougher. Kaz and Kondo are all about the cool looking spots (and annoying no-selling of The Original in Hayashi’s case), and Hijikata gets to kick the hell out of Tanisaki and then finish him off with the juji-gatame. While there wasn’t anything overtly bad here, it wasn’t very exciting at all, and it could have really benefitted from the VM team getting an extended run of offense on either of the juniors and showing off their mean streak, Tanisaki in particular looked like a total jobber.


Realistically this is as good as SUWAMA was going to be able to look. TARU’s offense is the very definition of limited, and he’s such a small guy that there aren’t even any real basic moves that he can believably use on SUWAMA. So TARU basically kicks and punches SUWAMA, makes liberal use of chairs, his bat, a table, and beer bottle. Also, Kondo, Tanisaki, and ZODIAC are on the floor to lend a hand. Sometimes TARU will pull off something innovative like the legdrop with the chair, the splash through the table, and he gets an assist to hit the TARU Driller, but those are few and far between. TARU also doesn’t seem to put much intensity into things. Thankfully, TARU is good enough to sell hugely when SUWAMA connects anything, even something simple like a lariat.

SUWAMA is smart enough to know that TARU doesn’t have much to do so he takes the backseat. As a result, SUWAMA’s big comeback and win makes him look like Superman. The video before the match showed TARU handcuffing SUWAMA and cutting him open with a beer bottle, so when the TARU Driller fails to keep him down, TARU cuffs him again and blasts him with the beer bottle. SUWAMA totally no-sells it, Hulks Up, and breaks the cuffs. SUWAMA grabs TARU for the Last Ride and gets the win. I’m not a huge fan of the Hulk-Up, but it worked perfectly here, and after seeing the video it’s reasonable to think that SUWAMA was able to brace himself for it. I only hope that All Japan is smart enough to know that this sort of match only works so well because of TARU’s limitations and that continually having matches like this with other workers won’t make SUWAMA into a top level wrestler. Now, SUWAMA putting on a strong showing in the champions carnival on the other hand . . .


The video package showing the build up to this match makes it look like the title was vacated, but they announce Nakajima as champion, despite not coming out with the title. Watching Nakajima here is a good example of how someone can grow into a role. So often fans complain about people not being ready for a push, but comparing Nakajima here to a year ago when he won the title from Kondo is like night and day. He’s much more confident here, not being afraid at all to mix it up with Silver King, despite the fact that King’s probably been a wrestler for longer than Nakajima has been alive.

As nice as it is that he’s showing confidence, Nakajima doesn’t seem to have figured out the ins and outs to working a smart match. His offense is mostly comprised of his kicks, which isn’t a bad idea per say, but there’s no apparent strategy or focus to them, the way he used them to wear down Kondo’s arm and take away his offense. He pulls off some sweet spots, like his spin kick after he runs up the turnbuckle Kurt Angle style, and the big front kick to the chest he levels King with in the very beginning. As the match winds down Nakajima tries for the German suplex and only gets a two count. He acts surprised but he probably shouldn’t be. Sure, the German is his finishing move, but he’d done nothing to really wear him down for the move. The roundhouse kicks to the neck probably helped, but he fired off just as many at other parts of him. The only other thing Nakajima can do after that is attempt a backslide for the flash pin, good idea in theory, but it’s not enough for a wily veteran like Silver King.

Silver King is better than Nakajima here, but not by a huge margin. His game plan only seems to be a little better, to hit him with several big bombs and finish him off. It’s much more effective than Nakajima’s idea of throwing kicks, and some of the stuff that he comes up with is actually pretty cool looking, but there’s no sense of urgency either from Silver King while he dishing them out, or from Nakajima putting them over. The hanging delayed facebuster was sweet looking, the moonsault was as graceful as can be, and the DVD that finished Nakajima off was brutal. But as the match winds down, there’s just no real sense of Silver King digging down deeper and deeper to put him away, and on the flip side, there’s nothing from Nakajima to imply that he might be almost done. It’s just big spot, kick out, big spot, kick out, big spot, kick out, big spot, three count. The title change is surprising on some level since Silver King hadn’t been touring All Japan regularly, but it also will let All Japan put the title onto someone else without having to risk Nakajima losing any of the credibility that he’d established with his year-long title reign.


Despite being absurdly fun at times, this isn’t so much a match as it is a preview of what to expect down the road. The centerpieces of the match are undoubtably the Kawada/Tanahashi exchanges, which foreshadows their meeting in the upcoming Champions Carnival. Tanahashi draws first blood with a cheap shot that knocks Kawada off the apron. When Kawada gets his hands on Tanahashi, he, as expected, proceeds to opening up a can of the ass-whip. You’d think it’d end there, with Tanahashi learning his lesson, but it doesn’t. Tanahashi continually goes right at Dangerous K, and gets one up on him by attacking his famously weak left knee. Tanahashi shows he’s done his homework on Kawada when they have their NOAH-like extended sequence of forearm exchanges, Tanahashi charges and looks like he’s headed right for Kawada’s boot, but he dodges it and hits Kawada with the Sling Blade. Tanahashi even succeeds in taking Kawada out of the picture when he Dragon screws him over the ropes and allows Mutoh to hit a Shining Wizard in the corner.

Kawada/Tanahashi may be the highlight, but it’s the Mutoh/Kea sections that are the meat of the match. The premise is fairly simple: Kea has never beaten Mutoh. Despite all his accomplishments, multi time AJPW Tag Team Champion, multi time Real World Tag League winner, 2006 Champions Carnival winner, former Triple Crown Champion, and a successful defense over Kawada, the Mutoh thing is still lingering over him. Unfortunately for Kea, this doesn’t do much to alleviate that problem. The only times that Kea looks like he’s firmly in control are when Kea has Mutoh on the mat and works over his arm. It’s surprising because Kea isn’t known for his matwork, but he looks most on top of things when he’s got Mutoh in an armlock, rather than firing off his trademark kicks. The problem is that nobody would give Kea a prayer of beating Mutoh that way, and neither of them does anything to give that impression. The closest it seems to possible is when Kea locks Mutoh in a sort of grounded Cobra clutch, and he winds up releasing the hold himself.

The only things that make Kea look like he’ll have a hope is the submissions, and when that proves to be futile, Kea is as good as done. This doesn’t look any clearer than it does when Kawada gives an assist to Kea with one his running kicks and that allows Kea to hit the TKO, Mutoh kicks out and when Kea picks up Mutoh for another one he’s able to counter and escape on his own power, without any assistance. When they take Kawada out of the picture Kea is as good as done, he tries to put up a valiant fight, surviving several Shining Wizards, and even a Shining Impact, but the combo of Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow and one more Shining Wizard put him away. While they may have lost this time around, Kawada would eventually get his hands on Tanahashi and Kea would get another crack at Mutoh.


I can respect the fact that Dory wanted to go out with a bang, and I can respect that All Japan wanted to send him off with dignity, but this was pretty hard to watch at times. It’s understandable because he’d been wrestling for forty-five years, so his age and body breakdown was catching up with him, but watching Dory work holds and do basic sequences with Fuchi looked like a wrestling training class. Dory was just moving slow beyond belief. It’s remarkable how well the crowd was reacting for Dory’s trademark European uppercuts, despite looking like they could barely tickle. But it speaks volumes about the respect the fans have for Dory and what he’d done in, and for, the business. Nishimura probably should have been the one carrying the offense for his team, but he’s the supporting player here.

Luckily, Fuchi and Tenryu help pick up the slack by being real dicks. The sneers on their faces almost never leave, and the crowd really tears into them. Just listen to the heat Tenryu gets just for firing off his trademark chops and jabs at Dory. Fuchi is fun when he’s got Dory trapped in the surfboard, and his taunting of Dory when he works over Nishimura, and backdrops him over and over is probably the best moment of the match. And with the crowd already riding them, it ends the only fitting way. Dory out wrestles Fuchi to the mat and then slaps on the dreaded spinning toe hold for the submission. While this was hard on the eyes most of the time, its purpose wasn’t to be a classic wrestling match, it was to say goodbye to a legend.


At first this looked like it might be interesting, but then Kensuke and Kojima came back to earth and it was what you’d expect from them. That itself is the most disappointing thing about this match, it seemed like they were going to take it in a unique and interesting direction, and then just decided to go back to being Kensuke and Kojima. Kojima starts off the match going after Kensuke’s arm with a bunch of armbars, it’s the last think you’d expect to see from Kojima, but it’s actually brilliant, what better way to have a chance against Sasaki then to take out his arm? Kojima even uses Kensuke’s own Stranglehold Gamma against him, both a smart idea and a real dick thing to do.

But the arm stuff is only filler and the match comes back from fantasy land to Ryogoku. Other than the arm stuff, Kojima has nothing else to do but various weapon attacks, groin shots, and his usual three or four spots (elbow from the top, Koji Cutter, CCD, and lariat). Aside from a few surprise bombs, Sasaki isn’t anything special either. The only things he sells to any great degree are the groin attacks. He bumps for the Koji Cutter on his hands and knees, and doesn’t sell his arm worth anything. He turns the tables on Kojima with an NLB from the apron to the floor, and before he finishes off Kojima he pulls out a Tiger suplex and a Tiger suplex ‘85. And the match just wouldn’t be complete without a stupid no-selling sequence: Sasaki charges Kojima and hits a lariat, not long after Kojima had him in an arm bar, with zero selling of the arm, only for Kojima to totally blow it off and hit his own lariat. The main event of a PPV, for the crown jewel, and the most they could do for the former longtime champion to look like he had a chance, whether he was a heel or not, was for Kojima to hit him in the grapefruits a bunch of times. It sounds like I’m harping on it a lot, but the arm bar stuff was right there for an interesting direction, and while it may not have wound up being any good, it’d have at least been a fresh and original idea, as opposed to what they wound up giving us.

Conclusion: Aside from the lousy main event, this is a good example of why I find All Japan to be so much fun. There was lots of fun with the undercard, and some interesting booking choices, like Silver King’s title win. This lacked a big standout match, like Kondo/Nakajima from the year before, but it’s still a pretty fun overall show.