November 3, 2008

I guess you can consider this to be a typical All Japan show from 2008, the groundwork seems to have been laid for something good, such as both NOAH and New Japan having wrestlers on the show. But, the question is whether or not the wrestling can live up to the booking.

Ryota Hama . . . has a very memorable and entertaining debut as a professional wrestler.

Naomichi Marufuji . . . turns into the most ruthless, yet crafty, wrestler to grace the ring since SUWA.

Minoru Suzuki . . . may be an awesome wrestler, but even he can’t get something watchable out of Great Muta.


Anyone who followed Araya’s meteoric fall from the mid card to jerking the curtain can tell you how this match goes. If nothing else, he’s not stupid enough to attempt to charge at Fuchi or Kikutaro in the corner. Instead Fuchi and Kikutaro wrestle and he tries to take advantage, but it backfires every time. Let me stress, every time. There isn’t one single part of the match where Araya does anything to put the match in his favor. At one point Kikutaro attempts a vertical suplex and spends literally three minutes yapping and when Araya goes to reverse, Kikutaro lets go and lets Araya fall flat on his back. The Fuchi/Kikutaro stuff ranges from solid, but unspectacular, to amusing, such as Kikutaro’s Shining Wizard and he refusal to let the ref make a count. And, as usual, it ends on a small package, Fuchi and Kikutaro exchange near falls with the hold and Araya jumps in and three guesses as to how well that turns out.


I’ve never understood why the rookies and young guns always get paired off together, if anything, history has shown that the young guys don’t start really developing much until they’re working with veterans. This match is proof of that, Soya and Sanada show they’ve got potential, but neither is capable of going fifteen. Soya uses his power to his advantage and Sanada tries to counteract that with a combination of flying and technical ability. They’ve got several good moments and a couple of nice stretches but there’s a lot of downtime where they don’t seem to know what they should be doing or where they need to take things.

Sanada is the more impressive of the two, although that was a bit of a given due to the fact that Soya was sticking to using his power while Sanada was coming up with counters and making a few attempts at storytelling, his best moment comes when he blocks a suplex from Soya and turns it into an Oklahoma roll, and there’s a nice stretch toward the end of the match when he takes to the air and puts on the hurt on Soya’s back, and tries to tap him out to a crab hold. Power wins on this day though, Soya impressively muscles him up for a vertical suplex, just like Gary Albright used to do with the German suplex. Soya’s power lets him get to the ropes when he’s in the crab hold, which was when things looked the most bleak for him. With Soya’s power being able to save him despite Sanada’s best efforts, it’s only matter of time before it’s too much, which happens when Soya hits the “power booster” a backdrop suplex variant. Matches like this are simultaneously frustrating and rewarding to watch, no question that Soya and Sanada showed that they’re not yet at the level where they’re able to go for fifteen minutes on their own, but they also showed that they’re getting closer and closer to being able to do so.


There isn’t anything here that’s vastly different from the Nishimura/GURENTAI eight-man from August, the only chance that Nishimura’s team has to win is through Nishimura, Sharpe throws a mean European Uppercut and Chung has a decent Angle Slam, but that’s all they’ve got to offer, their purpose is to be beaten up by the heel team. It’s Kea who really shines, I was watching him here and wondering where this Kea was for the Triple Crown match with Suwama, he looks motivated and while he’s no Suzuki as far as torturing the young guys, he’s quite good. NOSAWA and MAZADA throw in a couple of nice Kai En Tai style double teams as well. Although Nishimura is the only hope his team has of pulling off the win, he’s playing second fiddle to Kea, the closest that Nishimura comes to pulling something off are a few flash pin attempts on Kea, and then the obligatory clearing of the ring leaves Kea and Chung where Kea finishes him quickly with the TKO 34th, which is usually a meaningless mid-match near fall. 


If you’re into big dudes doing big dude thing to each other this isn’t something you’ll want to miss. This does have some charm to it, because it’s easy to see how excited Hama is to simply be wrestling. Akebono, while not very good, is the perfect opponent for him, because he’s the one guy who Hama can’t dominate using his size advantage. Soya’s power was impressive in his match with Sanada, but I don’t think Soya could do much of anything with Hama, which Akebono is able to do. If you’re looking for state of the art offense, you won’t be looking here, it’s a lot of slaps, splashes and elbows, with Akebono’s 64 and Hama impressively doing a powerbomb when he catches Akebono in the corner doing the ten-count punches. This also has the benefit of being kept short, which is also a reason is comes off as well as it does. They don’t set the world on fire, the way Nakamura seemed to do in his debut match, but it’s the perfect match for Hama’s debut.


Here’s a prime of example of All Japan’s booking strength. The Voodoo Murders have lost Kojima, Suwama, and Kondo all within a few months of each other, which left quite a void, so they add Hirai, who’s been around forever and hasn’t done much of anything outside a few challenges for the All Asia Tag Titles in 2003 or so. He gets something fresh to do and it freshens up the stable. As for the match, it’s mostly the usual fun affair, thanks to the anger that the AJ team shows at Hirai’s betrayal. The only big negative is the control segment on Hijikata, there’s a few good ideas, but it’s mostly boring with a lot of TARU choking and clawing at his face. Between his love of the U.S. style of wrestling and his time in NWA/WCW, I’m surprised Mutoh hasn’t shown them any Tully and Arn or Midnight Express tag matches to show them how to make a heel control segment work. The only good thing they do is ram his head into an exposed corner, but they don’t follow it up at all. Hijikata gets the tag out on his first try, no false tags or instances of them preventing it at all.

The match picks up considerably after Hijikata’s hot tag, with Suwama taking the fight to all three of them with some nice suplexes and Hirai takes a nice bump from a discus lariat. Kaz tags in and takes to air a bit, and then the ref goes down and things break down, leading to the usual shenanigans with TARU’s bat, and Hirai sprays Kaz with a fire extinguisher and knocks him out with it to pick up the win. Again, the only negative is the boring middle portion, but it’s such an important aspect, especially in the VM matches, that it leaves a lasting impression on the match, despite the good stuff after the tag.

We take a break from the live PPV action (I’m guessing it’s intermission) and a few video clips bring us up to speed on some happenings between now and the last PPV in August. Namely the two title changes on 9/28, Hijikata put up a valiant fight, but wasn’t able to overcome Naomichi Marufuji. Suwama looked to have things well at hand, despite being busted open, but fell victim to the green mist and lost the Triple Crown to the Great Muta.


This match actually does a pretty good job of summing up All Japan’s booking as a whole. On paper, this looks like a real gem, pairing up a longtime veteran with the top young gun tag team in New Japan (as shown by their recent IWGP Jr. Tag Title win) against another longtime veteran and the top young gun tag team in All Japan (as shown by a combo of their recent association with Kojima and KAI winning the annual junior tournament), but the actual execution falls very short of the expectations.

The problem is that the four young guns have always been working as underdogs and they don’t really seem to know how to work in the role of aggressors, the control segments on Naito and KAI both feature them being worked over in their midsection area, but only Kojima and Tenzan were being gruff and heelish about it. There are nice moments like Naito’s Tequila sunrise and Yamato’s diving stomp that show that it isn’t a lack of effort on their parts, but it seemed to be a lack of knowledge and/or experience. When it came down to it, both teams were mostly good for throwing out the eye candy spots and very little else. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, there were good moments like Yamato’s selling after the double flapjack, Yamato’s diving footstomp to Yujiro, and the New Japan team taking it to Kojima in the corner, but those are exceptions rather than rules, on the whole it seems like they’re just doing their spots because that’s what they do best. It never feels like the match is really going anyplace, and the finish with Naito pinning Yamato after the Stardust press doesn’t really have any deeper meaning beyond Naito hitting his finisher when nobody was poised to save. As far as things like personality and making the match feel genuinely heated and aggressive, Kojima and Tenzan, the longtime friends and partners, do far better then their partners.


When did Marufuji become such a crafty, yet ruthless, bastard of a heel? They take a couple of trips off the deep end, but this is mostly a real joy to watch. Once they get through their feeling out process and start to piece together the dual story of Marufuji being able to outsmart Kondo, and them both having the idea to work over the neck area, this takes off in a hurry. For Kondo, the neck just seems like the best option, he press slams Marufuji off the apron and into the guardrail and Marufuji favors his neck, so it only makes sense to go there. Kondo’s offense is perfectly adequate, the hotshot and swinging neckbreaker work fine, and his Misawa-like facelock is surprising, but he makes good use of it. Marufuji going to the neck is great revenge for Kondo putting him through the ringer, but it also serves the purpose of wearing him down and adding to the effect of the superkick various Shiranui attempts, and the eventual Pole Shift which finally keeps the big man down. It starts with a sort of twisting head scissors move while Kondo is on the mat, and Marufuji just gets more and more crafty and/or ruthless as the match wears on. Marufuji slams the swinging door part of the guardrail into Kondo’s head, uses Alex Shelly’s ‘skull fucker’ move, and my personal favorite was when he threw him into the corner and started blasting him with superkicks.

Kondo tries to fight back, but Marufuji is too crafty to let him get too far. On two separate occasions he tries his signature overhead grab and throw, but both time Marufuji scouts it, and puts Kondo in sort of standing Anaconda Vice. Marufuji also takes aim at Kondo’s knee for a bit, and while it’s not as vital as the neck winds up being, they also do a lot to make it count, especially Marufuji’s heeling tactics. The figure four being rolled over to reverse the pressure is a trademark Ric Flair spot, but this is one time that it looks plausible, Kondo is so much bigger and stronger than Marufuji, that there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to roll over, and Marufuji doing things like punching at the knee to keep him at bay, and being able to roll back over when Kondo tries to reverse the pressure add to the fun.

As fun as enjoyable as this is, it’s not perfect, thanks to a couple of times they seem to go crazy. One of the best moments was when Marufuji whipped Kondo into the corner and Kondo stumbled across to keep the knee in focus, but then he winds up charging full speed ahead and hits the Lanzarse, and then picks him back up and does a Shining Wizard. So much for Kondo’s hurt knee playing into things. That’s really the only big knock, but there are a couple of other issues, but they seemed to actively trying to make something out of them. The first is Marufuji being so in love with using the Shiranui, he does at least half a dozen of them in his various forms, and after doing such a thorough job wearing down Kondo’s neck, there shouldn’t be a need for that many of them. But, the underlying idea seemed to be Marufuji having to use the Pole Shift to keep him down, but there had to have been some other way to do it without wasting so many bombs. And the dreaded pop up sequence where Kondo and Marufuji take turns planting each other with backdrops only to get up and do them again. The only saving grace here is Kondo trying to get more innovative with the suplex and Marufuji’s stumbling Terry Funk impression to try to not seem like he’s blowing them off. And finally, there’s times when they seem content to just throw out big moves for no apparent reason, such as Kondo’s Splash Mountain which was literally out of left field and didn’t mean a thing, and after making Kondo struggle to hit the KKL, it winds up meaning nothing (despite Marufuji’s sick bump). At it’s highest point, this is probably the best AJPW Jr. Title match of the decade, but the goofiness (in spite of their attempts to tone it down) drags the match as a whole down from that level, but this is still something that’s very worthy of checking out. ***1/2


Anyone who looks at the various Flair/Luger matches as proof of Flair “being able to wrestle a broomstick” and have a good match, then I urge you to watch this mess, you’ll have a new appreciation for Luger. If you really want to watch someone wrestle a broomstick then this is your match, because Muta only does three or four moves in the span of nearly thirty minutes, the rest is all Suzuki. There’s a nice stretch when he finally has enough and busts open Suzuki on the floor with one of the title belts and starts using a chair, but that’s just about Muta’s only highlight. Suzuki is the cocky punk that we all know and love, but that only gets him so far. It’s funny to watch him kick at Muta’s leg and then dare to mock the pro wrestling love pose, and his hanging triangle choke in the corner is a nice touch, but the bulk of this is almost profoundly boring because Muta just sits there while Suzuki does various moves and holds and doesn’t react at all. It seems like an eternity before Muta finally hits the Shining Wizard to retain the titles. 2008 seemed to be the year of Keiji Mutoh, but, evidently, 2008 isn’t the year of Great Muta.

Conclusion: Yes, this is very much a typical 2008 All Japan show, it looked promising enough, but, aside from Marufuji/Kondo and a couple of fun trios matches, was mostly forgettable. This isn’t anything to avoid at all costs (aside from the insipid main event), but nothing to actively seek out.