SUPER POWER SERIES 1997
Toshiaki Kawada . . . further cements his status as being one of the greatest workers of all time, despite Misawa having almost no desire to cooperate.
Johnny Ace . . . tries to raise his stock in the company by not only hanging in there against Kawada, but also against his former partner.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru . . . shows flashes of the same qualities that would make him one of the most frustrating members of the NOAH junior division.
MITSUHARU MISAWA © vs. TOSHIAKI KAWADA (Triple Crown)
If this were being judged solely on Kawada’s performance, it would be a rather nice follow up to his two matches in the Champion Carnival finals. The anger and intensity in the opening moments is perfectly believable. Misawa’s goal isn’t simply retaining his titles, he’s looking to avenge Kawada’s pinfall over him. Kawada pinning Misawa in their part of the triangle finals should have been his crowning achievement, but he knows that it’s marred by circumstance. Their opening strike exchanges perfectly illustrates their motivation, and Misawa, always known for his stoicism, shows exactly how much anger he’s built up when he plants Kawada with the Tiger driver on the floor. After Misawa gets Kawada in the ring he fires off a rolling elbow, which Kawada avoids and returns fire with a ganmengiri. Misawa is able to block the strike but favors his arm. Kawada takes advantage with a juji-gatame, and Kawada picks right back up where he left off with Kobashi and works the arm. Nobody thinks that he’s going to beat Misawa by submission, but much like he was able to take the lariat away from Kobashi, he can neutralize Misawa’s best strike. And by going right for the juji-gatame, which is already an established finisher, Kawada shows a sense of urgency because he doesn’t have the luxury of coming in after Misawa has wrestled for thirty minutes this time. Kawada angles his kicks, drops knees across the arm, throws Misawa arm-first into the guardrails and even drapes Misawa’s arm over the guardrail and kicks it.
Kawada’s control segment on the arm goes just long enough for it to seem plausible that he’s going to have some measure of success, and then Misawa puts the kibosh on it, and the match basically nosedives and never really recovers, aside from some smart touches from Kawada (such as following two backdrops with the stretch plum). Misawa blocks and escapes a juji-gatame, which is fine since Kawada had already gotten the hold applied several times. But then Misawa hits an elbow, and another and another, and he follows up with a facelock. It’s like Misawa decided that he’d done what Kawada wanted to do long enough and it was time for his ideas to come out, and one can almost see the enthusiasm leaving Kawada’s face. What does Misawa want to do? Big spots and suplexes! Kawada gets a near fall from his powerbomb and then gives Misawa another one on the floor. Kawada rolls him into the ring and Misawa decides that it’s a good time for him to make a comeback. After two backdrops and a near fall after the stretch plum, Kawada attempts another powerbomb and Misawa drops to a knee and Kawada winds up collapsing from the effort of trying to get Misawa up. Kawada tries again and Misawa back drops him out of it. It seems like the bump on the floor gave Misawa some sort of powerbomb immunity for the rest of the match.
Kawada hits another backdrop suplex and tries to submit Misawa with an inverted Triangle choke, and after the rope break, it’s Misawa’s turn to dish out the pain. Misawa counters a backdrop and starts dropping Kawada with German and Tiger suplexes, as well as a Tiger driver near fall. And, if nothing else, Kawada sells it all like absolute death. It looks like a genuine struggle for Misawa to get him into position for them. Not because Kawada is fighting him off, but because Kawada is so out of it that Misawa has to do all the work. There’s an especially nice touch when Kawada gets planted with a German and the momentum actually puts him on his feet, but Kawada is being held up by the ropes. Kawada makes one final comeback attempt with slaps and chops, but Misawa stops that dead with an elbow for a near fall that very well may have been the intended finish (the camera doesn’t show if Kawada’s shoulder actually came up, but it didn’t look like he moved a muscle), and there’s almost zero doubt that Misawa’s follow up German suplex will finally end it.
The match is best summed up in two words: Kawada tried. Kawada did everything he could to make his offense seem meaningful and to carry over the story from his Carnival win over Kobashi. But Misawa just couldn’t seem to be bothered with going along with it for too long. Misawa more or less kills the credibility of Kawada’s two biggest spots, the powerbomb and the backdrop, and Kawada responds by going above and beyond with his selling for Misawa’s suplexes. The fact that Misawa puts in such a halfhearted effort, especially compared with his performance in the Kobashi matches from January and April, and this still winds up being as watchable as it is, is a testament to exactly how great Kawada really was. ***1/4
TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE © vs. KENTA KOBASHI/JOHNNY ACE (AJPW World Tag Team Titles)
The clipping makes it hard to get any real sense of flow or story to the match, but Ace is definitely up for it. After a few clips, the match picks up with him coming off the top to assist Kobashi in getting out of Taue’s Nodowa, and he keeps Kawada occupied for virtually the rest of the match. Kobashi gets the jackknife cradle and Kawada breaks up the pin and starts putting the boots to Kobashi while he’s still down, so Ace runs in and takes Kawada completely out of the match with a Cobra clutch suplex, and levels the playing field. Kobashi charges for the lariat and Taue gets a boot up and then tries for the Nodowa, and Kobashi pushes him off and hits the lariat, but he’s too slow to make the cover and Taue kicks out. Kobashi tries again and Taue catches him by the throat and does a leg sweep and Kobashi gets right back up and hits another lariat while Taue is still catching his breath from the previous exchange. The finish wasn’t anything amazing, but it was fun to watch Kobashi and Taue counter and block each other’s big move, until Kobashi won out. It’s possible there was more to it, but the clipping of the match doesn’t allow for it to appear any deeper.
KENTA KOBASHI/JOHNNY ACE/THE PATRIOT vs. STEVE WILLIAMS/GARY ALBRIGHT/THE LACROSSE
For a company that’s generally known for putting on hot trios matches, All Japan sure picked a mediocre one to show in full on a commercial tape, especially after clipping the tag titles change to shreds. There are some fun moments, like Doc and Ace getting in each other’s face, which serves as a reminder that they were the tag champs not even six months ago. The best stretch of work comes when Albright plants Ace with a German suplex behind the ref’s back and Ace looks all but dead. It leads to a scrum on the floor between the other five, and after they get Ace in the ring Doc works a camel clutch until Kobashi makes the save. Albright tags in and makes sure to knock Kobashi off the apron and then puts Ace in a more lethal STF, but this time it’s Patriot who makes the save. There’s also some unintentional comedy that comes from Ace’s attempts at technical wrestling, just look at his flash cradle from a small package on Lacrosse and the Dragon screw spot with Doc. After being the whipping boy it’s nice to see Ace get the win for his team, and it’s remarkable that he winds up pinning Doc. But it also begs the question of what exactly the point is. It certainly doesn’t say much about the chances of Doc and Albright as challengers for the champions when the top foreigner is losing to the lower ranked member of the champion team. The match itself is OK, but it needed more of a story than Ace having to prove himself against his former partner.
The next thing shown is a few clips of Daisuke Ikeda, who’d made his All Japan debut during the tour, teaming with Baba and Rusher Kimura against Eigen, Fuchi, and Inoue. It’s certainly not the ideal setting for someone with Ikeda’s background, and at one point he’s triple teamed in the corner. Ikeda’s team wins after Baba pins Eigen, which makes me wonder what the point of showing this even was, since it’s obviously not intended to showcase Ikeda.
DAISUKE IKEDA/YOSHINOBU KANEMARU vs. SATORU ASAKO/RICHARD SLINGER
It’s an early sighting of Kanemaru, just a spunky junior rookie at this point, being ridiculously frustrating to watch. Asako and Slinger try to settle the match down and work over Kanemaru and build up a hot tag to Ikeda, but Kanemaru won’t go along and keeps trying to mount small comebacks and rattle off his spots. It’s not until Slinger drills him with a lariat, and Asako roughs him up on the floor with a rail ride and a body slam, that he finally gets the message. Asako and Slinger certainly aren’t on the level of Tully and Arm, or even Ogawa and Shiga from the junior tag match in April, but they’re perfectly serviceable at putting Kanemaru through the ringer. Slinger and Ikeda work together rather well, with Slinger providing nice openings for Ikeda to get his submissions. Kanemaru apparently isn’t a great partner either. Asako comes in and puts the boots to Ikeda to break an ankle lock and later a rolling legbar, and Kanemaru just stands on the apron and watches him do it instead of trying to prevent it or make a save. Kanemaru’s flashy offense is fun to watch, but when it comes down to brass tacks, that’s all he has to offer. And after Slinger kicks out of the moonsault press, it’s obvious that he’s going to lose. Kanemaru lasts longer than expected, but once Asako keeps Ikeda occupied, Slinger finishes him off in short order.
Conclusion: This is definitely a step down from the Champion Carnival tape. Unless you’re a Misawa/Kawada completest, there’s literally no reason to seek this one out.