Friday, May 20, 2016

Patrik reviews: The 2016 Champion Carnival

Well. It's been a while hasn't it? All I can say is that real life things such as work kind of got in the way since last time. But it's time to play catch up on all things All Japan.

This time, we're doing this a bit differently. Since my last post, All Japan has spent the month of April hosting the oldest active tournament in pro wrestling, the Champion Carnival. It took place over a total of 7 shows, starting in Tokyo and ending in Osaka. Luckily all of these shows made tape and I have had the time to sit down and watch them all. But rather then doing one review for every single show, I figured we'd go over some of my takeaways from this year's tournament, go over what matches I thought was best and some recommended viewing, and of course who was the MVP of the tournament.

Lets start with the negatives.

Injuries: Originally Joe Doering, the promotion's top gaijin was supposed to make his return from a knee injury in this tournament, taking part in the B block. But Joe had to pull out before the tournament began to go in for brain surgery to remove a tumor. Luckily the surgery was a success and Joe is now recovering at home, get well soon big guy. This of course put a bit of a spanner in the works for block B, which as a result got a bit predictable on paper. And midway through the tournament, BJW representative Hideyoshi Kamitani suffered a rib injury and had to pull out, as a result he had to forfeit his remaining matches. This was a downer since Kamitani came off of one hell of a run in BJW's own big tournament, the strong climb, and would probably have put in another strong showing in the carnival.

Not as much star power as previous years: The Carnival hasn't exactly been the G1 for the past decade or so, but there was still noticeable that a couple of big names were missing since last year. As mentioned Joe was out recovering from his bout with cancer, Suwama is still out after taring his Achilles tendon, and both Go Shiozaki and Akebono are no longer affiliated with the company. Akebono, Joe and Suwama being the bigger names here since all three of those were proven draws for the company. No disrespect for Shiozaki but there was never really any proof of him as a draw and the All Japan crowds never really took to him. This one however can be turned into a positive, which we will touch upon below in...

The positives.

The booking: All Japan has been hitting a new stride recently, with some very interesting and good booking as Akiyama establishes himself more as the guy who runs the promotion, and stakes out his own vision for it. And this carnival was a good showing of Akiyama's ideas and his booking team's work, with the seemingly on paper B Block becoming a very fun to watch chase, with Zeus going on a strong run leading into the final day, but with Yoshie, Sai, Omori and Aoki gunning for him just 2 points behind. And over in the A block, newly crowned Triple Crown champion Kento Miyahara was put through the ropes, starting off the tournament with a draw against K-Dojo ace Kengo Mashimo, which set him up for a hard climb up the rankings in the block. By the final day he had managed to claw himself up into the lead with 7 points, but Jun Akiyama, BJW's Daisuke Sekimoto and RJPW's Super Tiger were all just one point behind him, and his final opponent in the A block? Daisuke Sekimoto. Both blocks ended up being very well booked and entertaining to watch in my opinion.

Elevating performances: Part of Akiyama's new vision for All Japan is allowing the younger talent to step up. This is part out of necessity after the Wrestle-1 exodus and guys like Akebono, Shiozaki, Suzuki and Kanemaru leaving. But also part because Akiyama obviously sees something in all these young guys. And in this tournament the young heavyweights got a chance to shine. Naoya Nomura and Jake Lee were placed as underdogs in their respective blocks, but put in impressive showings against their opponents, and both picking up one win each (Nomura over tag team champion the Bodyguard, and Lee over All Japan legend and former world champion Takao Omori). And then there was Kento Miyahara's run in the A block which was mentioned above. Kento got to prove that he had the spirit of a champion in this tournament, fighting back from an early setback to finish the tournament strong. We also got to see Kento bring out his main eventer swagger. I touched upon this in a previous post, but it is obvious that Kento is the anointed future ace of the company, but unlike over say in New Japan, Akiyama is willing to still present Kento as human. He's not unstoppable like Okada, rather still presented as what he is, the youngest triple crown champion ever who now has to prove that he belongs on top. And that is going to be an interesting story to follow. A story which is working since the fanbase is already invested in him, and they want to see him succeed.

Apart from the young guys stepping it up this carnival was also used to elevate existing lower card talent, as well as introduce new talent to the All Japan landscape. Kengo Mashimo, who has worked All Japan, and the carnival itself in the past, had a borderline star making performance this year. Going on an early tare in the A block and coming off looking strong, and even putting himself in the line of title contention. And both Ryouji Sai, formerly of Zero-1 and Super Tiger of RJPW made their first appearances in the Carnival and got strong showings. As a result both men have now made it clear that they are going to keep working All Japan going forward. Sai especially had a strong showing and came off as a real good aggressive dickhead heel. And has now also put his name in the hunt for a title shot. Akiyama used the carnival much like Baba used it originally, to create title challengers for his champion. Making up for the loss of big stars by elevating existing talent from lower on the card as well as bringing in new talent and putting them in hot. You have to give the man and the company credit for going at it rather than just trying to revert to a safe status quo. And judging by the crowds taking to the younger talent and the crowds being up slightly but surely, it is paying off.

Don't expect All Japan to pull New Japan numbers just yet, but they have at worst stabilized.

That's enough on the positives and negatives. Let's get to some recommended matches from the tournament.

Zeus vs Ryouji Sai from day 1
Sai's first showing in All Japan as a whole and he goes one on one with one half of the tag team champions. Zeus is such a phenom in Japanese wrestling, with his jacked body, WCW inspired move set and overall mannerisms. Always a joy to watch the big guy work. And Sai came in as this aggressive dickhead, working with stiff kicks and submission work to take the master of the biceps explosion down. I enjoyed Sai going in as the aggressor and taking it to his much bigger opponent in an attempt to neutralize him. Well worth the watch.

Kento Miyahara vs Kengo Mashimo from day 1
Another match from day 1. Kento takes on the ace of K-Dojo in what could be argued to be his first big singles main event since winning the belt. Kengo was a real good heel in this match, going after Kento's arm like a rabid dog in an attempt to remove his german suplex finisher from his arsenal. Kento reponds in kind by proving that he's not a one trick pony, laying into Mashimo with hard knee strikes in an attempt to take out to villainous Mashimo. This match had a bit of everything, limb work, strike exchanges, crowd brawling and a wicked finishing stretch, with both men trying to take each other out before the time limit. This match is up fairly high on my match of the year list. Highly recommended.

Kento Miyahara vs Jun Akiyama from day 4
Another step in Kento's journey in this carnival. He's rebounded from drawing with Mashimo on day 1. But now in front of him stands the company president, legend of the 90s and arguably one of the greatest to lace on a set of boots in the history of the game. Jun Akiyama. This is a fun just over 10 minute sprint. Akiyama brings all his trademarks, and Kento responds in kind. Showing that he isn't threatened by the absolute emperor of sternness that is Akiyama. Recommended.

Kento Miyahara vs Daisuke Sekimoto from the final day
This is the final match in the A block. Kento has managed to claw his way back from his bad start, all the way to the leading position in the block with 7 points on the final day. But just behind him is his opponent for the day. BJW icon Daisuke Sekimoto. If Kento wins or draws, he moves on to the final. But if Sekimoto wins, he passes Kento in the block and steals the final spot. Both men go in hard from the start, trying to put the other man out early. Neither man wants a 30 minute draw since they'd have to wrestle later on in the night. A nice vicious sprint that showcased what these two could do, without giving away too much. Sekimoto gets the win and moves on to….

Champion Carnival Final: Daisuke Sekimoto vs Zeus
The final match of the tournament. Zeus, the tag team champion and Osaka native. Standing up against Big Japan's greatest non deathmatch wrestler. Strong BJ vs the Big Gun. This was a slugfest. Two big guys going ham on each other. Clubbing blow after clubbing blow. A lot of the intrigue in the match was built around power. Was Zeus as strong as Sekimoto? Could he overpower him perhaps even? That Sekimoto is a good worker is an understatement. And Zeus is one of those guys who has stepped up under Akiyama, proving that he can hang. Today he brought his working boots and they put together a real solid main event match. Not perfect, but still a good cap off to a good tournament. Sekimoto takes the win and earns a shot at Miyahara's triple crown (as of this writing set for the May 25 show at Korakuen hall).

As for a MVP of the tournament, I'd have to go with either Mashimo or Sai for how well they elevated/established themselves in the landscape during this run. That Nomura, Lee and Miyahara were moving up the card was already established, but these two played a hell of a game of catch up in this tournament without damaging the three already named's own elevation.

All in all, the 2016 Champion Carnival was a very enjoyable experience. With a lot of good matches, character development from both existing and new roster members. And overall a good feeling presented by All Japan. All Japan has earned a lot of positive buzz and vibes so far this year, and it feels like the company is slowly turning things around under Akiyama's leadership. I am looking forward to what is to come with All Japan and I see bright things in their future if they keep the course.

Their next televised show will be their Korakuen Hall show on May 25, headlined by Kento vs Sekimoto for the Triple Crown, which will air on tape delay on May 31. And you can expect a more classic review on that show once it has aired.

Until next time!  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Patrik watches: ROH from Philly

Look who's back with another review! This time we're venturing outside of Japan and over the Pacific to the United States and Ring of Honor. ROH was the first non WWE product I got into when I started watching wrestling and it's still one of the staples of my wrestling fandom. They do a lot of things right that I enjoy, and have in recent years started mixing good ring work with just the right amount of production for it to really be seen as professional. And their advances as a business the last couple of years cannot be denied.

The show we are looking at tonight is their recent house show from their Conquest Tour, from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia PA.

Before the matches start we get a promo from Dalton Castle (his boys in tow), talking about his scheduled match with Kenny Omega being canceled (rumor is Omega has visa issues). Dalton gets the crowd going with an Oprah style spiel and out comes the All Night Express to dampen the party. Banter between Castle and ANX sets up our first match.

Dalton Castle & The Boys vs ANX
Very entertaining handicap tag match is the easy way to describe this. Castle has quickly become a star in ROH and ANX has it easy when it comes to getting heat from the crowd (the right type of heat to boot), and all men in this match are good workers. The boys were more sidekicks than bonafide partners to Castle in this and it was obvious in the hierarchy of the match itself. ANX picks up the win by pinning one of the boys and Castle clears the ring after a post match beatdown.

Good opener, got the crowd going and it was well put together considering how quickly it was put together. Credit to all men for showcasing how good they are in their respective roles.
Rating: 3.5

Adam Page & Johnathan Gresham vs BJ Whitmer & Cedric Alexander
If the crowd got hot during the last match, they went nuclear for this one. I absolutely loved this match and it started off on fire with an extended brawl outside of the ring before the match even started. This match combines the Page vs Whitmer and Cedric vs Gresham feud into one segment and it was fantastic. The hate was flowing between all four men and they went to town on each other. Brawling like mad men and just trying to kick the shit out of each other. The match finally gets underway but the hate doesn't stop just because of a technicality like that. Gresham plays a fantastic babyface in peril for most of the legitimate match part of this and he has really showcased himself during his run with ROH this year, he deserves a contract if you ask me. Page gets the hot tag and shows us how you properly show hate in a blood feud, completely ignoring the legal Cedric and going straight for Whitmer. The violence and insanity goes on into a hot finishing stretch and Page finally puts Cedric away, staring at Whitmer the entire time and promising more violence when the two clash again.

Fuck I loved this. Gresham and Page looks like stars coming out of it and Page would have been made in ROH almost had this been on TV or PPV. And BJ Whitmer had a fantastic match in the year 2016. Good god.
Rating: 4.5

Six Man Action: Moose & WarMachine w/ Stokely Hathaway vs The Briscoes and Cheeseburger
The trend continues with another fun multiman match. This time pitting the hoss team of WarMachine and Moose vs the Briscoes and ROH's lovable underdog Cheeseburger. Even without Burger being on their team, the Briscoes are outclassed when it comes to pure mass, as neither Moose, Rowe or Hanson are small lads. Built into this match is the budding rivalry between the Briscoes and WarMachine, the Briscoes being 8 time tag team champions and the only team in ROH that WarMachine has not beat, so them finally doing that as tag champions would solidify them as arguably the top tag team in ROH. Moose and Burger are just along for the ride but neither of them are a slouch. Moose is one of the fastest improving rookies out there, who in the span of a year went from being awful to being perfectly serviceable in ring, playing to his strengths rather than his weaknesses. And the same can be said about the featherlight Cheeseburger. So you either get intense, hard hitting action between the Briscoes and their 3 opponents, or some lighthearted comedy when it is Cheeseburger trying to fight three men much bigger than him and getting thrown around like a baseball. This being enhanced by Mr. Wrestling 3 (rumor has it he is Steve Corino, but that's unconfirmed) and Matt Taven's banter on commentary, Taven actually being rather funny. Logically Burger eats the pin and puts this match to rest. I really enjoyed this one and the live Philly crowd did as well. The Briscoes almost cannot have a bad tag match at this point and all 3 men on the opposing team were perfect opponents in the form of big bruisers ready to clash with Dem Boys.
Rating: 3.8

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match: ACH vs Kushida (c)
Another result of Omega being unable to make it. This is the first singles match on the main card and neither man wanted to drop the ball after the last two matches. I absolutely love Kushida as a worker and talent and the crowd obviously did as well. And while I tend to flip flop on ACH, this was one of his on nights for me. And he brought it. He stepped up and worked his damndest to prove that he is on Kushida's level. This was a fun spotfest between two top ranked high flyers and Kushida brought the ground game that he is known for as well. Maybe not a perfect match in my opinion but pretty damn close. Kushida gets the win by submission after a hot finishing stretch that had the crowd on their feet. If ACH has not earned a spot in either the Best of the Super Juniors or the Super J Cup this summer I don't know what he has to do.
Rating: 3.9

Will Ferrara vs Joey “Diesel” Daddiego w/ Taeler Hendrix
This match is in the periphery of the current world title scene. Daddiego is the bodyguard for the House of truth faction (which features world champ Jay Lethal), and Ferrara is linked to Prince Nana's new Embassy faction, which is being built around fired H.O.T member Donovan Dijak. Who attacked Truth Martini on ROH TV and made his intentions clear for the world title. Keep this in mind.
If the previous match was a cruiserweight match, then this was a “bruiserweight” match. Both these men are on the smaller side, but neither are high flyers, rather these two just punch the shit out of each other, and boy did they. Both Ferrara and Daddiego have been staples in the undercard for a while and both seemed to jump on the opportunity to step it up here. Both men went clubbing all over the ring, Ferrara being pretty impressive here. And this was the best I have ever seen Daddiego, but he is still haunted by his straight up punches looking a bit weak at times. Which stems from his boxing background. He holds back a bit too much since he instinctively probably punches pretty hard. The crowd kept up their fine form and ate this match up.

Ferrara gets the win and gets attacked post match, with leads to Dijak with Prince Nana in tow coming out and starting to brawl with Daddiego and a ton of security trying to separate the two. Ferrara also gets involved in this. The H.O.T bail and Dijak lays out the security with his finisher. Crowd enjoyed the match and was really on fire for Dijak. I'm looking forward to the eventual H.O.T vs Embassy feud in the future.
Rating: 3.7

Adam Cole & Roderick Strong vs ReDragon
Honestly probably the least impressive match on this card. All these men are top guys in the company, and all these men can wrestle good matches, and all these men are feuding. But it felt kinda flat. I was expecting more from them. It was a perfectly fine match, but I kinda expected more out of it. Granted the bar for this show was set pretty high with the previous matches, and I have no doubt that the eventual Adam Cole vs O'Reilly match or the Fish vs Strong match will rule come Dallas, and possibly the next PPV.
Rating: 3.5

The Young Bucks vs The Addiction vs The Motor City Machineguns
One of the best things ROH has done this year is salvage the old KRD angle and using it to re-unite Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin as the Motor City Machineguns.
This was the match of the night. All three of these teams brought their working boots tonight and showcased themselves. And the crowd ate it all up. There was a bit of everything here with the feud between the MCMG and the Addiction being center stage and the Bucks refusing to be shown up. If you like superkicks this is for you. The perfect way to describe this match is as a better version of the multi-team tag match New Japan have on all their big shows. We also got the Best Meltzer ever which was a sight to behold.
Rating: 3.9

Main event: Jay Lethal (c) vs Matt Sydal for the ROH World title 
Talk about being put on the spot. Both Jay and Matt are good wrestlers, Jay being on the best run of his career. But being forced to follow that previous match is a thankless job. The crowd was burned out by the time this match rolled in and it hurt it. Lethal and Sydal still went out and worked hard, which is commendable, rather than phoning it in both men went out there and worked a good house show main event. Lethal going over was kind of a given but Sydal in a main event is always a hoot.
Rating: 3.7

All in all. This was a fun house show. Probably the best ROH show this year so far top to bottom. Its only sin was not making the three way tag the main event. Having a match try and follow it and not fall sorta flat was nigh impossible.

I definitely do recommend that you check this one out. This show has a little bit of everything and went like a breeze to watch. Well worth checking out if you have the time and money to spare.

Until next time.    

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Flamita/Volador - No Good

CaraLucha 2015/06/14

Flamita vs. Volador Jr.

Such bitter disappointment, true story. The new Octagon Junior has let me down quite few times in what people pimped as strong singles matches, he underdelivered in those almost every time. He underdelivered here too, obviously. I love the guy in tags and trios because his wrestling mindset looks like perfect fit for those, but in singles competition that requires little bit more of brains and wit – he’s not good yet, he needs much more polishing. His spots are technically impressive, but it’s what he does between those spots that’s bugging me, and he can’t structure a proper match to save his life. It most certainly didn’t help his opponent here was Volador Jr., who’s mostly good and watchable, but his nothing-but-spots mindset often gets better of him. This was the worst possible version of CMLL Volador title match we got, and it was just bound for failure. It’s astounding to me that people would praise this painfully average spotfest as MOTYC. Give me a sloppy Psycho Circus brawl over this all day every day.

**1/2 (and I’m being VERY generous here)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Patrik Watches: All Japan from February 12 2016

Excite Series
February 12 2016

Jr. Battle of Glory: Soma Takao vs SUSHI
Our first match in AJPW's yearly junior tournament features AJPW stalwart SUSHI taking on DDT's Soma Takao. AJPW's personal vlogger (Sushi hosts a talkshow on their youtube, a sort of recap show. I'm also going to just write his name regularly instead of the standard all caps going from here because of laziness.) vs the original all red everything. The match starts off slow but quickly ups the pacing. Takao takes control fairly early on and Sushi has to fight back from underneath. Takao displays some bullyish tendencies I have not seen out of him before and plays the defacto heel against AJPW's lovable underdog, working over his back with kicks and powerslams before going for a half crab halfway through the match. Sushi eventually manages to fight back and we get a sequence were he gets to prove that behind that comedy gimmick and goofball look hides a very solid workhorse wrestler. We then go into a very nice a crisp finishing stretch which the crowd gets nice and loud for before Takao steals the win with a rollup. Very entertaining match and the perfect opener for the show in my opinion.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A quick note before we move on. For those who only watch New Japan or Dragon Gate this type of Junior style is probably a bit odd. All Japan's junior division relies much more on matwork, grappling and strikes than on high flying and spotfests, making the high flying spots that do happen more special. That doesn't mean that the matches aren't high tempo, but don't expect every junior match to contain a 450 or a Sasuke special.

Jr. Battle of Glory: Kazuki Hashimoto vs Ryuji Hijikata
Next up is BJW up and comer Kazuki Hashimoto (not related to the king of destruction, but teams with the legit son of Shinya, Daichi Hashimoto) vs AJPW veteran, now freelancer Ryuji Hijikata. Again this match starts slowly and the two go to the ground pretty quickly trying to outwrestle each other. But this match isn't any less heated since it works the veteran vs cocky upstart formula. Kazuki disrespects Hijikata during a rope break, slapping him in the face a couple of times only to get a straight shot to the face in return from the veteran. Getting the anger as well as the crowd going. They then spend the rest of the match trying to force the other to submit whilst throwing in stiff strikes and generally hating each other in between the holds. Hijikata takes aim at Kazuki's right knee and that becomes his main target for the rest of the match. Kazuki ain't no scrub tho, and after an aggressive rebound and finishing stretch chokes Hijikata out, resulting in a referee stoppage. Something which is a bit rare in the house Baba built.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Kazuki ends up going on quite the run in this tournament, actually being supposed to face Aoki in the finals later on, something which had been built for through the build up to this tournament and on both D-Rize and AJPhoenix shows. But sadly he ended up breaking his arm in his final block match and missed the final. He's as good as guaranteed a title match once healthy tho and I am looking forward to seeing more of him in AJPW.

Jr. Battle of Glory: Atsushi Maruyama vs Hikaru Sato
Atsushi Maruyama is more commonly known as Eagles and Tigers Mask on the independent circuit (not Tiger Mask, Tigers Mask), but is working out of the mask here against Hikaru Sato, today showing up without GillyMan in his corner (never forget).
If you like grappling, this match is for you. This match starts off with a real feeling out process and slick grappling. Logical since Hikaru has a legit MMA background in Pancrase, and Maruyama shows that he can hang as well. Maruyama then hits the so far only high flying move out of the ring with a big tope con hilo straight into the guardrail, ouch! Maruyama hints at hurting his knee on the dive and Hikaru zeroes in on it like a shark tasting blood in the water. And Maruyama sells it like a god. Some of the best selling of a specific body part I have seen in a while. But swerve! It was all a ruse! Maruyama was faking the injury all along and Hikaru pays for it. We then go into what is the snuggest and best third act of a match so far this show. With both men trading some real nifty offense before Hikaru gets the win with the armbar. This was my first time seeing Maruyama but I definitely want to see him back after this showing.
Rating: 3.8 out of 5.

Jr. Battle of Glory: Atsushi Aoki vs Takeshi Minamino
Here comes the worst match on the card….But it is intentionally bad? Minamino promised before the tournament began that he didn't really care about winning it by honest means, but rather that he just wanted to fuck with everyone else involved and was going to cause as much ruckus as possible. And that's just what happened. His opponent is the stoic top junior in the company, Aoki. And Miniamino takes it to him before the bell even rings. This isn't as much a match as it is a prolonged brawl on the outside, with Minamino throwing Aoki into things and Aoki giving chase, with hints of a match sprinkled in. Resulting in a double countout. Making this match hard to rate. It's not a “good match” but it also isn't supposed to be, which means it served its purpose I guess? Never the less this is probably the only match you can skip on this show with good conscience.
Rating: No rating.

Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori & Masanobu Fuchi vs Shigehiro Irie, Shuji Ishikawa & Ultimo Dragon
Team veterans vs Team not so veterans. Match starts with Irie calling out “baldy” pointing at Akiyama, but this causes confusion since Fuchi also is bald, and ref Wada is balding. Ahh, Japanese comedy. Match starts properly with Irie vs Akiyama and their early work makes me realize that I'd be all in on Irie getting a spot in next year's Carnival (he's not in this years) or whatever the Royal Road tournament morphs into this year, or him getting a bigger spot in general. Which he is likely to get since he is the DDT guy they bring in the most and he seems over both with management and fans. We then get Ishikawa trying to murder Omori with kneestrikes and Omori selling them like he's hit in the chest with a baseball bat.

Ishikawa continues with an impressive performing before tagging in Dragon who goes at it with who is arguably the original junior heavyweight, Masanobu Fuchi. It's always impressing seeing Fuchi work since he is old as hell and looks the part. This man has worked for All Japan since it started (1972 for those wondering). Dragon vs Fuchi mainly starts off as more banter than wrestling. All in all this is your typical All Japan six man match, solidly worked and well paced to get the best out of everyone involved. With Fuchi bringing the comedy considering the fact that he is older than father time and the other five men bringing the ring work. And in a match involving Akiyama, Omori, Dragon, Ishikawa and Irie it is hard to put together a bad match. Not a perfect five star match, but a well put together and enjoyable multiman match that the AJPW style lends itself so well to. Ultimo ends up getting the win for his team with a la magistra pin and his awesome theme sends us into the next match.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Jake Lee vs Naoya Nomura
AJPW's main focus this year is the elevate the younger generation of stars, and this match is a prime example of that idea. Jake is the tag team partner of new ace of the company, Kento Miyahara and Nomura is set up to be Jake's rival coming out of the events at the world tag league final (Suwama turned on Kento, and rather than help Jake help Kento, Nomura joined up with Suwama instead). And it is obvious from the start, this match doesn't start out slow but rather with a brawl, with both men throwing kicks and punches and trying to beat each other up. Nomura even getting the cheap start before the bell rings to set up who to boo and who the cheer. And both men are already over with the crowd, which is very good. Nomura slows things down and starts working over Jake. Jake manages to fight back and sends Nomura to the ground with a hard knee, proving that Nomura ain't shit. You can clearly see what is to be the fire and hatred that is so typical of the old school AJPW rivalries starting to burn in these two and the commentary sells it as such as well. And I am looking forward to these two guys continuing to develop that rivalry going forward. These guys only being in their early 20s tells me this can be quite the ride. Jake wins with a killer backdrop after a hot finishing stretch.
Rating: 3.9 out of 5. Highly recommended.

Gaora TV title match: Yohei Nakajima (c) vs Yuma Aoyagi
Another match in the push the younger generation movement. This one pits Akiyama's personal disciple Aoyagi vs the Gaora TV champion Nakajima. This one is hot out of the gate with high pace offense and we go outside of the ring pretty early on. Aoyagi is a house of fire in this one, hitting Nakajima with everything he has it seems. And Nakajima responds by playing the wily veteran, countering the hungry young contenders offense to get out ahead. Nakajima wins a very entertaining match through murder by kicks to the head. Post match Sushi comes out and lays down the challenge for the title he never lost, being forced to vacate the belt in the summer due to a orbital bone injury which led to Nakajima winning the belt. So he is the next logical challenger.
Rating: 3.9 out of 5. Highly recommended.

Triple Crown decision match: Kento Miyahara vs Zeus
Main event time! Before we get to the match itself, time for some backstory. Suwama beat Akiyama for the Triple Crown on the January 2 Korakuen show, only to snap his achilles tendon a week later. Kento and Zeua had been the two top forerunners to become his first challenger and a match was made between the two to crown a new champion following Suwama's injury. Far from the ideal scenario since I am pretty certain that the original plan was for Kento to win the belt at the Sumo Hall show in November, but faith forced All Japan's hand and like with all other backlashes they have felt, they dust themselves off and try to make the best of it. As a result this match has a pretty big changing of the guard feel to it, with Zeus and Kento being the two top young stars in the company, Zeus is currently enjoying a run with the world tag team titles as a result. And Kento is clearly placed in the spot as the new ace of the company, with reason.

Onto the match itself. They start off slow, with an extended feeling out process, which maybe isn't everyone's favorite thing in wrestling, but it makes sense with this being the first big singles match between the two, they don't have a reason yet to just go clubbing from the start, but I am sure we'll get that in the future. Eventually both these young studs tire of playing it safe and start going at each other in earnest, which they do so well. Both these guys are unique specimens, Zeus being a legit ripped muscle monster with surprising agility, something rare in Japan, where heavyweights usually are more stocky. And Kento has this mix of Tenryu and Mutoh to him, with the way he looks, moves and his presence, you can see why Akiyama has Kento pinned as his top star. Fairly quickly we end up outside of the ring and we get a nice physical brawl to help rile up the already active crowd some more. Kento starts working over Zeus inside the ring, but pays for it when going to the top, when Zeus lariats him out of the ring, stepping up the physicality of the match some more. This is the point were Zeus starts working the more clear cut heel, making the crowd side more with Miyahara, which is the desired effect so well done to them. Zeus also ramps up his aggressiveness in his offense, looking very much like a big, muclebound bully. It was also during this segment that I realized how much of Zeus' moveset which he has lifted from 90s WCW, Stinger Splash, Chokeslam with The Giant/Big Show taun, Arn Anderson inspired spinebuster, Scoropion Deathlock. What a legend he is.

Kento eventually starts fighting back to the delight of the crowd, and this is when the match starts hitting third gear, and we get treated to some real beautiful offense, a highight being Zeus diving out of the ring onto Kento (JESUS!). Kento, who has spent most of the middle of the match taking offense, finally gets to start dishing out in earnest as we head into the finishing stretch. And boy is it great. The crowd is eating up what these two are throwing at each other. These are two hungry, young stars who want to win the top prize in their promotion, and they have no problem knocking the shit out of each other to achieve it. And it is awesome. The finishing stretch is hot as fire and both men fight out of everything the other throws at them, but eventually Kento proves the better man and comes out on top. A new champion is crowned, a new top star has arrived and a new era has begun for All Japan. Awesome.

If I have to pinpoint my critique of this match, is that maybe the slow start was a bit too long. It felt like it took too long to get from the slow start to the fierce end, and maybe I would have trimmed like five minutes off sometime in the start or in the middle to fix that. I'd also maybe have had Kento come up with another finish to use on bigger guys like Zeus. But all in all it was a good well put together and deserving main event. These two proved why they are the top two young stars in the company and worthy to play in the same wheelhouse as Suwama, Akiyama and Omori. And All Japan needs top stars that can carry them forward.
Rating: 3.9. Highly recommended

A couple of final thoughts on this show: This was supposed just to be a regular show for All Japan, but Suwama's injury forced this rather normal tour starter in Korakuen to become a show which much more importance for the company. The focus became on establishing the younger generation, showcasing the young stars and proving that they can deliver when called upon. And I'd say they succeeded. Akiyama and company deserves some kudos for sticking to their gameplan instead of panicking the belt back on Akiyama after the injury, allowing the youngsters to prove that they can deliver. All top three matches on this show had the future generation on display, and the crowd was very receptive towards them. And that is a positive. All Japan now knows that the crowd enjoys watching their youngsters, so now they just have to put in the grind to further establish them, and in a year or two we should start seeing the pay off. Kento especially needs it now that he is the ace. The Suwama match at Sumo Hall can and should still be the gameplan, only with the role of champion switch. Kento needs to prove that he can beat the man who never lost the title to begin with.

People tend to post doom and gloom about AJPW primarily these days online but I really came out of this show with a positive vibe. I highly recommend the show since there was only one bad match, and it was intentional to begin with. This is going to be an exciting year for to follow All Japan, as they look to build for the future, seemingly move more of their main business to the Osaka region (smart move in my opinion considering how over saturated the Tokyo region is) and try to draw a decent house at Sumo Hall in November. And I'll keep documenting this journey right here.

Until next time!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Patrik watches: Some All Japan Houseshow

I'm back! It's been a while but what can I say, a busy work schedule and a killer cold kind of took the wind out of me. But let's get back in the saddle with something special.

Recently, All Japan pro wrestling has started putting up matches from their house shows on their youtube channel. They are single camera and no commentary, but it is a good way for All Japan to earn some extra exposure and kudos from the fans. All Japan are a company that are far from their glory days, drawing nowhere near their old numbers, having plateaued at landing at just around the 1000 people mark for their bigger shows, and at around 5 – to six hundred for a regular road show. Which isn't really that bad if it weren't for the fact that they are All Japan and used to pull massive crowds way back when. That couple with a few key roster members leaving in 2015 made that a rough year for them. And Suwama getting hurt in early 2016 didn't help. But they still put out, in my opinion, some of the best product on the Japanese scene. And 2015 has forced Akiyama into starting to push their younger stars, who are all over like rover with their fans. So while their history and present is a bit grimy, All Japan's future is in my opinion rather bright.

The match I'm going to be talking about today is the semi-main event from their January 10 show, where Jun Akiyama and his new understudy Yuma Aoyagi take on the team of Jake Lee and Kento Miyahara, collectively known as NexTream.

The match

This was a very good match in my opinion. Clocking in at just about 13 minutes in length. Aoyagi was the one taking the majority of the punishment which was logical considering his place on the card compared to the new top star Kento, his partner in crime Jake and company president and legend Akiyama. Kento and Jake have clicked as a tag team very quickly, and Akiyama is the supreme grumpy dad wrestler, rivaling or even surpassing the third generation of New Japan when it comes to grumpiness.

The match had a little bit of everything, outside of the ring brawling, stiff strikes, quasi comedy, mat grappling and top rope spots. Focus of the match was Kento squaring off with Akiyama (this was before Suwama got injured and Kento was set to chase him for the belt, so Akiyama being the former champ was supposed to be a stepping stone for him). And Aoyagi proving that he was on the level of Lee (Lee has recently moved on from being a pure young boy to a proper upper midcarder/midcarder, whilst Aoyagi still has to wear young boy gear and Aoyagi is out to prove himself). Kento Miyahara might be my favorite wrestler right now, and Akiyama is my favorite veteran wrestler going today (Kojima being a close second) so seeing Kento and Akiyama square off is always nice. I dug the finishing stretch with Kento and Aoyagi even if it was obvious that they were not going full hog since it was just a touring show. But it wets the appetite for future encounters down the road on bigger shows.

Rating: Good. Recommended ( 3.5 shurikens)

Until next time!