AJPW Champion Carnival Nights 1 & 2 review by Jack Stevenson
All Japan’s Champions Carnival is a tournament in which some of Japan’s finest large men come together to kick lumps out of each other throughout the month of April. The winner is crowned champion and is given his own carnival in Rio De Janeiro, the carnival capital of the world. Me and Arn are between us going to try and give the Carnival comprehensive coverage on Rear View Reviews, and as such I have composed some thoughts on the first two nights of tournament action.
NIGHT 1//07.04.18//SENDAI, JAPAN
Shuji Ishikawa vs. Yuji Hino
This was a rock solid opener for the tournament. Shuji Ishikawa’s recent record in tournaments is exceptional- he’s won five of the last six he’s participated in, and reached the final of the other one. He was the obvious favourite here against Wrestle-1 standout Hino, who has made a smattering of appearances for All Japan over his career but never pulled up any trees. Ishikawa controlled the early stages in simple fashion, targeting the belly of Hino with some well places double stomps and a lengthy body scissors. The pace was slow for my tastes, but it’s good fun to watch guys like Ishikawa deliver a beating at his own leisure. Hino got more into the bout as it went on though, and really rocked Ishikawa with a powerbomb out of absolutely nowhere. A second, an over the shoulder powerbomb which he charmingly has branded “”the Fucking Bomb,” was enough for the upset win! ***. A really satisfyingly told underdog story, although the pace was too slow and Ishikawa’s attempts to drive the wind out of Hino never really went anywhere.
Dylan James vs. Jun Akiyama
A total change of pace here. James went right for Akiyama from the bell, and initiated what turned out to be a sub five minute sprint. It was really enjoyable, with James rocking Akiyama on several occasions but falling victim to the wily veteran, Akiyama out of nowhere spinning him to the mat with a nice pinning combination for a flash three count. I will always be generous to unpretentious sprints like these! ***.
Kento Miyahara vs. Shingo Takagi
Another very good match, and another that felt very different from the ones that preceded it, which is a promising sign for the rest of the tournament. This was worked at a much faster pace than the previous two. Akiyama-James was a sprint, but it was a heavyweight sprint; Shingo and Miyahara are both very comfortable with a Jr. Heavyweight style, and they worked this match like a super junior slugfest. It was a real pleasure to watch. Miyahara is so crisp, and meshed instantly with Shingo. As a card carrying Dragon Gate enthusiast I am always excited to see the core guys mix it up outside their home promotion, and Shingo looked at home here. He even picked up the win, dumping Miyahara with the Last Falconry. Hopefully he’s a force in the tournament going forward! I’ve seen people go ****+ on this- I’d wouldn’t go that far, with the stretch of near falls being disappointingly abbreviated and a really cringy spot early on where Miyahara unconvincingly pretended to have his leg wrapped in the guardrail long enough for Shingo to bounce a chair off it, but for the most part this was a sharp and super enjoyable match. *** ½.
Suwama vs. Zeus
Yikes. This was, uh, not for me. I don’t recall having ever found Suwama particularly engaging before and that definitely didn’t change here. The match was basically him dominating Zeus in a very slow and cautious fashion. There was a certain quiet pleasure to be taken from the calm with which he worked, and the crisp execution of his moves, but on the whole it was boring to watch. Zeus made sporadic comebacks, but he didn’t really look in the match until the final few minutes, which were a fair improvement on what went before. But it was hard to get properly into the near falls when I’d spend most of the preceding 15 minutes daydreaming. Zeus picked up the upset win with a Jackhammer. *.
NIGHT 2//08.04.18//AKITA, JAPAN
Yoshitatsu vs. Zeus
Night two begins with some profoundly dreadful pro wrestling! One of the things that I remember killing my enthusiasm for last year’s Champions Carnival early was the realisation that a lot of the mid tournament matches in small venues were going to be very slow and cumbersome and half hearted. This time it’s more of the same but I’ve inexplicably taken on reviewing duties for them so I have to watch them and point out the obvious, that they’re no good no fun no joy. Structurally this was pretty similar to the previous night’s Zeus match in that it was a whole lot of nothing, and then a moderate improvement in the finishing stretch, but I felt like the lows were lowers and the highs not quite as high. There were glimmers of Yoshi and Zeus using the size disparity between them for an interesting dynamic but they didn’t commit to exploring it properly. It was just a lot of killing time leading into an Okish final few minutes. Zeus won again with the Jackhammer. ¾ *.
KAI vs. Suwama
This was a little bit better. I know KAI has had a bumpy career path but he’s always struck me as a pretty darn good pro wrestler, and he drew a nice little match out of Suwama here. Eventually. Predictably the early stages were sluggish and nothing to write home about and I can’t give a particularly good rating to a match that had so little going on for such a large proportion of it, but I did think the finishing stretch was quite exciting. KAI brought some real underdog fire and gave Suwama a run for his money, and though Suwama won in the end it felt like he had to work hard for his win. He picked it up with the Last Ride powerbomb. ** ¼.
Joe Doering vs. Shuji Ishikawa
Night two continues to incrementally improve! Ishikawa and Doering used their size as an excuse to be gratuitously slow, and if you’re thinking “Jack, we get it, please stop moaning about every match being slow,” well, needlessly slow matches are my number one wrestling bugbear and the Champions Carnival has a fair few of them. But! There was a major redeeming factor to this match. Ishikawa and Doering are big dudes with a ton of presence, and it really made every collision feel like two trucks colliding. There was this cool moment where Doering just tossed Ishikawa with an Attitude Adjustment and it felt like such an impressive physical achievement. There was something gratifying about watching a lump of meat like Ishikawa sail through the air. Ishikawa rallied with some hard strikes and again it’s that visceral smack of flesh on flesh. It gave this match more of a compelling super heavyweight edge, though technically it wasn’t up to much. Ishikawa got off the mark in the tournament with the Fire Thunder, which again looked awesome on Doering. ** ¾.
Kento Miyahara vs. Naoya Nomura
Woof. This came out of nowhere to be really good, and established Miyahara as the early M.V.P of the tournament. They told a pretty simple story based around two people pissing each other off. First, Nomura pissed Miyahara off by getting the better of him in the early stages, and then Miyahara pissed Nomura off by taking control and generally being a dick about it (most notably by Crossfacing him against the ring post), despite the two theoretically being part of the same faction. It was a slow build and I’ve had quite enough of slow builds for one night’s wrestling, but on this occasion they genuinely built to a worthwhile, exciting finishing stretch, with both getting some terrific near falls on each other. Miyahara won with a Straitjacket German suplex, but it felt like what really did Nomura in was a flash, desperation knee strike Miyahara hit seconds before, which shows what a good job they did of putting Nomura within touching distance of victory. I think what would have pushed this match from very good to great would have been if it was later in the tournament. Miyahara had lost his first match to Shingo and a second consecutive defeat would have put him at a major disadvantage, but wrestlers have come back from it before and the epic drama of the finishing stretch would have seemed more appropriate had Miyahara been battling against elimination from the tournament. But, still, this was a tremendous effort and comfortably the most worthwhile thing from this evening’s wrestling. *** ½.
Standings at the end of Night 2:
YUJI HINO- M1, W1, D0, L0- PTS 2
SHINGO TAKAGI- M1, W1, D0, L0- PTS 2
KENTO MIYAHARA- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
SHUJI ISHIKAWA- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
THE BODYGUARD- M0, W0, D0, L0- PTS 0
RYOUJI SAI- M0, W0, D0, L0- PTS 0
JOE DOERING- M1, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
NAOYA NOMURA- M1, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
ZEUS- M2, W2, D0, L0- PTS 4
JUN AKIYAMA- M1, W1, D0, L0- PTS 2
SUWAMA- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
NAOMICHI MARUFUJI- M0, W0, D0, L0- PTS 0
YUTAKA YOSHIE- M0, W0, D0, L0- PTS 0
KAI- M1, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
YOSHITATSU- M1, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
DYLAN JAMES- M0, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
Unsurprisingly, a mixed bag of matches from the first couple of nights, with the excellent Kento Miyahara having the two stand-outs. Everything else is perfectly skippable although big lads aficionados may get more out of the two Shuji Ishikawa matches than I did, and Jun Akiyama vs. Dylan James was a fun way to spend a couple of minutes. Anything with Zeus can be enthusiastically avoided!