AJPW Champion Carnival N11
April 21 2018
We’re in Osaka at the EDION Arena. This is the second consecutive Osaka show after a solid night of action on Friday 20th. As the tournament reaches the latter stages the excitement levels are growing. The matches are more important and the stakes are raised! On tap tonight we have Akiyama vs. Zeus and Marufuji vs. Suwama in two key Block B bouts while Shingo vs. Sai and Shuji vs. an injured Bodyguard feature for Block A.
Shingo Takagi  vs. Ryouji Sai 
Due to his belated involvement it’s easy to write Sai off as an also-ran but he’s positioned himself nicely after four matches. If he can best Takagi he can move within striking distance of the big boys with two to play! Likewise Shingo needs to win here to stay in touch. Whoever loses is effectively out of the running. Sai makes a terrible error, kayfabe wise, in the early going by high kicking the ring post. Shingo will not let him forget it either. Even when Sai is throwing a bunch of kicks Shingo keeps going back to the leg. I appreciate his attempts to draw Sai into a coherent narrative even if it’s blatantly in vain. Sai’s wildly inconsistent selling is overwhelming and distracts from his attempts to kick fuck out of Shingo, leaving me solidly on the fence as to whether I think this is good or not. Like with most matches that have selling issues if those issues are completely ignored there’s a blinding match in there.
Shingo gives up on the leg work and chokes Sai instead, scoring the win that way. This was both a thrill ride and a huge disappointment at the same time. I wish when wrestlers did the ‘leg match’ they didn’t just drop it halfway through. Sai was especially bad at it here and I’m glad he lost. His match with Naoya Nomura the night before was way better. Shingo remains in contention with the win, Sai is mathematically eliminated in defeat. For some bizarre reason he feels the need to sell his leg as broken on the way out. Where was that selling in the match?
Final Rating: ***
Bodyguard  vs. Shuji Ishikawa 
Speaking of broken legs; here’s Bodyguard who is legitimately injured and working through the pain of a calf injury. When he competed, despite being advertised as hurt, against Yuji Hino I figured he was booked to win there as he forfeited against Kento Miyahara. Him turning him here doesn’t have the same impact as Shuji is involved in a big final day showdown with Shingo Takagi. Bodyguard being legitimately hurt means he has to sell and does a bang-up job of it. Shuji’s best performances in this tournament have come from underestimating opponents and he does that here. Giving Bodyguard the kind of look that a hunter would give a deer with two broken legs. Bodyguard knows his injury too. He tries a high kick and hurts himself doing it but then happily powers out of a pin at one to show he’s still strong, just partially fucked. Shuji puts the poor bastard out of his misery with the Fire Thunder Driver and we’re done. Now *that* was a fucking leg match. Shuji had to win here or his tournament was over and Bodyguard has an out with the injury.
Final Rating: ***
Naomichi Marufuji  vs. Suwama 
This is a very slow paced match, which was not what I was expecting as they go the ‘NOAH Main Event’ route. There are a lot of random headlocks and ‘wear down’ wrestling, which makes no difference whatsoever to the latter stages. It picks up when they get into reversals out of this run of holds, although the reversals themselves look ‘dancey’. It takes the dynamic to switch to big strikes to really get me invested. The superkick/lariat trade off is nice. Suwama shouldn’t be dancing anyway, he should be trading big bombs.
Part of my issue with the whole ‘wear down’ sequence is that none of it impairs the wrestlers from hitting big bombs down the stretch. It just prolongs the match. And the vast majority of the holds are designed with no purpose in mind. Does Marufuji working a headlock do anything for the story of the match? A secondary issue is that Suwama isn’t very good at taking Marufuji’s moves and that makes them look less effective. While Marufuji throws himself into Suwama’s bumps and kicks out of his shit at the last possible instant. His bumps aren’t perfect or anything but he puts more effort in to make Suwama look good.
The match finishes with Suwama’s Last Ride and I’m a little shocked that Marufuji came up short here after defeat to Zeus. Was his presence in the tournament a swerve all along? It can’t be a red herring, surely, as Marufuji vs. Akiyama headlines the final night in Korakuen Hall for Block B.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Sidenote: Now that I think about it this makes sense as Zeus can now beat Akiyama and create a three-way tie for the lead. Marufuji left a win behind everyone else so he must beat Akiyama on the last day to make the final while Suwama is destined to be upset by Dylan James. We’re on the same page again Jun!
Zeus  vs. Jun Akiyama 
Zeus’ crazy rap entrance, complete with waving of banners, is starting to get over with me.
It helps that he looks like he’s been chiselled out of marble. He makes Michaelangelo’s David look like a punk.
You gotta turn that mush to muscle Dave! Akiyama, almost appropriately, turns up looking like he a big steak dinner followed by a nap before the show. Akiyama’s attitude here is to put this fucking musclehead kid in check. Embarrass him with basic wrestling holds and ignore anything he does in retaliation. Surly old fucker Akiyama is one of my favourites. When Akiyama utterly refuses a test of strength, it actually pisses Zeus off. It occurs to me I’ve never seen Zeus lose his cool. His Irish whips into the rails here are amazing. Zeus lays in those chops until he gets the respect he feels he deserves.
Which in turn infuriates Akiyama and he beats the shit out of Zeus on the floor. At one point repeatedly ignoring the referee to go back out and dish out more damage. Akiyama’s levels of effort during this tournament are astonishing. It’s like he feels he needs to step it up on every show and bring that aggression. It’s created a series of terrific little matches and this might be the best of the lot. Akiyama spends the match bullying Zeus, ‘putting him in his place’ and kicking his butt. Then he takes the job because he understands the nature of wrestling. If you beat someone up constantly and then win as well then what do they have left? It’s something the power crazy in wrestling rarely understand. I’m glad Akiyama has the book in AJPW.
Final Rating: ****
A look at the Blocks before we head out. Block A is now a five horse race. Sai is out. Shuji, Shingo and Doering all bubbling under Hino vs. Miyahara, which takes place on the final day of Block action. My money is on Miyahara vs. Marufuji in the final. Let’s see if that plays out. Block B is a four horse race. Suwama and Zeus have both improved after slow starts and they’re level with Akiyama, with Marufuji a win behind.
YUJI HINO- M6, W4, D0, L2- PTS 8
KENTO MIYAHARA- M5, W4, D0, L1- PTS 8
JOE DOERING- M5, W3, D0, L2- PTS 6
SHINGO TAKAGI- M5, W3, D0, L2- PTS 6
SHUJI ISHIKAWA- M5, W3, D0, L2- PTS 6
RYOUJI SAI- M5, W2, D0, L3- PTS 4
NAOYA NOMURA- M5, W1, D0, L4- PTS 2
THE BODYGUARD- M6, W1, D0, L5- PTS 2
JUN AKIYAMA- M6, W4, D0, L2- PTS 8
SUWAMA- M5, W4, D0, L1- PTS 8
ZEUS- M6, W4, D0, L2- PTS 8
NAOMICHI MARUFUJI- M5, W3, D0, L2- PTS 6
DYLAN JAMES- M6, W2, D0, L4- PTS 4
YOSHITATSU- M5, W2, D0, L3- PTS 4
KAI- M5, W2, D0, L3- PTS 4
YUTAKA YOSHIE- M5, W1, D0, L4- PTS 2
Arguably the most consistent night of action in Champ Carnival so far, although N7 was also very strong. There’s a definite feeling this tournament is back loaded and is about to come to life. The standard being higher here was indicative of the direction of the tournament. The best is yet to come.