AJPW Champion Carnival N16/Block A Finals (4.25.19) review

AJPW Champion Carnival N16/Block A Finals (4.25.19) review

AJPW Champion Carnival

 

April 25 2019

 

We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall and we’re nearly done on this Champion Carnival tour. It’s taken me two days to get to this because of other commitments (and I went to see Avengers, sue me) but I’m here and excited. Today is the Block A finals. Block A has killed it on this tour. Dylan James has delivered in a big way. Okabayashi and Miyahara have been on top form all tour. Zeus, Ishikawa, Sai and Aoki have all provided thrills and spills. Aoyagi has perhaps come up a little short on my lofty expectations of him but Valletta has been the Block’s one failure. Only four guys are alive going into the last day. Conveniently enough two of them are wrestling each other in the main event. This is unheard of!

 

Standings:

 

BLOCK A

Dylan James [9]

Yuji Okabayashi [9]

Zeus [8]

Kento Miyahara [8]

Shuji Ishikawa [7]

Ryoji Sai [7]

Atsushi Aoki [6]

Gianni Valletta [6]

Yuma Aoyagi [4]

 

BLOCK B

Naoya Nomura [8]

Joe Doering [8]

Jake Lee [8]

Suwama [8]

Yoshitatsu [8]

Daichi Hashimoto [8]

Takashi Yoshida [6]

Joel Redman [6]

Sam Adonis [4]

 

Ryouji Sai [7] vs. Yuma Aoyagi [4]

Aoyagi is keen to avoid the wooden spoon. Apart from Adonis he’s the only guy on four points. So he attacks Sai ahead of the bell, while he’s still wearing his jacket and about to hit some kind of slick pose on the buckles.

AJPW16Aoki

His success is relatively short-lived. Sai may have been inconsistent during this tournament but when he’s hit his best form he’s been sensational. Most of his best work has revolved around kicks and he makes a point of using those here. Aoyagi comes up short again here. He looks to have lead in his boots. He certainly takes a lot of punishment and does a decent job of fighting from underneath but his offence is lacking in dynamism. Even the opening dropkick is half speed. From a ‘wrestling is real’ perspective you can see why he’s dead last in Block A. Not enough aggression. Not enough fire. His desperation roll ups owe a lot to Sai. He pulls out the win here with his front chancery/chickenwing (I don’t know what it’s called), which has been an effective tool. Sai putting it over huge by tapping out immediately. This was ok but Aoyagi needed to show me more here, which has been a theme.

Final Rating: ***

 

Atsushi Aoki [6] vs. Dylan James [9]

In the unlikely event of a James victory Kento Miyahara is eliminated and also Zeus before he’s even wrestled. I’m not saying the outcome of this one is entirely predictable but a James win would completely eliminate the thrill of the last two matches. A definite issue with these tournaments.

AJPW16ActuallyAoki

As with several other Aoki opponents he’s at a massive size disadvantage. 80lbs and 10 inches in height. This dynamic is one that James has struggled to deal with in Japan and is massively better as a worker when he has another heavyweight to clash with. While Dylan isn’t at his best here a lot of his offence is still effective and Aoki gets beaten up for most of the contest. James has a distinct lack of focus for a man within touching distance of winning CC and Aoki repeatedly scores near falls from cradles. From a storyline perspective I put it down to James being tired and complacent from a long tour and even overlooking Aoki and thinking about the final. Aoki catches him out of a chokeslam and rolls him up for the inevitable upset win. Dylan James has had an excellent tournament though and it’s cemented him as a top guy. Maybe All Japan’s best gaijin. Dylan James is eliminated despite being level on points at the top as either Okabayashi or Miyahara has to score points from their match. Unless they both get thrown out of the tournament for misconduct?

Final Rating: ***1/4

 

Zeus [8] vs. Shuji Ishikawa [7]

Two big lads going at it here. Ishikawa has been disappointing at times during CC, leaving himself eliminated before the last series of matches while Zeus has looked fiery great at times. This is Shuji’s last shot at getting some standing back whereas Zeus is in a sensational position. If he wins here then Miyahara is out. Only Okabayashi can best him.

AJPW16Zeus

Zeus looks genuinely revved up here. Like he can taste victory, which is a better approach than Dylan James took to the last match. As a wrestler you have to convey a sense of inevitable desire to win, even when you’re booked to lose Sasha Banks. Zeus gives us that here. He’s so fired up! He’s desperate for points. Desperate for respect. Desperate for another Triple Crown win. He wants that fucking Champion Carnival and Shuji Ishikawa is in his way! Zeus overpowering Shuji on the rolling suplexes is wonderful stuff. He just wants it more! It gets to the point where I think he’s winning here. He’s winning it all! Zeus is bringing it home baby!

AJPW16Zeus2

It’s his own ambition that causes his undoing. He wants a big move on the apron/off the apron and it’s countered. Up to that point Zeus has it but he feels he needs a big spot to finish Shuji off. Instead it fires Shuji up and he’s offended that Zeus would try to hurt him to win this. Ishikawa promptly turns it up a notch. His interest in two points is minimal. His interest in smashing Zeus as revenge for a spot that never happened is palpable. Zeus maintains his energy and enthusiasm and now it is anyone’s game.

AJPW16Shuji

Zeus takes everything Shuji has and his big knee is kicked out of at one. One! Eventually Ishikawa puts him down but Zeus only lost the match. He retained people’s hearts with his drive and desire during this. Some wrestlers take losses so personally that it effects their performance in the match. Zeus gave it his all here. As if the outcome was massively important to him as a human being. Like his very life depended on it.

Final Rating: ****1/4

 

AJPW16Miyahara

 

Kento Miyahara [8] vs. Yuji Okabayashi [9]

So it comes down to this. Is it Kento’s year? He’s the ace, he’s the champ but he could potentially win CC and continue to define this era. He came close last year but last year I felt the whole tournament was set up for Marufuji vs. Miyahara to be a title defence after the tournament. Here it feels like Miyahara vs. Okabayashi is the big match.

AJPW16Okabayashi

AJPW16Main

Miyahara is wonderful here. Trying to avoid Okabayashi’s big strikes and trying to figure out what makes the Big Japan powerhouse tick. Miyahara has this unique style where you can see him thinking, trying to figure out an opponent. Too many wrestlers are focused on the next sequence or the next spot and they forget about telling the story in between. Miyahara wants you to think he’s thinking about strategy and it’s the little things that make a difference in wrestling.

 

For Okabayashi his story is simple. He feels he can batter any opponent and overpower them. There’s very little strategy employed. However in doing so he’s playing into Miyahara’s strengths. Miyahara routinely gets beaten up during his matches. This is the ace, after all. He’s used to people coming for him. His resilience is why he’s on top of this promotion. He took on that responsibility when other wrestlers were gunning for the top spot but he TOOK IT. He’s only three years in as the top guy too. He’s only 30 years old. He’s going to get better.

AJPW16OkaKento

Miyahara wears Okabayashi out here. Not by attacking him but by taking his abuse for ages. Kento does a grand job of hitting and moving after that too. With Okabayashi swinging wildly and Miyahara jabbing at him with knees, trying to set up the finish. Okabayashi connects sometimes but can’t consistently land. Kento gets the trapping German suplex and picks up the win. He’s going to the final back to back years. This time he’s in the driving seat, having already dispatched the big import.

Final Rating: ****1/4

 

AJPW16fingerguns

Look at this level of respect. Finger guns! Finger gun respect.

 

Summary:

A great ending to a great Block. Two cracking bouts to finish. Miyahara vs. Okabayashi was, on paper, the potential showstealer but Zeus came close to being the best performer on the night. Standings confirm that Kento is the only one to make double figures. Even if Kento wins Champion Carnival he has three potential challengers who defeated him; Valletta, Ishikawa and ZEUS!

 

Standings:

 

BLOCK A

Kento Miyahara [10]

Dylan James [9]

Yuji Okabayashi [9]

Shuji Ishikawa [9]

Zeus [8]

Atsushi Aoki [8]

Ryoji Sai [7]

Gianni Valletta [6]

Yuma Aoyagi [6]

 

BLOCK B

Naoya Nomura [8]

Joe Doering [8]

Jake Lee [8]

Suwama [8]

Yoshitatsu [8]

Daichi Hashimoto [8]

Takashi Yoshida [6]

Joel Redman [6]

Sam Adonis [4]

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