AJPW Champion Carnival Night One
April 16 2017
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall. This is the start of one of the most hotly anticipated All Japan Champion Carnival’s in recent memory. It’s a stacked tournament with a host of talent from AJPW itself and from around Japan including Kento Miyahara, Zeus, Daisuke Sekimoto, KAI, Suwama, Shuji Ishikawa and the returning Joe Doering.
This has been beautifully edited down to 2h11m by GAORA. God fucking bless them. The collection of participants at the start gets me really excited because there is some serious talent involved in this tournament. And also Bodyguard. Noticeable that AJPW saviour Kento Miyahara comes out virtually last. He has earned the right to be treated as the best wrestler in the company because that’s what he is. As defending Carnival winner Sekimoto is the only man who enters after him. Older than dirt Dory Funk Jr. is wheeled out to read the proclamations.
He cannot pronounce the word “Korakuen” at all.
After some photo ops Joe Doering beats the piss out of everyone. The normally serene and honourable Japanese presentation ceremony turns into an absolute ruck. Joe clears the ring out and when Dory gives him the stink-eye, Doering is all “I’ll fuck you up too old man, get the fuck outta here” as the crowd chant “Joe”. I think this tournament is going to be a bit good.
Koji Iwamoto, Atsushi Maruyama, Yohei Nakajima & Yuma Aoyagi vs. Ultimo Dragon, Atsushi Aoki, Minoru Tanaka & Hikaru Sato
This is a young juniors vs. old juniors showcase match up to kick things off. Iwamoto is one of AJPW’s chosen stars for the future. Maruyama is good too. The veterans are open to giving them the chance to shine too. Especially Minoru Tanaka, who looks about 20 years younger than he actually is. Ultimo is looking spritely considering he’s 50 years old. The match takes place under a playful atmosphere in front of a lively Korakuen crowd, who have been fired up by Joe Doering’s displays of manliness. Some of the womenfolk have fallen pregnant and some younger fans have passed out. Iwamoto takes advantage of the situation to murder Sato with a judo throw. That must have been particularly satisfying against an MMA fighter. The trouble with the likes of Iwamoto, Maruyama and Aoyagi is that despite a tonne of talent none of them have personalities to speak of. Meanwhile Yohei has loads of personality but is the least of the four in the working stakes. He’s singled out for his inadequacies and submitted by Sato, getting a measure of revenge for that judo bullshit.
Final Rating: **1/2
Masanobu Fuchi, Takao Omori, Ryoji Sai & Dalton Drellich vs. Jun Akiyama, Dory Funk Jr, Osamu Nishimura & Yutaka Yoshie
What the? What the fuck? Is this an actual match? Is this actually happening?
You bet your sweet ass it is. My second question is – who in the blue hell is Dalton Drellich? I can only assume he was trained by Dory and is on the show as a personal favour to the Funker. You just don’t say no when Dory asks for stuff. Which explains why he keeps appearing on wrestling shows despite being well into his 70s. He’s not the only old codger on display but he is the oldest codger on display. There’s nothing quite as sad as watching an old relic try to look legitimate. Dory tries to work inside and make his strikes look snug and for a 76 year old it’s not bad but for anyone else it’s a joke. People are way too respectful around the old bugger. The lad Dalton doesn’t look bad by comparison, running some carnie stuff with Yoshie. Nobody is quite sure if they’re supposed to be selling for him and Nishimura just rolls him up for what appears to be a shoot pin. Dalton claims he kicked out but nobody gives a shit. Thanks for coming. Dory, as per usual, not only never left his feet but never even removed his hat. There is no one in wrestling that I want to retire more than Dory Funk Jr.
Final Rating: *1/4
All matches from this point on are Champion Carnival block matches.
Daichi Hashimoto vs. Naoya Nomura
It’s Shinya Hashimoto’s boy vs. All Japan’s youngster. Not to be confused, as I frequently do, with Takuya Nomura, one of the best young wrestlers in the world. He needs to show fire here and he fucking does, going toe to toe with the legend’s son and they wail on each other. I’m a big fan of D-Hash taking on some of his father’s traits including costume, attitude, moves and getting slightly pudgy. And yet he retains a sense of self. This is an energetic sprint, running around five minutes, which never has time to outstay its welcome. Daichi finishes with a very Shiny Wizard. This was five minutes of fun. D-Hash looked great in winning and Nomura spirited in getting his ass handed to him.
Final Rating: ***
Kengo Mashimo vs. The Bodyguard
Kengo is representing Kaientai Dojo and he’s been their ace since Yuji Hino upped sticks for Wrestle-1. Bodyguard is a lot of muscles held together by tattoos. He’s announced as being “Bodygaaaaaaaah”, which is a source of great amusement. Bodyguard isn’t highly regarded but he recently had a title match with Miyahara that was really good. Whether that was a sign of Bodyguard’s improvement or merely a demonstration of Miyahara’s outstanding ability is open for debate. Kengo tries to make this a technical match where he works Bodyguard’s leg but Bodyguard ends up selling his leg like someone who is familiar with the concept of pain but has never actually experienced it. He could probably tear his quad clean off the bone and just carry on like nothing happened. It would merely limit the number of reps in his evening workout. Bodyguard bench-presses pain and bicep curls the concept of selling. Mashimo tries anyway, bless him, but he’s on a losing course of action. Bodyguard just batters the poor unsuspecting bastard with power moves. Bodyguard’s idea of selling in this match is kicking Kengo in the head with his bad leg for the pin and then eating a nice steak dinner. Goddamn it, what else do you want from him? It’s the Bodygaaaaaah.
Final Rating: **3/4
KAI vs. Zeus
KAI has changed his look again, from sleazy denim wearing beardo to clean-cut ‘back home’ All Japan grappler. He’s all excited to be back and behaves like a rookie. Wrestle-1 did everything possible to ruin this guys career. Glad to see him get a second go around. Hope he doesn’t fuck it up. Zeus is one of the most improved wrestlers in the fucking world. If you compare his work from three years ago to now it’s a world of difference. He is legitimately an option for when AJPW want to finally job Miyahara to someone. He treats KAI like something he stepped in while strolling through the park with his weightlifting buddies. At one point he ignores a tope. Zeus makes KAI work for everything and puts the kind of thrashing on him that belies his status. KAI has to prove he belongs here and frankly struggles in the face of adversity, and chops. The way Zeus approaches the match makes it hard to remember that KAI is, in fact, a seasoned pro with a decade of experience. Zeus treats him like a total bitch. KAI’s calling in life has gone begging. His underdog thrashing here is majestic. They end up going back and forth down the stretch and KAI scores the upset win just inside ten minutes. Incredible sprint and KAI took such a beating here.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Jake Lee vs. Kento Miyahara
Jake Lee is the guy who wants to be The Man in AJPW. He longs to be The Man. He’s tall, he’s good at wrestling and the people like him. But he’s not Kento Miyahara and Kento is standing directly in his way to the top.
Miyahara is the guy who rebuilt All Japan. When he took on the mantle of ‘ace’ the buildings were barely half full and now they’re full and they’re rowdy. Jake is one his prospective rivals but the level of professionalism on Miyahara is that much higher. Lee almost seems content to live in Miyahara’s shadow. When Jake starts getting uppity here, refusing clean breaks and generally standing up for himself, Kento beats him up.
The champ is convinced he had mush Jake Lee’s face into the ring post and if the referee thinks differently he’s wrong because this is the house that Kento built! The match has wonderful fire from both guys. Lee in the role of the lanky underdog. Kento in the role of the domineering champion. They start to knock lumps out of each other and the idea that Jake Lee might even win begins to formulate in the old grey matter. Surely not. This is especially evident when they start throwing bombs and the odd knee strike looks to have finished the match, for both men. They both do sensational work in looking completely beaten with desperation kick-outs. Miyahara has been putting together a body of work and this is another logical step on his progression to the very top. He down Jake with the German suplex at the second time of asking but it was the knee exchanges that killed it here. Both in terms of the reactions and the selling. Top work. Fiery good match.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Joe Doering
We have an all-out meat collision! Some good ol’ fashioned Southern countries beef versus the prime cut fillet that is Daisuke Sekimoto. Or should I say Thiccsuke Thiccamoto? No, Daisuke Sekimoto. It’s two very manly men who aren’t afraid of lifting heavy objects. Sekimoto in particular. He feels the urge to Torture Rack big Joe and does so with a massive smile across his chops.
He looks a bear, mauling another bigger bear. One he caught by surprise with his stealthy bearness. The whole match is loaded with impressive power moves and big strikes. It’s only 6.42 in duration before Doering wins with the Spiral Bomb but my god it’s a lot of fun.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Suwama vs. Shuji Ishikawa
More Big Lads here. Ishikawa is an import from Big Japan/DDT while Suwama is the local boy. This means two things. 1. Suwama isn’t going to take any shit from Johnny Foreigner. 2. Both guys are aware the Ace of the company just put on a blinder and they have to ‘main event’ the same show. Time to strap on the work boots. Luckily Shuji is a phenomenal wrestler when the mood takes him, which it frequently does. My concern is not with him but with Suwama, who has struggled since missing time with a torn Achilles tendon and can be…unpredictable in terms of quality. This being in front of a sold out Korakuen Hall it’s business time for these lads.
It’s a fairly stiff encounter before the moment of controversy but when Shuji Ishikawa decides to drop the nut on Suwama, just a few weeks after Shibata’s horrible, potentially career ending head injury, we’re stepping up the intensity. Suwama gets opened up hardway and Shuji looks really pleased with himself. In Ishikawa’s defence the force involved was nowhere near that of Shibata’s against Okada and the blood is far more accidental than on that occasion. It’s also not a spot the match hinges on but the results of it are evident. Suwama’s blood loss is troubling and yet it adds to the atmosphere of the match. They’re battering each other and that’s what happens when you get into a scrap. Suwama is not the best at tackling this style of match, whereas Ishikawa is a stalwart from the Stronk division. This shows in the more advanced stages of the match where Ishikawa has another gear. Suwama is like a camper van. He basically has one gear and it ain’t very fast but he’s fairly reliable. Ishikawa is a monster truck, one that’s currently driving over the top of a dilapidated camper van. The near falls in this are wonderful as they both take huge power moves until Suwama surprises Shuji with a Last Ride and then plants the staggered giant with a Backdrop Driver for the pin. There’s blood everywhere. Both men look totally fucked and a good time was had by all.
Final Rating: ****
This was jolly good fun. All of the Champion Carnival matches were worthwhile and top to bottom it might be the best All Japan show I’ve seen since Jun Akiyama took over. Definitely watch the last four matches for an array of violence and excellent professional wrestling.