AJPW New Year Wars
January 3 2019
All Japan kicked off their new year the day before this but it was an unremarkable show on paper and resulted in an unremarkable show. Show two is far more exciting on paper so I’m here for the entire thing.
Yusuke Okada & Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Hokuto Omori & Danji Tamura
A new year, a fresh crop of rookies out of All Japan’s dojo. Okada came through in 2017 so he’s a seasoned veteran by comparison. Omori started towards the end of the last year. Aoyagi is Yuma Aoyagi’s younger brother. Danji is clearly the worst of this crop, which is a shame because I really like his name. Okada with his two year head start bosses the bulk of the match and gets the submission with the Boston crab. Aoyagi and Omori get into a little shoving contest after the match and I’m here for rookies being angry at each other!
Final Rating: **1/4
Masanobu Fuchi & Yoshitatsu vs. Osamu Nishimura & Hikaru Sato
The sight of Tatsu trying to outwrestle Sato and then getting taken to school on the mat is the stuff of dreams. “hey, look at me, I’m a shooter….oh shit”. Sato continues his dominance by slaying old man Fuchi with leg kicks! Fuchi, at 64 years old, might be one of the most consistent workers in the world. He sells like a champ and his concealed punch should be taught to every rookie in the world. Fuchi gets so tired doing scoop slams than Nishimura rolls him up. Tatsu seems annoyed but he kept telling Fuchi to do more slams. This is all your fault Tatsu!
Final Rating: **1/2
Sweeper (Ryouji Sai, Jake Lee & Koji Iwamoto) vs. Zeus, Jun Akiyama & Atsushi Maruyama
Maruyama might as well be carrying a placard to the ring saying “I’m about to eat a pinfall”.
Jake Lee has become the focus of some of All Japan’s direction. They clearly feel he has the necessary talents to be a big star. Jury is still out on that. Meanwhile Zeus is the clear cut hero of the other team. In 2018 he solidified his spot in AJPW by winning the Triple Crown and having AJPW’s MOTY with Kento Miyahara to end it. He carries himself like an absolute goddamn star here.
It’s not just his offence but he feels entirely convincing duelling with Sai, who clearly isn’t on his level and somehow makes himself look like an underdog in this. The juniors feel a step below everyone else and their work, while good, feels inconsequential. That said Maruyama absolutely eats a judo throw from Iwamoto at the finish, landing on his head and neck. It feels like a genuine finish. Obviously Zeus ruled the roost here but I’m not excited for him vs. Jake Lee because Jake Lee has a tremendous history of being so incredibly disappointing.
Final Rating: ***
The Bomber (Joe Doering & Dylan James) & Gianni Valletta vs. Evolution (Shuji Ishikawa, Suwama & Atsushi Aoki)
I really hope Aoki’s new year’s resolution was to actually give a shit in 2019. He and Valletta are window dressing to the real match here; Violent Giants vs. The Bomber. Valletta is from Malta. I’ve actually seen him on tape from Hungary recently. He’s 6’4”/242lbs but looks small when he’s in there with his teammates.
Aoki gets bullied for most of the match before they enter into the Hoss Fights Section of the contest. My god, Jim Ross would be loving this. Everyone is like 6’5”. That doesn’t happen in Japan. Poor Valletta probably thought he was going to Monster Gaijin but he’s the guy who eats the fall on his team, driven into the mat by Suwama. Which is fine by me because we get to hear his swank entrance music again. This was a pretty great little match with Aoki getting his ass kicked for ages before they all bounced off each other for 3 minutes flat.
Final Rating: ***
GAORA TV Championship
TAJIRI (c) vs. Minoru Fujita
Fujita makes the interesting fashion decision of wearing a burlap sack over his head. Which makes me laugh because they show him the belt before the match and he can’t see it because he’s got a burlap sack over his head. Tajiri should have just buzzsaw kicked him and won in three seconds. Fujita is a guy who never seems to settle. He started out in Big Japan and Michinoku Pro wrestling, but he quickly moved to New Japan, went overseas to America, was in Kaientai Dojo after that and settled into the bulk of his career in Zero1. But even after that, when he left Zero1, he’s drifted around. At 41 his best years are probably behind him, which is also definitely true of Tajiri who relies a lot on character now. Tajiri, who is now 48, actually trained Fujita back in the Big Japan days.
You’ll notice I’ve not mentioned the match very much and there’s a reason for that. They don’t do very much. As with Fuchi they use small spots to make them look big. Here it’s armdrags and hip tosses. Which is all well and good when you’re an old man doing a comedy match but in a bout third top at Korakuen Hall you expect better. There is certainly more urgency but it feels tired. I’m waiting for Tajiri to break out the big kicks and switch the match up. A lot of their sequences aren’t clean enough and it only picks up about ten minutes in. It’s hard for me to overlook a middling match just because it gets good at the end but if you can overlook the build, the last couple of minutes is really slick. Then they do stuff with the burlap sack. Oh dear. Tajiri at one point has to put the sack back on his head when it falls off. It’s a shame because the spear he takes is excellent. The ref finally takes the sack off Tajiri’s head and the Mist takes Fujita out. Extremely patchy match with a rollercoaster of highs and lows.
Final Rating: **3/4
All Asia Tag Team Championship
NEXTREAM (Naoya Nomura & Yuma Aoyagi) (c) vs. Takao Omori & Black Menso-re
Menso is Yohei Nakajima having another go at a masked gimmick.
It’s certainly a better looking mask than the babyface one but it’s the same wrestler inside. Only now he seems to think his arm is a snake. I’m into it. Omori is not the wrestler he once was. His legs have gone and he can’t keep up with the kids across the ring. It’s a little sad but it happens. He is 49 years old and is quite tall and he has a background in impact sport. Nomura & Aoyagi are in a good spot here. They’re building a reputation and slowly getting better, while seeming important for carrying tag straps. Omori is surely aware of his own limitations and he spends a good chunk of the match taking spots to put these younger guys over. The champs look fantastic on offence. Everything is purposeful and high impact. The ragtag challengers being teased as winners feels very weird as they’re clearly not as good but it does allow Nomura to demonstrate his great last gasp blind kickouts. Omori really struggles towards the finish. The only good looking spot he hits is when Nomura is whipped into his Axe Bomber. 17 minutes is probably too much for the old timer but he feels like a significant scalp and Nomura gets to kick out of his finish. Nomura hits the DVD on Omori for the pin. If you can ignore Omori being decrepit here it was a really good match.
Final Rating: ***1/2
AJPW Triple Crown Championship
Kento Miyahara (c) vs. KAI
Is it weird that KAI comes out second? It feels weird.
Kento feels like a big main event attraction regardless of who he’s facing. One major issue with Kento is that he can’t sell for shit but when he’s in a match that’s just big bombs and high speed counters he’s fucking great. That match with Zeus for example. KAI is clearly here to show what he can do and their opening sequence is 150mph balls out Dragon Gate style. Strap in for a wild ride! The match isn’t flawless or anything. At one point a photographer gets in Kento’s way and he murders him with a stare. He’s dead. Do not resuscitate. I’m a little sad that KAI opts to work the leg over too, knowing full well that Kento can’t sell a bad knee.
Luckily this is short lived and they decide to throw each other at furniture instead and murder each other with headbutts.
Then the match slows down a bit and I wish it was as tighter contest. The run time is nearly 30 minutes and it would benefit from being that little bit more compact. All killer, no filler. When it slows down it does so because they don’t have 30 minutes of stuff. Going long for the sake of it is disappointing. Also they go back to the leg match, which is never a good idea with Kento and ruins all the good work around it. Specifically that Miyahara hits knee strikes for his comeback from having his leg worked over. He does this shit all the time but it doesn’t make it acceptable via repetition and it’s his only major flaw as a wrestler. The good news is that KAI is on rare form here. Full of confidence and keen to prove he belongs in the Triple Crown conversation.
When was the last time KAI was this convincing in singles? Probably 2011 when he was in All Japan and wrestling those junior title bangers. His performance here is that good and it’s taken way too long for him to repeat his junior efforts. I completely 1000% blame Wrestle-1 for continually botching his big push/run there. The best thing I can say about this match is it feels tonally like Tanahashi vs. Nakamura. They have that intensity and excellence and if they’d kept off the leg match, or Kento had sold it, this could have been pushing up towards five stars. Legitimately the potential is that high but that one major flaw in execution lets them down. KAI works a masterful match. His cheeky little kick to the knee to escape the German suplex is art. I’m tempted to go higher on the rating just because of KAI and how great he is here. I’m hoping Kento has some kind of back story to support his indestructible knees. Like he’s a cyborg or something. Anyway, he toughs this out and wins with the German. Fucking great match, although it’s impossible overlook the selling issues that plagued it.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Watch the main event. All Japan is patchy as fuck but in KAI they’ve rediscovered one of the great forgotten talents of Japanese wrestling.