AJPW Valentine’s Day Special
February 14 2017
We’re in Tochigi, Japan. I fancied checking out a smaller show from All Japan, with their tour forthcoming, and opted for this show because the card is, frankly, fantastic. It might be in front of 300 people but who gives a shit? This show is sponsored by “Gimi Choco”. In honour of this momentous chocolate/love crossover I’m listening to Babymetal.
Yuma Aoyagi vs. Yusuke Okada
Okada is yet another young boy that’s progressed to the ranks of wrestler. Japan produces new talents at a frightening rate. There really aren’t enough spots for them all. The two young lads go from hold to hold in a traditional display while I nod my head along to Babymetal. It’s like the least interesting music video of all time. Aoyagi has been wrestling for a couple of years so he’s virtually the veteran here and helps to structure a very basic match. Aoyagi tries like hell to get a chinlock over as a deadly finish before hitting a backdrop driver instead. Nothing to see here.
Final Rating: **
Jun Akiyama & Naoshi Sano vs. Takao Omori & Fuminori Abe
Akiyama is trying to reduce his influence over the in-ring and has dropped down the card to reflect this. Hopefully this means he’ll be dishing out more dramatic thrashings to weakling young boy who don’t deserve to be in the ring with him. That’s my favourite version of Jun. Scrawny Young boy Abe with his plain black trunks is asking to get his chest caved in. Omori doesn’t let Akiyama exist alone in the valley of the surly old bastards. He’s quite at home there too. The size difference makes the two older men look like vicious brutes, seniors in high school, beating up small children in the park. I’m all for it. Part of Japanese wrestling tradition is that young men must earn the right to wrestle. This right has to be beaten into them. Thank you sir, may I have another? Neither of the old chaps put any kind of effort in, which you can’t blame them for on the Japanese tour equivalent of Largo. The kids, on the other hand, do everything in their power to try and get over. Akiyama eventually gets sick of taking bumps for junior dropkicks and finishes with an Explodser.
Final Rating: **1/2
Yohei Nakajima vs. Yasufumi Nakanoue
This match has a slightly odd backdrop with two giant chickens, or something, in the ring pre-match. They present the wrestlers with flowers and chocolate.
I’ve included two pictures just so I can confirm this actually happened and I’m not suffering from acid flashbacks. Once the frivolities are over and my nerves have calmed down a bit they get on with some actual wrestling. I’m reminded that Nakanoue has gotten better since quitting Wrestle-1*. He’s really working on that Japanese grappler physique. He looks like he’s up to a 0.3 Nakanishi breakfast. This allows him to shrug off Nakajima’s assaults with his feeble junior weight arms. He’s taken down by a dropkick but that might just be a dumpling repeating on him. Nakajima, to offset all this overeating and pre-match furry convention bullshit, works over Nakanoue’s arm. Not the left arm, like a mark, but the right arm. The lariat arm. Yohei even gets some tasty pins by holding the injured arm. If Nakanoue could find it in his cold heart to show pain then Nakajima might even win. Instead he lariats pain, right in the neck. Then he lariats Nakajima. Then he lariats the time-space continuum, rupturing it so badly that he holds every single title in wrestling simultaneously for 30 seconds. The rift closes and Nakajima is left pondering where he went wrong.
Final Rating: ***1/2
*I sense a trend developing.
Atsushi Aoki, Minoru Tanaka, Masahi Takeda & Kazuhiro Tamura vs. Hikaru Sato, Keisuke Ishii, Atsushi Maruyama & Koji Iwamoto
This is a beautifully eclectic collection of cruiserweights from various Japanese promotions. Minoru Tanaka times his salute in the corner perfectly in time with the tape hitting 40 minutes. Like bang on, to the second. That’s how tremendous he is. He’s time-stamping his best poses. All Japan are their best when they don’t have enough wrestlers to fill out a card and need to haul wrestlers from all corners to Japan to fill the void. It means the normies, like Aoki, are forced to do something different for a change. Considering there are eight cruisers out there the match is surprisingly pedestrian. As if they had a group discussion backstage pre-show about the stereotyping of smaller wrestlers as exciting and capable of feats of athleticism and decided to grind through a bunch of heat segments instead. That’ll teach you and your pre-conceived notions! It’s lifted slightly by Tamura deciding he wants to fight Sato. They get worked into a shoot and the cruiserweights natural defence mechanisms are triggered. Topes! The sequence between Minoru and Ishii is even better, with Tanaka going from kneebars to leaping high kicks effortlessly. While the match simmered for a long time once it boils it stays feisty until the kettle is dry. Aoki tries to break Iwamoto’s arm and that’s the submission finish. Bad start but this rocked by the time it was all said and done. All these gentlemen are in the Battle for Junior Glory tournament that’s taking place on the next tour.
Final Rating: ***
Takuya Nomura vs. Suwama
Suwama is a big old dinosaur who doesn’t understand modern wrestling but does grasp the concept of cool hairstyles. Nomura doesn’t care about hairstyles because they don’t involve any wrestling. He is a goddamn purist. We’ll be singing his praises for many years to come as he grapples subpar workers into the ground all over the world. This is more of a trial to see how he fares against an established top tier guy. He brings the kind of intensity and technique to level the veteran and look entirely convincing in the process. Nomura is intense he knocks Nikkan Lee on her butt. This is something Suwama’s prehistoric brain can comprehend. He fires back, protecting the sanctity of officials and especially ones that wear tape on their pin-counting hand. The judo takedowns and surly submissions show that Suwama actually does give a shit. The size and brutality of Suwama is just too much for Nomura. While he caught Suwama cold in the early going as soon as Suwama gets going he’s like a freight train. Nomura might kick like a mule but if a mule gets hit by a freight train it turns into donkey jelly. Takuya keeps on fighting, like a chicken that’s been beheaded, unaware that’s he’s already beaten. It creates some fascinating late-match facials from Suwama. You can almost read his thoughts: “why are you still fighting?” “You’re dead, I already killed you”. Nomura refuses point blank to stay down for an assortment of murderous power moves so Suwama flattens him with a powerbomb to finally get the pin. This was all kinds of great. Nomura is only 23 but the astonishing thing is that he debuted last March. He’s still under a year for in-ring experience. This is how good he is after eleven months as a wrestler. I am scared.
Final Rating: ****
NEXTREAM (Kento Miyahara, Jake Lee & Naoya Nomura) vs. Hideyoshi Kamitani, Daichi Hashimoto & Kazumi Kikuta
Miyahara, AJPW Ace, has a tidy habit of ensuring that his boys work just as hard as him. And you know Big Japan talent is not going to want to get out-worked by the All Japan boys. We could be in for a blinder. If that’s the intent, that’s not how it begins. They don’t put their best foot forward. I feel every truly great match has a fiery start. Even if you settle into a slower pace after that you still need that energy out of the gate. The Big Japan lads play the heel role, as invading foreigners. Their main aim appears to be to keep Kento out of the match. Which is a sound strategy but deprives us of the best wrestler for huge chunks of the contest. The aim is to give much needed ring-time to his NEXTREAM running buddies and that’s the genuine point of smaller shows. Having Kento there is the draw but the purpose is to give young guys experience. Aoyagi and Kikuta spend an inordinate amount of time getting on my nerves with awkward timing being the number one frustration, swiftly followed by tiresome heat. It’s been a long fucking day. I am tired. Entertain me. Kento eventually strolls in and pins Kikuta with the German suplex. Fine, I’ll just go to sleep then. This was pretty underwhelming, especially given the talent involved and because it went twenty-two minutes, and most of that was the least interesting guys wrestling, it was a bit of a grind. At least Nomura bled hardway. That bumps it up to three stars.
Final Rating: ***
As a tour show this was exactly what you’d expect. Most of the big names did almost nothing of note. Instead the focus fell on Takuya Nomura, with under a year of experience under his belt, dragging a fight out of Suwama, whether the veteran wanted to or not. It ended up stealing the show easily. Everything else is a pass, apart from the logic employed by Nakajima and Nakanoue manning up in the face of adversity.