AJPW Yokohama Twilight Blues Special
February 3 2018
We’re in Yokohama at the Bunka Gymnasium. During this show AJPW announced their own streaming service, which means they’re no longer going to feature on the Real Hero drive. I am actually excited to see what wonderous stuff is on the AJPW VOD because their 90s content was nothing short of incredible. Most of my favourite matches of all time happened in the 90s in AJPW. It will also mean fairly prompt content from one of wrestling’s sleeping giants. I’m amazed NOAH haven’t yet jumped on this gimmick. There are a tonne of NOAH matches from the 00’s that I’d love to have at my fingertips.
Kotaro Suzuki, Koji Iwamoto, Yohei Nakajima & Hikaru Sato vs. Shuji Kondo, Atsushi Maruyama, Keiichi Sato & Yusuke Okada
Kondo has returned to AJPW! I never understood the Wrestle-1 split in the first place. There really isn’t enough demand for the sheer number of promotions in Japan that run the same King’s Road style as if they’re the best at it. Especially as NJPW has so many talented wrestlers on their books. The good news is there are more places for wrestlers to work and there seem to be far more successful wrestlers in Japan than ever before. Shotaro Ashino would have probably made it anyway but a lot of the Wrestle-1 boys have an outlet for their talents.
The reasoning for this match is the Jr. Battle of Glory, which is a forthcoming tournament featuring all these lads and a few others. Aoki, Soma Takao, Mineo Fujita and Tajiri will also be taking part. The teams are made up of guys from opposing blocks so while there are no clashes to hype the tournament blocks we may be seeing the two finalists clash early here. Based on the introductions the smart money is on Iwamoto vs. Kondo. They get into dissention between teammates pretty quickly. Kotaro kicking Kondo from the outside and Yohei taking exception to him interfering to the point where they get into a full-on brawl. Hikaru Sato gets the win with an armbar and everyone has a big old scrap. This was a decent advert for the forthcoming junior league. The real fire was in the same-team fights and the post-match scuffle. It did make me interested to see the tournament.
Final Rating: ***
Masanobu Fuchi & SUSHI vs. Ultimo Dragon & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi
A rare Kikuchi sighting, with his former tag team partner Kenta Kobashi on commentary. They used to have one of the best dynamics in tag team wrestling. Kikuchi would get the absolute shit kicked out of him and Kobashi would do everything in his power to protect him. This match is all about Fuchi concealing his punches to Ultimo. Every time he wrestles Ultimo Dragon they do about two spots and they’re both awesome. The concealed punch and the scoop slam. That’s all you need.
Open hand palm strike, Kikuchi, perfectly legal. pic.twitter.com/6pMEWqqOFn
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) February 4, 2018
Ultimo responds with his own badly concealed punches and the referee has to chide him for it.
Kikuchi takes the same punch with his trademark gurning. It’s not quite so adorable now he’s so old but he reminds me of an anime character. The action in this is not what you’d call ‘good’ by any stretch of the imagination and Ultimo puts the match out of its misery with La Majistral.
Kobashi’s comedic refusal to shake hands with Kikuchi, his former partner, despite a warm embrace with Ultimo Dragon is good stuff. Kobashi knows his subtle comedy routine. This was character driven old man wrestling. I’m fine with it but you can skip it if you just want the high quality in ring. If you want concealed punches, check this out.
Final Rating: **1/4
Big Guns & Yutaka Yoshie vs. Osamu Nishimura, Masakado & Black Tiger
Of all the people for AJPW to poach of Zero1 they’ve gone for Masakado? I mean; you get who’s available and it’s down to contracts and such but that company is loaded with talent and also Masakado.
Yutaka Yoshie is such a wholesome big lad. He knows he can't be slammed here but he's not mean about it. pic.twitter.com/z5CgoIxFSU
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) February 4, 2018
This match is such a mismatch. Nishimura is a competent veteran but the other two have zero chance of ever beating anyone on the other team. It’s one of Akiyama’s wacky pairings. To be fair; Nishimura vs. Zeus is pretty good. Nishimura bringing the old timey grappling technique and Zeus trying to wrestle out and then overpowering when that doesn’t work. Zeus remains a potential star for AJPW and he’s eager to showcase his ability to sell here while the clowns fuck around behind him. Zeus’ partners have a jolly good time kicking the crap out of Black Tiger but as a match it’s a whole lot of nothing. Zeus pins Black Tiger with Biceps Explosion (it’s a clothesline). This merely existed to allow Zeus the chance to shine. He must be overdue a top card match by now.
Final Rating: *3/4
Zeus did a little dance!!! pic.twitter.com/WmjR4JKP0X
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) February 4, 2018
Video Control announce the blocks for Champion Carnival and this year is the most ambitious it has been in some time. Shingo Takagi and Yuji Hino being included in Block A made me very excited. That’s the Doering/Kento Block! B Block is less exciting, featuring Suwama and KAI. However it does feature Zeus, old man Akiyama (back to battle the kids he’s tutoring) and Naomichi Marufuji! It’s a good field. It’ll take place between April 7-16. I have hope this tournament will help restore All Japan to its former glories. Last couple of years have had really poor attendance.
Kikuchi, on this show, is bringing some pretty amazing comedy.
All Asia Tag Team Championship
Ryoji Sai & Naoya Nomura vs. Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata
Sai is replacing the injured Yuma Aoyagi, which rather dents the dynamic of the match; young guns vs. seasoned veterans. As a result the titles are vacant too, rather than being defended by, now former, champions Nomura & Aoyagi. Hopefully Aoyagi’s ankle fracture isn’t too severe. He’d been doing good work. The weird part of this is that Aoyagi got injured being thrown out of the ring by Sai. I can’t imagine Nomura is too thrilled at tagging with the guy who injured his partner. This match is based around two things. Yuji Nagata, and Jun Akiyama’s unbridled joy at teaming with him, and Nomura’s heart. Nagata always delivers in big matches, even at his advanced age. Nomura is treated as an underdog, even though he was the tag champion coming in. Everyone else is fairly even. Which allows the match to flow better. They set a tidy pace and keep to it. Nomura has gained weight over the past year and he starts throwing it around. He comes unstuck by falling foul of Nagata’s armbars. It’s a constant counter to cut off all his momentum. Which is the work of a veteran who knows match structure and giving a little to give a lot. Akiyama brings a level of professionalism where he knows Nomura has to look strong against him, or he has no shot at winning. So while he dominates early, he knows when to allow the comebacks. The timing on the flow of the match is terrific. It builds beautifully and that’s on the way Nomura is portrayed. Inferior to begin with, competitive but prone to submissions as we go along and then a fiery underdog hope at the end. He gets to kick out of Akiyama’s knee at one, then the Exploder before the Wrist Clutch Exploder puts him away. Excellent showing defeat for Nomura. Coming close to beating the big boys made him look better than a win over a midcard scrub. Plus I love Nagata going to other companies on loan because he always gives his all in the big matches.
Final Rating: ****
AJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship
Tajiri (c) vs. Atsushi Aoki
Aoki has been wearing a mask of late, which is specifically to avoid Tajiri’s mist. Tajiri’s AJPW junior title run has been underwhelming but then he’s been doing it in the shadow of an excellent heavyweight division. Evidence of this on the announces for this show. Opening with the juniors then announcing Champion Carnival line-up to far greater fanfare at intermission. I don’t think I’ve ever particularly rated AJPW’s junior division though so it’s not like this is a shock. It’s like Gedo and heavyweight tag teams. Actually scratch that; Dan Kroffat in the early 90s was peak AJPW junior division. This match is a big step down from that quality and can’t live up to the previous match either. The problem stems from putting a 47 year old Tajiri in a big match with 16 minutes to fill and expecting everything to be fine. I’m sure he’s fine hidden away in trios matches for that long but his conditioning isn’t what it used to be. There’s a lot of resting. Tajiri makes a point of shredding Aoki’s mask to ruin his mist prevention approach. Tajiri has a secondary approach to his aggression, which is to run Aoki head first into the ring post and bust him open. So now not only is Aoki’s face exposed but it’s pissing blood. Not a good day at the office. This is the point where the match stops being so bad. There’s a sense of urgency. Aoki because he’s bleeding out, Tajiri because he figures one move will finish it. Aoki gets misted and the Buzzsaw Kick looks to finish it but Aoki kicks out. I think I’d rather Aoki had found another way to out-smart the mist. Instead he just took the spot and kicked out. I don’t think that shows any kind of smarts. Then they go right into an armbar and Aoki gets the submission win. Huh. I did not enjoy this at all.
Final Rating: **
AJPW World Tag Team Championship
Violent Giants (c) vs. Yoshiken
The pairing of company ace with NJPW reject Yoshitatsu has been a confusing one for me. The way I figure it, if anything is broken in AJPW they just give it to Kento to fix. And he is a miracle worker so I get that. I just wish he doing something more meaningful to me. It’s purely selfish on my part. I’ve been asked to give Tatsu another chance and it’s been suggested this should be it. Which would be fine but Violent Giants only got these belts a month ago. I want them to have a longer run.
Kento exudes star power. He’s somehow come out of the Triple Crown run even stronger than before. And he was carrying the entire company for 18 months. The main storyline here is either Kento reengaging with Shuji, the man he traded Triple Crowns with, or Yoshitatsu having to prove his worth at this level. I’m actually leaning towards the latter. Tatsu feels like the odd man out, the man with everything to prove.
Hello, Yoshitatsu, former WWE Superstar, table for one please.
Coming right up sir! pic.twitter.com/WwqfEBTVLq
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) February 4, 2018
So Suwama beats the ever-loving shit out of him. Sometimes, when you’ve got that reputation for being bad at offence, it’s best to just take the abuse and revel in the sympathy. That’s what happens here. It helps matters that it’s a tag so he can take a beating and hot tag Kento in, with that fiery offence. Kento is at a huge disadvantage because Suwama can tag big Shuji in. If Kento tags Tatsu in to wrestle Shuji he might as well kiss the opportunity goodbye. Where Tatsu can be effective is against tiring big lads, who’ve worn themselves out punching him. Which is why I believe Tatsu should only wrestle people who are much bigger than him. Tatsu getting the shit kicked out of him with the odd hope spot is strangely satisfying. The only thing Tatsu fucks up here is a tag, twice whiffing on it before Kento tags himself in. I do love that Shuji straight up murders Tatsu whenever they’re in together. Instead he’s reduced to a lesser role of saving Kento from murderous double teams. But everything fits together logically and I appreciate that. Tatsu even gets to show a little fire and a little can go a long way. Miyahara gets to survive far more abuse and it makes sense. He’s accustomed to being in those big spots. Everyone gets so fucking fired up in the last five minutes. It’s a wonderful stretch with big bomb offence and desperation kick-outs. It flies by. Miyahara manages to pick off Suwama with the German suplex and we have new champions. It’s taken some time but Yoshitatsu actually delivered here. I don’t buy into the ‘Tatsu is good now’ take but this was a huge, huge step in the right direction. He didn’t feel out of place, he didn’t fuck anything up and he played his role perfectly. He was there to take a kicking and shock people towards the end of the match. He did that. Kento did the rest.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Sidenote: This is the best Yoshitatsu match I’ve ever seen but I’m aware this same combination of guys had a match in December that’s supposed to be excellent. Having seen this I understand how that could possibly be. At the moment Tatsu is still not fully rehabilitated and he lacks confidence in his abilities but you can see that confidence start to come back here.
Post Match: Big Guns arrive to challenge. Excited to see two other big dudes beat the shit out of Yoshitatsu for my amusement. Then more as Suwama is attacked by Kazuyuki Fujita, Kendo Kashin and NOSAWA Rongai. Kazu Fujita, for fuck’s sake! I know he hardly wrestles and hasn’t been a regular performer in, what, 15 years but I’m excited to see what happens there.
AJPW Triple Crown Championship
Joe Doering (c) vs. KAI
While I was at first disappointed at the switch in approach around the Triple Crown (Kento Miyahara or Shuji Ishikawa having great fucking matches with everyone) this is starting to work for me. You get the top guys busting their guts making the undercard good and then in strolls Super Badass Gaijin killer Joe Doering for the main event, mangling whatever native chode AJPW put in front of him. In this case the worst booked Wrestle-1 champion of all time KAI. Doering’s match with Zeus was wonderful. Now he’s got a different challenge in KAI, who’s smaller and more nimble. There’s no “show me the power motherfucker” here. No test of strength. It’s KAI trying to dodge and jab at the big man and Joe smashing him to bits. The match suffers from the feeling that KAI cannot win. His build in AJPW has been rapid and reliant on people remembering him before his defection to Wrestle-1 and indeed that he was a big deal in Wrestle-1 for a while. The only time I feel he has a shot is when he lands full weight on Joe’s groin, causing the champ to check if both his testicles remain intact. This allows KAI a series of frog splashes for a near fall, although Joe seems less concerned with his title and more concern with his two veg. I deeply sympathise. This doesn’t have the same feel as Doering vs. Zeus but KAI does a good job of countering big spots rather than powering through them. It doesn’t help him any come the finish. Spiral Bomb finishes for Joe retains in under 15 minutes.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: Kento Miyahara comes out to challenge Joe. That match will take place in Saitama in March.
If I’d been thinking straight when I started this show I’d probably have skipped up to the last four matches because it’s a long, long show and there’s a lot that’s entirely skippable. Once you get into the meat of the show it feels important though. Especially the two tag matches in the second half. It was a big night for Yoshitatsu and Naoya Nomura.