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The Furious Flashbacks – AJPW Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku vol 9

November 26, 2010 | Posted by Arnold Furious
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The Furious Flashbacks – AJPW Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku vol 9  

The Furious Flashbacks – AJPW Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku vol 9

Kojima bows out, Funaki cements his switch from MMA & a sumo wrestler takes the triple crown!

State of Japan #2 – All Japan Pro Wrestling

When Mitsuhara Misawa defected from AJPW to create NOAH he took the majority of his talent with him. The likes of Kobashi, Akiyama, Ogawa and Taue, along with Misawa, made up the higher echelons of All Japan’s power structure. Left behind was Kawada and Masa Fuchi and not a lot else. Misawa held the AJPW Triple Crown 5 times during the 1990s making him the dominant force in AJPW. When he left he effectively destroyed AJPW. I stopped watching after checking out one post-Misawa tour tape from 2000. It wasn’t very good. It focused mainly on the returning Tenyru, a man I wasn’t happy with for deserting AJPW a decade earlier, and Fuchi. I dropped in again two years later after AJPW had done some rebuilding. Keiji Mutoh had jumped ship from New Japan and brought his own ace with him; Satoshi Kojima. Mutoh brought a very different element to AJPW’s wrestling and I wasn’t overly keen on it. I’m not and have never been a big Mutoh fan. Kojima won me over during the shows I saw from 2002 but the direction Mutoh was going in didn’t please me. The last time I was in AJPW was 2005 to see Kojima take the belt from Kawada after his lengthy title run.

So what have I missed?

• Kojima’s long title run was ended by Taiyo Kea. I didn’t really see him as a title holder myself. AJPW has generally stuck with decisions to crown champions though and given them a run. Except when they’ve gotten injured. At one point Kojima benefited hugely from the ongoing AJPW v NJPW storyline when he won a match with both companies world titles on the line. That’s like Austin v Goldberg circa 1998. Well, maybe not as AJPW wasn’t doing that well in 2005. New Japan has a habit of helping the competition when they’re struggling.
• Minoru Suzuki was AJPW’s next big star. He held the Triple Crown for a year. He eventually lost to Kensuke Sasaki; New Japan’s ace for a number of years. He’d jumped to AJPW in 2005 during the various crossovers and was eventually rewarded with a title run.
• After leaving the Voodoo Murders Suwama took over as AJPW’s ace. His first title run was rather short but at time of writing he’s enjoying his second run. The belts have moved around considerably in the last couple of years with Muta, Takayama and now Kojima taking runs with it. His challenger on this show is former sumo wrestler Ryota Hama. He has less than 2 years experience as a pro but already holds gold; the All Asia tag belts with another former sumo star Akebono.
• Behind the scenes Hiroshi Hase, retiring in 2006 after a decade with AJPW, took over the reigns as chairman of PWF succeeding Stan Hansen who had stepped down. Muta continues to be the creative talent behind the company and has been president since 2002.

March 21st 2010. We’re in Tokyo, Japan.

I usually hate Mutoh but his highlights package at the top of this show is pretty wicked and features the Back to the Future theme. He’s actually missing from the card suffering from a knee injury. One wonders if he’d have been the one to challenge Kojima had he been fit.

Super Crazy/Yasufumi Nakanoue v Seiya Sanada/Hiroshi Yamato

Nakanoue is about 2 months into his pro-wrestling career. He looks TERRIFIED. Yamato is also pretty new but has more ring time. Sanada, the veteran of their team, has feuds and history and stuff. Crazy is returning to AJPW after competing in the 2009 Junior league. Its weird that in North America the opening match usually has a tonne of heat on it but here the opener has no heat at all. Crazy is the only one effected by it. The match itself is pretty dull with Yamato looking to pick off Nakanoue only to discover he has more fight than you’d expect. I think I’m somewhat put off by Crazy wearing a shirt to cover up his sizeable cerveza gut. Sanada pretty much shrugs off Nakanoue’s weak offence and pins him with a German suplex. *. Not the best of opening matches. Sanada looked crisp though and I’d like to see more from him.

VOODOO MURDERS (Rene Dupree/Hate/Toshizo) v Taiyo Kea/NOSAWA/MAZADA

Toshizo is Ryuji Hijikata under a mask. Dupree is unrecognisable from his WWE days. He isn’t rocking the red hair anymore though. I don’t like NOSAWA at the best of times but at least his double teaming with MAZADA is slick. At the end of the day there are just too many wrestlers that suck in this match. Dupree gets to look like a beast…until Kea just takes him apart. And this is not a motivated Taiyo Kea but he seems to enjoy beating the shit out of French people. Hate largely controls the pace for the Voodoo Murders, which is bad news because he isn’t particularly talented. The match badly degenerates as Hate tries to use a fire extinguisher, which backfires and NOSAWA rolls him up for the win. ½*. I was not feeling that. There were serious timing issues especially at the finish and the best match up (Kea Vs Dupree) hardly got any ringtime.

Dark Ozz/Chessman v KIYOSHI/BUSHI

Ozz & Chessman represent AAA. BUSHI has been in Mexico recently and has come back masked despite losing the mask in Mexico. KIYOSHI you may recognise from TNA where he still works. Given the lucha experience of BUSHI this may not be a total disaster as most lucha v anyone not experienced in lucha usually are. BUSHI predictably takes a beating comprised of lucha moves. A total beating until Chessman threatens to remove his mask, which provokes a comeback. The luchadores run a bunch of illegal double teams on KIYOSHI. This whole segment of the match suffers from horrible timing issues. Thankfully BUSHI tags back in so the communication is at least there and he can showcase some of his lucha talent. Which is considerable. KIYOSHI wings Ozz with a moonsault for the win. *. Another bad undercard match. This one could have done without KIYOSHI being in there despite him being the best wrestler of the four. He just didn’t fit into the dynamic of the match.

Masayuki Kono v Suwama

Kono has been off in MMA for 3 years after starting life as a wrestler and has been teaming with Suwama. But that relationship has gone to shit and now Kono is out to prove to Suwama that he’s good enough. It’s a good storyline. Kono starts angrily as if he wants to beat his point into Suwama’s face. They promptly stand toe to toe and elbow each other until Suwama gets fed up and lariats Kono. That was fun. They trade some more and this is fixing to be a war! I approve. Suwama again wins out and he looks pissed off. Like he doesn’t want to wail on his tag team partner but he feels he has to in order to toughen him up. Kono must be wishing he stayed in MMA as Suwama rains down strikes. Kono then gets a great waistlock reversal into a hardway German suplex thus incorporating the shoot into the work. Tasty. But Kono has a Pro Wrestling moveset too with jumping knees and a Chokebomb but Suwama is wise to the second and avoids it. So Kono switches to a Russian legsweep. The weird thing about this is that Suwama wants to strike against the MMA guy and Kono wants to wrestle. Suwama throws in bits of judo too and this is making for a hugely interesting match up. Suwama keeps throwing heat and lariat after lariat after lariat leaves Kono looking like a beaten man. Kono has fight though and escapes a powerbomb before slipping into the Chokebomb. He’s too fucked to take advantage but the move takes the wind out of Suwama’s sails. Now Kono just needs to find a way to win the match, which is easier said than done. He starts pulling out every trick he knows. The Northern Lights doesn’t work, the diving knee doesn’t work, a barrage of knee strikes doesn’t work and Suwama comes firing back. But Kono raises his game, belts Suwama back down and goes back to the knees until he gets the pin. ***1/2. It was lacking that certain something to elevate it to the next level. Perhaps Kono is a little short on charisma and perhaps he shouldn’t have won here (think Kawada trying like hell for years to beat Misawa but not being able to get the 1 on 1 win). Regardless I’m a sucker for two guys just beating the shit out of each other and this match worked for me.

VOODOO MURDERS (TARU/Big Daddy Voodoo/Minoru Tanaka) v Osamu Nishimura/Akebono/Shuji Kondo

TARU has taken exception to Akebono and sumo wrestlers in general. So he’s brought in Nelson Frazier who you probably know as King Mabel, Viscera or Big Daddy V to combat Akebono’s size. Kondo & Tanaka are a lot smaller than the other guys and you get the feeling the winning team will be the one to take advantage of that. Kondo won’t be able to do any of his moves on BDV so he’s best off just not going in there with him. For those wondering; TARU used to be in Crazy MAX with CIMA if the name sounds familiar but you don’t watch AJPW. I miss the start of the match as I’m trying to decipher Nishimura’s blog courtesy of the Microsoft translation. My favourite being “today feels narrow”. Words of wisdom. The match is basically only here for one reason; put over BDV. They want him as their monster like Giant Bernard used to be. So much so Kondo doesn’t even consider going after him on the apron after knocking TARU to the floor. Nishimura takes much of the weirdness around him in his stride and goes to the usual ‘old man offence’. Akebono takes TARU apart so the Voodoo Murders cheat and BDV comes in for the first time. Kondo gets confident or stupid and goes after him. BLACK HOLE SLAM! SAMOAN DROP! BDV pins with one foot and that’s it. Kondo beaten easily. **. Voodoo Murders kinda had to win after their B-Team got hammered earlier. That and BDV, making his debut, had to look like a beast. Kondo shouldn’t be taking the job here though for reasons to be explained in a moment.

POST MATCH TARU empties two whole bottles of water over a fan at ringside. HEEEL! The poor guy just sat there trying to avoid the flow and you can see TARU pulling another bottle out. Nishimura gets on the mic to cut a sombre promo about leaving the business for a bit. Which is why Nishimura should have taken the loss. Firstly it won’t hurt him at all even without him taking time off and secondly it’d put V over that much more than him squishing a talented cruiserweight. Much like Big Show over Angle is more impressive than Big Show over Rey Mysterio.

They then show pretty much the entire Minoru Suzuki v Masakatsu Funaki worked shoot match they had to set up the match on this show. I think its on the weak side but the crowd seem to enjoy it. Minoru Suzuki ends up losing on DQ because he throws the ref over and chokes Funaki out on the ropes. Or he wins because he throws the ref over and chokes Funaki out on the ropes. One or the other. Mutoh joins the commentary while they set up the cage for the next match.

Masakatsu Funaki v Minoru Suzuki

Funaki is another guy who spent extensive time in MMA before returning to pro-wrestling. He has a 38-12 record in MMA fights with wins over Guy Mezger, both Shamrock’s and, this one being key, Minoru Suzuki. The latter is no stranger to losing MMA fights with his record being 28-19 before returning to pro-wrestling in 2002. The thing with Minoru is the vast majority of his wins came via submission (as does Funaki – 34 sub victories) and he’s a world class grappler. So AJPW have done wonders with this feud building up two former shooters and stressing their technical excellence. But the real build has been generation genuine hatred, which makes the crowd desperate to see these two beat the shit out of each other. Its almost like Dana White booked a wrestling match. Compare this to the WWE’s attempt to build to a match between Ken Sharmock & Dan Severn and then realised it wouldn’t work. While there are still two matches left on the card after this there’s little doubt this is the match people came to see. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think there’s much drawing power in a Hama title shot. Putting this match inside a steel cage adds to the special attraction of it.

TNA did a big shoot-style match with Joe Vs Angle where Joe got the belt. This is a bit like that. So depending on how you liked that match ought to be a guide as to whether you want to see this show as the show lives or dies on this match. They start slow and work in half-guard and attempted kneebars and genuine shoot stuff whereas Joe-Angle went for striking first as that tends to be more exciting. Suzuki is the aggressor and Funaki barely escapes an armbar. Crowd appreciates the skill involved in getting the hold on and escaping it, which is a good sign. Funaki clearly feels he needs to step up and POUNDS Suzuki before going for his own armbar. Suzuki stands up out of it and Funaki switches to the heel hook, which is how Frank Mir beat Lesnar. During the pounding sequence Suzuki got opened up by headbutts. They’re taking the great action from an MMA match and trying to turn it into a realistic yet exciting worked shoot. Too many worked shoots see both guys rolling around on the mat then throwing the most unrealistic wrestling moves in at the worst possible times. Here they even used the environment to the advantage of the guy with pro-wrestling experience as Suzuki runs Funaki into the cage busting him open. Using the cage in a shoot manner instead of the usual (bouncing someone’s head off it) improves the realism with Funaki getting his face grated. By this point however they’ve given up on working as hard as MMA guys do and Suzuki starts getting a bit lazy with his striking. When he goes back to the armbar it should be over. If they were going with realism it would be. Funaki has found himself in a foreign environment and hasn’t been able to cope. Add to that the blood loss and he’s fucked. Honestly if they’d have chosen to end it here I’d have loved it and wanted to see a re-match. Funaki isn’t done though and as he lays in stiff kicks I’m thrilled the match didn’t end when it could have.

Its clear at this point we’re into the pro-wrestling part of the match. Funaki breaks out a koppou kick and when he tries to get a submission Suzuki tears at his head wound to block it. That Suzuki is a dirty son of a bitch and uses every short-cut possible. Suzuki gets bonus points for using my favourite armlock; the keylock. But Funaki retorts with suplexes and a sleeper (which is what beat Funaki in their last match). This is totally into the pro-wrestling now as they take it in turns to smack each other around. Oddly enough this is the part that gets the biggest crowd reactions of the match. Back to the sleeper but Funaki won’t go down so Suzuki switches to a cradle piledriver. Funaki is in trouble for the third time in the match and increasingly the match is becoming more and more about him fighting as the underdog. Suzuki doesn’t seem to learn from Funaki’s assaults and gets caught with another koppou kick. Funaki then catches Suzuki with a knee under the jaw and Minoru can’t answer the count. ***3/4. The finish was a bit underwhelming but they told a nice story. Whether you dig shoot style will depend on whether you dig the match. But there is stuff in there for the wrestling fan. From the submission attempts to the blood to the counters to the big moves down the stretch. With a bit of work Funaki could become a huge, huge star in pro-wrestling. With this win he’s officially arrived.

AJPW World Junior Heavyweight title – Kaz Hayashi (C) v KAI

A switch in pace then with the cruisers coming out to offer something different. Kaz is probably best known for his WCW stable Jung Dragons. He briefly appeared in the WWE invasion angle before defecting to AJPW as they attempted to improve their cruiser division. When AJPW re-launched their cruiser division it was Kaz who lead the way. He’s held this belt since February 2009 although long title runs with this belt are not unfamiliar. Masa Fuchi held it for 4 years at one point. KAI has a few years under his belt but this is his biggest match to date. This should be a routine defence and the crowd aren’t really feeling it because of that.

Kaz starts fast and looks to be dominant until KAI catches him with a SICK TOPE at speed. He’s already showing he’ll throw everything out there to take the title. He’s clearly done his research too; scouting a Kaz handspring and dropkicking him in the middle of it. At times it feels as if Kaz is taking it easy on KAI; not wanting to totally fuck up the poor kid. At one point he could slam him off the apron to the floor and opts to slam him on the apron instead. KAI then throws him into the rail and double stomps him through the announce table. He means business! The difference there is that KAI doesn’t care what happens to Kaz; he just wants that belt. Kaz tries to teach him the error of his ways by out-wrestling him and landing largely harmless moves. Its Kaz’s reluctance to turn this into a war that hurts the match’s overall intensity. He just wants to turn up and wrestle a bit and go home. KAI wants to rock his world. It’s a drastic difference. KAI is like Thunderlips to Kaz’s Rocky Balboa. LIGHTS OUT, MEATBALL! You can tell the Kaz inspired spots like a double springboard (where both guys springboard) into a double dropkick is cool looking but where’s the intensity in it? Then Kaz goes to the well on another handspring and KAI just lets him do it. Come on, man, you’ve already shown you can do more than that. However when KAI is hitting stuff the reaction of the crowd has changed. He’s gone out and proved he can match Kaz. His effort and enthusiasm are not mirrored by Hayashi and the crowd love KAI for it. He throws everything he can think of at Kaz; the double arm piledriver, the Spiral Tap and nothing can keep Kaz down. But then he makes a mistake and kicks out at one, thus disrespecting Hayashi, and Kaz gets pissed off. And while KAI has thrown everything into this match Kaz has been trundling along in second gear. Now he’s all angry and shit he pops off the Hayashi Cutter for the win. ***1/4. I enjoyed the storyline and both guys work. Hayashi never felt like he was in danger and basically toyed with KAI to see what he was made of. It wasn’t until KAI really annoyed him that he showed what he was capable of in response. I’d love to see a re-match with Kaz taking it seriously throughout but probably not for another year or so. Get KAI some more seasoning in tags and such. I like him though. I think he’ll go a long way.

POST MATCH There’s a tremendous showing of respect where KAI offers a handshake and bows before the victor. Hayashi shows him respect in return for bringing his all in this one. He then calls out BUSHI and tells him to get ready for their forthcoming match. Given that Kaz is so good at adapting to different opponents I don’t rate BUSHI’s chances of success.

Triple Crown – Satoshi Kojima (c) v Ryota Hama

This should be a no-brainer too. Hama only debuted in late 2008 and is only 503 days into his pro-wrestling career. Kojima on the other hand is one of AJPW’s top guys and has been on top for the majority of his 8 years in the company. They’ve certainly been building Hama for this title shot though and he’s pinned Mutoh on the lead up to this show. Hama, being a former sumo, is huge. He’s a legitimate 450lbs despite only standing at 5 ft 9 inches. He comes out to a re-mix of the Imperial March. Kojima looks every inch the champion. He carries himself like a champion, the belts look right on him and he commands respect. BUT his contract is up…so he’s boned.

Kojima quickly discovers that a lot of conventional moves don’t work. He can’t get a waistlock for example because Hama is too fat for that. So he opts for going after limbs, especially the legs, to try and stop Hama’s already limited mobility. Kojima doesn’t stay smart though because he’s got vanity issues and wants to knock the big man over, sumo style. 1. Hama is a sumo wrestler. That’s one of his very few strengths. 2. He’s twice Kojima’s weight and has a low centre of gravity. This is just a bad idea. Kojima then gets smart again and dropkicks the knee. Maybe he was lulling Hama into a false sense of security. Kojima then spends time working the knee. Hama powers out. Only Hama isn’t selling the knee. At all. So all this boring, boring legwork is going nowhere. All its really there for in the first place is to make Hama look credible but you know what would really do that? Him dominating this match. Oh, then Hama remembers to sell the knee. Then forgets again. What’s worse is his moveset makes me wish Big Daddy Voodoo was in this match instead because he’s a more accomplished and agile wrestler. Kojima tries like hell to get something going eventually opting to lariat the knee. Hama then spends a while lying around on the floor. FEEL THE WORKRATE!

Hama continues to plod through some horrible offence while I try to keep my lunch down. His fat rolls jiggling around onscreen are starting to make me feel sick. Kojima starts breaking out his finishers and hits the Koji Cutter twice to set up the lariat, which gets 2. Figures. He is leaving the company. At least they have the decency to not job Kojima to a running splash, which would have been embarrassing. And Kojima does knee his way out of the Ryota Hammer (Jackhammer) in the best piece of wrestling action in the match. How hard would it have been to call it the Hama Hammer? Hama then hits it anyway…for 2. Which makes no sense to me. Hama’s staying…Koji is leaving. Why is he kicking out of Hama’s finisher? Hama then disgraces the business by hitting the worst Shining Wizard in the history of wrestling, as a tribute to Mutoh for booking him to take the title, but Kojima thankfully kicks out to prevent total shame. Another Ryota Hammer finishes. *1/2. Some of the countering was good. That’s about all the positive I have. Hama is an incredibly bad choice to hold the title on just about every level. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt during this match but as it progressed I got more and more depressed about the result and the continued failure of AJPW to realise the importance of having a champion who can work with anyone. What’s even worse is Hama crying after the match. There’s nothing worse than watching a fat man weep.

The 411: There’s been something wrong with All Japan for a long, long time, which I generally why I’ve avoided checking out their post-split shows and spent so long in NOAH instead. I think this show demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of AJPW. The most obvious one is their world title has become a bit of a joke. I don’t blame Hama for winning but rather the bookers for making this call. They quickly hooked the belt off him and put it on Suzuki, which I presume wasn’t done on this show because they spent so long building up the Suzuki-Funaki match. Which incidentally is one of the companies best matches here along with the cruiser match and the Suwama/Kono showdown. Three good matches on this show though and they’re all very different. Striking, shoot-style and cruiserweight. Plus you get to see one of AJPW’s most bizarre title changes. I guess this combination of good stuff and weirdness is enough for a thumbs up. This show probably would feel better with the undercard stuff clipped off and the DVD beginning with Suwama against Kono. Those opening matches weren’t good.
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend

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