New Japan Pro Wrestling might be the hottest product in the world, but there’s more to see in Japan than Nakamura and Okada. Check out these 2014 Match of the Year contenders from All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Jun Akiyama vs. Takao Omori June 15, 2014: This match was for the Triple Crown that was vacated because of Akebono’s pneumonia and other health. AJPW always has some pretty great stuff in the heavyweight world and these two have great chemistry. The match is moves along just fine, grappling, chest slapping, and fighting on the outside until Akiyama is taken down by an Omori lariat. When this happens, Akiyama has his light bulb moment and decides that he has to beat Omori by ripping off Omori’s arm and beating him senseless. The genius of old-grumpy-prick Akiyama is priceless.
When Akiyama decides to be brutal with you, you have two options: concede to his beat down, or give him savage stiffness in return and hope you don’t anger him more. Akiyama toys with Omori. He stomps Omori’s arm, knees Omori’s arm and introduces Omori’s arm to the guard rails. Omori’s struggle awakens an even more sadistic nature in Akiyama as the match progresses. Omori valiantly soldiers on and the tables are briefly turned on Akiyama, but Akiyama is relentless and stubborn, two of my favorite qualities.
There’s a fantastic sequence as Akiyama hits a piledriver that Jerry Lawler would be proud of, a sliding knee and a guillotine choke in rapid succession. Akiyama stays in control and decimates Omori’s arm and head. Fujiwara armbar, knee to the back of the head and an Exploder threaten to do in Omori but he somehow survives. Remarkable. Omori manages to hit the Axe Bomber, but he’s absolutely wrecked and his powerful strike has been rendered useless. Akiyama takes over again and the last few minutes are magical. The crowd gets behind Omori after a few near falls, and the two guys drop bombs on each other to gain the Triple Crown. Omori lands the Axe Bomber on Akiyama multiple times and finally puts the him away, finally getting the monkey off of his back and becoming Triple Crown champ.
Omori sold the arm like a champ and Akiyama is one of the best veteran wrestlers in the world, but no one notices because he’s in All Japan. Omori was solid throughout, Akiyama is sneaky good, the near falls down the stretch were great. Just watch the match people. ****¼
Shigehiro Irie & Keisuke Ishii vs. Xceed (Kotaro Suzuki & Kento Miyahara) August 16, 2014: If you had a roster that consisted of NJPW, DDT and AJPW not many promotions would be able to touch all that talent. Just a booker’s dream right there, and it shows in this match. Suzuki and Ishii start with speed and are pretty evenly matched until Suzuki gets shoulder blocked out of of his boots. A Monty Brown sighting in 2014? A frenetic pace develops and each team takes the other’s best shot. Ishii, who is the smallest man in the ring, is being extra savage until Miyahara nails him with a stiff bicycle kick and follows with a running knee lift in the corner.
I love the dynamic of Irie having to rescue Ishii from the punishment of Xceed, and Xceed not slowing down, just bringing out heavy artillery. Just as I typed that Ishii unleashes a release German suplex that puts Suzuki on his head and we get the bull Irie running roughshod over both members of Xceed.
You know what else I like about this match? Momentum. Or the lack thereof. As one team starts gaining traction, the other cuts them off and we’re back at square one. The pace is exhausting as they fly all over the ring, and exchanged stiff shots in between. The sequences worked, the near falls worked and by God did these men bump the ever living mess out of themselves. The combos they pulled out were also great, as one shot led to three or four on top of it. The strike exchanges between Suzuki and Irie were brilliant, and told a great story about the DDT outsiders coming to All Japan and saying “we have your titles, what are you going to do about it?” I could do with another match between these two teams. I think they can top this match given more time. This was all about who could land the bigger shot and put the other team down, and I loved that Xceed had to take out Irie to do it.
The final five minutes make this match, the pacing was out of this world. That final empathetic Tiger Driver by Suzuki sealed it for the All Japan boys and all was well in the world again. For 15 minutes they packed a lot into this match but it never felt bloated and it never was overwhelming. It was tight, it was crisp and the emotion that Irie had about losing the titles was great as he pounded the mat in frustration but also understood the better team had won that night. Little touches man, the small details matter plenty to someone who scrutinizes wrestling the way I do. ****½
Jun Akiyama vs. Kento Miyahara September 15, 2014: If you want to see an Akiyama match in which he is the old prick wrecking young punks in overdrive, then enjoy this sprint. This is AJPW doing a G1 match from their second Royal Road Tournament and the pace is brisk and brutal. Akiyama scouts Miyahara at every turn and decimates the poor babyface full of fire.
Miyahara knows he has to dish out more punishment than Akiyama just to survive and to do so, makes Akiyama eat guardrail and the bottom of his foot. Akiyama’s facials are top five in the world and more people would know that if they watched AJPW. Some of the elbows that Akiyama throws would make Mitsuharu Misawa swell up with tears of joy. Every move has that extra sense of purpose with emphasis on impact to keep their opponent down. The Exploder to the floor from Akiyama is particularly cringe inducing as the subsequent splat of Miyahara’s body is then rolled in and takes a straight sliding knee to the face and a Guillotine choke follows. Akiyama hates this kid.
The back and forth between these two is ingenious and the fans are solidly buying into Miyahara’s comebacks and Akiyama’s stubbornness to not fall to this youngster who merely registers a blip on Akiyama’s radar. A knee from Akiyama to Miyahara reminds me of Nakamura vs. Sakuraba from Wrestle Kingdom 7, except I thought Nakamuara was dead there and here Akiyama then lands about 10 more straight knees to the face. This match ends with Miyahara getting a huge upset victory via the Break Heart and is one of the best modern day torch-passing matches I have seen. If this was to take place in NJPW or even 2000’s NOAH, Miyahara would be a certified star. Everything in this match was fantastic, they didn’t stretch it out as the match was only 15 minutes. They packed a ridiculous amount of action in this and both men know their roles. Miyahara the plucky white meat babyface out to slay the dragon Akiyama. Akiyama is one of the best in the world and even if you don’t like AJPW you should go watch Akiyama matches. AJPW will probably never get to the level they were in the 1990’s but with matches like this, and talent like Akiyama and Miyahara, they should consider themselves content. ****1/4
Suwama vs. Go Shiozaki September 28, 2014: If there is anyone who waves the flag of loyalty to a promotion, it’s Suwama and his unwavering love for AJPW. If there’s anyone who wants to turn around the current misfortunes of AJPW and bring them back to the prosperous giant they were it’s Go Shiozaki. One of wrestling’s best rivalries is Shiozaki vs. Suwama, and not enough people talk about it. It may not approach the levels of Okada vs. Tanahashi but these two always have solid matches. Both men take pot shots at each other and attempt to prove to one another who is strongest. You know what move I miss in current pro wrestling? The Sleeper. There is no one who does it better, besides perhaps Minoru Suzuki, than Suwama, he is legit trying to choke people out. Suwama does not respect Shiozaki, he toys with him until both men are trading heavy artillery. Shiozaki is fantastic fighting from underneath the whole time as Suwama has his way with Shiozaki who is barely on his feet after Suwama’s onslaught.
The shots that they take at each other makes it feel as if someone owes the other more than lunch money. Suwama’s stiff lariats, nasty chops and throws employ have an extra ounce of hatred. It’s ingenious the way that Suwama uses his height and strength to keep Shiozaki grounded as in that Suwama knows Shiozaki is brilliant with quick strikes so he effectively takes his whole offense away. That pretentious prick Suwama is smiling as he tees off on Shiozaki in the corner until Shiozaki uncorks a meaty lariat like Mom used to make. This match gets extra points for the fact that these two heavyweights are flying and I haven’t seen much tape of either flying that often. A ridiculous amount of fighting spirit in sections and they string their sequences together so crisply. The near falls down the stretch add to the drama. Shiozaki puts away Suwama with a devastating Limit Break. If you want a HOSS style match that is stretched close to 30 minutes and builds to a satisfying finish then this is for you. Suwama vs. Shiozaki – an underrated rivalry that produces gems like this. Tell me why you aren’t watching this yet? ****½
Go Shiozaki & Kento Miyahara vs. Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori December 6, 2014: Last plug for Miyahara vs. Akiyama as Feud Of The Year for 2014, just saying. Omori and Akiyama are among the few veterans still consistently putting on great matches. Miyahara has gotten incredibly solid in the last few years and people will either take or leave Shiozaki. The veterans start dishing out punishment but Miyahara and Shiozaki stay alive by responding in kind with rapid fire attacks. The whole match is Miyahara and Shiozaki proving themselves to Wild Burning while also having their back sides handed to them. Just the fact that Akiyama did a jumping knee and other knee strikes made me smile. How is Miyahara’s neck not broken? Those piledrivers and knees are increasingly dangerous, I cannot fathom how he kept going. Wild Burning are relentless in their treatment of both Miyahara and Shiozaki as the strike exchanges between all four men have bitterness and contempt in every blow landed.
An aggressive spirit, two teams determined to show their mettle and brilliant back and forth action that had counters for days. Every single guy in this match is taking liberties with each other and I’m enjoying all of it. Whether it was Omori cheering on Akiyama to finish off Miyahara or Shiozaki cheering on Miyahara to finish off Akiyama. These near falls had me jumping off of my couch and cheering for both teams much like the hot crowd. The last 10 minutes are where the action is, with Akiyama trying to kill Miyahara. A bit of backstory here as well, Wild Burning vacated the World Tag Team titles prior to the Real World Tag League tournament because they felt they were not strong enough in their defenses leading up to the tournament. They fought tooth and nail to get to the finals of the tournament and recapture their gold to show that they are not washed up yet.
Everything about this match is simple in the best way. Miyahara vs. Akiyama is great by itself, but add in Omori and Shiozaki? That, my friends takes the cake. Intensity and brutality are taken to a high level. It builds and builds until we reach our inevitable conclusion. Almost 30 minutes and I didn’t feel any of it, the pacing was great and the roles that they all played were executed to perfection. One of the best tag matches that’s happened anywhere this year with four men and a promotion that should have more eyes on them at the moment. ****3/4
Sorry if I came off as a snob or bitter in this column, it’s just sad to see a company you love trying to turn a corner while people still refuse to pay attention to them. You might as well call AJPW, All Jun Pro Wrestling because Jun Akiyama is so important to this company. The man is the life-blood and anchor of this company alongside Suwama and Go Shiozaki. I know I have covered two of these matches before, but I wanted to watch them again and tell you how underrated they truly are.
Are we going to get to the dizzying highs that AJPW gave you in the 1990’s?
No, there is talent there however. The fans, though not many, are loyal, and when outsiders say AJPW is dead I will loudly proclaim “no,” and show them these matches. Will that change anyone’s mind? Who knows? All I can do is recommend this high end stuff from AJPW and hopefully they take heed and watch a promotion that many people have left for dead, but is still breathing in 2015. Xceed, Wild Burning, Evolution, and Team Dream Futures are in this promotion. Give it a try, I’m sure I’ll be back here in 2015 saying the same thing, and you wouldn’t want to be kicking yourself then would you?