All Japan Pro Wrestling
2017 Excite Series – Junior BATTLE OF GLORY
February 26, 2017
EDION Arena Osaka

Junior Battle of Glory Block B Match
Hikaru Sato Def. Yuma Aoyagi

Yuma Aoyagi was a non-entity a year ago. A complete nobody. Jun Akiyama was squashing him in six minutes, he was taking the fall in every tag match he was in. Akiyama eventually took him under his wing, they began teaming together, he got his shot in the Super J Cup, and now, on February 26th, 2017, he is a legitimate player in All Japan. I said as soon as the blocks were announced about a month ago that either Yuma Aoyagi or Koji Iwamoto should win, though I didn’t suspect they’d give it to Iwamoto. Aoyagi was the clear choice as far as I knew, but hey, he’s still young, he’s not going anywhere, and I guess this year wasn’t his year. Sato hit him with a kani-basami flash pin in about four minutes to advance. Fun, heated little sprint. Story of the entire tournament, really. **3/4

Junior Battle of Glory Block A Match
Minoru Tanaka Def. Masashi Takeda

Tanaka was clearly here to spoil Takeda, who was tied with Koji Iwamoto at three points while Tanaka was already out of the running. I say it all the time, but this Masashi Takeda is a hell of a wrestler when he’s not swinging light tubes. He’s good on the mat, he can brawl, he can do whatever, and I really hope All Japan uses him on a regular basis moving forward, though I’ve been saying the same thing for two years now. Tanaka is one of my favorite wrestlers ever, so seeing him back in an All Japan ring as a semi-featured guy is great. He’s been killing all year thus far, had a great match with Keisuke Ishii on February 17th, and had another good one here with Takeda. While it wasn’t as much of a sprint as a lot of the other tournament matches and was worked at a more casual pace, it was just as enjoyable. Takeda tried his best to take out Tanaka’s arm but Tanaka fought through it and did exactly what was expected as he hit Takeda with a Fireball Splash and sent him packing. ***1/2

Junior Battle of Glory Block A Match
Atsushi Aoki vs. Koji Iwamoto (20 Minute Time Limit Draw)

Aoki needed to beat Iwamoto in order to advance as he only had two points with one win under his belt while Iwamoto had three points with one win and one draw, therefore had the edge as they ran out the clock. Even as he approaches 40, Aoki is as good as he’s ever been and shows no signs of slowing down. He was excellent here in every facet and really makes me question why he was never talked about to the level he’s deserved to be for so long. He’s a total pro in every way, in and out of the ring, as it’s clear he’s also one of the better trainers in wrestling right now. Iwamoto, despite being nearly twenty years younger, hung in there every step of the way and never looked as though he wasn’t on equal terms with Aoki. Both guys busted their ass from bell to bell, never did I once feel they were simply killing time. Everything clicked, there was clear chemistry between the two, and I’d love to see them in a ring again sometime soon. ***3/4

Atsushi Maruyama, Fuminori Abe, Yutaka Yoshie & Ryouji Sai Def. KAI, Yohei Nakajima, Yusuke Okada & Zeus

You know, it’s funny what happens when a guy cuts the shit and actually wrestles. I’ve enjoyed KAI in All Japan since his return this month. He isn’t great, but he’s worlds better than he was last year. No more jumping jacks, no more Onita tributes, he’s just being a dude, being a wrestler, and that’s all I want from him. Surprisingly good multi-man here, way better than it had any right to be. Everyone got in there, killed themselves for seven minutes, andgot out. Yusuke Okada, a month into his career, is coming along nicely and has a pretty decent look. He needs to work on that dropkick, I’ll tell you that, but he’s doing alright. Hopefully he sticks around unlike the last rookie to come through in Keiichi Sato, who called it quits two months after his debut. ***

Jun Akiyama & Keisuke Ishii Def. Takao Omori & Kazuhiro Tamura

I have mixed feelings on Keisuke Ishii. He’s not bad, he’s good at best and mediocre at worst, but I have more of a problem with his look and his awkwardness and the way he presents himself. Stuff like that bothers me sometimes, and it keeps me from fully getting behind him. I liked his match with Aoyagi in January and Tanaka earlier in the tournament, maybe I’ll get over my dislikes of him eventually, he’s impressed me in the ring lately so that certainly helps, but we’ll see. I’m not there yet. Tamura’s a guy I really like and have for going on a year now, he never fails to impress me, I enjoy him and Omori as a team, and he was great in this match. Omori and Akiyama also have great chemistry together both as partners and as opponents so there was a lot to like here. Good pre-intermission main event. ***1/4

Suwama & Joe Doering Def. Jake Lee & Naoya Nomura

Suwama is still struggling to get back to where he was. He still gets blown up in the middle of matches, he’s still in terrible shape, he looks bad, he’s been decent at best in these tag matches, and you know what, maybe that’s just what he is now. Maybe there is no getting better. Maybe he’s done trying, I don’t know that for a fact, all I know is that he hasn’t progressed a whole lot since his return last July. His partner, on the other hand, has looked great from the second he stepped foot back in an All Japan ring at the beginning of January. It’s absolutely amazing to me that this man, after spending two years battling cancer, waltzed back into wrestling and took from exactly where he left off without missing a step. Joe is back and he’s looked as good as he’s ever looked.

Naoya Nomura and Jake Lee were also great here. It’s as clear as day that All Japan is grooming Lee as a future star, and they’ve done quite a nice job in doing so. Nomura’s been a bit stagnant in the booking lately and plays a third-wheel of sorts to Lee and Miyahara, though I have enjoyed what he’s done with them. While he doesn’t have that star potential Lee has, he does have potential to be a very, very good worker, so he’s a guy worth keeping an eye on. Another fun match on this show. ***1/4

Junior Battle of Glory Finals
Koji Iwamoto Def. Hikaru Sato

I’ve been singing the praises of Koji Iwamoto for months now. I said from the moment All Japan signed him that he needed to be a player. I said right from the beginning that if I were booking the company, he’d be my top junior. I didn’t think him winning this tournament was a realistic possibility, I even said before that I wrote him off, because who cares what I want to see and what I think would work. Who am I? Well, it seems as though All Japan shares similar beliefs. Make no mistake, this isn’t the Champion Carnival or the G1, it’s the Junior Battle of Glory. However, it does say something that they had a 23-year-old who’s been under contract with the company for two months win it. Aoki won last year, and Aoki’s the ace of the division. Kotaro Suzuki won in 2015 and in 2014, and Kotaro Suzuki was a huge deal in All Japan. Point is, they wouldn’t have had Iwamoto win if they didn’t plan on using him as a serious player.

Iwamoto, for the second time in one night, hung in there every step of the way with someone who not only has a lot more experience than he does, but is a key player in the division. Sato beat the hell out of him for sixteen minutes and Iwamoto gave it right back until his leg was so beaten up he couldn’t do it anymore, in which case he resorted to a choke hold and waited for the referee to put a stop to it. Although selling isn’t exactly something I focus on too much in my wrestling, I appreciate great selling when I see it, and Iwamoto’s selling in this match was absolutely tremendous. Everything they did was smart and made sense, Sato going for the move that put away Aoyagi in the opener and Iwamoto kicking out of it, Iwamoto using his martial arts background to rival Sato’s, Sato not knowing how to put him away because he’s usually not in the position where someone has an answer to what he’s throwing at them, the aforementioned finish, it all worked. Couldn’t have asked for a much better match. Koji Iwamoto is going to be a superstar in the near future, mark my words, people. ****

Triple Crown Championship
Kento Miyahara (c) Def. The Bodyguard

I underestimated The Bodyguard’s popularity in Osaka. I knew he’d be over, you’d be a fool to not think he’d be over, hbut I had no idea he’d be as over as he was. They loved them some Bodyguard here, and this was the perfect example of a hot crowd bringing a match up to that next level. Without this crowd, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. Don’t get me wrong, the work was great, the crowd, however, really made it something more than merely a great match. They made it special, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find me a dozen better crowds in wrestling this year. Bodyguard busted his 50-year-old roided up ass and delivered what is probably his best individual performance and his best match ever. Never did I expect him to deliver like he did here with Miyahara, and I like the guy. I expected a carry-job at best. A nice, ***3/4 level carry-job. Instead, Bodyguard proved that he can step up when it matters and deliver in a big spot.

What is there to say about Miyahara that hasn’t been said a million times over at this point? He’s one of the best out there, has been for a long time and will continue to be, never fails to deliver, is arguably the best ace and the best champion in the world, and this was one of my favorite matches of his, which is saying a lot. He’s gone through just about everyone All Japan has had to offer. He’s gone through the veterans in Akiyama and Omori, the bruisers in Daisuke Sekimoto, Kengo Mashimo and Zeus, he went through the former ace in Suwama and took his spot, and The Bodyguard was his biggest and toughest yet, a whole new challenge for Miyahara. The story here wasn’t Bodyguard taking the title off of Miyahara, but more so Miyahara having to find a way to overcome Bodyguard. He wasn’t impossible to beat, he just wasn’t easy to beat. He’s a tough, stubborn old bastard who refused to quit and made Miyahara fight as hard as he possibly could in order to put him away.

Regardless of your thoughts on Bodyguard, this was a match anyone and everyone can appreciate on some level. It was simple, it was effective, and it’s one of the best matches of 2017 as of February 26th. ****1/2

Final Thoughts:

It’s rare you get an All Japan where nothing is below average, but everything on this show was at least good, with a few matches I’d consider very good to great. Set aside about an hour of your time for the last two matches especially.