Don’t have time to watch All Japan Pro-Wrestling’s 2017 Champion Carnival? Or maybe the thought of Takao Omori wrestling for half an hour frightens you?
With stacked A and B Blocks, this year’s annual tournament looked to rival the G1 Climax in terms of talent and performance.
Some of Japan’s heavier hitters turned up to compete, including Shuji Ishikawa, Kengo Mashimo, the returning Joe Doering, and last year’s winner, Daisuke Sekimoto. But after an explosive opening night in Korakuen Hall, the tournament fizzled, due largely in part to the sterile atmosphere of the single-camera “house shows”.
The Champion Carnival’s in the history books but you don’t have to burn yourself out playing catch up before the final (Ishikawa vs. Doering) airs on May 7. I did that for you and scratched out my top five recommended matches from the regular tournament.
Block B Match: The Bodyguard vs. Kengo Mashimo (4/16/17)
There was a lot of leg-focused wrestling during the Champion Carnival. Some of it more compelling than others — I mean, KAI managed to outperform Miyahara in their very long single-cam match.
No one had more entertaining bipolar selling than your favorite Double Dragon mini-boss, the Bodyguard. Kengo Mashimo is a certified gangster when it’s come to honing in on an appendage and picking it apart and here, he tries to take out Bodyguard’s leg in order to stop the unstoppable high kick.
Bodyguard’s hobbled selling is some of the best I’ve seen from him and he even manages to make a pin attempt look painful. But come hell or high water, the Bodyguard was determined to land his high kick. Kengo’s able to counter the first attempt but Bodyguard connects on the second try and manages to finish him off with a third. Hey, you know what they say about the third try…
Block A Match: Kento Miyahara vs. Jake Lee (4/16/17)
Jake Lee’s performance in this year’s tournament converted me to a casual Jake Lee fan and it was his match against buddy-buddy and long-ruling ace of the place, Kento Miyahara, which stands as his best singles performance to date.
Jake is All Japan’s resident Deputy Dawg, without much of a bark or a bite, but here, he showed incredible fire against Miyahara and really throwing his weight into his execution. He took the champ by surprise, laying into him with big knees and elbows, until Kento snaps on him and dishes out a little retribution. The ace embraces his inner heel as headlocks Lee to the ringpost, tonguing at the crowd and getting into referee Kyohei Wada’s face.
Lee unloaded everything he had on Miyahara, including his backdrop, and while Miyahara took a beating, he came back in true ace fashion with his barrage of knees in the final minute and the shutdown German to shut down Lee’s chances at a major upset.
Block B Match: Suwama vs. Shuji Ishikawa (4/16/17)
The Big Dog versus the Big…Panda?
This was the first time these two hosses fought in singles competition. It took them a minute or two to find a formula that worked but after Suwama gets busted open from one of Ishikawa’s many stiff shots, bombs become the active ingredient in this match. Lots of them.
Suplexes and lariats are traded but no one is staying down long enough for a three count. The finish to this match is one of the most memorable of the tournament, as Suwama catches one of Ishikawa’s running knees and impressively lifts him into a Last Ride powerbomb for a believable nearfall, forcing him to pull out the backdrop hold to pin Ishikawa. If you like big beefy dudes clobbering on each other for almost 15 minutes, this match is your Budweiser.
Block A Match: KAI vs. Jake Lee (4/19/17)
Not only did this tournament turn me around on Jake Lee but it also propped my interest level in KAI under a stack of old magazines. He had a great solo outing against a more aggressive Lee, who did a good job of working the leg and keeping KAI on the rocks for the majority of the match.
KAI sold the hell out of that leg, crying out in pain, collapsing on the irish whip, and staggering about as he tried to find an opening on offense but Lee kept exploiting the injury to stay in firm control. In the end, KAI took a page from Miyahara’s ace playbook, suddenly putting Lee away in the final seconds of the match with his fireman’s carry driver. It not only continued to establish KAI’s finisher as the ultimate “Game Over” screen but kept his winning streak hot going into his match against Miyahara on 4/23.
Block B Match: Suwama vs. Kengo Mashimo (4/22/17)
This was perhaps my favorite contest of the regular tournament and brought out the bully in Suwama that I’ve come to long for in his matches.
Between his pissy sleeper hold on the ropes or ragdolling Mashimo with suplexes, Suwama wasn’t going to let some peroxide blonde dojo geek outcompete him…but Mashimo didn’t give him much of a choice. He once again decided to sink his teeth into the leg and didn’t let up, making Suwama throw suplexes as a means for some recovery time on the mat. The selling on both sides was terrific, the offense brutal, and the finish stunned in the most awesome of ways, as Suwama tries to use that brute force to break out of an achilles tendon hold and Kengo traps the booting leg for the submission victory.
An honorable mention goes out to the Miyahara/Doering match from the same show, where Doering puts the ace in crab holds all day long.
The 2017 Champion Carnival wasn’t the best of times but it wasn’t the worst of times, and hopefully this guide saves you some precious wrestling-viewing time.