May 25, 2017
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan

Photo: @ajigaumai

Last month, Big Japan held their Road to RYOGUKUTAN show in Korakuen Hall and everyone had their working boots laced tight for the lit Tokyo fans. Fighting spirits were ablaze and no one was holding back in the strikes department, especially BJW’s Strong division. Oh, and the deathmatch guys were in action too…so, there will be blood.

Takuya Nomura & Yuya Aoki def. Kazuki Hashimoto & Toshiyuki Sakuda

When you’re a rookie, life lessons can be hard and Kazuki Hashimoto was the bearer of the yardstick in this match, really laying it into Yuya Aoki. Takuya Nomura at least stood up to his former teacher in Hashimoto but when he tries to get a bit chippy with the leg catch, slap reaction, Kazuki laughs it off and destroys Nomura. Sakuda got to show off a little with a cool springboard corkscrew senton but was otherwise a non factor in this match and in the end, Nomura pinned him with a cross armbreaker cutback. ***½ …the ½ star for Hashimoto’s curriculum.  

Shuji Ishikawa, Kohei Sato & Yoshihisa Uto def. Ryuichi Kawakami, Daichi Hashimoto & Kazumi Kikuta

The Big Dog Triple Crown champion, Shuji Ishikawa, returns to his home away from home…away from home? to a nice ovation from the fans. The match is clipped but what you can take away early on is that Kazumi Kikuta, despite the new and improved ring gear, cannot trade elbows with Ishikawa. Ishikawa destroys him. So he tries his luck against Kohei Sato…like Sato’s a guy who’s ever been told to work snug. Sato elbows him, holding onto poor Kikuta’s head, before elbowing him again. Yoshihisa Uto isn’t any easier on him with his clubbing arms. Kawakami and Daichi Hashimoto get a little face time but this was Kikuta’s story and he wanted to his revenge against Ishikawa. Please. Kikuta lands some stiff kicks and a dropkick but just when he starts to out-striking Ishikawa in an elbow exchange, the Big Dog shuts him down and pins him with the running knee.***¾ …the ¾ because Kikuta is almost a star himself. Awww.

Barbed Wire Board Death Match
Abdullah Kobayashi, Ryuji Ito & Jaki Numazawa def. Minoru Fujita, Kenji Fukimoto & Kankuro Hoshino

Look, I’m not a deathmatch guy – in fact, I’m the last guy that should be rating deathmatches. Mercifully, this was clipped. The scene opens with Ryuji Ito blasting Kankuro Hoshino with a chair. Hoshino’s already busted open at this point in the match and to make matters worse, Jaki Numazawa places him in a nightmare inducing chair-assisted STF and then starts grinding the barbed wire into his flesh. Fuck my life. There’s some human fishing, wire cutter masochism, and a barbed wire bandana.  When Fujita goes for the barbed wire-wrapped elbow smash on Abdullah, Abby catches him the Gannosuke Clutch for the win. **½

3-Way Fluorescent Light Tube Tag Death Match
Takumi Tsukamoto & Ryuichi Sekine def. Masaya Takahashi & Takayuki Ueki and Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto

Fluorescent light tubes. You can kick them, smash them with chairs, stab people in the face with their broken edges. They’re so versatile, especially in a deathmatch scenario. There’s a lot to keep up with here but if I focus on my favorite guy in the match (Yuko Miyamoto), he gets in some of the flashier offense in the match. After a Yankee Two Kenju double team, we get perhaps the best moment of this match: Miyamoto photographing Tsukamoto from all angles. In a fun spot, he misses a moonsault and lands on his feet only to get German suplexed by Masaya Takahashi. Everyone gets laid out and Kodaka nearly scores the victory after a top rope double knee drop across Tsukamoto’s light tube-laden chest but when he tries to seal the deal with the superkick, Tsukamoto’s able to avoid it to hit back-to-back Dodons onto broken glass for the pinfall. **¾

1st BJW Jr. Heavyweight Championship League Match
Shinobu def. Tatsuhiko Yoshino

This is the kick-off to Big Japan’s Junior Heavyweight Championship League, a tournament to crown a new BJW Jr. Heavyweight champion after 15 years. I love the idea of this tournament, as there are plenty of talented guys on the roster that can’t quite hang as major players in the Strong division.

After your traditional junior prom dance off,  Shinobu takes out Tatsuhiko Yoshino with a high Asai moonsault. The neat thing about this match is that not only is it a juniors match but because we’re in Big Japan, things are extra stiff. Shinobu lays into Yoshino with some dirty slaps in the corner and when Yoshino tries to fight back, Shinobu sits him down. Yoshino gets in some good offense of his own, including a tope con hilo, a missile dropkick, and a Blue Thunder Bomb. But when he smacks Shinobu, Shinobu obliterates him with a lariat. Shinobu impresses with a tip-top rope frankensteiner and in most garish junior fashion, uses a running Burning Hammer to set-up the Shooting Star Press finish. Bravo. ***½

BJW Tag Titles
Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi © def. Ryota Hama & Yasufumi Nakanoue

Historically, Yasufumi Nakanoue’s guy who is easy to forget. He looks like cosplay Satoshi Kojima and elbows a lot. Last year, he had a red hot feud with Hideki Suzuki that unfortunately fizzled out and then he challenged Hideyoshi Kamitani to a title match that was as equally forgettable. But as a tag team wrestler, Nakanoue can be pretty great. I thought he was the standout in this match and his exchanges with Yuji Okabayashi were some of the best highlights. Big clunky elbows against Okabayashi’s hoss chops. The interactions between Okabayashi and Ryota Hama never get old either but it was fun to see he and Nakanoue mix it up. At one point, Okabayashi chops him in the throat and Yasufumi shoots on him for a minute before getting shut down. Nakanoue really sells the double chickenwing struggle and the crowd eats it up. Strong BJ are as manly as ever, sandwiching Nakanoue with lariats, suplexing Hama, and power slamming Nakanoue from the top rope. Hama makes an amazing save, blasting Okabayashi out of the way during a corner lariat. Nakanoue picks up some momentum heading down the stretch. He’s a guy with a simple set of moves but it makes the most out of it. The final exchange with Okabayashi was awesome but after a man-sized Yuji lariat, Hideyoshi falls to the Golem Splash. Great tag match. **** ¼

BJW World Strong Heavyweight Title
Hideki Suzuki © def. Hideyoshi Kamitani

I’m a little bit of a Hideki Suzuki fanboy. There’s nobody quite as cool as Suzuki right now because there’s nobody else really like him. He stands out – the slicked back hair, the Robinson purple trunks, the calm but deadly demeanor – he’s like a man out of time and when I watch him wrestle, the nostalgia kicks in.

Hideyoshi Kamitani is also a guy I’ll always root for. After putting on his strongest performance to date against Okabayashi last year to win the title, he kind of lost his way as champion and it’s taken him awhile to burn with the same fire that made him such a great baby-faced underdog.

In this match, Kamitani is fired the fuck up and it’s everything I love about Kamitani all over again. He’s not waiting around to get lured into one of Suzuki’s mat games so he starts throwing his big boy weight around and really bringing the fight out of Suzuki. When Suzuki’s finally able to counter with his Robinson-style backbreaker.  The struggle in this match feels real, the exchanges are very raw and brutish – the way Suzuki traps limbs and lays his weight into the holds or a beatdown Hideyoshi slugging away. And boy, does Kamitani take a beating. Suzuki may be best known for his catch wrestling skills but he throws a mean-looking elbow and he threw plenty of them here. The match culminates with a brutal battle of staggering blows and suplex throws but like so many of Suzuki’s matches, he takes his opponent a few clicks past empty and Kamitani can’t deliver his big backdrop finish, which allows Suzuki to take advantage of his weakness, delivering a second backbreaker and an awesome double arm suplex hold for the dominant submission finish. Big Japan has done such a good job of building Suzuki up the man to be reckoned with and I don’t know who can topple him at this point. One of the best matches of the year. A single leg crab short of the full five. ****4/5