All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Explosion in Ryogoku 45th Anniversary
August 27, 2017
Ryogoku Kokugikan – Tokyo, Japan

The attendance came in at 6,550 for this show as opposed to the 6,522 Kento Miyahara and Suwama drew in November, though they may not have given away as many comps this year. To compare it to the other two non-New Japan Sumo Hall shows in the past month, DDT did 5,900 while BJW did 3,179. A nice ending to that trilogy here as All Japan continues to climb the ranks of Japanese promotions by having their best business year in recent history.

Yusuke Okada Def. Keiichi Sato

Sato, student of Kotaro Suzuki, made his debut for All Japan in late 2015 and quickly abandoned them once Suzuki departed. It was said to be because of family issues but when he showed up in WRESTLE-1 with Suzuki not much later it was clear that loyalty to his mentor was what lead to him leaving, or at least what lead to him not returning if he did happen to be dealing with family issues. It seemed like a decent idea for him at the time since the company was in such bad shape, but in hindsight it did him no good. His career went nowhere, and now he’s back.

He took his lumps here from Okada, who’s improved as the year has progressed since his debut in January. It was just a quick dark match, but this did a good job establishing Okada as the company boy while establishing Sato as someone who’s going to have to earn his respect back and will not be given anything until he does. It was brutal, it was vicious, both looked great, and this was a lot of fun for what it was. **1/2

Actwres girl’Z Offer Match
Saori Anou & Natsumi Manki Def. Tae Honma & Miyuki Takase

Seeing joshi in an All Japan ring is extremely rare, but again this was another fun match and a nice showcase for a smaller joshi promotion with some highly athletic women on the roster. Saori Anou had some good matches with Io Shirai and Kairi Sane in Stardom last year and is someone I would like to see more of. Cool little sprint to have on the show. **1/4

Yohei Nakajima & Fuminori Abe Def. Takuya Nomura & Yuya Aoki

Fuminori Abe and Takuya Nomura need to have a major singles match in All Japan, and both of them need to be in the mix for the junior title. Nomura is one of the best, most promising young wrestlers in the world right now and continues to improve, while Abe, though not as charismatic, is one of the most smooth, crisp young workers in Japan and is just as good in the ring. For now he works a lot of smaller indies such as HEAT-UP, GUTS World, BASARA, etc. with occasional All Japan shots, so he’s not working as much but when he does he’s usually the star of whatever match he’s in, like he was here. While Nakajima and Aoki held their own, Nomura and Abe were the stars. Yohei pinned Aoki with a Tobi Ushiro Mawashi Geri. Excellent four-minute opener with lots of heat.

Ryoji Sai, Masakado & Ishikiri Def. Massimo, Danny Jones & Sam Adonis

Jones, Massimo and Adonis are a few foreigners over on tour, Jones from Wales, Massimo from Italy and Adonis from Mexico (he’s American but works in Mexico). Massimo has not been impressive, but Adonis and Jones were both decent in this match. Ishikiri and Masakado are also two guys I would love to see brought back. All Japan has a few trios on the roster right now and those two with Sai would be a welcome addition. Sai is not doing much as is, so having him team with his boys for a bit would probably be best for him and would undoubtedly help Ishikiri and Masakado’s careers. Sai won with a Nachi no Taki on Jones and was jumped by Adonis to presumably set up singles match. Solid work, although I would like to see Massimo leave now. He’s no good. **3/4

Dory Funk Jr. & Hiro Saito Def. Masanobu Fuchi & The Great Kabuki

I guess sometimes you have to recognize that a match is just not for you. Sometimes you have to recognize that you are not the target audience. And so this is me recognizing that. I understand why All Japan did this match, I understand why people liked it, I understand why the crowd was into it, but with that said, I thought this was absolute garbage. I have no interest in watching Dory Funk Jr. walk around like he’s about to croak at any second and grab spinning toe-holds that take him ten seconds to apply. A young boy had to hold his hand and help him get backstage once the match was over, it was a miserable sight and not one I ever care to witness again, especially not on a major show like this. Fuchi, who’s 63 years old, looked like he could have been the child of Kabuki or Funk. He looked like Will Ospreay here. If All Japan wants to stick Dory in a multi-man with some younger guys like they did last year then I have less of a problem with that. Sticking four old dudes together and giving them ten minutes was brutal. Feel free to yell at me for this. DUD

BANG! TV World Heavyweight Championship Battle Royal
Osamu Nishimura (c) Def. Naoshi Sano, Yutaka Yoshie, Abdullah Kobayashi, Rikya Fudo, Kazuhiro Tamura, Rey Paloma, Carbell Ito, Atsushi Maruyama, Aizawa #1, Dinosaur Takuma, Kotaro Yoshino, Mitoshichi Shinose, Akiyori Takizawa & The Great Kojika

A match used to get a bunch of veterans and indie guys on the card. Not much else to say about it. I have no idea what BANG TV is or what the title is for. Maybe if the old men were not in the way, guys like Tamura would have been in a normal match, but you know. For what it was, this was harmless. **

Caristico Def. El Diamante

Exactly what the show needed at this point, a balls-to-the-wall lucha sprint between two awesome wrestlers. Caristico always works hard whenever he comes over from Mexico. He looked good at the J Cup show in August and in the Michinoku Pro tournament in October, and he looked good in this match. If he’s ever without something to do in Mexico, All Japan should bring him in to work a tour or two. He clearly enjoys performing, he gives you exactly what you want of him, he’s probably a pain in the ass backstage but hey, he’s a good wrestler and the fans like him. Same goes for Diamante. A great showcase match that added some more variety to the card and a match that was much needed with of the previous 30 minutes or so. ***1/2

All Asia Tag Team Championship
Black Tiger & TAKA Michinoku Def. Atsushi Aoki & Hikaru Sato

TAKA and NOSAWA (as Black Tiger) had the working boots on here. I give NOSAWA a lot of shit and am generally unfair when it comes to his matches due to me not enjoying his appearance, but when he decides that he wants to work and not jerk around, he’s an above average pro wrestler. He knows what he’s doing, he knows when to turn it up and when not to. He knew that he had to turn it up in this match, and so that he did. Nice work by him and nice work by TAKA, who wore his K-DOJO tights as a way of showing that there would be no bullshit, similar to the Liger match in Best of the Super Juniors. No Suzuki-gun, no shenanigans, just TAKA having a match, which I appreciate.

Aoki and Sato are now 0-2 in All Asia title matches at Sumo Hall for this company, last year losing to Atsushi Onita and Masanobu Fuchi and this year to a team almost equally as random. I would imagine they drop them right back to Aoki and Sato in a month or two, but I would love to see them have a lengthy run if TAKA’s schedule allows it. Seeing workhorse TAKA is rare these days so watching him have matches like this on a few All Japan shows a year would be a lot of fun. What it would mean for Aoki and Sato otherwise, who knows. You could always do something else with those guys. Good performances by all in this match as they worked a fast-paced, classical junior tag style sprint with NOSAWA catching Sato with an Ultra High School Class La Magistral for the win in about ten minutes. ***3/4

Taichi Def. Yuma Aoyagi

Aoyagi waited a full year to get his hands back on Taichi following their match in the Super J Cup last July, where Taichi embarrassed him in what could have been the biggest moment of his career. Aoyagi, since then, has prepared himself for this inevitable rematch. He’s bulked up, he’s become faster, stronger and wiser than he was, he’s no longer a rookie, and this was his chance at redemption.

In the biggest match of his career, in the bigger moment of his career, he gave Taichi everything he had. He jumped him before the bell, he worked like the match meant everything to him, he nearly had Taichi, but again Taichi came out on top. Even with all the training and all the progress he’s made, he was not good enough to beat this man. He’s not ready. He almost got him, he was real close, this was just not his time.

Taichi, for as much as everyone hates him, is a tremendous heel. Even his biggest detractors cannot deny how good he is as a heel. He has the character work, his problem is his in-ring. He’s not good, a lot of the time he’s below average, but like NOSAWA, he knows when he needs to step up and deliver, and this was him doing that. He stepped up, he knew it was a big spot, and he delivered. Aoyagi was the star of the match however, showing just how much he’s improved since their previous encounter and that he has potential to be a future star in this promotion. Akiyama clearly likes him and if he keeps improving at the rate he’s been improving, I would not be surprised to see him in even bigger spots within a year or two. Great work by him, great work by Taichi, and an emotional match perfect for this spot on the card. ****

Kanemaru was ringside for this match, which is odd because he was one of the people who was on bad terms with Akiyama when he decided to leave. He leveraged his way into a much bigger deal once leaving, so seeing him back in All Japan, especially on their biggest show, was bizarre. Before I continue I might as well mention here that All Japan is also bringing in Manabu Soya next month, Soya being one of the guys who followed Mutoh in the 2013 WRESTLE-1 exodus. He worked a few shows last year and earlier this year so this is not a big return but they did list him as a mystery participant in the matches he’s in before announcing who it was at intermission. Why? I have no idea.

Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori, Minoru Tanaka & Koji Iwamoto Def. Zeus, The Bodyguard, Joe Doering & Kotaro Suzuki

Koji Iwamoto, for a 27-year-old man who’s only been wrestling for a couple of years, has only been with with the company for a few months and was not even trained under their dojo, has been given more than anyone would have expected him to be given when he signed in January. He won the junior tournament in February, he’s had two shots at the junior title, and here he was in a match with seven veterans and respected members of the roster, and not only that, he was not the one to take the pin either. All Japan has big plans for this guy, they want him to be a star, and in the eight months he’s been with them, they have done a brilliant job turning him into one. Like Aoyagi, I would not be surprised to see him in even bigger spots within a year or two, maybe even sooner judging by how much they seem to like him. It looks like him and Suzuki will have a singles match here soon as they had some heated exchanged in the match and an extremely heated pull-apart.

It was only six minutes long but this did an excellent job building towards future matches such as Zeus vs. Akiyama and Iwamoto vs. Suzuki while also building towards something that would happen with Doering later on. It was similar to the Power Struggle 2015 tag match between Tanahashi, Shibata, Okada and Sakuraba with the great angle to set up Tanahashi vs. Okada at the Dome. It was a great match in its own right but was mainly used to build something else, with a very similar brawl in the post-match. Once I saw the card I questioned why some of these guys were not in bigger matches on the show but seeing as how this played out it made sense. Bodyguard was the one to take the pin from Omori, which again speaks to what they think of Iwamoto as they easily could have had him take the fall. Everything about this was great. ****

AJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship
Ultimo Dragon Def. TAJIRI (c)

Two of the most entertaining wrestlers of their time coming into Sumo Hall for one last major title match. How could this possibly be bad? How could this possibly be anything less than great? Surely these two legends will step up and deliver something huge in what could be their last big match. Surely TAJIRI, despite his age and poor conditioning, will pull it out once more, and surely Ultimo Dragon will do the same.

Well, turns out not all old men can deliver in a big spot. Turns out that time and age does catch up to you to the point where you are simply unable to perform the way you once were even in a major title match in Sumo Hall. Not everyone can be Jushin Thunder Liger, not everyone can be Satoshi Kojima or Yuji Nagata, we have to accept that these guys are human and that their age will hold them back at some point, and we saw that happen here. I would normally be upset by this, but this was the reality of what age really is. No miracles, no throwbacks to what they were previously; it was TAJIRI vs. Ultimo Dragon in 2017 and the reality of what that looks like. It was 15 minutes of TAJIRI grabbing holds, Ultimo doing a cool move or two and then winning with an Asai DDT.

I know they tried and god bless them for that, but this was incredibly dull. While I would feel weird telling you to skip it since it was such a big match, there was really not much to this. Regardless, seeing Ultimo win was a cool moment. Good for him. He defends against Billy Ken Kid soon, and with someone younger (Ken Kid is 43 years old but you know what I mean) there to carry the meat of the match, that should be decent. **3/4

AJPW Tag Team Championship
Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi Def. KAI & Naoya Nomura

Nomura and KAI, both of whom I have problems with as solo workers, have both found their calling as tag guys. KAI returned to the promotion in January, he dropped the goofy gimmick he had previously, and he’s improved like crazy as a result. His performance in this match was his best ever, though I admit to not having seen some of his earlier work.

Jake Lee, one of my favorite wrestlers at the moment, was originally scheduled to be in the match but was taken out with injury late last month, and while it sucks, this might have helped KAI more than it would have helped Lee. Lee is not going anywhere, he’s going to be given a lot more chances, he’s another guy All Japan has clear intentions on making a huge star, so there’s nothing to worry about with him. KAI had more to prove. KAI needed to prove that he really is back and that he is good enough, that he’s no longer playing around like he was in WRESTLE-1 for so long, and he did prove that here.

In my review of the DDT Peter Pan show I talked about Kazusada Higuchi being in the opener of the last Peter Pan and then being in the semi-main event this year. I talked about how DDT recognized what they have with him and how that was his true breakout match. It was the beginning of his elevation to the top, it was the biggest match of his career, and he delivered. Last year, Naoya Nomura wrestled Takuya Nomura in the opener of All Japan’s Sumo Hall show. Fast forward nine months and here he is in a tag title match at the top of the card with two of the biggest names in the country. It was the beginning of his elevation, it was the biggest match of his career, and he delivered. Not only did he deliver, he was highlight of the match.

Nomura looked like he belonged in there with the likes of Sekimoto and Okabayashi even as a 23-year-old who was a young boy ten minutes ago. He showed such intensity, such aggression, such anger, his performance reminded me a lot of guys like Kawada, Taue and Akiyama in classic All Japan tags. He hung in there with Okabyashi, he threw elbows with Sekimoto, he refused to quit, he refused to stay down, this was his company, these were his titles, he fought like he’s never fought before to protect what was his but again it was just not enough. Sekimoto and Okabayashi were too good, they beat the hell out of him for nearly 20 minutes, he fought all he could but the last few German suplexes and a Golem Splash were too much for him. He may have lost the match, but in many ways this was his coming-out party. It was the match where we saw that he’s capable of performing in spots like this moving forward and that he’s good enough to hang in there with Sekimoto and Okabayashi.

I get tired of talking about how good Strong BJ is. Everyone knows the deal by now. Sekimoto and Okabayashi are one of the greatest tag teams of all time. I would stack their big matches up against just about any other tag team in history. Every time a promotion puts them in a big spot you are guaranteed a fantastic match. Both were on top of their game here and both made Nomura and KAI look like a million bucks. One of the best tag matches of the year and I would have no problem with someone calling it the best match on the show. It was energetic, it was brutal in all of the right ways, it was dramatic and it was a throwback to the big All Japan tag matches of old. Giving Strong BJ the titles is a good choice and gives Nomura and Lee or KAI, depending which one they want to pair him with once Lee returns, something to do for a bit.

Meanwhile, Akiyama and Omori stepped forward to challenge the new champs. I assume they get their shot at the Korakuen show in October. ****1/2

Satoshi Kojima Def. Suwama

Well, this was weird. Joe Doering jumped former Evolution teammate Suwama during his entrance and said that he deserved to be in this spot instead of Kojima, who then made the save. Having them feud for right now is a good idea especially with the Oudou tournament coming up as one could spoil the other and cost them a title shot. All Japan also announced that they would be running the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium in February and Suwama vs. Doering would obviously be a sound semi-main event. I have no problem with the angle, the problem is that it came at the wrong time. It was not the type of angle you do before a match because not only does it take the crowd out of it if it fails to connect, but it also then takes away from the match at hand and the story they could have told.

Kojima and Suwama have a long history together, this was not merely New Japan vs. All Japan, this was Suwama being given the chance that was taken away from him in 2010 when Kojima abandoned the promotion. Kojima was set to put over Suwama as the next ace, and in refusal, he dropped his Triple Crown to Ryota Hama and immediately went to New Japan, Suwama never having the chance to get his hands on Kojima. It was this match where he would get to do so, to pay him back for what he did all those years ago, and because of the angle, it was taken away from him. Doering took it away from him. I get the story, I understand the story, it was just not the right story to tell on this show, in this spot. Kojima and Suwama should have had a normal match, a match with tons of heat, tons of drama, tons of emotion like myself and the fans in the building had expected, not a slow, meandering, awkward match that got 11 minutes following an angle that failed to connect properly.

Some controversy occurred over Kojima going over and why it happened, but for my money, it was hardly the most egregious thing about this. Did New Japan tell All Japan that Kojima needed to go over? I doubt it. Kojima lost eight of his nine matches in the G1 and is beaten like a drum in New Japan. New Japan guys lose matches in outside promotions all the time both in Japan and not, so why all of a sudden would they refuse to put an outsider over, especially when that outsider is Suwama, the former ace of the promotion they are forming a business relationship with? Kojima does not exactly strike me as someone who would be a pain in the ass backstage either even if he was when he was on top.

All Japan used Kojima to help draw and end the rivalry he had with Suwama. All Japan booked this. It was an All Japan show. If they felt they could us New Japan talent, which in this case was only Taichi and Kojima, to help them draw, then that is a sound business move, and New Japan helping them is a good gesture. Having Kojima go over was likely All Japan’s choice. It was likely their choice to do the angle before the match and have Doering cost Suwama. Not everything is New Japan’s fault, so there’s my opinion on that. I disagree with the booking but I am not comfortable blaming New Japan for it. Whatever the reason, this was all very dumb and did not land whatsoever. Kojima won with a lariat in what was a slow, dry match with a dead crowd. Highly disappointing. ***

Triple Crown Championship
Kento Miyahara Def. Shuji Ishikawa (c)

A year and a half ago Kento Miyahara was one of the only people All Japan had on the roster who was not past his prime and was there when the company needed him. Akebono walked out, Go Shiozaki walked out, and yet Miyahara, who was making no money and could have been a star elsewhere, stayed. He stuck around because All Japan was his home, and being the only guy they had since Suwama was out with injury, they had no choice but to try him out as champion. He beat Zeus in February, defended against the likes of Takao Omori, Daisuke Sekimoto, Kengo Mashimo, Jun Akiyama, Ryouji Sai, all of which lead up to Suwama in November, Suwama making his return from injury to defend his throne against the man challenging for his spot.

It was in this building nine months ago where Miyahara defeated the former ace and cemented himself as the new. When he beat Suwama, the story of him becoming the ace came to a close and the story of him learning to survive as the ace began. He survived for a few more months, successfully defending against Omori and Bodyguard, but then in May we saw something we never saw out of him previously. We saw him unable to adapt to an opponent, we saw his gameplan fail him, even when it was the same game plan that got him through previous opponents. Shuji Ishikawa, the 41-year-old, former BJW Strong champion and KO-D Openweight champion, came into All Japan, Miyahara’s home, he entered the Champion Carnival, and to the surprise of many, he won. A month later he stepped into Korakuen Hall with Miyahara, Miyahara not taking him lightly but perhaps not fully preparing himself the way he should have, and again, to the surprise of many, Ishikawa won. Miyahara could not adapt. Ishikawa was too good on that night.

Miyahara was given the chance at redemption, he had to go through Suwama in June and Joe Doering in July, two opponents he’s beaten before but were seeking redemption of their own. Suwama was out to redeem himself following the loss to Miyahara in November and Doering was out to redeem himself following his losses to both Miyahara and Ishikawa in the Carnival, and Miyahara defeated both in convincing fashion. He earned his right to challenge and so he returned to the building where all of this began, humbled by what happened months prior. His gameplan here was to simply not rely on one seeing as what happened the last time he trusted himself. His only goal in this match was to survive and to take down Ishikawa in whatever way possible, even if it lead to his own demise.

He was aggressive right from the jump, he worked with an edge, he worked fast, and he angered Ishikawa in the process. Ishikawa was aggressive, Ishikawa was fast, Ishikawa was brutal, and he tore Miyahara up the best way he knew how. He threw him into guardrails, he hit him with a Fire Thunder Driver on the apron, he hit him with a top rope brainbuster; this was Ishikawa ripping Miyahara from limb to limb, attempting to destroy his body to the point where he would have no choice but to give up. And yet he never did. Miyahara fought through everything, from the Fire Thunder on the apron to the top rope brainbuster in which he completely no-sold out of pride as he refused to show Ishikawa that he was in pain, to the two other Fire Thunders later in the match, to the Splash Mountain powerbomb, to everything else. He never gave up because this was his company, his Triple Crown, his building, his moment and he was not going to let some outsider take it away from him.

Both were worn out by the end, both had nothing in the tank, both got up from everything thrown at them until it was just too much for Ishikawa to handle. Ishikawa was done, Miyahara was done, Ishikawa was able to kick out of two knees to the head but it was clear his body was giving in, and so one last Shutdown German suplex was too much for him to recover from. It took every ounce of pride and every ounce of energy in his body to put the man away, but Miyahara won back his Triple Crown and returned to his throne as Ishikawa then showed respect to the true king of All Japan.

Before his loss to Ishikawa, Miyahara worked all of his matches with set plans in which he rarely deviated from, and for over a year we saw him succeed using those set plans, but here he came in without one since his last was unsuccessful, and we learned, as did he, that having a plan coming into his matches and sticking to that plan is not always his best option. First step was becoming the ace and second step was learning how to survive as the ace, which means changing the way you work your matches when necessary. It was necessary here, and it may be necessary moving forward. Ishikawa was a useful tool and a useful learning experience for Miyahara and the story All Japan is telling with him, and this was the perfect place to have the match.  It was an emotional, dramatic, classic Japanese style main event with incredible callbacks to Miyahara’s previous title matches and two memorable performances by two of the best wrestlers in the world. ****3/4

Final Thoughts:

I have trouble calling this a great show because of the two extremely disappointing matches at the top, but it was a lot of fun. Ishikawa vs. Miyahara was one of the best matches of the year, the tag title match was one of the best tag matches of the year, Taichi had one of his best matches ever, NOSAWA and TAKA had good performances in the All Asia tag match, the eight-man was molten hot, and so it has to be considered a very good card, though Suwama vs. Kojima under-delivering and the junior title match being as dull as it was were quite the downers. Nevertheless, do take a few hours out of your day to watch the show. Nice job by All Japan.