AJPW Excite Series 2019
February 24, 2019
Yokohama Bunka Gym
OSAMU NISHIMURA & HOKUTO OMORI DEF. GIANNI VALLETTA & ATSUKI AOYAGI
Not much to this match. The rookies start and do some mat wrestling and Aoyagi hits his nice looking dropkick. As soon as Valletta gets tagged in he immediately bites Omori and I lose my interest in this match. Nishimura gets the win on Aoyagi with a Spinning Toe Hold transitioned into a Figure Four for the tap out. They should have just let the rookies have a one-on-one match and that would have at least managed a passing grade. *¾
KOTARO SUZUKI, TAJIRI, ATSUSHI MARUYAMA, YUSUKE OKADA & AKIRA FRANCESCO DEF. ATSUKI AOKI, HIKARU SATO, BLACK MENSO-RE, BLACK TIGER VII & CHIKARA
An unfocused mess. Black Tiger even attacks his own teammate, Black Menso-re at the beginning of this match. Though going less than nine minutes, this moves pretty slow for a Jr. Heavyweight ten man tag. The only high spots were stereo Tope Con Hilos from Akira and Maruyama to the outside. TAJIRI and CHIKARA then have a shitty exchange. CHIKARA, more so than TAJIRI wad one of the lowlights of the Jr. Battle of Glory Tournament. Thankfully this match is saved at the end with a fun exchange between Suzuki and Sato, leading to Suzuki winning with a cradle. Interestingly enough, Sato has been eating a lot of pins in multi-man tag matches lately. **¼
TAKAO OMORI & MASANOBU FUCHI DEF. JUN AKIYAMA & MITSUO MOMOTA
Before the match, TOSHIAKI FUCKING KAWADA comes out to give flowers to Fuchi as part of celebrations for Fuchi’s 45th Anniversary as a pro wrestler. No way this match can be bad now. And it turns it this was really fun and quite possibly the best undercard comedy match All Japan has put on recently despite the average age in this match being 58.25 years old.
Fuchi and Momota start with some halfway decent mat work then Fuchi goes through his comedy schtick like kicking Momota immediately after a rope break and missing his dropkick, all to big crowd heat. Akiyama even riffs on Fuchi closed first spot claiming to the referee that he only slapped Fuchi, again getting huge heat. Fuchi finally lands a dropkick on Akiyama and Momota gets tagged in and Fuchi soon ends the match with a small package on Rikidozan’s son.
A really fun match with tremendous heat. If you’re a dedicated All Japan fan, there’s no way you could hate this match. ***¼
SHUJI ISHIKAWA, KAI & YUMA AOYAGI DEF. ZEUS, YOSHITATSU & YUTAKA YOSHIE
Ishikawa and Zeus start and immediately the match becomes a hoss battle. There’s a lot of cool big man spots with Yoshie ass splashing people and Zeus Military Press Slamming Aoyagi.
Bless Yoshitatsu. Despite debuting some nice new tights at the Giant Baba Memorial Show, he back to his blue and red Spider-Man tights with a Bullet Club logo with a big X through it. The Bullet Club Hunter gimmick is immortal. And Yoshitatsu delivers in this match. In the closing sequence, we get a really hot Aoyagi vs. Yoshitatsu exchange. Match ends with Aoyagi landing quite possibly the biggest win of his career when he pins The Bullet Club Hunter with a Jackknife Hold.
A young guy with potential snagging a big win is gonna be a theme tonight. It’s also time to discuss the fact that Yoshitatsu is actually an underrated wrestler. ***¼
During the intermission, we got the Champion Carnival 2019 participants and blocks.
- Yuma Aoyagi
- Shuji Ishikawa
- Dylan James
- Kengo Mashimo
- Kento Miyahara
- Yuji Okabayashi
- Ryouji Sai
- Gianni Valletta
- Sam Adonis
- Joe Doering
- Daichi Hashimoto
- Jake Lee
- Naoya Nomura
- Joel Redman
- Takashi Yoshida
NAOYA NOMURA DEF. DYLAN JAMES
This match was interesting for a number of reasons. This was not a monster foreigner dominating the plucky Japanese wrestler until the end of the match. These guys have a good back and forth that is pretty equal in terms of control.
And instead of the plucky Japanese wrestler eeking out a win at the end, Nomura actually dominates the finishes with a couple top rope splashes and a Death Valley Driver. At just under 11 minutes, I actually thought this match was too short. Who would’ve thought in 2019 that’s a thing to say about a Dylan James match? With Joe Doering only working a limited number of dates so far this year, James has been in the role of big gaijin monster ace on a lot of the smaller and mid size shows this year and as actually been doing a good job. This is surprising given some of the reviews I heard of his ZERO1 run as James Raideen (which admittedly I never saw). Looking forward to a longer match between these two.
Nomura looked like a star here. And as we will see later, it’s for a reason. ***¼ for the match, and ****½ for how it established Nomura as dominant and a future star.
JR. BATTLE OF GLORY TOURNAMENT FINAL
KOJI IWAMOTO DEF. SEIKI YOSHIOKA
On the whole, the Jr. Battle of Glory Tournament was pretty average. A lot of Gentleman’s Threes and some really ugly stuff at times from CHIKARA and Black Tiger VII. While I have ragged on TAJIRI in my past reviews, he was pretty inoffensive in it and even had one of my favorite matches of the tournament against Francesco Akira on 2/9.
Kotaro Suzuki also put in a good effort in the tournament that deserves recognition. Akira was a big unknown going to the tournament. Not a lot of people watching Italian indies. He’s in his early 20s but looks 16 and is smaller than most of the other Juniors in the company. But he did a great job on his first tour in Japan. He can move fast, fly, and he puts in an effort to work the crowd and often manages to connect with him. He literally carried TAJIRI to one of his best single matches in ages by flying and bumping around for him. He’s got a bright future and hope to see more of him in All Japan.
Anyway, let’s get to the finals.
This starts with a fast pace with lots of chain wrestling reversals. These guys have a chemistry with each other that was absent in many of the tournament matches. My main criticism of the match is that at points in the middle of it it just seemed like they were doing a bunch of moves to each other with little meaning. However, it builds to Yoshioka starting to hit some big moves on him but then Iwamoto comes back hitting some big moves of his own and both wrestler trade near falls. This was very much a 50-50 match and Iwamoto gets the win with his Judo Throw finisher but it wasn’t some dominant win.
Best match of the tournament. If it had more solid psychology throughout, and a slightly longer finishing sequence, I would’ve gone higher. ****
Iwamoto winning the tournament as the Jr. Champ was the right call. Now is the time to establish him as All Japan’s dominant Jr. Ace. And there’s really no one else who can hold that spot right now, though Yusuke Okada isn’t that far off.
Yoshioka was one of the few bright spots of the tournament. Though outsiders in tournaments in All Japan don’t really do much beyond their tournament with the exception of a title challenge if they win their tournament, having Yoshioka back even on a few bigger shows would be a big help to the All Japan Jr. division. Let’s hope eventually Strong Hearts makes their way into All Japan to avenge Yoshioka’s finals loss.
WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
DAISUKE SEKIMOTO & YUJI OKABAYASHI (C) DEF. JAKE LEE & RYOUJI SAI
Great Kojika accompanies his large sons to the ring to let you know this AJPW vs. BJW feud is on. Did this match go too long? It nearly went a half hour. Yeah you could have shaved off five to ten minutes of it. But once it got going it was pretty damn good. It was big boys hitting the shit out of each other, though not quite Strong BJ vs. Violence Giants.
Lee spent a lot of this match tagged in and though I am very much back-and-forth on him and his work l, I thought he did well here. Sai was also pretty damn good in this match and having him in more would have benefited it I think. But ultimately it was the work of Strong BJ that held this match together. After an exchange with lots of stiff strikes, a top rope splash from Okabayashi on to Lee wins the match for Strong BJ.
Lee taking the pin is interesting especially given Okabayashi isn’t even in his Champion Carnival block. There are a lot of fans speculating right now just how far Lee is going to be able to go as a top star.
If this match was shorter and just both teams throwing bombs at each other the whole time, I would’ve definitely gone higher. ****
TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
KENTO MIYAHARA (C) DEF. SUWAMA
Another awesome Triple Crown title defense.
When SUWAMA returned from his ruptured Achilles Tendon injury in July 2016 and moved quite slowly at first, a lot of people had written him of as a great worker. These past few months have proven those doubters wrong.
Before I lay any more praise on this match, let me get my issues with it out of the way first.
Miyahara has defeated SUWAMA before. That is why I thought the fact that Miyahara wrestled as the underdog for most of the match was lacking. This match went 32:29. I don’t think that was too long. But I do think the match could’ve been helped by a lot more equal positioning between the two participants. That being said, both wrestlers were awesome in the match. Miyahara put on a selling clinic while SUWAMA played a tremendous bully.
Even referee Kyohei Wada shone in this match, especially early on when Miyahara was gloating outside the ring after having hit a nasty looking DDT to Suwama on the entrance ramp.
And for a company that has seen many different regimes where submission finishers don’t mean much, especially in the main event, SUWAMA has managed to get his Sleeper Hold very over and that move did help to the drama of the match.
I went back and forth on my final rating here. I thought all of the work throughout the whole match was very good though despite my criticisms. But after re-watching it, the last few minutes continued to stick out. It was both guys throwing a bunch of suplexes (with some nasty looking lariats from SUWAMA) at each other with coupled with some great selling. Watching Miyahara hit deadlift German Suplexes on guys the size of SUWAMA is a sight to behold.
While I don’t think this match was as good as Miyahara vs. KAI, but it’s still a must watch. ****½
After the match, Nomura comes out to challenge Miyahara to a title match and even tries to give him the Death Valley Driver. Miyahara escapes from it but doesn’t retaliate while looking genuinely shook that a member of his own faction would do this to him. Miyahara’s character work here is also awesome. He looks like he’s doing some introspection as to why Nomura would challenge him.
This is a must watch show for a dedicated All Japan fan, though I don’t think it’s something I’d use to introduce someone to the promotion. This show both highlights the strength and weaknesses of the company. The top half of the card was strong. However, I’m not sure who there is to step up to challenge Iwamoto for the Jr. Title or Strong BJ for the World Tag Titles beyond Violence Giants. That’s a problem.
This show drew 2109 fans, which according to STRIGGA is the highest number for AJPW in that venue since Akiyama took over the promotion. And you could tell there was a good turnout, as the crowd was audibly hot for most of the show.
The CC line up is interesting. No NOAH or Wrestle-1 talent. I had speculated that Satoshi Kojima might be in it given he did an angle with Jun Akiyama at the Giant Baba Memorial Show that teased a match between them. Daisuke Sekimoto’s absence isn’t that surprising given he is the ZERO1 and BJW champion and the politics of booking him in the tournament would’ve been difficult.
Akiyama’s absence from the tournament is hardly surprising but it is disappointing. He had wanted to phase himself out of the CC last year, but he took part because Jake Lee was injured. The irony is that Akiyama had a tremendous tournament with a near Match of the Year Candidate match with Marufuji.
I get Akiyama’s desire to and the need to phase him out. But unlike the New Japan Dads, All Japan doesn’t have the roster depth where Akiyama can only be an opening match guy. However, if Akiyama puts himself in a role like in a possible match with Kojima where he faces veterans that can still go in the ring as special feature matches on big shows, then sign me up.
As for the CC a lot of people are already talking about the quality divide between Block A and the weaker on paper Block B. That could be an issue for the overall quality of the tournament. But I think the more interesting question raised is what is going to happen in the CC. I still think Jake Lee is the frontrunner to win, though I am not completely convinced he can be a good Triple Crown Champion. But giving him this year’s CC to prove himself, even if it leads to an unsuccessful challenge against Miyahara later is not a bad idea.
But what excites me most coming out of this show is Miyahara vs. Nomura. Nomura had already teased he was going to challenge Miyahara and I had speculated that the short Dream Power Series in March before the CC would be the perfect opportunity for that match. I’ll take the win on that guess.
Even if Lee can’t rise to the occasion in the main event, this show has laid the groundwork for Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi to keep moving up the card which is the kind of booking All Japan needs the most.