ALL JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
ATSUSHI AOKI MEMORIAL CONVENTION
AUGUST 11, 2019
TAKAO OMORI, BLACK MENSO~RE, ATSUSHI MARUYAMA & BLACK TIGER VII DEF. AKIRA FRANCESCO, HOKUTO OMORI, DAN TAMURA & ATSUKI AOYAGI
A basic but fun opener. It only went 7:33 but everyone got a bit of time to run through some spots. Akira Francesco and Hokuto Omori hit some of the double teams moves that they developed while teaming in the Jr. Tag Battle of Glory and Tamura continues to be the most impressive of the AJPW young boys. Menso~re got the win over Tamura with a Diving Foot Stomp. Certainly could have benefitted from a few more minutes. **3/4
YOSHITATSU, ULTIMO DRAGON & MASAO INOUE DEF. OSAMU NISHIMURA, MASANOBU FUCHI & SUSHI
These were some random teams that you would think Genichiro Tenryu came up with. You could tell this was a hardcore AJPW/NOAH audience as the crowd broke out in chants of “Masao!” as soon as the match started and the boos and jeers for Fuchi’s cheating spots got more heat than usual. And Fuchi’s spots usually already get a good amount at your average AJPW Korakuen Hall show.
After the initial comedy spots between Inoue and Fuchi, the match slowed down a lot, and no one really put in much of an effort. Even Akiyama and Omori work harder than this in comedy matches that are usually second or third on the card. However, the comedy spots got pulled out again and the crowd loved it. Dragon pinned SUSHI with a La Magistral at 10:52 which was too long considering how much time the opening match got. Can’t completely bury a match that gets good heat though. **1/4
YUSUKE OKADA DEF. IPPEI OTA
The retired Ota returns to wrestling to pay tribute to his fellow NOAH Dojo classmate Atsushi Aoki. Ota was seconded by Genba Hirayanagi, another graduate of the 2005 NOAH Dojo class. While he was never a great wrestler during his short, just under four-year career, you do have to feel for a guy who while out with injury while Mitsuharu Misawa died, never came back because of the stress that Misawa’s death caused him. He’s still shredded and is currently a bodybuilder.
Okada and Ota did a lot of chest slaps and forearms to each other in the opening minutes of this which is a perfectly good way to go about doing a match with a guy that hasn’t wrestled in a decade. Ota also did his trademark Airplane Spin.
Okada won in under seven minutes with a flurry of headbutts followed by a Fisherman’s Buster. This completely exceeded expectations given Ota was never a great wrestler and hasn’t wrestled in a decade. A hell of a performance and carry job from Okada. **3/4
BIG GUNS (ZEUS & THE BODYGUARD) & DYLAN JAMES DEF. SWEEPER (JAKE LEE & KOJI IWAMOTO) & YUJI OKABAYASHI
It would be nice if AJPW could do a better job in apportioning match lengths. The comedy match got almost 11 minutes while this match (and look at the talent involved!) got only 7:17. That is some seriously poor booking. Anyway, this was great while it lasted.
We got a chop battle between James and Okabayashi, harkening back to their awesome match during the Champion Carnival this year which was the highlight of this all too short match. But there was also lots of other great big men throwing stiff strikes at each other stuff in this match. Iwamoto got a bit of a rub here, getting a couple of near falls on Zeus before falling to Zeus’ Jackhammer. This could have been incredible if given some more time. ***1/4
HIKARU SATO & TAKUYA WADA DEF. ASTRONAUTS (TAKUYA NOMURA & FUMINORI ABE)
Would just like to note that Wada, like his sometime tag team partner Sato, wrestles barefoot. Sato is also wearing MMA gloves here, and Abe and him did some shoot style stuff to start telling you immediately the direction that his match would go in. Wada and Nomura then both tagged did some shoot style as well and the crowd was pretty hot for all of the big strikes and submission attempts. Sato got the submission victory with a Heel Hook on Abe in just under 11 minutes.
This was fun if you are into shoot style. While Nomura rightfully gets lots of praise, I thought Wada and Abe stood out in this match. Wada is a good addition to All Japan undercards and his light years better than Hideki Sekine, another fortysomething former MMA fighter that AJPW occasionally brings in. ***1/4
JUN AKIYAMA & TAKASHI SUGIURA DEF. NAOYA NOMURA & HITOSHI KUMANO
The first true Pro Wrestling NOAH participation on this show did not disappoint. This started out with some great wrestling between Nomura and Sugiura. These guys have some chemistry and I’m adding a match between these two to my dream match list. Match eventually settled into Kumano becoming the whipping boy, and took a beating from Akiyama for a while.
The hot tag lived up to its name because once Nomura got back in then got some more great stuff from him vs. Sugiura. Kumano even eventually got fired up and started to take some revenge on Akiyama for his earlier beating which the crowd got really hot for. But the veteran Akiyama eventually regained the initiative and put away Kumano with a Wrist-Clutch Exploder in a little over 15 minutes. A really fun match.
After the match, Sugiura tried to shake Nomura’s hand, and it got swatted away. Could this be a sign of things to come? I pray to God it is. Inject a singles match between these guys straight into my veins. Also, it should be noted that Akiyama, who has been working practically only lower card comedy matches since the 2018 Champion Carnival looked great here, and gave his best performance in quite some time. ***3/4
After this match, we got a video package with some comments from SUWAMA with some clips from AJPW and NOAH of some moments in Atsushi Aoki’s career.
VIOLENT GIANTS (SUWAMA & SHUJI ISHIKAWA) & SHUHEI TANIGUCHI DEF. KENTO MIYAHARA, NAOMICHI MARUFUJI & YUMA AOYAGI
Despite being partners here, Miyahara and Marufuji have a brief staredown moment as soon as Marufuji entered the ring. Miyahara’s playing to the crowd before the match began also seems to have gotten on Marufuji’s nerves. After some great chain wrestling between Marufuji and SUWAMA to open the match, Miyahara made a blind tag with a big slap to Marufuji’s back which elicits huge boos from the crowd. Miyahara’s ego has finally become too much for Korakuen Hall. Soon after this, while wrestling Taniguchi, Miyahara missed a running high kick and hits Marufuji to another chorus of boos. This tension continued throughout the match.
Aoyagi eventually became the guy to get worked over for an extended period. We also got some more Miyahara vs. Taniguchi stuff, where Miyahara actually managed to make Taniguchi look good. I’d also add that all of the Marufuji vs. SUWAMA sequences in this match were awesome.
We also got a pretty good closing stretch, where Aoyagi and SUWAMA went at it, and despite a valiant effort, Aoyagi was pinned by SUWAMA following a Last Ride at 22:26.
After the match, Miyahara and Marufuji both tease shaking hands, but both pull their hands away at the same time to scratch their heads to a pop from the crowd.
AJPW main event multi-man tags usually deliver and this was no exception. The whole Miyahara and Marufuji team of rivals storyline took it to another level. ****
Following the match, SUWAMA got on the mic to pay tribute to Aoki. After that, several photos were displayed on screen from throughout his career in NOAH and AJPW. The entire locker room then came out, Akiyama said a few words and we got the ten bell salute with everyone standing in the ring.
Admittedly, this show didn’t really take off match quality-wise until the second half and it suffered from AJPW’s inexplicable tendency to give some undercard matches too much time and others too little. However, to borrow a tired cliché from WrestleMania, this show was about the moments, not the matches. We got to see AJPW and NOAH wrestlers that either haven’t interacted in years or in some cases, never before.
The show drew 1813 which is pretty much a Super No Vacancy Full House at Korakuen Hall. The energy from the capacity crowd really helped this show, especially during the weaker matches on the undercard.
The Aoki tribute stuff on this show was done very well and it made me feel emotional. Aoki was the first death of a wrestler in many years that really hit me on an emotional level.
This show is a must-watch for any devoted AJPW or NOAH fan. And hopefully going forward from this we see some more AJPW and NOAH cooperation. The seeds were certainly planted for it, and both companies could really benefit from it. Our first indication that more collaboration between the companies could be a thing moving forward is that on September 16 in Osaka on a NOAH show during the N-1 Victory tour, Jun Akiyama will be teaming with Keiji Muto and Kaito Kiyomiya against a mystery trio. It would also not shock me if there is AJPW participation on NOAH’s November 2 Sumo Hall show.
While this show was a wonderful tribute to Atsushi Aoki, his real legacy will be the wrestlers that he trained during his time in AJPW which includes Naoya Nomura, Yuma Aoyagi, Yusuke Okada, Keiichi Sato, Hokuto Omori, Atsuki Aoyagi and Dan Tamura. Some of these wrestlers are already showing the potential to be stars, which is the greatest tribute to Aoki of all.