ALL JAPAN PRO-WRESTLING
SUMMER EXPLOSION SERIES 2019
SEPTEMBER 3, 2019
Meet our reviewers:
Gerard Di Trolio: Gerard is still on the AJPW train despite 1) Lackluster booking recently and a desperate need for new stars at the top and 2) Some wrestling fans that are extremely online turning on Kento Miyahara because Dave Meltzer called him one of the best wrestlers in the world today and compared him favorably to Ric Flair. You can follow him on Twitter @GerardDiTrolio
Thomas Fischbeck: Thomas thinks All Japan has been a clear top-three promotion in the world in-ring but does concur that the promotion feels stale at the top despite great matches. Thomas will be covering this show among a grab bag of others (NJPW, DDT, Tokyo Joshi Pro) on Wrestling Omakase this week so check that out and follow him on Twitter @rasslinratings
YUSUKE OKADA, DAN TAMURA & ATSUKI AOYAGI DEF. AKIRA HYODO, TAKUHO KATO & YUKI ISHIKAWA
Gerard: An underrated feud this year is AJPW vs. BJW. The two companies have had great World Tag Title, All Asia Tag Title, and Champion Carnival matches against each other in 2019. Now we get to the young boys. What’s fun about these young boy interpromotional matches is that everyone in them wants to try and make a statement. Hyodo decided to target Okada, even when Okada wasn’t tagged in. Tamura showed off his strength and demonstrated how he is going to be a great power Jr. one day. Ishikawa demonstrated his great speed. Kato and Aoyagi were just kind of there, but Aoyagi does well at taking a beating at least.
Okada, the best and most experienced worker in this match, didn’t feature much until later, and when he did, he was on the receiving end of a lot of attacks from the BJW team. This match was definitely a showcase for the newer talent, though in the end, Hyodo fell to a Fisherman’s Suplex from Okada. At 11:24, this was longer than the average AJPW opening match and deserved the time. A really fun showcase of the future of AJPW and BJW. ***
Thomas: I’ve been extremely high on both the current All Japan and Big Japan young boy crops, Big Japan especially. I really enjoyed the semi-main from the August 24th Big Japan show that saw Kato team with Daisuke Sekimoto and Hyodo team with Hideki Suzuki (****), so check that out if you get a chance. This wasn’t at that level given that it was the opener, bit this was fast-paced and both promotions’ respective youngsters put in great work in a fun opener. Everybody involved seemed to have pretty great chemistry given they’ve been working together for a while, and everyone got shine, but in the end the non-young boy on the All Japan team, Yusuke Okada, picked up the win, though it was the guy who took the pin, Akira Hyodo, who really stood out to me. ***1/2
JUN AKIYAMA, ULTIMO DRAGON & YUMA AOYAGI DEF. OSAMU NISHIMURA, HIKARU SATO & MASANOBU FUCHI
Gerard: With Sato and Aoyagi in this, there is more workrate than the average AJPW comedy match these days. So of course those two started the match with some matwork. Akiyama and Nishimura got tagged in next and continued the serious work. Took longer than usual to get to Fuchi and his closed fist and bodyslam spots. But from there it was the usual comedy stuff with Fuchi vs. Akiyama spots and Fuchi once against falling to a La Magistral from Dragon. Looked like it was going to be a little different comedy match than usual at the beginning but then became entirely predictable. **1/4
Thomas: I appreciated Gerard’s optimism coming into the match and for a moment it looked like it could come true but it wasn’t to be. I don’t have a huge problem with Aoyagi and Sato (two guys I’m a huge fan of) being “wasted” in this comedy spot unless it becomes a trend. Aoyagi is someone that All Japan really could be building up, maybe not at a Lee or Nomura level but certainly as an upper midcarder, and Sato may still be the best junior on the roster in-ring. Seeing Ultimo going back to working All Japan comedy after his performance at Kobe World was maybe a little sad to see, but I’ll never not enjoy one of these Masa Fuchi matches with the crowd supporting his lies or Jun Akiyama’s prick face as he slyly denies the veteran of hitting his signature dropkick to choruses of boos. Ultimo picked up the win with the La Magistral. This was pretty standard All Japan undercard stuff but I enjoyed it. **3/4
SWEEPER (JAKE LEE & KOJI IWAMOTO) & HELLBOY DEF. TAKAO OMORI, BLACK MENSO~RE & HOKUTO OMORI
Gerard: Hellboy came out to “Kickstart My Heart” which coincidentally Johnny Ace also used to in AJPW. Hellboy entered through the crowd, clearly a Jon Moxley fan. The Hellboy suit was actually decent looking though you could tell it was restricting his movement a little bit. Not entirely sure who is under the suit, but I think it may have been Hideki Sekine given the size, though his body language was way better than Sekine’s is. But like Sekine, Hellboy’s work wasn’t much, and basically consisted of him swinging around his big hand.
This was a very basic six man tag and instead of hiding Hellboy’s limitations, he spent a good amount of the match tagged in. Hellboy pinned Menso~Re with a Lariat using his big hand. Thankfully this only went 8:12. I hope AJPW was paid handsomely by the movie studio for this at least. *3/4
Thomas: Maybe there is something to say that of the three “up and comers,” Aoyagi was in the Fuchi match, Lee was in the Hellboy match, and Nomura was in the main event, but like I said earlier, I wouldn’t read *too* much into that until it becomes a trend. Hellboy came out thru the crowd here which I popped for, as I did for Iwamoto and Lee holding the ropes for him.
On the opposite side of Lee being downgraded to this match, shoutout to young boy Hokuto Omori for being placed in the promotional match here, and he didn’t even take the pin!
If you haven’t noticed I’ve been kind of talking around the actual match here and that’s because, to be frank, it sucked. Whoever it was in the Hellboy suit was not good and was exposed way too much, and none of the other guys showed any effort. 3/4*
EWA INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: TAJIRI © DEF. AKIRA FRANCESCO
Gerard: This particular Intercontinental Championship hails from the European Wrestling Association, based in Leoben, Austria. Other than TAJIRI, the only notable wrestler to have held this title before was Doug Williams, back in 2006.
While I have been critical of modern day TAJIRI, he and Francesco had a good match back in the Jr. Battle of Glory tournament in February, the only TAJIRI singles match I liked this year.
This was even better than that match. While the formula of both matches were similar. Francesco did a lot of flying, bumping and selling while TAJIRI did his more methodical (slow) work. However, Francesco, only 20 years old, continues to improve as a wrestler as each month passes. His work in this match was smoother and more confident looking in this match compared to February and he pulled out some cool counters.
TAJIRI would get the win with a cradle during a back and forth cradle sequence. While this only went 11:46, TAJIRI matches going a similar length these days have lost my attention. This kept my attention the entire time. The best TAJIRI singles match I have seen quite possibly in years. This was, and Cagematch might be spotty on this given the obscurity of the title, TAJIRI’s V2 defense. ***1/2
Thomas: I don’t really think Akira Francesco has a super high ceiling, but he’s always solid and often times he shows flashes of something better as he did here from time to time against TAJIRI, someone who has been legitimately awful for a few years now.
I went *** on these two’s match from the Junior Battle of Glory this year (think of it as All Japan’s BOSJ), and here they were fighting for the EWA Intercontinental Title, one of a few random belts that are tangentially related to All Japan and get some free press on Korakuens so All Japan can stack some extra title matches.
This was actually really good for the most part, TAJIRI picked up the win rollup counter, and it was the first time in forever I’ve left a TAJIRI match wanting more. I’d give most of the credit for that to Francesco, who has seemingly been constantly improving over the past year or so he’s been in this company. I hope he continues to climb, even into the All Japan Junior title picture by this time next year. ***1/2
JOEL REDMAN & YOSHITATSU DEF. DYLAN JAMES & KOTARO SUZUKI
Gerard: Solid mat wrestling and back-and-forth exchanges from Redman and Suzuki started the match. Then we got some solid action between Yoshitatsu and James. Yoshitatsu pinned James with a Jackknife Hold after Redman hit James with a Top Rope Knee Drop in only 7:23. Once again another AJPW undercard featuring good workers that could have used another two or three minutes but was still solid while it lasted. Anyway, I think the finish, given Redman and Suzuki often take falls, is foreshadowing something in the upcoming Ōdō Tournament. **3/4
Thomas: Surprisingly to me, Kotaro Suzuki did not work the Aoki Memorial show and had not worked All Japan in a month and a half after being a pretty consistent guest the first half of the year, but any potential speculation of bad blood was put to rest here. Redman and Suzuki had some pretty good exchanges early as technical based stylistic guys, and I thought Tatsu and Redman had really good chemistry. If Redman stays in All Japan, I think he’d be well suited to join Tatsu in his sort of NEXTREAM-adjacent free agent role in terms of faction alignment.
Yoshitatsu picked up the win on James with a flash pin in a shocking result to me. James has been taking a ton of falls lately when he seems to be someone that All Japan should be building up as a potential future contender. Maybe this is a sign of him potentially being on his way out, or maybe he’ll make a come-from-behind run at the Royal Road crown and the Triple Crown shot that comes with it. ***
WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: ZEUS & RYOUJI SAI DEF. VIOLENT GIANTS (SUWAMA & SHUJI ISHIKAWA) ©
Gerard: Zeus and Sai are basically a thrown together tag team. While teaming with Sai against SUWAMA and Hikaru Sato earlier on this tour, Zeus pinned Suwama and then challenged him for the tag titles.
However, once this match got going, you wouldn’t think Zeus and Sai were some random team that only existed to fill a title defense. Like most Violent Giants matches, this felt like a fight. The champs even attacked before the bell and brawled into the crowd. From there, Zeus ended up being the whipping boy for a bit. Zeus isn’t usually in this role, but he was great in it. Zeus took a bunch of stiff strikes and suplexes and sold them very well. Sai, who I find hit-or-miss, was great in his role here too.
But as the match went on, it became the Zeus show. He would toss around both Violent Giants like they were much smaller than they actually are and went to the top turnbuckle for his offense more than usual. Zeus would pin Ishikawa with a Lariat followed up by the Jackhammer in just under 20 minutes. Crowd popped big time for the upset victory. The last few minutes of this were an awesome frenzy of big guys just throwing bombs at each other. The champions fall attempting to make their V4 defense.
Zeus and Sai seemed like another thrown together team just to give the Violent Giants a title defense. But AJPW actually managed to create another credible tag team in just one match at the World Tag Title level going into the later half of the year for the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League (AKA Real World Tag League). Just an incredible performance from Zeus and another notch in the belt of the Violent Giants who should be in the conversation for tag team of the year. ****1/4
Thomas: Violent Giants have lapped the field in terms of tag team of the year. The other two real contenders in my mind–BJW’s Strong BJ and NOAH’s AXIZ–have really fallen off since the midyear point. Ryouji Sai and Zeus coming together was a team that made sense to me. The two have had great chemistry against each other in past matches, and while I consider myself to be pretty low on Sai, even I’ll admit that Zeus brings out the best in him, most notably for their awesome match in the Carnival this year (****1/4).
Violent Giants attacked before the bell and worked over both competitors on the outside before isolating Zeus on the inside. Zeus worked the vast majority of this match, with Sai only tagging in once, but don’t let that fool you, Sai absolutely had a role in breaking up moves and contributing to double team offenses, and while the “tag match devolves into a tornado tag” trope in modern day wrestling can be frustrating sometimes, it really worked for me here.
After the big 2v2 section, the big turning point was a Tower of Doom reversal from Zeus/Sai, as Ishikawa powerbombed only his partner onto the mat. From there, Zeus and Ishikawa went into a hot stretch with callbacks to their match on the Champion Carnival A Block final show, and Zeus kicked out of the Fire Thunder Driver for a great near fall before firing back up. A Lariat and Jackhammer fell Ishikawa as Violent Giants lose the titles in a huge upset and a tremendous match. Hopefully the title being off him means Ishikawa can work the DDT Grand Prix? Maybe? ****1/4
TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP: KENTO MIYAHARA © DEF. NAOYA NOMURA
Gerard: Nomura pinned Miyahara twice in multi-man tags on this tour to try to heat up this match, his second challenge for the Triple Crown in just under six months.
Nomura is much more over with the crowd than he was in his first Triple Crown challenge. There were dueling chants of Kento and Nomura as soon as the bell rang to start the match. Not only is Nomura more over this time, but he has improved as a wrestler since his last Triple Crown challenge as well. He had a much more confident swagger to him and worked in some new moves to his offense. Nomura had a response to Miyahara’s usual offense a lot of the time as well, something he didn’t have last time which demonstrates his growth as a wrestler. Nomura also got to control a lot more of the action during the first half of the match this time.
Miyahara also took Nomura a lot more seriously as an opponent this time, and was a lot less lackadaisical in how he dealt with him. While Miyahara was still very much a prick, it was in an aggressive way, as opposed to sometimes where Miyahara is a prick because he believes his opponent beneath him. And Miyahara deserves points here for some incredible selling.
The closing stretch was probably the best I’ve seen in a Miyahara match this year. Nomura landed the Maximum (Death Valley Driver) after a forearm flurry and the crowd bought it as the finish and went nuclear when Miyahara kicked out. And in what I think was the best Shutdown German Suplex setup Miyahara has done in ages, he landed it after escaping another Maximum attempt and with a steeper angle than usual for the win and his V7 defense.
Another incredible Miyahara title defense. And Nomura has shown the great progress he has made in the last six months. While the crowd bought Nomura winning as the match went on, it is definitely still too early to put the Triple Crown on him. While AJPW definitely needs new stars at the top, I would wait until Spring-Summer 2020 to do it.
This is one of the best matches I’ve seen this year, but if you really want to appreciate it, you need to see their previous Triple Crown match from 3/19/19 to understand how Nomura has evolved as a wrestler and how Miyahara now views him as a threat. ****3/4
Thomas: This match is the reason I decide to jump on and review this show. Kento Miyahara is probably my wrestler of the year, and he faced the guy I might be most invested in of anyone in wrestling here in the main event of Korakuen Hall. Naoya Nomura may not have had the opportunities to build a “Most Outstanding” resume like Miyahara has, but he’s made his chances count: ****1/2 in the main event of Korakuen for his first title challenge just six months ago, and then ****3/4 and ****1/4 in back-to-back matches on the Champion Carnival B Block Finals with little rest in between.
Seeing Nomura’s slow ascent to the top from Kento Miyahara’s sidekick to going off on his own to his near-win at the Champion Carnival has probably been what has kept me invested in All Japan as the rest of the main event scene has stagnated. Even his tag run with Jake Lee, while maybe not up to my expectations, was a fun change of pace at the top of the card and an exciting opponent for Violent Giants. Perhaps needless to say, Nomura was OVER here, way more than any Kento challenger this reign by a wide margin, including Nomura’s own previous challenge. Kento is so liked by the All Japan fans that even when he works cocky it’s hard for fans to get invested in the underdog, but they were invested from the get-go here, even more so by the end of the match.
The last time these two faced, Kento was clearly the better, having been Nomura’s mentor until the split, but in this one, Nomura was clearly in Kento’s head, giving him a pat on a rope break and taking him to the outside early, a callback to something Kento loves to do to his challengers in title matches. Kento took control on the outside after a failed attempt on a corner Lancer and brutalized Nomura repeatedly with headbutts, leading to jeers from the Korakuen crowd and dozens of high-pitched calls for Nomura.
Kento’s heel side really showed here as the ref was forced to pull him off of Nomura after Kento failed to yield to a rope break count on a headscissors, and while this briefly fired Nomura up, Kento quickly took back control. Something I enjoyed about this match was that it really didn’t feel like “X gets a control period, Y gets a control period,” it was instead very back and forth, with the guy in control completely fluid throughout the match.
A DDT on the apron followed by a standing German from the apron to the floor led to a Dragon Sleeper attempt and then a violent submission on the neck from Nomura, but despite the pain, Miyahara was able to get his knees up on a splash attempt and nail his signature combo of quick knees and rolling Germans.
Nomura fought out of a standing German but was caught with a knee to the gut, and with both guys crawling to their feet, the atmosphere in Korakuen Hall could only be described as tense as the two unloaded on each other with forearms. Nomura collapsed first, leading to a disrespectful stomp from Kento that fired Nomura up and allowed him to take control. A Lancer attempt from Kento was blocked with a knee and a German, but Nomura was able to kick out and keep his hopes of a Triple Crown title run alive.
At this point, Kento transitioned to the Shutdown German attempt, but Nomura escaped and nailed a Lancer for a two count that got Korkauen buzzing. Lancer to the back and a quick follow up side slam got 2.9 and the entire hall gasped at the nearfall. The two traded counters back and forth, with Kento batting Nomura off with knees every time Nomura tried to charge in and take advantage of the seemingly-fallen champion.
Nomura’s facials of utter desperation as Kento went for the Shutdown again were great, and seemingly as his face turned to defeat and Kento got him up, he burst out of the hold and blocked a Blackout Knee with a stiff forearm to the face leading me to jump out of my seat. Another forearm flattened Miyahara and the Maximum nearfall got both me and the Korakuen Hall crowd. Kento reversed out of a second one, and went for a delayed Shutdown German as Nomura struggled to the last breath, spazzing to get out before ultimately falling as Kento secured his seventh defense on his quest to break the record.
This was an incredible match in the background, but significantly helped by the backstory between the two guys and even moreso if you’re actually invested in Naoya Nomura’s chase like I am. I didn’t think this was the time to give the title to Nomura, but Korakuen was absolutely on board with it so it’s hard to say he’s not ready anymore. You’ve got to think the current plan has to be Kento breaking the defense record and Nomura winning the Carnival before ultimately getting the win just over a year after leaving NEXTREAM. I flirted with five stars here, and for a guy with eight (!) matches at ****1/2 plus for me, this is the jewel in Kento Miyahara’s star-studded Wrestler of the Year crown, and for what it’s worth, he’d be my #2 right now behind just New Japan’s Kota Ibushi. ****3/4
Gerard: A great show only dragged down by the silly match with Hellboy, though for a smaller promotion like AJPW you need to do these things for some extra cash.
This show drew 1313 which is a disappointment. The previous Triple Crown match between Miyahara and Nomura drew 1615, and like this show was also on a Tuesday, so being on a weekday is no excuse. This was however, the first repeat defense of Miyahara’s current Triple Crown reign.
That being said, some important things were accomplished. A new credible tag team was created and the crowd was solidly behind them when they won. Akira Francesco continues to improve and has the potential to be a Jr. star for AJPW. And Naoya Nomura turned in another incredible performance that we will probably look back on in a year’s time and talk about how it was another important match for him on his climb to the top of the card.
Hopefully they use the upcoming Ōdō Tournament to create new stars on top as well.
Thomas: It’s hard to say much negative about a show with a MOTYC main event and a great semi. The undercard may have left a little to be desired but that can be expected with All Japan and at least we were blessed with a very good opener. I’m curious as to see where All Japan goes in the future now. I expected this Nomura challenge to happen after the Royal Road/Ōdō tournament with him assumingly winning that and challenging, but now I’m not so sure who will take home that trophy. Maybe Jake Lee? Joe Doering? Dylan James? Those are the three biggest guys yet to challenge this reign. I will say I’m enjoying feeling curious about All Japan’s future booking, and as we are through the summer the exciting stretch with Real World Tag League, New Year’s Wars, the big February Yokohama Bunka show, and then the Carnival aren’t too far off.