(02/23) Akebono (c) vs. Go Shiozaki

All-Japan Pro Wrestling
Okinawa Convention Center (Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan)
AJPW Triple Crown Championship

This was the best Mark Henry match I’ve seen all year.

Seriously, all the things that Henry rightfully receives accolades for – his believable big-man selling, his taunting, his solid big-man offense, and innate sense of how a monster should wrestle – are all on display in this match by Akebono. It is a really solid performance from a wrestler not necessarily known for them.

The taunting is front-and-center from the get-go. When the bell rings, Go twice reaches out for a knuckle lock and twice gets a slap to the jaw for his trouble. Akebono chuckles, immensely please with himself. When a third attempted lockup ends with Akebono forcing Go against the ropes and shoving pushing him back, he smirks again. Go has had enough and tries to chop Akebono but that goes about as well as one would expect. That entire opening minute is a good example of how Akebono works the entire match like the big monster he is to great effect. Everything from the attitude to the facial expressions was spot on.

The Triple Crown champion manhandles the challenger for the next several minutes. Go looks virtually helpless against the big guy but slowly comes to the realization that kicking at his legs and chopping him down like a tree is probably his best bet. They transition into this rather organically – Go lands a few kicks before it really has an impact – which you don’t always see. Eventually he gets Akebono off of his feet and has him hurt.

Akebono’s selling was strong during this segment but it was all setup with how he wrestled the early portion of the match. Like Henry, he gets that if he wrestles like an indestructible monster most of the time, all he really needs to do in order to be effective when selling is tug at the injured body part and grimace a bunch. There is no need to overdo it – the progression from absolutely dominating to showing some signs of pain speaks for itself.

Despite Shiozaki taking Akebono off of his feet, it never felt like he was really in control. It feels like he accomplished something in getting Akebono down but everyone really knows who is still in charge. That’s a testament to both guys, probably, but really Akebono. Akebono was able to maintain his dominant mystique while giving Go enough to where it felt like he had gotten a moral victory by simply getting his opponent the mat and causing him (momentary) pain with the leg work.

Akebono eventually gets back to his feet and the match moves towards the near falls. This is probably the weakest part but it was still fine. The first tease of Go suplexing Akebono was well-executed and the suplex payoff worked fine, too. Akebono empties his offense but to good effect and even pulls out a ridiculously good-looking pile driver (given his size) to put the challenger down.

The match was laid out really nicely in that Akebono was in control early on without using a lot of offense. Then he got to catch a breather (at least a bit) while having his leg worked over during the middle portion. Then it is back up for the stretch run where he can pull out his moves for near falls. He really cut a nice pace for such a big guy and the match layout probably helped him achieve that.

Definitely recommended, especially if you a Mark Henry fan or a fan of a well-worked big man matches in general. This is on the very short list of good non-NJPW Japanese matches from 2014.

Japan Heavyweight| Worthwhile | Quality

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