Category Archives: AJPW

(06/15) Takao Omori vs. Jun Akiyama

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Korakuen Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
Triple Crown Championship (Decision Match) 

Whatever All-Japan’s best laid plans were for the Triple Crown this year, things have almost certainly not unfolded accordingly.  Unless of course, they were counting on Triple Crown Champion Akebono to come down with a bad case of pneumonia, be hospitalized and ultimately stripped of the Triple Crown.  As evidenced by the Champion Carnival, however, sometimes Plan B’s are not all that bad.  In this case, All-Japan was able to cap off the story of Omori’s unexpected career year in a way that is maybe more fitting than if he had faced Akebono for the title as seemingly planned.

As seen back at the Champion Carnival, Omori earning his first major tournament victory by defeating Akiyama was poetic in several ways.  So it goes without saying that those same two guys wrestling for the Triple Crown in the match where Omori finally captures it is significant as well.  Akiyama – particularly now that he is at least publically in charge of the promotion – is the face of All-Japan and has a long shared history with Omori.  It is right that that Omori should knock yet a second item off of his pro wrestling bucket list this calendar year by beating Akiyama for a second straight time.

As a match, this was perhaps a small step below their Champion Carnival final.  The layout and story of the two matches were relatively similar.  In both cases (as it should have been) the story was Omori hanging tough and overcoming to get the pivotal victory.  The timing in this match was spot on.  These guys have some fun sequences and spots that they could execute in their sleep versus one another.  The match built appropriately to a climax where Akiyama could not put Omori away nor could he keep him from continuing to fight forward.  The match was a solidly worked, fitting conclusion to the story being told.

Where I think it suffered a bit was in the drama department.  The Carnival victory had a greater sense of drama in the presentation which was echoed by the reaction of the fans.  The Korakuen crowd was into the stretch run but not at the level one might think.  There was a sense of urgency to Omori’s Carnival win.  His Triple Crown win felt somewhat inevitable in the way the match was laid out.  It is perhaps a small thing, but a noticeable one.

This might be one of those matches where fans are torn as to which was better as people have expressed opinions both ways thus far.  There is not necessarily a correct answer.  Both matches were well-executed matches from solid veteran wrestlers.  In either case, they are far from the best that 2014 has produced thus far, but certainly worthwhile viewing for their historical importance to Omori’s career (if nothing else).

Japan Singles | Worthwhile | Historical Significance & Quality


(04/27) Takao Omori vs. Jun Akiyama

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Osaka Bodymaker Coliseum, Main Building (Osaka, Japan)
2014 Champion Carnival Final 

In no way, shape or form will anyone confuse this match with a Champion Carnival finals classic like – for example – the 1995 Misawa vs. Taue final.  2014 Akiyama and 2014 Omori are not 1995 Misawa and 1995 Taue.  This All Japan is not that All Japan.

What the current version of All Japan is – at least on its best days – is a promotion full of veteran and/or experienced workers who know who they are and have solid matches.  That attainable upside is reflected in the 2014 Champion Carnival finals.  Akiyama and Omori wrestle what can only be descried as a solid match.  They don’t do anything that wows, but they also don’t do much that frustrates.  There is no confusing this year’s Carnival final for a classic but it is a perfectly acceptable professional wrestling match.  Whether that is “good enough” is a trickier question but it is certainly better than many of the alternatives.

The match is worked at a good pace considering both participants are in their 40’s.  They begin with the obligatory strike exchange that is unfortunately almost all but unavoidable in modern Japanese wrestling.  The bright side is that it does not last very long.  The opening minutes also feature a quick back-and-forth cumulating in a brief standoff that was both well-executed and well-placed within the structure of the match.

The rest is standard fare.  The match heads to the floor where Akiyama lands a DDT on the ramp – an old spot of his that he continues to show a fondness for.  Both guys had their necks worked over in their semi-final matches but DDT aside that never really comes into play here.  It is not a big deal because neither wrestler’s neck was ever treated as a legitimate weak spot anytime during the night.

If there is an aspect of this match that best demonstrates Akiyama and Omori’s positive” old pro” attributes, it is that the match never goes overboard into too many moves, fighting spirit spots, or head drops.  Maybe they have learned from the mistake of many of their peers from 90’s-era All Japan or maybe they simply don’t feel like killing themselves in their third match of the evening in front of a small crowd (though decent sized by modern AJPW standards).  Regardless of the motivation, the result is a positive in that they build a match that has an air of importance to it without resorting to those overkill tactics to achieve it.

There were some nitpicky negatives in the match.  Omori does that really terrible looking backdrop tombstone pile driver move.  Akiyama straps on the leg head scissors without much thought when they need a break.  Plus as fine as “solid” is, there is nothing truly memorable or re-watchable here.  The aspect that comes the closest is the story of Omori finally winning the big one which is a nice moment and a fine way to give an otherwise non-descript Carnival some added value.

It is hard to imagine that the plan all along was for anything other than Omori winning the entire tournament.  Akebono needs more challengers not fewer, so it is unlikely he was schedule for the victory.  Shiozaki just recently challenged for the title and lost in what was a fun bout, so a win from either injured participant was likely never in the cards.  Omori will now go after Akebono again after falling to him in a title match earlier this year.  Wouldn’t be surprised if the 2nd time is the charm for him.


Japan Singles | Worthwhile | Quality & Importance (Champion Carnival Final)

(04/27) Suwama vs. Takao Omori

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Osaka Bodymaker Coliseum, Main Building (Osaka, Japan)
2014 Champion Carnival Block A Finals

In the A-block, Suwama and Omori also both ended with 8 points apiece necessitating another tiebreaker for the block championship. Again, All Japan appeared fortunate in how the booking worked out. Suwama’s third and latest Triple Crown reign immediately proceeded Akebono’s current reign. Omori has to be on the more enduring, well-regarded Japanese heavyweights of the past 20 year period to have never won a major singles championship or tournament in his home country. It is not a bad matchup for a semi-final considering the circumstances. All Japan was somewhat fortunate in this regard as had they booked the early matches of the tournament differently, the injuries suffered by Akebono and Shiozaki could have theoretically forced their hands into booking less-compelling semi-final and final matches involving wrestlers like Zeus, Yutaka Yoshie, and Kendo Kashin.

The Block A semi-final was a tick below the Akiyama/Doering semi but neither match was materially better or worse than the other. There are a few more strike exchanges and a little less selling here which is an issue if that stuff is not your particular cup of tea. They work hard but not dissimilar to the Block B final, this is just a brief bridge to get to the championship match. This match – like the one before it – clocks in at just around 10 minutes.

Suwama is window-dressing for this match. Akiyama has already advanced to the finals. An Akiyama and Suwama final match lacks any real importance. Omori’s quest to win the big one and a matchup between the two guys that were around during the All Japan 90’s golden era (even if Omori was a young, non-star wrestler during those years) are the true compelling stories left in the injury-ravaged tournament. Any final involving Suwama wouldn’t be nearly as compelling so it seemed only a matter of time before he fell. The match needed to be competitive, however. Omori could not run right through Suwama without giving away the tournament ending. Omori wins this one but the match does nothing to make anyone believe he is destined to win the finals and get the championship monkey off of his back.

Japan Singles | Common | Importance (Champion Carnival Semi-Final)

(04/27) Jun Akiyama vs. Joe Doering

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Osaka Bodymaker Coliseum, Main Building (Osaka, Japan)
2014 Champion Carnival Block B Finals

Booking pro wrestling tournaments is never easy. Laying out a strong tournament requires advance thinking and planning, as well as the ability to think and react on the fly when those best-laid plans are challenged by uncontrollable circumstances. One can assume that those charged with booking the 2014 All Japan Champion Carnival had a plan for the tournament that they liked and that was well thought out in advance. Unfortunately for them, that pre-planning mattered little as soon as Triple Crown Champion Akebono and Go Shiozaki were forced to withdraw from competition mid-tournament due to injuries.

Nothing left to do but to move onto “Plan B”. As far as Plan B’s go, All Japan’s handling of the last day of the 2014 Champion Carnival turned out very well.

Doering and Akiyama tied with eight points apiece in Block B necessitating a tiebreaker match after both wrestlers had already competed earlier in the evening. Akiyama is the (active) elder statesman of All Japan; he is the most obvious active link to the 1990’s glory days of the promotion. Doering – despite being primarily a tag-team competitor during his time with the promotion – is also arguably All Japan’s top gaijin. You could do a lot worse for a backup plan tiebreaker match than the “last link to the glory days” versus “top gaijin”.

It is nice to see that Joe is fully embracing the obvious comparisons to Stan Hansen. He is now sporting a full-on vintage Stan Hansen mustache to complete the look. The resemblance might not be uncanny, but it is certainly noticeable. Doering opens the math by charging right at Akiyama and knocking to the mat with a shoulder block. If not for Akiyama’s bald head, the complete lack of fans in the crowd and the fact this was NOT a 30-minute draw, you *might* think you accidentally slipped in a tape of the 1997 Champion Carnival match between Akiyama and Hansen instead (or maybe not . . .).

Doering is okay as a Stan Hansen doppelganger and Akiyama is still pretty solid in his advanced age. Akiyama spends most of the sub-ten minute match selling and does a fine job. Doering has a bunch of offense and it is a mixed bag, though what he pulls out here is generally acceptable big-man offense of powerbombs, suplexes, and lariats. Towards the end of the match, Akiyama catches Doering with a desperation exploder suplex as he has done many, many times throughout his career. Doering pops right up in a fighting spirit moment but sees his attempted-lariat blocked by Jun who delivers another exploder. The sequence was well done and done so quickly that it negated what is often an eye-rolling and unnecessary moment of no-selling. The match could have ended there but at least they got a strong near fall out of it.

Akiyama does eventually prevail, moving to the finals for only the second time in his career: 1998 when he lost to Misawa and 2013 when he captured his only Carnival championship.

Japan Singles | Common | Importance (Champion Carnival Semi-Final)

(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