AJPW Excite Series 2020 N1
February 11, 2020
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall.
Hikaru Sato, JR Kratos & Yusuke Okada vs. Hokuto Omori, Rising HAYATO & Tsugutaka Sato
Californian monster Kratos is making his AJPW debut here. Possibly replacing Dylan James, who seems to be on the outs with AJPW after an alleged clash with Yakuza in a bar. You may recognize him from Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport shows. Unless you watch a lot of All Pro, Supreme Pro or Gold Rush out in California. To say it’s a bad debut would be an understatement. He has continuous communication issues, along with awkward pauses, and drops the one lad on his head. It quickly goes from ‘this guy could replace Dylan James’ to ‘we hope this guy completes the tour without killing someone’. Aside from that it’s a nothing match. Okada gets the pin and we move on.
Final Rating: *1/2
Zeus, Izanagi & UTAMARO vs. Fuminori Abe, Ayato Yoshida & Tatsuya Hanami
Yoshida looks like a star in the making. He was briefly involved with NJPW but that ended when the K-Dojo link was severed. Zeus decides to make an example of him here. Come into my house? I don’t think so. Zeus finishes in short order with the Jackhammer. Not much happening here. Glad to see Abe in All Japan. Yoshida too.
Final Rating: **
All Asia Tag Team Championship
Jake Lee & Koji Iwamoto (c) vs. Takao Omori & Black Menso-re
Business picks up here as we have our first title match. Sweeper/JIN have held the belts since last summer. This match screams ‘routine defence’. Omori’s regular tag team partner has been Jun Akiyama for around 6-7 years. He has frequently teamed with Menso-re (Yohei Nakajima) going back to 2018 though. So there’s a logic to this but we shouldn’t start preparing updates to any title history spreadsheets. They keep this as a sprint, focused on the teaming capabilities of the incumbent champions. Omori looks a little off the pace, as he has done for some time. Lee & Iwamoto, especially when they’re pulling off double teams, look significantly better. Menso-re takes the bulk of these spots as he’s able to keep up. Iwamoto beats Menso-re with his judo throw. Menso-re did a terrific job of making this feel like a fast-paced match even with Omori in it.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Jun Akiyama, Manabu Nakanishi, Osamu Nishimura & Yutaka Yoshie vs. Yoshitatsu, TAJIRI, Ryouji Sai & Dan Tamura
This is Nakanishi’s farewell to All Japan match. It’s not as if he’s been any kind of regular here though. He last appeared in 2018 and before that 2011!
Akiyama is in good form here. He’s trying to treat Dan Tamura like a little bitch but he’s not quick enough! The match structure is a bunch of grumpy old dudes beating up smaller, younger dudes. Nakanishi gives it just about everything he’s got left, which isn’t much in 2020. He can’t take a bump anymore. Nakanishi wins with the Argentine backbreaker. They set the bar low here and just about achieved what they were aiming for.
Final Rating: **3/4
2020 Champion Carnival participants:
Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi, Suwama, Shuji Ishikawa, Zeus, Jake Lee, Yoshitatsu, Naoya Nomura, Ryouji Sai, KAI, Ayato Yoshida, Hideyoshi Kamitani, Shigehiro Irie, Gianni Valletta, Joel Redman, Lucas Steel, Davey Boy Smith Jr, Takashi Sugiura!
Sugiura and DBS Jr both get big reactions. It’s a decent field. Kamitani and Irie are good additions. Sugiura will kill it. Nomura is somewhat fortunate to be in considering he picked up a nasty injury recently. Interesting to note no Joe Doering or Dylan James. The latter is rumoured to be on the outs because of altercations outside the ring, which have reflected poorly on his reputation. Doering? I’m not sure. Obviously there’s been a chance of booker in All Japan so maybe Ishikawa isn’t keen on him? He’s not wrestled anywhere since the last All Japan tour in December so he may be carrying an injury.
The tournament starts the day after WrestleMania so I can slot opening night into the 40 shows I’ll be reviewing that week.
AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship
Susumu Yokosuka (c) vs. Akira Francesco
Francesco is Italian and started coming over to All Japan last year.
He’s very young. In his early 20s but, as he’s European, he’s already a veteran making his debut in 2015. He’s a spritely, enthusiastic worker with a mentality for wrestling that belies his babyface features. The match has a few flaws, such as Akira getting his leg worked but not really selling it, or some awkward mat counters, but they’re worth noticing because the match as a whole is worth paying detailed attention to. Yokosuka is obviously a very good wrestler and if the world has learned anything from Shingo Takagi it’s that wrestlers should leave Dragon Gate and explore the world. Francesco does well here but falls to defeat. I can see him becoming a fixture in an underwhelming AJPW juniors division where they need bright young talent.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Yusuke Okada slides in to make the challenge. That should be a fun match, although like Francesco it may be too soon for a title switch and this is merely part of the reign establishment of Yokosuka. The aim being to give the AJPW kids some opportunities to shine.
AJPW World Tag Team Championship
Violent Giants (c) vs. Shigehiro Irie & Lucas Steel
Another strange pairing coming after the belts. I guess Shuji just wanted to get a better look at Lucas Steel ahead of Champion Carnival. Suwama’s reaction to Steel is akin to Brock Lesnar’s reaction to Keith Lee at the Rumble. “Look at this big motherfucker right here”. Steel is, naturally, raw and green at this point in his career but the fact AJPW have taken a shine to him is huge for his future. Wrestlegate Pro put him there! He was on the same show as Shuji in the UK and the rest is history. Irie is also in CC, which is a huge bonus for All Japan. Irie is in terrific form and should be placed at the top end of that tournament.
Champion Carnival should be a good experience for Steel and I’m glad he has fellow Brits on the shows (DBS Jr and Redman) to help him adjust to the rigours of a major tournament. This match is perfectly ok but the members of Purple Haze interfere and that sucks. I’ve seen way too much lazy shitty heel groups in Japan in recent years and I don’t need it in AJPW. If this is Shuji Ishikawa’s idea he needs to cut it the fuck out. Suwama overcomes having powder thrown in his eyes and pins Steel. This was fine until the bullshit and if this is happening regularly All Japan could be in some creative bother. Is there no escape from the ‘heel faction’?
Final Rating: ***
AJPW Triple Crown Championship
Kento Miyahara (c) vs. Yuma Aoyagi
Kento is the kind of champion who goes out there and has his match and if you can keep up with him you’re going to have a good match. Where the concern comes is that he doesn’t have a different match for a lower level of opponent. He just treats everyone he wrestles like crap. So there’s no punching down because he’s always mentally punching down.
Aoyagi comes across as very much ‘the underdog’ here too. Someone who Kento could treat like proper shit if he felt the need to. I’m having trouble remembering Aoyagi’s ‘best ever’ singles match or ‘biggest ever’ so this could be it…and it doesn’t feel it. I guess the current ‘top match’ would be vs. Miyahara at CC last year and that was a very good match. This one spends a long time meandering before the big piledriver on the apron spot wakes everyone up. Especially Aoyagi, who before this looked positively lethargic.
Aoyagi is technically very good but I’m not ready to accept him as a main event. Whenever he’s in charge the match feels a little sluggish and he’s clearly operating a level below Kento. As with just about every younger wrestler in AJPW they’re treating this as part of an eventual journey to the Triple Crown. For me both Nomura and Lee are closer though. While Aoyagi is on that (Royal) road he’s only few miles into a marathon. There’s some really good stuff with strikes, which makes me wish they’d done more of that but they’re big KO strikes (roundhouses and knees) and don’t fit into a duel. German suplex finishes for Kento and this felt routine but at least Aoyagi has stepped up.
Miyahara says something along those lines after the match.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Suwama comes out to challenge for AJPW’s March Korakuen Hall show.