AJPW New Year Wars
January 2, 2020
We’re in Korakuen Hall. I’m watching like half of each show here in order to create my own version of an ideal comp tape of the two events.
Shigehiro Irie, UTAMARO, Izanagi & Lucas Steel vs. Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi, Yoshitatsu & Hokuto Omori
There’s a big heel group here and they were debuting a new member, which is Lucas Steel. Lucas is a big green Brit with potential based on his size. He does a lot of clubberin’ here, which fits in with the dynamic of the heel group. Steel got the gig because of Wrestle Gate, where some All Japan guys (Doering, Shuji) wrestled and put him over as a talent. UTAMARO is Murase and Izanagi is Maruyama under a hood. Kento vs. Irie is a match I never knew I was desperate for and yet they have incredible chemistry right off the bat. Steel has no chemistry with anyone but then he is inexperienced. They tell the story that’s he’s a big bad monster who can’t be knocked off his feet. It’s a good story but he’s clearly green. The power and presence gets him by though and he wins comfortably by claw slamming Omori.
Final Rating: ***
The next two matches are semi-finals in the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship tournament.
Hikaru Sato vs. Kagetora
This is a solid technical match. All Japan is weird with their juniors and most of the junior aces tend to be technicians rather than high fliers. Which is cool, it makes it a different division. Kagetora gets his arm worked over a lot, which leads to him being unable to apply holds and getting kicked in the head. His only effective offensive is sneaky roll ups. Meanwhile he’s getting battered and armbarred at every turn. Eventually he gets trapped in the middle of the ring and has to tap out. This was very solid but unspectacular. I do love Sato for his dedication to his style.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Koji Iwamoto vs. Susumu Yokosuka
This Dragon Gate/All Japan crossover tournament is cool. I like the idea of promotions interacting like this. The issue here is that the normally high-paced DG guys have deliberately slowed their routine to suit the promotion they’re guests in. Not a major issue due to the high degree of skill but I was hoping for something more energetic than Susumu hitting a bunch of neckbreakers.
Instead it’s Iwamoto who pushes the pace, which is an interesting switch. Iwamoto, because of this match style, gets to look good at Susumu’s grindingly persistent expense. But it’s Susumu who wins so both guys benefit. It gets super fiery good down the stretch as they start nailing each other with lariats for a laugh. Susumu winning with a particularly solid looking one.
Final Rating: ***1/2
AJPW World Tag Team Championship
Ryoji Sai & Zeus (c) vs. Violent Giants
This is a rematch from when Zeus & Sai won the belts back in September. Violent Giants (Shuji & Suwama) have been the backbone of this division for two years and I don’t blame AJPW for continually returning to them as the matches are ace. While AJPW has rebuilt to a degree there are still issues. The big one here is that Suwama simply isn’t motivated today. He has good days and bad but the bad ones are atrocious and Suwama works the bulk of the match. Zeus and Shuji compensate for him by leathering each other. Violent Giants are offensively at their best while double teaming. Taking it in turns to hit spots. Whereas the champs are at their best when Zeus is getting all testy and throwing meaty chops.
The match starts to hit a higher gear but Zeus gets dinged on a big backdrop driver and seems to be a bit confused as to where he’s supposed to be. Suwama helpfully tags in the throat with a lariat and the ref calls it because Zeus is fucked. Definitely the right call from the ref because Zeus didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. A shame as the match was just picking up.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Jan 3, 2020
I’m skipping almost all the undercard here because there’s more emphasis on the main events thanks to a big title match.
AJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship Tournament Final
Hikaru Sato vs. Susumu Yokosuka
The title has been vacant since Atsushi Aoki’s unfortunate death in a motorcycle accident in June. The resultant tournament concludes here with the AJPW vs. Dragon Gate motif continuing. Sato brings his kicks and submissions, targeting Susumu’s arm. In return Susumu works the leg and it becomes a limb match. They both work the right side, which is interesting as that’s generally a lucha thing. Sato does a good job in switching legs on his kicks as a result. I appreciate the little things. Susumu doesn’t pay tribute to the limb work unfortunately. The idea is that Sato works that arm to eliminate the lariat but Susumu doesn’t seem to want to play along. Sato’s defensive work is incredible and the way he switches from one hold to another based on Yokosuka’s own work is tremendous stuff. Susumu will wrestle out of an armbar so he’ll switch to an anklelock, then a back suplex and then on the pin kick out it’ll be back to the arm. It’s fantastic logic and smooth work from a great wrestler. Even when he forgets and unloads with a kick with his bad leg he sells it effectively. Meanwhile Susumu keeps going back to the well and trying for lariats, which is annoying frankly. Sato does great work in blocking them by hitting the bad arm but Susumu just goes and hits it again for the title. A match that was tantalizing close to being great but let down by Susumu’s pigheadedness.
Final Rating: ***3/4
There’s clear emotion in the ring after the match with love and respect for Aoki. He’ll be missed as a wrestler and trainer.
AJPW Triple Crown
Kento Miyahara (c) vs. Jake Lee
Jake Lee can’t seem to dislodge Kento as champion despite previous efforts. He won Royal Road though to get a big time win over Kento, albeit coming up short in his title shot and now he’s challenging again. He beat him in the tag league too. It’s very much a case of; Lee can beat Kento but he can’t beat him for the Triple Crown.
Kento has a successful formula and has settled into it. The idea being that he can wrestle one match but is exceptional at it. It’s the Ric Flair formula but updated to be more exciting. The match is driven by Jake Lee and his desire to finally win the title. He’s aggressive and determined. The best spot is Kento heading quickly up top, as he does, and Jake just booting him in the face. As a character Jake has always been a step behind Kento so little things like that show how he’s getting closer. It doesn’t all go his way and it’s a fairly even contest, which is appropriate given Jake’s rise.
Japan is one of the few places where you can still do a story where the one guy comes close but doesn’t win and it keeps going that way (although Western audiences are starting to buy into this, see Starr/WALTER). All Japan have been clever with their story because you feel Jake Lee could probably win the Triple Crown if Kento wasn’t champion but he’s ALWAYS champion! He’s progressed a lot, especially in his striking, and is at that TC level. But, like Starr can’t beat WALTER, he can’t beat Kento. When it counts at least.
They do a grand job here of keeping the parity throughout. So when one gets the edge the other has a counter ready to stop it. This is especially true down the stretch when things head towards epic. The counters feel rough and ready, which is cool because it adds to the struggle. Also they don’t do a bunch of finisher/kick out stuff. As soon as Kento has Jake wrapped up in the trapping German suplex it’s over. They have a lot of mileage in this feud still. It’s barely started and already it feels important. This just wasn’t Jake Lee’s time to win the strap. I dig the long term booking.
Final Rating: ****1/2