Puroresu Love: AJPW Champions Carnival 2011 night 1 - 4/8/11
Posted by Mike Campbell on 02.18.2012
It's an All Japan tradition!
CHAMPIONS CARNIVAL - DAY 1
April 8, 2011
Takao Omori . . . uses his brain to defeat a former Triple Crown Champion.
KENSO . . . puts up a good fight, but is no match for the two-time defending Carnival Champion.
Taiyo Kea . . . once again, shows why he has no business working time limit draws.
SEIYA SANADA vs. JOE DOERING (Block B)
The tournament starts with a whimper! For someone who showed so much promise in 2006-07 that he was made into Mutoh’s partner, Doering’s performance is pretty bad. He’s the epitome of a stereotypical monster foreigner, he looks imposing and he’s able to overpower Sanada, that’s the extent of what Doering brings to the table. He doesn’t give Sanada anything as far as good openings and the finish looks like a total fluke. Sanada isn’t all that much better though. Aside from a few spots, namely the rolling cradle and standing moonsault, there’s very little from Sanada that one couldn’t find in a 2008 match between him and Manabu Soya.
Sanada countering the Revolution Bomb and rolling up Doering for the win would speak of Sanada’s ability to outwrestle Doering, if he’d been able to do anything to that effect during the first nine minutes of the match. Instead it’s a lot of Sanada throwing forearms, mixed in with a few decent spots and the fluke finish. Let’s not make the eventual finalist look too good now.
TAKAO OMORI vs. RYOTA HAMA (Block A)
File this one under “P” for “Parings That I Never Want to See Again.” Hama wrestles like a carbon copy of Yutaka Yoshie, he’s great at throwing his weight around and looks mediocre in any other aspect. I expected a lot more from a former Triple Crown holder. Much like Sanada, Omori wasn’t in any position to really add anything to the match, but he did what he could. Omori and Hama both typically took over the match when the other would try for too much. Hama misses a corner charge and Omori starts unloading on him. Omori gets too ambitious and attempts the Axe Guillotine driver, and Hama takes over again. Omori realized that he needed to cut back a bit and sucked Hama in with a sunset flip, and moved when Hama tried to sit down on him, and started firing off the Axe bombers until Hama didn’t get up.
MINORU SUZUKI vs. KENSO (Block B)
KENSO = Kenzo Suzuki. A new name, and the same lackluster work. This match shows that there’s one thing that KENSO can do well, and that’s take a beating, not that anyone really has much choice when they’re wrestling Minoru. Suzuki is the same ruthless bastard that he’s always been, he does a respectable job of smacking KENSO around, including a brutal spot where he lays KENSO over the apron and elbows him right in the nose. To his credit, KENSO is able to fight back a bit, he unleashes a few hellish slaps of his own, and tries to take Minoru by surprise by choking him out with his sash and also with an ugly attempt at La Magistral, but the defending champion won’t be taken down that easily and when KENSO has nothing else to offer, Minoru swoops in with the sleeper and the piledriver finishes the match, and also puts an end to KENSO’s participation in the tournament, as he suffered a concussion and was forced to forfeit the rest of his matches.
YUJI NAGATA vs. KONO (Block A)
If done right, like Crazy Max vs. M2K, heel versus heel can be lots of fun, but this isn’t an example of it being done right. The problem is that both Nagata and Kono want to work the match the same way, as though they’re dominating some hapless rookie, so they wind up cancelling each other out. The match picks up when it’s established that Nagata wants to take out Kono’s knee to get ahead in the match, but it’s not apparent until his umpteenth leg kick is followed by a suplex. There is the Nagata lock shortly before that, but that was right after Kono’s missed knee drop, so it was more Nagata just taking advantage of the situation rather than him having a plan.
It doesn’t help that Kono wasn’t doing anything to help Nagata further along any story regarding Nagata being a better, and smarter, wrestler. Nagata outwrestles him a few times, but most of Kono’s offense was stiff forearms and knee shots, along with a chair and trying to finish Nagata with a chokeslam. In the end, Kono winds up more or less being exposed as a pretender, he’s got the imposing look and the VM backup, but he can’t dream of holding his own against someone as experienced as Nagata, which eventually leads to his undoing via Nagata’s backdrop. Watching either of them work this sort of match against young All Japan or New Japan upstarts would be lots of fun, but watching them try to work like this against each other is far from it.
JUN AKIYAMA vs. TAIYO KEA (Block B)
From a strict booking standpoint, I can understand why this result (Akiyama in a time limit draw) had to happen. It gives Akiyama an excuse to not make the finals while keeping him booked strongly. But, aside from maybe KENSO, Kea is the worst possible choice to go the distance with Akiyama. Doering and Sanada would both potentially get some rub from taking Jun to the distance, and Akiyama/Suzuki would probably be a fun affair. This is certainly not a fun match, and Kea is established enough that the best he can get from this result as far as perception goes is staying where he is.
If this were judged only on Akiyama's performance, then it'd be a good match. Kea targets Akiyama's neck after a reverse DDT on the floor, and Jun's selling is great and it gets even better later on when Kea does a piledriver. Despite selling to the point of being sympathetic, Jun doesn't shy away from being the dickish outsider when he gets a chance to have some fun. Akiyama also adds some smart touches to the match. He’s good at taking openings to take over control of the match, the best one being blocking a Kea charging kick and taking him over with an Exploder. There's another good one when Akiyama sidesteps a Kea charge on the floor and lets him eat the rail. Jun is also smart enough to not burn through, and thus devalue, his whole offensive arsenal as the match wears on. The only real big gun he pulls out is the Exploder '98, and time runs out just a few seconds after he does it.
What keeps this from being good though, is that Kea isn't following Jun's lead when it comes to working smart. Despite Akiyama's great selling, Kea's choice of holds while working over his neck are rather poor. Nobody would buy Kea tapping out Akiyama in the first place, but they're supposed to be trying to create doubt, and it doesn't help that Kea's use of headlocks and chinlocks take what could be hot submission attempts and render them as little more than pointless filler. Compare that to Akiyama using his front neck lock first as a good near fall, and then later as an opening to do his running knee.
Kea also doesn't seem to pick up on Akiyama's ability to smartly take over the match, instead he opts to just take over whenever it seems to suit him. He blows off a dragon screw and jumps to his feet and boots Jun in the face, or Kea waits for Jun to get a near fall and then just gets up and starts throwing strikes as though he hadn't just been in trouble. As if Kea's mediocre performance wasn't enough, there's also plenty of obvious time filler early on in the form of them laying on the mat, as well as the NOAH-style strike exchange of them pasting each other in the face with kicks and taking the match nowhere in the process. When you break everything down this isn't much different from Kea's hour draw with Suwama from ‘08, they (well mostly Akiyama) bring enough smart work and good touches for a good ten or fifteen minute match, not one two or three times that long.
SUWAMA vs. MASAKATSU FUNAKI (Block A)
It’s easy to see that this is the best match of the show, and going directly after the mediocre draw only makes it look that much better. Once they flesh out the idea of Funaki trying to take out Suwama’s arm, and Suwama out that suplexes are the key to beating Funaki, this really picks up. Funaki isn’t as animated as Suzuki when he’s in control, he’s all business as he works over Suwama’s arm, whether he’s targeting with kicks or trying to tap out Suwama with armbars. There’s an especially great moment when Funaki seems to be tying up the arm, and while Suwama is busy trying to fend it off, Funaki kicks him in the face. Suwama is spot on with selling too. Even when he’s trying to fight back with strikes, or when he’s finally able to get in some offense, he continues selling.
Once Suwama figures out that Funaki’s big weakness is suplexes, he’s got the match in the bag. But Suwama doesn’t figure that out right away. Early on he surprises Funaki with a couple of suplexes, but tries to use the ankle lock, and Funaki easily counters that into his own ankle lock, and then segues that right back into armbars, to keep the pressure on Suwama. Suwama doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He decides it’s better to just beat Funaki, rather than trying to beat him his way, so he goes back to the suplexes and slams, including a dead lift German suplex while Funaki was on the mat before the Last Ride finishes him off. There’s a quick tease where Funaki escapes the Last Ride attempt and gets a sleeper, but Suwama counters that into a backdrop and another Last Ride gives Suwama the win. This isn’t perfect by any means, the slap exchanges could have been cut short, and, legend or not, the Triple Crown Champion probably should have been able to look better, especially on the first night of the tourney. But, this is still good enough to stand out. ***1/4
The 411: The main event is good, but not good enough to save the show as a whole. I expected a lot better from a show that featured Suzuki, Nagata, and Akiyama.