ALL JAPAN ON SAMURAI TV
Johnny Smith . . . impressively holds his own while working the mat with guys a whole lot bigger than him.
Kenta Kobashi . . . stretches and smacks around video game based wrestlers as though he’s been tutored by Jumbo and Fuchi.
Akira Taue . . . kicks Misawa in the face like he thinks that it’s still 1995 and that he’s still the meanest old bastard around.
YOSHINARI OGAWA/SATORU ASAKO/MASAO INOUE vs. MAUNAKEA MOSSMAN/TSUYOSHI KIKUCHI/JUN IZUMIDA
Before Izumida and Inoue were stinking up the rings in NOAH, they were … stinking up the rings in All Japan! They’re more motivated here, probably because they were younger and hadn’t yet realized the black hole that their careers would fade into, but they’re every bit as uninteresting as they’d be later on. This match seems to go on forever, and aside from some comedy involving Izumida’s headbutt, it never goes anywhere interesting. Not even Kikuchi or Mossman has it in them to carry this. I’m relatively sure that it’s better than the old man trios match from this card, but that’s based on the fact that I’ve erased all memories of it from my mind.
STEVE WILLIAMS/GARY ALBRIGHT vs. JOHNNY ACE/JOHNNY SMITH
It’s probably telling that the best thing that Ace could do for the match was to stay out of the way. Smith works rather well with both Albright and Doc, being able to go with them on the mat and even control things from there, despite their size advantage on him. Ace isn’t able to work with them that way, so he just punches and kicks and does a bunch of overblown selling and reactions. The matwork from Albright and Smith isn’t really engaging, but it’s watchable if you don’t mind that it’s not meaningful. The one really nice touch from this match comes from Albright. Smith had been working his leg for a bit, including an STF, and then Ace decided to get involved and muck things up. Albright surprises Ace with a belly-to-belly and keeps the knee in mind by landing at an awkward looking way with his bad knee bent. In a sense, the finish is somewhat disappointing with Doc and Albright bumping Smith around before Albright finishes him with a powerbomb, instead of continuing their mat wrestling exchanges. But it also puts Smith over in a sense with the idea that Doc and Albright weren’t totally confident that they could beat him on the mat.
Champion Carnival: KENTA KOBASHI (1) vs. WOLF HAWKFIELD (0)
This isn’t anything special as far as the actual wrestling goes; not that anyone would think that Kobashi would need to dig out killer offense to beat this goof. Rather, it’s Kobashi’s attitude that makes this fun to watch. It’s almost as if he’s insulted that he has to share the ring with Steele. The highlight is probably the abdominal stretch from Kobashi. It’s long since ceased to be a hold of any real consequence. Hell, it’s probably best known for being an easy way for heel teams to cheat behind the ref’s back and draw crowd heat. But Kobashi really makes it seem as if he’s trying to stretch Steele out with it. The only other thing to take away from this is the fact that Steele kicks out of Kobashi’s powerbomb into the jackknife cradle, which shows exactly how much of a threat that move has become. Steele breaks out a couple of decent looking spots, like the tilt-a-whirl into the powerslam, but they’re pretty much wasted here, since everybody knows that his chances of beating Kobashi are less than zero. They have a decently smart finish, with Steele having already blocked the lariat once, so Kobashi plants him with the half-nelson suplex after he misses a corner charge, which disorients Steele enough for Kobashi to hit it. I’m not in an especially great hurry to expand my horizons on Wolf Hawkfield matches, but I’m sure his tournament match against Hansen was an interesting one…
Champion Carnival: MITSUHARU MISAWA (0) vs. AKIRA TAUE (2)
Other than the finish, there’s not much here that’s any sort of surprise. This isn’t anywhere near the level of their league and tourney final matches from 1995, but they still work together well enough for this to come off as a good match. The way the match is laid out feels like a tale of two matches. From the opening bell until the scrum on the floor, this feels almost deliberately slow, especially with Misawa constantly working back to a headlock. The hold itself just doesn’t seem very meaningful. It doesn’t portray the larger struggle that the surfboard does, and it’s not like Taue is fighting like crazy to escape it. The only time it seems to have a purpose is when Taue counters the front headlock into a hotshot and uses that to kick off his offensive run. Taue’s holds are a little more varied but are no more meaningful than Misawa’s headlocks. Using Misawa’s own facelock on him is a great heelish touch, but it’s not as though Taue had done anything, other than the Snake Eyes, that would give the idea that he was genuinely trying to get somewhere with that hold. It just comes off like Misawa was given a chance to work some holds, so now it’s Taue’s turn. The whole match has that sort of feeling to it, as though they’re taking turns with things. Early on, Misawa sends Taue reeling and he falls through the ropes and lands on the apron. Taue pulls himself up and Misawa blasts him with an elbow that knocks him to the floor. Later on, it’s Taue who sends Misawa to the apron, and then hits a shoulder block to the gut to knock him to the floor.
After the segment on the floor, this almost feels like a sprint. Misawa and Taue both roll out familiar spots, but nothing that anyone would really consider a finisher. Misawa uses the dropkick off the top and the frog splash, Taue busts out his tossing backdrop. Their wrestling sequences, such as Misawa putting on the breaks to a corner whip and turning around to clock Taue with an elbow, are as realistically smooth as one could expect, given that Taue has never exactly been graceful. If only Misawa hadn’t mucked things up by insisting on making that last comeback then, not only would the finish have been a genuine surprise, but Taue’s win would have looked just as much due to his outsmarting Misawa as it was the various bombs that he threw at him. Again, they’d been using familiar spots, but relatively low end ones. Misawa tries for something big with the Tiger suplex and Taue escapes and hits a surprise lariat to the back of the neck. From there he starts ramping things up with his bigger moves, including countering Misawa’s elbow attempt into a Nodowa, and keeping his proverbial foot on the gas with a Dynamic bomb and his beale-style Nodowa off the top. But, after the near fall from the Nodowa, Misawa starts throwing elbows and Taue responds with kicks, but Misawa wins the exchange and hits his German, which Taue has to blow off so that he can hit the jumping Dynamic kick and get the surprise three count. It’s not bad that Misawa tries fighting back before the finish, but he’d been smart about it until then. He’d do something relatively small, such as the rana to escape the first try at the Dynamic bomb, to show that he wasn’t finished yet and also so it wouldn’t completely stop Taue in his tracks. If the idea was for Misawa to go for broke with the German, they could have Taue block or counter it somehow (the ‘kick off’ counter is right there) instead of whipping it out just for it to get blown off.
Until the blunder at the end, this was coming along relatively well, even if it wasn’t their best effort. This is about on par with their 7/07 GHC match, even though it’s a good bit shorter. What I find to be far more interesting are the possible reasons that Misawa’s lone pinfall loss in the tournament to come from Taue, of all people. I can’t help but wonder if there were bigger plans for him that his knee injury derailed, or if Misawa’s winning the whole thing was always the idea and losing right out the gate was just a way to create some extra doubt. ***
Conclusion: This is definitely one of the weaker Carny TV blocks I’ve seen so far. There’s some fun stuff to see, but nothing that’s really worth anyone going out of their way to hunt down.