Taped 3/26/98


Tsuyoshi Kikuchi . . . does his part to make the prerequisite old man trios match a surprisingly watchable affair.

Jun Izumida . . . shows that every man has his limitations when Stan Hansen can’t even get anything good out of him.

Toshiaki Kawada . . . welcomes Jun Akiyama into the upper echelon of All Japan with an excellent match.



Comparing this to the trios match from 3/22 is like night and day. I can only assume that Kikuchi’s inclusion was some sort of motivating factor, because this is watchable almost the whole way through. The comedy sequence where Eigen spits is still present, but they get through it relatively quickly. For the most part, the work here is actually rather inspired, especially Momota’s exchanges with Kikuchi and Eigen. The only ones who really don’t add much are Baba and Rusher, which isn’t a surprise given their age and physical state. Baba shows that he’s still got a bit left in the tank, by sucking up some shots from Kikuchi and handing it back with a big chop. Rusher also takes his fair share of shots, and the sequence where everyone from Eigen’s team tries to give him a Giant Swing comes off well. It’s easy to write off matches like this as wastes of time, and, very often they have been, but, this one is definitely an exception to the rule, and it’s nice to see that the old guys can still go. ***


Champion Carnival: GARY ALBRIGHT (0) vs. GIANT KIMALA (0)

Aside from the sideshow appeal of two wrestlers who work completely different styles, there’s no appeal to this. Kimala works like it’s a WWF TV match from 1987, with lots of choking, chopping, and using the bell hammer. The only nice thing he does is a rolling senton, which is wasted against someone Albright’s size. Albright does a decent enough job of selling for him, and putting over fatigue. He more or less takes what Kimala dishes out and waits until it’s his turn to be in control, so that he can put a show on. He works over the arm, and tries to submit Kimala to a couple of different armbar variations. If nothing else, the finish is nice, with Albright baiting Kimala into trying a suplex, only for Albright to counter and take him over and segue into a juji-gatame in the middle of the ring and force him to tap. Clashes of styles, like this, can make for interesting matches to see how the wrestlers adapt, but this certainly isn’t one of those cases.


Champion Carnival: STAN HANSEN (4) vs. JUN IZUMIDA (0)

As much as I enjoy watching Stan Hansen squash people, this is still an odd choice for inclusion on this show. Aside from the jumping neckbreaker drop toward the end, Izumida doesn’t do anything other than chops and headbutts. Stan sells reasonably well for him, but, it’s not like he’s getting much to work with. Izumida also isn’t much for bumping or selling, which doesn’t help move things along. Stan eventually ends it with the lariat, although I don’t understand the point of Stan picking him up at two and just putting him back down and getting the pin.


Champion Carnival: TOSHIAKI KAWADA (4) vs. JUN AKIYAMA (4)

Matches like this one make me wish that these two had wrestled each other more often than their annual match in the Carnival. There really isn’t a whole that’s surprising about this match, but, it’s still a joy to watch, especially following two rather mediocre Carnival matches. While Omori was impressive in his match against Kawada, he didn’t step up the same way that Akiyama does here. Initially, they have the same strategy, to go after Kawada’s neck, and later on Akiyama also targets the knee. But, Akiyama has a lot more offense to work with than Omori did. And, that allows Kawada to step up his own selling game, to suit what Akiyama does. Kawada doesn’t just sell big when Akiyama is working him over. After Akiyama has moved away from something or when Kawada is in control, he still finds little ways to put over the damage. There’s a great example of this when Kawada tries his powerbomb, and Jun kicks his legs wildly to stop him and he does, but, it’s because one of his flailing legs connected with Kawada and aggravated the neck. There’s other things that Kawada does here that are more commonly seen from him, like selling his own leg after a running kick or a ganmengiri, but they also work in the vein of putting over Akiyama sharking on the leg.


There’s a lot more to this match than just Kawada’s selling though. Soon after Kawada’s neck gets fleshed out, they work a great sequence where Akiyama attempts a Northern Lights suplex, and Kawada blocks and tries to take Jun over in a vertical suplex, they trade attempts several times and Kawada eventually wins the exchange. But, doing the spot put strain on his neck, and Akiyama is too fresh for the suplex to have much impact, so he’s quickly on his feet and taking the fight right back to Kawada. Kawada may have won the exchange, but, that little victory doesn’t do him any good. Akiyama gets two hot near falls with the Exploder, thanks to how well Kawada sets them up. The first comes when he charges out of the corner and right into the suplex, and the second comes after Akiyama connects his jumping knee. Instead falling down, Kawada spins around and looks disoriented, and Akiyama takes advantage with the Exploder. Kawada finally getting control over Akiyama is another great moment, they’re trading forearm shots, and Kawada rears back to return fire, but grabs his neck in pain and slumps over. It seems like typical great selling from Kawada, but, when Jun tries to take advantage, Kawada grabs him and spikes him with a Dangerous backdrop. The shoe is on the other foot now, and it’s Kawada’s turn to work over Akiyama’s neck, and it’s the usual great show that one should expect.


As amazing as Kawada’s performance is, Akiyama deserves quite a bit of credit himself. Not only for the way he takes the fight to Kawada, but also for taking the beating as good as he gives it. In a way, it’s something of a rite of passage within All Japan. Anyone can take a beating from Kawada, Akiyama had taken more than a few of them over the last five years. But, very few have it in them to take what Kawada dishes out, and still fight back. It doesn’t matter if Kawada wins in the end, which he does here, anyone who watches this match is going to remember the courage and growth that Akiyama showed in taking the fight to Kawada, and the perseverance he showed with how far Kawada needed to go in order to keep him down. As impressive as it was to see Omori control Kawada the way that he did, Kawada was able to end things when he wanted to. That doesn’t happen here. When Kawada tries to finish him off, he kicks out or fights back, and Kawada sees that he’ll have to go further than before in order to beat him.


There are only two weak moments of the match, and neither lasts especially long. The first comes when Akiyama needs to take over the match, which he does by going after Kawada’s knee. Kawada had been working over Jun’s neck, and he’d been putting over very well, but, Jun blows off a couple of elbows, so that Kawada switches to trying a kick, which he counters into the Dragon screw. The second is a bit later, when Kawada’s knee is banged up to the point that he can’t even go along with an Irish whip. But, right afterwards, he grabs Akiyama for a series of kicks, which Akiyama no-sells to hit a series of elbows, which Kawada no-sells. This leads to a strike exchange with them rebounding off the ropes, which, if nothing else, leads to Kawada selling the knee again.


The finish is something of a necessary evil. It certainly displays Akiyama’s growth, but, it also cements the notion that there is some limitation to that growth. At first it looks like the same finish as the Omori match, with Kawada using the stretch plum, pulling him back from the ropes and then doing a second one. But, when Akiyama kicks out after the pin attempt, Kawada picks him up and hits a brainbuster to finish him off. In two out of the previous three tournaments, Kawada tapped out Akiyama with the hold. The other one being a sub-two-minute match that Kawada won with a ganmengiri. Kawada’s need to go bigger in order to win certainly shows how much of a threat Akiyama had posed to him this time. But, it’s also the exact same sequence that Akiyama had used earlier and failed to win with. Yes, Akiyama actually tried to stretch out and submit The Mighty Kawada with his own stretch plum hold. It might be technically sound, in the vein of Kawada taking advantage of his working over Akiyama’s neck, but, there’s no reason to repeat the sequence, especially when Kawada has more recognizable finishers like the backdrop and powerbomb at his disposal. But, that really amounts to a minor quibble, when one looks at this match as a whole, and sees the great performances of both men. ***3/4


Conclusion: The main event is good enough to pick this up, but, there’s also the bonus in the opening trios match.