ALL JAPAN ON SAMURAI TV
Rusher Kimura . . . puts his toughness on display by eating some sick shots from all three of his opponents.
Wolf Hawkfield . . . has the paint, the mannerisms, and the long hair of the Warrior, he just seems to have forgotten the tassels!
Kenta Kobashi . . . attempts to take Jun Akiyama to suplex city, years before Brock Lesnar became the mayor.
MAUNAKEA MOSSMAN vs. MAKOTO HASHI
This is similar to the Shiga/Morishima match from 3/22, with Kea preferring to try to work with the rookie instead of chew him up and spit him out. Kea mostly throws kicks and forearms, along with the Boston crab. He also does a nice job of selling when Hashi tries fighting back. His reaction to the flying body press, and his bump from the dropkick were both highlights of the match. Kea decides that it’s time to end things, and hits the Hawaiian Crusher for the win. But, overall, it feels like Kea was either unable or unwilling to show the mean streak that was probably expected of him when facing a young boy.
GIANT BABA/RUSHER KIMURA/MITSUO MOMOTA vs. HARUKA EIGEN/MASANOBU FUCHI/TSUYOSHI KIKUCHI
I’ll be damned. This is another surprisingly watchable match between these teams. Rusher does the heavy lifting and it’s still good. All three of the opponents lay into him with some audible shots, and not only does he manage to suck it up, he even hands it back with some loud slaps and chops of his own. There’s also an amusing sequence where the ref is tied up with Kikuchi and Fuchi, which allows Momota and Rusher to whip Eigen into a boot from Baba, and Rusher gets his team the win by pinning Eigen with the Rusher lariat. It’s not as good as the match between these teams from 3/26, because Rusher is involved so much that a lot of the good exchanges between Momota and the other team aren’t present, but, it’s still nice to see.
Champion Carnival: JOHNNY ACE (6) vs. WOLF HAWKFIELD (4)
Steele’s Warrior caricature is funny at first, and then you realize that it’s not meant to be funny. Ace uses a couple of holds to give Steele a chance to grunt, flex, and break the hold. But, that’s pretty much all that Steele has to offer here. He tries to do his finisher twice and can’t get Ace up for it either time. Ace is better than Steele, but his work isn’t exactly interesting either. They have a couple of smooth moments, like Ace missing his lariat into the corner and getting planted with a backdrop. The finish is also good, with Steele countering and escaping a few of Ace’s finishers, and Ace eventually doing something that Steele can’t get out of, which is the running Ace Crusher, to get the pin.
Champion Carnival: KENTA KOBASHI (11) vs. JUN AKIYAMA (13)
The story of the tournament has been Akiyama’s growth, and that theme that continued here. But, the thing that stuck out the most in this match was Kobashi’s early work showing the difference in rank between him and Akiyama. It’s something that Kobashi hadn’t really shown on the major shows up to this point, and it’s another big positive to seeking out these TV shows. Kobashi lights up Akiyama with chops, and works some simple holds. It isn’t the holds that work, as much as it is the attitude and facials that Kobashi uses while he does so. Akiyama’s struggle to get free of them is a microcosm of the match (and really, the tournament) as a whole for him. Kobashi’s first hold is a headlock, which he turns into a Benoit-style crossface. In order to get free, Akiyama has to get his feet back underneath him and turn his body so that he can get a foot to the ropes. Kobashi then switches gears to a Boston crab, and does so with him almost touching the ropes, forcing Akiyama to crawl nearly the entire length of the ring to get another rope break.
Akiyama’s attempts to take the fight to Kobashi are relatively ineffective, until Kobashi makes the mistake of getting into a position he can’t get out of, and Akiyama does a Dragon screw. Kobashi’s selling is great, and it’s fun watching Akiyama get some revenge by sharking after the knee. The only real drawback (although they make up for it later) is that it doesn’t last especially long. Akiyama strays away from it and tries his jumping knee, which Kobashi counters by dropping him across the turnbuckle. But, instead of Kobashi getting a few minutes reprieve from the abuse, he uses it to take over the match again. The message is clear. Akiyama’s offense alone isn’t enough against Kobashi. If Akiyama has any hope of winning, he’s going to need to keep after the bad leg. But, it’s another few minutes, before Akiyama gets another chance to do so. Granted, when he does, he makes it count. The shots to the leg open the door for the Rolling Germans, the Blue Thunder Driver, and the Exploder. However, it also showcases the fact that Akiyama’s best move isn’t enough against Kobashi. It’s not like Kobashi blows off the suplex or anything, he does a great job of putting it over, and his blocks and counters later give the suplex a certain amount of respect. But, looking at Kobashi’s history, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the Exploder itself would be enough. This is the man who kicked out of the Misawa’s TD ‘91 and took the biggest backdrops that Doctor Death had to offer. As a direct consequence of this, Akiyama would later come up with his own ‘big match’ version of the Exploder.
The final stretch of the match is something of a sprint, with Kobashi trying to keep Akiyama down, and Akiyama trying in vain to do that one last Exploder that he thinks he needs to finish Kobashi. But, its charm lies in the ways Kobashi puts over the danger of that Exploder, and the fact that he doesn’t use either of his two main finishers on Akiyama. In 1995-96, the Orange Crush, powerbomb into jackknife cradle and Half nelson suplex all would have easily put Akiyama away, but not anymore. Kobashi’s inability to do the lariat doesn’t just keep it protected as Kobashi’s finisher, but, the various blocks and counters speak just as much for Akiyama’s ability to recognize the danger it poses and, consistently avoid it. And, despite the number of spots that Kobashi uses, this isn’t anything close to the pop-up sequences that would plague the main event scene for years to come. Akiyama takes the bumps and sells them appropriately. There’s only one odd moment. Kobashi gets a near fall on Akiyama, which the crowd reacts to, and then does a running legdrop and tries another pin, which gets no reaction at all. It seems like Kobashi wanted to see if the crowd was reacting to him or to the suplexes, and found out it was the suplexes.
Although a clean finish is almost always preferred, the time limit draw works in this case. Akiyama’s growth is shown by the fact that the former Triple Crown holder, and one of the finalists of the previous tournament, couldn’t beat him or even hit his finisher after thirty minutes. As a result, Akiyama maintains his tie with Stan Hansen for first place, and is one point ahead of Misawa and two ahead of Kawada and Kobashi. I’ll gladly take a well-well worked match without a decisive finish, which also has ramifications, over a well-worked match with a middling finish. ****
Conclusion: The trios match was another pleasant surprise, but, the only reason to pick this up is the main event.