CHAMPION CARNIVAL 1998
April 18, 1998
The tape starts with the usual massive clip job to show how the finals came to be. Most of the good stuff was already covered on the Samurai TV shows, and we’re spared from seeing too much from Izumida, Hawkfield, and Kimala. The first clip is Taue going over Kimala with the Nodowa, which shows that Kimala can at least jump. The real treats are two draws between Kobashi/Ace and Misawa/Kawada, as well as Kobashi beating Omori, which I’d have liked to see as a comparison to Kawada’s match with Omori.
MITSUHARU MISAWA vs. JUN AKIYAMA (Champion Carnival Finals)
With the hindsight of knowing what direction the booking was taking, this seems like a strange decision. Misawa was the Triple Crown holder coming into the match (he’d lose it to Kawada a couple of weeks after this), and Akiyama would be challenging for the Triple Crown again in July. Misawa clearly didn’t need the win. It’d have been just as easy to let Hansen go over him or for Doc take him to a draw to keep him out of the finals (Doc had beaten him in 1997 and prevented him from winning the league outright and forced a tie). Winning the tournament would have cemented Akiyama’s spot and also perfectly led into his later Triple Crown challenge. Or, if the idea is to pump the breaks on Akiyama, Kobashi is right there to win the tournament and lead into his own title challenge in June.
Considering how the match plays out ‘pumping the breaks on Akiyama’ seems like what they’re shooting for. It’s not that Akiyama isn’t able to look good, but it’s painfully obvious that he’s not good enough. This is clearly evident in the opening moments of the match. Akiyama feigns going to lock up, and instead grabs Misawa for a Dragon screw, which Misawa no-sells and drops Akiyama with an elbow. Akiyama gets up and hits his jumping knee, which Misawa also no-sells, and gives Akiyama a Tiger driver, which causes him to roll to the floor and reset the action. Akiyama gets two great stretches of offense to try to show that he can beat Misawa. The first comes through working over Misawa’s knee. Nobody expects him to force Misawa to tap out, but, it shows that Akiyama can hurt Misawa and keep him under control. By working him over with the Dragon screw, Scorpion deathlock, and figure four, it creates some doubt about Misawa’s ability to use his bigger moves. But, when Akiyama seems to run out of ideas and places Misawa on the top for another Dragon screw, Misawa pushes Akiyama away, and comes off with a dropkick and then calmly takes over the match, without any hint that his knee will keep him from doing anything.
Akiyama’s second run of offense comes after a very smart touch, when he sees Misawa preparing for the Rolling Elbow and dropkicks the knee to prevent it. Akiyama tries a more traditional method of putting Misawa through the ringer, by bumping him around with a bulldog and various suplexes, and even using a cross between the TD ‘91 and a Pedigree. He goes back to the knee once, he does a Dragon screw to make sure that Misawa can’t stop the Exploder, which results in a very hot near fall. But, when he whips Misawa into the corner and charges for the knee, Misawa steps out with a single elbow to put a stop to Akiyama. The elbow itself is rather symbolic, it not only stops Akiyama’s momentum for the match, but it also pretty much kills the crowd heat. It certainly doesn’t help that Misawa easily dumps Akiyama with a German and a Tiger suplex without any inkling of his knee giving him trouble, and although Akiyama blocks the Tiger driver and gets a brainbuster, it’s because Akiyama lowered his base, rather than Misawa being unable to pull off the spot. Akiyama gets one last glimmer of hope with the brainbuster followed with an Exploder, but, Misawa blocks another attempt at the Exploder and hits an elbow combo followed by a casual running elbow to finish him off.
Comparing this to their Triple Crown match in January is like night and day. In January, Misawa seemed motivated to help Akiyama look like a threat for the titles with his selling, facials, and the need to use the Emerald Frozion to put him away. Yet, in a match with far less consequence, which should mean that Misawa has even less reason to worry about looking strong, Misawa seems far less motivated. Maybe he thought that Akiyama’s having made it to the finals, and taking him to the time limit in their league match, was enough rub for him. But, Misawa winning in the manner that he does only serves to dull whatever luster had been put on Akiyama throughout the course of the tournament.