Arnold Furious: April 30 2017. We’re in Fukuoka, Japan at the Hakata Star Lanes. It’s a weird location for the finals of the Champion Carnival and there are only 875 fans in attendance. It looks embarrassing on tape, especially for such a high profile event. At least dress the venue up a bit.
Yuma Aoyagi vs. Yusuke Okada
Aoyagi was in Okada’s position a couple of years ago and now he’s already a gatekeeper against the newest generation of plucky upstarts. Aoyagi beats the fuck out of Okada, intending to make sure he thinks twice about coming back after him. Okada’s response is plucky and involves a lot of dropkicks. If you watch Japanese wrestling you’re used to seeing this kind of contest as it frequently opens Japanese cards. Aoyagi gets it done in less than eight minutes with a fisherman suplex. He’s a solid talent. Okada is too green for me to form an opinion on as yet.
Final Rating: **1/2
Atsushi Aoki vs. Koji Niizumi
Niizumi is another in a string of imports into All Japan. He’s from Pro Wrestling KAGEKI, a local promotion. Aoki picks him apart until they switch to trading on forearms. It’s a fucking stiff little match up. Aoki nearly breaks poor Koji with a backbreaker. I mean, that’s the point right? A backbreaker breaks backs but fucks sake, mate! After tearing away at the spine Aoki gets a vicious submission with a version of the Cloverleaf. This was brutal and short, not even making it to five minutes. I enjoyed the shit out of it.
Final Rating: ***
Ultimo Dragon & KING vs. Koji Iwamoto & Yohei Nakajima
KING is masked but is a local grappler, again from Pro Wrestling KAGEKI, dressed up to look like a luchadore. Yohei tries to step up to battle the horrors of lucha-libre with sturdy chops. Iwamoto is a potential star but he shows none of that fire here, merely showcasing his good timing. For me, if you’re going to be a star you need to stand out in a meaningless tag match. If anything it’s Yohei who stands out. He even scores the pin with a wicked backfist that levels KING. Nakajima isn’t a great wrestler but he certainly tries hard and he’s showing improvements.
Final Rating: **3/4
Jun Akiyama & Daichi Hashimoto vs. Suwama & Hikaru Sato
I hope Akiyama has decided to take young D-Hash under his wing and turn the son of a wrestling legend into a legitimate star. Daichi is destined to be a star some day, partially because of his famous last name and partially because of his talent. Akiyama is a prize shithead, he demonstrates this here by stamping on Sato’s exposed feet. What an absolute prick! I love him dearly. Who doesn’t love an old man who likes to beat the shit out of people much younger than him? It’s that Lee Marvin/Clint Eastwood syndrome. I’m equally thrilled at seeing D-Hash throw big kicks and knees, like a motherfucker. I heard a level of criticism that he’s doing all his Dad’s moves and yet if you have that DNA, use it. Shinya was a fucking badass, channel that. Akiyama is keen to remind people he’s a surly asshole at every turn too. I could really get behind these two a regular team. Akiyama flattens Sato with the wrist clutch Exploder and my boys get the win. Yeah!
Final Rating: ***1/2
Jake Lee & Naoya Nomura vs. Takao Omori & The Bodyguard
When Jake Lee stands next to Bodyguard it makes me realise just how fucking tall that dude is. He looks huge. Obviously that’s just in Japan but it’s a good sign for his future star power. Nomura occupies the same space that Okada did in the opening match. He’s the young punk, trying hard, but fairly, to make his way in professional wrestling. Bodyguard and Omori beat him up extensively. Omori stuffs the poor bastard with a piledriver. It’s a nasty one. There’s perhaps something to be said for selling at this juncture as the piledriver serves as a point for Nomura to mount a comeback and tag out, where it should have produced an extended spell of veteran abuse. Jake Lee, to his credit, refuses to take any shit and uses his superior size to throw veterans around. You don’t like it? Too fucking bad, I’m 6’ 4” and can throw strikes. Jake Lee ends up manhandling Bodyguard and putting him down with a Backdrop Driver. Jake Lee, lads, he’s a bit good when he gets all fired up.
Final Rating: ***
Daisuke Sekimoto, Kento Miyahara & Kengo Mashimo vs. Zeus, Ryoji Sai & KAI
This is a ‘best of other guys that were in Champion Carnival but didn’t make the final’ kinda match up. It’s a solid collection and talent…and KAI. Sekimoto vs. Zeus unleashes a fantastic amount of testosterone. Wild bears would run away scared at this level of manliness. I bet Zeus would fuck up a bear. The thinking on Team Two seems to be that pinning Kento Miyahara would be good for my career. So they all have a go. There’s also a nice little continuation of Sekimoto looking for revenge on Sai for their series in Big Japan. Zeus goes after Miyahara like he considers Kento to be his mortal enemy. It’s as if he just figured out that if he’d beaten Miyahara 18 months ago he’d have been the ace of the promotion and been earning a lot more money. At first he’s annoyed at this realisation and then he becomes focused.
And then Sekimoto batters him. Everyone involved gets all fired up during this, as if honour is at stake and losing again here makes you a double loser. This is especially prevalent with Miyahara, who’s the companies top guy. He feels he can’t lose the tournament and then get owned by Zeus before the main event too. Both Miyahara and Zeus are terrific throughout this, showing their combined desperation but also being calm in smashing their opponents face in. Zeus repeatedly kicks out of vicious running knee strikes before the German suplex puts him down for three. This was fucking good. I know I shouldn’t be shocked, because Kento Miyahara has been having excellent matches ever since he was crowned as Triple Crown champion but they didn’t need top bust this much ass in a throwaway trios match. They did. It was great.
Final Rating: ****
Post-match: Kento gets a backstage talking opportunity and KAI strolls in to demand stuff. Kento is all “who are you?”
Champion Carnival Final
Joe Doering vs. Shuji Ishikawa
You had to put Joe in the final after he came back from a brain tumour. He’s looked suitably motivated too, perhaps aware he may never have wrestled again. As expected this is a very physical match, due to their collective styles. Basically it’s two guys who make it through life by using clubbing shots. Shuji Ishikawa is the more talented of the two, by some distance, but they’re both capable Big Lads. Sometimes you just want two big guys to beat the shit out of each other, which is what Japanese wrestling, at it’s core, is all about. Shuji is nuts. Some of the bumps he takes are those of a much smaller man.
The big back bump from a missile dropkick is crazy. Doering abandons any pretence of subtlety and just throws himself into Shuji repeatedly. The clash of two 300lb chunks of meat is something else. The lack of mobility on Doering makes Shuji look more spry and exciting than usual and he seems to revel in being the smaller man. Not only when trying to be faster but also when he’s popping off impressive power spots. If I was Joe I probably wouldn’t want to take the Greetings from Asbury Park for example. Especially if I’d just had brain surgery. Joe does a fine job of showing how the fatigue is overwhelming him and he struggles to lift Shuji for planned spots. This results in Ishikawa fucking him up. It’s a bruising encounter, exhausting to watch. Joe takes a second Greetings from Asbury Park and stays down. This got a little sloppy and fifteen minutes was as much as Joe had in the tank but it was one hell of scrap. Shuji Ishikawa has been great this year.
Final Rating: ****
Summary: This was a rock solid show. The undercard had moments of loveliness from the likes of Aoki and Akiyama but the top two matches are where this show was hot fire. The trios match was a fucking banger and the main event is one of the best Joe Doering matches I’ve seen, which is fantastic news for a man whose career was almost over. Ishikawa was great as always.