AJPW Super Power Series 1994
It's been a while, chaps, so let's regain our bearings. The AJPW crew have had almost a month off following the conclusion of the Champion Carnival. That tournament was won by Toshiaki Kawada, who has earned the right to challenge the Triple Crown Champion Mitsuharu Misawa. That match will take place at the end of the May/June tour: the Super Power series.
As Strobe alluded to above, every match from the May 18th show is available online. Ditto for the May 31st show. Otherwise it's only the big matches for the rest of year. This is a remarkable and extremely rare occurrence. I have no idea why those two shows in particular were preserved, especially since cagematch.net doesn't even cite these shows as televised. Nevertheless, this is a real treat, a twice-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the undercard of an AJPW show. I'm excited, but that's not to say I expect these matches to be any good. It's just cool. I'm as much in the dark about most of the roster as you are.
Bobby Fulton vs Kentaro Shiga
Shiga is an unusual-looking pro-wrestler. He has the build of an Olympic runner. That is to say he's very thin, almost to the point of looking frail or unhealthy, but has clear muscle definition and not a gram of fat. The average-sized Fulton looks monstrous in comparison. We get about three minutes of this match, and they are pretty good. First we see Fulton running over Shiga with a baseball slide, a plancha and a lovely spinning heel kick. Shiga comes back with a powerslam and missile dropkick, but Fulton picks up the win with a Regalplex. Perfectly good closing stretch for an opening match.
Tommy Rogers vs Masao Inoue
Tommy Rogers is wearing a sparkly jacket and bow tie on a bare chest. He predates The Dicks by 20 years. Good job. Less than a minute of this match was shown. Rogers gets backdropped, then catches Inoue with a crucifix pin for the three.
Abdullah the Butcher and Giant Kamala II vs Heavenly Bodies
Abdullah is a legend, but from what I gather he's not the kind of wrestler I'd like at all, so this is the first time I've seen him. At this point in his career he's a nostalgia act. The video is just over a minute of two huge flabby guys beating up the Heavenly Bodies. Abdullah gets the pin in one of the worst finishes I've seen. He hits a "running" elbow drop, but Heavenly Body #1 puts his foot on the ropes. Abdullah then slowly gets up, drags his opponent a few inches towards the centre, while Kamala is blatantly preparing to enter the ring for an upcoming spot. Abdullah slowly backs away, starts "running" for a second elbow drop. Heavenly Body #2 enters the ring, so that Kamala can catch him with a very good dropkick for a man of his size. Meanwhile Abdullah hits a second crummy elbow drop and gets the pin.
Giant Baba and Rusher Kimura vs Haruka Eigen and Mighty Inoue
Rusher Kimura has the look of a grizzled veteran. Is he the inventor of the Kimura submission hold? I have no idea. Now that I think about it, Giant Baba in these undercard matches is a bit strange. When he appears in the main event, he's booked on the same level as the top guys, and even they are never able to pin or submit the guy. So he should be killing these midcarders, right? The match starts with an amusing spot where Eigen and Inoue respectfully bow and shake the hands of their opponents, except for Eigen (in bright pink tights) comically walking behind Kimura as he is bowing. Even Baba grinned at that one. Then we get a clip of Baba applying a hold to Eigen, who grabs the ropes and shouts something, making the crowd laugh. Baba calmly pulls him away from the ropes, and the crowd laughs again. Haruka Eigen is the Toru Yano of his day. The next clip sees Eigen chopping Kimura and selling his own hands. Inoue counterstrikes with a huge chop, sending a "tooth" flying from Eigen's mouth. The final clip is Baba doing what I said he should be doing, killing Inoue with a big boot and a russian leg sweep for the win. Entertaining comedy midcard stuff. I approve. Exactly what a guy like Baba should be doing. In fact, this makes me less disdainful towards his main event spots. He's the owner, the booker, the biggest legend in the company, and he's working on every undercard. Why shouldn't he get the occasional main event tag match? Maybe I won't be so harsh on him in the future. Maybe.
Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, Masanobu Fuchi and Yoshinari Ogawa vs Jun Akiyama, Satoru Asako, Takao Omori and Tamon Honda (Elimination Tag)
This is the concept Strobe described in the above post. The match is always two-on-two. When someone loses, they leave the match, and are replaced by someone else. First team to defeat three wrestlers wins the match. Just looking at the match will tell you that Kawada's team have a huge advantage. Akiyama had a great showing at the Champions Carnival, but he's not on the level of Kawada or Taue yet, and I doubt any of Akiyama's three partners are even on Fuchi's level. Maybe Asako is on the same level. Enough splitting hairs, my point is that this should be a slaughter, but the elimination rules open up some interesting possibilities. We get this match in full, which is awesome.
It seems the orders of the wrestlers are drawn at random, and announced just before the match. Asako and Omori start for Team Akiyama. They're up against freakin' Taue and Kawada. If AJPW hierarchy is to be obeyed, the Holy Demon Army should be killing Akiyama's whole team by themselves. On the other hand, it would be weird if that happened, because why book the match? This may very well be the most exciting and unpredictable starting match possible. Let's see what happens.
Fall 1: Asako manages to get the better of Taue. He tags in Omori, who hits Taue with a couple of flying moves but is soon neutralised with a powerslam. Taue then hulks up, wrecking both his opponents by himself with neck-first throws on the top rope and big boots. He chokeslams Omori for the first fall at 4:12.
Fall 2: Akiyama is next up. Kawada tags in, 100% fresh. This is the top pairing for Team Akiyama, but Kawada and Taue are still heavy favourites. Kawada dominates Akiyama in the chain wrestling, but Akiyama stuns Kawada with a couple of hard slaps to the face and gets the better of their strike flurry. Akiyama and Asako smartly use quick tags to keep double teaming Kawada and stop him from recovering. Eventually Kawada manages to tag in Taue. Taue has some fun beating up Asako on the outside, but a well-timed save by Akiyama sees the underdogs back on top with fast double team tactics. Soon all four men are fighting, and Holy Demon Army show their class. They stereo powerbomb their opponents. Kawada could have pinned Asako right there, but he picks him up and locks in the Stretch Plum just because he can. It doesn't take long for Asako to submit for the second fall at 9:48 (timed from the start of this fall).
Fall 3: Tamon Honda helps a beaten Akiyama to his corner, while Taue and Kawada wait, still in reasonably good shape. Honda is the freshest of the lot, but also the weakest, and it isn't long before he's getting savagely beaten down by Kawada and Taue. Honda manages to make the tag, and Akiyama keeps Taue at bay for a short while with a headscissors, but he's soon getting beat down as well. Akiyama manages to snap suplex Kawada and tag in Honda, who unleashes a beat down on Kawada, using Junkyard Dog headbutts to great effect. Kawada manages to completely neutralise Honda with a well-placed leg kick, and tags in Taue, who takes Honda to the outside and introduces him to the announce desk. Hondaa is dominated once again. However, he catches Taue with a Baba-style neckbreaker drop and makes another hot tag! Akiyama and Honda get a long string of offense on Taue, culminating with a body slam/top rope knee drop combination for a near fall. Honda tries to keep the offense going but is nailed with a vicious big boot. Taue tags in Kawada, and we go live.
Kawada runs over Honda with a running kick to the face. Chops to the neck. Honda is out. Kawada locks in Stretch Plum. Akiyama a bit slow to enter the ring, and Taue cuts him off. Is Honda submitting? No he isn't! Akiyama disposes of Taue and breaks it up! The dream is still alive! Kawada goes for a powerbomb, but Honda backdrops Kawada! He catches a big boot, and nails a massive lariat! Honda tags in Akiyama! What a hero!! Akiyama hits Kawada with the Exploder! One! Two! Taue breaks it up! Stereo Germans from Akiyama and Honda, but Kawada kicks out a two! Akiyama climbs to the top. Diving cross body! No! Kawada counters with a kick to the stomach. Kawada is selling. He's hurt. But he mows through Akiyama with a lariat for a near fall. Gamengiri! Backdrop! One! Two! Honda breaks it up! Taue in. Chokeslam to Honda! Kawada powerbombs Akiyama and folds him up. One! Two! Three! That fall lasted 15 minutes and 11 seconds.
The AJPW hierarchy is maintained. Fuchi and Ogawa have a night off. I was actually expecting Team Akiyama to score a fall, via Akiyama pinning Taue in the third fall after some serious double teaming and an Exploder. But it didn't happen. The Holy Demon Army are gods. But it was a well-structured match that boosted the stock of everyone except Omori. Akiyama having Kawada pinned if not for Taue was great, and Honma's fighting spirit at the end was also great. I'm a star rating maniac now, so I'm going to go ahead and give it ***3/4. The match concept is really cool and I hope it's repeated in the future, especially with a more competitive matchup. It'd be a great way to freshen up the endless Misawa and co. vs Kawada and co. matches (which are by no means bad or stale, but variety is always good in my book).
Stan Hansen, Steve Williams and Johnny Ace vs Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi
I've said this many times, but it's worth repeating: the great thing about AJPW tag matches is that they don't follow a formula. Anything can happen, which makes it exciting for the audience, and the wrestlers are more than capable of handling the frenetic, call-it-in-the-ring style. They are so familiar each other and know their characters so well that it's easy for them to integrate the hot singles rivalries of the moment into a tag match.
Case in point: Steve Williams and Kenta Kobashi, who appear to be continuing their heated rivalry despite the respectful conclusion to their Carnival match (which Williams won). Williams toughs through Kobashi's corner chops, showing no pain, so Kobashi grabs his head and runs it all the way to the opposite turnbuckle. Williams keeps no-selling the chops, so Kobashi does it again, but Williams has had enough and they have a furious chop exchange.
Kikuchi is back, one of my favourites. Being the smallest guy in these matches, he's often the subject of an extended beatdown. When he tags in and Johnny Ace immediately takes the upper hand, I think to myself "I know where this is going". But I don't. Kikuchi gets body slammed twice by Williams, but both times pops up to his feet and lands a few fiery forearms. Then we get a lovely sequence where Kikuchi rolls out of three or four elbow drops from both Williams and Hansen before bailing out of the ring. He then re-enters and tags in Misawa. Crisis averted! Later in the match, Kikuchi tags in and soon gets cut off by Hansen. You had your time in the sun Kikuchi, but now it's welcome to pain. No! Moments later, Kikuchi fires off a leg lariat and tags out. In fact, it is Misawa who is subject to a long beatdown later in the match.
Despite those neat moments and sequences, the match as a whole failed to stand out. That's not to say it's bad: the baseline for AJPW matches is so high that even a below average match is still pretty good. But most of the action wasn't particularly gripping. Misawa was a good face in peril, and the gaijin team displayed excellent teamwork, keeping the beatdown fairly interesting. The post-hot-tag action was frenetic as always, but it was like the rest of the match: a handful of cool moments, but as a whole, nothing special. Stan Hansen picks up the win after meeting Kobashi's leaping shoulder tackle with a walloping lariat, getting a small measure of retribution for his defeat and injury at the Champion Carnival.
A solid and enjoyable six man tag, slightly below average by AJPW tag standards but still far above their equivalents in NJPW or WWE. ***1/4. Those not too familiar with AJPW might watch this match and think much more highly of it, but I've become so accustomed to the top tier work that a match like this fails to stand out amongst the crowd.