HEATWAVE KANAZAWA on 7/17/05
review by Mike Campbell
All Japan’s eventful summer continues with a quick stop in Kanazawa before the big PPV show. It might seem like a filler show, but there a couple of notable happenings. Kondo and YASSHI defend their newly won All Asia Tag Titles. And the Voodoo Murders try to add some more gold to the stable at ROD’s expense.
Hirai... works surprisingly smart in his match, considering he’s got no chance of going anywhere.
MAZADA vs. KIKUTARO vs. AKIRA RAIJIN
As a quickie ten-minute opener, this would have been perfectly fine. Unfortunately, it goes more than double that time and it loses its charm. It doesn’t help that it’s up to Kikutaro and his comedy to carry the match. If Kikutaro had another comedy wrestler to play off, then it’d have been all right, but Raijin is little more than the typical young boy, and the only time MAZADA has ever really looked any good was during the hardcore tag match at the 2/04 PPV. So Kikutaro is left to go at it alone. The match isn’t vastly different from just about any other 3-way match. There’s extended periods of time when one of the wrestlers will be taken out of the picture to allow the other two some extended time to work, and, of course, they all try to form alliances to work together, and wind up double crossing.
There are a couple of cute segments where Kikutaro will be directing traffic in the corner and then attempt to score a quick win by rolling up the person he’d been teaming up with, and that comes back to haunt him. MAZADA double-crosses him and sends him to floor and then finishes off Raijin with a sort of Fisherman’s DDT type of move. In addition to his comedy, Kikutaro also brings most of the good work, by aping Kawada and Mutoh’s moves. MAZADA only has his boss DDT finish as notable offense, and Raijin only gets about thirty seconds of real offense when he counters an attempted DVD and tries to put away Kikutaro. This style of a match isn’t really an ideal opener to begin with, and doing so with only a comedy wrestler and two bland workers wasn’t going to help things at all.
CHUCK PALUMBO/JOHNNY STAMBOLI vs. NOBUTAKA ARAYA/NOBUKAZU HIRAI
Hey, this actually isn’t terrible. Hirai and Stamboli both actually look decent, the match isn’t much more than a bunch of kicking and punching, but it’s fun to watch the gaijin heels wail away on the native jobbers. Stamboli pulls out a few surprises, like working the Kazuyuki Fujita spot, where he grabs a grounded headlock and starts throwing knees into Araya’s head, and he actually looks pretty good. Especially compared to Palumbo, who at one point works a regular chin lock, and then goes for a cover. I’m at a loss for any other match he’s ever had where Stamboli has looked as competent, which is both telling and sad.
It’s Hirai who really impresses here though, he clearly brings the most thought to his segments. Hirai first enters the match at the same Stamboli tags in, Stamboli charges and Hirai surprises him with a drop toehold, and then attempts to out wrestle him on the mat. Later on, Hirai tags in and tries to take down Palumbo with a lariat, but Chuck is too big to be effected, Hirai responds with a dropkick to the knee, and second lariat takes him down. No, it’s not anything hugely groundbreaking, but for what’s essentially a quickie squash for the VM C-Team, it’s very much appreciated. Of course all Hirai and Araya can do is starve off the inevitable, which comes when they send Araya to the floor and hit a double hip toss slam on Hirai, and then finish him off with the Sicilian Slice (Demolition Decapitation with legdrop instead of elbow). Palumbo and Stamboli were on their way out of All Japan and Hirai and Araya have never done anything notable as a team (nor are they likely to anytime soon), so they could just as easily have phoned this in. So on that level, it’s remarkable that they put any effort or thought into this match at all.
SHUJI KONDO/”BROTHER” YASSHI © vs. HAYASHI/NOSAWA RONGAI (All Asia Tag Titles)
Kondo and YASSHI were getting squashed for the titles a week after this, so it’s not surprising that this isn’t much more than filler. There are some fun parts to it, but nothing that makes it stand out, even as much as the 6/19 title win by the VM. If you’re familiar with these four, there won’t be much here that surprises you, Kaz takes to the air, Kondo plays the power game, and YASSHI and NOSAWA bring the comedy and personality to things. In fact, the exchanges between YASSHI and NOSAWA are the highlights here. The first is after Kondo had worn down Kaz for a bit and tags in YASSHI. YASSHI comes in the ring and spends about three minutes putting the badmouth on Kaz, and then tags back to Kondo. A little while later, Kaz tags NOSAWA who puts the badmouth on YASSHI the same way, and then tags back out. They also both mock each other a great deal, and the match ends with YASSHI kicking him low and pinning him with La Magistral.
There’s nothing actively bad about the match, but there’s nothing especially engaging. There’s no real story to speak of, and aside from the YASSHI/NOSAWA exchanges and the brawl to start things off, there’s very little intensity or hate involved. In a nutshell, they treat it like it’s just a filler title match, which is exactly what it is. The double teams toward the end are pretty good, with Kaz thwarting the same combo that won them the titles, Kondo hitting the King Kong Lariat and YASSHI stealing the pin, but Kaz trips up Kondo and stops the move. The champions do hit their spot where Kondo powerbombs YASSHI onto Kaz, and a few minutes later, the challengers return the favor with NOSAWA Michinoku Driving Kaz onto YASSHI. Fun parts like those aside, this is very pedestrian, and while it’s no secret I’m no fan of the way the titles were taken from them, if matches like this are what can be expected from their title reign, it’s probably a good thing it didn’t last very much longer.
KEIJI MUTOH/ARASHI vs. TAKA MICHINOKU/BUCHANAN
What better way to follow a disappointing tag title match than with a meaningless match that’s a lot of fun. The VM/ROD feud left ROD as defacto babyfaces, but that doesn’t stop TAKA from being quite the fun heel here. TAKA actually tries to go toe to toe with Arashi and winds up flying and bumping all over the ring (and being a selling God in the process), so he goes to Arashi’s eyes, and then tags in Buchanan, who easily works over Arashi. TAKA tags back in all cocky and charges and Arashi, and promptly gets knocked on his ass. TAKA’s back must have been sore from carrying Arashi through the whole match, Arashi gets plenty of offense in, but not anything very notable other than the powerbomb he finishes off TAKA with, it’s a lot of simple moves like a bodyslam and vertical suplex, but TAKA bumps and sells everything like it’s killing him.
The other good thing here is that Buchanan is used sparingly here, so he doesn’t get a chance to really drag anything down. He saves TAKA when he gets in trouble, and he acts like TAKA’s muscle when Arashi throws him around. Other than that, the only other thing that Buchanan does is work his claw gimmick with Mutoh a bit, they start the match off with Buchanan going for it and Mutoh challenging him to a test of strength. A bit later on, Mutoh has Buchanan in trouble and puts on the figure four and Buchanan uses the claw to escape (it was actually a pretty inventive spot). Mutoh is fine here, he and TAKA work the best parts of the match, and their sequences and exchanges look the best, but like Buchanan he was used pretty sparingly. The bulk of the match is TAKA bumping and selling like a madman for Arashi, and thanks to TAKA, that’s a fun enough ride by itself.
KENSUKE SASAKI/TOMOAKI HONMA/KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA vs. SATOSHI KOJIMA/KAZUSHI MIYAMOTO/RYUJI HIJIKATA
The fun just keeps on coming! With this many limited workers in one match, you’d think this would be hard on the eyes, but not so in this case. They develop a theme very early on and they’re all smart enough to work back to it and not venture too far away from it, so that the match never gets to fall apart. The overarching theme of the match is that the lower-ranked wrestlers are trying to prove themselves. It starts out with Miyamoto in the ring with his former partner, Honma, but Miyamoto isn’t worried at all about Honma, he’s far too busy trying to take cheap shots at Sasaki. When Sasaki gets his hands on Miyamoto, he makes him pay the price as you’d expect. But later on, it’s a role reversal for Miyamoto, when he gets to smack around Nakajima in a similar manner. Even Kojima, the Triple Crown champion is in this position, he may be the champion but he’s never beaten Sasaki (who’d won the champions carnival and thus had earned a title shot).
The really nice thing about this match isn’t just that all six workers are smart enough to stick to the story, but that the various lower-ranked wrestlers each get their chance to hold their own with a senior wrestler. The best of these instances is Honma and Kojima, Kojima beats on Honma, hits his trademark stuff, and pulls off the elbow pad. Kojima charges for the lariat, and Honma ducks and locks him in the Turmeric clutch for a near fall. Kojima tries a second time and again Honma counters him and tags in Sasaki. There’s another good one, but it’s easy to miss: Nakajima, who’s at the very bottom here, finds himself face to face with the more experienced (but also lowly ranked) Hijikata, Nakajima fires away with a few roundhouse kicks, which Hijikata sells awesomely, but also backs him into his own corner, allowing for Miyamoto to tag in and rough up Nakajima. The mandatory melee to get to the finish shows each person taking out someone else and ends with Sasaki hitting the NLB on Hijikata for the win, but before they get that far, who takes out Kojima? Nakajima. And he does so with only a single roundhouse kick. A simple match, with a simple theme, where everyone is able to look good, no complaints here.
TAIYO KEA/JAMAL © vs. TARU/GIANT BERNARD (AJPW World Tag Team Titles)
The All Asia Tag Titles match was so dull and boring is even more befuddling to me after seeing this. Giant Bernard and Jamal shouldn’t be in matches that are more fun to watch than Shuji Kondo and Kaz Hayashi, but here it is happening. There is some fun stuff early involving Jamal and Bernard, Bernard tries to attack Jamal with headbutts, and forgets one of the oldest rules of the sport: never headbutt a Samoan. Bernard is surprisingly adequate with his selling too, especially considering the way he’d been more or less mowing down everyone since he entered All Japan. When Bernard figures out that he needs to stop headbutting, Jamal grabs him and fires off some headbutts of his own and Bernard does a Flair Flop. A few minutes after that Bernard and Jamal hit dual lariats on each other and Jamal takes a huge bump.
The big heat segment is Bernard and TARU working over Kea. From a wrestling standpoint, there’s not much to see, but they still manage to make it work very nicely. They bust open Kea’s forehead and take turns working over the cut, including removing the turnbuckle pad and ramming Kea’s head into the exposed steel. Bernard, of course, uses his size and his Kea with a lot of running lariats and avalanche moves. TARU also gets to use his Axe kick spot, when Bernard holds Kea in position while Stamboli and Palumbo distract the ref. The only altogether odd thing is that Kea’s knee isn’t worked over at all. Other than Kea’s long layoff (and eventual joining of ROD) being at the root of a big knee injury, he seems to hurt it very early in the match, a catalyst isn’t really shown, Kea just goes to the floor and starts to favor it.
Even the most cynical of fans have to appreciate the effort put into the match when the crowd erupts at Kea’s hot tag to Jamal. Jamal is the proverbial house of fire the way he just wails away on Bernard and TARU. Bernard also puts the hurt on TARU by charging for Jamal but getting sidestepped or dodged and TARU winds up taking the bullet. Considering the size difference, and that TARU has never been a real force in All Japan, it wouldn’t take much to keep him down anyway, and Bernard’s blunders only accelerate that process. But before Jamal finishes him off, he at least has it in him to sell TARU’s last ditch effort, which is using his trusty ball bat. Had it been Hogan or Warrior or Goldberg they’d have totally blown them off and finished him off, but Jamal puts them over and then when TARU charges, he plants him with a Samoan Driver (sit out Tombstone, actually very similar to the TARU Driller) and finishes him off. This match is a shining example of how far simple and effective storytelling can go, the actual wrestling may not be anything to go nuts over, but everyone plays their role well, and the result is quite a fun match, almost the exact opposite of Jamal and Kea’s match with Palumbo and Stamboli.
Conclusion: 50/50 isn’t too bad, I was ready to chalk this up as a loss after the first title match, but then the fun started and never stopped. This is like a lot of shows from All Japan, the wrestling may not be superb, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.
For more of Mike Campbell's reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com