All Japan "New Years Giant Series 1999"
review by PdW2kX

Triple Crown Championship Match: Toshiaki Kawada vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (c)

After some random and basic start-of-match stuff (armlocks, some kicks, etc.), stiffness inevitably comes into play. Misawa and Kawada elbow and kick each other, as expected, and inter-mingle those exchanges with some of their more popular signature moves, such as big boots on Kawada's end and Suicide Diving Elbows on Misawa's. Somewhere throughout all this, Kawada manages to hurt his arm for real, and yet both men keep the pain on each other, never letting up, and neckdrops aplenty soon follow. After enduring multiple Tiger Driver's coupled with failing to put Misawa down after numerous Powerbombs and Ganmengiri's, Toshiaki Kawada attempts another Powerbomb. Misawa attempts a reversal. In a perfect world, we'd have Kawada reverse the reversal, giving us another highly-dramatic two-count. Instead we get one of the most gruesome moments in wrestling history, at least in my opinion. Yes, it's the dreaded "GANSO Bomb", the "Kawada Driver". Whatever you call it, it only needs one name: sick. It's completely cringe-inducing. And yet, somehow, Misawa kicks out. How he did this is beyond me. Misawa ends up being put down after a brainbuster, giving Kawada the incredibly hard-fought win at 24:15.

Analysis: This one lived up to the hype. "They nearly killed each other!" is a highly over-dramatic pseudo-catchphrase used to describe some pretty gruesome matches, and it's lost some (if not all) of its luster over the years. This one deserves that claim. Kawada wrestled with his arm badly, badly in need of medical attention. Misawa took enough blows to the head to put the grandkids of a concussion doctor through college. This match has it all: passion, fury, energy, insanity…it's the only legit non-stop stiff-fest I've ever really liked. It must be said, though: I still highly disagree with the overall progression of Kings Road that left it little more than the aforementioned non-stop stiff-fests by the time the 90's were over. Instead of being about weaving dynamic stories in and out of classic wrestling matches, Kings Road eventually become like a game of one-upsmanship, leading its wrestlers to go to increasingly dangerous heights until there really was no shock-value left. This match, the "Ganso Bomb" Match, signifies the end of that "up the ante so we can shock the crowd" era of Kings Road-style matches. It's one of the most insane things I've ever seen when it comes to wrestling, and there's really nothing more dangerous than simply falling on your head while your body folds itself over your neck. In regards to this match, it really defines the "all out war" psychology of main-event-level matches. Both men gave everything they had, then gave a little more, than gave even more. I've seen hardcore matches that aren't half as brutal as this. Most matches can't hold a candle to this one anyway, and it's one of my favorites of the Kawada/Misawa wars. ****

World Tag Team Championships Match: Kenta Kobashi and Akiyama vs. Kawada and Akira Taue ©

Kobashi wrestles with his eye heavily taped up, the result of an earlier Vader/Kobashi altercation that is also included on the DVD. The match clips to Jun working a Sharpshooter on Kawada, and Kobashi follows it up with a Texas Cloverleaf. Kawada tags out, bringing in Taue, who goes right for Kobashi's bad eye. Kawada goes for the eye as well. Although a first attempt to help out fails, a second attempt to clean house by Akiyama ends up getting the job done…at least until Kawada takes him down with a barrage of kicks. A series of dramatic near-falls follow, including Taue kicking out of the famed Kobashi Moonsault! Kobashi finally puts down Taue at 25:58 with a super-stiff Burning Lariat.

Analysis: Classic AJPW tag-team goodness. All kinds of action, drama, story, and a constant flow of emotions: anger as well as compassion, hate as well as respect, determination as well as relentlessness. Respect was always given when it came to Kawada/Taue/Kobashi, as they had all waged their wars over the years. Even if Kawada and Taue hated Kobashi, they at least never underestimated him. That can't be said about Jun. Kawada and Taue's one crucial flaw was that they considered Jun nothing more than a mid-level guy standing in the shadow of a great…failing to recognize that that's how many of them got their start. Their "grizzled veteran" tactics caused Jun some pretty bad pain, but it also gave him the fire and determination to prove his opponents wrong. Jun hung in there exactly when he was needed, saving Kobashi and saving the match numerous times with impressive false-finishes and dramatic "hot tags". When done right, no one does main-event level tag matches like AJPW: the nonstop drama mixed with the fantastic wrestling makes it a can't-miss encounter. ***½

Kenta Kobashi vs. Vader

Both men start the match by slugging it out with each other, neither giving an inch. Kobashi momentarily gains control, but Vader quickly attacks Kobashi's eye to assert himself and bring the match back under his own control. Vader nails a cringe-inducing Powerbomb to the outside, lifting up Kobashi and planting him on the blue outside mats with a sick thud. Vader is in complete control after that, but Kobashi won't quit. After some chops, Kobashi manages to suplex and backdrop Vader, and even gets a Moonsault in for 2¾. Vader, not to be outdone, hits an equally impressive Moonsault, getting a count of 2¾ as well. Vader hits a sick Deadweight German Suplex, the kind that almost crippled Antonio Inoki back in the day. Vader takes the win at 16:59 with the Big Van Crush.

Analysis: Although there was nothing too epic about it, this match was a very enjoyable brawl. Both men really tore into each other, and you could practically feel the hatred emanating from them. I was a bit surprised that Vader won, but this built him up as a big unstoppable monster. Plus, he was in his element the entire match: Kobashi rarely ventured out of "you punch me, I punch you" territory, and that's Vader's bread-and-butter. At his peak, Vader had one of the best "unstoppable monster" auras out there, and it shined and clashed perfectly against Kobashi's "Burning Spirit". ***¼

World Junior Heavyweight Championship Match: Yoshinari Ogawa (c) vs. Masahito Kakihara

Masahito nails Ogawa with some very nasty kicks, but eventually misses one, which gives Ogawa the chance to get in some moves. Kakihara continues to blast Ogawa with different (but always stiff) kicks until he fires off one too many: Ogawa dodges a particularly brutal kick, causing Kakihara to wrap his leg around the ringpost in a sick spot. Ogawa really heels it up as he exacts his revenge, but Kakihara mounts a comeback, to the point where he almost forces Ogawa to tap out to a Grapevine Ankle Lock. Both men are neck-and-neck for a good while, with Kakihara enduring multiple backdrops and Ogawa so afraid of tapping to a armbar that he actually pulls the referee on top of Kakihara. Masahito tries another armbar, but Ogawa rolls with it, counters into a pin, and escapes, just barely, with the win at 16:22.

Analysis: A hard-hitting, fast-flying, colorful and charismatic free-for-all. AJPW has a particularly tasty Junior Heavyweight flare, despite it taking them much longer than usual to recognize the potential of the division. It's not NJPW, it's not Toryumon, it's Junior Heavyweights: AJPW Style. Instead of feeling like a grossly-bastardized and decades-too-late Junior Heavyweight division, AJPW's Junior Heavyweights pulled out some very exciting, very interesting, very unique encounters. As a first taste of what AJPW Juniors is all about, I'm pleasantly surprised, and I definitely enjoyed myself throughout this match. ***¼

All Asia Tag Team Championships Match: Tamon Honda and Izumida © vs. Hayabusa and Shinzaki

Shinzaki is initially double-teamed, and then takes a cringe-inducing headbutt which basically splits his head open. Shinzaki begins pouring blood, and to two headbutt-heavy wrestlers, Shinzaki's bleeding cranium couldn't be a bigger target even if it had "Please Hit Me" laser-written on it. The crowd immediately takes Jinsei's side, even chanting his name. When Hayabusa tags in, he takes every opportunity possible to bring his team back, even executing an insane Avalanche Suicide Dive, past the guardrail and into the crowd. A series of lariats catches 'Busa off-guard and brings him down. A series of high-flying and captivating chain-spots leave Tamon Honda banged up and breathless, but Izumida comes in and helps out, bringing both teams back into a stalemate. Hayabusa hits an insane Avalanche Belly-to-Belly and follows it up with a 450 Splash…Honda breaks! Honda is nearly taken out with a Bulldog/Flapjack double-team maneuver, then exacts his revenge by nailing Shinzaki with three Dead Ends, the third of which puts him down at 23:37.

Analysis: A surprisingly fantastic match. This match really showed off the character of Hayabusa and Shinzaki, while getting over the ruthlessness of the champions. Jinsei was a total babyface, bleeding buckets and buckets while a lack of brains coupled with an overload of heart meant that he refused to back down. Hayabusa was at his absolute crispest: sometimes he can be all over the place, executing something perfectly while messing up something much easier, but in this match he was a complete package of quiet determination and fantastic daredevil acrobatics. Honda and Izumida were beasts, basically using their heads as battering rams while using their wrestling to slowly pick apart their adversaries. In a way, Honda and Izumida had to be ruthless, because Shinzaki and Hayabusa were running circles around them in terms of agility and ease of hitting double-team maneuvers. This was a definite "make or break" match, and both teams were "made": not only did Honda and Izumida look like fierce, determined, dominant champions, Hayabusa and Shinzaki looked like incredibly credible contenders fully deserving of their title shot. I was expecting this one to be pretty decent, but I honestly didn't except this level of quality. Call me "Mr. Pleasantly Surprised". ***½

Final Thoughts: In many ways, I think the "Ganso Bomb" match was a turning point for AJPW. No longer could matches be built upon "let's keep doing insane stunts until we do something so insane it gets a big shock out of the crowd". The reception the "Ganso Bomb" got was almost scary…the Japanese fans seemed legitimately concerned that Misawa was paralyzed or worse. Kawada still got a major reception, but I strongly believe that this was the match Japanese fans said "Enough is enough, stop trying to kill yourselves just to shock us." Shortly after this match, a true legend in the sport would pass on- Giant Baba, one of the greatest ever, would leave us, leaving All Japan with a giant hole in it that, unfortunately, no one would be able to fill. In a way…after the "Ganso Bomb" match, it was all downhill for AJPW. It will certainly be argued that AJPW was able to triumphantly pull itself out of that hole, but I don't think it can be argued that the "Ganso Bomb" and the way it affected its two participants was a foreshadowing of dark times ahead.

So, in a way, this compilation actually feels a bit disheartening to me. Knowing what would happen, it's hard to look at this particular period and still be happy. Misawa and Kawada have a fantastic match? Baba dies soon afterward, leading to the inevitable split that created NOAH and almost killed AJPW. Vader has a good match with Kobashi? Vader's now known to a generation of fans as "the fat old guy that slipped at a Raw show" while Kobashi is just returning from something many felt he would never return from. Shinzaki and Hayabusa blaze it up with Honda and Izumida? Hayabusa gets paralyzed in one of the saddest and most-difficult-to-watch wrestling moments I've ever seen and likely will ever see. Despite having good matches, it's tough to consider 1999 a good year, since it was the year that AJPW's greatest era ended, and that particular feeling can be felt throughout the entire compilation despite all of these matches taking place at the beginning of '99 as opposed to the end.

Although, maybe I'm being overly sentimental. Yet, honestly, that's just how I feel about this particular subject. But, in the end, there is no argument over what you're getting: quality. Good wrestling. Great names. Big matches. Everything on here I liked, and everything on here had a little something different from the rest. Everything was good, some was great, but the main thing is that all the matches were good for different reasons, so you can watch this one all in one sitting and not even be remotely bored. You may feel nostalgic, you may even feel a bit disheartened like me, but you will not be bored, not in the slightest. For the history, for the "Ganso Bomb", and for some truly fantastic wrestling that took place during the final year of the greatest time period wrestling has ever known, definitely check this one out.

Final Rating for All Japan Pro Wrestling "New Years Giant Series 1999": ***½

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