AJPW New Year Shining Series 2009
review by JaeDMC

January 2nd, 2009
Tokyo Korakuen Hall
2,100 Fans - Super No Vacancy

It's the New Year and All Japan is kicking it off with a two day event centering around a tournament for the All Asia Tag Title. These titles were vacated on October 29th 2006 and haven't been dealt with sense. Osamu Nishimura demanded that the titles be brought back and the office obliged. So an eight team tournament was drawn up to determine the new champs. Four first round matches would be held on 1/02/09 and the semi-finals and finals would be held on the following night.

Since this is a New Year, I thought I'd do a little longer review than I'll normally do, that features a quick idea of who the participants of each match are. This way, if you might want to get into the All Japan product you can have a good idea of who these folks are and why they're fighting each other.

Nobutaka Araya vs. Hiroshi Yamato

Yamato is a young guy who hasn't been with the company too long, he as he and fellow rookie KAI were in Mexico for most of 2007 learning the craft. When they came back in 2008 the crowd took a liking to them. Towards the end of the year, Satoshi Kojima, who was kicked out of the heel stable Voodoo Murders, recruited them for his new happy go lucky group F-4. Friend, Fight, Fan and Future. Nobutaka Araya has been around for a while and is pretty much a standard opening match guy working tags or comedy matches. So expectations are low for this to blow me away, but it'll be an OK appetizer. Or maybe a dinner roll.

Araya starts things off with a shoulder block and stomp to the groin. The Ref admonishes him with a Khali Brain Chop and the tone is set. The comedy continues as the smaller Yamato attempts a giants swing on the rotund Araya. He of course fails. Tries again. Fails again. It's kinda cute. While Yamato is suffering from some dizziness Araya does a diving poke to the butt and Yamato tumbles out of the ring. The ref gives Araya a stern talking to and goes out on to the apron to check on the fallen Yamato. Araya, then does the charging butt poke to the ref who bumps off the apron onto Yamato. The announcers joke about the ref's apparent plancha onto Yamato.
After some trading of whips into the guardrails the match settles into a more serious tone. Yamato surprises Araya with a kick to the face and it apparently bloodied the guy's nose. Yamato gets in some pretty solid looking offense when he's trying to show strength. His problem comes from trying to do some lucha roll-ups on Araya. There's no problem with him going for a flash pin on an opponent who out weighs him to a good degree. I like that idea. But there's certain cradles that usually work better when the guy isn't so.....round. It just looks sloppy and awkward. Anyway, Araya finally catches the squirt with a nice stiff lariat and finishes him of with a big time moonsault.
Nothing too deep to see here folks. Yamato has been kind of portrayed as the fall guy for F-4 so him losing here isn't all that bad because no expects too much from him. Especially when facing the larger Araya. Granted Araya has no momentum to go anywhere so it's questionable to not get Yamato some wins when he's not taking falls in trios matches. An okay 8 minute opener.

Seiya Sanada & Manabu Soya vs. TARU & Joe Doering

Joe Doering competed in the Champions Carnival in 2008 and had a descent run. He most notably beat cleanly and decisively Minoru Suzuki. In the last half of the year Joe got frustrated with all the baby faces in an elimination tag match, (to be fair he didn't get much help before getting eliminated) so he decided to jump to TARU's Voodoo Murders stable. This jump was punctuated by his beating on young rookie Seiya Sanada. Manabu Soya is a Nishimura trainee who has had his fair share or run-ins with the villainous Voodoo Murders. There's not a whole lot on the line here but there should be some pretty good anger flowing between the four of them.

But, wow, did no body care about this match. The boys tried to start it off with some brawling to the outside but the second it got in the ring, the crowd zoned out. Part of the problem may have been the faces not looking to good in the opening moments. Soya, who's a pretty well built kid was unable to budge TARU? I've always been unable to take TARU seriously because he looks almost exactly like this girl I went to high school with. And when some well groomed strong house like Soya can't budge a person like that, then there's no saving you.. Even when TARU tried to get some heat spraying some stuff in Sanada's eyes the crowd just stared. Nothing. There was one highlight, and that was Joe Doering doing a fall away slam to Sanada that sent him nearly the length of the ring. That's some distance.

They were able to pick up a little steam later in the match with some nifty offense, but no one believed or cared that these guys were going to win so no one got to excited for the nearfalls. Joe rocks a spinning sit-out power bomb on Sanada and it's off to the showers.

Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Zodiac

Zodiac is a Voodoo Murders bad boy who frequently gets disqualified. You may have heard of him as Aaron Aguilera on the American Indy Scene or as Jesus in the WWE. He was the guy that stabbed John Cena at the behest of Carlito back when The Master of Thuganomics was the United States Champion. Yoshihiro Takayama is one of toughest heavyweights wrestling today. He's a freelancer who has held titles in All Japan, New Japan and NOAH, including the GHC and IWGP titles. He's just recently re-emerged in All Japan after a lengthy run with NOAH. Upon his return, he made it clear that his one goal is to capture the Triple Crown titles held by The Great Muta. Takayama didn't do many singles in NOAH. So it's intriguing to see how he works in this type of situation after being in so many tags.

The Match: Oh boy. Here's the good news, Takayama looked to have a little spark in him. He had a little skip to his skip that he doesn't have to often. Sadly, the match lasted two and half minutes. Which is fine because Takayama shouldn't have to take longer than 8 minutes to put away a scrub like Zodiac, but if you wanted to get a sense of who this guy is you may not have gotten the full picture. Other than he's got a big time running knee, which knocked poor Zodiac for a loop and a three count.

81st Generation All Asia Tag Team Title Determination Tournament Round 1:
Masanobu Fuchi & Osamu Nishimura vs. Taiyo Kea & MAZADA

Masanobu Fuchi is a 55 year old All Japan legend who made his mark in Junior Heavyweight division by winning the title five times. He was one of a handful of people who stood by AJ after the “Misawa Exodus” and is currently serving as the Director of Operations. Osamu Nishimura was trained in Jew Japan dojo and mentored by Tatsumi Fujinami, and endorses a more technical style of wrestling. It should be noted that I think he's pretty awesome. Taiyo Kea is an All Japan true born scouted by the legendary Giant Baba. Kea, like Fuchi stuck it out with All Japan after Misawa and nearly everyone else left. He's a former Triple Crown and Champion's Carnival winner. Last year, he hooked up with Minoru Suzuki's GURENTAI stable which also includes MAZADA. MAZADA is usually seen tagging with NOSAWA Rongai. In 2008, that duo took a shot at Open the Twin Gate title in Dragon's Gate and failed.

Fuchi is not a young man. I was a little worried because sometimes I think some of the older wrestlers get in too much offense on the younger guys. Thankfully, Taiyo Kea plays a good hot head and it seemed more plausible that Fuchi would be able to take advantage of that flaw with headlock take downs and drop toe holds. The big problem with this match is the last half is pretty much a sloppy Inside Cradle fest. It felt less like MAZADA was escaping and more like Fuchi just wasn't getting them on very well so it didn't look really believable. Kea and Nishimura spent most of this time trying to not be in the ring so that Fuchi could pick up the win, which he eventually did after like the fifth or sixth inside cradle. The highlight of all this being Nishimura laying in some nice European Uppercuts and Kea peppering him with some chops. Unfortunately that's about it, as this was pretty forgettable.

81st Generation All Asia Tag Team Title Determination Tournament Round 1:
Minoru Suzuki & NOSAWA Rongai vs. HATE & "brother" YASSHI

Minoru Suzuki is a former MMA star who was once the King of Pancrase. He's found quite a bit of success in wrestling playing the little devil that enjoys spitting on tradition any chance he gets. NOASAWA Rongai is a midcard freelancer who spent most of his training in Mexico. HATE was once named Nobukazu Araya but recently turned on all his good guy buddies to join the evil Voodoo Murders. "brother" YASSHI is a pretty talented midcarder who will be leaving the company soon to take over the family business.

This match was a mess. HATE definitely was dragging anytime he was in the ring which was too often. What's even worse is that he has such a cool name, that doesn't fit him in the slightest. YASSHI and Rongai had a little moment to kind of speed things up, but it didn't last long. Minoru pretty much supplied all the highlights of this one because he was rocking some slaps all over HATE's face. So much so that you'd think Suzuki would just take the name from him. Even when he doesn't care, he supplies more hate than HATE.

The finish came when HATE hosed down the ref with a fire extinguisher before he could make the three count on “brother”. Of course, this resulted in a disqualification which I normally wouldn't mind. Folks in the VooDoo Murders tend to get DQ'ed all the time because they just don't care. That's their modus operandi, if you will. But when there is something on the line you'd think they'd cheat to win instead of cheat to not drop a pin fall. It just felt kind of silly and it's not like YASSHI's career was going to be hurt by taking a pin fall from Suzuki. Oh well, I guess HATE hates winning.

81st Generation All Asia Tag Team Title Determination Tournament Round 1:
Satoshi Kojima & KAI vs. Suwama & Ryuji Hijikata

Kojima was once a stand out in New Japan but came over to All Japan with Mutoh in order to be one of their aces. Around this time he held both the Triple Crown and the IWGP titles. KAI is a relative newcomer who had a real break out year in 2008 upon returning from Mexico. He won the Jr. Heavyweight League Tournament earning a right to challenge for the title. However, he was unsuccessful in that challenge. The champion that beat him was Ryuji Hijikata who is currently trying to find traction after eventually losing that title to NOAH's Naomichi Marufuji. Also trying to find traction is Suwama, who had a pretty great 2008, as well.. After leaving VooDoo Murders, Suwama entered and won the Champion's Carnival by defeating New Japan ace Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals. After that he defeated Kensuke Sasaki for the Triple Crown. He was eventually defeated by The Great Muta.
I was pretty excited about this match considering all the talent involved but it felt a little lackluster. The two work horses in this match were KAI, who ate offense almost the whole time and Hijikata who was dishing out some kicks on everybody. Hijikata works well in tag matches because he loves to knock the partner off the apron and keep the legal man locked away to be worn down. He and KAI also built off their match back in August where Hijikata defeated KAI with a Cross Arm Breaker. So it was only natural for him to try and apply that move on KAI again and just hope Suwama could keep Kojima out long enough for the tap out. Unfortunately for Hijikata KAI dug down deep and was able to survive the hold. Kojima pretty much hit his normal spots which always get a pretty good reaction from the crowd so who can blame him.

The finish was kind of neat with Kojima lariating Suwama's lariat arm and then hitting him with the lariat. Suwama rolled out and so Kojima goes for one on Hijikata(who's the legal man) and Hijikata blocks it. He goes for a jumping kick, but Koji lariats the leg out of of the air. Koji flips off the elbow pad and hits the lariat on Hijikata for the win. That's one strong arm folks. Other than some flashes of fun, the match wasn't anything special though. Maybe they're saving it up for tomorrow night.

81st Generation All Asia Tag Team Title Determination Tournament Round 1:
Keiji Mutoh & Kaz Hayashi vs. Shuji Kondo & Ryota Hama

Keiji Mutoh is a legend. He's done it all, and 2008 was undoubtedly the year of Mutoh. In April he went to New Japan and won the IWGP championship. In September he, as The Great Muta, won the Triple Crown from Suwama. At the time of this show, he is two nights away from defending the IWGP title in the main event at the biggest show of the year, the New Japan Tokyo Dome show, against Hiroshi Tanahashi. So he's got a lot on his mind. Kaz Hayashi you may remember from his days in WCW, who he was with until the WWE buyout. After that he returned to All Japan and became one of their top Jr. Stars. He's currently trying to get a match from Naomichi Marufuji so he can when the Jr. Heavyweight Title back for his company. Shuji Kondo used to work for Toryumon/Dragon's Gate and was the ace for the now defunct El Dorado. He was once a member of VooDoo Murders but decided to turn face when he signed an exclusive contract with the company. Ryota Hama debuted on November 3, of last year taking on fellow sumo athlete Akebono. Hama got in quite a bit of offense on Bono and the crowd really fell for the guy. That being said, he's been wrestling for two months as of this show.

Shuji Kondo and Kaz Hayashi work well together in the opening minutes. I'm always surprised at how well Kondo moves in these situations. He's built so thick and solid you wouldn't expect him to hang so well with Hayashi but he does. When Hama gets in the ring he and Mutoh have a fun wrestling match. And I mean "on the mat" wrestling. Hama even counters on Mutoh who has been riding him for a little bit. Kaz gets in and does a little mat work with the hoss himself and it still stays interesting. There's a big time Fireman's Carry involved that gets the crowd talking. After a little reprieve Hama gets back in and starts working the big man gimmick like he should. The mat wrestling makes you know the guy is trained but him tossing around Kaz Hayashi is where it's at.. Kaz at one point drops into a sumo stance asking for Hama to bring it on and it's like a matador waving a red cape to bull - not a good idea.

About 12 minutes in things start picking up the pace and Mutoh starts breaking out dragon screws on Kondo which leads to the figure four. Hama drops the leg on the prone Mutoh and tells Kondo to get up and make a tag. Hama taking control is really a lot of fun. He does the running but slam on Mutoh in the corner and I'm surprised Keiji is taking so much offense from a 420 pound rookie two nights away from such a big event. After about 16 minutes or so Mutoh finally gains an advantage on the big man and nails a dragon screw and a shining wizard for the win.

This match was definitely the most fun so far. Hama worked pretty hard and actually spent a lot of time in the ring which is not what I expected. Kaz Hayashi and Shuji were really crisp and added some fun speed in the pacing. Pacing would be a great word for this match as it wasn't super long and it didn't actually feel like it dragged. Sometimes a the mat work in matches can be really dull, but Mutoh and Kaz really helped Hama through, and Hama, like a good wrestler should, was able to make himself look really solid.

15 Man Heavyweight Battle Royal:
Participants: Manabu Soya, Seiya Sanada, Keiji Mutoh, Suwama, Osamu Nishimura, Satoshi Kojima, Nobutaka Araya, Minoru Suzuki, Taiyo Kea, Yoshihiro Takayama, TARU, Hate, Joe Doering, Zodiac & Ryota Hama

Before this Battle Royal starts three things should be mentioned. Takayama came out aligned with GURENTAI, which got some "oohs" from the crowd.. Part of the reason being that he and Minoru Suzuki had a great run as a tag team and they hadn't really worked together consistently for quite some time. The other item is Zodiac, who's always looking smug, didn't look too excited to be in the ring with Takayama again in anyway shape or form. You have to love continuity in a wrestling show. The last is Hama, who just worked his hind end off(okay not really, it would take forever to work any of that off) and took a loss just moments ago, decided he wanted in on this Battle Royal. This kid has got gumption.

Surprisingly the first elimination is Takayama who gets double teamed by Zodiac and Joe Doering. Yeah, I guess Zodiac is all tough when he has someone who actually won a match tonight on his side. While everyone is battling it out, Araya is hiding behind Hama in the corner. I guess the big boys are sticking together. Kojima and Suwama start dropping the big stuff on each other in the middle of the ring. Suwama with a big time German suplex and Kojima pops up to hit a lariat before collapsing. With both of them on the mat, the rest of the participants pile on them for a double pin and Kojima and Suwama are out! Funny. Shortly after that, Kea clotheslines Doering over the top but Doering holds onto Kea's arm while TARU sneaks up behind and eliminates Kea. So there goes Joe and Kea. Suzuki immediately rolls up TARU for a three count. Araya, who has been wondering around trying to stay out of trouble makes the mistake of coming over to help Suzuki hold TARU down. Minoru does not look plussed that this bum thinks he's good enough to help him out. Araya is hilarious walking off to a corner hoping Suzuki doesn't follow, which of course he does. HATE eventually attacks Suzuki, building off their issues from earlier while Mutoh is handing out dragon screws. Mutoh is about to give Nishimura a shining wizard but Araya sneaks in for the dreadful butt poke. Nishimura rolls up a distressed Mutoh and everyone helps out to eliminate him. Seiya Sanada and Soya are next, trying to cradle each other. Manabu gets the advantage and everyone around piles on while the ref counts to three, after which Sanada who was just eliminated reverses the cradle and everyone piles on that while the Soya is counted down.

Osamu Nishimura, Minoru Suzuki, Ryota Hama and Nobutaka Araya are in the ring.. I'm totally pulling for Araya now. The two slims pair off and start trading blows. Araya goes back to hiding behind his larger counterpart. HATE sneaks up behind Suzuki and holds him from the apron long enough for Nishimura to push Suzuki out. I forgot HATE was even still in this. Nishimura then backslides the taunting HATE and eliminates him. They show Zodiac holding his side on the floor and I don't remember him being eliminated either. Hama and Araya try to work on Nishimura in the corner. Hama chargers but Nishimura leaps and goes for a sunset flip. Hama doesn't fall back but while he struggles to keep his balance, Araya gives him the butt poke and he immediately falls down on Nishimura's chest. OUCH. Three Count on Nishimura, because who is going to get up from that? Araya sneakily pulls Hama back as if he had been sunset flipped and holds him down for the pin. Araya celebrates like he won, and he like many others forgot Zodiac was still in the match. Zodiac climbs up top behind a cheering Araya who is being told "it's not over" by the ref. He turns around and gets a big flying clothesline.. Zodiac makes the pin and gets the win. ZODIAC!!!

This was a fun way to send everyone home. The big stars didn't have to win it because it was all in good fun. They had a lot of funny bits planned out and they all worked pretty well. Zodiac winning was a good way to reward him for taking the big loss to freelancer Takayama. Sure he lost in two minutes, but he was the last man standing in a battle royal that included all the big name heavyweights in the company. I'd say he came out okay.

This show wasn't great by any means. And for all the interesting match-ups few delivered. The one I was most looking forward to, Suwama/Hijikata vs. KAI/Kojima, wasn't nearly as fun as I had hoped it would be. Oddly, Kojima and Suwama showed more fire when they were trying to kill each other for ten seconds of the battle royal than in their tag match. One of the good things about All Japan is even if the wrestling isn't the greatest, you can tell the guys involved are having fun so even on an off night like this one, you can still sit through it and not feel like it was a total waste.. But, you probably won't sit through it again.

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