All Japan Pro Wrestling on 5/1/98
review by PdW2kX
Triple Crown Championship Match: Mitsuharu Misawa © vs. Toshiaki Kawada
Both hit hard from the opening bell, but make it clear that we've got a long night ahead of us: neither backs down from some serious bodily harm. Misawa keeps trying to hit the Tiger Driver, and this comes back to haunt him as it gives Kawada the opportunity to nail an insanely stiff kick. After a Yakuza Kick and a Brainbuster, we get some STRONG STYLE~ no-selling, which temporarily gives Misawa the lead until Kawada scrambles his brains with a Ganmengiri. After a Dragon Screw, Kawada focuses on working the legs. A Tiger Suplex by Misawa gets 2¾, and Kawada answers right back with a Ganmengiri for 2¾. Kawada launches a last-chance assault, firing at Misawa with everything in his arsenal, and Kawada is finally able to hold Misawa down for the count with a pinning powerbomb.
Analysis: The finish is definitely a feel-good moment, but this match felt eerily similar to the Kawada/Misawa match at the NOAH "Destiny" show, despite being years apart. It was a good match, no mistake about that, but it was a strange departure from the AJPW I've grown to regard as the greatest promotion ever. In a way, this reflected the changing of the times more than it did the Kawada/Misawa feud. Instead of smart psychology centered around a constantly-evolving, constantly-changing storyline… this match's central point of focus was two guys trying to outdo each other by doing stuff that became progressively more dangerous. In a nutshell, this match was all about the head drops. Lots of head drops. Brutal head drops. Cringe-inducing head drops. Lots of brutal, cringe-inducing head drops. The flow of the match was all over the place, as one man would stay down after the smallest move only to no-sell a head drop seconds later. Unlike their previous epics, which many (including myself) consider some of the best matches ever, this one was more about DANGEROUS~ moves than an epic story. All of the other Misawa/Kawada matches had a touch of the DANGEROUS~, of course, but many of them also featured the classic AJPW storytelling that I hold so dear to my heart. This one…didn't. I still liked it, and the final moments were particularly breathtaking, but I must stress that this wasn't the AJPW I know and love. Although a pretty good match, it's a strong departure from the classics of yesteryear. Most people will still see it as a fantastic match, and it would be a flat-out lie if I said this match held no enjoyment, but this isn't what I wanted or was expecting. I'll still give it a good rating, because it's a good match, but this will probably be one of my more controversial ratings. I certainly struggled for a while to determine a good rating for this one. So, I'll end with this: despite all the mixed-up emotions I have towards this match, from a stand-alone standpoint, it's got plenty to offer. ***¼
Hiroshi Hase vs. Jun Akiyama
After wrestling around to no real conclusion, some stiff-slapping brings the crowd and the match to life. Hase stretches Akiyama something fierce, but Jun doesn't give even the slightest hint of a tap-out. Hase enters Jun's domain and is pummeled accordingly, but does manage to get in a multiple-rotation Giant Swing before the two get into a stiff-slap exchange so stiff that it's basically a shoot-slap exchange. A Golden Arm Bomber/Exploder Suplex exchange sends the crowd into a frenzy, and Jun begins to dominate the match. A nearfall exchange brings us to the match's conclusion, as Akiyama hits a Wrist-Clutch Exploder to get the pinfall.
Analysis: I felt that this match took its sweet time to get good, but get good it did. Hase had a perfect character for the match: faced against a younger and more tenacious opponent, Hase's arrogance caused him to completely forego his game plan of smart mat wrestling and damage over time in order to gain the satisfaction of beating Akiyama at his own game. Hase's frustration at Akiyama not going down should've been the turning point where Hase went back to basics, stretching and occasionally brutalizing Jun until he had Jun begging for mercy. But instead, he couldn't deal with someone like Akiyama showing him up. Akiyama capitalized perfectly on this, picking and choosing his spots with pin-point accuracy. Then again, the match itself is not without flaws, even though I liked the story and enjoyed the psychology. There was almost a bit too much stiffness and over-selling, and the opening minutes were nothing more than a chore, since it was basic mat wrestling that ended up having no effect at all in the coming minutes of stiffness and slams. In the end, though, it's a pretty dramatic match that I ended up enjoying thoroughly. ***¼
Akira Taue, Takao Omori, and Masao Inoue vs. The Gladiator, Hideki Hosaka, and Tetsuhiro Kuroda
Mike (RIP) starts out with a bang, hitting his huge No-Hands Suicide Splash over the top rope and to the outside, knocking both himself and Akira Taue over the guardrail. Taue, not to be outdone, fires back with some big kicks and a couple of Enzugiri's. Omori and Kuroda stiff each other, while Inoue and Hosaka chain-wrestle. Omori is worked over something vicious, even taking an Awesome Bomb, but his tag partners keep saving him. The inevitable "hot tag" follows after an Awesome Bomb from the ring to the outside through a table is teased (though never hit), and the crowd erupts as everyone starts cluster-****ing. Omori ends up taking the win with a Diving Knee Drop.
Analysis: Nothing groundbreaking here, but none too shabby either. It achieves a lot more than most random 6-Man tags. This one featured not only six unique characters that all brought something different (and good) to the match, but a real sense of team unity given by the nice "hot tag" and "save your partner from getting pinned" spots. Everyone had their fair share of strengths and flaws… Awesome was a great hoss but little else, Omori was a great stiff worker but kinda hard to get behind as the guy that gets beat on, Taue is Taue but he never really gives his all in 6-Man tags, etc… but everyone also covered for each other really well, allowing the best parts to shine while the not-so-great parts were thankfully sporadic and short. Given the hundreds upon thousands (and that's probably not a hyperbole) of random semi-decent 6-Man-Tags that have been prevalent in AJPW and later Pro Wrestling NOAH, this one manages to earn some points for having good talent, good flow, and loads of intensity. ***
The Headhunters vs. Tamon Honda and Shigeo Okamura
The match is clipped and comes in with the Headhunters double-teaming Okamura. Okamura takes quite a beating from his hugely oversized opponents, but Honda continues to save him from getting pinned. Honda gets a hot tag and goes headbutt-and-backdrop-crazy. Okamura comes back in with a head of steam, but takes a Crucifix Bomb. Okamura is basically crushed into dust by a MAMMOTH, GARGANTUAN Moonsault that puts him down for the 1-2-3.
Analysis: Short, but I liked it. It had a decent story, and both teams surprisingly had a lot of chemistry every which way. The Headhunters meshed very well with Honda and Okamura, but also meshed well with each other. Honda played the veteran to Okamura's plucky rookie, and both knew how to precisely get over the Headhunters as gargantuan behemoths of destruction. I was particularly impressed by the Headhunters, had a marginal liking of Okamura, and have always liked Tamon Honda. Aside from the clipping, nothing really holds this match back. Overall it's fairly average, but it's pretty fun throughout. **½
Satoru Asako vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Again we get a clipped match, this time cutting to Kanemaru shoulder blocking Asako. Asako rebounds and begins to inflict his will on Kanemaru. Yoshinobu is all over the place, but a couple of highspots bring him back into the fold. The night belongs to Asako, however, as he takes the win with an Over-Shoulder Inverted Piledriver.
Analysis: Randomness for the…average? This match is a pretty decent exchange between two Junior Heavyweights, but Yoshinobu was very spastic. To put it mildly, Kanemaru's major problem was that he thought he could get over by doing as many crazy highspots as possible. Since practically nothing phases me anymore, this came off as a cheap attempt to pop the crowd. Instead of actually trying to win their respect and earn their admiration, Kanemaru was content to give them glitz and glamour with no substance to back it up. Still, AJPW had a notorious lack of focus on their Junior Heavyweight division throughout this era, so this is a welcome break from the constant heavyweight (and in some cases super heavyweight) matches. **½
Final Thoughts: Well, this certainly was…interesting. I'll admit, I only bought this one for Misawa/Kawada. I knew that almost all the Misawa/Kawada matches are guaranteed classics. Unfortunately, the "almost all" comes into play here. In all honesty, I was expecting so much more- not because I have high standards, but because many of the previous Misawa/Kawada matches had all been epic clashes between two dire rivals. Misawa and Kawada still had the chemistry, still had the intensity, and still had the hatred…but they lacked the soul. The match had paper-thin psychology- "let's kill each other with head drops and stiffness!"
No matter if it's a bottom-rung indy fed or AJPW during the prime of its existence, "head drop fests" usually don't do anything for me. It's a testament to both Misawa and Kawada that I found the match as enjoyable as I did. The other matches round out the package, although there's nothing too outstanding. I did particularly enjoy the Hase/Akiyama and Headhunters matches, though. Add in a good 6-Man Tag and some decent Junior Heavyweight action, and you've got a recipe for good times…mostly.
In the end, this is a good addition to anyone's collection, although by no means is it my favorite AJPW show. It's actually one of my least-favorite. It must be said, though, that AJPW had so much quality during the 90's that even a least-favorite turns out to be a pretty good deal all in all. There's no real DVD-selling match here, but there're far worse shows out there, and far worse ways to break into AJPW or even Puro in general. Despite its setbacks, this is another solid look into the famed 90's period of All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Final Rating for All Japan Pro Wrestling - May 1, 1998 : ***
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