New Japan isn’t the only wrestling company to have great matches in the Tokyo Dome. In 1998, history was made as their biggest rival All Japan had their first Dome Show. This was huge for All Japan. For many years they had avoided the biggest venues for many reasons.
Giant Baba didn’t want this venue to overshadow their Budokan shows, it was a big financial risk, and business was peaking soon. And yet, the time was right for All Japan, the #2 wrestling company in Japan, to finally join New Japan with an appearance in the fabled Tokyo Dome. And what better show to put on in the Dome than the company’s 25th-anniversary show?
Though truth be told, there’s another reason (besides revisiting that historic event) that I wanted to review this show. It is because this show draws parallels to the WWE/AEW situation right now. WWE is the top promotion in North America in terms of size and financial power and they’re able to sell out large venues like New Japan did throughout the 1990s. Meanwhile, AEW is much smaller in terms of size yet has earned a reputation for putting on higher-quality matches, just like All Japan in the 1990s.
So if AEW were to ever run a stadium like WWE does, what would their show look like? Would it be just like one of their current quarterly shows but scaled up in terms of venue? Or would they do something out of the ordinary to draw in more fans than normal?
All Japan Pro Wrestling 25th Anniversary Show
May 1st, 1998
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo
Match #1: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Satoru Asako
Background: Kanemaru was a rookie who would later go on to have some solid matches in NOAH’s junior heavyweight division and later an important backstage hand for the same division in New Japan. Asako was a bit more experienced and was a lower-card guy that sometimes teamed with guys like Kobashi, Akiyama, and Misawa.
The match: Kanemaru lands some arm drags and then takes Asako to the mat. Asako does some flippy stuff and tries to monkey flip Kanemaru but that doesn’t work. Kanemaru works Asako’s left arm and hits a shoulder tackle off the ropes. He lands on his feet off a back body drop and dropkicks Asako to the floor. He goes for a plancha but Asako dodges and then lands a basement dropkick of his own. In the ring, Asako lands some slams and leg drops, followed by a back body drop/senton combo for a two-count. He applies a Boston crab but Kanemaru gets a ropebreak soon after. Asako sends Kanemaru into a corner but Kanemaru flips out of it. They block corner charges from each other until Kanemaru hits a diving dropkick. A diving crossbody gets Kanemaru a two-count and he lands a slingshot senton plus a split-legged moonsault for two. He follows with a diving moonsault but that also gets two. Kanemaru goes back to the top rope but Asako cuts him off, which causes Kanemaru to crotch himself on the ropes. Kanemaru escapes both a pin and a back suplex but gets tripped up. Asako follows with a seated Piledriver for the pin and the win.
Winner after 6:26: Satoru Asako
Review: A very simple match without much of a story. It was a sort of ‘hot opener’ with lots of dives and impressive displays of athleticism from two relatively-inexperienced wrestlers. They showcased some cool moves and did everything right with the slightly more experienced Asako using some ring psychology and awareness to put an end to Kanemaru’s constant diving. It wasn’t meant to be an opener involving top-level talent like Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio from SummerSlam 2002. Instead, card placement is based on one’s importance to the company and star power. So of course the show would start with rookies and not main-eventers. But Asako and Kanemaru did well enough to get a few notable reactions from the audience, at least.
Final Rating: **
Match #2: Maunakea Mossman vs. Daisuke Ikeda
Background: Mossman was a Hawaiian wrestler with the most badass real name in wrestling history while Ikeda was another midcarder that spent most of his time in All Japan wrestling in random tag matches. Mossman would later go on to have a more successful career when he stayed with All Japan following the NOAH split and became known as Taiyo Kea. He’d become one of the most successful gaijins in All Japan over the next decade or so and also became famous for being the first person to ever take a Shining Wizard.
The match: They do some early kickboxing until Ikeda drops Mossman with a punch. Mossman has this great “okay, so that happened” look on his face as he struggles back to his feet. That’s followed by some great chain grappling that ends in a stalemate. Mossman fights back with kicks and knees while Ikeda hits back with an eye rake. Ikeda gets a two-count off a suplex and applies a chinlock but Mossman counters with a back suplex. Mossman hits back with more kicks followed by a Vaderbomb press and pins for a two-count. He slams Ikeda and goes for a Sharpshooter but Ikeda counters into a kneebar but Mossman gets a ropebreak. Ikeda kicks out of a dropkick at one and then escapes a chinlock using another eye rake. Mossman gets a two-count off a snap suplex and locks in the sharpshooter this time, having kicked Ikeda’s back to stop him from countering. Mossman switches to an STF and then drops an elbow, then the two trade waistlocks. Mossman hits a running big boot and charges again but runs into an overhead belly-to-belly. Ikeda follows with a lariat, a scoop slam, and a moonsault, all of which gets him a 2.5-count.
Ikeda lands a Russian leg sweep into another kneebar. Mossman drags himself – and therefore also Ikeda – to the ropes. Ikeda goes for a superplex but Mossman elbows out and lands a missile dropkick. Mossman struggles to his feet and Ikeda kicks at his bad leg again. The two trade stiff kicks until Mossman lands a jumping Frankensteiner. One, two, Ikeda counters into his own pin. One, Mossman counters into a jackknife cover and gets two. Mossman follows with a spinning wheel kick for another two-count. Ikeda counters a lariat with an abdominal stretch but Mossman gets a ropebreak. Ikeda lands more kicks and a Backdrop suplex for a close two-count. Ikeda charges for a lariat. Mossman counters into a hiptoss. No, Ikeda counters into a hiptoss of his own. No, Mossman counters into a DDT for a one-count. Mossman applies a dragon sleeper on the top turnbuckle and then hits a reverse superplex. One, two, thr – no, Ikeda survives. Mossman hits a few more martial arts kicks and then hits a TKO to get the pin and the win.
Winner after 10:50: Maunakea Mossman
Review: That was a solid undercard match with decent action. The wrestling was very simplistic until the final three minutes or so. Both guys focused on amateur wrestling and shoot-style martial arts strikes, which gave the match a sense of legitimacy. That said, there wasn’t much crowd heat until the very end and the selling was a bit off. Mossman took the brunt of Ikeda’s attacks towards his legs but he ignored that completely and used both legs to kick and jump, thus devaluing Ikeda’s kneebar completely. That said, both wrestlers looked good enough in here, but Mossman in particular shined as a future star. The final two minutes were especially great with lots of drama and great counters. A fine match all around.
Final Rating: **3/4
Match #3: Jumbo Tsuruta, Rusher Kimura and Mitsuo Momota vs. Masanobu Fuchi, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Haruka Eigen
Background: This was a comedy midcard match involving a bunch of old-timers and lower-card guys. My God, does Tsuruta look haggard. But this was the only wrestling Tsuruta could do after being diagnosed with Hepatitis, so it made sense for him to be here instead of disappointing in serious higher-stakes matches. Kimura was an OLD-timer who had achieved quite a bit of success over the decades, including a pinfall victory over ANDRE THE GIANT. Momota was a comedy guy whose biggest claim to fame was bring Rikidozan’s son. On the other side was Fuchi, a serious veteran and tag team specialist; Kikuchi, a junior heavyweight that took part in that match in Sendai; and Eigen, another lower-card comedy guy.
The match: Comedy old-timers Momota and Eigen start things off with one minute or so of corner posing and teasing the fans. They do some crisscrossing and silly stuff for a bit until Kikuchi tags in. he lands a head-butt and a leg lariat for a one-count and then Kimura tags in. Kikuchi lands some more head-butts and another leg lariat for a one-count and then tags Fuchi. Fuchi kicks Kimura’s head and tries a giant swing a few times but doesn’t get that many revolutions. He tags Eigen, who lands his own giant swing, and then tags Kikuchi back in. Kikuchi and Kimura trade more head-butts and Kimura lands a clothesline. He follows with a running bulldog that gets a surprisingly-big reaction and pins but Fuchi breaks it up. Tsuruta tags in and the crowd pops big time. He lands his patented jumping knee and hits some stiff slaps which send Kikuchi scurrying over to tag Fuchi. He and Tsuruta trade arm wringers until Tsuruta lands a kneelift. Tsuruta blocks a turnbuckle smash and smashes Fuchi’s head into both his boot and the turnbuckle pad. Momota tags in and they land double ax handles to Fuchi for a one-count. Fuchi escapes Momota and tags Eigen, who knees Momota to the floor. Then something confusing happens as Kikuchi tries whipping his partner Eigen to Momota on the floor. But that whip is countered and Kikuchi falls to ringside instead. Eigen and Momota brawl at ringside until Eigen spits on the commentators. Apparently that’s some big spot of his.
Back in the ring, Momota cuts Eigen off for a top-rope move and press slams him to the mat. Kimura tags in but gets double-teamed by Kikuchi and Fuchi. Kikuchi lands a ton of forearms but Kimura barely registers them and lands another head-butt. Kimura lands some chops and tags Tsuruta, who lands another jumping knee on Kikuchi. Fuchi tags in and somehow manages to giant swing Jumbo Tsuruta. Fuchi goes for a Backdrop suplex. Tsuruta elbows out and hits a jumping knee. he goes for an abdominal stretch on Fuchi but Eigen head-butts him. Kikuchi tags in and hits more elbows, then ducks a clothesline but runs into a pair of boots. Tsuruta hits a Backdrop suplex and pins but Fuchi interferes. Momota tags in and tries his own Backdrop but Eigen cuts him off. Kimura throws Eigen to ringside as Kikuchi hits more elbows and another leg lariat. Kikuchi goes for a German suplex but Momota counters into a roll-up for the pin and the win.
Winners after 10:21: Jumbo Tsuruta, Rusher Kimura and Mitsuo Momota
Review: This was exactly what was expected from several wrestlers past their prime. It was more about pleasing the crowd with fanservice and nostalgia instead of doing something special. It was sad seeing Tsuruta so worn down but at least he got some loud pops when he did what few moves he could. Eigen and Momota did some comedy wrestling while Fuchi, Kimura, and Kikuchi buoyed the match with more serious wrestling. That left Tsuruta to be the conquering hero for a few moments until he had to tag out. This wasn’t anything above average at all in terms of wrestling, but it wasn’t meant to be treated seriously in the first place.
Final Rating: *3/4
Match #4: Shigeo Okumura & Tamon Honda vs. Headhunter A and Headhunter B
Background: This is an All Japan vs. outsiders match featuring two guys from the world of hardcore and deathmatch wrestling. Okumura and Honda were two AJPW midcarders while the Headhunters were famous for their work in ECW, CMLL, and the wider Japanese deathmatch circuit. The last big match of theirs I can think of were when they teamed with Cactus Jack in a crazy barbed wire deathmatch at the iconic 13-company Bridge of Dreams show in 1995.
The match: I don’t know which Headhunter is which since they both look and dress alike, so I’ll call the first one in the ring HA and the second HB. HA powers Honda to the ropes and hits some overhand chops to the chest. Honda fires back with head-butts and tries shoulder tackling HA but he windmills his arms to stay in place. He knocks Honda down and tags HB, who hits clobbering forearms until Honda tags Okumura. Okumura bounces off HB without doing any damage until he fakes HB out on a charge and dropkicks HB’s knee. Honda comes in to help Okumura with some tandem offense and they double-suplex the much-heavier HB for a one-count. Okumura and HB trade waistlocks until HB gets to the ropes and bumps Okumura off. Okumura ducks a clothesline and goes for a crossbody press but HB throws him aside with ease. HB hits a clothesline followed by some corner chops. He lands a running clothesline and then tags HA, who lands a head-butt followed by a running elbow drop for a two-count. HA applies a chinlock and a big shoulder claw and then tags HB. Okumura gets sent into the ropes and eats a stungun from HB that sends him to the floor. HB applies another shoulder claw in the ring but Okumura starts fighting back, albeit in vain as HB punches him down.
HA tags in and hits an aided gorilla press alongside his partner, followed by a splash/leg drop combo that only gets two as Honda saves his partner. HA lands a suplex for a two-count and then tags HB, who lands a diving dropkick followed by a running senton for another two-count as Honda saved Okumura again. HB slams Okumura and goes for a second-rope diving senton but Okumura rolls out of the way. Hot tag to Honda, who hits head-butts on both Headhunters. He Backdrops HA and pins, but there was no tag. The ref counts it anyway and HA kicks out. Honda repeats that same spot for another pin but HB breaks this one up. The Headhunters land double shoulder blocks and Okumura tags in. he lands a diving dropkick on one Headhunter and lariats the other. He follows with another lariat on the first Headhunter and pins for a two-count. Honda comes in to help Okumura land a double back suplex and some more tandem offense. The other Headhunter breaks up a pin and both Headhunters end up in opposite corner. Okumura and Honda try to whip the Headhunters into each other. The Headhunters reverse and their opponents collide with each other. HeadHunter A (I guess?) hits a one-shoulder powerbomb and goes to the top rope. He lands a diving moonsault press and pins for the win after about nine minutes.
Winners after 9:24: The Headhunters (A and B)
Review: This was the most average tag wrestling match imaginable in terms of structure. You had two massive outsider heels isolating one opponent until the other one got the hot tag to clean house. Except that didn’t work since the Headhunters were a more functional unit (it also helped that it was damn near impossible to tell them apart). Things seemed to fall apart during Honda’s comeback and it became impossible to tell who was legal and who wasn’t. They just went with it I guess and tried to have an exciting finish. But the AJPW guys just couldn’t overcome the bigger, stronger, and more cohesive outsider duo. This was completely forgettable yet at the same time not really bad in any major way. This didn’t come across like a big interpromotional war worthy of AJPW’s first Tokyo Dome Show. It felt like it belonged on a regular TV show or even a house show. It lacked heat and tension and the finish got a middling reaction at best. But at least seeing a 300-pound Headhunter to a perfect moonsault was interesting.
Final Rating: *1/2
Match #5: Jado & Gedo vs. Wolf Hawkfield and Johnny Smith
Background: This is another match involving outsiders, but this time it’s all outsiders. Gedo and Jado were a successful tag team in WAR, Mexico, and across the Japanese independent scene. And years later, Gedo would become famous for booking New Japan during its most recent peak/golden age from about 2012 to 2020. Meanwhile, Wolf Hawkfield (also known as [The] Lacrosse and Jim Steele) was one of many Americans brought over to All Japan to work their midcard and big tag matches. As for Johnny Smith, he was a British wrestler presented as the storyline brother of ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith.
The match: Smith and Gedo start as Gedo gets a clean break on the ropes. Smith powers Gedo to the mat on a Greco-Roman knuckle lock and the two trade pins and clever moves on the mat. That’s followed by some great chain grappling and counter-wrestling that ends in a stalemate and applause. Hawkfield tags in and manhandles Gedo with some power moves until Jado tags in. Hawkfield powers out of his holds just as easily but Jado baits him into a drop toehold into a front chancery. Hawkfield resists more of Jado’s moves until Jado ducks a clothesline and lands a surprise double shoulder tackle alongside Gedo. They double dropkick him and Smith, but then Hawkfield manhandles Jado once more and tags Smith in. Hawkfield slams Smith onto Gedo for a two-count and then lands an Irish whip into a nasty arm whip. Jado powers out of a powerbomb attempt but Smith skins the cat. At least, he tries to, because Gedo kicks him through the ropes and then dives onto him on the floor.
Gedo tags in and tackles Smith to the mat for a one-count. Gedo rakes his eyes and then tags Jado for a drop toehold/leg drop combo followed by a face-raking camel clutch. Gedo tags in and lands a sidewalk slam/diving elbow combo for a two-count. Smith reverses an Irish whip but gets kicked in the face on a back body drop attempt. Gedo charges but runs into a powerslam from Smith and Hawkfield tags in. he runs wild with tackles and clotheslines and lifts a charging Gedo into an overhead suplex. Gedo kicks out of a pin so Hawkfield land a corner clothesline/DDT combo for another two-count. Hawkfield goes for a Dominator-type slam but Jado saves Gedo and they double suplex Hawkfield. Jado tags in and charges but runs into another big powerslam from Hawkfield. Smith tags in and hits a missile dropkick. He blocks one German suplex and lands his own. He goes for a second but Jado hits a blatant low blow in front of the ref that doesn’t get a disqualification. Jado pins but Smith kicks out.
Jado suplexes Smith but Hawkfield breaks up the pin. Gedo dives onto Hawkfield on the floor as Jado lariats Smith for a 2.5-count. Smith counters another suplex into a crossface chickenwing. Hawkfield holds Gedo at the ropes as Smith bodyscissors Jado. Gedo breaks free and saves Jado but gets thrown back outside. The two gaijins double-stungun Gedo but he still kicks out at two. That’s followed by a double top-rope diving splash combo. Gedo saves Jado once again. Hawkfield takes Gedo out as Smith lands a modified Scorpion Death Drop for the pin to win the match.
Winners after 12:31: Wolf Hawkfield and Johnny Smith
Review: That was a good match with some solid back-and-forth action. All four wrestlers got to show off their skills and knowledge of tag team wrestling. This was far more competitive than anything else on the show thus far. Gedo and Jado did a great job as the annoying chickens**t heels while the two gaijins fought hard to overcome both of them. Gedo and Jado had better tandem offense while Smith and Hawkfield were better at getting reactions out of the crowd and building tension. I got Dynamite/Bulldog vibes from Smith & Hawkfield, and while they weren’t as good as that duo, they still did a great job here.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Match #6: Akira Taue, Takao Omori and Masao Inoue vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda, Hideki Hosaka and ‘The Gladiator’ Mike Awesome
Background: Contrary to popular belief, it was All Japan, not New Japan, that created the ‘outside invaders’ storyline concept. That said, All Japan did become isolationist from about 1990 until 1997 when they formed a working relationship with Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW). This is one of those ‘outsiders vs. company loyalists’ matches that were typical of the invasion angle. Here, the FMW guys (Kuroda, Hosaka and Awesome) sought to defeat the AJPW guys (Taue, Omori and Inoue) to help legitimize themselves as credible outside invaders.
The match: Inoue and Awesome start things off but Awesome wants Taue and Inoue accepts. Awesome goes after Taue’s arm but Taue rakes his eyes. Taue fights out of a headlock and neither guy moves on a shoulder block. Taue hits a big boot but Awesome answers with a lariat. that’s followed by a picture-perfect Undertaker-style suicide dive. Great move by Awesome.
Awesome throws Taue into the ring and hits a slingshot shoulder block for a two-count. Taue escapes another headlock with a Backdrop suplex and then lands an enzuigiri, followed by a Kawada-style arm-twist hook kick. He tags Omori, who hits a dropkick for a one-count and applies a chinlock. But Awesome powers out and tags Kuroda, who snapmares Omori and kicks his spine. That leads to a slap exchange and an in-your-face stare-down. Omori takes Kuroda down and tags Inoue, who hits some stomps and a face stretch until Kuroda single legs him and tags Hosaka. They chain wrestle on the mat until Omori tags in and kicks Hosaka’s exposed leg. Omori traps Hosaka’s leg in a heel hook while kicking him to stop him from doing the same. Taue tags in and guillotine drops Hosaka throat-first on the top rope. He follows with triple wrist-lock lariats and pins but Awesome breaks it up. Taue applies a neck crank and tags Omori but Omori’s attempt at a suplex gets reversed on him. Kuroda tags in and tries to send Omori into a corner but Omori counters and hits a corner clothesline. Kuroda avoids another one with a drop toehold into the turnbuckle and tags Awesome. Those two plus Hosaka knock all three AJPW guys down and Awesome hits his powerbomb finisher on Omori. One, two, Inoue makes the same.
Awesome throws Inoue to the floor and hits a diving Superfly splash but Taue breaks up his pin. Kuroda tags in and trades head-butts with Omori until he changes course and dropkicks Omori’s knee. The FMW guys team up on Omori and wrap and stretch his knee through the ropes. Hosaka and Awesome both tag in and spent time dismantling Omori’s knee as Kuroda pulls the ropes away, making it harder for Omori to get a ropebreak. Inoue hits Awesome from behind but eats a nasty forearm for doing so. That momentary distraction allows Omori to get up but he’s soon triple-teamed and then eats a double shoulder block.
Kuroda, now the legal man, goes back to the same leg as Awesome grabs a table and removes the ringside mats. Omori gets a ropebreak to escape a single leg crab but Hosaka tags in and attacks that same leg despite Omori’s best attempts at resistance. Awesome tags in and lifts Omori up for a powerbomb to the floor. Omori fights hard and escapes, then lands a desperation enzuigiri. Hot tag to Taue. He lands two big boots and a lariat for a two-count. Hosaka and Kuroda block a chokeslam, allowing Awesome to hit a lariat of his own. Kuroda tags in and tries to lariat Taue. His first two don’t work but his third one drops him…only for Taue to kick out at one. Taue counters a German suplex into a DDT and tags Inoue who lands a missile dropkick and a lariat for a two-count. Hosaka saves Kuroda from a finisher and they double vertical suplex Inoue for another two-count. Hosaka tags in and hits a sitting spinebuster for yet another two-count. He follows with a corner lariat and a super Frankensteiner. One, two, Taue saves his partner.
Inoue resists a powerbomb attempt and counters a lariat with a powerslam. He tags Omori who hits a missile dropkick for a two-count. Omori out-strikes Hosaka and charges but runs into a standing Frankensteiner that gets two once more. Hosaka dodges one German suplex but can’t block a second. But his friends save him from being pinned. All six men fight in the ring until only the legal two are left. Omori lands a spinning wheel kick. Hosaka kicks out at 2.8. Omori slams Hosaka and pulls his knee pad down. Diving top-rope kneedrop to the face. Hosaka’s partners are being held at the ropes as the ref counts to three. The All Japan guys win the match!
Winners after 17:43: Akira Taue, Takao Omori and Masao Inoue
Review: That was a lot better than I thought it’d be. The FMW guys didn’t make weapons and hardcore stuff the focus of the match. Instead, they wrestled in the classical AJPW style and did well against the All Japan guys. It had lots of back-and-forth action with both teams working well to isolate one member from each team. Omori and Hosaka did most of the heavy lifting and suffered the most damage, Taue and Awesome were the big hitters with their power moves and finishers, and Inoue and Kuroda were like the quick little sidekicks that broke up the most pins and made important saves. Everyone had a role here and the crowd appreciated how their various interactions built the match up. I also liked how both Taue’s chokeslam and Awesome’s table powerbomb were teased but never actually hit. That sort of tension helps build up rematches for later by suggesting that the match could’ve ended differently had those moves landed.
Final Rating; ***1/2
Match #7: Triangle of Power (Gary Albright and ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams) vs. Masahito Kakihara and Yoshihiro Takayama
Background: This was basically an all-outsiders’ match, with Doc being the only regular All Japan wrestler. Albright, Kakihara, and Takayama were all former UWFi wrestlers who joined All Japan when that company closed. Although all four wrestlers had extensive amateur experience, Doc was the only one that lacked the ‘shootfighting’ knowledge. So even though he and fellow super-heavyweight Albright outweighed both Takayama and Kakihara, he was still somewhat at a disadvantage due to his lack of striking skill.
The match: Albright and Kakihara start things off as Doc flips Takayama off. Albright keeps telling Doc to calm down until Doc demands to tag in. He’s desperate to go after Takayama so Kakihara agrees to tag him in. Why not just start with those to, then? Doc and Takayama go right up to each other and start trading elbows. Takayama dropkicks Doc. Doc football tackles Takayama. More brawling. Takayama takes Doc down and the ref forces them to let go. Doc waistlocks Takayama in his corner and slaps Kakihara with his free hand. Kakihara tags in and gets right in Doc’s face. They trade slaps. Kakihara lands some kicks but Doc tanks them and carries him to a corner. Kakihara fights out of a superplex attempt and lands a missile dropkick. He goes for a cross armbreaker but Albright makes the save and then tags in.
Albright and Kakihara grapple until Kakihara gets to the ropes. Albright blocks some kicks and traps Kakihara’s leg with a heel hook. Kakihara gets a ropebreak and Takayama tags in. Albright traps his leg but Takayama knees Albright’s face with his free leg and applies his own heel hook. Albright gets an instant ropebreak so Takayama kicks at his calf. Albright knocks him down and tags Doc, who mounts Takayama and start wailing on him. Takayama rolls through and locks in a single leg crab but Albright hits him with a forearm.
Doc drop toeholds Takayama and goes for a leglock but Takayama counters with a leglock of his own. Albright breaks it up and then both he and Kakihara tag in. Albright easily suplexes Kakihara and pins for a one-count. Kakihara blocks a German suplex so Albright slams him hard and tags Doc again. Doc gets a warning from the ref for punching and Kakihara start hitting him with everything he’s got. He lands a high kick to Doc’s head and goes for low kicks to Doc’s knee, but Doc ducks a wheel kick and hits a big spinebuster for two. Takayama breaks up the pin and Albright attacks Takayama with a powerbomb. Kakihara kicks Albright but then gets decked by Doc. Doc goes to Backdrop Takayama but Kakihara saves his partner. He keeps Doc grounded with kicks to the back of the knee and then puts on a heel hook. He lands more stiff kicks to that same spot and pins Doc but only gets a two=-count.
Kakihara locks in a single leg crab but lets go when Albright tries to interfere and knocks Albright down. Kakihara goes for a German suplex but Doc holds onto the ropes and then reverses into his own. But Kakihara counters that with a roll-up into a kneebar. Albright breaks it up and hits a pumphandle front slam and then tags in as the legal man. He hits a double underhook suplex and pins but Takayama saves Kakihara. Albright sends Kakihara into a corner but Kakihara sidesteps a charge and hits a back suplex. He tags Takayama, who unloads with boots and leg drops to Albright. Doc breaks up a pin and gloats about it so Takayama knocks him to the floor. He goes back to Albright but ends up in a full Nelson. He quickly escapes that and lands a German suplex. Doc comes in and breaks up a cross armbreaker. Takayama walks over and gets in a heated spat with Doc that leads to slaps. He turns around and walks into a back body drop from Albright, who then tags Doc in. no longer feeling the effects of Kakihara’s legwork, Doc hits a top-rope shoulder block and knocks Kakihara to the floor. A corner splash/overhead suplex combo get Doc a two-count. Doc lands two short-range Rainmaker lariats and teases the Dangerous Backdrop Driver but Takayama gets to the ropes. Takayama holds onto the ropes despite Doc’s best efforts and then hits back with elbows. Doc ignores them and answers with a gutwrench powerbomb. He pins but Kakihara breaks it up. Albright knocks Kakihara down and hits Takayama with a chokeslam/full nelson slam combo alongside Doc. Kakihara breaks that up as well so Albright throws him to the floor. Both gaijins go to opposing top turnbuckles for simultaneous dives. Kakihara catches Albright but Doc manages to land a top-rope splash that gets a 2.5-count. Dangerous Backdrop Driver. Doc pins Takayama one, two, and three! There’s the match.
Winners after 15:08: Triangle of Power (Gary Albright and ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams)
Review: This was a really fun match thanks to all the overlapping stories at play. The main one was the intense feud between Doc and Takayama. Their interactions were intense, legit, and almost personal. It looked like they were genuinely mad at each other or at least desperate to one-up each other. At the same time, there was the story of Kakihara being severely out-sized by both his opponents and his partner. Furthermore, Doc kept finding himself vulnerable to all these MMA moves and shootfighting strikes since he was more of a football and amateur guy. On top of that, there were lots of quick tags and lightning-quick switches thanks to all four wrestlers having such extensive amateur or shootfighting pedigrees. Much of the action came across as technical and realistic. The suplexes and throws looked less like ‘perfectly-executed wrestling moves’ and more like realistic judo throws and the kind of things one would do if locked in a real fight or engaged in real amateur wrestling. the outlier in this was Doc who brought the classical ‘wrestling’ elements in with his smashmouth style and brashness. He added the narrative and overt heel/bad gjuy element to the match to make it feel like a story on top of being an athletic combat sporting contest. Also, it’s insane how strong Doc was. He threw the 290-pound Takayama around with the same ease as he had with Kakihara, who was much smaller and lighter. Doc came across as much of a beast as ever by absorbing so many ‘real/realistic’ attacks and still unleashing mayhem on his opponents.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Match #8: Giant Kimala, Jun Izumida and Jinsei Shinzaki vs. Giant Baba, Kentaro Shiga and Hayabusa
Background: This is a random throwaway tag match involving a hodgepodge of random wrestlers thrown together. Interestingly, Shinzaki and Hayabusa were both from FMW and teamed together during their first AJPW tour, yet here they were opponents. Also, it’s absolutely insane how beloved Baba was, especially considering how little he wrestled at this point.
The match: The match is clipped so we see the entrances and then skip to Hayabusa tagging Baba to square off against Shinzaki. Shinzaki goes for a shoulder block but Baba doesn’t budge. Shinzaki ducks a clothesline and Baba blocks a high chop. Shinzaki blocks again and Baba has this huge grin on his face. Baba powers Shinzaki into a corner and starts hitting chops until Shinzaki blocks one and goes for his version of Old School. But Baba blocks and chops him so hard he falls to the floor. Baba tries attacking Shinzaki again but he blocks and tries Old School once more but Baba escapes.
The match skips once more to Hayabusa literally kicking Shinzaki out of the ring. Hayabusa charges and jumps over the ringpost and onto Shinzaki on the floor. Crazy dive. Hayabusa tosses Shinzaki into the ring and lands a springboard leg drop that leads to a two-count. Baba tags in and lands a big chop. Hayabusa attacks Shinzaki’s partners on the apron but Shinzaki kicks Baba and then lands a top-rope shoulder tackle for two. Shinzaki goes to powerbomb Giant Baba but Hayabusa goes for a springboard attack to stop him. Shinzaki hits a throat thrust and starts walking the top rope. He goes for his chop but Baba chops him first and lands a DDT. Shiga tags in and hits a diving dropkick for a two-count. he follows with a tornado DDT for another two-count and tags Hayabusa, who lands a Falcon Arrow for yet another two-count. Diving splash by Hayabusa. Shinzaki kicks out again. Hayabusa charges but runs into a headscissor takedown. Shinzaki follows with a dragon screw and a folding powerbomb but Hayabusa kicks out.
Kimala tags in and lands a dropkick for another two-count. he and Izumida land some splash combinations on Hayabusa but Baba breaks up the pin. Izumida tags in and lands an elbow drop combo with Kimala for, you guessed it, a two-count. Izumida hits a corner kick and then counters a charge with a neckbreaker. Hayabusa kicks out again so Izumida lands a top-rope head-butt that also gets two. Hayabusa avoids a diving elbow and then lands both a thrust kick and a German suplex. Shiga hits a springboard splash which allows Hayabusa to land a moonsault splash and pin. Shinzaki saves his partner but gets thrown out of the ring by Baba. Kimala charges at Shiga but Shiga dodges. Shiga breaks up a powerbomb attempt by Izumida. Shiga ducks a clothesline from Izumida which sends Izumida into a Giant Baba boot. Hayabusa slams Izumida and goes to the top rope. 450 splash connects. Hayabusa gets the pin and the win.
Winners after 20:19 (officially): Giant Baba, Kentaro Shiga and Hayabusa
Review: This is a hard match to rate since only half of it was actually shown. The action that was shown was alright thanks to a really hot crowd. They just loved everything Baba did, even if his offense was slow and phony. But his opponents sold for him all the same and his own selling was…well…silly. No matter what happened to him, Baba wouldn’t stop grinning or showing pain. I guess he loved the wrestling business that much. It was left to the other guys to do most of the work, especially Shinzaki and Hayabusa, whose lucha-inspired high-flying offense got similar reactions to Baba’s nostalgia.
This is the kind of match Vince McMahon should’ve had at WrestleMania 38 instead of that atrocious one-on-one train-wreck with Pat McAfee. WWE would’ve sold many more tickets if they had a six-man tag match involving, for example, Austin Theory, Finn Balor, and Vince McMahon vs. Pat McAfee, Ricochet, and Damien Priest. That way, fans would get to see both the culmination of the Theory/McAfee feud and the nearly-immobile McMahon ‘wrestling’. The bad would be hidden/overshadowed by the good as it was here, and the mix of different wrestling styles and different personalities intermingling would’ve made for a truly WrestleMania-worthy sight.
Final Rating: **3/4
Match #9: Hiroshi Hase vs. Jun Akiyama
Background: Hase was one of the most famous wrestlers in Japan. Like Inoki before him, Hase became a politician and successfully balanced those duties with his wrestling career. But after a scandal in New Japan that saw a trainee die in New Japan’s dojo, Hase defected and joined All Japan instead. He did the right thing and started from the bottom and worked his way up, even though he was famous and well-respected outside All Japan. Here he took on Jun Akiyama, one of AJPW’s best in-ring grapplers and a rising star in his own right. There’s also an interesting ‘senior/junior’ dynamic here as both of them were on the same amateur wrestling team at Senshu University before becoming pros.
The match: They shake hands and the match begins. Some early amateur teasing leads to a tense standoff. Hase gets a clean break on the ropes and then they continue trading amateur holds. They go to the mat and apply heel hooks on each other until Akiyama rolls them both to the ropes. The technical mat wrestling continues until this time Akiyama gets a break against the ropes. Once more they lock up and Hase grapples into a controlling position and locks in an ankle hold. Both guys grapple on the mat and try various holds until Hase escapes Akiyama’s control, leading to another stalemate.
Hase counters a Greco-Roman knuckle lock with a roll-up that gets a one-count. He goes after Akiyama’s leg with an indian deathlock and gets into a slapfight with Akiyama at the same time. Hase stands up to increase the pressure on Akiyama’s legs but Akiyama crawls between Hase’s legs to counter the hold. Hase responds by grapevining Akiyama’s arm, leading to two simultaneous holds battling for supremacy. Hase gets some quick one-counts until Akiyama counters into a heel hook. That doesn’t last long as Hase counters it with a Muta Lock, followed by an STF-type hold. Hase switches to a double-arm submission hold and pushes his boot into the small of Akiyama’s back. Akiyama escapes so Hase chops his chest and kicks his knee. Akiyama starts hitting back with forearms and then lands a corner jumping knee. Hase counters a corner Irish whip and lands a bulldog. And despite Akiyama slapping him hard, Hase lifts Akiyama up for a giant swing that gets eighteen revolutions. Both wrestlers struggle to their feet and Hase slaps the taste out of Akiyama’s mouth. Akiyama answers in kind and they start hitting each other hard until Hase hits an extra-stiff slap. Akiyama fires up and then drops Hase with the same. Akiyama starts stomping Hase’s head but Hase starts hulking up. Akiyama keeps hitting Hase with everything he’s got and then charges…and runs into an uranage. Hase goes for a second one. Akiyama counters with an Exploder suplex. Hase bounces up and lands a second uranage. Akiyama hits a second Exploder. Both men collapse. The crowd goes nuts.
Hase gets up first and locks in a sharpshooter. Akiyama gets a ropebreak so Hase starts stomping on his back. Akiyama gets mad and hits back with forearms. Hase goes low with a kick to Akiyama’s knee. Akiyama goes one step further with a dropkick to Hase’s knee. That’s followed by a second one and then a dragon screw leg whip. Akiyama locks in a Figure-4 leglock. Hase tries to roll over to reverse the pressure but Akiyama keeps him in place. Hase eventually gets a ropebreak and the two of them tease suplexing each other over the rope. Akiyama overpowers Hase but Hase lands behind him. Akiyama hits first with a dropkick to the knee and a bridging German suplex that gets two. He lands a tope-rope knee attack and puts Hase back in the Figure-4. Hase tries escaping but Akiyama has him locked in place and wrenches the hold as much as he can. He tries pulling one of Akiyama’s legs but all that leads to is Akiyama kicking him brutally hard. Hase starts taunting Akiyama until Akiyama runs out of gas to keep the hold locked in. Akiyama starts stomping on Hase’s bad knee but Hase pulls himself up. They trade stiff slaps and Akiyama goes down. Hase gets a second wind and lands two uranages for a two-count. He lands a bridging Northern lights suplex but lets go of his own pin at one due to the damage to his leg. then he tries again and gets a two-count. Hase keeps trying different suplexes, this time a bridging dragon suplex. But again, Akiyama kicks out.
Hase starts hitting running big boots but Akiyama powers up. Both wrestlers kick each other and absorb kicks to the face. Akiyama downs Hase with a running elbow. He follows with a double-arm DDT and then signals the end. Wrist-clutch Exploder suplex. One, two, and three! Akiyama beats Hase!
Winner after 26:35: Jun Akiyama
Review: That’s how a star is made in wrestling. It was far and away the most technical match on the show. Hase and Akiyama did some of the finest chain grappling and counter-wrestling ever seen here. The early match was all pure grappling and hold exchanges with both wrestlers locked in a stalemate. Then Hase shifted gears and started hitting more ‘pro-wrestling’ moves like giant swings and suplexes, and then got into a slap exchange to try and show his seniority and sense of superiority. Things built and built with Hase and Akiyama getting angrier and more intense with each passing moment. Then the match reached that next level with the uranage/Exploder exchange. Akiyama then tried copying other wrestlers from earlier on in the show and attacking Hase’s knee. But that strategy only ended up being sound in principle and not in practice. Akiyama worked Hase’s legs over a ton and all of a sudden Hase’s selling became inconsistent. One minute he was unable to maintain his own pin and seconds later he was running. The finish was also a tad abrupt, despite being completely logical given how much punishment Akiyama gave Hase. But in the end, the right guy won. Akiyama the rising star beat the veteran and more experienced Hase. This wasn’t as great as Hase’s singles match with Kobashi from August 1997, but it’s still great in-ring wrestling all the same.
Final Rating: ****1/4
And speaking of Kobashi…
Match #10: GET (Global, Energetic and Tough) [Johnny Ace and Kenta Kobashi] vs. Stan Hansen and Vader
Background: Somehow, All Japan was able to get Vader onto this show despite Vader being signed to WWF/E at the time. In this match, Vader teamed with the legendary Stan Hansen to take on the dup of Kenta Kobashi and Johnny Ace. Yes, that Johnny Ace. Kobashi and Ace were opponents for many years but Ace’s team with Doc fell apart around 1996. It was around that time that Ace formed a team with Kobashi and he’d end up being Kobashi’s regular tag partner until the end of 1998.
The match: The crowd is incredibly loud as Kobashi and Vader start things off with Vader easily out-powering Kobashi. They lock-up and Vader stiffs Kobashi with hammer shots to the head. Kobashi goes down but after some body shots he powers up and fires back with chops to Vader’s chest. He goes for an Irish whip but Vader counters and this a body block. Kobashi recovers ringside but gets attacked upon re-entering the ring. Vader sends him into the ropes but Kobashi ducks a clothesline and hits a shoulder tackle to knock Vader down. Vader demands they do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock test of strength; but when they lock one arm, Vader cheapshots Kobashi with a body punch, which gets him loud boos from the crowd. Vader traps both of Kobashi’s arms and goes for a clothesline but Kobashi blocks and chops Vader’s head. Vader no-sells and wrenches Kobashi’s arm, then takes him to the mat with an armbar. Kobashi gets a ropebreak so Vader tags Hansen. Kobashi tries taking them on two-on-one but he’s quickly overpowered by the two stiff monsters. They land tandem back elbows and then Hansen punts Kobashi’s spine. Hansen mauls Kobashi and Kobashi tries to regain momentum by hitting chops and ducking chops. They end up colliding, which allows Kobashi to tag Ace.
Ace lands a diving clothesline and a corner clothesline on Hansen, but Hansen elbows him on a follow-up clothesline. He tries to suplex Hansen but Hansen counters and starts mauling Ace in the corner. Hansen locks in a deep sleeper and Ace tries to fight through it, but Vader kicks him to weaken his resolve. Ace fights through and takes Hansen down by his arm but Hansen gets a ropebreak. Ace tackles Hansen to the floor and then lands some body strikes before tagging Kobashi. Hansen resists an Irish whip and then no-sells Kobashi’s chops. He head-butts Kobashi into a corner and keeps him down with more stiff shots before tagging Vader. Vader lands a belly-to-belly but Kobashi starts firing up again with chops. He tries to suplex Vader and actually gets Vader an inch off the ground but Vader counters it and suplexes Kobashi. Vader throws Kobashi out of the ring and then drives him spine-first into the steel ringpost. He goes for a short-range lariat but Kobashi ducks and DDTs Vader onto the ringside mats. Hansen attacks Kobashi from behind but Ace takes Hansen out and then holds Vader in place. Kobashi takes advantage and hits a tope-rope crossbody to the floor and then throws Vader into the ring, where he hits a massive discus chop to the neck. He pins Vader but only gets two.
Ace tags in and double-teams Vader alongside Kobashi. Vader ducks a clothesline but walks into a back suplex/neckbreaker combo that gets a two-count. Ace goes for an elevated DDT but Vader blocks it and lariats him down. Ace kicks out of a pin so Vader tags Hansen, who hits a back elbow so stiff it sends Ace to the floor. Hansen attacks an unsuspecting Kobashi on the apron and throws him over the barricade. He grabs a table and sets it up against the ringpost and then throws Ace into it. The table doesn’t break so Hansen throws it onto Ace’s corpse and then pins in the ring for another two-count.
Vader tags in and he and Hansen double suplex Ace. He shuts down Ace’s attempt at a comeback and then nails a massive German suplex. Ace rolls to the floor where Hansen attacks Kobashi again and throws Ace back to the wolves. Vader lands a running splash but only gets a two-count. Hansen tags in, lowers his kneepad, and drops his exposed knee on Ace’s face. He follows with a DDT that gets two. Vader tags in again and hits a double back body drop onto Ace. Vader lands a second-rope splash and then knocks Kobashi off the apron. Second-rope body block. Ace kicks out at two. Vader sends Ace into a corner and charges for another body block. Ace kicks him first and lands a running Ace Crusher. Both men collapse. Ace tags Kobashi as Hansen comes in to stop the tag but s one second too late. Kobashi chops the hell out of Hansen’s neck and leg drops Vader’s as well. Kobashi pins Vader but only gets two. Russian leg sweep. Vader kicks out again. Kobashi slams Vader and goes to the top rope. Diving moonsault press. Kobashi sees Hansen coming and drops him with a Giant Baba neckbreaker. Kobashi goes to suplex Vader. He actually gets Vader up for a vertical suplex. My God, what strength. But Vader’s weight comes crashing down on top of Kobashi before he can finish. Vader pins Kobashi. Ace makes the save. Hansen attacks ace and sends him to the floor. Hansen whips Ace into Vader who lands a big lariat.
Back in the ring, Vader lariats Kobashi but only gets two. Vader goes for a powerbomb and Hansen knees Kobashi’s head to keep him from resisting. The two of them land an aided powerbomb on Kobashi and Vader pins. One, two, Ace makes the save. Hansen knocks Ace back to the floor and then tags in. he comes off the top rope with an elbow drop and pins for another two-count. The crowd goes nuts as Hansen signals the end. Vader knocks Ace off the apron and holds Kobashi in place. Hansen charges for the Western Lariat. Kobashi kicks him first but Vader hits him from behind. Vader throws Kobashi into Hansen and charges for his own lariat. Kobashi ducks and Vader hits Hansen. Kobashi rolls Hansen up but only gets two. Kobashi charges, ducks a Western Lariat, and cradles Hansen. One, two, three! Kobashi pins Hansen. Vader was inches away from breaking up the pin.
Winners after 22:12: GET (Global, Energetic and Tough) [Johnny Ace and Kenta Kobashi]
Review: If there was one match that could describe what ‘average’ looked like in peak All Japan, it would be this match. This was essentially the opposite of the previous match in that it was a hardnosed brawl with Vader and Hansen doing a masterful job of playing the roles of monster gaijins. They mauled Kobashi and Ace throughout the match and looked convincing while doing so. Everything done in this match was simple yet effective. Hansen and Vader stiffed Kobashi and Ace as much as they could but the babyface duo wouldn’t give up. Both Kobashi and Ace spent long periods being worn down but Kobashi was able to recover enough to put on a fiery babyface comeback. Ace did a fine job as Kobashi’s support but didn’t really do much on his own aside from a pretty sweet running Ace Crusher and some cool tandom moves alongside Kobashi. It was obvious that All Japan was preparing Kobashi for another world title run so he had to look as strong as possible. That goal was achieved here as Kobashi survived brutal offense from two legendary gaijin wrestlers. The finish also came out of nowhere yet was logical enough to protect everyone without making any wrestler look weak. It lacked some raw tension and excitement, but for a seemingly-thrown-together match it delivered and then some.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Match #11: AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship: Mitsuharu Misawa [c] vs. Toshiaki Kawada XVII
Background: Oh boy, do these two have history together.
Misawa and Kawada were once tag partners and close personal friends. But as time wore on, Kawada struggled to escape Misawa’s shadow, especially as Misawa’s success grew and grew. Embittered, Kawada broke away from Misawa and joined Akira Taue to form the Holy Demon Army. In doing so, Kawada went from being AJPW’s #2 babyface to their #1 heel. He was treated as almost equal to Misawa. I say ‘almost’ because one thing eluded him: he struggled to pin Misawa and surpass him. Year after year, match after match, Kawada remained entrenched beneath Misawa because he couldn’t pin Misawa clean. That changed to a degree in June 1995 when Misawa was pinned in the ultimate tag team match. That was a small step for Kawada but it wasn’t enough. He still needed a singles win over Misawa. But he couldn’t do it. Not even in the Champion Carnival tournament. He got draws here and there, but the 1-2-3 pinfall victory eluded him. Undeterred, Kawada persevered until he got one more title shot. Now, after all these years, could he do it? Could Kawada take advantage of AJPW’s circumstances and beat Misawa one-on-one in front of the biggest audience in All Japan history?
The match: This is for Misawa’s Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Kawada fires off an early chop and Misawa answers with a stiff elbow smash. After a tense staredown, they lock up and Misawa elbows out of a rear waistlock. Kawada tries fighting back with calf kicks but Misawa answers in kind and takes Kawada down. That makes sense since Kawada has a long history of knee problems at this point in time. Misawa lands his running spinning lariat and goes for a German suplex but Kawada blocks with a kick. He follows with a successful yakuza kick but Misawa blocks his follow-up gamengiri. Misawa charges for a running elbow but Kawada dodges, leading to another standoff.
Kawada takes control following a chain grappling sequence and shoulder tackles Misawa down. He lands his scoop slam/spine kick combo and goes for a suplex but Misawa blocks, then resists, then lands on his feet behind Kawada. Misawa hits a flurry of elbows that send Kawada reeling. Misawa lands a spinning back suplex followed by both a diving dropkick and a baseball slide dropkick. Kawada falls to the floor and eats an elbow suicida from Misawa.
Back in the ring, Misawa lands a senton and pins but only gets a one-count so he applies his facelock. Kawada gets a quick ropebreak so Misawa reapplies the same hold but Kawada gets to the ropes again. Kawada blocks a Tiger Driver so Misawa elbows his neck and lands a somersault kick, hoping that’ll soften Kawada up. But Kawada still resists the Tiger Driver so Misawa hits an elbow and goes for an Irish whip, but Kawada counters with a gorgeous spinkick/leg lariat. Kawada goes for a superplex but Misawa lands on his feet. Kawada gets up first and drops him with a big boot. Brainbuster by Kawada. that’s followed by knees to Misawa’s neck. Kawada pins but only gets two, so he applies a Figure-4 neck lock. This goes on for a while until Misawa rolls to the ropes, at which point Kawada goes for his folding powerbomb. But Misawa resists and then counters with a Frankensteiner. Kawada boots him back down before he can capitalize.
Misawa blocks another powerbomb so Kawada lands his patented stepkicks followed by a corner yakuza kick. Kawada starts kicking and kneeing Misawa’s face until Misawa starts hulking up AJPW-style like he has done many times before. Misawa begins no-selling and blocking strikes until he’s nose-to-nose with Kawada. Kawada lands more stepkicks. Misawa bounces right back up and hits an elbow smash. Yakuza kick. Elbow smash. Kawada tries to get up. Another elbow smash keeps him from capitalizing. German suplex by Misawa. He charges but Kawada ducks another elbow and attempts his own German. Misawa elbows out and tries another rolling elbow smash. Kawada ducks and lands a massive spiking German suplex. Misawa fights through it, gets up and hits an elbow smash. Kawada tanks it and lands a gamengiri kick. Both men go down. Kawada gets up first and lands a sick Dangerous Backdrop Driver! But Kawada doesn’t pin right away. He knows Misawa so well that one DBD isn’t enough. He pulls Misawa to his feet. But Misawa hits first with a brutal elbow smash combo.
Kawada blocks another Tiger Driver so Misawa spins him around and lands a bridging German suplex for two. Kawada then shows us another example of his delayed selling that made him such a fantastic wrestling storyteller as he staggers around the ring and then falls to ringside. Misawa tosses him back into the ring and hits more stiff elbow smashes. His Tiger Driver connects this time but it only gets a two-count so he goes for a Tiger suplex but Kawada gets to the ropes. Misawa hits more elbows and a now-angered Kawada hits back with calf kicks. He grabs Misawa’s leg, and even with Misawa raining elbows on his face, he connects with a dragon screw leg whip. That’s a great way to showcase a wrestler’s intelligence and toughness.
Kawada slams Misawa and locks in a single leg crab but Misawa gets a ropebreak so he lands a knee smasher/step on the back of the knee combo. Twice. Kawada follows with a figure-4 leglock. Misawa pulls himself (and therefore Kawada) to the ropes. But Kawada pulls back and drags them both back. Misawa can’t fall to his back since he risks being pinned, so he sits up and therefore puts more pressure on his legs. He gets a ropebreak, so Kawada smashes his knee once again and then goes for a knee breaker. But Misawa blocks with elbows to Kawada’s neck. Kawada blocks a rolling elbow smash but can’t block another elbow. Misawa staggers about to regain feeling in his legs and then pins but only gets a one-count.
Kawada blocks a Tiger suplex so Misawa elbows the back of his neck and tries again. This time the Tiger suplex connects. One, two, Kawada kicks out. Misawa hits more elbows on a standing Kawada but Kawada goes for a gamengiri kick. Misawa blocks but doing so hurts his main elbowing arm badly. Misawa hits more elbows but now struggles to do so consistently. He charges for a running elbow smash. Kawada hits first with a boot to that bad arm and then another to Misawa’s face. Kawada follows with a cross armbreaker and then a standing over-the-shoulder armbreaker. Misawa instinctively goes for an elbow but hurts himself in the process. Kawada hits more armbreakers and Misawa answers with elbows again. Kawada goes down and Misawa falls against the ropes, now dealing with two weakened limbs.
Kawada powers out of a Tiger Driver and bridges for a pin but only gets two. Misawa keeps his arms hooked and lands another Tiger Driver for yet another close two-count. Kawada blocks another rolling elbow smash and hits Misawa’s arm hard. He kicks Misawa’s arm some more and exposes his neck. Running lariat by Kawada. Misawa kicks out at two. Kawada tries the Stretch Plum submission hold. Misawa escapes and lands another Tiger suplex. That’s followed by another bridging German that gets two. Misawa tries another Tiger Driver but Kawada rushes him into a corner. Misawa answers with stiff forearm shots and Kawada fires back with stiff slaps. Kawada goes for a gamengiri kick. Misawa blocks and charges. But he’s too slow and Kawada hits first with a rolling kick. His next gamengiri kick connects. The crowd erupts in cheers. Kawada pins but Misawa still kicks out.
Kawada goes for a powerbomb but Misawa powers out so Kawada hits him with an enzui lariat to the back of the head. He follows with another release German and another gamengiri. But Misawa remains defiant and hits another elbow smash. Kawada fires back with another abisengiri rolling kick and a nasty spiking German. Misawa gets up and walks into a third gamengiri. A second Brainbuster by Kawada. one, two, and – no, Misawa survives. Folding powerbomb connects. One, two, thr – Misawa kicks out again. Kawada tries again. Another Folding powerbomb. One, two, and THREE! Kawada pins Misawa! KAWADA PINS MISAWA! Kawada finally beats Misawa in one-on-one competition!
Winner and NEW AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion after 28:05: Toshiaki Kawada
Review: Sometimes a wrestling match can have all the right moving parts yet they just don’t mesh well. That’s what happened here. This match is more remembered for the result than anything else. Kawada pinning Misawa in singles competition was a monumental achievement in itself. After many, many years, Kawada was finally champion. Unfortunately, the match that led to that big moment was…disappointing. As I’ve mentioned before, Misawa and Kawada have set such lofty standards for themselves that it became impossible for them to reach the same heights as time wore on. Plus, Misawa was working hurt here and desperately needed time off (which he got afterward). As a result, this match didn’t have the same tension, depth, excitement, or ‘fear factor’ that were showcased in their earlier matches.
The match came across as more of a hit-list of what these two are capable of. Stiff strike exchanges? Those were on display. Counter-wrestling? There were a few explosive moments of that as well. Wrestlers absorbing insane suplexes and then getting back up? That was here as well. Solid limb-targeting psychology that was followed up on from start to finish? That was here, too. But even with all of that, there was something critical missing here: urgency. For whatever reason, there was no sense of urgency from Misawa. Kawada tried to show it with all the big moves he spammed, but even as he transitioned from move to move there wasn’t this sense that this was do-or-die from him. Meanwhile, Misawa looked to be completely spent from the beginning as his many injuries had caught up with him. He landed most of his biggest moves and took an unbelievable ass-kicking like he had many times before, but something was still off here. Misawa moved more sluggishly and didn’t seem to show as much fire as Kawada did. Because of that, even though he executed things as well as before, the fire that was missing from Misawa here translated into a big of a one-sided performance in terms of excitement.
Now I understand why Misawa and Kobashi were so opposed to the idea of wrestling in the Tokyo Dome to begin with. Had this match taken place in a more familiar place like Budokan Hall, the crowd would’ve been going nuts like they did in previous Misawa/Kawada matches. Instead, this match really lacked the same exciting atmosphere that was present in both earlier Misawa/Kawada encounters and earlier on this very show. The fans did pop and remain loud for the final three minutes and Kawada’s win, but they were quiet for the most part. Maybe it’s a good thing that All Japan stayed to the smaller venues that were easier to sell out and had the better acoustics needed to create that iconic 90s All Japan atmosphere.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Five stars of the show:
- Jun Akiyama/Hiroshi Hase – in terms of pure in-ring action, these two outdid everyone else on the roster
- Toshiaki Kawada – he wrestled like he hadn’t aged a day despite AJPW’s brutal schedule and wrestling style and put on a match worthy of his Triple Crown achievement
- Mitsuharu Misawa – it wasn’t his best performance but he did the best he could with a badly injured body
- Kenta Kobashi – he looked like the beater of worlds as he took on both Hansen and Vader throughout his match. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he was next in line for a world title reign
- Vader/Stan Hanse/‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams – it’s hard to tell which of them did a better job as the unchained monster running roughshod in their match so I’m picking all three of them
Best match on the show: Misawa vs. Kawada and Akiyama vs. Hase (****1/4 each)
Worst match on the card: Shigeo Okumura & Tamon Honda vs. Headhunter A and Headhunter B (*1/2)
Show Rating (out of 10): 7.75
This was a proper high-level wrestling show. The matches built up as the show went on. Earlier matches were the lesser lower-card matches as they were meant to be while the main-eventers delivered performances worthy of their card position. The final three matches were all solid and much of the midcard was good as well. In fact, there were only two matches that underdelivered in any way.
If the time ever comes that AEW will run a huge venue, they should do what All Japan did right here and avoid doing what they did wrong. The right included bringing in outside talent to create fresh match-ups, booking rising stars correctly to build up future big matches, and giving viewers an interesting mix of matches. The wrong included putting on matches that weren’t worthy of such a venue or high-profile event and having some high-profile matches not delivering fully as expected.
Hopefully AEW – or some other company that comes along in the future with money and talent – can do the right things to match WWE’s penchant for creating iconic wrestling events in the biggest venues available.