1998 · AJPW · Masahito Kakihara · Toshiaki Kawada

Toshiaki Kawada vs Masahito Kakihara-AJPW 11.9.1998.

This was a very good match, but whilst I expected I would like it even more than  I did when I first watched it years ago it seems my ambivalnce on All Japan includes even something like this which doesn’t fit in the traditional “epic” AJP universe. It’s a cool match where Kakihara plays the shooter and pokes Kawada with his kicks and slaps (and does a nice Seoi Nage along with a yet nameless Kaki Cutter).  To which Kawada responds mostly by making faces-and him standing right back up after Kaki mounted him or shrugging his offence off does much more to convincingly display the aura of his badass character than any *moves* could. But, as expected, Kawada snaps before long and takes Kaki’s head off with a Bakcdrop, forearms to the back of the head and brutal kicks, including maybe the best Axe Kick I remember him ever throwing. Kawada relies on the slap a lot a lot in the killing off process-a little too much for my taste, and while I appreciate the idea behind him just spamming it to the points he could just win successfully pin because Kaki pissed him off the way he went about the execution (right hand slap>Kaki falls>he picks him up>repeat) didn’t really connect with me in execution. ***3/4

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2012 · AJPW · Jun Akiyama · Masakatsu Funaki

Jun Akiyama vs Masakatsu Funaki-AJPW 26.8.2012.

An interesting observation on how Funaki works this type of matches (which he’s relied on quite a lot structurally) is that it’s really not that different from his usualy pro-style-patiently, calm and collected, but ready to explode at any time. It’s laid out pretty simply-some classic title match dick measuring in the beginning wherein Funaki asserts his dominance by shoving Akiyama onto the ropes by pushing his forearm onto Akiyama’s face, their hands are tangled up in what looks like a one-handed precursor for a test of strength and as they’re about to enter it Funaki ducks, looking to avoid it but eats a big knee (which was an incredible set-up for a spot where you’ll usually see someone attempts a double leg they never do out of character on the basis of the spot just being so cool looking it’ll work) and the sprint finally starts, as we get a battle of knees and Exploders and kicks and flash submissions. and right when Funaki starts working over Akiyama’s leg and you get flashbacks to the 20-30 minute where legwork was a major focus Akiyama gets desperate and makes the mistake of entering a strike exchange with Funaki where he suffers the same fate Funaki did at the hands of Bas Rutten. ***1/2

1985 · AJPW · Nick Bockwinkel · Riki Choshu

Riki Choshu vs Nick Bockwinkel (AJPW 4.12.1985.)

I think Choshu is a pretty great matworker, this might not be *the* match to showcase, more of a mat-heavy match that showcases why Choshu was so great in general. I loved how Bockwinkel stepped on Choshu’s left leg while holding his right, that’s the kind of neat detail work you want to see from him. Choshu’s repetead counters to Bockwinkel’s takedown attempts were awesome, completely shutting down an opponent’s attempts at offence is something I love but you rarely see in wrestling. Bockwinkel countered Choshu’s Scorpion Deathlocks by pulling his hair and using everything he could, Choshu countered Bockwinkel’s Figure Four by chopping away at him and pushing him off, it was good stuff and the shots we got were all good looking, both Bockwinkel’s knees and Choshu’s chops looked vicious. The build to the Lariat is great but unfortunately it is followed by the ~cheap 80s finish~ (I don’t mind that the finish wasn’t clean but that it was lazily done and didn’t add to the match). At least the post-match brawling was fun. ***1/2

1986 · AJPW · Killer Khan · Riki Choshu

Riki Choshu vs Killer Khan-AJPW 31.7.1986.

This is the stuff right here. Beginning is about what you’d expect from a big Choshu match with these two gauging the distance between them and carefully attacking, awesome lock-ups etc. I’m certain I heard the commentator react to Khan not wearing any paint, which-idk, I don’t remember ever seeing Khan wear paint but let’s build the narrative on him not wearing paint as he’s decided to paint his face with CHOSHU’S BLOOD. Ahem. Match really picks up when Khan starts stomping Choshu in the head-the stomps look really good and are reminiscent of the kind of head stomps you’d see in high end lucha matches, the kind of stuff Santo did during his rudo run. Khan misses a Knee Drop on the floor for the big transition which looks just ungodly brutal. Choshu’s reaction to this opportunity if to just thorougly beat Khan’s ass with awesome punches, kicks, and of course head stomps because fuck you Killer Khan Riki Choshu is the greatest wrestler of all time. Choshu really makes sure you buy into Khan bleeding here-most guys would just be done after one ringpost shot and get to the bleeding part as soon as possible but Choshu slams Khan’s ringpost into the head a couple of more times and hits him with the awesome lucha through the ropes kicks and punches to make sure you really believe Khan should do a blade job for this. And it rules. The big hope spot for Khan comes when he reverses a Choshu Lariat with a big boot-a counter that would be very predictable in say, a modern WWE or New Japan match, but the way All Japan uses rope running moves and irish whips in the 80s is that they have a much bigger chance of working so you buy into the sequence more, plus the actual counter looks great and is timed well. Khan’s big nearfalls are some of the most brutal knee drops you’ll ever see and his delusional heeling complements them perfectly. Choshu uses the awesome looking Backdrop both as a means of coming back into the match and as a means of wearing down Khan and setting him up for the finish-which included one of best nearfalls I’ve ever seen, it couldn’t have been timed any better. ****1/2

1974 · AJPW · Anton Geesink · Gorilla Monsoon

Anton Geesink vs Gorilla Monsoon-AJPW Judo Jacket Match 13.6.1974.

The first ever Openweight Judo Olympic Champion faces off against Gorilla Monsoon in a special “judo jacket” rules match. In practice this essentially means they have to wear a judogi and pins last 20 seconds instead of 3, otherwise it’s the standard 2/3 falls formula of the times. I think this was well structured-Geesink carried the first half of the match which looked more like proper judo with him trying uchi mata, ouchi gari etc. but being stopped by Monsoon’s sheer size. Monsoon didn’t really do much there outside of his antics about his belt untying, but really took over in the second fall by going back to the pro-wres playbook and using chops and punches. There were some nice counters built around Monsoon going for the Fireman’s Carry and the irish whip Bearhug towards the end, with the finish being about what you’d expect for 1974. Nothing spectacular, but good fun for those interested in this particular niche of prowres. ***1/4

2017 · AJPW · Keisuke Ishii · Koji Iwamoto

Keisuke Ishii vs Koji Iwamoto-AJPW 12.3.2017.

It’s quite frustrating to watch something like this, because this could have and should have been a great match. It was structured well-had the classic start with some chain wrestling, teases and whatnot, then come some striking where Iwamoto really shined, his short dash elbow was beautiful, it’s like a straight jab, such a neat spot. Eventually Ishii hit a sick Neckbreaker on the guardrail, which led into the neckwork portion, and Ishii’s work on top was really tight, his knee drops in particular were just brutal. Iwamoto countered a Neckbreaker on the apron into a Osoto Gari, which, like his other judo offence (his Harai Goshi is a work of art) looks magnificent, and that led into the finishing stretch. Iwamoto has great offence in general, he hit a neat Lariat which damn near beheaded Ishii. Ishii’s offence was more akin to the stuff you’d expect from an All Japan Junior, but if there was ever a man who can concince you a backflip knee is a viable and good pro wrestling move it’s him. The match was exciting, lasted about as long as it should’ve, they followed the internal logic of the match well (in building up moves or countering the previously established ones at the right time). If only they stopped using the phantom rope running almost exclusively as a transition, they could have great matches. But every time they run the ropes and then get hit with a move I’m reminded of how stupid wrestling is, why I don’t want to be when I’m watching wrestling, and it feels really silly to have them work on *everything else* so the rope running remains as a barrier preventing them from having excellent instead of great matches when they could improve so much if they fixed one thing and just used more than one transition, or just had running offence that would make me buy into those counters like All Japan wrestlers used to have. ***3/4

1987 · AJPW · Ashura Hara · Genichiro Tenryu · Stan Hansen · Ted DiBiase

Stan Hansen & Ted DiBiase vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara-AJPW 23.7.1987.

The body of the match lacked the focus for this to reach greatness, but it’s definitely good enough to seek out if you dig this type of match. After the initial Tenryu-Hansen face off and big chop battle there isn’t much memorable for a while-the action is good, there’s some nice hoss potatoing, but it doesn’t go further than that. Dibiase feels like a total utility player, just filling the role of Hansen’s partner, which makes the finish that much more fitting, as Hansen is isolated and just nuked by Tenryu and Hara, and you see some signs of what would come from Tenryu later in his career when he hits a beautiful running head stomp. Hansen taking advantage off the chaos and managing to Lariat Tenryu who had just run over Dibiase felt like he’d barely escaped defeat, so it’s understandable they wanted him to get some heat back, but it looked quite silly to have Tenryu and Hara running away from him just because he had a broom now. Oh well. ***1/4