Tokyo Korakuen Hall
1. Champion Carnival - Block B: Seiya Sanada vs. Joe Doering - 3
2. Champion Carnival - Block A: Ryota Hama vs. Takao Omori - 3
3. Champion Carnival - Block B: Minoru Suzuki vs. KENSO - 4
4. Champion Carnival - Block A: KONO vs Yuji Nagata - 4
5. Champion Carnival - Block B: Taiyo Kea vs. Jun Akiyama - 7
6. Champion Carnival - Block A: Suwama vs. Masakatsu Funaki - 7
This show is post-tsunami and the crowd is miniscule. After enjoying this tournament the last couple years and it having such a rich, 40+ year history, I was quite excited for this to get underway. It's too bad Doering's developmental deal with WWE fell through as I'd enjoyed him working a six-week program with Kofi Kingston over the summer. Joe did a big press slam tossing Seiya over the top to the floor. I've avoided spoilers so each and every finish has me on the edge of my seat. Speaking of, Sanada gets a win here, after a hurried roll-up sequence that looked a little slipshod. Hama and Omori waste no time heading into the crowd to brawl. Omori has about as much a chance of winning this thing as Kevin Smith does winning an Oscar in his lifetime. Hama is like a giant meatball and is rocking some of PN News' gear. I'd love to see him break out the "Broken Record" to bring the homage full-circle. Takao foolishly went for a backdrop which Ryota turned into a sort of makeshift "Pedigree". In the storied history of guys using a clothesline as a finish in Japan Omori's ranks near the bottom of the heap.
It took me a minute or two to recognize him but KENSO is Kenzo Suzuki! He's lost a lot of weight and his face looks emaciated like a vegetarian zombie. Minoru's mugging, like licking his lips while applying a submission, just add to his character and continue to make him one of the guys in AJPW most worth seeking out. KENSO is not afraid to bust out big openhanded slaps right to Suzuki's ugly mug. Mutoh is at ringside doing commentary in a bedazzled "AJP" baseball cap. It's hard to pick a favorite for winning this whole thing but Suzuki won it the last two years in '09 an '10 so he's got to be the favorite. We get an extended sleeper hold sequence that actually made the move seem dangerous for the first time, in well, a long, long time. Minoru wouldn't release it and KENSO's eyes got glassier than a chandelier. Suzuki wins with the Gotch Piledriver a move I always buy as a finish when he does it but never could get behind Jerry Lynn or his bastardization of it.
KONO I'm more familiar with for his MMA work and he's got a tough task ahead of him in this bout. Nagata looks as weathered as Jack Kerouac's rucksack after a trip up Desolation Peak. I really dug Yuji's selling after getting cutoff with a kneelift as he bumped to his back where he kicked his legs wildly like a kid throwing a tantrum and blinked his eyes repetitiously. The match-ending suplex had its requisite impact but this felt a little dry.
Kea's a guy that I think gets overlooked a lot and Akiyama is certified legend so this should be delicious. Taiyo is tall, has a bald, rounded head, and is wearing red, making him look strangely like Muno from Yo Gabba Gabba. I love watching Akiyama work, every detail, feel like serenading him with an acoustic version of "Hey Jude" where I replace "Jude" with "Jun" while he stares blankly politely sipping his Oolong Tea I home-brewed specifically for his visit. It's too bad the ROH/NOAH working relationship ended so sourly as I'd have driven to Philadelphia or further for a glimpse of Akiyama live. Jun eats a bodyslam on the floor and sells it like he's taking a nap post-chores after mowing the lawn and weeding the garden. He seems strangely comfortable sprawled out on a blue mat on the floor -- maybe he was a house cat in a past-life. I could see both of these guys going deep in this competition. I love the way Kea ate the "Exploder '98". Kea hits a piledriver that I could have sworn was going to turn Akiyama's white trunks brown in the back. Remember when Dusty turned traitor and joined Cobra to help pay his ailing mother's medical bills? Only to then be revealed to be a double agent and actually working for G.I. Joe under Duke's orders the whole time? That'd be a great storyline for Akiyama. Have him say, "To hell with NOAH! It's just like Misawa... dead!" Then he'd join up with Mutoh and co. in AJPW only to then reveal himself to be, in fact, a green-blooded NOAH man in the end. If anyone's hiring an amateur booker, by the way, give me a call. I've got a four-month story-arch inspired by Jim Henson's Muppet Babies I'm dying to see realized. Things pick up in the final stretch, more than words can express, with hard knees and strikes, big throws and slams, great nearfalls, etc. leading into an unexpected thrilling thirty-minute draw.
Masakatsu targets Suwama's arm kicking, bending, and stretching it. In terms of pure in-ring storytelling this match is the strongest of the lot. Suwama's power is neutralized by Funaki's insistence on tearing his arm off. A strike exchange feels gruesome and unpolished like a real fight would and unlike anything we see on WWE. Funaki grins with a busted lip as Suwama crumples to the mat and the crowd erupts. My favorite spot was Suwama countering a Rolling Koppu Kick by catching Masakatsu's leg and hoisting him up into a powerbomb. Suwama wins with a sickening "Last Ride" powerbomb in a great main event.
Overall an enjoyable first night of Champion's Carnival. If this were just a random AJPW the results would mean less and derive less drama but knowing that this is just the first piece of a larger puzzle found me more intrigued by the proceedings than normal. I'd recommend, broadly speaking, picking up this and any of the other CC events from the past as this sort of format makes for compelling battles.