Saturday, May 23, 2015

WATCH WRESTLING FOREIGNER: ALEX JUDGES PRO WRESTLING


by: Alex Klimkewicz


I should preface this by saying that I don’t follow Japanese wrestling, nor do I speak a lick of Japanese. But when I took a recent vacation to Tokyo, I knew that I couldn’t leave the city without seeing some live puroresu. My schedule lined up with many smaller shows being held at the historic Korakuen Hall, including Dragon’s Gate, DDT Wrestling, and Wrestle-1, but I choose to watch the better know All Japan Pro Wrestling.

Wednesday May 6th was a sunny day in Tokyo. The AJPW taping was scheduled for 12 o’clock in the afternoon, but I went to Tokyo Dome/Korakuen Hall about an hour early, since I’d heard that it would be difficult to find (it wasn’t) and I was afraid that tickets would be sold out (they weren’t). Korakuen Hall is a smallish arena, and the ring is on the fifth floor of the building. Surrounding the entrance are posters for various past and future shows, as well as vendors selling merchandise and programs. I snagged a sweet looking AJPW t-shirt, but knew that a program would be a waste of money. Anyway, I had a look through my neighbor’s and it was filled with pictures of the usual suspects – Dory Funk, Jr., Akebono, and many of the other unknown (to me) Japanese wrestlers that I’d see that day.

The show started with an announcer bringing out the entire locker room, which was really only about 15 guys (I guess AJPW is on a downswing currently, especially compared to the more popular NJPW.) Two senior guys stood in the ring with photos of deceased wrestlers, one of which was Verne Gagne, but I’m uncertain who the Japanese wrestler was. A solemn ten bell salute memorialized these two fallen squared-circle warriors.

The first match of the night featured two young curtain jerkers against each other. Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi are only 21 and 19 years-old respectively, but they managed to put on a hell of a performance despite their lack of wrestling experience. Neither had flashy entrances or ring gear, as each man only sported simple trunks: Nomura in red and Aoyagi in blue, but it was clear to me that they were trying to impress whomever was watching them in the back. Each strike that echoed throughout Korakuen Hall had a bit of extra mustard on it, and Nomura nearly decapitated his opponent with a vicious looking dropkick towards the end of the match. In the end Nomura locked Aoyagi in a Boston crab, and the younger man could do nothing but tap out.

The second match was markedly different, as it saw two ring veterans in 45 year-old Masao Inoue taking on 61 year-old Masanobu Fuchi. After a bit of research, I’ve learned that Fuchi is the longest tenured guy in AJPW, and he is also head booker for the company. As you can imagine, this match was nowhere near as fast paced as the opening, but I was thoroughly entertained by the back and forth between Fuchi and Inoue. Fuchi would consistently lock a submission on Inoue, only for the younger man to struggle to reverse it and once he did manage to get Fuchi into a submission of his own, Fuchi would easily reach the ropes to force a break. It was a humorous match, but without any of the childish antics common to a WWE comedy match. In the end, Masanobu Fuchi managed to get the win after a series of back and forth small package pinning combinations.

The next match was the first (of four) tag team matches of the night. Kota Umeda and Toshikai Ishii defeated Yohei Nakajima and AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Champion Kotaro Suzuki. It was during this match that the crowd at Korakuen Hall really got into the pro-wrestling they were watching. I was sitting next to a seven or eight year-old girl who spent most of the match screaming for Nakajima and Suzuki, who I can only assume were the faces. Japanese wrestling is a bit different than American wrestling, in that the heels don’t seem overtly bad and tend to demonstrate as much tenacity and heart as the babyfaces do. This was a good back and forth match, but Ishii managed to get the pin over Nakajima following a wicked kick to the other man’s head.

The last singles match of the night featured KENSO taking on Takao Omori. These two guys seemed to be the most polished wrestlers I’d thus far seen, and I was interested to learn that KENSO had spent some time in the WWE back in 2004-2005. I was more impressed with Omori though, as he seemed to exude much more charisma. (Takao Omori also exuded gobs and gobs of spit, as he’d let loogies fly after every big hit from KENSO. A few landed on the ringside photographers, and others hit the ring apron only to be toweled up by younger wrestlers in training.) This match had a hardcore vibe to it, as the two fighters brawled through the ringside crowd, hit each other with steel chairs, and even suplexed each other onto a pile of steel chairs. In the end Omori got the win after hitting a neat looking reverse tombstone piledriver, and following that up with a clothesline from hell to KENSO. Despite the brutality of the match, the two men embraced afterwards. Respect.

At this point during the event there was an intermission before the main event matches. It was an opportunity to stretch one’s legs (the seats in Korakuen Hall are very tight and close together). Also, goodguy champion Kotaro Suzuki was out in the lobby taking pictures, signing autographs, and hocking merchandise.

When the action resumed, more people filed in for the main event matches, but there were still many noticeable empty spaces throughout the arena. The next match was an Evolution tag team match challenge as Atushi Aoki and Kohei Suwama defeated Joe Doering and Hikaru Sato. I was a bit confused at the start of this match, as Aoki, Suwama and Doering all wore ‘Evolution’ shirts, but after a bit of research, I’ve learned that they’re all in the same stable, and just fighting each other for pride. Each team was evenly matched, as Aoki and Sato were high-fliers, with Doering and Suwama being the powerhouses of their teams. Doering was the only gaijin on the card this day, and he certainly fit the famous Stan Hansen mold of American wrestlers in Japan. He wore white cowboy boots, looked a bit like The Outlaw Ron Bass, and had a moveset similar to JBL. Doering seemed well liked by the Japanese crowd, but he didn’t seem to have that necessary spark to transcend internationally. This was a good match, with a lot of hard-hitting moves despite the fact that they are all in the same stable. In the end, Suwama hit a huge powerbomb on the smaller Sato and got the pinfall victory.

The penultimate match of the day was the first championship match, as Ultimo Dragon and Yoshinobu Kanemaru successfully defended their All Asia Tag Team Championship against SUSHI and Jun Akiyama. I was doubly excited for this match, as Ultimo Dragon was the first guy of the event that I actually knew beforehand. Unfortunately, he seems to have lost a step or two since his WCW days, but keep in mind that the guy is closing in on 50 years old. I was thoroughly impressed by SUSHI who had the overwhelming support of the crowd. He is a highflying comedic wrestler with a mask and sushi plate attached to his headgear. Crazy right? I got behind him, just like the rest of Korakuen Hall, however, this wasn’t to be his night, as he lost the match via pinfall from Kanemaru.

The main event match was yet another tag match (I was getting tired of them, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind) and another match for a championship. This time Akebono and Yutaka Yoshie defended their World Tag Team Championship titles against Kento Miyahara and Go Shiozaki. The champions reminded me a lot of the Natural Disasters, with Akebono as a huge mass of humanity, and Yoshie still gigantic, but smaller in comparison to Akebono, similar to the size and stature of Typhoon next to Earthquake. However, the men to shine in this match were Miyahara and Shiozaki. The crowd was firmly behind them, and they impressed me both with their high-flying ability, and incredible feats of strength. The finish of this grueling 23 minute match was Miyahara German suplexing Yoshie, getting the pin, and becoming new tag team champs. This was certainly the best match of the night, and I’d predict a long and successful career is in store for Kento Miyahara, who is only 26 years-old.

Watching this All Japan Pro Wrestling show was one of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo. I really enjoyed the wrestling, even though I knew practically nobody going into the event (which only had about three other non-Japanese audience members in attendance). It is a surreal experience how quiet the Japanese crowd can be at times, and it is amazing to hear just how hard and loud the wrestlers who smack each other can be. If you ever get a chance to see AJPW, or any other show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, definitely go, you won’t be disappointed!

Alex is a teacher in South Korea and a good Friend to the show. He can be heard judging a recent Judy Bagwell Award contest. Like Alex, you can be an integral part of the show! Submit a blog or let us know if you'd like to be welcomed into the folds of insanity. Thanks, Alex!

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