After last week’s incredible match between Jun Akiyama and Naomichi Marufuji from All Japan’s Champion Carnival won the Match of the Week honours, the tournament makes it two weeks in a row with this week’s entry. One of the big selling points of the Champion Carnival is the fact that big names from other Japanese promotions enter the tournament to test their mettle against AJPW’s finest, as seen this year with Naomichi Marufuji.
Another big name to have come in from outside the promotion this year was Shingo Takagi from Dragon Gate. Although he is usually the bigger man in Dragon Gate matches, that advantage no longer becomes applicable for him in AJPW, which is rife with heavyweights that aren’t commonly found in Dragon Gate. One of the most dominant heavyweights in AJPW is Shuji Ishikawa, a former Triple Crown Champion and the winner of last year’s Champion Carnival.
With the above in mind, and the fact that Shingo and Ishikawa are two of the best workers in Japanese wrestling today, their match was earmarked as potentially being one of the best matches of the tournament. As the tournament progressed towards its final days, Shingo was still in with a shot of winning his block, sitting tied at the top on 8 points with Kento Miyahara and Yuji Hino, who were set to face each other in that night’s main event. Although Ishikawa was out of the running with 6 points, he nonetheless could still play a big role in deciding who was to progress to the tournament finals – which only added to the anticipation of the match.
As soon as the match got underway, Shingo immediately realised that he would not be able to establish himself as the dominant one as easily as he normally would. His first chops had no effect, and Shuji barely budged after several attempts by Shingo at shoulder blocks coming off the ropes. After exchanging strikes with his opponent, however, Shingo finally managed to take Ishikawa off his feet after hitting one final big shoulder block.
The action then progressed to the outside, with Shingo working on weakening his opponent’s arm on the ring post. This did not last long, however, as Ishikawa countered a suplex attempt by Shingo with a huge Falcon Arrow onto the padded floor. He followed this up by working Shingo’s neck on the ring post, and promptly chucking Shingo into a bunch of chairs in the front few rows. Nevertheless, Shingo got right back up and hauled himself back into the ring, only for Ishikawa to continue his dominance with a series of strikes and holds to further weaken his opponent’s neck.
Ishikawa felt like he had done enough to win the match quickly, and went for his Splash Mountain powerbomb finisher. Shingo, however, managed to fight out of it, and get himself back into the match with a back bodydrop counter. He built on this newly-found momentum with his Pumping Bomber lariat in the corner, followed by a big brainbuster on his opponent for the 2 count. Proceedings then went to the apron, where Shingo narrowly managed to escape Ishikawa’s Fire Thunder piledriver by shoulder blocking Ishikawa to the outside, after which he flew into his opponent with a tope con giro.
Back in the ring, the 2 men exchange a number of strikes once again, but Ishikawa got the upper hand, and promptly hit his Giant Slam finisher, from which Shingo kicked out at 2. Feeling like he needed to pull some extra tricks out of the bag, he went to the top rope, and hit a missile dropkick on Shingo – a truly impressive feat for a man of his size. After following this up with a lariat in this corner, he went to the top rope once again and hit a diving foot stomp on his opponent. Shingo, however, once again kicked out at 2.
Ishikawa felt like he needed to hit one last big move to finish the match, and went for the Fire Thunder once again. The arm work of earlier came into play, however, as Shingo countered this attempt and bounced off the ropes to hit his seated opponent with another Pumping Bomber. Ishikawa kicked out at 2, but Shingo kept hold of Ishikawa’s damaged arm to lock in a triangle armbar. Although Ishikawa managed to get the ropes and break the hold, the damage was already accentuated.
Nonetheless, despite this damage, Ishikawa managed to stay on his feet after another Pumping Bomber from Shingo, and promptly hit a huge lariat of his own. He then set up for his Splash Mountain finisher, only for Shingo to once again counter it with a hurricanrana, followed by a superplex from the top rope. Both men were spent at this point, with them exchanging strikes on their knees. Once they went to their feet and exchanged more strikes, Ishikawa managed to land a suplex followed by a big knee strike to his opponent for a 2 count. He managed to capitalise on this momentum by finally hitting the Fire Thunder, but Shingo incredibly kicked out at 1!
Not thrown off by this, Ishikawa simply went on to hit another finisher of his own, this time finally managing to hit the Splash Mountain. Shingo, however, once again kicked out to the amazement of the crowd (and my own). Ishikawa’s frustration finally came to the surface, and went for one final Giant Slam to end proceedings. Shingo managed to fight out of it though, and after being hit with a number of big forearm strikes by his opponent, he hit a series of his own moves on his opponent, followed by 2 huge Pumping Bombers. It was Ishikawa’s turn to kick out of his opponent’s finisher, doing so at the count of 2.
Shingo needed something bigger if he was going to beat Ishikawa, and brought out his Made in Japan finisher, which he incredibly managed to hit on his much bigger opponent. Although it seemed like the match was over, Ishikawa amazingly managed to kick out at 2. Shingo went for 2 further Pumping Bombers, and set up for a third, but Ishikawa replied with a huge forearm, followed by 2 headbutts, a Kamigoye and a running knee strike for the 2 count. Nevertheless, Ishikawa followed this up by hitting one final Giant Slam to pick up the hard-earned victory.
This was an incredible all-out war between 2 hosses, with both men showing each other respect after the match. Both men are up there with the best in Japan at the moment, and I would love to see these 2 go at it once again. Although Shingo IS Dragon Gate, and I don’t want to see him leave his home promotion, him in AJPW feels like a perfect fit, and I would love to see him in more matches in the promotion down the line. A definite match of the year contender at this stage, I absolutely recommend watching this match.