REVIEW: AJPW Champion Carnival 2018: Days 1-4 (7/4-11/4)

Added by Mike Grindle

The Champion Carnival is one of the oldest active tournaments in wrestling, even predating NJPW’s G1. For those new to All Japan Pro Wrestling, the tournament works in the same fashion as the aforementioned G1, with a round-robin format. We’re be covering this fifteen-day tournament over several articles, and we’re be looking at the first four days here. Whilst we won’t be going into any of the multi-tags at these events, there’s still a lot of wrestling to get through, so let’s get started…

Day One

Block A Match: Shuji Ishikawa vs. Yuji Hino

The Champions Carnival fittingly starts with a ‘big lads’ fight here. After sizing each other up and a few tests of strength, things quickly head outside, where Ishikawa hits a diving double footstomp from the apron to the floor. From here Ishikawa works over Hino’s midsection, controlling a long stretch of the match. Hino tries to get back into it, attempting an exploder suplex several times until he finally gets it. He isn’t in control for long though, as he heads up high only to get superplexed for his troubles. Ishikawa follows up with his fire thunder piledriver for the close fall. The two exchange lariats and then forearms, before Hino decides it’s a good idea to put his hands behind his back and let Ishikawa take a few free shots, which doesn’t prove to be a good idea (who would have thought?). Ishikawa then sets up for a powerbomb, but Hino turns it into a powerbomb of his own. A lariat soon follows, followed by Hino’s ‘Fucking bomb’ (to those new to Hino, yes, that is his finisher’s name) for the three. Outside of the Champion Carnival, this would be considered an upset but in a tournament setting not so much. A great way to open the tournament.

Block B Match: Dylan James vs. Jun Akiyama

Akiyama returns to the Champion Carnival, after previously announcing his retirement from the tournament. He’s filling in due to other workers being injured and in all truth, it’s nice to see him back in this setting. We go to the outside early on here and after some brawling it’s Akiyama who struggles to get back in. As he returns to the ring, he gets welcomed by a lariat, but then hits two exploder suplexes out of nowhere to take control. Akiyama controls for a little while before James fights back and attempts a chokeslam, which Akiyama reverses into cradle for the three count and a quick win. Quick-fire matches have been a staple of the Champion Carnival in recent years and looking at the card tonight, it made sense for this not to go long. This was fine for what it is.

Block A Match: Kento Miyahara vs. Shingo Takagi

It’s the AJPW Triple Crown Champion vs. the Dragon Gate Open the Owarai Gate Champion here and it should be great. Miyahara is in control early on, until his leg becomes the meeting place of the barricade and a steel chair, courtesy of Takagi. Miyahara struggles to get back into the match thereafter, with Takagi targeting the knee and later delivering a nasty Death Valley driver on the apron. The closing stretch is Takagi’s power moves vs. Miyahara’s blackout knees and German suplexes. It’s Takagi who comes through in the end though, winning with the Last Falconry for another upset win. This was not only match of the night but something worth going out of your way to see. The only downside perhaps, is the leg work being forgotten about near the end, but otherwise brilliant stuff.

Block B Match: Suwama vs. Zeus

Zeus comes in with a heavily bandaged left thigh, after taking some damage from Miyahara in a previous tag match. It’s a slow paced match but they work the story well, with Zeus selling well and Suwama working the leg over. A spinebuster and a set of rolling suplexes put Zeus into the match, until he gets caught up top with a superplex. Suwama can’t finish him off though and after a closing stretch full of backdrops and chokeslams, it’s Zeus who picks up the win with a Jackhammer. They told a good story with Zeus powering through, despite his injury, and this is a big win for him. A really good main event to finish the show on, but not quite as good as the match it had to follow.

Day Two

Block B Match: Yoshitatsu vs. Zeus

Zeus continues to have a big bullseye on his thigh, but Yoshihatsu doesn’t take as full advantage of this as you might expect, instead relying more on his speed and kicks to try and take Zeus down. It’s an ok match but honestly, Zeus never looks in much danger here, often seemingly toying with his opponent. At one point it looks like Zeus might win with a series of lariats, but it’s the old chokeslam/Jackammer combo that does it in the end. It will be interesting to see how Zeus’s injury affects him later in the tournament.

Block B Match: KAI vs. Suwama

After some outside brawling early on, KAI hits a dragon screw on the ropes and then proceeds to work over Suwama’s leg. Suwama occasionally manages to power through for a bit of offence, but KAI retains control for the most part. KAI gets a figure four locked in and then later hits a Splash Plancha, but neither puts Suwama away. Suwama hits a big dropkick, followed by a back body drop and then, after a two count, hits the last ride for the win. Much like the last match, there only ever seemed to be one likely winner, despite KAI controlling the match. That’s not to say it’s a bad match though, so don’t skip this one.

Block A Match; Joe Doering vs. Shuji Ishikawa

The fact that last year’s final is being held at a venue this small and isn’t even the main event, is a testament to how stacked this tournament is. Both men get their time to control the offence early on, but it’s Doering who gets the first big moves in, with a spinebuster followed by a Death Valley driver for a two count. Doering controls the offence for the most part, but after surviving some lariats and a big German suplex, Ishikawa gets his time to shine and hits his tsunami knee strikes. Doering just keeps on coming though, until Ishikawa hits the fire thunder piledriver stopping Doering dead in his tracks and beating him for the second year in a row. A fairly good match but they didn’t go all out for anything spectacular.

Block A Match: Kento Miyahara vs. Naoya Nomura

We start off with some chain wrestling before Nomura shows everyone he’s here for a fight, catching Miyahara off guard with some running forearms and strikes. Nomura looks happy with himself, until Miyahara reverses a suplex into a DDT on the outside. From there on, its Miyahara’s match, as he picks Nomura apart, bringing the high knees and dropkicks in to play whenever Nomura tries to get some momentum going. There’s a lot of bickering between Miyahara and the ref, (nothing unusual there) who is practically willing the young Nomura on at times, but it never distracts too much from the action. Nomura survives some Blackout knees and a German suplex from Miyahara, but despite a late flurry, he lacks the type of offence required to take down a Triple Crown Champion. Eventually, Miyahara hits the shutdown German suplex and gets the win. This was a good match, but Nomura never really looked like he might pull off the big upset.

Day Three

Block B Match: Dylan James vs. Yutaka Yoshie

Tests of strength and a chop battle start things, but it’s Yoshie who soon takes control of the match and hits a cross body from the apron to the floor, squishing poor Dylan. From there Dylan struggles to get back into the match, as Yoshie uses his size to run over him every time Dylan builds up momentum. Dylan finally starts stringing together some moves late in the match though and after a huge lariat, he hits his first choke slam of the tournament for his first points. Not a bad match at all.

Block A Match: Joe Doering vs. The Bodyguard

Bodyguard is all about the sprints when it comes to singles competition (which suits the tournament format greatly) and that’s what we get here. The bodyguard opens the match with a spear and proceeds to pummel Joe, hitting a Samoan drop and a top rope elbow drop. Doering finally gets some offence in with a spinebuster and from there the match is more back and forth. We get a weird powerbomb botch late on, which Joe sells as his strength giving out. They follow with a short strike exchange before Doering hits the revolution bomb for the win. The botch was a shame, but the match was solid anyway and if all the Bodyguard’s matches are short, powermove sprints like this that would be just fine.

Block B Match: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Yoshitatsu

A lot of people have called Yoshitatsu the night off match but he impressed here and worked hard to make this match work. Starting off aggressive, Yoshitatsu controlled most of the match, with Marafuji getting the occasional comeback via his signature strikes. Despite this however, Marafuji was always going to emerge victoriously in this one, hitting sliced bread #2 for the win after a good showing for Yoshitatsu. On a side note, when is Yoshitatsu going to change his gear? He’s never going to get taken seriously with the Spiderman boots and armbands and a bullet club hunter logo.

Block B Match: Jun Akiyama vs. KAI

A rematch from the 2013 champion carnival final, a time when KAI was seen by some as potential future ace material. Perhaps KAI remembers the loss he took at that final five years ago, because the intensity of this one is off the charts. KAI catches Akiyama with a dragon screw off the apron early and works over the leg for a while to get the early advantage. The story here doesn’t focus on the leg too long though and instead is more about the tit-for-tat, back and forth exchanges they have throughout the match. Highlights including an exchange of German suplexes, Kai’s brutal head kicks and the entirety of the closing stretch. KAI manages to kick out of an exploder suplex and reverse a second into a nasty looking DDT and then Akiyama’s survives a pair of shining wizards and a Splash Plancha. In the end it’s settled by another rollup from Akiyama, who picks up the win. Brilliant match that is up there with Kento Miyahara vs. Shingo Takagi for match of the tournament so far.

Day Four

Block B Match: KAI vs. Yoshitatsu

Two men who both once showed huge promise, but are now in a position where they are trying to prove their worth again. There’s not a huge amount to say about this one, both men work hard and the match is a fairly good one but lacking in any highlight reel moments or a particularly notable story. KAI manages to hit a powerbomb for a close call but when he attempts his Splash Plancha, Yoshitatsu gets the knees up. Yoshitatsu tries for the submission finish but KAI manaes to survive. In the end it’s Yoshitatsu’s Code Breaker (yes ‘That’ code breaker) that gets the three, in something of a minor upset. This wasn’t a bad match, but it is entirely skippable.

Block B Match: Suwama vs Yutaka Yoshie

As with his previous match (and as with pretty much all Yoshi matches) Yoshie bases his offence around his size and his opponent struggles to get into the match. Suwama tries for a backdrop and foolishly a powerbomb, which leads to him taking a seated senton and a Raiden drop from Yoshie (ouch). Suwama tries for another backdrop later but fails again and this time gets a big splash for his troubles, which leads to a near fall. Yoshie then has the bright idea to go up top, which ends with him crashing down to the mat courtesy of Suwama. After getting some more offence in, Suwama succeeds in his third backdrop attempt for the win. Yoshie’s size means he always looks like a legitimate threat to any opponent and many times it looked like he might just beat the ace here. Well worked match that played to Yoshie’s strengths.

Block A Match: Joe Doering vs. Yuji Hino

After the initial tests of strength and big chop/forearm exchanges, it is Doering who controls the majority of this match. The problem with this match is the slow pace, which would be fine if this was a long match but it isn’t. A big senton by Hino and Joe’s crossbody nearly end the match but in the end, a huge lariat and a ‘Fucking Bomb’ by Hino, put Joe away for the three. Not the strongest start for the former Triple Crown champion, in this tournament so far.

Block B Match: Dylan James vs. Zeus

Do you like lariats? Dylan James and Zeus sure do! This is a fun sprint, with Dylan James going for the win straight out of the gate. Zeus doesn’t appreciate this behaviour and suplex’s Dylan on the outside for his troubles. They both try for a chokeslam, but it is Zeus who gets the first (and only) chokeslam in for the close fall. After that, it’s lariat city all the way and the match does in fact end with one massive lariat from Dylan James to Zeus, giving Dylan a big win here.

A highly enjoyable first four days to the tournament here, with very little in the way of bad matches and two real gems in Miyahara vs. Takagi and Akiyama vs. KAI. It’s far too early to be making any conclusions from the results so far and it’s still anyone’s game at this point.

You can watch the first four days of the Champion Carnival now, over on the AJPW streaming service: ajpw.tv