Issue #18: Three Count Fall
Ishii-Kingston Classic, Big AJPW Weekend in Sapporo, Around the Rings of Japan
Editor’s Note: I apologize for the delay in getting this issue out. The next month or so will likely see issues published off the normal every-Friday schedule, on a near-weekly basis. With any luck, the newsletter will return to the regular schedule by mid-to-late June. Thank you for your patience!
ONE COUNT: Ishii vs Kingston Highlights NJPW Capital Collision in Washington, D.C.
The story of NJPW’s Capital Collision in Washington D.C. on May 14th was much like that of the Wrestling Dontaku a few short weeks ago—the Bullet Club is back and they are taking over. They may have been the main characters of New Japan’s advance on the nation’s capital, but it was Tomohiro Ishii and Eddie Kingston that stole the show.
For Ishii, 2022 has been a tale of two countries. In Japan, he has been a supporting cast player. His frequent appearance for NJPW of America, Impact Wrestling, AEW, and a slew of indies have been star turns. In some way, Ishii is the perfect “utility guy” for New Japan in the U.S.—the fans here see him as a legitimate main event star (much more than the perception and presentation of him in Japan), so NJPW can send him to the U.S. and the fans feel like they are getting to see a legend even if the true main event stars like Okada, Naito, Tanahashi, etc. aren’t on the show. Ishii is also a guy that you can beat over and over again without it hurting him at all. As long as he gets one or two big wins every year as per usual, that and the sheer quality of his matches every time out will keep strong for as long as he continue wrestling at this level.
While there are no one-to-one comparisons in wrestling, there are more parallels between Ishii and Eddie Kingston. Ishii is not a NJPW-developed product—rather, he came up through Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion and bounced around many promotion, including NJPW, before finally latching on there in the mid-to-late-00’s. Even then, Ishii didn’t fully break through until his starmaking performance in the G1 Climax—particularly, his Korakuen Hall victory over Tanahashi and his instant classic with Katsuyori Shibata. From that point forward, Ishii has arguably been the most dependably spectacular wrestler in the world.
Kingston’s journey to the big time was even longer, earning his big break in AEW against Cody Rhodes some 18 years after his first match. Kingston, like Ishii, was long a cult favorite who hardcore fans insisted was one of the best in the world…if someone would just give him a chance. Kingston took that ball and ran with it in AEW, going from a guy brought in for a one-off match with no further plans to a wrestler who arguably has the strongest connection of any to the AEW fanbase and can be relied upon to deliver compelling television in every possible situation.
Beyond that, Kingston’s love of Japanese professional wrestling is well-documented. While his highest admiration is reserved for the four pillars of King’s Road AJPW (Misawa/Kobashi/Kawada/Taue), Kingston has spoke openly about how much wrestling for NJPW in the U.S. has meant to him, as well as his desire to compete for the company in Japan itself. Against this backdrop, it’s hard to realistically imagine many more important and meaningful matches for him than facing Ishii at Capital Collision.
Another aspect of this match, from a crowd reaction standpoint, is that fans at NJPW USA shows seem to come for two thing—to see the AEW-affiliated wrestlers that appear, and to see top Japanese stars in person. It was then, unsurprisingly, a split crowd in terms of who they wanted to see win.
Ishii in the U.S. is always an interesting watch, in that he has a baseline “Ishii-level” match that he will do and then from there it’s up to his opponent to bring something more out of him. It was fun to watch the early stages of the match and see Ishii notice in real-time the level of detail effort Kingston was going to bring—particularly, when Ishii went to pick Kingston up off the mat and Eddie continually swiped his hand away aggressively, you could see something click with Ishii where he realized “okay, this is a guy I can do something special with.”
In many ways, this felt like a G1 Climax “Test Bout” for Kingston (there are a few of these happening across the world on an unofficial basis—more on that later in this issue) and he passed with flying colors in delivering a high-end G1-level match with Ishii. There may not be two more compelling and unique “sellers” in wrestling today than these two, and that was on display here every bit as much as the requisite physicality the two would bring.
In the end, Ishii prevailed with a vertical drop brainbuster after just over 16 minutes of action. If you’re looking for a silky smooth match full of high-speed moves and counters this won’t be at the top of your Match of the Year list, but if you like hard-hitting matches that feel like a physically-grueling struggle it just may top your list.
Beyond that, Capital Collision resembled the recent Japanese product more than some of the other recent U.S. shows. The name of the game here was continuing the resurgence of Bullet Club and getting as much heat on them as possible, from Chase Owens pinning Great O-Khan, to Jay White laying out Kazuchika Okada, to Juice Robinson emerging from a chaotic and exciting four-way main event to win the IWGP U.S. Title.
The attendance was solid at 2,641, but was somehow shot in a way that made it look much more impressive than it actually was. As mentioned earlier, the fans were largely there to see Okada and Tanahashi, and seemed a little bit deflated by the end of the night after neither man was victorious. Tanhashi, in particular, seemed to be energized by wrestling in a front a loud and vocal crowd—his execution wasn’t quite there on some of his signature spots, but the passion and energy was there in spades.
For my money, the second best match on the show was the FITE TV opener—an intra-L.A. Dojo battle between Karl Fredericks and Ren Narita. This was another very strong performance from Fredericks (on the heels of his great match with Karl Fredericks in Warrior Wrestling last month), but the crowd firmly on the side of Narita in a losing effort. Given Connors’ presence in the Best of the Super Junior Tournament currently, it’s hard to imagine Fredericks not earning a similar opportunity on the heavyweight side in the G1 Climax this year.
Brody King also had a strong showing here in what could be an unofficial “G1 Test Match”, defeating Minoru Suzuki in resounding fashion.
New Japan’ Pro Wrestling’s next major advance on the United States comes in the form of the AEW co-promoted Forbidden Door event on June 26th in Chicago. The show was an instant sellout with no card announced.
TWO COUNT: Yuma Aoyagi Continues to Emerge as One of the Best Wrestlers in the World
Yuma Aoyagi has gone from Kento Miyahara’s borderline-goofy Nextream sidekick to a Champion Carnival winner and legitimate threat to win the Triple Crown championship. While All Japan didn’t go all the way with Aoyagi on their May 15th show, the events of the past month have shown that it’s not a matter of if…but when.
As I wrote about extensively last week, the elder Aoyagi brother has become one of the most compelling big match wrestlers in the world. With a variety of credible finishing moves, strikes, submission holds, and pinning combinations, he has developed a formula that wrings every drop of drama out of each finishing stretch.
While this story could be about Yuma Aoyagi’s challenge of Kento Miyahara on May 15th (and we’ll get there, don’t worry) you need to stop reading this newsletter right now and watch their “preview” tag team match from the night before in the same building. It was Yuma and Atsuki Aoyagi taking on Miyahara and Rising HAYATO in an intra-NEXTREAM match that was as compelling as anything I’ve seen in 2022. In fact, I would put it on the same level as the Briscoes vs FTR (ROH, April 1st) and Hashimoto/Kamitani vs Nomura Abe (BJW, May 5th) as a top-tier tag team MOTYC—and by far the best match in AJPW this year.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a match establish and then maintain that level of intensity and that high of a pace throughout, and the structure itself was fairly unique as well. It was almost two singles matches in one, sometimes happening simultaneously—Yuma and Miyahara were paired off at a fever pitch, most often not the legal men, while Atsuki and HAYATO wrestled a long finishing stretch with more aggressiveness and freneticism than either had ever showed prior. The packed crowd of 533 at a hotel ballroom in Sapporo was as hot for this as anything I’ve seen in the pandemic era.
There was no way that a singles match, even with wrestlers the level of Yuma Aoyagi and Kento Miyahara, could match the pace of the tag team match the night before, but they went out and still had a Match of the Year candidate all the same. They brought brought ever bit of their history as tag team partners-turned rivals-turned tag team partner rivals here into a match that was every bit as good as Aoyagi’s CHampion Carnival tournament final victory over Jake Lee earlier this month.
As I speculated on the most recent episode of the Adam & Mike Big Audio Nightmare podcast, I just couldn’t see All Japan giving Aoyagi his signature career win at a relatively small show in Sapporo. As much as the timing and momentum felt right to pull the proverbial trigger here, waiting for a bigger event is the right call. I really hope that right moment is AJPW’s return to Budokan on Sept 18th, as a Yuma Aoyagi Triple Crown win on that show would be preferable to Jake Lee regaining the titles he never lost on that same show.
The other notable development across these two shows in Sapporo was the apparent implosion of Suwama and Shotaro Ashino’s Runaway Suplex team, as teased dissension in recent weeks led to them losing the Double Team Team Titles to the team of Shuji Ishikawa and Kohei Sato on the May 14th event. This will likely lead to singles feud between the two, hopefully ending with an Ashino win and elevation into the main event scene.
Moving forward, All Japan is involved in some of the most intriguing matches in Japan scheduled over the next month. Highlights include:
May 25th in Yokohama:
Kento Miyahara, Rising HAYATO, Atsuki Aoyagi vs T-Hawk, Shigehiro Irie, Issei Onnitsuka
Suwama vs Jake Lee
May 29th at Korakuen Hall:
[RUMORED] AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hikaru Sato (C) vs Tiger Mask
Double Tag Team Championships: Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato (C) vs Kuma Arashi & Koji Doi
Triple Crown Championship: Kento Miyahara (C) vs T-Hawk
May 31st at Korakuen Hall: JUMBO TSURUTA 23TH ANNIVERSARY MEMORIAL SERVICE Show
Shingo Takagi & T-Hawk vs. Yuma Aoyagi & Atsuki Aoyagi
Suwama & Yuji Nagata vs. Taichi & TAKA Michinoku
Past Triple Crown Champions Premium Six Man Tag Match: Kento Miyahara, Minoru Suzuki & Jun Akiyama vs. Jake Lee, Takao Omori & X
June 12th at Korakuen Hall:
Past Champion Carnival Winners Premium Six Man Tag Match: Kento Miyahara, Suwama & Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuma Aoyagi, Jake Lee & Shuji Ishikawa
The Miyahara vs T-Hawk match on May 29th has legitimate Match of the Year potential. That possibility exists for every Miyahara title match, and T-Hawk is wrestling at an extremely high level right now. A title change is very unlikely, though. The six man tag team matches on May 31st and June 12th are particularly interesting given Minoru Suzuki’s presence. Outside of the Amazon Prime Video AJPW series, which exists in an alternate reality of sorts outside of regular pro wrestling canon, Suzuki has not appeared in an All Japan ring since January of 2013.
THREE COUNT: Around the Rings of the Best of the Super Junior Tournmanent, GLEAT, STARDOM, and more!
The Best of the Super Junior tournament got underway this week, with several things clear in the early days. With the inclusion of foreigners from the United States, Mexico, Europe as well a high-profile Japanese outsider, this feels more like the BoSJ than any of the recent pandemic-era tournaments. Some matches will be good, some will not, and a few will be great, but it is such a welcome change to have different and unique matchups after years of the same small group of junior heavyweights wrestling each other over and over in New Japan.
Clark Connors has been rock solid through his first few matches; Ace Austin has flashed serious potential while also showing he is not quite a finished product yet; Titan looks every bit the superstar one would expect after his last few years in CMLL; and El Lindaman has brought the chaotic energy and high-end performance you would hope for.
On the other end of the spectrum, SHO has been exactly what you’d expect given his matches since joining the House of Torture—frustrating, boring, and completely pointless to watch. As per usual, there is no chance of a finish of any kind until he either goes for the wrench, takes the ref out, gets interference from Dick Togo, etc. It’s a horrendously tired formula that sadly is not going away anytime soon.
In a different way, Ryusuke Taguchi’s matches so far have been nearly as unwatchable. They are leaning so far into the ass-based “comedy” that it has completely killed the competitiveness of his matches, with his opening night match against Hiromu Takahashi being shockingly bad. The English-language commentary endlessly giggling with double-entendres throughout his matches hasn’t done them any favors, either.
The highlight of the tournament’s first three days was an excellent match on May 18th in Sendai between Takahashi and Francesco Akira. After a predictably disappointing match with SHO to open his tournament, Akira is quickly finding his way in a new role (no longer the underdog babyface he was in AJPW) and with a largely new moveset. This was similar to the Titan-El Desperado match on the previous show, in that it was a very good match while also clearly leaving something in reserve for a more high-stakes match between the two somewhere down the road. Wheeler Yuta and Robbie Eagles also had a strong match on the May 17th show.
Attendance has been relatively strong to open the tournament, with a legitimate opening night sellout of 1,541 in Nagoya and the best number in Sendai Sun Plaza for any promotion since June 2021.
GLEAT held one of their most significant shows to date on May 18th at Korakuen Hall for a G-Pro Wrestling event celebrating CIMA’s 25th anniversary as a pro wrestler. While CIMA’s match teaming with Shingo Takagi (something I never thought I’d type in 2022) and El Lindaman’s G-REX title defense against Shigehiro Irie grabbed all the headlines, Hayato Tamura’s match against New Japan’s Hirooki Goto stole the show.
Much like the Eddie Kingston’s match against Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW Capital Collision, this felt like a “G1 Climax Test Match” for Tamura and he more than passed the test by my estimation. This was a bomb-throwing war reminiscent of the glory days of the NEVER Openweight Championship, with the still relatively inexperienced Tamura never seeming out of place or overwhelmed against such a solid and consistent veteran like Goto. There is a G1-sized gap in GLEAT’s July-August schedule, so don’t be surprised if they have one or more representatives in that tournament.
Along those same lines, top GLEAT star Takanori Ito was announced for a match against New Japan’s Yuji Nagata on July 1st at Tokyo Dome City Hall.
As for Lindaman’s match with Irie on this show, I would put it in the “very good but not quite great” category. I was very surprised to see Lindaman retain here given the likelihood of him losing several matches in the Best of the Super Junior Tournament (he already lost to DOUKI on May 17th in a fairly shocking result). Tetsuya Izuchi, whose “60 Seconds” stable is gaining serious momentum and is the top merch mover in GLEAT, and Hayato Tamura each appeared post-match and appealed for the next G-REX title shot. Hopefully Izuchi will get that next opportunity, as losing to Goto would be a strange way for Tamura to earn title shot.
STARDOM’s week was highlighted by the second NEW BLOOD offering and an eventful Korakuen Hall show that saw a new Queen’s Quest leader crowned.
The best match on the May 13th NEW BLOOD 2 show was, somewhat surprisingly, Mai Sakurai taking on Suzu Suzuki. Sakurai has slowly improved since joining the Donna Del Mondo group and is being rewarded on STARDOM’s May 25th PPV event with a tag team title challenge beside Giulia after scoring a recent pinfall over Koguma. While she lost here to Suzuki, Sakurai showed far more aggressiveness and physicality than before—I would argue this was the best match of her career. The other highlight of the show was the interaction between Hanan and JTO’s Tomoka Inaba in the second match of the show—Hanan’s rapid improvement continues and Inaba is an impressive outsider that would be a great fit in the God’s Eye stable, if STARDOM pursues her on a full-time basis.
STARDOM’s May 15th show at Korakuen Hall was headlined by the Queen's Quest General Election 5 Way Match to fill that stable’s leadership void following Momo Watanabe’s defection to Oedo Tai. Utami Hayashishita was the favorite going in and she ended up winning, with the final moments between her and AZM hinting at the potential of an incredible, high-profile singles match between the two. That was preceded by two 8-person elimination tag team matches. The Oedo Tai vs Stars match was one of the most entertaining elimination rules matches in recent STARDOM history—nothing approaching a five star classis, but it had so many interesting and unique teases of over-top-rope elimination spots and actual OTR spots. It’s definitely well worth your time as a “palette cleanser” sort of match.
STARDOM’s next major show takes place on May 28th at Ota Ward Gymasium on PPV, with the following lineup (including KAIRI’s next match in her STARDOM return):
Future of Stardom Title: Hanan (c) vs. Ruaka
Unagi Sayaka, Mina Shirakawa & Waka Tsukiyama vs. Suzu Suzuki, Akane Fujita, & Mochi Natsumi
High Speed Title: AZM (c) vs. Thekla
SWA World Title: Mayu Iwatani (c) vs. Fukigen Death
Tam Nakano & KAIRI vs. Utami Hayashishita & Miyu Amasaki
Goddesses of Stardom Title: Hazuki & Koguma (c) vs. Giulia & Mai Sakurai
rtist of Stardom Title: Maika, Himeka & Natsupoi (c) vs. Momo Watanabe, Starlight Kid & Saki Kashima
Wonder of Stardom Title: Saya Kamitani (c) vs. MIRAI
World of Stardom Title: Syuri (c) vs. Risa Sera
Just before press time, Konosuke Takeshita had an absolute classic of a TV match against Hangman Adam Page on this week’s Dynamite that should be a star-making performance to the AEW audience for the 26 year old DDT standout. Takeshita stayed with, and in some ways outshined, the AEW World Champion in a match that should have opened many eyes backstage to the top-star potential Takeshita has in America. Quite simply, he has no weaknesses.
Editors note: The Adam & Mike Big Audio Nightmare, in many ways the companion podcast to this newsletter, is now available for free courtesy of WON/F4W on Spotify and Apple Podcasts—our three most recent episodes are currently up for listening, and all new episodes will be available on those platforms.