Mike Reviews – All Japan Pro Wrestling at the Tokyo Dome (1st May 1998)

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

Today we’re going to be looking at some matches from All Japan’s big show at the Tokyo Dome in May of 1998. I’ve had a peruse on YouTube and managed to find five of them, so that’s what we’ll be watching today. I’m not sure if the full card ever made it to TV or not. I could have probably found more but these five matches are enough to fill close to two hours and that’s more than enough for the Wednesday review slot.

All Japan had stayed away from running the Dome due to Giant Baba having a previous bad experience back in 1990 when he’d promoted a show also featuring stars from New Japan and the WWF. All Japan was probably past its peak by the time 1998 rolled around from the insane hot streak it had experienced since switching to clean finishes in big matches at the end of the 80’s, but they still had a big moment of Toshiaki Kawada finally getting his big singles Title win over Mitsuharu Misawa, along with Vader coming in from the WWF to work the semi-main.

Being that it was All Japan, they eschewed a lot of the bells and whistle that companies like New Japan put on whenever they ran a big show in a venue like this, and instead just presented a match focused All Japan show in front of a near 60,000 crowd.

The playlist for these matches can be viewed by clicking HERE

In a quick aside, according to the Wrestling Observer from this time period Paul Heyman was trying to arrange some ECW involvement to help All Japan fill out the card. He was basically happy for ECW guys to be booked and used in any way All Japan pleased in exchange for getting an ECW Title match between Shane Douglas and Hiroshi Hase where Hase would put Douglas over. Heyman’s thought process was that Hase would be fine with doing a job because he was basically semi-retired at this stage and he’d also be able to carry Douglas to a great match, thus allowing Paul to show the match on ECW television in order to make ECW look important. Sadly that deal never went through though and there’s no ECW involvement on this show as a result.

The event is emanating from the Tokyo Dome on the 1st of May 1998

Gedo and Jado Vs Johnny Smith and Wolf Hawkfield

Gedo and Jado were known more for their stuff in WAR and FMW at the time, although they would also work All Japan shows on occasion as well. Smith was a British wrestler who got his main break from working up in Canada. Hawkfield formerly wrestled under the name Jim Steele, but All Japan had a deal with SEGA to produce a wrestling game for the Saturn that featured Wolf and Jeffrey from the Virtua Fighter series in it, so All Japan gave Steele the Hawkfield gimmick as a tie-in. Sadly New Japan didn’t fight back by signing a deal with Namco and then making Kensuke Sasaki dress up as Jin Kazama.

Gedo was at least passable enough at English during this period that you could hold a basic conversation with him according to Chris Jericho’s book, so it makes sense that he’s in there with the two foreign lads. Smith had worked for quite a while in Japan by this stage though so you’d hope that he’d picked up at least some of the lingo. Smith and Gedo do some nice stuff on the mat to start, with the commentator mentioning the Lancashire Style, and the crowd appreciates the smooth technical skills on display.

Steele by comparison is much more of a heavy-hitting brawler, but he doesn’t do anything he can’t do and he doesn’t look too bad in there. Gedo and Jado would really hit their stride as workers when the 00’s came along and they could usually be trusted to have a banger in the right setting, but that wasn’t quite the case in 1998. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re decent here and do a good job of selling for their opponents before throwing in some double team moves in order to get a foothold in the match and pop the crowd.

Smith is the most over guy in the match, with the fans liking his wrestling and getting excited when he tags in as they know some slicker technical grappling is on the way. Gedo ends up cutting Smith off when he tries to skin the cat and then follows him out with a dive, leading to Gedo and Jado working some heat on Smith for a bit, which he sells well. Gedo and Jado use classic bad guy tactics, such as eye gouges and fish-hooking.

Eventually it’s hot tag Wolf, and he keeps it simple with things like clotheslines whilst Gedo and Jado bump around to make him look good. In a nice touch, I think every big move Wolf does is actually a move you can make the character do in the game, which is dedication to the bit if nothing else. Smith continues to be the guy the crowd cares about the most though, as he kicks out of Jado low blow and Lariat to a good pop, before getting a chicken wing hold for a good submission tease. Some of the near falls in general are done really well, with Smith eventually getting a reverse DDT on Jado for three.

WINNERS:
RATING: **3/4

This turned into a fun outing once they hit the closing stretch, with some good near falls and decent execution. Wolf was kind of just there, but Smith was in good form and Gedo/Jado did a solid job in getting their opponents over

Giant Kimala, Jun Izumida and Jinsei Shinzaki Vs Giant Baba, Hayabusa and Kentaro Shiga

Kimala isn’t Jim Harris but rather a guy who spent his career doing Kamala cosplay under this name as well as Botswana Beast and The Uganda. Izumida would team with Kimala, so he’s dressed up like him here, whilst Shinzaki would probably be best known for his spell in the WWF as Hakushi. Shiga was still a youngster at this stage in his career, whilst Hayabusa was a noted high-flyer from the FMW promotion that would sometimes team with Shinzaki, so it’s interesting that they are on opposing sides here.

Baba was the promoter of All Japan and he had been a big star in the 60’s and 70’s before beginning to wind down his in-ring career a bit in the 80’s. By this stage he mostly worked tag matches in the lower half of the card so that the fans could get a kick out of watching him deliver his signature moves against other aging wrestlers such as Haruka Eigen and Rusher Kimura.

Baba’s music gets a (pardon the pun) gigantic pop from the Tokyo Dome crowd. Naomichi Marufuji actually gets a blink and you’ll miss it cameo when he gets to hold the ropes open for Baba. Hayabusa leaps into the ring following Baba’s more conventional entrance and Baba has an amused look on his face at the youthful exuberance on display. People are literally standing on their chairs in order to cheer Baba during his introduction, which is frankly awesome. This is the best use of aging legends by the way. Let them come down to the ring for a pop but then put them in a match like this with other guys to carry the load for them.

Izumida looks like such a tool with the stars on his chest, but I think that was kind of the point. Shiga is lacking in size here, but he’s quick on his feet and he gets a good reaction when he finally manages to slam Izumida after failing a couple of times. Baba demands to get in with Kimala at one stage, with the smile never leaving his face at just how over he is here. The crowd gets into watching Baba shoulder tackle and chop the big guy as well, with Kimala being happy to sell big for the boss.

Baba’s offence was famously decried by Mick Foley in his first autobiography, where he said Baba looked like he couldn’t break an egg and that is true, but the crowd doesn’t seem to care. If no one’s getting hurt and everyone is having fun then I personally don’t see the problem, especially when it’s an under card tag match like this. Shinzaki and Hayabusa of course go at it at eventually, and it’s probably the best action of the entire match, with the execution being smooth and the crowd getting into it. Baba gets in for a bit with Shinzaki as well, which the crowd reacts to positively.

Shinzaki actually gets to block some chops to a nice pop, with Baba again grinning like a kid who got a GameBoy for Christmas at how into this match the crowd is when he has barely done anything. Shinzaki tries his rope walk spot a couple of times but Baba manages to get out of it on both occasions before tagging out. Shiga spends a period getting worked over in the oppositions half of the ring at one stage, which makes sense as he’s a young Junior Heavyweight here, and he does a good job selling it all whilst showing fire with things like dropkicks.

Hayabusa eventually gets the tag and does another nice sequence with Shinzaki, ending with Hayabusa delivering a TOP CON HILO to the floor onto Shinzaki at one stage. Baba eventually does some selling as well, with Shinzaki even teasing a powerbomb on him at one stage (not bloody likely). Hayabusa manages to prevent that but Shinzaki does eventually manage to get the rope walk on Baba, with Baba again grinning all the way through it before catching Shinzaki with a chop before Shinzaki can deliver his own. I think I could watch Giant Baba wrestle in front of this Tokyo Dome crowd every week to be honest, they’ve loved everything he’s done and it’s made the match very entertaining, even if some of the wrestling has been just okay.

Hayabusa gets some big moves on Shinzaki such as a Falcon Arrow and flipping back senton off the top rope, whilst Shinzaki gets the inverted Dragon Screw and a powerbomb in reply. Kimala even busts out a 300 pound dropkick at one stage before squishing Hayabusa with a rolling shoulder splash that gets two when Baba breaks up the pin. Izumida gets to do some stuff as well, including a diving head butt off the top rope, as they’re rolling out more and more big moves here. Eventually things break down, with Baba booting Izumida so that Hayabusa can come off the top with an awesome 450 Splash for the three count.

WINNERS: BABA, HAYABUSA & SHIGA
RATING: **1/2

At 20 minutes this might have been a bit too long, but aside from that I thought it was good fun and the crowd was certainly into it. Hayabusa, Shiga and Shinzaki all brought the goods from an in-ring perspective and Baba was clearly having a great time going out there and being so over in such a big setting

Baba shakes hands with his partners and Shinzaki following that before leaving victorious. Kimala tries to start something but Baba just ignores him before taking his leave. Hayabusa and Shinzaki make nice now the match is over as well.

Hiroshi Hase Vs Jun Akiyama

Hase had originally made his name in New Japan before stepping away from wrestling to enter the world of politics, where he was successful and eventually managed to become minister of sport I believe. He would still do the odd wrestling show though and All Japan would try to bring him in for big events like this. Akiyama had debuted in 1992 and was past the point of being a Young Lion now, so they’ve brought in Hase to give him a real test on the big Dome show. Both men had amateur backgrounds as well, so that was used as a way to hype the contest along with the Then Vs Now theme they already had going on.

The fans seem to realise how big an opportunity this is for Akiyama and his name gets a good reaction when he gets announced. This is one of those matches that will definitely divide people depending on what you personally enjoy when it comes to watching pro wrestling. There is a lot of patient mat wrestling here, with both men fighting over holds and building the match up gradually because they are booked to put in a lot of time in. I enjoy this sort of wrestling (although whether I’d want an entire card of it is another question) so this match is enjoyable for me as a result, as both men are technically sound and the wrestling itself is executed well. If you’re more into action though then I could see this bordering on being boring for you.

I will concede that the near 27 minute run time is a bit too long though. It’s quite similar to Arn Anderson’s match with William Regal at SuperBrawl IV actually, in that 15-20 minutes would have been just fine for them but the fact they try going closer to 30 stops it from being a great match because they don’t have 30 minutes of match in which to fill the 30 minutes. This match really didn’t need to be 27 minutes, especially when you consider that Hase was a politician by this stage and wasn’t wrestling regularly, and thus not in proper ring shape. There’s still a lot of good wrestling in it, but it’s a good match and tops out there because the run time eventually becomes too long.

Eventually both men move up to slaps and elbows, with strikes looking snug yet safe, which is the way you want it. Hase of course busts out The Giant Swing at one stage because that was one of his trademark spots, and the crowd loves that. He looks absolutely bushed after doing it like, but it was still fun to see it. Both men eventually start trading suplexes, with Hase doing Sambo styled throws whilst Akiyama focuses on Exploder’s, leading to an eventual double down after an impressive suplex rally. The crowd responds big time to that, and both men sell the after effects of the suplexes well. Hase recovers first and goes to Scorpion Deathlock following that, but Akiyama makes the ropes and then fights back himself with a Figure Four.

The submission holds don’t seem to be as over with the crowd as the strikes and suplexes were, but they are good submission teases in my opinion and they suit the theme of these two guys being technically proficient wrestlers, and the sorts of wrestlers who would try and use submission holds during the business end of a bout like this. Hase’s selling in the Figure Four in particular is fantastic, as he really gets across how much pain he’s in and he constantly tries to find a way out of the hold, including pulling on Akiyama’s knee pad at one stage. This does suceed in finally getting the crowd into the submission tease. Akiyama eventually decides that Hase won’t tap and he’s just wasting time, so he breaks the hold and then starts delivering stomps instead.

Hase fights up from the mat and we get another exchange of strikes, which ends with Hase slapping Akiyama down to the floor. The only downside from this point is that Hase kind of stops selling his leg, which kind of undoes all the good work he did in selling the Figure Four. We do get some good near falls though, with Hase getting both a Northern Lights and Dragon Suplex for two counts. Akiyama survives though and fights back, leading to both men trading running big boots until Akiyama gets a double arm DDT before following up with a Wrist Clutch Exploder for three and a big pop.

WINNER: JUN AKIYAMA
RATING: ***1/2

Lovely Stuff!

Stan Hansen and Vader Vs Kenta Kobashi and Johnny Ace

Hansen and Vader had famously fought one another at a Tokyo Dome event in the 90’s where Hansen had hit Vader so hard that Vader’s eye had popped out. Vader is here on loan from the WWF, as All Japan wanted a marquee outside name and Vader had been a big star in Japan for years. Ace was known for being Mrs. Baba’s favourite wrestler, but he actually wasn’t that bad and mostly held his own in All Japan when in there with the better guys. Kobashi was one of the Big Five of All Japan and the fans were very interested to see him get in there with Vader for the first time. Hansen gets probably one of the biggest reactions on the entire show, even though he was nearing retirement by the time 1998 rolled around. I think 2000/2001 was when he finally hung up the boots.

Vader and Kobashi do indeed start us out, and it’s a lot of fun, with Kobashi selling and bumping for all of Vader’s offence perfectly. Vader takes his lumps as well though, with Kobashi even managing to knock him down with a leaping shoulder tackle at one stage. Hansen and Ace do a bit together following that, with Ace selling well for Hansen, probably because Hansen didn’t give him much choice in the matter. Hansen and Vader do get most of the offence in I’d say, although Kobashi and Ace are always fighting back. It’s a competitive bout, but Hansen and Vader are almost always in the role of aggressor and the opposing team are in the role of trying to regain their footing.

Vader rams Kobashi into the ring post outside the ring at one stage, but Kobashi manages to DDT him out there as well, leading to all four guys fighting at ringside. Kobashi ends up diving off the top rope with a cross body onto Vader outside the ring, showing that he’s pulling out all the stops against his monstrous opponent here. Kobash and Ace give Vader an awesome combo back suplex/neck breaker at one stage, as they had pretty decent chemistry as partners, but Vader manages to survive that and tag out to Hansen. Ace gets clobbered for a bit by the combined forces of Hansen and Vader, with Vader drilling him with a German Suplex at one stage.

If you really hate Johnny Ace then you’ll probably want to have that suplex as a gif so that you can relive it over and over again. Vader crushes Ace with a splash off the second rope and then follows with a Vader Attack for two in a good near fall. Ace has taken a kicking here, that’s for sure. Ace manages to catch Vader with an Ace Crusher/Diamond Cutter/RKO OUTTA NOWHERE though and it’s hot tag Kobashi, who runs wild on both opponents and looks good doing so. Your daily reminder that Kenta Kobashi is awesome. Kobashi actually heads up with a Moonsault on Vader and then gives Hansen a Hart Attack before he can attack him afterwards. Kobashi gets greedy and goes for a Brain Buster though, which leads to Vader landing on him for two.

The finishing stretch is very well done, with lots of good near falls, as partners only just make it in to break up pins, such as when Ace saves Kobashi following a Hansen/Vader double powerbomb. Hansen actually comes off the top with an elbow drop at one stage (OHHHHHH YEAH) but Kobashi manages to kick out. Vader ends up accidentally catching Hansen however, and that leads to Kobashi being able to get a flash roll up on Hansen to pick up the last gasp win against the odds.

WINNERS: KOBASHI & ACE
RATING: ***2/3

This was a lot of fun, with Kobashi looking like the best wrestler in the whole world whilst Vader seemed rejuvenated by actually getting treated like a big deal again after years of being a supporting player in the WWF. Ace took his lumps and Hansen was over like rover, so everyone had a part to play in making this good.

Hansen and Vader are furious following that, leading to Ace having to drag Kobashi to safety before he gets further battered by the livid pair.

All Japan Triple Crown
Champ: Mitsuharu Misawa Vs Toshiaki Kawada

The story here was that these two were former tag team partners turned rivals, with Kawada never being able to defeat Misawa for the Title. The Tokyo Dome was set up to be the night that Kawada would finally achieve his goal. According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Misawa was really badly banged up here to the point that he was practically being held together by paperclips and scotch tape, so the result wasn’t really in doubt to anyone who was in the know, as it was long past the point that Misawa get some time off in order to deal with his litany of injury issues. Considering how battered his body was going into this, he puts on a very gutsy performance, on par with Shawn Michaels’ effort against Stone Cold from Mania that year.

Despite clearly hurting, Misawa still manages to come off the top rope with a dropkick before following Kawada out to the floor with an ELBOW SUICIDA. He comes up notably limping from that though and he’s moving slowly between the big moves. Both men are working hard in general here, with the usual stiff strikes on display. Misawa tries flipping over onto his feet on a superplex but it doesn’t quite go the way he wants, although they cover it well by having Kawada wipe him out with a running kick followed by a Brain Buster. Kawada continues to just clobber Misawa, with Misawa selling everything well and Kobashi selling his end of the struggle as well.

Misawa starts walking through some kicks at one stage and elbows Kawada down, leading to both men throwing big strikes and popping back up again, which the crowd loves. Kawada regains control by dropping Misawa on his HEAD with a Dangerous Back Drop, but Misawa pops up with yet MORE elbows, as both guys are refusing to stay down here. The match has a really good intensity to it, as they are focusing on throwing bombs in an effort to put the other away and it’s kind of the perfect strategy for a Dome setting where the intricacies of a more subtle match might not quite get across as well in such a big building. The usually stoic Misawa even sells big whilst in a Single Leg Crab and a Figure Four at different stages in order to get across the pain he’s in to the crowd.

Kawada really tries to completely break Misawa down here, first targeting his legs and then his arms with measured attacks, but Misawa keeps coming and even throws some elbows with his injured arm, although the effectiveness of them is limited and the work on the arm has made them easier to counter for Kawada. Some of the near falls in the closing stretch are really good; especially when Kawada gets a series of big Enziguri’s and Misawa just refuses to stay down. The crowd can sense that Kawada isn’t far away from winning, and part of them wants to see it whilst another part of them kind of wants Misawa to make the big comeback, so the match has a great atmosphere.

The finishing stretch is essentially Kawada just throwing move after move at Misawa in an effort to keep him down, with Misawa doing everything he can just to hang on and getting more and more over the longer he survives. It’s simple booking but it works a treat and when Kawada finally wins it after a powerbomb it makes him look strong for getting the job done whilst not making Misawa look weak at the same time. In fact, Misawa almost looks stronger in defeat than he would have with getting a victory in some ways, as he was a warrior who went out on his shield and didn’t give up even though he was clearly banged up and had his back against the wall.

WINNER: TOSHIAKI KAWADA
RATING: ****1/2

This was another great match between the two, with both men working the right match for the Dome setting and Misawa entering one of the better performances of his career when you consider just how battered he was physically. This match really highlighted a big difference between the booking philosophies of All Japan and New Japan as well. In New Japan, someone like Inoki or Fujinami would have eventually survived the Kawada onslaught and done the big comeback win, but All Japan was all about the gruff realism and once Misawa was on the back foot he was never winning. His victory came from going down swinging and bravely refusing to give up, with Kawada having to throw everything at him to win. In All Japan losing with honour meant almost as much as winning sometimes, whereas in New Japan during the Inoki Era the result really was the most important thing

Kawada really puts the occasion over by reacting big to his win, getting the belts and a nice trophy for his effort.

In Conclusion

There was some darn fine pro wrestling on this here show!

It’s definitely worth checking out the last three matches reviewed here, although Hase/Akiyama might not be for everyone.

Recommended show!