AJPW Champion Carnival Day 2 on April 18, 2017
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Big Palette Fukushima – Koriyama, Fukushima, Japan
Every year, All Japan Pro Wrestling hosts the Champion Carnival, a round-robin style tournament in which all participants in a block must face one another. Participants are awarded two points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss/disqualification. The winners of each block face off in a singles match, where the victor typically receives a future Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship match. The blocks for this year’s Champion Carnival are as follows:
- Daisuke Sekimoto
- Jake Lee
- Joe Doering
- KAI 
- Kento Miyahara 
- Ryouji Sai
- Daichi Hashimoto 
- Kengo Mashimo
- Naoya Nomura
- Shuji Ishikawa
- Takao Omori
- The Bodyguard 
Champion Carnival Block A Match: KAI vs. Ryouji Sai
Here, we have a fifteen-year veteran of the sport, Ryouji Sai, taking on the divisive three-time WRESTLE-1 World Heavyweight champion, KAI. Due to WRESTLE-1’s waning confidence in KAI, he often received start-stop pushes within the company that negatively affected the way fans viewed him. In some ways, that stigma sticks with KAI despite the fact that he is now a freelancer.
Take this match, for instance. Although KAI spent the majority of the contest working from underneath, the crowd never got behind him for an extended period of time. On a more positive note, KAI’s selling of the leg was consistent outside of the finishing stretch where he shrugged off Sai’s limb work to hit a flurry of moves for the win. A solid effort, but lacking in intensity and urgency to be considered anything more than “fine.”
Champion Carnival Block B Match: Daichi Hashimoto vs. The Bodyguard
The Bodyguard is limited as a worker, especially at this stage in his career, but I felt that this match played to his and Hashimoto’s strengths. Daichi employed a simple, effective strategy of wearing down his larger opponent with stiff strikes. The Bodyguard attempted to fire back with several chops and power moves of his own, but he ultimately found himself unable to elude Hashimoto’s signature Shining Wizard. The booking of the match was on-point in that it gave Hashimoto a much-needed win while setting up a future World Tag Team title program in the process.
After a hard-fought victory, Hashimoto cut a promo stating that he and Hideyoshi Kamitani aim to capture the AJPW World Tag Team Championships from Zeus and The Bodyguard after the Champion Carnival. (Translation courtesy of Puroresu Spirit.) (Note: Hashimoto’s promo did not air as part the NicoNico version of the show.)
Último Dragón, Shuji Ishikawa, Jun Akiyama & Dory Funk Jr. vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Koji Iwamoto, Osamu Nishimura & Yohei Nakajima
I always fear for Dory Funk Jr.’s health in these multi-man tag matches. Although his time in the ring is always brief, it doesn’t take much for something to go wrong and frankly, that’s deeply concerning. What we got here was mostly a light-hearted break from tournament action, highlighted by an exchange that ended in Sekimoto putting Funk in a Torture Rack. The match began to pick up once Iwamoto and Nakajima came into the mix, and evolved into a race-to-the-finish style sprint in which the veterans bullied their younger adversaries. When done properly, matches like this can provide a cheerful aside to the doom and gloom of a non-stop stream of singles matches. In that sense, I’d say this match was a success even if it was rather aimless as a whole.
Dalton Drellich & Evolution (Atsushi Aoki, Hikaru Sato & Suwama) vs. NEXTREAM (Jake Lee, Kento Miyahara, Naoya Nomura & Yuma Aoyagi)
The early stages of the match establish Aoyagi as an underdog. From there, Suwama and Aoki spend a significant amount of time working over Yuma as their stablemates brawl with NEXTREAM on the floor. It’s difficult to keep up with the action on the floor, as the hard camera doesn’t quite catch everything. Aoyagi excels as the face in peril, and his facial expressions are befitting of a never say die babyface. Miyahara and company briefly fire back with several double-team maneuvers that allow them to put away Drellich for the win. The match was structured basically, but it was a solid effort from everyone involved. Steady escalation led to a series of strong near-falls down the closing stretch, and Yuma Aoyagi impressed with his performance.
Champion Carnival Block B Match: Kengo Mashimo vs. Takao Omori
There are a lot of things to like about this match. For starters, Mashimo’s work on top is compelling. Everything he does, from viciously trapping Omori’s arms in the guardrail to disregarding the referee’s orders, makes him come across as a resourceful, cunning athlete willing to do anything to win. Around the twenty-seven minute mark, Omori failed to capitalize on a lariat due to Mashimo’s work on his arm, which was a nice bit of continuity. With that said, the match didn’t begin to kick into another gear until the last five minutes or so.
Mashimo’s performance made this match infinitely more interesting, but the negatives far outweigh the positives. The show was sorely lacking a standout match at this point, and I’m not sure that a thirty-minute draw in the semi-main event was best positioned to deliver that. The effort was clearly there, but I felt that they could have accomplished the same goals in roughly half the length. Post-match, Mashimo requested a handshake and kicked Omori’s hands away when he extended the olive branch.
Champion Carnival Block A Match: Joe Doering vs. Zeus
It’s not often that Zeus is the smallest competitor in the match, but Doering towers over him in comparison. Zeus has made great strides as a competitor in the last twelve months, and he held his own against Doering here. Naturally, Zeus had to utilize chops and lariats to wear down his larger opponent. The match was largely worked as a hard-hitting sprint, in which Zeus displayed great urgency by quickly following up on all of his power moves. Try as he might, Doering found himself unable to put Zeus away and was pinned after a Jackhammer. A rock-solid main event, but nothing more.
AJPW CHAMPION CARNIVAL DAY 2 ON APRIL 18, 2017
Average - 5.0/10
Day 2 of this year's AJPW Champion Carnival was a solid outing despite lacking a standout match to put the show over the top. Although you can safely skip this show, Yuma Aoyagi and Kengo Mashimo delivered two performances that are worth viewing if you are so inclined.