The Champions Carnival is finished for another year, and this year’s tournament was amongst the very best in company history. Here’s ten matches worth going back and checking out.
10. Suwama vs Naomichi Marufuji
In all honesty, Marufuji had something of a slow start in this years champions carnival, and we’re not talking about his win/loss record. Looking warn out and apathetic at times, many questioned whether he still had it anymore. In typical Marafuji style though, he started bringing the goods towards the closing stretch of the tournament, and his performances really took a turn for the better here. Suwama is just brilliant here too, and this match is certainly worth a watch.
9. Jun Akiyama vs. KAI
There are some who raised an eyebrow about Akiyama being back in a Champion Carnival tournament setting, but we’d never have had this gem if he didn’t. This is a rematch from the 2013 champion carnival final, and KAI it seems did not forget about the loss he took there, as the intensity here was off the charts. The closing stretch was particularly brilliant and it stands out as one of the best matches from the early parts of the tournament.
8. Kento Miyahara vs Shuji Ishikawa
Miyahara has the homefield advantage in this one (This match took place in his hometown of Fukuoka) and they play off it so well. Miyahara is left fighting from behind early following a DDT outside, and the brilliant selling, coupled with the hot crowd makes this a match worth checking out.
7. Shuji Ishikawa vs Naoya Nomura
While this is the only match of his that makes this list, Nomura was maybe the most constantly fun to watch competitor in the whole tournament, as the plucky underdog gave us his all in each match. No one plays in better to an underdog then Ishikawa, who gives Nomura his best match of the tournament here. Look out for one of the roughest bodyslams onto an apron you’ll ever see.
6. Suwama vs Yoshitatsu
Yoshitatsu has slowly been shedding his jobber status history in AJPW, and he surely proved a lot of things to a lot of people in this tournament. No one expected a match quite like this from him though. Yoshitatsu doesn’t just bring the fight to Suwama, but he looks every bit the “Ace’s” equal in doing so. If you still believe Yoshitatsu is just the punchline of a joke, go watch this match as it will change your mind in a heartbeat.
5. Shingo Takagi vs Yuji Hino
There was a point in this tournament where trying to keep up with all the matches was beginning to feel a bit like a chore. Then day seven happened and we got Takagi vs Hino and all the brilliance it produced. Takagi plays the underdog to some extent here, and Hino the immovable object in his way (a cocky, strutting, S.O.B of an object at that). Takagi goes all out to try and put the big man down and the result is a match that you HAVE to see.
4. Kento Miyahara vs. Shingo Takagi
While Hino vs. Ishikawa opened the tournament in style, and Zeus vs. Suwama provided a great main event, it was this match that gave us our first true match of the tournament candidate, on what was a stacked first card. These two just meshed so well, and we can only hope that we get to see this again sometime in the future.
3. Kento Miyahara vs Naomichi Marafuji
We got a legit dream match in the final, and it did not disappoint at all. Marufuji feel every bit the old school invader, and the crowd are crazy behind Miyahara. Both men are masters of the art of counter wrestling and putting knees to faces and the crowd eats up everything they do. They crack out some awesome spots and moves in the closing stretch, and this feels every bit like a true battle of attrition, where everything is on the line.
2. Shingo Takagi vs Shuji Ishikawa
Takagi may well have been the MVP (performance wise) of this tournament, creating standout performances again and again. We all know Ishikawa is just all kinds of brilliant too and they made sure to go out with a bang in the block finals. Similar in some way to Takagi’s match with Hino, as he throws caution to the wind to try and topple the big man. Jaw dropping closing stretch, featuring big moves and big kick-outs. Go watch it!
1. Jun Akiyama vs Naomichi Marufuji
Is this a controversial pick for the no.1 match? Perhaps. Certainly there were matches that featured more athleticism, bigger moves, and talent in their primes but the history and psychology going into this match, made it feel truly special. Akiyama’s grumpiness reached peak levels, as he looked to punish the “NOAH skum” that is Marufuji, who in turn looks to kick Akiyama’s head off of his shoulders. Wrestling is at its best when you believe in the fight that is happening before you, and everything here is delivered with such deliberate brutality and meaning, it pulls you in brilliantly. Everyone will have their favourites, but this was something truly special.
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