Triple Crown Heavyweight Title Match:
The work in this match was top notch, but it was still a disappointing match. It's a match that the fans should be excited about, the king against the future, but no since no one gave Jun a snowball's chance in hell of beating the man, the heat was pretty weak. Jun's standing in the traditional company is rather low, he's young and inexperienced in AJ terms, and he had no steam going in. His big win over Taue was 8 months ago, the push he got in the Carny, which was not much of one, was 5 months ago. Moreover, much of that Carny push was only seen by those who were lucky enough to have attended the house shows. The result of more bad Babas booking is that this match was severly lacking in heat.
Early on, they did some nice athletic spots, and some parity spots. Parity is good for Jun because he's so much younger and lower ranked, and maybe that is all he should have shot for, but it wasn't his strategy here. His ringwork, especially as the match progressed, didn't say that he was trying to play even with Misawa, something that used to work in All Japan when Jumbo was the king and Kawada and Kobashi were the future, it said he was the young punk pushing the veteran. However, he didn't look fired up or intense in doing so. He was in the biggest match of his life, yet he looked as excited as Sam Perkins does when he plays basketball. His big spot early looked to be a facecrusher off the apron, but it didn't get a major reaction, and was not put over as anything major.
One problem was that Jun was not aggressive enough at the outset. He was in control, but was kind of nice in letting Misawa recover at his own pace, and he didn't push the action at all. I think this is more due to needing to be carried than anything else, as he looked like he was waiting for Misawa's lead to move on to the next spot. Since this was Jun's first Triple Crown match, and the first time he headlined Budokan in singles, that he was a little tentative and basically let Misawa dictate the pace and the action is not a surprise. Jun is easily the better worker and more versatile wrestler than Akira Taue, but in a their back to back title matches against Misawa, the more experienced Taue was clearly less in need of being carried. Misawa did not attempt to deliver a great psychological match. The main psychology was a continuation of the bad neck storyline. What does give this psychology some depth is Jun was the one who injured Misawa's neck during the Champion Carnival.
The first ten minutes were kind of slow and uneventful. The work was what you would expect, but not a lot was done to legitimize Jun or advance the storyline of the match. Nothing said to the fans, "Jun's going to dethrone the king of the heavyweights tonight." Though maybe that is okay, or at least understandable. The highlight of the first 10 minutes was Misawa's elbow suicida, which got a nice reaction from the crowd. Jun sold this one tremendously, folding over the security rail, then sliding off slowly until he fell to his back, lying there with his arms out and his eyes closed. Back in the ring, Jun fought off Misawa's Tiger driver for a little while, then Misawa hit it for no pop and Jun kicked out for no pop. Misawa won the elbow exchanges, which is no surprise, but again states that Jun is inferior. Akiyama rolled through Misawa's released German suplex and put down with an elbow. This was a spot right out of the Misawa vs. Kawada book, but unlike in their matches, it got no reaction. Without the pop or the anticipation and intensity of the crowd, the double selling that ensued seemed dull. Jun countered Misawa's big spots and went on offense, getting the crowd behind him a bit as he hit his over spots, the jumping knee and exploder, for a near fall. However, what really seemed to get the crowd to react on the near fall though was the fact that Misawa tried to kick out by putting his leg over the rope, except the rope was a bit too far away, so Misawa had to quickly lift his shoulder to break the count. Akiyama went for his nadare shiki no exploder (exploder off the top rope). This should have got a huge pop because it was the spot he injured Misawa's neck with. My knowledge of Japanese is extremely limited, but I've heard it brought up by the announcers a number of times throughout the year, and it was brought up again on this tape. The problem is, if this footage exists, they never made it available, so almost no one has seen it. The reaction Akiyama got for attempting this spot was mild, and it was just no big deal that Misawa stopped his attempt.
Misawa went on the offensive, but Jun cut him off quickly with his exploder, which Misawa rolled to the floor to escape and sell. Akiyama soon followed him out there, jumping off the apron with a calf-branding neckbreaker drop. Back in the ring, Akiyama controlled the action getting several near falls, including hitting two more exploders. Jun started getting nasty, using one spot after another to debilitate Misawa's bad neck. This was no longer a friendly match among tag partners, yet Jun still didn't get any heat.
Misawa's selling of his neck progressively increased with the damage to it. After one of Jun's DDT's, Misawa was trying to shake his neck back into place. The pinnacle of the neck spots came when Jun hit a great diving elbow right to the back of Misawa's neck, and Misawa rolled forward so he was on his back in position for Jun to immediately cover him for a hot near fall. As usual, Misawa turned the match around with his trusty elbows. Misawa's transitions were typically great. Every wrestler should get tapes of him and watch how he makes a comeback because he sells the previous damage incredibly well. This ability is one of the main things that separates him from those that are simply great workers, you know like that guy in NJ who's initials are K.K.
Misawa used his big spots for near falls until Jun took his knee out with a dropkick and exploded with an exploder. Akiyama tried to work the injured knee, but Misawa cut him off with an enzuiguri. Misawa used another series of big spots, but Jun fought back valiantly. He never gave up, but eventually Misawa flattened him with a rolling elbow and delivered the Tiger driver. Jun still kicked out. Misawa delivered another Tiger driver, this time Jun was finished. Considering this was Jun's first TC match, the finish was as far as Misawa needed to go with him, especially since Jun kicked out of the Tiger driver that easily could have been the finish. The work was top notch, no blown spots and everything was precisely executed, as usual. The match still could have been a lot better with better booking of Jun coming into this match and better booking in the early portion to make him look more credible in the role he was trying to play. It was disappointing because it lacked the aura of the Triple Crown, and Misawa didn't do anything to make it anything beyond his most standard big match, which of course still sets it above most of what's out there due to the combination of great work and making the impactful moves meaningful. Although not Misawa's most creative match, their second Triple Crown match from 1/26/98 is a considerable step up from this. Akiyama was far more aggressive there and really took it too Misawa with everything in his arsenal and more. Thus, competing with Misawa on a low level in this match set the stage for him to compete on veteran level in the second TC match, and push Misawa to the limit. 24:57. ****