Strong BJ vs Astronauts – The BJW May 28th Series

Diminishing returns is a very real thing in wrestling, a problem some wrestlers deal with better than others but so often it’s hard to recreate the magic of a moment when you see it over and over again. The idea of giving each audience a similar performance so that they can experience what makes each match the way they are is probably the main reason why so many pairings of wrestlers rarely change up their style too much from the original. That and the fact it’s dangerous to move away from a winning formula.

These 4 in particular have been doing some combination of tag match with each other for years now, so much so that it feels like they’re the only important players in BJW’s tag division and that everyone else is just there to tick over until the next Astronauts vs Strong BJ match. The style of these matches also rarely change, although the style in question is probably the best thing going in Japanese tag team wrestling. So when the combination of these 4 men had 3 separate matches on May 28th, split across a morning and evening BJW show, it was all the more impressive that they managed to hit a homerun across all 3.

Starting with the tag match that main evented Korakuen Hall, this thing goes 35 minutes. Again, this tag is split into 2 singles matches for later on the same day. Also, 35 minutes for a tag match that’s been done twice this year already and ended in draws both times in matches that were very enjoyable but definitely had frustrating endings. Whether a 35 minute tag is the best way to follow on from that is debatable but the chemistry these 4 have built up even before this year, giving them a main event in Korakuen is never a bad thing.

It’s a long time to fill here and they do it very well, I can’t say I’m ever gripped by the opening chain wresting of Astronauts matches and that’s for 2 reasons – it never leads anywhere and the guys they’re doing it with are almost always a step behind. Sekimoto and Okabayashi are great but it’s hard to care about them trading wrist-locks. It doesn’t last long of course and the first big shift in this match that will keep coming back to bite Strong BJ is a failed lariat attempt from Yuji that crashes into the ring post. The fact it’s the left arm that is compromised here which allows the thudding chops to still come from the right arm is a stroke of genius, whether intentional or not I’m not sure. I haven’t paid attention to it previously but I’d imagine Abe usually directs his submissions and what not to the left side anyway but giving a limb to target without having to throw it away when the guy in danger does all his big stuff with that limb anyway is a smart way to do this. Yuji still does throw lariats with his left-arm in this anyway but it comes after a large period of the arm not being the focus point. Still, it’s the reason they lose it in the end.

What drags this one out from a standard 15-20 or over 20 minute affair isn’t a whole lot, mostly just both teams trading segments of bettering the other with strikes. Until the deep waters of this, a pairing will trade strikes and have a very nice segment against each other that might incorporate some submission work in there too and then the other two dudes come in being fresh from waiting around. It’s a system that works and added are the little moments where Yuji will chop the hell out of Abe off the apron or Sekimoto gets blasted off the side when trying to make a save. This keeps up until around the 30 minute mark where the fatigue sets in with one moment in particular where Nomura makes the tag to Abe who comes in and can’t muster the energy for a big hot tag so just choses to kick Yuji while he’s down.

It’s worth mentioning here too that this Korakuen crowd is firmly behind Abe and Nomura which is funny given Okabayashi works through this match with the one big weak point. Yuji getting back on offence after having his arm meticulously worked over only for Abe chants to pour in sure does make you feel bad for Yuji. Not that it seemed to phase him, he actively encourages the chants while putting the beating on him. The crowd add a lot to the final 5 too, Abe and Okabayashi’s strike exchange feels backed purely by the crowd going nuts for it when both guys have been through hell until this point.

Of course, the striking and bombs are fantastic and reach the peak in the final 5. Sekimoto backdropping Abe to escape a headscissor and then saving the match by deadlifting Nomura out of a suplex, followed by the Strong BJ double german suplex spot on Nomura is wonderful stuff. Strong BJ hit back-to-back double splashes only for Abe to get his knees up on Okabayashi’s and it takes multiple openings for Abe to get back into things. There’s not a whole lot of no-selling and kickout at 1 stuff here which I appreciate too, they’ve had all match to fire up and offer their chest for strikes, now it’s a battle of survival where everyone involved is running on nothing. The only real spot like that is Abe kicking out of Okabayashi’s powerbomb to grab an armbar. Yuji fights like a madman trying to escape this but Abe knows the arm is the route to winning and keeps on it. Nomura stopping Sekimoto with a manjigatame and Okabayashi finally tapping out sends Korakuen into cheers of joy. Astronauts get their vindication…for now.

The first of two singles matches on Death Market 73 comes from Sekimoto and Nomura who still manage to go 18 here which may have been a little too long but they get a strong narrative across. The first 10 of this is slow, like really slow. Sekimoto gets an early advantage and works over Nomura for a while and it’s not the most compelling stuff but it’s 100% logical. Just a few hours after the tag war, these dudes are fatigued and they’re not gonna pretend otherwise.

Realistically, most matches should start with both guys at max energy throwing everything they have and slow things down once they’ve been put through a ton of punishment but big main events in pretty much any promotion love their slow starts to build up to the big stuff. Here though, the slow start really works in solidifying this as a match of survival, not dominance. Both guys feel like Jenga towers ready to fall apart at any second and they do on multiple occasions. The strikes heat up towards the finish but a lot of them are fairly weak but it doesn’t stop Nomura crumpling to the mat from a standard forearm.

If anything, Sekimoto being on top of offence wears him out more than Nomura does. It ends up with Sekimoto blocking the dragon suplex but not after Nomura releases into an overhead slap that weakens his opponent enough to finally hit it for the win. There’s plenty from Nomura to get to that moment but it’s fair to say he takes most of the punishment in this. Sekimoto hits his diving splash, enzuigiri and a nasty lariat that wraps around Takuya’s head. In the end though, Nomura had reserved enough in the gas tank to get the only thing that mattered – a 3 count.

And we make it to the final match of the day, Fuminori Abe vs Yuji Okabayashi. These two start with a bit more energy than their partners, probably due to the fact they have more fuelling them. Abe holds the submission win in the tag on Yuji and knows he can win whereas Okabayashi is driven by the opposite, having enough frustration and determination to write that wrong. What we get is a much better use of the opening grappling that I mentioned wasn’t particularly interesting between these. Abe stays on the arm constantly, not afraid to throw a cheeky strike in here and there while Yuji does what he can to defend his arm but leaving himself open to attacks when he goes too aggressive.

Few wrestlers are so visually imposing as Okabayashi – once he starts working on top, it takes more than just one move for Abe to get back the control. As soon as Yuji is grounded, Abe goes right back to the arm and it halts Okabayashi multiple times in this match just like it did in the tag. This time though, there’s the sense that when so many high impact moves get strung together, it’s only a matter of time before Abe gets put down. Like I mentioned in the tag, the left arm being worked over gives Abe plenty to work on but not enough to totally nullify all of Yuji’s big offence like the chops and slams. Similar to Nomura and Sekimoto, it’s a fight for survival but also a race against time to see what will give out first – Abe’s body or Okabayashi’s arm.

The answer comes when the two get into a strike exchange and the advantage clearly lies with the bigger man who grounds Abe multiple times. Where the arm work comes in good, it also costs Abe the chance at winning a strike exchange when Yuji has been focused on the high impact stuff that’s gonna score a knockdown or a 3 count. Even when Abe lands his straight right punch, Yuji comes right back with a lariat which is countered into a flying armbar attempt. The submission win is where it needs to happen for Abe and the same armbar that won the match earlier is escaped. The other opening for victory is answered when a powerbomb is countered into a flash pin attempt for only a 2 count. From there, a desperate attempt to grab Yuji’s leg is stopped and the diving splash puts an end to things. Okabayashi found his groove and there wasn’t a whole lot to stop it.

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