Featured image from @unooo_pw
Kento Miyahara is one of my major blind spots in pro wrestling. So many people that I respect regard him as one of the great wrestlers of our time and he is the figurehead leading the current crop of All Japan talent into the new decade. As I write this, he’s in the midst of a year plus long reign with the Triple Crown Championship and has the second most combined days with the Triple Crown Title second only to Mitsuharu Misawa himself. So All Japan is all in with Kento Miyahara and a lot of people have enjoyed his work in the second half of the 2010s.
I’m not completely blind to Kento though. In these past few years that he’s built up his reputation as the new ace of All Japan, I’ve dipped my toes into his matches enough to get a vague idea of the shape of his title match formula. Early back and forth, an exchange on the outside where he regains control with his headbutts, utilize his running Blackout knees to build to his bridging German suplex. Simple enough formula, every top wrestling star has one. I have yet to truly connect with any of Miyahara’s matches on an emotional level and even just barely on an intellectual one. In many ways, I struggle with him the same way I used to struggle with Kazuchika Okada in the mid 2010s. So as my patience paid off with Okada, I am optimistic that I might have a similar moment with Kento where everything just falls into place.
This match isn’t that. But it is a pretty great match nonetheless.
I’d say this is a pretty great introduction to Kento for anyone who’s not seen him before actually in that the match is built around a pretty easy piece of psychology for most wrestling fans to connect to: limb psychology. Yuma Aoyagi comes in as the up and comer trying to rise to Kento’s level. His main strategy to beat Kento is to attack his arm to set up his Guillotine Kimura Lock. It’s an effective story that they set up well. Kento misses an elbow attack on the outside and his arm crashes into the ringpost. Aoyagi stays focused on the arm through most of the match, using it not just to set up his Game Over submission hold but also to break Kento’s grip to block the straitjacket bridging German. Kento does a really strong job selling the arm throughout the match as well. He sells it pretty hard at some points, actively holding it close to his body to guard it for long stretches of the match. It’s a good selling performance that translates incredibly well.
Where I did have trouble was the finishing stretch. It had its positives. I enjoyed that it focused more on the anticipation and struggle for finishing holds to contrast the complicated, fast paced counters of the New Japan main event style. But at the same time, some of the offense just isn’t great. Kento’s bridging German, for example, creates a great moment of anticipation, but it never really lands with any real snap or impact. I can see myself forgiving this in the long run as I watch more Kento, but here it is still a little off for me.
All in all, a really great title match and a marked improvement over Kento’s first title match against Jake Lee in January (which I enjoyed but wasn’t head over heels for). A good showcase of a variety of Kento’s skill and a pretty fun display of Aoyagi’s attempt to crack into the main event. This one gets a thumbs up and a recommendation for me.