A noon time show in Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall meant a 1/19 show in Japan, and a prime time 1/18 showing in North America for the finale of the biggest New Japan Pro Wrestling/CMLL Fantasticamania tour yet.
This is one of those instances where having access to PPV buys would come in handy, to see if a rare prime time airing in one of the two primary secondary markets (with Europe being the third, who normally get the shows over breakfast, but in the case of this show were cursed with the wee hours time North Americans are usually stuck with) would make a discernible difference in business. With two other Fantasticamania iPPV shows from earlier this week as reference points, there would have been great comparable data points.
Unfortunately, New Japan’s iPPV numbers remain cloaked in darkness. We know they’ve been a game changer, and we think we know the purchases outside of Japan have been a fraction of the overall buys, but it would be nice to have solid data to see to what extent each of these things are true.
The shows themselves have been incredibly fun. Everybody has worked hard, the crowds have been fantastic. Gedo, Jado and Ultimo Guerrero have done a fine job booking tour long storylines that give added flavor to things and make these more than just self-contained shows with no context.
The big matches on the final night were Volador Jr vs. Mascara Dorada (with the added intrigue of the NWA World Historic Welterweight Title at stake), who had been going at it in tag matches all tour long, wwith Volador Jr scoring a big pin in Osaka with an amazing Canadian Destroyer variation that may prove to be the enduring spot of the tour, and La Sombra vs. Ultimo Guerrero. Guerrero pinned Sombra on both pervious iPPV’s with his Guerrero Special.
1. Maximo & Mascara Don vs. TAKA Michinoku Kaientai Dojo & Taichi – All comedy here. Mascara Don was Manabu Nakanishi doing a badly hidden lucha gimmick. Fans ate this whole thing up, from Maximo’s antics, to Mascara Don hilariously doing some of the slowest and most awkward lucha spots you’ll ever see. He did what I can only generously describe as a dive (more like a gentle jump) from the second rope to the outside with about 19 people waiting to catch him. Taichi used a hammer on the technicos while TAKA distracted the ref. Taichi also tried to unmask Don, and the crowd was hot for that. Don used his Argentine backbreaker on Taichi, but TAKA made the save. TAKA got caught by Don and held up for the Maximo kiss. Big pop for that. Don then used a really awkward (but a charming attempt) standing arm submission on Taichi for the win. Harmless fun. Crowd loved it all. **
2. Stuka Jr. & Rey Cometa vs. OKUMURA & YOSHI-HASHI – This was exactly what a fact-paced sprint should be. Ray Cometa in particular was fantastic here. Stuka Jr kept getting cut off by lariats before he could do his big dive, but eventually ended up pinning OKUMURA with a top rope falling splash (on top of OKUMURA’s valet/wife as well, whose interference backfired). This couldn’t have been longer than five minutes, but it was as good as it gets for a match of that length. Loved it. ***
3. Titan, Fuego, El Desperado, Tiger Mask & BUSHIROAD vs. Vangelis, Niebla Roja, Toru Yano, Jado & Gedo – The explanation of BUSHI being billed as BUSHIROAD is that he lost his mask in Mexico for IWRG, but resumed wearing the mask in Japan & CMLL, in essence as a “new” wrestler, BUSHIROAD. Since he’s BUSHIROAD in CMLL, he’s BUSHIROAD on this tour. This was wild and out of control with crazy dives and non stop action.
Hard to rate, but the star was clearly El Desperado, who got the big shine spots in preparation for his IWGP Junio Title match against Kota Ibushi at New Beginning. This was Yano’s first match on the tour, but he largely stayed out of the way. Fuego got over again with his good charisma and was one of the standouts of the undercard CMLL guys on the tour. Desperado pinned Vangelis, but did not use his usual Guitarra de Angel finisher. Maybe he’s scrapping it because he keeps nearly killing people doing it. We’ll see. ***
4. Special Tag Match: Tetsuya Naito & Rush vs. Rey Escorpion & Tomohiro Ishii – Once again, Naito & Ishii were paired up, to tease the upcoming NEVER title match at New Beginning. This match had more traditional psychology, with Naito selling most of the way. The interactions between Rush & Escorpion overshadowed the Naito/Ishii stuff, and Rush in particular was very good here. Rush hit the Rush Driver (a double underhook piledriver variation) on Escorpion for the win. Naito & Ishii had a pull apart post match. **3/4
5. Special Singles Match: La Sombra vs. Ultimo Guerrero – These two were the stars of Osaka, and Guerrero bested Sombra again in Korakuen a few nights later. They started off with some really awesome mat work. I really hate lazy, uninspired, “mat work for the sake of mat work”, and usually just prefer they skip right to the action if it’s going to be token grappling to kill time. But this was pretty great. Big spot in the match that almost ended very badly was Sombra doing a 450 to the outside, coming up very short, and Guerrero basically saving him from disaster by finding away to get under him. It was really, really close to being very bad. Sombra hit a top rope rana, and went for a second, but Guerrero blocked and used a powerbomb off the top. Later, Sombra overshoot a moonsault. His flying was a tad off the entire match. Guerrero got the knees up on a standing moonsault, and they sorta got lost in the finish. They covered it well, and Sombra hit the Shadow Driver for the win. It had it’s flaws, and like a lot of the matches on this tour it was too short and ended before it was great, but it was still very good. ***1/4
6. Special 6 Man Tag Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Mistico & Kota Ibushi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Mephisto & Yujiro Takahashi – Kota Ibushi jumped onto the tour for this match, which featured Tanahashi & Nakamura (New Beginning opponents) and Mistico & Mephisto (who faced each other the night before) on opposite sides. Tanahashi & Nakamura started things off and let the crowd do the dueling chants. Ibushi was paired off with Yujiro and they worked well together. Mephisto power bombed Mistico into the ring post on the outside to a sickening thud.
Lots of fast paced action, with Tanahashi doing a great deal of selling. Mistico used the La Mistica on Mephisto for the win. Solid match. ***1/2
7. NWA World Historic Welterweight Title: Volador Jr.(c) vs. Mascara Dorada – The tour closed with this all CMLL matchup, or two guys who had been tearing the house down the entire tour. Volador wearing his mask during these matches was explained to me as a merchandise gimmick. I guess they can get away with that outside Mexico, so they do, but it sort of irks me as someone who went out of his way to watch him lose the mask a few months ago on CMLL’s biggest show of the year. As for the match, this wasn’t so much a match as it was a spectacle. One big dive and flying maneuver after another. I’m not even sure how to rate this or describe it. They were doing things I’ve seen before, things I’ve never seen before, things I thought I’ve seen before but taken to new levels, and i’m pretty sure they invented a few things as they went along. The body control displayed by these men was nothing short of amazing, as at times they seemed to be floating in the air. In some ways it was similar to the World 1 vs Mad Blankey tag match from Dragon Gate at Kobe World, except this was even more of a spotfest, with one big dive/springboard/tope/suicide attempt after another. Dorada did the highest Asai moonsault I’ve ever seen.
Then he did a dive off the stage into a flying hurricanrana:
They both did things I can’t even attempt to describe. Volador won it with his Canadian Destroyer move that I believe he calls the Volador Spiral, followed by a high impact flying crucifix type move. Just one ridiculous, jaw dropping flying move after another. Seek it out. ****
Overall, this was the best Fantasticamania tour yet. All three of the iPPV’s were really fun, with no bad matches to be had, and everybody seemed motivated and excited to be working the shows. There were no match of the year candidates and none of these shows will end up on any best show of the year lists, but as a whole everything left a smile on my face, and the word that keeps coming to mind is — fun.