After a relatively long hiatus (by their standards) New Japan returned to iPPV with a special 42nd Anniversary show from Ota Ward Gym in Tokyo, the site of the first ever New Japan Pro Wrestling show on March 6, 1972.

This show was the kickoff to an extended tour that wraps up with the New Japan Cup Finals on 3/23, and the first of four total iPPV’s scheduled for the month of March, with the 3/15 & 3/22 early rounds of NJC (priced at $15) rounding out the slate.

I was surprised to see this show priced at $25, with only one singles match, no titles on the line, and only two other matches that could be considered important bouts.

The top three matches had the potential to be great. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs the hot new tag team of Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata was potentially a preview of a future IWGP Tag Team Title match. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito vs Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii was the most anticipated bout for hardcores, and a chance for Nakamura to score a key win over Tanahashi after dropping two consecutive singles matches to his top rival over the last two months. In the main event, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada faced IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Kota Ibushi in a rematch of their singles match last year at Sumo Hall for Ibushi’s (other) home promotion, DDT.

1. Anniversary Opening Match: Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu vs. Minoru Suzuki & Taichi – Tanaka & Komatsu are perhaps the most over young lions in recent memory. Both have shows the ability to connect with crowds, and I always get irrationally hyped when I see their names on a lineup. I think both dudes have a ton of potential. I missed a decent chunk of this due to internet issues, but what I saw looked great. Once again the young lions got the crowd behind them with some fiery offense. Komatsu is particular appears to have a really bright future.

For the finish, Suzuki had Komatsu in a choke, which Tanaka broke up with a clubbing blow to the back. Suzuki let go of Komatsu to go after him, and Komatsu rolled him up for the closest 2.99999 count I’ve ever seen. I mean, Suzuki could not have kicked out the smallest of a fraction of a second later or it would have looked bad. They stood up, and Komatsu was throwing slaps at Suzuki like his life depended on it, which it probably did. He was making these great faces and really laying into him. Crowd was super into this. Suzuki wasn’t really selling this, and when he had enough he delivered one hard slap of his own, locked on a chicken wing, took it to the mat, and Komatsu fought hard but eventually tapped. Fun finish. I can’t rate it because I missed too much of it. Probably in the *** range. NR

2. Manabu Nakanishi & KUSHIDA vs. Jado & Gedo – My internet was wacky for this one too, so I missed the first five minutes. I got in just in time to see Nakanishi’s slow motion hot tag offense. That was a treat. To be fair, Nakanishi tends to do one big spot (that he probably shouldn’t be doing) per show, and this time it was a top rope dropkick with one leg catching each opponent while KUSHIDA held them in place. It looked cool and the crowed popped for it. KUSHIDA picked up the win with a corkscrew moonsault on Gedo. KUSHIDA is from the Ota section of Tokyo. If this were WWE, he would have lost. NR

3. Anniversary Special 6 Man Tag Match: Super Strong Machine, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Captain New Japan, El Desperado & BUSHI – Super Strong Machine, who only wrestles about two or three times per year at this point, was brought in for the Anniversary gimmick. They’ve carried over the idea of playing generic music overdubs instead of muting the show when licensed music is playing. This is a massive improvement. CNJ got worked over early. He made the hot tag to Desperado, who did some cool flying.

Super Strong Machine didn’t do much, but he did hit a big lariat at one point for a good pop. Liger hit a brainbuster on BUSHI for the win. Liger grabbed the mic and cut a promo on Desperado (who is still working as a tweener), challenging him to a mask vs mask match. So it doesn’t look like Desperado is long for this gimmick, as there is virtually zero chance Liger is unmasking at nearly 50 and being a legend. **

4. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Prince Devitt, Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale – There is still some ambiguity concerning Devitt’s future. I would think if he is leaving for WWE, he will drop a singles match to Taguchi. This was faced paced and well worked. Devitt didn’t do much, aside from an early exchange with Taguchi that Taguchi got the better of. Taguchi’s face looks like it’s aged about 15 years since he came back from his injury. Honma missed his top rope headbutt, and Fale beat him with the Bad Luck Bomb. Poor Honma has eaten that move a million times. Solid trios match. **3/4

Intermission. They showed Inoue highlights, including a young lion era Inoue taking on Liger in 2001, and Inoue vs Koji Kanemoto from 2008.

5. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Toru Yano, Takashi Iizuka, Yujiro Takahashi & YOSHI-HASHI – A match with a bunch of guys, to help set up the potential train wreck of all train wrecks of Nagata & Sakuraba vs Yano & Iizuka. Yujiro deserves better but has no direction right now. Iizuka painted up Nogami to look like he had on a bra & lipstick. Why didn’t Inoue help him? This match featured Sakuraba as a BABYFACE IN PERIL, which was very intriguing. Yujiro tried to whip Saku into an exposed turnbuckle, but Saku jumped up to the second rope and delivered a flying cross body for what was a shocking counter before making the hot tag. This was probably the most impressive Saku performance since his match with Nakamura on the 2013 Wrestle Kingdom show. Kojima hit the big lariat on YOSHI-HASHI to win it for the babyfaces. Better than I thought it would be. **3/4

6. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows – Non title match. With Shibata the favorite to win NJC, would they set him up for two potential title matches? That was the big question coming in. This was shorter than I was expecting. Good match, best thing on the show to this point, but nothing great. Goto pinned Anderson with the Shouten Kai.

They clearly set up a future tag title match here. Shibata did his gimmick where he storms directly to the back as soon as the bell rings. ***

7. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii – This had some lofty expectations to live up to, as most of the buzz for this show centered around this match. Ishii & Naito started things off, with Ishii being cheered and Naito booed. They came around on Naito later, with mixed reactions the rest of the match, but they refused to boo Ishii. Naito is the John Cena of Japan with the split crowds. I was expecting Nakamura to beat Tanahashi here, but Ishii pinned Naito again. This almost guarantees Naito beats Ishii in New Japan Cup. This was good but I suspect it didn’t meet the lofty expectations people had for it. Everybody worked hard, including Tanahashi who will sometimes take matches like this off to give his body a break. ***1/4

8. Anniversary Special Singles Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi – This was also non title. Okada won the first matchup in 2013 on Ibushi’s home turf in DDT. Since then, Ibushi signed a dual contract with DDT & New Japan, and defeated Prince Devitt to win the junior title. Ibushi controlled early, until Okada draped him over the guard rail and delivered a DDT on the outside. This led to a long control period. Okada’s first Rainmaker attempt was countered by Ibushi forcing him backwards into the turnbuckle. Things picked up when Okada caught Ibushi on the top rope and turned it into a tombstone, leading to Rainmaker attempt number two, which Ibushi reversed beautifully into a clothesline of his own. Ibushi picked Okada up to deliver a second lariat, and got near falls on a german, standing twisting moonsault, and top rop rana. Ibushi missed a Phoenix Splash, but Okada was too worn out to take advantage. Crowd was hot at this point. They crawled to their feet and went into a strike exchange. Ibushi missed a high kick and Okada hit is reverse modified neckbreaker but Ibushi kicked out at one and fired himself up. Ibushi fired some strikes and came off the ropes, but was met with the high dropkick. He ducked a Rainmaker, but missed his high kick which Okada countered with a german for two. Okada picked up a limp Ibushi, finally delivered the Rainmaker, and that was that. Really strong match, slightly better than the Sumo Hall encounter. Super hot closing stretch. ****1/4

Unless you’re a hardcore, this is a one match show. Even if you’re a hardcore, you really only need to see the final three, and maybe the Liger/Desperado angle.

Thanks, as always, to @SenorLARIATO for the gifs.