Haven’t we all learned our lesson?
When the “Invasion Attack” card was announced, it was met with nearly universal disappointment. Nakamura/Tanahashi again? Ishii/Naito again? No Okada singles match?
You won’t be finding anyone complaining about the card now.
As modern New Japan is prone to do, when we scratch our heads and question the direction, we always end up looking like fools. Ishii/Naito was a brilliant match that will end up a sure fire MOTY contender. Nakamura/Tanahashi was a masterful performance by both men that was completely different than any match they’ve ever had against one another. And the Okada tag match ended up being nothing more than a set up for a fantastic angle.
The rest of the card delivered, too. The opening match junior tag title bout was the best opener I can recall during this current hot run. Taguchi/Devitt was a very good match leading to a Devitt face turn, one year to the day of his heel turn. Guns & Gallows had their best match yet as a team in the semi final IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title bout.
Three major angles, two title changes, and two sure fire MOTY contenders. This was a brilliant show, both aesthetically and with long term booking that all peaked at once, sending a number of major players in drastically new directions.
The show we all hated a week ago has a very good shot at ending up as the best show of the year. New Japan proves us wrong, again. What else is new?
1. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title: Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson (c) vs. Kota Ibushi & El Desperado – This was the best junior tag in a long time, and easily the best Bucks match in New Japan. Desperado was Ricky Morton early as the Bucks creatively were cutting off tags. Ibushi’s hot tag was indeed hot, as he cleaned house in impressive fashion. Ibushi was on his game in this bout.
Desperado did his big tope where he ends up in the 15th row, and Kota hit his standing SSP, but every time Ibushi was on the verge of putting the champs away, the Bucks would pull out a new creative superkick counter. The finishing stretch was fast paced and crisp, with a bunch of super close near falls that worked like a charm since this was considered a 50/50 match coming in. The Bucks hit a great looking springboard spike tombstone for a two count that got a big pop as people bought it as the finish. They hit the More Bang For Your Buck on Desperado to finally end it. They didn’t tease any tension between Ibushi & Desperado this time. Great match, seek it out. ****
2. Special 6 Man Tag Match: Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Minoru Suzuki, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – The Makabe bump count for this one was zero. He is the best in the world at doing virtually nothing in these throw away multiple man tag matches. He hit some lariats early, tagged out, and was never seen again. Saku was useless, as per the usual. Suzuki & Nagata had some decent strike exchanges. For the finish, Nagata & Saku used double arm bars on the juniors while Makabe “brawled” (hugged it out) with Suzuki on the floor. Nothing to see here. **1/4
3. NWA World Tag Team Title: Rob Conway & Jax Dane (c) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima – Bruce Tharpe. What an amazing man. He was in rare form here. Conway was working hard, selling his ass off and bumping around. Tenzan sold for a long time, which is probably a bad idea, but he’s no better cleaning house on a hot tag these days, so it’s no win. Kojima looked real good. Tharpe hopped on the apron to break up a Tenzan Calf Branding attempt. Kojima chased him off, hit a big lariat on Dane, and Tenzan hit the moonsault to finish him off. New champs. Kojima now holds the NWA World Heavyweight & NWA World Tag Team titles. He challenged Tully for the TV title after the match. **1/4
4. Wrestling vs. Jiu-jitsu MMA Fight: Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka vs. Daniel Gracie & Rolles Gracie – This was roughly a million times better than the Gracie’s Wrestle Kingdom bout. They worked a wild brawl with the heels controlling 95% of it. For the finish Iizuka missed his iron glove attack on Daniel and nailed Yano. Daniel then used a leglock for the tap. It was by no means good, but the crowd was into all of this, so what do I know? **
5. Special Singles Match: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Prince Devitt – Devitt was in body paint again, and came down wearing a dark cloak. Taguchi is doing a full blown Eddie Guerrero act, with the same gear, mannerisms, and even the three amigos move. The Young Bucks were at ringside, but Devitt was refusing their help early. After arguing several times, the Bucks attacked him. Devitt cleaned house on them to a big pop. He worked the rest of the match clean with his old babyface style, including his big somersault suicide senton that he never uses as a heel. That was symbolic. Taguchi was kicking out of everything. Bloody Sunday, top rope double stomp, brainbuster. Devitt survived two Dodon’s, but a third fireman’s carry variation put him away. Devitt offered a handshake post match. In the interview area, Devitt didn’t speak. Taguchi said the Devitt must leave stip was unofficial. At minimum, Devitt has left Bullet Club & turned face. Maybe Apollo 55 reforms and goes after The Bucks titles. ***1/4
6. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga – Short, tidy, nothing match, with a few minutes of YOSHI selling, one hot tag, Fale bullying Okada a bit, and Okada hitting the Rainmaker on Tonga for the win. Fale went nose to nose with Okada post match, but it was a set up for AJ STYLES to attack the champ. He delivered a Styles Clash, called him a TNA young boy, challenged for the title, and revealed a Bullet Club shirt. This came across great, and the match should be crazy awesome. Fale was a red herring, and the lesson here is to never doubt the booking genius of Gedo & Jado. When it comes to New Japan these days, you truly have to let it play out. *1/4, ***** for the angle.
7. NEVER Openweight Title: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito – Ishii won with a brainbuster in a match that was as good as anything this year, and will top many a match of the year list. Just brilliant work all around again from these two, in a match completely different from the first two bouts between them. This is the best feud in wrestling, and these guys are now having a series of matches that rivals anything in wrestling over the last few years, including Tanahashi/Okada. The feud is hitting on multiple layers, and once again displays the booking prowess of Gedo & Jado, with the NEVER title has been elevated, Ishii now established as a player, and Naito being rehabbed after losing some luster with the big push last year that nobody wanted (yet). This rivalry is pro wrestling at its absolute best. The match itself was just a tad too short for the full five, but this was every bit as good as the first bout and probably better if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose. ****3/4
8. IWGP Tag Team Title: Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (c) vs. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata – Good match, thanks to a hot finishing stretch, and maybe the best Guns & Gallows match yet. Started slow with a parade of chin locks from the heels that would make Randy Orton blush. Was really a nothing match until the closing stretch, which is an area where Anderson always excels. Anderson hit a Gun Stun out of nowhere on Goto, and then the champs hit the Magic Killer for the win. You had to figure they would retain, after losing a non title match, and also both singled matches head to head at New Japan Cup. ***
9. IWGP Intercontinental Title: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – Brilliant work by both men. Tanahashi worked subtle heel, which he is so good at, it makes me want to see a full fledged heel run out of him. His facials & mannerisms are so natural, you’d think he was heeling it up for years, and the crowd ate it up. Is there anything this guy can’t do? Look, if you watch this match and don’t dig this performance, you’re just being stubborn at this point. He’s an all time great, and as great as Tanahashi was here, Nakamura may have been even better.
Tanahashi murdered the left knee, in an effort to take out the knee strikes and Boma Ye.
Nakamura sold the damage like like he was being pounded with a hammer, and essentially never had control of the match until the very end, when after having a Boma Ye attempt blocked, he used the right knee to hit one and win the title back. A simple story, told by two of the best on the planet. Tanahashi adds another classic to his resume, which is already in rare territory of all time greats and constantly growing. Daniel Gracie challenged Nak post match, and Sakuraba came out as well. Looked like a tag match was being set up. Whoa boy, Nak has his work cut out for him with those three stiffs. This potentially scary angle was the only black mark of the night. ****1/2
I keep using the word “brilliant”, and here it comes again. I keep being amazed by the brilliant booking of Gedo & Jado, who are so far ahead of anybody else in the world that they lap the field multiple times. Creatively, they can not be touched, and this three year run of both long & short term stories rivals anything else, ever, in terms of elevating titles, elevating new stars, and keeping things interesting. If business continues to grow, and New Japan can approach or reach their past business peaks, I think we have to start seriously talking about this booking team as potential Wrestling Observer Hall of Famers.
Special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for his fantastic gif work. Follow this great man on Twitter.