The New Japan Cup is in the books and Kota Ibushi emerged the tournament winner. Ibushi’s fantastic 2015 has cemented him in the upper-echelon of the New Japan Heavyweight division. His reward is a main event IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against AJ Styles at Invasion Attack; a match that will top an intriguing and controversial Sumo Hall card on April 5. Let’s break down the card and see what implications it has.
Yuji Nagata, Captain New Japan, KUSHIDA, Alex Shelley and Yohei Komatsu vs Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi and Sho Tanaka
And you thought the Andre the Giant Battle Royal was bad for just throwing everyone on the show. Tiger Mask and Liger are back on the same team after their NWA Title match, the Time Splitters are kicked out of the Jr. Tag Championship scene for now, and Komatsu and Tanaka get to mix it up with the bigger boys once again. The most worrying thing about this match is that KUSHIDA continues to be underutilized in 2015. He could easily get the pin in this match and become Kenny Omega’s next challenger, but there’s an equal chance he gets his shit in, leaves the ring and waits until the Super Junior tournament to do anything interesting again. People are obviously going to rotate up and down the card, but KUSHIDA is awesome and deserves a bit better really.
Tomoaki Honma, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall
Yujiro Takahashi has fallen way down the NJPW hierarchy since his original Bullet Club push, to the point where he and Tama Tonga are almost interchangeable as Bullet Club fall guys. Tonga has actually been more impressive as of late, and his distinctive face paint has got him onto the Wrestling Dontaku poster with the higher-ranking Bullet Club members. Cody Hall had his New Japan wrestling debut on the last tour, and looked pretty good. He’s got loads of potential as a gaijin monster, and with a couple more years of seasoning he could easily replace, and outperform, Fale and Gallows.
On the face side of things, Kojima and Tenzan are teaming again after their NWA Title match, while Honma pinned Cody Hall at the New Japan Cup Finals show and could do so again here. Is Honma getting built up for a big title match down the line?
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero and Beretta)
Beretta is back in Japan and is the new partner of Rocky Romero, who never got pinned in the last few Forever Hooligans loses and so still remained strong in the booking. Roppongi Vice got good reviews in their American matches before heading to Japan for this tour, so I expect a great match here against the Bucks. This match could go either way, but I expect the new team to pick up the win and legitimize themselves. The Jr. Tag belts can be swapped around a lot and no-one would really mind; they’re ‘excuse belts’, like the Triangle Gate in Dragon Gate, that allow for awesome matches without having to tell an epic multi-match story. It’s ‘turn off your brain’ fun and all four of these guys are fantastic at it.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – Kenny Omega vs Mascara Dorada
Almost a year ago at the Best of the Super Jr. Finals show, Kenny Omega and Mascara Dorada wrestled a 3-minute sequence in a random multi-man prelim that I was barely paying attention to, until these guys woke me up in a big way. I literally said to myself “I’d really like to see an Omega/Dorada singles match in New Japan.” My wish has been granted, but with one potential caveat that could dampen it; Omega’s ‘Cleaner’ gimmick has been awful so far. His match with Taguchi at the New Beginning was cringe-worthy, based around both men trying to anally abuse each other with a flagpole. Also, Omega’s ‘chainsaw’ elbow is the worst move in wrestling. His 6-man match, however, with the Bucks against Dorada and the Time Splitters at the second New Beginning show was brilliant. If we get that Omega rather than the one from the Taguchi match, this could be excellent.
IWGP Tag Team Championship – Bullet Cub (Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows) vs The Kingdom (Michael Bennett and Matt Taven with Maria Kanellis)
The Kingdom are back in New Japan, and should be sticking around for a lot longer. Tanahashi likes Bennett, the office likes Taven and Captain New Japan LOVES Maria. A camera was permanently positioned behind Maria’s posterior at the World Tag League Finals, so if there’s one mortal lock on this show, it’s that we will see a lot of this match with a scantily-clad behind in the foreground. It’s crude, but it’s the main reason The Kingdom are in New Japan. Maria is the clear star of the act, but Bennett and Taven worked well in the World Tag League, and if they are becoming the champs in this match, I won’t be complaining. I’d prefer Adam Cole in there, and it is unfortunate he got injured just as his stable was getting this big opportunity. The Kingdom as champions would be more interesting than the stale Anderson and Gallows team, who have spent much of the Invasion Attack tour losing with Cody Hall, and are both getting a bit lost in the Bullet Club shuffle now that Omega’s getting the star treatment.
Togi Makabe, Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito vs Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI
This match caused its fair share of controversy when announced, with a lot of people complaining that neither Nakamura nor Ishii are defending their titles on this show. For Ishii especially, there seems to be no excuse; a match against Makabe for the NEVER title seemed on the cards since Makabe had to forfeit the title and their announced match at New Beginning never took place. There does seem to be a reason for holding back on these title matches though. New Japan have two shows in a months’ time; Wrestling Dontaku and a new event, Wrestling Hinokuni. If the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t defending their belt on either show, New Japan will need Nakamura and Ishii title defenses to headline. The IC Title challenger will be created in this match, with either Goto or Naito pinning YOSHI and challenging Nakamura, while Makabe and Ishii will have a manly staredown. There’s a method to the madness, but it is still disappointing that New Japan decided against loading up this card with a NEVER title match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata vs Toru Yano and Kazushi Sakuraba
I’m enjoying the Yano/Tanahashi feud so far, even if it’s fairly bizarre that the Wrestle Kingdom 9 main event winner lost to New Japan’s resident troll just 2 months later. Yano’s act is enjoyable in singles tournament matches where the finish could come at any moment, and breaks away from the 10-15 minute strong style matches in hilarious fashion. It’s less fun in tag team situations, when the other guys have to get their spots in and there’s less danger in Yano’s antics. Knowing that Yano could trip up his opponent at any moment makes his matches absorbing. Knowing he has to tag in Sakuraba in a minute makes them dull.
I backed Shibata to win the New Japan Cup, and saw my naïve foolishness met by a second round exit. Let’s face it; Shibata isn’t going to win a singles tournament, or a big singles title. Not for now, anyway. What he is doing right now is participating in odd-couple tag team matches. At the Cup Finals his tag team with Honma was awesome; the two worked really well together and I’m a little sad they’re not partnering up again on this show. Instead he gets to team with rival Tanahashi, which should be just as intense and bitter a partnership as Honma was.
There’s no obvious candidate to take the pinfall here, which could mean it will be Tanahashi losing to Yano for a third time. Tana could also High Fly Flow Sakuraba while Yano scurries off to fight and troll another day. I don’t see the feud ending here, but a final singles encounter at Wrestling Dontaku could be great.
Kazuchika Okada vs Bad Luck Fale
One of the reasons people see this card as relatively weak is because this match as the semi-main event. Okada needs to redeem himself after his world fell apart at Wrestle Kingdom, and Fale is New Japan’s dragon that the hero needs to slay. It’s similar to the Nakamura/Fale story from last year, except those matches were really quite good. Okada could not get a good match out of Fale in the New Japan Cup, and this feud has been a bit of a bust so far. Okada needs to work the wonders Nakamura performed on Fale to save this feud here, and if he can do that, he is an even better wrestler than we thought. Okada should win here, and perhaps go on to be AJ’s next challenger, should Styles still be IWGP Champion…
IWGP Heavyweight Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs Kota Ibushi
New Japan are banking on two guys from outside their ‘Big 3’ to sell out Sumo Hall. Ibushi did it with DDT last year. If Styles and Ibushi can do it here, then New Japan has two more mega-stars that they can push at the very highest level. There’s no reason why this match shouldn’t draw; both men are very over with the New Japan crowds, their merchandise is visibly selling at every show, and Ibushi got huge reactions throughout the Cup Finals show. Ibushi is the front-runner for Wrestler of the Year, and I’d listen to an argument that says Styles is #2 right now. I’m very high on this matchup, and it has potential to be Match of the Year. I hope I’m not overhyping it.
As for the winner, it is very likely to be AJ. An Ibushi win wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility though. He has had the rocket strapped to him and New Japan really want to make him a mega-star. But an Okada/Styles match-up would make most sense for Dominion, and Ibushi wouldn’t lose much momentum with a loss. He certainly didn’t after losing to Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom.
Looking to the future: The next big show for New Japan will be Dominion in July, but before that there are several important events to navigate. Wrestling Hinokuni and Wrestling Dontaku will take place at the end of April and beginning of May respectively, before the Ring of Honor joint shows will take place in North America. The Best of the Super Jr. tournament begins after that. It’s going to be a busy month for New Japan, but it is unlikely many big match-ups will be given away. Dontaku will likely be main evented by a Nakamura IC Title match, while Hinokuni may well end up being just a large house show. Hopefully the relationship with NOAH will help bring in some top Jr. Heavyweights for the Super Jr. tournament, such as Zack Sabre Jr. and Daisuke Harada, who could really make the tournament special. If ReDragon are brought back, and Ricochet defends his trophy, there could be some serious Dream Matches on the cards. Imagine a Final Four of Ricochet, Omega, Sabre Jr. and O’Reilly?
All this means that the Styles/Ibushi match is a very important one for New Japan. If there isn’t going to be a Heavyweight Title defense after this until July, these guys need to deliver a great match and a great attendance. Putting Tanahashi with Yano and Okada with Fale shows that New Japan want to spread out the star power. If Styles and Ibushi can prove their status as mega-stars of the promotion, then New Japan will grow even stronger, as the ‘Big 3’ could turn into the ‘Big 5’. Let’s hope they deliver.
Final Thoughts: Invasion Attack 2015 is a strong card that could have been stronger. Styles/Ibushi should be great, and the undercard title matches all look fun. Okada, Nakamura and Tanahashi are not the focus of the show, but will that matter much once the main event is over?