New Japan Pro Wrestling
July 5, 2015
Osaka Castle Hall – Osaka, Japan
Manabu Nakanishi, Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi, Sho Tanaka & Yuji Nagata vs. Hiroyoshi Tenza, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Yohei Komatsu
This was exactly what you’d expect. It didn’t get much time, so everybody got in, got out, and blew through their shit, but the frantic pace probably helped the match. Kojima & Nagata had a good exchange that had me pondering a possible singles match. Tenzan earned the “Mailing It In Award”, but had good competition from Liger who was sneaky too and only tagged in once. Hey, some of these guys are pushing 50, so I really shouldn’t kill them for not caring about a 7:00 dark match.l I forgot that Dorada was even in the match until the finish, but he ended up doing some good flying and scored the fall on Komatsu, so he earned his keep. Nothing wrong with it, but ultimately a completely skippable bout. **1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title – Young Bucks (c) vs. reDRagon vs. Roppongi Vice
You’ve seen this match a million times before, but this time the Bucks took care of business by taking out reDRagon and finishing off Roppongi Vice with More Bang For Your Buck without the super long and super crazy closing stretch with tons kick outs by all three teams. As a result, the match wasn’t as dynamic as these crazy junior three way tags usually are, but the finish came off far more definitive and strong. The other key here was that reDRagon once again avoided taking the fall, so they still haven’t taken a direct loss in a New Japan ring since their debut match at last year’s G1 Final in the Seibu Dome. ***1/2
Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito & Tomoaki Honma
Osaka always hates Naito to begin with, so Naito’s new heel act, inspired by his joining the Los Ingobernables stable during his brief stay in CMLL earlier this summer, received nuclear heat, especially when he refused to tag in for a desperate Honma who was getting his brains beaten in. When he finally obliged the half dead Honma with a tag, Naito (who is growing his hair out and now sports a peach fuzz molestache that makes him look like that guy in every high school who’s a 19 year old junior, only bothers to go to shop class, and spends the rest of the day smoking in the parking lot while leaning up against his ’85 Trans-Am) proceeded to beat up the monster Fale in the most casual way possible. Naito was so cool & nonchalant in manhandling the BC all by himself that Osaka briefly stopped booing him. Honma wanted back in but Naito would’t tag, so Honma took matters into his own hands and slapped him across the grill to get back into the match. Moments later Honma hit the top rope Kokeshi on Yujiro and scored the pin, while the all new longer hair don’t care Naito gave no fucks, refused to have his hand raised, rolled out of the ring, strolled to the back, and probably hopped into his Trans-Am to go pick up some smokes. ***
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
This could have gone two ways, one of which could have been a boring as shit grappling exhibition. Luckily we ended up with Option B, which was a FIGHT. Sakuraba, who usually looks like he’s never taking this silly pro wrestling stuff all that seriously, easily put in his most impressive performance since Shinsuke Nakamura dragged a Match of the Year contender out of him in 2013, working hard and doing so in Shibata’s style of match by taking big bumps, hard strikes, and stiff slaps across the face. The story here was Shibata finally overcoming his Laughter 7 mentor & tag partner, symbolically passing him by in pro wrestling after never being able to best him in mixed martial arts. After surviving multiple submission attempts, including a memorable spot where he achieved a rope break by grabbing the middle rope with his TEETH, Shibata could have mercifully beaten Sakuraba with a standing rear naked choke, but that wouldn’t have been a Shibata enough finish, so he sat him down and caved his chest in with an academic Penalty Kick, leading to the easy pin. Go out of your way to see this. ****
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title – Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
I loved everything about this, from the brilliant work to the perfectly peaked KUSHIDA story of finally making it to the top of the junior mountain (ignoring his accidental title win last year). The camera even caught some great subtle shots of young boys Jay White & David Finlay looking on from ringside and taking in the emotional KUSHIDA victory celebration.
While Omega’s IWGP title run couldn’t match his fantastic AJPW junior title reign from 2011 from a match quality perspective, creatively he did manage to turn around a Cleaner gimmick that looked WrestleCrap bad when it debuted, and his matches were all incredibly diverse, featuring one match where he worked over his opponents eyes, another where he attacked an opponents asshole (really), a wild spotfest against Mascara Dorada, and then this, a brilliantly worked match where both men went after a body part and stuck to a plan, with perfect pacing for the size of the building they were working, and an elite level attention to detail and selling from both participants.
Much like KUSHIDA’s push, the match itself peaked at just the right time, not going a single second too long. KUSHIDA should be near the top of the list on any credible mid year (or so) Most Outstanding ballot for 2015, and Omega displayed the kind of overall performance that has him easily among the world’s best when he is at the top of his game. Omega’s vicious leg work, attacking BOTH legs, was countered by KUSHIDA working for his kimura, so by the end of the match KUSHIDA could barely run the ropes while Omega tried to figure out ways to perform throws and set up the One Winged Angel with the use of only one arm. I can’t stress enough how great both of these guys were in selling their respective damaged parts. KUSHIDA did about a million subtle things to sell the leg damage, including losing his leverage after hitting a dragon suplex, and a spot where he came off the ropes so slowly & awkwardly that it gave Omega enough recovery time to counter his attack. Omega continually “lost” KUSHIDA on suplex attempts because his arm was toast. The finish was awesome, with Omega finally getting KUSHIDA up for the OWA, only for KUSHIDA to catch Omega in a sneaky as fuck kimura while propped up on Omega’s shoulders. Omega fought like death to break it, but KUSHIDA held on and became the 71st junior champion. Pro wrestling brilliance from start to finish, and only a slight notch below the KUSHIDA/Kyle O’Reilly BOSJ final. ****1/4
NEVER Openweight Title – Togi Makabe (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Look, watching two bulls maul each other is always enjoyable on some level, and this match was fine and at times fun, but at the end of the day this probably should have been one match as opposed to a three match series as it feels like these guys really only have enough ideas for one match with each other. Even though i’m a bigger fan of Ishii, I liked the surprising finish here of Makabe winning again, which was something I suspected could happen, but didn’t expect to actually play out, if only because at times I enjoy against the grain booking that keeps you on your toes. Most of us figured incorrectly that the plan all along was for Ishii to lose, fail in a challenge, and then win the title back in match #3, but maybe the original idea (interrupted by Makabe’s flu) was for three straight title changes. I guess we’ll never know. This match didn’t have the wild back & forth big offense sequences or the Ishii near falls we’re accustomed to, so I think every person watching expected Ishii to kick out when Makabe hit the King Kong Knee Drop. Each match in this series was progressively less interesting. At least the abrupt finish here was something different. ***1/4
IWGP Tag Team Title – The Kingdom (Matt Taven & Michael Bennett) (c) vs. Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson
If you think it’s just me who rants about this awful feud, turn your volume up during this show and take a listen to the Osaka crowd (like every crowd that as been forced to endure these matches) completely & totally not give a shit about any of this. It was short and the work was fine, like a second hour RAW match between two mid card teams who are positioned as props to get the flavor of the month Diva over. The titles are back on Bullet Club, which I guess is the lessor of two evils, but the New Japan tag division desperately needs some new blood at this point to freshen things up. **
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano
Contrary to what some may think, I do not dislike Yano. I enjoy his act in small doses, and while he’s not a great worker in the traditional “workrate” sense, he possesses tremendous timing and psychology, and is most definitely great at what he does. His routine can grow tired over the length of a tour or in an extended rivalry (see: the never ending Minoru Suzuki feud), but he’s as capable of delivering a great match in his style as just about anybody else on the New Japan roster. This match was one of those cases. Working with an all time great like Tanahashi helps, but make no mistake, this was the Yano show, and he had the crowd eating out of his hands. As expected Tanahashi wins, but vacation time is now over for the man whose back issues are the subject of massive speculation. No more easy Yano style matches or ten man tags where it’s easy to hide on the horizon. We’ll know very quickly with the G1 coming up whether Tanahashi can still go at an elite level, or if the classic match against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 9 was the last truly great match of his Hall of Fame career. I’m betting on the former. ***1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Title – Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
I was fully prepared to bury this match. I was ready to tell you how Nakamura, who during the pre-charisma injection phase of his career had a reputation for laying eggs from time to time in big matches, and how Goto, while being one of my favorites and a guy who I think is criminally underrated, was also prone to being spotty at times as well, just didn’t gel and how this match was a bad storm of two guys with no real fire on this night. Then the closing stretch happened.
While the final moments weren’t enough to push this into MOTY territory, it did save the match from being one of the more disappointing big New Japan bouts of the year. This easily could have been at least five minutes shorter, and while I understand the psychology (and the physical demands of a long hard G1 tour) between a G1 match and a major show semi or co-main event is drastically different, if the early feeling out process of a match is going to be dull and uninspiring, and lead to nothing later, in that case I much rather prefer the “mini epic” style work of a short & intense 11:00 G1 bout that blows through the early match formalities and gets right to the goods. Once this match got to the goods, it was incredible. Several other matches on this night were either shorter than expected or ended abruptly, and I understand that this is Nakamura in the semi final spot, so I get the idea of going long. But just because I understand why they went long, it doesn’t mean I have to like what I saw or how they chose to build things.
With all of that said, I can’t realistically go lower than 4-stars considering how hard they worked and how great the final minutes of this were. Goto blocking the Boma Ye and countering into a Ushigoroshi, followed by polishing off Nak with two variations of the Shouten, was one of the better sequences of the year, and a definitive statement that Goto may have finally arrived at the New Japan big boy table. ****
IWGP Heavyweight Title – AJ Styles (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
It should be noted that this year New Japan drew the biggest non Sumo Hall crowd in years and filled Osaka jo-Hall for the first time in roughly 20 years with AJ Styles on top in both headline matches, with Tanahashi nowhere close to being put in a drawing position either time, and with Nakamura absent from both main events. We’ll still be told that this company struggles to build new stars, though.
Incredible match that blew away their previous encounters. I’m not sure which is greater, the total number of Bullet Club members who surrounded the ring, or the total number of reviewers we use for team PPV reviews. Anyway, once Red Shoes ejected all 876 members of the Bullet Club for interference, the match began to settle in and take shape. Styles is an absolute lock these days to deliver A+ performances in his big matches, and WWE would be insane to not back an armored truck into his driveway when his New Japan contract comes due. I’d hate to see him leave New Japan, but he’s exactly what the NXT brand needs if they expect to fill medium sized venues in 2016 and continue to clear the high bar that has been set in terms of work. In this match, once the BC was out of the picture Styles, the overconfident, cocky asshole gang leader, seamlessly morphed into the role of the clearly vulnerable (yet dangerous) champion to perfection. The springboard 450 near fall was an awesome touch (nobody does the last nano second kickout like Okada), and the counters at the end of the match were jaw dropping and dramatic.
I absolutely lost my shit when Okada hit the first Rainmaker and picked AJ up for a second, only for AJ to briefly escape, thinking Okada had made a key error and blew his shot. What an amazing play on emotions that spot was. Then, I thought the Dragon Suplex spot was a botch because Okada couldn’t hold the pin, but quickly realized it was the plan as Okada geared up for the final Rainmaker. I was hopping up and down on my couch like a fucking 8-year old when he nailed it, due to both being wrapped up in the excitement of Okada’s story, and due to the incredible action and drama that these two dudes managed to produce. Okada cutting his own emotional promo was the final cap on a year long story, as we transition into G1 and the next phase for all involved. This bout will no dout make some MOTY lists. ****1/2
Final Thoughts: This was a great show, with four great matches, a couple of other really strong bouts, definitive ends to stories, and a Match of the Year contender main event. After a spring & early summer that was largely a holding pattern for a good chunk of the roster, New Japan enters the G1 phase of their year with exciting new paths for multiple stars. This was the kind of show that reminds you why New Japan is quite easily the best promotion on Earth when on their game. This company has its warts, and it’s fun to make a case for others, but realistically there is no promotion on the planet that can match New Japan’s combination of great matches, insanely deep roster, big match feel, and great long term booking. If G1 delivers anywhere close to 2013 or 2014 levels, when the dust settles on 2015, if we’re being fair about things New Japan will probably earn yet another Promotion of the Year award.