The stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling recently finished up their September Destruction Tour, concluding with two big shows in Okayama and Kobe. In previous years they would have been free to rest up until mid-October’s King of Pro Wrestling. This year, however, the stars made a trip to England, participating in the first official joint tour alongside Revolution Pro Wrestling. This mini tour consisted of two shows taking place in the cities of London and Reading, and featured the elite of New Japan squaring up against the best the British scene had to offer. If you’re a big New Japan fan these shows should not be slept on.
Revolution Pro Wrestling & New Japan Pro Wrestling
October 2, 2015
The show kicked off with the Revolutionists, the big heel faction in RPW, interrupting Andy Quildan, the owner and ring announcer of the promotion, as he was welcoming the sold out audience of 1,200 fans to the show. The Revolutionists (Sha Samuels and James Castle – current tag champions) ran down Andy before issuing an open challenge. The highlight of the segment saw Quildan, in the process of announcing the open challenge for the tag team championships, get quickly cut off by Samuels who declared the match was non-title. The comedic timing here was really good, but unfortunately the match that followed wasn’t as great. In a surprise to very few in attendance, TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) came out to accept the challenge.
The Revolutionists (Castle & Samuels) vs. TenKoji
There wasn’t a whole lot to this match. Samuels is very charismatic, great at interacting with the crowd and a good promo, but in terms of in ring work he’s very much a punch, kick and stomp guy. Castle is very similar, apart from he lacks the charisma to hide his faults.
At this point in their careers TenKoji aren’t really at a point where you can expect them to carry a nothing team to a good match. I wouldn’t say it was actively bad by any means, we got to see TenKoji get their shtick in followed by some classic heel tactics from the champions. These tactics included choking Kojima with a scarf while the ref’s back was turned (it should be noted Kojima has the best choke sell I have ever seen) followed finally by a valiant babyface comeback. A low blow and a weak looking belt shot later and the Revolutionists had stolen the win. **1/2
ACH vs. Martin Kirby
Now this is a match that kind of feels like it’s in limbo. When this show was first announced ACH was a big part of the promotion for it, but then plans changed and it went from bringing in a few New Japan guys to bringing in a good chunk of the roster. This change kind of left ACH shunted to the side somewhat, but then they lined up Kris Travis to face ACH in his return from stomach cancer and I was all in. Heartbreakingly though, after fighting his way back into ring shape, Kris’ health deteriorated again and he was forced into retirement before he could make this match. In a nice touch, this big opportunity was handed over to Kris Travis’ now former long-time partner Martin Kirby, but that all meant this match felt somewhat like an odd one out.
That all said this was good stuff. ACH has an infectious bubbly persona that translates to the screen but is really best appreciated live. His mid-move jibes and joyful smiles just connect that bit better when you’re seeing him in person. He really is a great small room wrestler, and I don’t mean that as any level of insult as that phrase is usually used. Seeing him live here just made me realise how much intimacy adds to the ACH experience. The match was fun, although both guys usually work better against opponents who are bigger than them. I got the feeling that both men weren’t quite comfortable with working a match where they weren’t the smaller guy. That said it was a fun match, flowed pretty well and was a nice showcase.
What really surprised me here was the finish. As I mentioned, Kirby was put in as Travis’ replacement as kind of as a nice gesture (not to demean Kirby’s talents), he’s not a regular roster member for RPW mainly because he’s from the North of the country and RPW operates almost exclusively in the South. Kirby is a good wrestler and definitely a guy who is a good addition to cards, who will consistently put on a good match in a mid-card position. However he never really showed huge singles main event potential to the degree where it made sense to bring him in from the other end of England, so seeing him here pick up the win against a fly-in and then be protected the following night against New Japan talent was surprising. Perhaps they’re going to be using him going forward, but if not it was weird to see ACH lose here. Poor ACH, he loses everywhere. ***1/4
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Big Damo
This match was set up at RPW’s last York Hall show in June after Damo beat Shinsuke’s CHAOS stablemate Tomohiro Ishii and then came out to challenge the King of Strong Style after Nakamura was victorious in his match with Roderick Strong. There were even rumblings that this might be some sort of unofficial try-out for Damo as his placement and success over native New Japan heavyweights is almost unprecedented. Even if there was nothing substantial to those rumours, this was almost certainly Damo’s biggest match to date.
It was surprising then, or at the very least disheartening, that this match suffered from the common Damo match problem: it took ages to get going. This was a criticism of the Ishii match too, and again for the Tanahashi match the following night. Looking at the entire first half of this match I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say it was just flat-out boring. Damo, being a big guy, often takes the bulk of the early portion of a match but his heat building segments are usually fairly plodding and monotonous. Thankfully at about the half way mark Nakamura rallied and it really picked up into a fun back and forth match. That’s when Damo is at his best, when he’s working as a surprisingly agile heavyweight wrestling a competitive match, not when he’s working as a lumbering big guy who dominates a match which is a role he usually defaults to in the early portions of his matches but simply isn’t that good at.
Nakamura started hitting the big man with some stiff knees, and they told a nice simple story of Nakamura realising he couldn’t beat this guy by going straight ahead and had to outmaneuver Damo to maintain any real advantage. The second half of this match was REALLY great, and I was ready to really praise this match highly despite its mediocre beginnings, but then we got two horrific looking neck bumps. Firstly it looked like Damo was going for an inverted suplex but kind of tripped and fell backwards landing Nakamura horrifically right on the top of his head. Nakamura then rolled out to the ropes and clung to them clutching his neck for what felt like an age while Damo stood there awkwardly with a kind of “shit what have I done” look on his face. It definitely took me out of the match somewhat, and had a similar effect on the crowd as a whole to the degree that they barely reacted to a one count kickout of a Boma Ye which occurred later in the match after Nakamura had recovered. Then in the finishing stretch we got another horror bump, as Nakamura attempted to hit his inverted powerslam but couldn’t get the big man over fully and it ended with Damo’s body making the full rotation but his head not. I was sure Damo’s neck was broken, but he managed to struggle back into a sitting position to take a Boma Ye and get pinned. After that though he laid motionless in the ring for a long time, so was clearly hurt, although he eventually managed to walk out under his own steam. These two spots definitely stifled the great momentum that the match had built up, and took me out of the match somewhat, but it was still a very enjoyable match all things considered. I guess that’s a testament to how good the work was in the segment after it got going but before the nasty bumps. ***1/2
Jushin Thunder Liger & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo
This was the last match before intermission and all in all was just a fun end to the first half. You got your token Tanahashi-Okada interactions ahead of the Dome, with your usual early Rainmaker attempt blocked into an attempted Dragon suplex which is also blocked and that sort of standard fare. All that’s fun to see live, but the real stars of this match were the Junior veterans. Liger is always SUPER over in the UK and turns it up to another level and Gedo’s crowd interactions were top-notch. After an opening exchange with Liger he offered a handshake which Liger wisely rejected much to Gedo’s dismay. Gedo got all teary and told Liger “Oh come on shake my hand, I’m a super nice guy” which got over huge with chants of Super Nice Guy being used on both nights as a result. It was just fun to see the junior veterans take the spotlight, and all in all this was just a fun match. ***1/4
Kyle O’Reilly vs. KUSHIDA
This match had a lot to live up to since these two had a match at the finals of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors that should garner support in Voices of Wrestling’s Match of the Year poll.
If you’ve seen the first encounter between these two you’ll know exactly what to expect. Sublime matwork, flowing counters, targeted limbs leading to submission focus: it was exactly what you want from these two. The timing these two have together is just masterful, everything is so crisp and simply put just so damn good. I’m not somebody who can get into the simulated grappling that’s become common on the US indie scene recently, but there’s few things I enjoy more in wrestling than these two grappling together. These two were made to have matches together.
Was it as good as their Best of the Super Juniors final? Not quite. It was wrestled more like a mid-card match unlike their first encounter which was a main event both in position and style, with them being slightly more conservative here and making it easier for them to be followed. That said it was still absolutely must see and my personal match of the weekend, and I would be far from surprised to see this match get top ten votes in Match of the Year. Hell, it’s sitting in my top ten right now. ****1/4
After the match, KUSHIDA was very frustrated and a rubber match was teased. If a third match does occur between these two, I’d love to see it happen in Ring of Honor. How cool would a best of three on three different continents be?
Mark Haskins vs. Tetsuya Naito
The near impossible task of following the preceding match was given to the Star Attraction and the Ungovernable One. Naito’s heel work here was simply magnificent. To start with the majority of the crowd was cheering when his music hit, but he waited until the cheers died down somewhat before even stepping through the curtain. After that one step cheers erupted again at seeing the suit and mask combo, but he just stood their unmoving for a good thirty seconds until the cheers began to change to boos. Then he finally began his slow walk down to the ring, at speeds that would make Undertaker’s procession look like a sprint, only to then refuse to enter the ring unless the ref held the ropes open for him. When Chris Roberts (the ref) finally did so he just took a kick at him and jumped over the top rope. These antics continued throughout the match, and it really came across how great Naito is as a heel in controlling a crowd; he had the entire attendance in the palm of his hand.
Haskins was a great foil for Naito dick persona, playing the role as a grumpy no-nonsense ass kicked who wasn’t going to take any shit from this prick Naito. After seeing this match and Naito’s Destruction match against Shibata — where Shibata seemed to lack the fire most expected from him — perhaps Shibata could take some notes.
This was exactly the match it should have been, and I loved it. The one criticism I’d perhaps have would be the lack of a hot finishing stretch. The whole match was a great back and forth, but Naito’s route to victory saw him just take advantage and hit the Destino and win by pinfall kind of cold. That could be some real meta psychology from Naito, if there’s any character who would want to win in a cold fashion it’d be Naito’s current incarnation. This was a very fun match showcasing both men and their respective characters well. ***3/4
Oh, and then post match Naito just casually turned around in the ring and spat on a kid in the crowd. As you do.
No DQ Cruiserweight Championship Match – Jimmy Havoc vs. Josh Bodom (c)
There’s been a long and overall very effective build for this, to the degree that it doesn’t particularly feel out-of-place on a card with the likes of Styles, Tanahashi, Nakamura and Okada on it. That said I was a little disappointed. It was a good plunder match but that’s about it. They took turns to hit each other with an array of objects and then did some crowd brawling. They did what they did well, but I was expecting something more substantial as a match.
The highlight of the match occurred when Havoc took the TV monitor from the commentators’ table and sandwiched it in between two turnbuckles only to be thrown head first into it by Bodom.
The finish came when Bodom ran away from Havoc back up the ramp and through the curtain and when Havoc followed he was attacked by Castle and Samuels, Bodom’s Revolutionist stablemates. I was hoping and expecting Havoc to have some back-up to run out and even the odds but no, Castle and Samuels just kicked and stomped Havoc back into the ring and then Samuels hit a spinebuster onto a pile of drawing pins which allowed Bodom to pick up the pin. It was all very anti-climactic as finishes to matches go, although perhaps they were purposefully going for the deflating finish to set up a rematch down the line? ***1/4
Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship Match – AJ Styles (c) vs. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll
Ospreay has great chemistry with both of these guys, and while Styles and Scurll had a disappointing match together I was still going into this one with very high expectations. We all know that Styles is good at three ways, and Ospreay has the perfect style for a triple threat. All that was needed is Scurll to hold up his end and this could be great. Thankfully he did, and it was.
I was getting a bit worried during the early portions of this match that it would disappoint with it falling into the “two guys in the ring, one guy overselling and watching the action from the apron” mould that is stereotypical of a lazy triple threat. Perhaps this was accentuated for me as I was on the balcony so it was hard to miss the guy waiting for his turn to get back in the ring from my elevated vantage point, but either way it wasn’t too long before that stopped being the case and it developed into a far better flowing contest utilising the novelty of having three guys in the ring at once rather than being handicapped by it.
It was excellent at building towards the finishing stretch, cranking the tension up as the match progressed and just genuinely being consistently engaging. By the end I was biting on every near-fall and just generally being on the edge of my seat due to the sheer excitement they were able to create towards the end. This was a match well worth searching out, and easily one of the best three ways you’ll see anywhere in the world this year. All three guys came out looking like total stars. ****
After the match, AJ got on the mic and said that there’s nowhere in the world he enjoys wrestling at more than York Hall, and that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of both him and the rest of the New Japan guys in the coming year. Clearly great news for British fans.
Final Thoughts: This was an excellent top-to-bottom show boosted by a great crowd. It’s a very easy three hours to get through, but if you’re looking to cherry pick — both the main event and KUSHIDA-O’Reilly are 100% worth searching out.
The show is currently available for streaming and download from RPWondemand.com for $12.99/£8.99 and gets my wholehearted recommendation. If you’re strapped for cash then there’s a good chance that this’ll eventually make its way onto New Japan World like the Ring of Honor War of the World/Global Wars shows did, but I can almost guarantee that you will get your money’s worth if you pick it up now off of Vimeo. There’s something for everybody on this show, RevPro and New Japan really hit it out of the park.