New Japan Pro Wrestling & CMLL
FantasticaMania 2016: Night 6
January 26, 2016
Guerrero Maya Jr. & Panther vs. Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu
The official farewell match of Tanakamatsu, as they head off to Mexico with the rest of the CMLL crew for their learning excursion. I’ve written at length many times about how special these two are. Set aside how tremendous they are as workers (to the point that they would sometimes have the best or second best match on shows, which is absurd historically for young lions). These were the lions of the USTREAM/New Japan World/Rise of Okada era, so these were the lions that many new fans grew up with together. Some of those fans will become fans for life, and those fans will always have an emotional attachment to the two kids they watched get brutalized by Shibata, who had their chests caved in by a grumpy Tiger Mask, and who battled their gaijin contemporaries, David Finlay & Jay White. On this night, in typical lion fashion, they lost again. To show that they still have much to learn, just as Yohei thought he was on a roll, a smarter, craftier veteran wrestler caught him with a surprise kimura and forced him to tap immediately. They said their goodbyes to the crowd, hugged it out with Finlay & White, and walked through the curtain. Not since the Muto/Chono era have I seen lions this advanced in the ring, and I’ve never seen lions who had their level of connection with the crowd. I have no idea when they’ll be back or what their futures hold, but like everyone else, I can’t wait to have them back so we can watch their careers unfold. It sounds crazy on the surface, but of all the change and all of the names exiting New Japan, with the exception of Shinsuke Nakamura, the loss of Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu will leave the most glaring hole on shows in 2016. **1/4
Fuego, KUSHIDA, Stuka Jr. & Tiger Mask vs. Bobby Z, Hechicero, Okumura & YOSHI-HASHI
Fuego is delightful. Watching his partners do his dance with him has been one of the highlights of what this reviewer considers the best Fantasticamania tour of all time. Some of the highlights here were the brief interactions of Hechicero & KUSHIDA (this tour has left me wanting about 19 different singles matches involving Hechicero and NJPW talent), and Okumura’s valet Mima Shimoda taking her traditional tour ending bumps as her interference constantly backfired, inadvertently helping the technicos put away the rudos. Tons of great dives here, and to use a very overused word when it comes to describe this tour, this match was FUN. ***
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Virus
This match was circled by a lot of hardcores as the potential tour stealer, a transcontinental “Maestro” match of sorts, if given the proper time to lay out meaningful mat work. Work the mat they did, as Liger controlled early before Virus went to work on his arm. Next was a series of well scouted/”I’m too smart for that” style counters & reversals, including Liger nearly scoring a flash pin on an inside cradle that worked as a near fall because of some of the quick falls earlier on the tour. Momenta later Liger won it with a rocking horse submission, which felt quite abrupt as a finish. This match was just starting to get going and looked like it could have been excellent, so getting shafted on time was disappointing. It ended up coming off more like an exhibition. **1/2
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Atlantis, Mascara Dorada & Ryusuke Taguchi
Look, I have no idea what the CMLL ring announcer is saying to drag out and stall Naito’s ring entrances, but it’s a tremendous gimmick, and its been a lot of fun watching Mr. Tranquillo come this close to losing his cool every time. The match itself was fine (including a great spot where Naito countered a Taguchi flying ass attack with an atomic drop), but there is a lot to unpack with the post match. Naito hit a low blow on Dorada, allowing BUSHI to pick up the fall. Naito faked an injury to lure Komatsu into the ring. As Komatsu was attending to him, Naito put the Los Ingobernables hat on his head, which looked like it might be the payoff to the months long tease. The crowd gasped, but it was a setup as Naito hit him with a reverse atomic drop and left him laying. Dorada gave his goodbye speech as he wraps up his one year loan deal to NJPW. I may have been seeing things, but it looked like BUSHI was doing the belt motion to taunt Dorada. If he was teasing another CMLL Welterweight title match, it’ll have to be in Mexico. **3/4
Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, El Barbaro Cavernario vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson & Titan
Nakamura continues to get incredible reactions, and 1/30 is going to be one emotional scene. Nakamura had his bone nunchucks again, and this time both Nak & Okada were wearing the caveman masks. As he tied Juice Robinson in knots, I was amused by Okada’s slow developing, super cooperative, silly looking lucha style grappling and submissions, but then again, I always find slow developing, super cooperative, silly looking lucha style grappling and submissions a little goofy, so I’m not the best arbiter to judge how well he was able to pull it off. Either way, it’s always fun to watch Okada hearken back to his lucha roots this time of year, as a few minutes later he blew a springboard dive to the outside but covered it nicely with a flipping senton. I bang this drum regularly, but Okada is a very underrated tag team and trios worker.
For the finish, with Tanahashi having been taken out by the Okada flipping senton and Titan laying dead from Cavernarios’s splash from the top rope to the floor, this left Juice Robinson to eat the match ending Rainmaker. Seconds after the fall, Hirooki Goto hit the ring out of nowhere and cleaned house, laying out Okada, Gedo, and everybody else that got in his way. This came off great and drew incredible heat. Some knocked the decision to run with perpetual bridesmaid Goto as the next title challenger, but there is no denying that the build for the match has been nothing short of awesome. There is at least a shred of doubt now as to who will win what originally looked to be a placeholder type title defense. ***
CMLL World Lightweight Title
Dragon Lee (c) vs. Kamaitachi
This was arguably the feud of the year for 2015, with nine singles matches, eight of which made tape, many of which were highly praised as match of the year caliber. I saw three of the eight available bouts, and this is deserving of similar praise.
If you’ve seen these two go at it before, you saw some familiar spots (I mean, they’ve wrestled a billion times, cut them a break), but there was enough fresh stuff here to make it feel like its own match. What I find interesting about these two, is that they sort of work in reverse in terms of pacing. Their bouts start off super hot, and then “slow” down (they never truly work slow) for the stretch run with submission attempts. This gives their bouts a very different feel from the methodical builds you often see that peak with the hottest action in the finishing stretch, and creates a very different kind of drama. I bought each of their big submission attempts, especially when Dragon Lee crucifixed Kamaitachi’s opposite arm to prevent him from reaching the ropes on an armbar. I was surprised Kamaitachi won the title, since we all assume he’s done in Mexico (he already lost his mask, he already lost his hair, and he’s been on excursion for years at this point since he had a stint in Europe before he landed in CMLL), but this was a potential one night star making performance if he sticks around as most of us expect. Incredible match that everyone should find a way to see, especially if this would be your first exposure to the rivalry. ****3/4
Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero
Perfect “comedown” match, even though that feels like the wrong term because this was hardly Owen Hart vs Skinner at WrestleMania VIII or some dopey mid 00’s Diva’s buffer bout. I would have liked to have seen a little more intensity here, but that’s a very minor gripe. They work was solid, the length was perfect, and this held my attention and entertained me even though they had the impossible task of following the unfollowable. Mistico won it with the La Mistica, and overall redeemed himself with a quality tour after being rushed back into action and working last year’s tour injured and out of ring shape. ***1/2
NWA World Historic Welterweight Title
Volador Jr. (c) vs. Mephisto
To redeem myself with the lucha fans who want me dead after taking shots at light, cooperative looking grappling earlier, the previous match and this bout opened up with the kind of grappling and mat work that I dig. Fast paced, believable, and without the feeling that they’re handing each other limbs and leaving themselves open. “Exhibition” style grappling is what drives me nuts (usually displayed in grimy maestro bouts, and now by Kazuchika Okada). This was a little sloppy in spots, but it built well with well placed highspots. This had the intensity and sense of struggle that the previous bout was lacking, and the way they paced this gave this a true main event feel, which some of the Fantasticamania tour enders in the past have lacked. Volador survived a couple different variations of the Devil’s Wings and Demon Driller, and won it with a Spanish Fly. Excellent main event to cap off an excellent tour. ****
Final Thoughts: How much fun was this? Three super fun shows, filled with good action, great angles, title matches, and a match of the year contender on the final night. These are the kind of shows that reaffirm why we love wrestling.