Ring of Honor & New Japan Pro Wrestling
Honor Rising : Japan 2016
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
Night 2 – February 20, 2016
Watch: NJPWWorld.com

David Finlay vs Jay White

How hardcore is the Korakuen crowd? David Finlay has won exactly one NJPW match via the stretch muffler, back in September 2015 against White in this same building, yet the Korakuen faithful remembered, because when Finlay tried to use the same move here, the crowd popped and then gasped as White desperately slithered out of it. These two always deliver excellent matches in the time they are given, and this was every bit as good (if not better) as the bout they had last week in Osaka. Finlay controlled the meat of the match with stiff clubbing forearms and various submission holds. Finlay’s bruising offense comes off totally unique, even in a promotion full of stiff brawlers, because there is a certain energy and snap that he brings to the table as opposed to just sheer stiff brutality. This came down to a battle of crab holds, like these lions matches usually do, with White coming out on top. White has now won three straight head to head against Finlay, and holds a 3-1 overall edge over his tag partner. They teased some dissension in the post match. Is a young lions angle of some sort coming?! ***¼

Gedo & Delirious vs Jushin Thunder Liger & Matt Sydal

This was all comedy. Gedo’s “what the fuck is this dude’s deal?” reactions to Delirious’ antics over the last two nights have been fantastic. Lizard Man used a stolen purse to attack Liger, to the delight of the lady he stole it from. Sydal probably did way too much flying for a five minute comedy match, and hit the shooting star press on Gedo to pick up the win. Delirious shouted out “Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!” before exiting to the back.

Frankie Kazarian vs Dalton Castle

Castle’s gimmick obscures the fact that he’s an excellent worker. It always felt like he was a cut above your average Chikara wrestler during his Ashley Remington days, and he more than holds his own in ROH, where the working standard is significantly higher. He’s got good offensive execution, sells well, and is very expressive in the ring. Without that good looking offense, I’m not sure if he’d be taken seriously with the over the top (in a good way) gimmick. I would have prefered a Castle singles match against Ryusuke Taguchi, but Kaz was was good here (especially when shoving down The Boys to establish that he was working heel), and this ended up being a better match than I thought it would be. Castle picked up the win, and the Tokyo fans were totally into the gimmick. ***

Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale vs Hirooki Goto, Katsuyori Shibata, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish

Anderson, who removed any shred of doubt earlier in the day by admitting that he is on his way to NXT, took a moment during his entrance to soak in the crowd, and noted that he had goosebumps. I think the Guns & Gallows act will be a good fit in NXT. This was all action from bell to bell, similar to the hot Shibata/reDRagon vs Omega/Young Bucks trio match from the night before. There was more uncomfortable tension between Shibata & Goto, which is a very interesting storyline right now. Shibata put away Gallows with the PK. There was a very classy post match goodbye for Anderson & Gallows. First, Fale & Tonga gave them a bow. Anderson & Gallows then bowed to the crowd, as Anderson’s eyes welled up. There was a very cool moment as Anderson took one last long look at Korakuen Hall, where he has probably wrestled close to 200 times, as he existed ringside. ***¼

KUSHIDA & Moose vs Tatsuya Naito & BUSHI

As if the visual of Moose working New Japan wasn’t surreal enough, we had “Moose! Moose! Moose!” chants in Korakuen Hall and KUSHIDA doing the Moose fist pump. What world is this? This was pretty basic and structured as a showcase for Moose, who like a lot of the ROH talent, was shockingly over. Moose put away BUSHI with the spear. **¾

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, Roderick Strong vs Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI

We were told that Elgin had signed a full time NJPW contract a few days ago, which he was confirming on Twitter after the show. This had a focused and violent exchange between Tanahashi & YOSHI-HASHI which felt like a tease for a first round New Japan Cup match. That’d be a good idea, and a good match between the two could really help YOSHI-HASHI. Tanahashi worked hard here despite the injured shoulder. Strong looked more focused here, as I thought he was a little bit uneven the night before and worked too heelish. Elgin may have been the most over person in the match, and he finished off Y-H with a buckle bomb and sit out powerbomb combo. This was loads of fun. New Japan has delivered some real hot trios matches this year. ***½

NEVER Openweight Trios Titles
Toru Yano & The Briscoes (c) vs Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks

Omega was wearing a New Day unicorn shirt, and said Bullet Club was “worldwide”, and coming “for you”. These titles rule, and were a great idea. This was the fifth title match since January 4th, giving these belts a completely different feel than the other championship in the company with the “take on all comers” feel as opposed to the slow, deliberate builds to the title matches in the other divisions. The titles have also served to raise the water levels on some of the other undercard trios matches, which often were largely fast forward material in the past, because contenders can crop up out of nowhere and you can never tell who is being positioned for a title match. Omega & The Bucks winning should have been obvious, and shame on me for missing it. Slapping a second ttle onto Omega is a nifty little add-on to his mega push, and he’s gotten over so well that the Bucks are now getting the rub and being elevated themselves by osmosis. This also sets the stage for a title defense against Matt Sydal, ACH, and KUSHIDA at the ROH 14th Anniversary show in Las Vegas, continuing the anytime, anywhere theme of the titles.

Omega has now pinned Nakamura, sent AJ Styles packing, pinned Tanahashi, won the Intercontinental title, and won the NEVER Openweight Trios title (and he lost to KUSHIDA on his exit from the junior ranks on an inside cradle where his shoulder wasn’t even down). I screamed from the rooftops the day that he signed with New Japan that Omega would eventually be a big time heavyweight star. Maybe he gets there, maybe he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, It’ll be no fault of the booking, because the push has been perfect every step of the way. ***½

ROH World Heavyweight Title
Jay Lethal (c) vs Tomoaki Honma

These guys were having a perfectly good little title match, which felt like it was building to a fun closing stretch, until a totally unnecessary ref bump/run in finish. If there is anybody on the New Japan roster who is equipped to absorb a clean pinfall loss to another company’s champion, it is Tomoaki Honma, whose entire (years long) push was built on losing. This was baffling to me, even from the perspective of getting over the idea that Los Ingobernables is now aligned with House of Truth, because you still could have done the post match angle, with the false handshake and mist spitting, had Honma lost clean or semi clean. With LIdJ costing him the match, Honma came off like a double geek for then accepting the handshake and being double crossed. None of this put any added heat on LIdJ/HoT, it just made Honma look silly. It actually would have made more sense for Honma to have lost clean, with the heels gaining his trust to set up the angle by not having interfered at all. The only positive to come out of this was the way Honma sold the mist, which was AMAZING and will be ripe for gifs and memes until the end of time. This was the first two thirds of a cool match. Docking a half or quarter nerd star for the shit finish. ***

Final Thoughts: Neither Honor Rising show will be capturing Show of the Year votes, but both shows were fun, easy watches with lots of cool interpromotional matches and a Korakuen crowd that treated the ROH wrestlers like stars. The rise of Kenny Omega is the best thing going in wrestling today, and coming out of these shows the partnership between NJPW & ROH feels a lot stronger with more synergy.

Also worth noting that New Japan has aired ten shows on New Japan World this year, and nine of them have been thumbs up shows. The lone exception was the mediocre Korakuen show on January 30, but that was the Nakamura send off so even that event had something special to offer. New Japan is off to a great start this year.