New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Road To Invasion Attack
Korakuen Hall Tokyo, Japan
March 27, 2016
KUSHIDA, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, David Finlay vs Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Rocky Romero, Beretta
With nothing major cooking for Ishii at Invasion Attack, and with KUSHIDA & RPG Vice’s respective opponents Will Ospreay, Ricochet, and Matt Sydal not working the meat of the tour and parachuting in for the big show only, this was the most inconsequential match on the card from a story standpoint. As the next junior tag title challengers, RPG Vice has been on a tear on this tour, winning every match and scoring every fall (including a win earlier in the day in this same building on a Suzuki-gun produce show), usually via Beretta’s Dudebuster. Same story here, with Beretta putting away Finlay, this time with the help of Romero landing a missile dropkick for additional impact. Standard issue multi man opener, all action, and the crowd enjoyed it. ***
Extra quarter star for this:
— John Stevens (@DK1105) March 27, 2016
Katsuyori Shibata, Ryusuke Taguchi, Captain New Japan, Juice Robinson vs Hiryoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi
For the fans who like to drop in on New Japan for the major shows who may have disappeared after Wrestle Kingdom and are gearing up for Invasion Attack, let’s get you caught up on what’s happening here between Shibata and the New Japan third generation. After winning the NEVER title, Shibata had some choice words for the rest of the New Japan roster, claiming that there are dudes hanging on who are just happy to be there that no longer have the killer instinct or drive to win. This was a clear shot at the quartet of New Japan Dads, who have been gunning for Shibata ever since. Shibata took out Kojima earlier on this tour, faces Tenzan at Invasion Attack, and will presumably take on Nagata at some point if he can survive Tenzan. Hopefully he never faces Nakanishi, because the last thing anybody needs is a 2016 Nakanishi singles match.
As for this bout, this was like a punk son coming home with the car at dawn when dad told him to have it home by midnight, seeing the living room light on when he pulls into the driveway, and bracing for the inevitable when he walks through the front door. The Dad’s were in no mood here, beating down everyone before the bell and tossing them from the ring. Nakanishi had some words for punk son Juice, who responded with an ill advised, too-big-for-his-britches “fuck you!”. Not today, Juice. Bad move. There was screaming. There was grunting. There were displays of old man strength, such as Nakanishi flooring Taguchi with a double sledge to the ass when Taguchi tried his cutesy ass attacks. Even the toughest son, Shibata, took his lumps as Tenzan gave him a “not under my roof!” beating on the floor while Nagata and Nakanishi were putting away Juice inside the ring. Shibata recovered just as Tenzan grabbed a chair to finish him off, leading to a hot pull apart that has me hyped for Invasion Attack.
Shibata will probably win the war, but on this night, the Dad’s removed their belts. ***
NJPW vs Bullet Club I – Michael Elgin vs Cody Hall
After 125 matches with the promotion, this was the first Cody Hall NJPW singles bout, and his first singles match overall since November 2014. Hall acquitted himself well, in match that was paced perfectly for who was involved.
“Paced perfectly” has been a frequent descriptor of Elgin’s New Japan bouts since his G1 debut, and if I had told you a year ago that one of the trademarks of a future Elgin NJPW run would be his excellent pacing, you would have laughed me out of the room. But hey, here we are, and even though I was fully confident #BigMike would succeed in Japan, he’s delivering in ways that even his strongest backers did not expect. Here, Elgin was in the role of experienced veteran leading a young wrestler through his first singles match in front of the smartest fans in the country in the mecca of Japanese wrestling. He gave Hall just enough to where I can’t call this a squash, but took enough of it to ensure that he came out of things looking like he was a level or three above Hall in the caste system.
Watching Hall’s progression from a super green six man tag guy who would quickly run out of ideas and nervously tag out, to someone who they finally trust to work a mid card singles match in Korakuen Hall, has been an interesting sub plot of New Japan fandom over the last year. Everything Hall does is methodical, which is fine, not only because he’s a young wrestler finding his way, but also because it suits him. He’s one of the biggest dudes on the roster. He patterns himself after his old man, who himself was a methodical worker. His deliberate movements serve well to set him apart on a roster that has plenty of go go go. New Japan bringing him along slowly in tags and as a Bullet Club goon has helped him get over, as Korakuen took him seriously here, responding to his “Coooo-deee!” taunt and treating him like he belongs. Hall’s long term future is in Florida, and he would be the first person to tell you that, but I think it was a smart move to cut his teeth here first, learning an alternate style and working with some of the best talent in the world on a nightly basis. **3/4
NJPW vs Bullet Club II – Jay White vs Kenny Omega
Jay White seems to have nudged ahead of Finlay in the pecking order. White has beaten Finlay like a drum head to head in singles bouts, Finlay almost always eats the fall when they team together, and White is the one who finds himself in this singles match, while Finlay works the 8-man opener. I’m not trying start unsubstantiated rumors, but could Finlay be on his way out? He alluded to being in Japan “until May” some months back on Twitter. This could mean nothing more than taking a break and heading home for a few weeks. It could also mean that he’s moving on, either in the form of excursion, or even ending his run with NJPW. At any rate, the booking of White & Finlay has been curious, and worth keeping an eye on.
I loved everything about this match, and it showcased many of the reasons that Kenny Omega is one of the best wrestlers on Earth. Kenny’s role is that of a talented yet delusional guy who thinks he’s better than he really is, and opponents like White are a perfect way to exemplify that. Here, Omega is like a cat, treating the very game yet very over matched White like a dying mouse. Omega, clearly bored, declares the match over and goes for the One Winged Angel, but White still has some fight and escapes. This leads to the nearly beaten White fighting with everything he has, and a wide eyed, nervously indignant Omega on his heels. White goes for a crab hold, but Omega rolls out of it, hits a vicious Boma Ye, figures now it’s over, and is stunned when it only scores two. Omega goes back to the well and tries another One Winged Angel, which will surely end things, but White reverses into a cradle and nearly pulls the upset. The story has now become the courageous White fighting to the death, and the cocky Omega holding on for dear life to avoid the embarrassing indignity of losing to a young boy, with the crowd eating every bit of it up. White eventually locks in the crab hold, but he knows this won’t be enough to beat a fighter at Omega’s level, so he transitions into an STF. What an incredibly subtle, yet key piece of storytelling that was. Omega scrambles to his feet, hits his snap Dragon Suplex, and again is shocked to only get a two count. While Omega is lobbying with the ref over the count, White crucifixes him up and nearly wins again. Moments later, Omega finally kills White dead with a final fatal Boma Ye, before telling the camera “I hate it when the Bucks aren’t here. That was hard! I’m blown up! Get me into the first taxi home, please.”, hammering home the idea that he not only underestimated White, but that things aren’t so easy when his pals aren’t around to bail him out when he goofs off and makes mistakes. This was as good as it gets in terms of both men working to their roles and delivering the best possible match around it. Omega was brilliant as the cocky champion who thinks he’s a top level guy but really isn’t, and White was equally brilliant working exhausted and from behind, as the gutsy upstart who isn’t quite ready to win at this level, but whose time is quickly approaching.
Omega uses body language, mannerisms, and facial expressions better than just about anybody in the business. His offense is innovative, always executed cleanly, and is dangerous looking. His selling is at an elite level, and although this particular match didn’t call for it, this is especially so when selling a body part or limb damage. I don’t want to sell White short. He’s incredibly proficient in everything he does, and is well on his way to developing into a great worker. I’d argue that he already is. White, to me, is a stone cold lock to become a star. First match on the show that I strongly recommend going out of your way to see. ***1/2
NJPW vs Bullet Club III – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Yujiro Takahashi
Despite his reputation, I don’t think Yujiro is that bad. He can be a little sloppy, and sometimes outright dangerous (he seems to have dropped his awkward looking buckle bomb from his arsenal, perhaps at the request of his annoyed opponents), but to me he’s always just been a perfectly average mid card guy who is more gimmick sizzle than workrate steak. With that said, years ago I had a conversation with someone a few moments after he worked a flat match against him, and his exact words were “Yeah, I did what I could with a Yujiro.”, so what do I know?
On this night, Tanahashi did what he could with a Yujiro. The story was a simple one, with Yujiro using his dollar store Yano tricks to cut off Tanahashi every time Tanahashi looked to take control. After enduring these shenanigans all match long, Tanahashi gave Yujiro a taste of his own medicine, using a low blow to set up the High Fly Flow finish. Was Yujiro terrible here? I don’t know, he looked fine to me. Shoulder shrug. ***
NJPW vs Bullet Club IV – Tomoaki Honma vs Bad Luck Fale
I’m all over the board with Fale. I used to be his harshest critic (“Bad Match Fale”), but eventually he grew on me, thanks to his ability to at least step up to the level of his competition. Bad Match Fale will still rear his ugly head at times, particularly against lesser competition, as Fale seems to be the dictionary definition of a guy who delivers at the level of his opponent. There are things that I love about him regardless of the output. One of those things is the YOU’RE DEAD nature of the Bad Luck Fall, which produces anxious moments when he’s got guys in position to take it, and allows for creative booking. Fale is someone who is always a threat to win, even against top level opponents, so when he has a Tanahashi or Okada up on his shoulders, there is a real chance they’re crashing down…and of course, losing. It has created a unique dynamic in that even though Fale isn’t a top guy, he is credible enough, thanks in large part to how well the Bad Luck Fall has been protected, to where losing to him doesn’t derail a star. He’s become the heel gatekeeper of New Japan, the man no one wants to face in a tournament or big match, and the man you must overcome in order to get back to the top after he defeats you.
It is almost impossible to have a bad match against Honma, who like Omega is at an elite level when it comes to selling, although in a completely different way. Honma’s strengths, which revolve around taking a beating and showing heart & guts, play right into the strengths of Fale. This produced a match that was exactly what you would expect, with Honma selling forever, Fale teasing the Bad Luck Fall, Honma escaping, Honma missing his top rope headbutt, and Fale hitting his second try at the Bad Luck Fall to put him away. It wasn’t bad, it was just the no frills version of what both men bring to the table. **3/4
NJPW vs Bullet Club V – Togi Makabe vs Tama Tonga
As expected, the NJPW vs Bullet Club series came down to the final match, which was really the only coin flip bout on the slate.
Tonga is a guy who I had been calling for a push for for years, and he’s finally getting it. It’s way too early to say he’s a guy who shines as a sidekick or tag partner but cant cut it as a single or pushed commodity, but I’d be lying if I told you that his output hasn’t been disappointing during what is the most critical stage of his career. He’s not a kid anymore (33), and when his brother finally shows up, he’ll be in a completely new role as the lead partner in a tag team. If Tonga Roa is slow to adjust to New Japan, as new faces are sometimes apt to be (see: Robinson, Juice), Tama will be in the tricky position of leading a tag team, carrying a partner, and continuing to attempt to get himself over as a new star, all at the same time. With a push comes pressure.
This match was one big setup for Tonga Roa to do a run in and clean house on Makabe and the young lions. He looked good tossing around the 18-year olds, before G.O.D. (Guerrillas of Destiny) delivered their yet to be named finish on Makabe. Good angle to set up the tag title match at Invasion Attack. With Makabe’s DQ win, New Japan “wins” the series 3-2, but these same ten men will compete against each other in an elimination match at the Korakuen show on April 1. **
Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI vs Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, BUSHI
LIdJ had been undefeated in trios matches coming into this tour, but a retooled CHAOS with new member Hirooki Goto has had their number, picking them off three times, twice with the powerhouse combo of Goto, Okada, and Ishii, and once with Goto, Okada, and Gedo. Welp, YOSHI-HASHI is no Tomohiro Ishii, and apparently he isn’t even Gedo, as LIdJ regained the upper hand here with a big Korakuen win, setting up a huge April 1 showdown against the CHAOS A-team of Okada, Goto, and Ishii.
This was largely by the numbers until a straight up fire closing stretch. YOSHI-HASHI was the star here, bumping his ass off and making fiery comebacks, until a ref bump that led to the chain of events that fed to the finish. Goto was taken out by EVIL’s EVIL, and Okada took the mist, leaving YOSHI-HASHI to be finished off. LIdJ put the boots and laid waste to everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY in the post match, including Red Shoes, the young boys, and Gedo, who took a particularly bad beating. I have a feeling April 1 is gonna tear the house down. ***1/2
After abusing the building in 2015 (and seeing attendance slowly decline as a result), New Japan is back to treating Korakuen with the respect it deserves, with fun cards loaded with eventful story advancing matches and angles, as opposed to the multi-man tag garbo fans were shit shoveled last year. The NJPW vs BC series sets up the big elimination match on the April 1 return date, which also features the huge culmination of the back and forth tour long six man battles between CHAOS and LIdJ. In the middle of the most interesting house show tour New Japan has run in years, the company delivered another super fun show on New Japan World, which has been the trend all year long. The show is a solid watch from top to bottom, with a tidy 2:30 run time, but if pressed for time, watch the Omega vs White bout and the main event. Those are can’t miss.