New Japan Pro Wrestling
45th Anniversary
March 7, 2017
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan (Attendance: 1,740)

Watch: New Japan World

Hirai Kawato, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi & David Finlay Jr. Def. Tomoyuki Oka, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jushin Thunder Liger

On the heels of their tag title win the night before, the Bread Club, Kojima and Tenzan (no longer Tencozy) teamed up with Liger and rookie Tomoyuki Oka, who looks no younger than they do despite being young enough to be their son, to challenge Nakanishi, Taguchi, Kawato and David Finlay.

Oka had a good showing against Nakanishi just 24 hours earlier and looked the best he’s looked since his debut. He’s right up there with Kawato in terms of ring work already and Kawato started wrestling a year before Oka did, though both are still progressing at a decent rate. Not much to unpack here, pretty standard opener for the most part. Nakanishi tapped Oka with a torture rack. Kawato showed a bit of attitude towards Liger and shoved him after the match, in which Liger didn’t sell and walked away, something I found funny. **1/2

Yuji Nagata, Juice Robinson & Michael Elgin Def. Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale

Fale’s almost been a complete non-entity since the G1 Climax and it’s a real shame, because the guy’s proven that he can go when needed. I have no doubt in my mind him and Elgin are going to kill it when they meet one-on-one in the New Japan Cup, as they absolutely killed it here with the limited amount of time they had. While that was obviously the most important pairing and the focus of the match, it also served a prelude to Robinson’s match with Yujiro and Nagata’s match with Loa, Nagata of course replacing the injured Tomoaki Honma. Loa has really found himself in this company as of late and has a good understanding of what he is and what he’s supposed to do. He’s not a great pro wrestler, I’d call him solid at best, but solid at best is a massive improvement over “get this guy the hell out of here,” which is what he was when he came in a year ago. One of many action-packed, fast-paced, energetic matches on this show. ***1/4

El Desperado, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Zack Sabre Jr. Def. Gedo, Jado, Beretta & Hirooki Goto

Zack Sabre Jr. waltzed into New Japan 24 hours prior to this show and beat Katsuyori Shibata for the RevPro title, and then waltzed into Korakuen Hall and pinned Hirooki Goto to set up what I assume is a NEVER title match. Suzuki-gun has been dead in the water since early February, and while I don’t suspect the addition of Sabre will make them that much more exciting, it certainly doesn’t hurt. If all of his matches are littered with interference and bullshit, which is a possibility, then we’ll talk about it being an issue. As of right now though, I don’t mind, and it makes Suzuki-gun interesting for the time being.

A nothing match when Sabre and Goto weren’t in the ring. Your standard lower-tier Suzuki-gun multi-man. Gedo sold for Taichi a lot and it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. It was there. **1/2

Katsuyori Shibata, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask IV Def. Minoru Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & TAKA Michinoku

Shibata and Suzuki, as a prelude to their upcoming Cup match, beat the living hell out of each other here and had to held back by their respective partners afterward to keep from killing one another. Tiger Mask IV has had a lot of juice since his son Tiger Mask W made his return to the promotion last week. He’s decent enough in Super Juniors every year, I don’t hate him in tag matches, but by and large Tiger Mask IV one of the most uninteresting guys on the roster, so seeing him work a little harder is nice. Headlining the last Korakuen served as a bit of a kick in the ass, I guess. Everyone in the match busted their ass and looked great, despite the focus clearly being Shibata and Suzuki. Makabe looked like he wanted to kill everyone, Smith was an asshole, TAKA was an annoying little prick, Tiger Mask had the working boots tightened up, and the other two go without saying. Well worth a watch. ***1/2

Kenny Omega & Tama Tonga Def. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

I badly want Tama Tonga and Tomohiro Ishii in the same G1 block this year. Tama Tonga has become a hell of a worker, anyone who wrote him off last year needs to reevaluate this year. He’s now what everyone thought he was before he was pushed. He started out shaky, him and his brother were absolute trash together for a while, he wasn’t great in the beginning stages of the G1, but ever since late 2016, this guy’s been great. Like Tanga Loa, he has a perfect understanding of his character and what he is, and his work has improved tremendously. I’m praying he gets past Yano in the Cup and faces Elgin in the second round. I need him in a real singles match. While we may not be getting Tonga vs. Ishii yet, we are getting Ishii vs. Omega, so that’ll have to do. Two of the best wrestlers in the world who have never faced each other one-on-one. No big deal, right? Like Shibata and Suzuki in the previous bout, they had some super heated interactions here and made everyone in the building, including myself, excited for their match on the 12th. Yano, as always, stood out like a sore thumb and wasn’t on par with the other three, although I will say his act was largely inoffensive. Of course, he’s the one who ate the pin and will likely move on to defeat Tonga as a result, which, again, I’m praying doesn’t happen. ***1/2

KUSHIDA & Hiroshi Tanahashi Def. Hiromu Takahashi & EVIL

Hiromu Takahashi’s booking has not gotten enough attention, and is one of the reasons I say Gedo is one of the best out there. Takahashi has not been pinned or submitted since his return in November. He’s won all of his singles matches, and he’s never taken the fall in tags. He’s never pinned, and therefore when someone does pin him, it’s a huge deal. Gedo’s done such a nice job with his push. It couldn’t have gone any better. KUSHIDA hit him with a backslide/jackknife pin combo for the win as he heads into his junior title challenge with that extra element of being the only one to defeat Hiromu.

EVIL has been beating Tanahashi like a drum recently, and Tanahashi, who tends to mail it in on these shows, gave it right back to him and worked his 40-year-old ass off here. I don’t have a feel for who’s winning the Cup match, I’ve thought about both, both would obviously make sense, so I’m saying it’s about 50/50, which is good. Sometimes it’s alright for these guys to be on equal footing, and it makes EVIL look great when he’s going toe-to-toe with the former ace and isn’t outclassed by him.

Another fun, energetic, fast-paced, action-packed match on this already great show. Go out of your way to watch it. ****

Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI Def. Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI & Rocky Romero

All about YOSHI-HASHI vs. SANADA here, another New Japan Cup match I don’t have a good feel for. Some great chemistry and some great sequences between those two throughout. SANADA, oddly enough, also had some great chemistry and some great interactions with Rocky Romero at the very end where Rocky showed a ton of heart and wouldn’t stay down until he was absolutely forced to tap to SANADA’s Skull End. SANADA was far and away the star of the match, closely tailed by Rocky and YOSHI-HASHI. BUSHI, Okada and Naito looked great as well, as they always do. A great, heated, fun, fast-paced main event to close out a great, heated, fun, fast-paced show. ****

Final Thoughts:

A massive improvement over some of the recent Korakuen shows. Night and day in comparison to the one from March 1st, which was dry as a bone and was carried by the main event, where as everything on this one was enjoyable on some level, with several matches being very good to great. Even without a card coming it managed to sell out, why or how I don’t know, but hey, a sell out is a sell out. More Korakuens like these, New Japan. No more garbage multi-mans that nobody on earth could possibly give a shit about. Please and thank you.