Welcome back to the Tiger Mask W review column. This week we’ve got an action packed episode to talk about and two Tiger Mask W matches from recent New Japan shows to review. This is a loaded week so let’s get right to it. You can watch every episode of Tiger Mask W over at Crunchyroll and if you want to find the rest of my recaps, you can do that here. Also, don’t forget that you can watch every Tiger Mask W match over at NJPW World.

Tiger Mask W Episode 21 Recap: Reunion

This week things get kicked off with two tag team matches; one from GWM and one from New Japan. The first features Tiger the Dark and Kevin Anderson taking on the Metal Brothers, who are clearly knock-off Road Warriors, but their masks are pretty rad. I’m almost certain that this match is supposed to take place in America, but the ring and the entire set up is very much still modeled after the New Japan look. This isn’t the biggest problem, but this laziness from the shows animators/designers takes away something that could differentiate an NJPW show from a GWM show.

Speaking of New Japan, Tiger Mask has a match teaming with Tanahashi to take on Okada and YOSHI-HASHI. Excluding some color swaps and a big ass Kizna logo in the middle, this looks like the exact same ring from the GWM show. Where the differences come in are the crowds. Tiger the Dark and Kevin win in a pretty commanding fashion over the Metal Brothers and are applauded by about five of the ten fans at the show. Meanwhile Tiger Mask puts away YOSHI-HASHI as a packed crowd goes nuts. It really goes to show how much further Tiger Mask has climbed up the ladder than Tiger the Dark has in both of their short careers.

Later in the GWM show, the house is full for the main event as The Third takes on Bigfoot. When we join the match, Bigfoot has The Third in his grasp, but the white tiger takes control and dominates from then on, eventually lifting the huge Bigfoot into the air for a Back Drop Driver to win the match. The mysterious wrestler known as The Third continues to look impressive this week after we saw him easily defeat a military robot last episode. It’s clear that he’ll be Tiger Mask’s next big opponent and I’m also going to guess that we’ll see him as the next opponent for the real life Tiger Mask W as well. While I really like the look of The Third, I have to wonder if he’ll look as cool when brought to life or if the full body tiger suit will look a little gaudy. Either way, if my prediction of Big Mike Elgin as The Third comes true, I’m greatly looking forward to the match.

Tiger the Dark and Kevin watch The Third’s match from the crowd. While Kevin is impressed by his strength, Tiger the Dark is fully confident that he could beat him. Their conversation is interrupted by Mister X, who tells the boys that their next tour will be in Japan and they need to get ready for it now. Tiger the Dark looks forward to getting revenge on Tiger Mask for his past loss. Little does Takuma know that those two won’t be going alone. They’re going to be joined by the GWM Champion, The Third. In a nice but of continuity, when Tiger the Dark and Kevin get to the airport in Japan, they’re met by pro wrestling journalist ace, Hikari Kuruma. She asks about their whereabouts during the time they were trapped in Hell in the Hole, which makes it clear that people actually noticed that these wrestlers had disappeared from the face of the Earth. Overall the two are very short with Kuruma, showing us that they aren’t fans of the sheets.

Elsewhere in Japan at Takaoka Motors, Naoto is still super bummed out about making himself look like an idiot in front of Ruriko by bragging about how much money he’s made while she is super wealthy by birth. Anyone else can see that this stuff doesn’t matter to Ruriko, but Naoto’s going to keep harping on it. I don’t want to repeat myself much so go read last week’s column to see how this is all a part of a metaphor for the struggle of the lower class. Naoto continues to sulk for hours until Kentaro tells him to get over it because money doesn’t matter to true love. He also tells him to “Go get a three count with high spurt wrestling.” Haruna doesn’t understand what that means (neither do I for that matter), but Naoto understands perfectly. Is it a sex metaphor?

Meanwhile at the Max Done, Tiger the Dark and Kevin spar to get ready for an upcoming match. Kevin catches TD in the eye with a strike, which sends Tiger the Dark to see the nurse after being forced to go by Miss X. Even though she made him go off to literally fight for his life, Miss X seems to genuinely care about Takuma and wants to see him succeed. She threw him to the wolves to make him stronger because she believed that he could make it out of there alive.

While Takuma goes to see the nurse, Miss X meets with a guest. Haruna was summoned to the Max Dome to discuss terms for Tiger Mask working the next GWM tour. While Tiger Mask is contractually forced to work the tour, Haruna asks for a raise, which Miss X quickly grants. She says she believes in paying out for the wrestlers on her roster than draw in the money. When did Miss X get this sensible?

Over in the medical office, the GWM doctor tries to convince Takuma to take his mask off to that he can treat his eye injury. As Takuma removes the mask, Ruriko walks into the room and exclaims “Oh, the pudding guy” when she sees him. Initially, this line really threw me off. It’s in reference to the episode where Takuma brought pudding to his dad’s (Daisuke Fujii) assisted living center because it was his dad’s favorite treat. Instead of actually visiting his father, Takuma gave the pudding to his nurse, Ruriko. See, with context it makes perfect sense. Ruriko is quick to promise to Takuma that she won’t disclose his secret identity to anybody. She doesn’t really know anything about him beyond the pudding through, not even knowing that Fujii is Takuma’s dad. Before she can learn anything else about him, Takuma is called away my Miss X, which makes for an odd scene transition seeing as she is the one who sent him to see the doctor to begin with.

The next day, Tiger Mask arrives at the Max Dome for the show and immediately runs into Ruriko. I hope Naoto is done focusing on the money thing because he has a much bigger problem brewing. Ruriko clearly likes Tiger Mask more than Naoto and he’s in a weird love triangle where he’s two of the participants. Buddy, you gotta solve this before it becomes a real problem.

While Tiger is prepping for his match, Haruna receives a text from Mammy, the promoter and mother of the Saboten that we met in the worst episode of this series to date. Mammy warns Tiger that the man he faces today, Caracas, is one of the stars that was poached from Mexico by GWM. Apparently the territory that used to be his is floundering without him, just like many others that GWM looks to put out of business. This will become important later in the episode.

In the ring, Tiger the Dark channels his inner Kairi Hojo and puts away beloved GWM jobber, Mike, with a top rope elbow drop. As Tiger the Dark’s hand is raised in victory, he holds the eye that he injured earlier in the day, which Ruriko takes notice of. Kevin watches from the crowd along with Miss X, who gives him a bit of advice to pass onto Takuma. Tiger the Dark can win all the matches he wants, but until he connects with the audience, he’s not going to move up the card anytime soon.

Before his match begins, Tiger Mask goes to check out the venue. While he’s on his walk, he sees Ruriko playing with Tiger the Dark to get his injury actually taken care of. Could we be seeing the beginning of a love square? We don’t have much time to ponder that as our main event kicks off.

Tiger Mask vs. El Caracas

When the bell rings, Tiger Mask shows off some fancy footwork in the ring. I know what the animators were going for, but it makes it look like he’s dancing around like a jackass. Putting Sami Zayn’s music behind it actually feels pretty fitting. We go backstage where Kevin gives Miss X’s advice to Takuma, who declares that he’s not going to change his style to please the masses. He says that he’ll take Tiger Mask’s followers when he beats him. I find Takuma’s approach to the business refreshing and, honestly, realistic.

When we rejoin the match, El Caracas has Tiger Mask on the outside of the ring where he crushes him with a dive. Just as Tiger Mask gets back to his feet, he’s hit again, this time with a Quebrada. Caracas quickly rolls Tiger into the ring and then climbs to the top rope to use his killer move; a double rotation moonsault. At the last second, Tiger Mask gets his knees up, protecting himself and greatly hurting Caracas. Before he has any time to recover, Tiger Mask grabs Caracas and locks him in a Crossface Chicken Wing. El Caracas tries to grab the rope, but he can’t reach it and is forced to give up. What’s odd is that good guy Tiger Mask isn’t very quick to release the hold, opting to make a statement here. ***

After the match, Tiger Mask causes a hubbub backstage when he confronts Caracas about leaving his home promotion and joining a group that’s trying to dominate the wrestling world. Tiger the Dark takes exception to his comments and inserts himself into the situation. A crowd starts to form as TD says that the strong will survive in this world and that’s why he’s with GWM. Tiger Mask makes a comment about Tiger the Dark not being able to beat him and that’s when the fists start flying. Tiger the Dark throws the first punch, but Tiger Mask is quick to return fire. The other wrestlers jump in to break up the fight as Hikari Kuruma’s photographer snaps a picture of the brawl. Miss X comments that this picture will help promote the upcoming match between the two tigers as the show comes to a close.

And now with the cartoon out of the way, let’s step back into the real world. Since the last edition of this column, Tiger Mask W has had two matches in a New Japan ring; the first on a Road To show and the second on the 45th Anniversary show. In the past we’ve seen Tiger Mask W wrestling in prelim matches, but here he was a main eventer taking on the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.

Match 1: Tiger Mask W and Tiger Mask IV def. Kazuchika Okada and Gedo

As this match starts, I’m struck by how much I love watching these two enter the ring together. Both of their new masks look great. It’s awesome to see Tiger Mask IV in a main event spot and he definitely works way harder in this match because of it. This Tiger tag team is a ton of fun and I’d love to see them work together more often. It probably isn’t in the cards, but a World Tag League run from this team would actually get me to watch some of that tournament.

While the initial encounter between Okada and W seemed rather good natured, that quickly went by the wayside. Gedo used a chair on W and then both Tigers almost had their masks ripped off their faces by the CHAOS team. It’s easy to forget that CHAOS isn’t entirely on the side of the angels, but this match was a good reminder because they were clearly the heels here. Okada really brought the fight to W. He made the challenge out of jest after a big match, but now it seems as though he fears being embarrassed by a cartoon character. The Tiger team fights back and that’s when this match really kicks into gear. Okada and W have an awesome sequence where they both almost put each other away and featured a beautiful German suplex from W. The rest of the match is more of a showcase for IV and Gedo than anything, which is totally fine with me. My favorite moment in the whole match comes when IV just slaps the life out of Okada. It sort of comes out of nowhere and might be the hardest strike in the entire match. Like I said before, old man Tiger Mask is fired up to be in the main event. The match comes to a close when Gedo is pinned with a Tiger suplex from IV following diving headbutts from both Tigers. On a very dry show, this match stood out as a ray of sunshine. ****

New Japan Road (March 1) Results & Review: Korakuen Burnout

Match 2: Kazuchika Okada def. Tiger Mask W

One thing that I really love in the early goings of this match is how much the fans buy into the Tiger Mask gimmick. I feel like your typical WWE crowd would be chanting for the man under the mask instead of giving the “Tiger! Tiger!” chants of the Japanese crowd. A majority of the first 15 minutes of the match are controlled by Okada. What started as an exhibition took an ugly turn when Okada viciously attacked with strikes and words. He was clearly talking down to his opponent. Tiger Mask responded with hard strikes, knocking Okada down. W must have suddenly felt the need to prove himself after being disrespected.

Red shoes tried to pull Tiger Mask off, but was shoved away. The match started to resemble more of a shoot flight when Tiger Mask struck with several closed fist punches. W has completely snapped and nothing matters to him as much as hurting Okada in this moment. The gimmick, the rules, the nature of the exhibition; it all falls away. The storytelling in this match is superb.

Okada tries to go for the Rainmaker, but Tiger Mask dodges it and turns it into Rainmaker of his own, substituting a kick for the lariat. Okada falls to the mat, but Tiger Mask retains wrist control in an all too familiar manner. It looks like Tiger Mask has it won with the Last Ride Tiger Bomb, but somehow Okada just barely kicks out at two. A short time later, Tiger Mask hits a Super Tiger Driver off the top rope in an incredible sequence, but Okada even manages to kick out of that. Tiger Mask tries for another Tiger Bomb, but Okada manages to reverse it into a Rainmaker. Both men fall to the mat and once again a wrestler maintains wrist control on the other, this time with Okada holding onto Tiger Mask. The crowd is completely split, half chanting for Tiger and half chanting for Okada. The match finally comes to a close when Okada nails Tiger Mask with two more Rainmakers in what was an incredible closing stretch.

God, I loved everything about this match. Even though this was just an exhibition, Okada fought this like it was the hardest test he’s had since Kenny Omega. Tiger Mask gave everything that he had, knowing that this was his one shot to make a real impression as this character. This was no fun cartoon match, this was a brutal fight. When things were said and done, Tiger Mask could barely stand. W absolutely proved himself as a future title contender here and I hope that we get to see a rematch sooner rather than later. ****1/2

New Japan Pro Wrestling 45th Anniversary (March 6) Results & Review

For a bit of behind the scenes on the process of making this column, you can see above what happens when I use my phone’s speech to text option to take notes. The amount of time I spent editing those notes into something that made sense really makes me think that I should just type out my notes in the future.

Live and learn, I suppose. As always, thanks for reading the column and I’ll talk at you again next week.