NJPW レスリング豊の国 2017
APRIL 29, 2017

Watch: NJPW World

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tomoyuki Oka, Hirai Kawato def. Tiger Mask, Katsuya Kitamura, Shota Umino 

I promised myself I wouldn’t use up half of the words of this review on the young lions again, and thankfully the match was structured in such a way that I won’t be tempted to break that vow. Oka was the focus here, getting plenty of ring time as the face in peril (can you be a “face in peril” when both sides of the match are faces?) before making a valiant comeback and putting away Umino with a crab hold. They stayed away from Kawato stealing the spotlight with his underdog spots, and Kitamura was limited to one or two power spots, so this was an Oka showcase. Simple, straight forward, and once again an incredibly clean and well worked opener. There is some serious upside with this group. ***

Roppongi Vice def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado

Roppongi Vice won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag titles days earlier from Kanemaru & Taichi, so this was a non title match. This had potential on paper but was wildly disappointing. As generic and basic as you could get, with the champs picking up a clean, no nonsense win. Nothing to see here. **

SANADA & BUSHI def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Yoshitatsu

Someone needs to sit down and have a serious conversation with Yoshitatsu over the state of his hair. Someone also needs to sit down with Yoshitatsu and have a serious conversation about the state of his Bullet Club Hunter gimmick.

Someone needs to sit down with SANADA as well and have a serious conversation about the state of the worst spot in wrestling, where he ties Taguchi in a ball to mock Milano Collection AT. It stinks when SANADA does it, it stinks when Jack Gallagher does it, and it stunk when Daniel Bryan or Milano used do it. IT JUST STINKS, and henceforth whenever any of these these dopes use it, I’m deducting STARZ, because that’ll show ’em.

Here’s something else that stinks. This match. Skip it. *1/2

Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Yujiro Takahashi def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, David Finlay

Another nothing match with a dead crowd and uninspiring action. Tama Tonga now wears black leathery pants and a vest type shirt, and looks like some wacky science experiment hybrid of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. In other G.O.D. fashion news, Tanga Loa is rocking red trunks these days, and improved look over the early G.O.D attire.

There isn’t much else to say about this. Formulaic match with Young David eating the pin as expected. Finlay seems to be treadmilling at this point after receiving a mini push last year in the wake of Matt Sydal’s arrest. Whether or not Finlay ever heads on an excursion is one of the great mysteries of wrestling. I feel like he could use one, if for no other reason than to return with a fresh coat of paint. *3/4

Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI def. Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, TAKA Michonoku

Suzuki’s entrance was the first thing to get any kind of reaction out of the crowd.

Takashi Iizuka was originally booked in this match, but suffered a leg injury on the tour, resulting in the reshuffling of a few of the SZG tags both here and at Dontaku next week.

This was much better than the previous three bouts, but still nothing worth going out of your way to see. The only takeaway here was that Ospreay, a worldwide superstar who’s been stored away in Mascara Dorada’s closet that New Japan has oddly refused to do anything of significance with this year, continues to score a bunch of falls ahead of the Best of the Super Juniors tour. This bodes well for a potential summer push, and I think he’s going to win the tournament again. Hiromu has gone through KUSHIDA, Dragon Lee, Taguchi, and now (SPOLIER ALERT) Ricochet in buzzsaw fashion, leaving Ospreay as the last significant challenger he has yet to face. Not only do I think Ospreay will win BOSJ, I also believe he has a legitimate chance to hand Hiromu his first L, too.

If I’m wrong and they have no significant Ospreay plans for the rest of the year, he’ll head into Wrestle Kingdom with just a few months remaining on his contract, and very little time for a meaningful push (unless, of course, he signs a new deal). This would represent the biggest waste of a contracted talent we’ve seen in New Japan in many years, if not ever, and keep in mind this is the same company that employed Mascara Dorada for an entire year and did essentially zero with him. Ospreay’s lack of push over the last 12 months outside of a Super Juniors win and a one-off Rev Pro title match vs Katsuyori Shibata is a stunning waste of an asset, and it makes me question why they bothered signing him in the first place.

With all of that said, if he does win Super Juniors for the second year in a row, or signs an extension, or becomes a key English speaking figure and fixture in the United States expansion, I’ll sheepishly step off of my soapbox, but I won’t stop grumbling to myself that they pissed away sooooo much time with him before flipping the switch. ***

Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano def. Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens

I know it’s only the end of April, but that’s 33% of the year in the books (and more than that if you go by the Observer calendar), so I’m more than comfortable saying at this point that Kazuchika Okada is easily my clubhouse leader for Wrestler of the Year, and in fact, I don’t even think anyone else is close.

Aside from the four incredible (and varied) major singles bouts, two of which drew multiple 5-star reviews, Okada’s tag work, long touted in this space, has not only been as strong as ever this year, but has also played into his larger story. Take this match for example, where the champion Ace could have easily gotten away with mailing one in. Instead he goes full Ricky Morton, taking a full on ass beating to continue putting over Fale as not only a title threat but also an absolute killer, and also continuing his year long story of a man who is somehow surviving by a thread while slowly cracking and about to break. There are no days off for Okada, and if he delivers a great match against Fale, with big matches at Dominion, in Long Beach, and in the G1 still in front of him, he could not only have WOTY sealed up by August, but we could be looking at one of those epic all time years, like Flair’s ’89 or Danielson’s ’06 or [insert your favorite all time year here].

Okada’s closest WOTY challenger is probably the guy in the next match. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Hiromu Takahashi (c) def. Ricochet

Hiromu, more than anyone in wrestling with the possible exception of Brock Lesnar, brings a prize fight feel to his matches, as a seemingly unbeatable and insane buzzsaw of a champion turning back top challenger after top challenger. These men take their shots, sometimes trying to match his frantic style (Dragon Lee), other times trying to match his utter insanity (Taguchi), and in the case of KUSHIDA (and now Ricochet) by trying to catch him off guard, matching his maniacal disregard for his own body with ambush attacks.

None of those tactics have worked, and what we have now is this force of nature, mentally unstable champion who looks completely unstoppable. How can you beat a man who cares nothing about his own well being? No one in the world wrestles like this man does, and his matches have a totally unique feel. He’s a budding superstar, and I would not be surprised at all if he’s headlining major shows within a year.

Hiromu’s push running neck and neck with Asuka and Braun Strowman as the best push in all of wrestling. Bell to bell the matches have been fantastic, but more importantly, Hiromu’s title run has picked up where KUSHIDA’s left off in elevating the junior title to a legitimate top of the card entity. Sometimes bookers make this shit too complicated. Find someone talented, charismatic, and credible, and have them win lots of matches in dominant fashion. This isn’t nuclear physics. ****1/4

I’d like to talk about Ricochet for a minute. Ricochet seems to be the forgotten man when it comes to conversations about the best in the world. He’s matured into as much of a well rounded and complete wrestler that there is today, with zero flaws in his game. Elite level selling. Tremendous and unique bumping. He’s toned down his flying without abandoning it, to the point you may not have even noticed, and it hasn’t done a thing to take away from his match quality. When put in a major singles match, he never fails to deliver. He’s innovative, he’s creative, and he does things that nobody else in the world can do. He can slow it down or work an insane spot fest with equal acumen, or can do light crowd pleasing comedy. So I ask again, what are his flaws? I’m fairly confident calling Ricochet one of the ten best wrestlers on Earth.

Hiroshi Tanahashi def. EVIL

I’ve had it with the interference spots. I just have.

Look, I know Taguchi ran off SANADA & BUSHI and helped his pal overcome the odds to put away his months long rival, and I know it’s supposed to make me happy that LIJ’s bullshit didn’t work this time, but I’m just so burnt out on this shit from LIJ, SZG and BC that it instantly takes me out of the match. It’s not what I want out of New Japan, and even though I’ve accepted that it’s now a long standing part of the formula, and even if it’s sometimes tolerable, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Here, it felt particularly needless and unnecessary.

It’s notable that there has been zero heel antics in Hiromu’s matches. ***1/4

IWGP Intercontinental Title
Tetsuya Naito (c) def. Juice Robinson

This was the biggest match of Juice Robinson’s career (we seem to be saying a lot lately, which is indicative of his hard work and upward career path), and he delivered big time. A great performance, working mostly from underneath and a continuation of the story that began with his NEVER challenge of a hard working guy with tons of heart, who isn’t quite ready yet for the big boys or the singles titles in NJPW.

Juice was the star of the match, and Naito deserves credit for this as well. It’s very easy for a big star to eat up a lesser one, particularly an up and comer trying to make his mark, and it isn’t even always intentional. There was no Pulp Friction kickout, which would have been an easy spot to get a crowd reaction, in addition to being an ego spot for the bigger star. Instead, Naito escaped the move, which popped the crowd all the same while also putting over the idea that he feared it, and planting the seed that it may be all Juice needs to get over the hump since it worked the first time he used it on him to earn this title shot in the first place. By not doing a kickout, they avoided burying it as a move not good enough to beat the big star in the big match. Conversely, there was a Destino kickout, furthering Juice’s story of his heart being ahead of his seasoning, and a spot that a top level star like Naito probably has the clout to avoid if he so chooses.

Naito worked his methodical style, attacking the knee, and Juice couldn’t have sold it any better, drawing attention to the damage before executing his offense, and taking very unnatural looking bumps on attacks to remind us that the leg was in dire shape. The pacing was exceptional. Naito, by design as he works to his gimmick, lulls you to the point where you are almost bored, before kicking his matches into the proper gear at just the right time. Like the Elgin match, there was no wasted moments here. Everything played into the larger narrative of not just this isolated match, but also Robinson’s longer term story. Not quite MOTY level, but a great match. ****1/3

Final Thoughts 

First half of the show was a waste of time, and threw a ton of water on the idea that Kanemaru & Desperado are the best SZG junior team combination. That match really let me down.

Overall, NJPW Wrestling Toyonokuni 2017 was one of the weaker big New Japan shows of the year, if not the weakest. There are still two great matches to sink your teeth into, but a mundane first half and a disappointing Tanahashi/EVIL match drag the show down as a whole. Don’t miss the main event or the junior title match, watch the Okada tag and Tanahashi/EVIL if you’re a hardcore, and safely skip the rest.