New Japan Pro Wrestling/Ring of Honor
Honor Rising 2018: Night 1
February 23, 2018
Watch: NJPW World
Before I dive into the card, I should mention the unique look that these shows had. In the past two years, the Honor Rising events were essentially just regular New Japan Korakuen Hall shows with ROH talents on the card, unlike the CMLL FantasticaMania Tour which at least had some unique elements to it.
They finally rectified that this year. This looked and felt more like an actual ROH show, in terms of presentation. The ring canvas was black, American style turnbuckle pads were being used, and the ROH barricade boards were present around ringside. Even the lighting seemed to be a little different compared to your average Korakuen Hall show. It was really cool to see these changes, and it general, it’s nice to see New Japan mix things up a bit.
The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) def. Toa Henare & Katsuya Kitamura
Henare now has his own music and entrance video, so now he’s fully graduated from young lion status. This was the only match on the card that didn’t have any kind of ROH connection, and as a whole, it was a relatively basic tag team affair. Kitamura had some decent exchanges with Fale, but ultimately, Fale won the match for his side after hitting Kitamura with the Grenade. With the unfortunate injury to Satoshi Kojima, you could’ve easily filled that open spot in the Kitamura Trial Series with Bad Luck Fale. Based on what we saw here, those two could easily have a fun little singles match (plus, do we really need to see Kitamura wrestle Nakanishi AGAIN?), but I digress. **1/4
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Cheeseburger, & Delirious def. The Bullet Club (The Guerrillas of Destiny & Hikuleo)
Cheeseburger came out wearing this cowboy hat/dark glasses/furry vest combo. It was cool yet strange at the same time. The oddball team of Liger, Cheeseburger, & Delirious were getting a shot at the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Titles the next night, so this was serving as a bit of a preview for that. I was very curious to see who on the babyface side would pin Hikuleo, given the size discrepancy, and it ended up being Delirious, who caught him on a sunset flip after getting assistance from Liger and Cheeseburger. While the match quality was only slightly better than the opener, this was much more entertaining. It’s always fun to see how over Cheeseburger is in Japan, and in general, his trio was a joy to watch. Again, this was a perfectly fine six-man tag that helped set up a title match for the next night. Nothing outstanding, but perfect for its spot on the card. **1/2
The Young Bucks def. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
As soon as I saw this match on the lineup for Night 1, it pretty much confirmed that The Young Bucks were beginning their transition to the heavyweight tag team division. On paper, it just seemed like a perfect situation for The Young Bucks to get a solid win (with David Finlay on the other side) over established heavyweights, and they ultimately did after hitting Finlay with The Meltzer Driver. This was a really good tag team affair that featured solid action front start to finish. The Young Bucks (who were very over with the Korakuen Hall crowd) dominated this one in the first few minutes until Finlay was finally able to make the tag to Juice Robinson. From there, the Finlay/Robinson team actually worked over the back of Matt Jackson a bit (they’re continuing to tell that story), but it wasn’t enough to keep The Young Bucks down. Kevin Kelly and Don Callis talked a lot about The Young Bucks and their potential move up to the heavyweight division on commentary (even noting the fact that they’ve both gained some muscle), which came off to me as a continued confirmation that they are indeed making that move. Obviously the big matchup at the moment is Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks, but seeing them mix it up more with the heavyweights in general will be a great breath of fresh air. As for this particular tag team bout, it was far from the greatest Young Bucks match in the world, but it was a lot of fun to watch. ***1/2
Triple Threat Match – Flip Gordon def. Hiromu Takahashi & KUSHIDA
I’d be very curious to know the last time that we saw a Triple Threat Match in New Japan that didn’t involve a title of some kind. This was the New Japan debut for Flip Gordon, and he was put in (arguably) the most anticipated match on this two day tour. In a way, this was very similar to Gordon’s singles encounter with Will Ospreay last October during the Global Wars Tour, in that the was clearly set up for Gordon to get over in a big way. You don’t just throw him in there with two guys of this caliber if that wasn’t your intent. I was expecting Gordon to put on a great performance in this match, but I never thought that he would actually win….by pinning Hiromu of all people. If that result wasn’t a clear indication that Flip Gordon is going to be in this year’s Best Of The Super Juniors Tournament, then I don’t know what it. For the most part, he did a really good job here, as some of his athletic feats got over with the fans in Korakuen Hall. There were a few sloppy moments involving Gordon (particularly some sort of springboard….thing he tried to do near the finish), but for me, the rest of the match was entertaining enough that I was able to overlook those moments. Of course, whenever you put KUSHIDA & Hiromu Takahashi in the same ring, you know you’re going to get some great action, and as a whole, this was pretty exciting to watch. North American fans usually don’t like seeing these kinds of multi-person matches in New Japan, but on a show like this, it worked well. I would’ve easily gone **** on this without those aforementioned rough patches, but regardless, this was a still a very strong Triple Threat showcase. ***3/4
CHAOS (Best Friends & “Switchblade” Jay White) def. ROH World Champion Dalton Castle, Jay Lethal, & Ryusuke Taguchi
Castle came out without his fancy entrance gear or his boys. Meanwhile, Taguchi came out with some sort of fast food item, while Joe Koff was clearly shown sitting at ringside next to Kevin Kelly & Don Callis as Jay White was making his entrance. This six-man tag was mainly setting up the ROH World Title bout the next night, where Castle would defend against Beretta, who had both of his arms heavily taped up (Kevin Kelly explained that he suffered a pec injury and a bicep injury). It was better that the first two tag team matches on this card, but not quite as good as Juice/Finlay vs. The Young Bucks or the Triple Threat Match. There was some comedy early on involving the babyface side, but we saw some good action in the second half. Jay White would ultimately get the win for CHAOS after hitting Taguchi with Blade Runner. I was expecting Beretta to get the pin here (to help set up his match the next night), but given his injury, he probably didn’t want to overdo it in a six-man tag (though he still put forth a decent effort here). Another entertaining match on this card. ***1/4
NEVER Openweight Title
Hirooki Goto (c) def. The Beer City Bruiser
Out of all of the matches announced for these two shows, this one was the most head scratching.
Even with the lack of depth on the ROH roster, there were plenty of other people I would’ve put in this spot over The Beer City Bruiser. He’s done a good job in his role as Silas Young’s underling (whenever they’re teaming, he’s usually the one who takes the falls), and he’s been in a couple of really strong tag team bouts in ROH, but I honestly couldn’t tell you of a Beer City Bruiser singles match that I thought was anything above ***. I went into this expecting an average affair, at best, but when the dust settled, it was much better than I had anticipated. While I wouldn’t call this great, it was very good. Goto took a lot of offense from The Beer City Bruiser, who had plenty of moments shine here. There were some slow points here and there, but the second half was what really lifted this one up. They had a number of back and forth exchanges, but in the end, it took just one GTR for Goto to get the pin. It’s fair to say that this was one of the best matches in The Beer City Bruiser’s career. He did his signature spots well (the crowd even started chanting for him at one point), and the layout of the match itself certainly played to some of his strengths. Obviously nobody thought he was actually going to beat Goto, but it was still a strong performance from The Beer City Bruiser. ***3/4
The Bullet Club (Cody, “The Villain” Marty Scurll, & “The Hangman” Adam Page) def. The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) & Chase Owens
We all figured that a split within The Bullet Club was coming, and it finally happened in Sapporo during The New Beginning Tour. Now the group has been divided into three parts, with Kenny’s side, Cody’s side, and the Bullet Club originals, with The Young Bucks (as of this show) being the only ones who were truly undecided. While this main event seemed more like a taste of what’s to come, with regards to The Golden Lovers (who got a massive ovation when they made their entrance) and the Cody/Kenny Omega feud, it was still a pretty great match.
There was a lot of really good wrestling throughout, and everyone involved played their roles well. In terms of crowd reactions and a general performance as a heel, this might’ve been one of Cody’s best New Japan outings to date. He got booed at various points, and those negative reactions got even louder when he broke up the first tag in the match between Omega and Ibushi. Marty Scurll was also great as the guy who, despite teaming with Cody, really didn’t want to go along with his shenanigans (such as Cody doing Omega’s signature Terminator dive). He didn’t want to fight Omega, but he went forward anyway, knowing that he had a match to win. Then there’s Chase Owens, who did a fine job here as well. Owens being partners with The Golden Lovers here made sense, since Owens (even though he’s more aligned with the Bullet Club Originals) has been Omega’s tag team partner in undercards and tournaments over the past few years, and we saw some of that teamwork between the two early on.
Meanwhile, Omega and Ibushi busted out plenty of their tandem offense here, and the fans loved every second of it. The Cross Slash Double Triangle Moonsault spot was easily one of the highlights of the match. Yet, even with all of the different stories involved in this one, Adam Page would end up being the one that scored the pin for Cody’s team after hitting Chase Owens with Rite of Passage. That continues his streak of victories in tag team bouts enroute to (what looks like) a shot at the IWGP United States Title. When you combine the actual wrestling with all of the stories involved, this was a great main event. ****1/4
Afterwards, Cody and Kenny Omega continued to brawl on the outside. The Young Bucks were eventually able to separate the two, but it was clear by their choice of T-Shirts (Matt Jackson was wearing an Cody T-Shirt, while Nick Jackson was wearing a Omega T-Shirt). Then, after the other participants left, Cody took the mic and welcomed everyone to Honor Rising: Night 1. He said it was appropriate the ROH was bringing the fans these events, because he’s the face of ROH. He calls the Golden Lovers reunion a “publicity stunt” and a “charade”, adding that it ended tonight before it could even begin (with his side’s victory). Cody then proclaimed that you’re with either Team Kenny or Team Cody, and said Ibushi was nothing more than “Omega’s rat”. He then closed the show by mentioning the “Bullet Club is fine” line, but adds in that “Bullet Club is mine”. With that, we’re really going full steam ahead with this Bullet Club split and the Cody/Omega feud.
Night 1 of Honor Rising was for the most part a good show. While things did get off to a bit of a slow start with the first few bouts, the rest of the card was a lot of fun and very easy to watch. The main event was great, and there were a number of really good matches on the undercard. Flip Gordon & The Beer City Bruiser both had strong outings in their respective bouts, while the whole story involving The Bullet Club and The Golden Lovers progressed further. Plus, the ROH themed setup put a unique twist on the typical Korakuen Hall event. In general, this was just a really entertaining show from start to finish.