NJPW 46TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW
MARCH 6, 2018
HIGASHIKAMATA, OTA-KU, TOKYO
OTA CITY GENERAL GYMNASIUM
Watch: NJPW World
RYUSUKE TAGUCHI/KUSHIDA/TIGER MASK/JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER/HIROYOSHI TENZAN DEF. REN NARITA/TETSUHIRO YAGI/SHOTA UMINO/TOMOYUKI OKA/YUJI NAGATA
I really enjoy that this match is some old guys fighting a bunch of kids and their dad. It’s what I imagine a curling match gone wrong looks like. Just picture the opening donnybrook in the parking lot of some rec center. It feels right.
This was a super fun opener. Everyone was really fired up and we had Tiger and Liger at their most grumpy. Out of the young lions, Yagi and Narita were the most impressive here. Since he’s slimmed down, Oka doesn’t look as much like Nakanishi’s brother as he used to, but he’s still not making a connection with the crowd. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s passed up again by the rest of the crop that he teamed with today. As expected, the old guys won. ***
(This is where I would have reviewed the final match in Kitamura’s trial series, but it was postponed due to a nagging injury plaguing my favorite beefy son.)
CHAOS (TORU YANO/TOMOHIRO ISHII/HIROOKI GOTO) DEF. TOA HENARE/DAVID FINLAY/JUICE ROBINSON
Yo, what the hell is Juice wearing to the ring? He looks like an extra in a Puffy music video. Wait, no, he looks like the third member of LMFAO that we never heard about because he left early on to go make an energy drink company. And not like anything that was really successful either. You can probably find Juice’s Zoom Juice at your local dollar store. When you meet him, he hands you a business card with his LinkedIn and Soundcloud information on it. This new look is that of someone that is one rainy Saturday away from starting a YouTube channel with “Smash Mouth is Actually Good” as their first video.
Sorry, I’ve gotten way off track. Outside of the Ishii/Henare interactions, there wasn’t much to this. Just give us a singles match between these two already! Predictably, Henare took the fall after a GTR from Goto. This was a fine prelim match, but I’ll probably forget it ever happened by the time I’m done watching this show. **½
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
EL DESPERADO & YOSHINOBU KANEMARU DEF. ROPPONGI 3K © AND HIROMU TAKAHASHI & BUSHI
Initially, I was not a fan of this being a triple threat match, but the fantastic ending made it worth it for me. I love when the Suzuki-gun juniors are at their grimiest and this finish hit new levels. Spraying booze into the eyes of BUSHI after he hit SHO with the black mist was brilliant. This match had a nice build, slowly escalating in insanity to the point where the conclusion made sense. When things started off, YOH was getting his chest caved in by Hiromu’s hard strikes, but the action was very controlled and easy to follow. The Suzuki-gun team picked their spots throughout and capitalized on the confusion when they were able to. As the match went on, it got harder to follow for the referee and it was almost as if he suddenly implemented lucha rules when it came to making tags. I wouldn’t call this match slow in any way, but it had a gradual build to it that I really liked. While this might actually be one of the weaker Junior Tag Title matches of the year, it was still very good, which really speaks to the quality of the division as a whole. The Despy and Kanemaru team came off like the smartest guys in the room, and I’m excited to see what they do with their title run. ***½
SANADA DEF. YOSHI-HASHI
Oh wow, I really didn’t like this match. We’ve seen these two have great chemistry together in the past, but something just was not working tonight. If I had to describe this match in one word, it would be “plodding.” This was a needlessly slow match that didn’t have any heat to it. There were points where you could hear a pin drop in the arena. I wish I knew what happened here because both men are capable to so much better than this. There was no real story to this one, it was just guys doing stuff to each other back and forth. The closing minutes are the perfect example of that. YH almost put away SANADA with his submission and then gets trapped in the Skull End when he’s going for his finisher. We’re supposed to believe that SANADA was seconds from defeat, but then is able to lock in the Dragon Sleeper with enough power to put YOSHI-HASHI to sleep. What a dumb match. *¾
TETSUYA NAITO DEF. TAICHI
After this match, Taichi is a welcome new addition to the heavyweight division. I’ve always been a Taichi fan, but setting my bias aside, he really proved that he belonged in this match. Taichi has really upped the quality of his work in the past year and a half and continued that roll here. His usual cheating ways are still intact, but he ignored his usual trope of stealing the ring bell. With Naito involved in the match, there was plenty of cheating to go around in this one, all culminating in Naito breaking Taichi’s mic stand over his head.
DID YOU KNOW?: There is currently a ring around the Earth made entirely of pants that Taichi has launched into space.
On commentary, Don Callis noted that Taichi made the transition to heavyweight seamlessly and I have to agree. This wasn’t a match where the story was Taichi trying to prove himself to this heavyweight. This was a personal issue and was wrestled as such. The only real change to Taichi’s work that I could notice is that things seemed a little bit more snug than they did before. Naito was great as always and really gave Taichi a lot of offense. This was a great sequel to their match from earlier in the year, hopefully we’ll see them meet again. Maybe in the G1? ****¼
Following the Taichi/Naito match there was a quick promo video promoting the Rey Mysterio match as New Japan’s Long Beach show on March 25th. Did nobody tell New Japan that Rey is hurt and probably won’t be on the show?
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP
MINORU SUZUKI © DEF. TOGI MAKABE
This was two large men bludgeoning each other and it was everything I was hoping it would be. There are a couple times every year that Makabe actually shows up to work. Today was one of those days.
Makabe took some brutal shots from Suzuki, who might have the most dangerous looking forearm shots in the wrestling business. How he isn’t knocking guys out left and right with those shots, I’ll never know. While Makabe had a good amount of offense in the match, there was never really any doubt that Suzuki was walking out of this with his title. After all of these hard hits, Makabe can go back to not taking any bumps in tag matches for a while. I loved the simplicity of this match and how sloppy it looked at times. This wasn’t something meant to be dissected, it was meant to be enjoyed on a visceral level. If Suzuki stays at this level all year and never goes back to the gimmick match hell of last year, I’ll be a very happy boy. ****
ANNIVERSARY DAY SPECIAL SINGLES MATCH
KAZUCHIKA OKADA DEF. WILL OSPREAY
The early goings of the match are slower grappling, reminding me that Okada would probably be just as happy if he spent his days wrestling old men in Mexico. This was honestly the downfall of the match. Okada spent most of his time trying to ground Ospreay, which while it is a sound and realistic strategy, it doesn’t make for the most interesting match. Ospreay was fighting from behind for the entire match and outside of one of Okada’s patented 2.9 kick outs, there was never a point where it looked like Ospreay had any chance of winning.
The story here was that Okada wanted to test himself against Ospreay, but never really saw him as a threat. The flaw in the match structure was that Ospreay never really proved Okada wrong. We saw that Okada is on a whole other level from Ospreay and while that might be the more realistic story to tell, it certainly isn’t the most compelling. Contrast this with the Taichi/Naito match where Taichi never felt like he wasn’t on Naito’s level. This was a fine match, but it wasn’t up to the standard of a New Japan main event. More than anything, this was hurt by the caste system put in place to separate the two weight divisions in New Japan.
Ultimately, this was a disappointment, but I can’t exactly call it a bad match because it accomplished what it set out to do. This is a match that I would very much like to see again, but outside of the context of the Heavyweight champion vs. the Junior Champion. This match is actually a great metaphor for this show as a whole. While it didn’t really do anything wrong, I can’t say that it was truly great and because of that, I’ll look back on the 46th Anniversary show as a disappointment. ***¾