MARCH 15, 2018

Watch: NJPW World


It appears that a few of these Young Lions have progressed beyond the crewcut phase, as now Narita is sporting a snazzy haircut. One of my favourite parts of any NJPW match is when one wrestler outmuscles the other and presses them up against the ropes, and then decides whether or not to go for a clean break. How the offensive wrestler proceeds is a great way to kick off the story of a match and tells you a great deal about the personality of the wrestler, and his relationship with his opponent. For this contest, Narita gives Oka a hard slap to the chest to let him know that he means business. There are some nice little moments that add to the psychology, like Finlay flipping off an intervening Oka, and executing some team moves with Narita which indicate a degree of chemistry and team preparation on their behalf. Oka is starting to show off some impressive feats of strength and amateur wrestling prowess, like catching Finlay midair off the top rope and suplexing him.

Out of all the Young Lions, Oka’s moveset is most capable of generating a reaction from the crowd. He’s allowed to kick out of a few of Finlay’s moves, but is finally pinned after a Stunner. I always enjoy these Young Lion matches, as none of the young lads ever really shit the bed and manage to entertain in spite of their limited arsenals. Their individual styles and personalities are ever-so-gradually starting to emerge. **¾


Henare and Makabe are reunited, having teamed during last December’s World Tag League. That was while Henare was still a Young Lion, and they ended up with only one win over Finlay and Katsuya Kitamura. Henare, obviously, ate all the pinfalls so this match will be an interesting indicator of whether or not his new first name and costume are all that have changed since then. He got a rare pin yesterday over Umino, and these things tend to matter in New Japan. He’s got good chemistry with Goto, as they’re both solid, hard-hitting boys. A singles match between them in future would be really interesting. However, the unwritten hierarchy of New Japan means that Henare takes nearly all of the CHAOS offence (or is it offense? I don’t know, I’m English) but Makabe surprisingly takes an Ushigoroshi as I was just about to write that he took zero bumps.

Henare is great in this match – his intensity, bumping, selling, facial expressions, growling and power moves make him a natural babyface in the Ishii mould. He ends up submitting to YOSHI-HASHI’s Butterfly Lock, but is improving every time I see him. Having guys like him on these throwaway undercard matches really lift the quality and make them actually enjoyable, rather than having a load of more tenured wrestlers phoning it in. **¾


Speaking of tenured wrestlers phoning it in… Tiger Hattori looks like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world than stuck refereeing this clusterfuck. As expected, it’s a crowd-brawling mess to start with. David Finlay joins Kevin Kelly on commentary, but doesn’t really add much throughout the night. Sumisu is the only person who threatens to do some actual wrestling in this match in the early stages. Finlay says that when you’re facing Iizuka, you never know what to expect, before listing the things that Iizuka does in every single match, without fail. Yujiro is one of the few highlights, who gets the crowd fired up with a series of Tope Suicidas. Definitely some babyface potential in the Tokyo Pimp. Chase is back on the case, continuing to be one of the stars of these undercards by having an exciting back and forth with Archer before eventually getting Killer Bombed and pinned. Yujiro, Archer and Owens were the highlights of this match, raising it above my initially-low expectations. I really hope Chase sees more success in 2018. **½


Naito and Suzuki resume their burgeoning feud, with Naito showing utter indifference to Suzuki’s menacing advances.

I would guess that they’re going to have a match at Sakura Genesis, as Suzuki is the perfect opponent for Naito to get his heat back after uninspired recent opponents in the shape of YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi. The story arc seems to be that feuding with SZG will help Naito reconnect with his Ingobernable side.

Despy & Nobu vs. Hiromu & BUSHI is another match being hinted at in backstage promos, which I guess leaves SANADA as the odd man out, unless EVIL returns from injury to face KES in a Wrestle Kingdom rematch. Suzuki no-selling slaps and laughing in people’s faces is one of my favourite spots.

There is also some great camerawork throughout this match, catching some nicely-framed Minoru death-stares at Naito. Suzuki attacks Naito’s right leg throughout the match.

This is a really fun, high-paced contest that builds a lot of stories heading towards Sakura Genesis. Suzuki is at his sadistic best here, continuing the amazing 2018 he’s having, and wins by pinning BUSHI after a Gotch-style piledriver. He lays down the challenge to Naito after the match, inviting him to have a crack at the Intercontinental title. ***¼


There’s an interesting dynamic on Elgin, Robinson and Tanahashi team, with Juice teaming with the man he knocked out of the cup last night as well as his mentor and next opponent in tomorrow’s semi-final. There is some really great story building in this match with the tensions between Juice, Tanahashi and Okada threatening to erupt.

Okada repeatedly goes after Tanahashi which make me think that Tana is going to win the New Japan Cup and face Okada at Sakura Genesis. One of the things I love about New Japan is you can sit through these undercards and pick up on little story threads to guess at what’s coming, which makes it so rewarding as events come together and you see those threads combine to become the rich tapestry of professional wrestling. There are slight teases towards Juice and Tanahashi’s partnership breaking down, but Juice eventually pins Chuckie with the Pulp Friction.

Another good match layered with storytelling. Elgin attempts to mediate between Juice and Tanahashi before Okada gets the last word, gloating over the trio with his IWGP title.

The camerawork is again on point, with the final shot showing Juice looming behind Tanahashi to set up their match tomorrow. ***


Getting an acceptable singles match out of Yano is a tricky game. The absolute elite can coax a decent wrestling match out of him (Okada), some can pile onto his silliness to create a farcical comedy match (Kenny Omega), but for everyone else, you have less than five minutes before it all goes to shit. SANADA was able to get a short and sweet match out of YTR in last year’s G1 with a satisfying finish, a Paradise Lock on the ramp followed by a countout victory.

Cold Skull is good at adjusting his style and wrestling in a smart way to counter Yano’s tricks that doesn’t make him look like a complete idiot, compared to those who play it straight and end up appearing like chumps when Yano outsmarts them (I’m looking at you, Sumisu). There are some good spots here that work with Yano’s schtick rather than fighting against it, and the the match is quite exciting with some really clever near-falls and countout teases.

Yano’s exaggerated personality also seems to compensate for SANADA’s relative lack of charisma, creating a dynamic where the latter looks cool and cunning, wise to all the underhand tactics thrown at him by the former.

I really think these two worked well together in this short but incredibly fun match which SANADA wins by submission with the Skull End. SANADA puts Yano, the referee and Tetsuhiro Yagi in the Paradise Lock after the match in a really funny moment. This match made SANADA look great and is about as good a Yano match as you’re going to get. ***½


One of my favourite parts of this tour have been ZSJ’s backstage promos. Before this match, he’s been talking about how if Ibushi moonsaults off the balcony, he’s going to move out of the way.

There have also been some interesting promos from Ibushi expressing doubt over facing ZSJ, which is a refreshing change from the usual bravado that we’re presented with.

These two had a cracking match in last year’s G1, so I’ve got high expectations for this. Ibushi also admitted to being beaten up following his surprisingly gruelling match with YOSHI-HASHI, which will surely be a factor. The early going is slow and methodical, with back-and-forth grappling where Zack’s submission holds contrast Ibushi’s kicks. My one complaint about ZSJ’s offence is that it’s inconsistent in terms of which body part he targets, as he often switches between wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, heels and knees at random, which doesn’t help to build a coherent narrative within a match, but works within the context of this encounter as Ibushi’s whole body is hurt following his war with Tacos. Ibushi won the previous match with ZSJ, but hadn’t yet debuted the Kamigoye, which plays into this match to great effect as we find out whether or not Zack has that move scouted. There are some really exciting near-falls when the two begin to grapple, and some very stiff strikes exchanged. They have great chemistry and push each other into very compelling levels of intensity, as ZSJ shows how he has submission counters prepared for all of Kota’s signature moves.

They build terrific drama, struggling for control in a battle of wills each time ZSJ goes for a submission. Ibushi shows good heart in resisting the urge to tap out as ZSJ becomes increasingly frustrated and his moves become nastier and nastier. Red Shoes Unno eventually stops the match when Ibushi is unable to escape ZSJ’s brutal-looking hold (I don’t know what it’s called, probably ‘Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank’) in a fantastic match. Ibushi didn’t quit, so stays strong, whilst ZSJ looks like a killer. These guys worked so well together, Ibushi was the consummate babyface in his resilience but ZSJ showed a wily and ruthless edge to punish every stray limb to maximum effect. A star-making performance for Zack, who has avenged two G1 losses and will face SANADA in the semi-final on Sunday.

If ZSJ makes it to the final, it’ll be the rubber match with Tanahashi after they traded wins in the G1 and Destruction last year. He follows up on an amazing match by another incredible backstage promo, dropping Brass Eye references and burying the British Conservative Party as I throw my wedding photos in the bin to make room for the new ZSJ shrine in my house. ****½


This year’s New Japan Cup continues to overachieve, feeling like a mini-G1 in terms of the length and quality of the matches. Another cracking show tonight, with two very different cup matches that I would put in the ‘must see’ category, but for varying reasons. Yano had one of his best ever matches, and Zack Sabre Jr. continues his brilliant year with another marquee victory. This show had a really entertaining undercard, probably the best of the tour so far. The Young Lions, Henare and Chase Owens are lifting the standard of the early matches and showing that they care about them. Finlay was anonymous on commentary, but it’s great to have Kevin Kelly back. It’s only when he’s gone that you realise what a terrific job he does at providing the context and guiding you through the various stories.