MARCH 21, 2018

Watch: NJPW World


Don Callis is back! The guest commentary has been pretty hit-and-miss lately, so it’s great to have Cyrus on the mic once again. These two Young Lions begin by chopping the hell out of each other like it’s the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Even with the limited movesets, they do a great job getting the crowd excited. Umino has a smashing missile drop kick, too.

These singles matches between the Young Lions feel like a real treat, as aside from being genuinely good matches, you get the feeling that you’re watching the beginning of something exciting, like five years or so down the line you might see these two in a title match and the build-up will be showing footage from this match. Apparently Soichi Shibata said something similar and I swear I didn’t copy him. Umino wins with the Boston Crab in a really good opener. ***¼


If nothing else, this tour has made me a fan of Taichi’s entrance music. I’m still unconvinced by him as a credible top-tier heavyweight, but there is definitely a lot of charisma to work with. Oka’s in-ring work is much better than it was a year ago, so I wonder if he’s due for an excursion soon. This match is a good showcase for Oka’s selling as he spends most of the match getting beaten up by Taichi’s stiff offence.

Taichi’s disdain for the Young Lions make the dynamics in this match fun to watch rather than seeing him in random multiman matches against other established factions, and there’s a welcome lack of his usual shenanigans here in this fun, quick match. Oka got a bit of offence in but Taichi wins with a superkick. **¾


In an exciting twist, we get altered music for Makabe today instead of silence. One of the low-key best storylines of these undercards has been Toa Henare picking fights with people he can’t beat, which isn’t a unique trait in and of itself, but the people he’s been fighting with are singles matches I’d love to see in the future. He’s stuck in that no-man’s land between a Young Lion and an established midcarder, so you expect him to get pinned in most of the matches. That said, he did manage to get a pin earlier on in the tour, so it’s exciting to see at what point he’ll reach the same level as Juice did in early 2017 and start picking up wins and challenging for titles. He’s got a good relationship with Makabe and similar styles, and it would be good to see him get a shot at the NEVER 6-man titles soon. Yujiro’s New Japan Cup match with Juice has also seemingly injected him with some purpose, and there is even some chanting for him from his hometown crowd. Tanga goes Apeshit on Henare for the win. An unremarkable six-man tag match, save for some Elgin high spots and Henare’s fire. **¼


Don has an umbrella, which of course is a clarion call to man like Lance Archer to snatch it away and give he and Kevin Kelly a good soaking.

There’s all the expected silliness, punctuated by some nice wrestling exchanges between Ishii and DBS. Archer seemingly gives up on the match to terrorize children and besmirch a fan’s CHAOS towel ringside. Archer and Ishii have a fun chop-off, with Archer screaming at Ishii to hit him like a lunatic. I like his schtick, and KES in general have a good chemistry with Ishii because they’re so much taller than him, which brings out Ishii’s babyface fighting spirit so well.

This match was a step up from their most recent offerings, probably because Yano was kept to a minimum and we got a simple story of Ishii being isolated and double-teamed by the KES giants.

Every time Yano tried to do something daft, KES would shut it down with a power move, eventually pinning him after a Killer Bomb. With EVIL’s injury, the heavyweight tag division has been a bit lost, but this was a surprisingly good match that establishes KES as de-facto number one contenders. ***¼


It really feels like guys on the lower end of the card have stepped up their game recently. Finlay has been quietly improving and got a huge win on the last show, whilst Juice now feels like one of the hottest babyfaces in the company, if not the world, following an excellent cup run.

He builds on that momentum here in a decent match by pinning Goto after the Pulp Friction. It seems that Juice will be getting another NEVER Openweight title shot against Goto, as he did last year, but this time he might actually win. This feels like less of the enormous upset that it was last year, but more like a logical progression for a strong wrestler in a good run of form with a decent chance of winning a singles title. ***¼


Hiromu and BUSHI come out first to their Hybridize theme, then SANADA comes out to his theme holding both tag titles, followed by Naito to his own music. It’s little touches like this which help establish the members of LIJ as individuals, as opposed to them all coming out at once to Naito’s theme. SZG all come out together to Suzuki’s music. I also think Naito’s Tekken crossover t-shirt is awesome. As always, Naito has his back turned to Suzuki in a deliberate show of disrespect.

The tension between the two of them has built really well on these undercards, with Naito intentionally antagonising Suzuki at every turn. I can’t wait to see their singles match, whether it’s at Strong Style Evolved or Sakura Genesis.

SANADA has also made big strides with his cup run, adding little touches of swagger and bravado that get the crowd behind him. The first chunk of this match ends up in the crowd, which isn’t particularly fun to watch. Perhaps Daniel Bryan could adapt his style and gimmick to that of Takashi Iizuka to ensure his health and longevity. Hiromu makes a great babyface in peril in these matches, which is a side of his we didn’t see last year. I’d much rather see him going berserk in singles matches, but the crowd seem to love him either way. SANADA beats Iizuka with the Skull End in a fun match light on actual wrestling, but plenty of build for upcoming matches. Hiromu licks Despy’s belt after the match, and Despy’s disgusted response is priceless.

SHO and YOH come out afterwards for the big brawl, so it seems the triple threat is on, much to my dismay. Also, I don’t like the 3K finishing move because it looks like YOH is just flinging himself to the floor without actually doing anything.

Don Callis constantly insulting Rocky Romero throughout the match was funny, as was Don trying to sneak off for a toilet break under the pretense of “going to speak to Omega.” **¾


A nice little story running through these undercards has been Chase’s unsuccessful attempts to package piledrive Okada. The early exchanges between Okada and Ibushi are great, and I wonder whether we’ll see Ibushi getting a title shot at some point this year. Both guys work really hard, even when they’re in undercard tag matches.

Chase and Kota seem to have added yet more double-team moves to their repertoire, and I really hope the end of the this tour doesn’t mean the end of this charming team.

There’s real excitement in the spots between Chase and Okada, which is a testament to the great work Chase has done on this tour building himself up from Bullet Club jobber to plucky, loveable underdog. Okada eventually beats Owens with the Cobra Clutch. ***

Juice Robinson joins the commentary team. I wonder if he can make it through the rest of the show without swearing.


This has been an excellent New Japan Cup tournament so far, and ZSJ vs. Tanahashi is a fitting final.

ZSJ has had a string of very good matches to elevate himself as a credible main eventer in my eyes, and Tanahashi is having a renaissance and proving that he has, in someone else’s words, plenty more left in the tank. This could go either way: Tanahashi getting the chance to protect his own single reign defence record; or ZSJ stepping up to provide a unique style matchup for Okada. This is also the rubber match between these two, with ZSJ getting a win during the G1 and Tana returning the favour at Destruction in Hiroshima. Throughout this tour, I think Zack has done a better job conveying his cocky, ruthless side, with little touches like flexing while in submission holds, and grinding knuckles and elbows into unprotected limbs and joints.

Juice is tremendous on commentary, speaking about how frustrating it is to fight ZSJ, and how Tanahashi choosing a particular move will logically lead to the High Fly Flow. Zack starts in control, dictating the pace of the match with Tanahashi selling his various injuries well and failing to impose his speed on ZSJ. The quickness at which ZSJ can lock in a submission hold is really impressive, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, not having one designated finishing move mean that everything after the 10-minute mark could realistically end the match. I also enjoy his facial expressions when he works the holds, like a surgeon at work, with the calculated and methodical application of further twists and grinds. He repeatedly goes after Tanahashi’s left knee.

There are also a few nods to their previous encounters, with ZSJ’s guillotine countered into three Twists and Shouts as per Destruction, but Zack cleverly counters the follow-up High Fly Flow into a leg lock, adding a smart twist to the finish of their last match.

There are some great near-falls with ZSJ’s unique pinning counters, and Tanahashi failing to follow up quickly enough on a first High Fly Flow due to the injured knee. The final few minutes are a thrilling back and forth, with ZSJ finally winning with Orienteering With Napalm Death.

A terrific match, my favourite of the year so far. No cheating or interference, just a clean contest with excellent selling and simple babyface vs. heel dynamics. The Ace-Killer Zack Sabre Jr. tears through a murderers’ row of Naito, Ibushi, SANADA and Tanahashi, making them all tap out, to win the 2018 New Japan Cup. He challenges Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title at Sakura Genesis. Okada and Gedo come out for the face-off, and I’m already excited for the TAKA vs. Gedo hypeman battles.

All hail Zacky Two-Belts One-Cup. ****¾


An MOTY-calibre main event to top off a really enjoyable show. No duds on the undercard, with two good singles matches involving Young Lions and three decent tag matches along with the usual multimans. Juice did a superb job on commentary during the main event, talking about his own experiences wrestling to provide valuable insight that really enhanced my viewing experience. Zack Sabre Jr. could have been treading water on 205 Live, but is now a New Japan Cup winner and will be main eventing with Okada in a fortnight. He’s had a terrific tournament, and the addition of TAKA has turned him into a serious player in the NJPW upper echelons. Gedo has created a new main eventer in just four matches. Tanahashi made ZSJ look like an absolute killer with outstanding selling, yet Tana himself has reestablished himself as a contender after a really strong tournament. I cannot wait for Sakura Genesis.