Close on 2,500 people packed out Planet Ice in Milton Keynes on Saturday for the first of two Strong Style Evolved shows in the UK. Many had bashed these shows as being little more than RevPro masquerading as NJPW and that the first show was effectively a ‘Road To’ show for the second night’s festivities in Manchester. Those criticisms notwithstanding, Night 1 still boasted a pretty good line-up, headlined by Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada challenging Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr for the Undisputed British Tag Team Titles.
Revolution Pro Wrestling
Strong Style Evolved UK
June 30, 2018
On commentary were Kevin Kelly and Andy Boy Simmonz.
The Great O-Kahrn def. Shota Umino
In the build-up to this show I’d convinced myself that ???? was going to be Adam Brooks. Rob then got me all excited for a potential Avalanche debut. In the end, however, it was the rather unspiring excursion gimmick of Tomoyuki Oka. Oka, now going by the moniker of ‘The Dominator’, came out to a very muted reaction and it’s not a surprise – his get-up made him look like a Tensai cosplay more than anything else. As for the match, it wasn’t terrific. Obviously Oka has to find his feet with the new gimmick and develop his own style, but his heat segment was very dry. Umino showed his trademark fire but Oka kicked off his excursion with a win. I guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of his new gimmick over the next few months, but it needs work. A lot of work. **1/4
Bullet Club (Ishimori & Yujiro) def. Aussie Open
It was nice to see Aussie Open get a spot on these shows as they’ve been excellent since coming to the UK and would be a very pleasant inclusion for World Tag League later in the year. Neither team did anything groundbreaking in this one, it was more or less your standard Aussie Open fare with Kyle Fletcher taking all the heat before Mark Davis fired up. The big star here, to my reckoning, was Ishimori, who continues to look excellent after making the leap to NJPW. He picked up the win over Fletcher with the lifting DDT. ***
Tiger Mask IV def. David Starr
This was originally set to be for Starr’s British Cruiserweight title, but he refused, claiming that the fourth reincarnation of a mask hadn’t done enough to earn a shot at the belt. That signalled to me that he’d lose this match, making the four-way on Night Two featuring El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori for the belt, and he did lose. The match was a fun back-and-forth effort from the two, with Tiger continuing his string of better performances over the last couple of months. Starr hit a low blow on the veteran but it wasn’t enough, as Tiger secured the win with a Crucifix Driver. **3/4
Starr beat Tiger down after the match, presumably setting up the title match for Manchester’s show.
Suzukigun (Desperado, Iizuka & Taichi) def. CHAOS (White, Gedo & Yano)
To the surprise of no one, this began with crowd brawling. Suzuki-Gun six-mans aren’t usually my cup of tea and there was a lot of comedy here, mostly centring on Iizuka biting anything and everything in sight. In a little over ten minutes, everyone managed to get some stuff in and Suzuki-Gun came away with the win after some shenanigans. Desperado was the one to pick up the pinfall, pinning everyone’s favourite booker with the El Es Culero. **1/2
WALTER def. Yuji Nagata
In the final match before the intermission, I got the dream match I’d gone to Milton Keynes for. I adore both men and that admiration grew after this hard-hitting encounter. You can quite easily make the case for WALTER being the best in the world this year, and Nagata’s performance in last year’s G1 cemented his place as one of my favourites.
The story of this match was simple. Nagata sought to avoid WALTER’s patented chops, dishing out a plethora of kicks to the big Austrian’s left leg in an attempt to take away his power base. Both men stood in the ring and traded a barrage of shots and suplexes, with Nagata rising to every chop with a grimace and a plethora of fighting spirit. In the end, WALTER was able to gain victory with a pair of brutal lariats. Despite the awkward looking powerbomb spot towards the end, this was everything I wanted and more. ***1/2
YOSHI-HASHI def. Chris Brookes
Brookes was another RevPro talent to get a big opportunity over this weekender, but this match left me a little disappointed. It was fine, but the match was stuck in an unfortunate spot and neither guy is someone with a move-set that can really get a crowd off their feet. In fairness, Brookes didn’t seem his usual self and looked to be carrying some injuries, but that may be influenced by my vantage point for the event (damn you indecisive personality). Brookes fought well but it wasn’t enough, as Yoshi-Hashi picked up the win in a little over nine minutes with a half-nelson pumphandle driver. **3/4
Will Ospreay def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
The reaction Ospreay got here was incredible, and I was a big fan of the ‘He’s coming home’ chant, what with the World Cup being bound for these shores once again. I may well be the high man here, but I thought this was superb. It was your standard Ospreay fare for sure, but Kanemaru seemed to work harder than usual and it made for an entertaining bout. A particular highlight was Ospreay blocking the Suntory Surprise by putting his hand over the mouth of his opponent and landing a back kick. Kanemaru landed a series of DDTs on the outside and the ramp, leaving Ospreay to beat the 20-count and then kick it up a gear. He came close to victory with the shooting star press to a draped Kanemaru and a Spanish fly that looked a little sloppy, before eventually closing the show with a Stormbreaker. ***1/2
Undisputed British Tag Team Championships
Suzukigun (ZSJ & Suzuki) (C) def. CHAOS (Ishii & Okada)
What a way to close out the show!
To those who felt we got short-changed at Milton Keynes, I’ll say this. We got the new Okada theme first and the new Suzuki theme for the first-time at a big show and Okada modelling a lovely new pair of red and black longboys. Oh yeah, and an excellent tag team title match that provided a definitive end and set up both the big singles matches for the second night. That’s what you get when you build something for these shows in New Japan canon!
This was a match where the much-discussed Ishii vortex was in full effect. The Stone Pitbull took a merciless beating from both Suzuki and Sabre, but he had you believing with every forearm and slap he threw in return. Suzuki for his part was also excellent, peppering Ishii with strikes and just seeming the fresher and strong competitor. Okada also added some star power to this, but still didn’t seem his old self without his title. Could that be setting him up to lose to Sabre ahead of the beginning of the G1? The finish itself was definitive, with neither Okada or Ishii able to hit their big moves and simply being outclassed on the night by the reigning tag team champions. It was Sabre who got the win, trapping all of Ishii’s limbs and leaving him no choice to submit after 25 minutes of excellent tag team wrestling. ****1/4
A perfectly solid show in a new venue and town for NJPW/RevPro. Before the main event, the show did very much have a house show feel to it, but that tag match was legitimately great. WALTER/Nagata and Ospreay/Kanemaru were also really enjoyable, and it might be worth checking out Oka’s match just to see how his gimmick progresses over the next few months. A good show, but expect Manchester to be that bit better with more big time singles matches.