RevPro’s weekend of hosting 15 native New Japan talents under the Strong Style Evolved banner continued into Manchester, where the winners of the Milton Keynes main event, Zack Sabre Jr. and Minoru Suzuki, were looking to get decisive singles wins over the losers of that match, Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii. It’s ‘in canon’ New Japan matches live in the UK, what more could us BritWres fanatics want?
Revolution Pro Wrestling
Strong Style Evolved UK Night 2
July 1st 2018
Altrincham Ice Dome
Watch: New Japan World / RPW on Demand
‘Dominator’ Great O-Kharn def. Dan Duggan
Now that we’re past the frankly bizarre debut of the Dominator, the former Tomoyuki Oka can start to grow into the role and master the gimmick over his three month stay in the UK. This match was a solid first step towards that, starting with dropping the wacky shambling in his entrance, which had looked like someone trying to take the piss out of ‘Asian culture’ on Night 1. O-Kharn’s opponent, Dan Duggan, impressed at the NJPW LA Dojo which he flew himself out to, so got this opportunity back in Britain.
The Dominator lived up to his new moniker for most of this match, slowly overmatching Duggan in a better on-top performance than in Night 1. The Mongolian chops were plentiful but O-Kharn had more going for him here, focussing on his new signature spots such as a claw/backbreaker combo hold that fits the character very well. Duggan got in a good amount of offence himself on the comeback and acquitted himself well, so maybe he’ll get a shot at the Lion’s Break show later this year, but this match was about establishing O-Kharn’s main moves after the choppy weirdness of the previous night. O-Kharn does have a weird potential and will hopefully turn out as well as fellow weird gimmick man EVIL. **
Yuji Nagata def. Shota Umino
A very authentic NJPW undercard match, with Nagata schooling Umino. It’s no surprise that this match didn’t break any new ground, but no-one expected it to and that doesn’t mean it wasn’t really fun. Umino is looking like a real prospect already. He’s got great energy, all of his moves pop, and he’s got the look New Japan want in its stars. He was a bit absorbed into the O-Kharn oddities on Night 1 but got to show off a lot more with Nagata, and by show off I mean get kicked into oblivion and tap out to a Nagata Lock. This match helped round out the show and make it feel like an authentic New Japan experience, which is what people wanted, so good job all round here. **½
Takashi Iizuka, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI and Gedo
Now here’s a real NJPW undercard feast, with Irish whips into the barriers galore and Iizuka biting people for an actual age. I attended Night 1 and had great fun heckling the Suzuki-gun mooks while eating pizza with Robin Reid from our private Brit Wres Roundtable balcony, so as a live experience I firmly rated that show’s variant of this wacky 6-man. However on VOD, with 8 other matches on this show, I was twiddling my thumbs a fair bit. While I firmly understand and experienced for myself the live fun this match provided, if you’ve seen one of these, unfortunately you’ve seen them all. In the end, Suzuki-gun ran through all their tricks, with Gedo dodging the Iron Glove but getting sprayed in the face by Kanemaru’s whisky and taking his Deep Impact DDT for the Suzuki-gun win. **
WALTER def. Yujiro Takahashi
This was a very humorous matchup when it was announced, with the prospect of WALTER running through the much maligned Bullet Club man. WALTER only re-debuted in RevPro recently but he’s been put on a major push, defeated Yuji Nagata on Night 1, and will surely be a major player for them going forward. Meanwhile, Yujiro’s batch of British valets weren’t going to help him in this one.
Yujiro did the smart thing and avoided all conflict with WALTER to start off, instead choosing to hang out with the girls, but when he did get into the ring, we got all the satisfying ‘running into a freight train’ spots you could hope for, which Yujiro did sell really well. Takahashi hung in there for long enough to not make this a complete demolition, but the ending sequence was definitive, a John Woo dropkick and a big piledriver later, and WALTER was 2-for-2 at SSE UK. He didn’t get to fully stretch his legs against either Nagata or Yujiro, but WALTER is on course for some big main event matches in RevPro and this weekend built him up strongly in front of big crowds. ***
Taichi def. Will Ospreay
Will Ospreay received a tremendous response from the Milton Keynes crowd on Night 1, with his performance against Kanemaru getting eaten up by the audience and delivering some of the best moments of the show. Tonight was no different, with Ospreay once again the home country hero. The job New Japan have done to elevate Ospreay and ZSJ to superstardom has been excellent to see progress, and every time they get trotted out on a RevPro show back home it feels momentous.
In such a situation, Taichi was a great opponent to play the foil to Ospreay. Taichi dicked around for the first couple of minutes, jawing with fans and expertly uring the hot-headed Ospreay into a disadvantage. Some people dismiss Taichi antics out of hand and I don’t blame them, but when he puts in the effort and uses the bullshit in the right environments, it can be brilliant. I won’t say he was putting 100% into his shitehousing, but he was winding up the Manchester crowd very nicely and Ospreay’s offence was even more satisfying than usual when he got to use it. A (maybe not so) subtle thing that stood out was Ospreay flippy-bumping more than usual, as his opponent was heavyweight. You can tell just from his love handles that Taichi has gotten bigger and he used a more heavyweight style, in combination with his shitehousing, to chuck Ospreay around.
A ref bump and Kanemaru interference saw Ospreay again thwart the whisky mist, but Taichi’s kick in the dick and his powerbomb finisher saw him take the victory, which despite beating a Junior was still to be considered an upset. The strongest match on the show so far, carried by Ospreay’s star power being counted by Taichi’s dickery. Also important to note, another win for Suzuki-gun over CHAOS. ***½
British Cruiserweight Championship
David Starr (c) def. Tiger Mask, Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo
RevPro definitely did a good job of booking authentic NJPW-feeling shows here, but this match was probably the most obviously ‘RevPro-y’ match. That’s not a bad thing at all, just using the New Japan platform to further the big home-grown feud going down right now between Starr and Phantasmo, which is coming off a great show-closing angle in Southampton where Phantasmo beat Starr, Starr bullied him into taking a title shot then and there, and then low-blowed him to retain the title via DQ straight away. Ishimori and Tiger Mask were just in this match for fun, although Tiger’s win over Starr on Night 1 at least gave their interactions more meaning. Tiger and Ishimori had a very fun extended sequence with each other midway through before Starr and Phantasmo took over. Phantasmo especially hung in with the New Japan juniors very well. He’s grown in confidence since arriving in the UK a year ago and is starting to really impress in several promotions, with RevPro his most prominent base.
Near the end of the match, Phantasmo got highlighted as he nearly pinned Tiger Mask after a series of big moves, but Starr rolled him off and attempted to steal the pin himself. The referee went to check on Phantasmo for no particular reason, allowing Starr to low blow Ishimori and rip off Tiger’s loose Mask and roll him up. For those who hadn’t seen any of their rivalry up until this point, this was a good build to Starr and Phantasmo’s title match in the York Hall in August, and Phantasmo got the opportunity to impress against the bigger names. ***
Jay White def. Kyle Fletcher
Chris Brookes had to pull out of this match due to injury, so in his place is teenager Fletcher from Aussie Open, who lost to Ishimori and Yujiro the night before. This was almost certainly Fletcher’s biggest match of his career so far, high up the card against a New Japan champion, and he delivered a well-rounded performance that showed that he is someone who could grow to be at the level of Jay White in a few years. White himself is starting to thrive in the Switchblade role after a difficult start. He is beginning to build a star resume and the G1 Climax will surely only aid that cause.
Fletcher proved he wasn’t intimidated by White by coming straight back at him after a disrespectful slap, knocking him into the corner and taking dominant control early, building the dynamic of the young upstart against the future star underestimating him. The pissed off Switchblade started to brutalise Fletcher, who showed great Young Lion-esque fire in fighting through it. White is great at playing smarmy but dangerous and his dominance really heated the match up well. His chops on Fletcher as he was tangled up in the ropes were brutal and Fletcher brought some crazy fighting spirit offence in retaliation.
Fletcher was almost able to put White away, but he made a major error on a top rope move and White immediately capitalised with a Blade Runner for the win. A great story to end the match on, as Fletcher undoes all his good work in his biggest match yet. There was perhaps a feeling in the crowd that they were waiting for the two major main events to get really into a match, which hurt the atmosphere here a little, but the match was very good in isolation and had it been differently placed it could have gone over even better. For a replacement match though, White and Fletcher couldn’t have asked for any better. ***½
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Kazuchika Okada
A huge rematch from the main event of Sakura Genesis, and a huge upset result that will set the tone for both men’s G1 tournament. Okada debuted his new look on Night 1, losing all the gold from his trousers, wearing a cut-off shirt and inexplicably tying red balloons around himself. This is a new, early mid-life crisis Okada who is going to have to regain his identity piece by piece. This Okada is primed for an upset loss and the crowd knew it. Kevin Kelly on commentary had a tremendous call for Okada’s entrance: “The disappointment from Dominion perhaps washed away in a rainstorm in Yokohama”, referring to Okada’s time limit draw against Minoru Suzuki at Suzuki’s 30th anniversary show. Kelly was another good get by RevPro to make the show feel like a New Japan production and he really added to the show’s VOD throughout.
Like Ospreay, ZSJ received a major reaction, though the crowd were in favour of Okada for the match itself. Zack picked up from where he left off at Sakura Genesis, tying Okada up in a variety of holds, proving his mat dominance. Sabre lost to Okada when he was at the peak of his powers, hurtling towards his record IWGP reign. Now, Okada’s best friend is a balloon. He looks more vulnerable and he wrestled vulnerably here, getting opened up by Sabre. Okada still fired off all his major moves, but was unable to find that unassailable dominance that he could always reach in his IWGP title defences. Here, he was always on the back foot and always in danger of getting tied up by Sabre for the last time.
Okada fought through the submissions to hit a Rainmaker and maintained the all-important wrist control, but Sabre countered the next Rainmaker attempt into the octopus stretch that he famously failed to completely lock Okada into at Sakura Genesis, and again couldn’t do it here. It looked like the match would end with an exact repeat of Sumo Hall, but Sabre ducked the ensuing Rainmaker and clutch rolled Okada for the pin. A major win for the British star on home soil, as Gedo throws a bone to RevPro and the British fans as part of the Okada redemption story. A very well executed story and match. ****
British Heavyweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki def. Tomohiro Ishii (c)
This match was the most ‘in-canon’ of the whole weekend, having been built prominently at Dominion with Suzuki and Ishii going after each other after the match. The RevPro titles have been seen on New Japan broadcasts many times and have certainly become more prestigious with important names battling over them, so RevPro should gain out of it when they get the title back on a native. For now though, we get to see some killer Ishii and Suzuki-gun matches, and in this match Suzuki aimed to round out a weekend of dominance for his clan over CHAOS by becoming double British champ.
In Milton Keynes, Ishii and Suzuki began their tag match by forearming the shit out of each other. Here, they took a very different track, by slapping the shit out of each other’s chests. Let’s face it, both men are too proud to do anything else than prove to the other that they can withstand the hits, and it will literally never get old. It’s glorious.
This was followed by Suzuki going above and beyond to pull people into the match, whether it be chasing after referee Chris Roberts with a chair in the middle of a crowd brawl, or hooking Ishii in a rare variant of his rope-assisted armbar over the corner, Suzuki was determined to make this match feel special. A lot of imports don’t put in full effort when they’re in Britain for a variety of reasons, but Suzuki absolutely brought his A game to this match and had a ton of fun with the crowd and his own match structure. That isn’t to say that Ishii wasn’t great here, because this was still a really strong performance from Ishii. No-one brings the underdog brutality like him. But it was still ‘Ishii formula’, which happens to be the best formula in all of wrestling but Suzuki was the more dynamic performer.
Another all-out strike war brought the match to a crescendo that was paid off with a brilliant final few minutes, as finally Ishii broke through Suzuki’s wall and had him on the ropes, withstood all of his moves bar one, as Suzuki hooked him in a sleeper hold and sat in it for longer than he usually does, after which Ishii was unable to assert himself again. He battled and battled, but eventually Suzuki got his Gotch Piledriver away for the win, asserting total Suzuki-gun control over RevPro’s heavyweight division. This was a spectacle that the crowd were on their feet for by the end. Suzuki deserves to be British champion more than anyone else after a performance like that. ****½
Post-match, WALTER took out Ishii on the entrance ramp and stood over him for a great visual to set up the main event of Summer Sizzler in August. That is a proper modern dream match! All of Suzuki-gun got to round out the show in the ring. They’ve certainly made the UK home territory this year.
RevPro delivered a brilliant weekend of New Japan-flavoured action. I had a tremendous time live at Milton Keynes and not necessarily because of the individual matches, but more because the overall show worked as greater than the sum of its parts (also there was pizza and burials). Manchester had the better card and produced the better show as expected, with lots of newsworthy moments to ponder over that worked very well with the wider scope of RevPro booking. And the big singles matches both delivered big time. A great success all round.