New Japan Pro Wrestling/Ring Of Honor
Honor Rising 2019: Night 1
February 22, 2019
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

“The Villain” Marty Scurll def. Ren Narita

It sucks that we didn’t see any of the newer ROH signing on these Honor Rising shows (a number of them were unable to get their visas in time). That being said, we got the show off to a unique start, as we had a pair of singles bouts with some of the Young Lions going up against the Leaders Of The New School. The first of those was Marty Scurll (who was appearing in Japan for the first time since Wrestle Kingdom) vs. Ren Narita, and it ended up being a really good opening contest.

We got some solid technical exchanges early on, and Narita more than held his own against Scurll. At one point, he pulled off one of the best neck bridges I’ve ever seen. It was scary how good it was! After Scurll took control for a few minutes, Narita managed to mount a comeback, and we got an entertaining closing stretch. There was a great nearfall where Narita countered the Crossface Chickenwing with a cradle, but this only delayed the inevitable, as Scurll managed to lock the Crossface Chickenwing back in moments later for the submission victory. Again, this was a strong way to start off the show. The fact that they gave this a fair amount of time (almost twelve minutes), so that was cool to see. Narita doesn’t get as much attention as Shota Umino, but he’s coming along nicely as well. As for Marty Scurll, I’m intrigued to see where he goes from here, in terms of his tenure with New Japan. Obviously he was heavily connected with the rest of The Elite, and unless he pairs up with another stable, I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing him much in New Japan going forward. ***1/2

Zack Sabre Jr. (with Taka Michinoku) def. Shota Umino

While Shota Umino is still a Young Lion, he certainly doesn’t look like one. He’s grown his hair out a bit, but what caught my attention was his body. He’s really bulked up in recent months, and looks like a true heavyweight. It certainly seems like it’s only a matter of time before he goes on his learning excursion. As far as this particular match goes, Umino didn’t waste any time getting this one started. After Taka Michinoku cut his usual pre-match promo (in English instead of Japanese), Umino just kicked him right in the face. That was pretty funny!

Once the match officially got underway, we got to see a very strong contest that featured lots of technical wrestling throughout. Much like the opener, Umino more than held his own in the opening minutes, and he actually managed to get the better of Sabre at a few points (they borrowed a few spots from Sabre’s G1 Climax bout with SANADA from last year). Sabre would work over Umino with his various submissions and strikes, but Umino never backed down, and was still able to hit some big moves of his own. This included some big dropkicks, a bridging german suplex, and a really cool rolling armbar. Later on, he was able to power out of a guillotine from Sabre with a big vertical suplex.

Unfortunately for Umino, he suffered the same fate as Ren Narita, as he tapped out after getting trapped in a leg submission by Sabre. The finish was a little underwhelming (it seemed to be very sudden, and it didn’t appear to be a submission that Sabre usually wins with), but as a whole, this was a very strong match. Sabre got the win, as we all expected, while Umino had a great outing. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton really put over the fact that Umino (in a match with a twenty minute time limit) went nearly fifteen minutes with Sabre. It’s clear that he’s got a bright future in this company. ***3/4

Jonathan Gresham & Jushin “Thunder” Liger def. The Bullet Club (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles)

I was very excited to see Jonathan Gresham on the Honor Rising lineups this year. Hopefully he gets a spot in the Best Of The Super Junior’s Tournament in a few months. Gresham got the chance to show off some of his technical skills here, in what was arguably the most interesting match on the entire card, in terms of how it played out. For about first five minutes, Gresham went up against Robbie Eagles. The exchanges were pretty simple, but Gresham definitely got the better of Eagles more often than not. Then, right at the five minute mark, Jushin “Thunder” Liger and Taiji Ishimori came in, after being tagged by their respective partners. Their exchange lasted all of twenty seconds, as Liger quickly caught Ishimori with a quick rolling crucifix to get a clean pinfall victory over the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. That was such an unexpected finish, but it totally worked in this situation. The crowd went absolutely nuts, and Ishimori sold the loss perfectly.

While everyone pretty much knows that Ishimori will likely retain his title against Liger when they meet at New Japan’s Anniversary Show in a few weeks, this was a great moment that added a ton of juice to that match. The bulk of the bout was a solid showcase for Gresham in his New Japan debut (discounting the New Beginning In USA events of course), while the finish did a great job in building up the Ishimori/Liger match. This was far from the best match on the show, but I would definitely recommend checking it out. They had a clear set of goals, and they accomplished them brilliantly. **1/2

Lifeblood (IWGP United States Champion Juice Robinson & David Finlay), Tomoaki Honma, & Toa Henare def. ROH World Tag Team Champions The Briscoes & The Guerrillas of Destiny

Not only was Jado at ringside with The Guerrillas of Destiny, but so was Hikuleo, who was making his first New Japan appearance in almost a year (he had been on the shelf after suffering a very serious knee injury). Speaking of G.O.D., it was very strange to see The Briscoes teaming up with them here, since The Briscoes have been feuding with Bullet Club ever since the start of the ROH/NJPW partnership (they’re usually aligned with CHAOS when they’ve come over to Japan in the past). It was sold on commentary as an alliance of convenience, and that alliance didn’t last very long, as there were several moments of miscommunication during the bout. At one point, Jay Briscoe accidentally kicked Tama Tonga in the face. Later on, communication issues between The Briscoes and G.O.D. led to the finish. Tanga Loa accidentally hit Mark Briscoe, and then moments later, Jado unintentionally hit Mark with a kendo stick (it seemed like he was going for Juice Robinson, but Juice moved out of the way).

Juice then rolled up Mark for the victory. The match itself was relatively good from start to finish, though I would say it wasn’t that different from your typical multi-man tag on a New Japan undercard. It served as a preview for the main event of Night 2, which will see The Briscoes defend the ROH World Tag Team Titles against Lifeblood. Nothing much else to say about the actual match. Again, it was pretty much what you would expect. ***1/4

Afterward, The Guerrillas of Destiny—frustrated with the loss—attacked The Briscoes, but the two teams eventually got separated.

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles – Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Colt Cabana, Cheeseburger, & Delirious

While he’s done numerous tours of Japan over the years, with a variety of different promotions, this was actually the first time that Colt Cabana appeared on a proper New Japan event. That’s a crazy statistic, considering how long Cabana’s been around.

Anyway, Cabana teamed up here with Cheeseburger and Delirious to challenge for the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles. Even though Cheeseburger and Delirious have challenged for these titles before (they partnered with Jushin “Thunder” Liger at Honor Rising 2018), the result was the same, as they came up short once again. The match was a lighthearted affair that featured some fun moments throughout. Nobody came into this anticipated an instant classic, but for its spot on the card, this was pretty enjoyable. Cabana and Yano got into another duel with the turnbuckle pads (just like they did at the 2017 Global Wars event in Chicago), and the finish came shortly thereafter. Yano threw the referee towards Cabana, who was in his corner. This gave Yano the opening to hit a low blow on Delirious, and after getting a little more assistance from his teammates, Yano rolled Delirious up to score the pin. This is a match you’ll easily forget, but at the moment, I found it to be entertaining. **3/4

Afterward, Colt Cabana went to shake Toru Yano’s hand. I guess the story was that, with the referee getting thrown in his face, Cabana never saw the low blow from Yano. Delirious (who was the recipient of this low blow) was not happy that Cabana was shaking hands with the guy who gave him a low blow, so he responded by delivering a low blow of his own to Cabana. With the benefit of hindsight, this helped set up a slight change to the undercard of Night. I believe the Colt Cabana/Cheeseburger/Delirious team was scheduled to face a trio of Young Lions on Night 2. After what happened here, that ROH trio wasn’t going to co-exist, so we’re getting Colt Cabana and Toru Yano vs. Cheeseburger and Delirious instead.

NEVER Openweight Title – Will Ospreay (c) def. Dalton Castle

Dalton Castle was, of course, accompanied by The Boys, who appeared to be Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura. This was a bout that had a ton of potential on paper, but at the same time, there was a little uncertainty as well. We all know that Castle’s been dealing with numerous injuries over the last year, and even though he seems to be better in the first several weeks of the new year, he’s still wearing that back brace. Well, when the dust settled, these two ended up having a great match that was the best of the night. After some early finisher teases, Castle took control after hitting some big back suplexes (one of which was on the floor), and kept Ospreay on the ground with amateur wrestling skills. Ospreay eventually made his comeback, and we got strong exchanges between these two in the second half. Ospreay busted out some of his crazy offense (jumping off the barricade to hit a flying forearm, standing Spanish Fly, a reverse version of the slingblade, just to name a few), but Castle always managed to say in the fight.

At one point, he countered an OsCutter attempt with a scary German Suplex where Ospreay nearly landed on his head. The back-and-forth action between these two was very cool to watch, but the finish was very definitive. Ospreay hit a serious a big moves on Castle, which included a reverse rana, a Marufuji-style kick, and the Hidden Blade (which is the same move that Ospreay infamously used on Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom) before finally putting Castle away with the Storm Breaker. Once again, this was pretty great. Ospreay delivered in his first defense of the NEVER Openweight Title in Japan (no surprise there), while Castle had a good performance in his own right. Again, there was certainly concerns coming into this match, with regards to Castle’s heath, but it seems like he’s still capable of having strong singles bouts. He proved that a month ago when he challenged Jay Lethal for the ROH World Title at Honor Reigns Supreme, and he proved that again against one of the best wrestlers in the world. ****

ROH World TV Title – Jeff Cobb (c) def. Hirooki Goto

These two had their first singles meeting on the Cow Palace show last July. At the time, Hirooki Goto was the NEVER Openweight Champion, and he retained his title over Jeff Cobb on that night. Since then, they’ve been trying to have a rematch, this time for Cobb’s ROH World TV Title. However, it kept getting delayed. They were supposed to meet on the Lion’s Break events last fall, but it didn’t happen (it was explained on commentary that Cobb was the one who was unable to make it the first time). Then they were going to have the match during the recent New Beginning In USA Tour, but due to the visa issues caused by the US Government Shutdown, Goto was unable to make it. The third time was the charm, in this case, as they finally had their rematch on this show.

These two had a very good match that featured entertaining action from start to finish. They went right after each other as soon as the bell rang, and we got some fun strike exchanges in the opening minutes. Goto took control after suplexing one of the Young Lions onto Cobb on the outside, and the pace actually slowed a bit in the middle portion of the bout. Cobb got an opening after Goto missed a top rope elbow, and from there, the match really picked up. They traded big moves in the closing minutes, but ultimately, Cobb was able to put Goto away after hitting Tour Of The Islands. This wasn’t quite as good as Will Ospreay/Dalton Castle, but I’d put it on par with the Zack Sabre Jr./Shota Umino match from earlier. Jeff Cobb’s been featured sporadically in New Japan over the last few years (whether that be in the World Tag League or on the shows in the United States), but I hope that Cobb starts getting used more regularly in New Japan. It’d be cool to see him get a spot in the G1 Climax this year. If his bouts with Goto and EVIL are any indication, then he’d be a solid addition to the tournament. ***3/4

“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, & ROH World Champion Jay Lethal def. The Kingdom (Matt Taven, Vinny Marseglia, & TK O’Ryan)

I know a fair amount of people weren’t thrilled with The Kingdom being on these Honor Rising cards (especially in such a high position), but I wasn’t totally surprised. Matt Taven is currently in a feud with Jay Lethal over the ROH World Title (they’re actually headlining the ROH Anniversary Show in a few weeks), so in that regard, The Kingdom’s inclusion on this tour made perfect sense. They’re not the most exciting trio in the world, but when they’re on a bigger show, they generally have relatively good six-man tags. In fact, I would say that this main event was pretty much your typical Kingdom match. Solid action from start to finish, and while they never go beyond a certain level, they typically never fall below a certain level either.

The story was a basic one, as the babyface side had the early edge before the Kingdom isolated Tanahashi. Once he was finally able to make the tag to Okada (who hadn’t done much of anything in the first two-thirds of the match), we got into the closing stretch, and Lethal eventually pinned Marseglia after hitting the Lethal Injection. In terms of the match quality, it wasn’t the best way to close out the show, but when Okada and Tanahashi are teaming in the main event, there really isn’t that much to complain about. ***1/4

As soon as the match ended, Matt Taven attacked Jay Lethal, but he was quickly chased off by Okada and Tanahashi. Lethal then took the mic and called out The Kingdom. He told Taven that it was only a matter of time before he gets to him, and added that he’s going to send TK O’Ryan crying back to America after their match the next night.

Final Thoughts

The first night of Honor Rising 2019 was a very solid show from top to bottom. While we didn’t really get a truly awesome match, there were entertaining matches up and down the card. Will Ospreay vs. Dalton Castle and Jeff Cobb vs. Hirooki Goto were both very strong title bouts (with the former being my pick for match of the night), while the opening two matches exceeded my expectations. The rest of the card featured a bunch of multi-man tags that either built up to future bouts, or were just generally enjoyable.

When these cards were first revealed, they seemed to be a disappointment to some (they lacked the presence of great in-ring acts like The Young Bucks, and didn’t feature any of the new talents that ROH signed over the last few months), but when the dust settled, Night 1 of Honor Rising 2019 ended up being an enjoyable show that was incredibly easy to watch.