New Japan Pro Wrestling/Ring of Honor
April 6, 2019
Madison Square Garden
Meet our previewers:
John Carroll: I do all the NJPW previews so I’m here for this one too, even though I think I’ve seen exactly one ROH match in all of 2019. That’s what Sean is here for, I guess. Follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you want to follow along on One Dumb Weeb’s Mania Weekend Journey™. Also of course there’s my podcast @wrestleomakase which is a much better follow than my personal account, honestly.
Sean Sedor: This is the first time I’m going to Madison Square Garden period, so I’m pretty pumped to see this show!! Of course, you know me as the resident ROH guy for Voices of Wrestling, but I also do previews/reviews for New Japan, WWE, and EVOLVE. You can follow me on Twitter @SASedor2994, and you can also check out my work in Fighting Spirit Magazine, where I review the ROH PPVs along with other major ROH events.
Suit Williams: New Japan is in the Mecca, and I’m pumped up for it. Ring of Honor tagged along, and well, that’s fine. Good for them. @SuitWilliams on the Twitter, and check out Smark Sports on Apple Podcasts and any decent podcast catcher.
30 Participants, Jushin Thunder Liger Confirmed
John: It’s always tough to predict a match when you don’t know who exactly is going to be in it, as we have exactly one confirmed participant as I type this. There’s a long list of both NJPW and ROH wrestlers announced for the festival thing they’re running before the show who have nothing announced on this card, though, so I suppose we at least have a decent idea of who will probably be in this. My big question isn’t really who will win but more like, will they tip their hand on who Bully Ray’s mystery opponent is? If it’s Minoru Suzuki as everyone seems to be predicting, will they have him not enter this thing to save the big Kaze ni Nare pop for that? Also, will any of the Japanese wrestlers in town who aren’t currently NJPW roster members get to enter the Rumble? I’ll make a maybe kind of out there prediction that at least one not only will participate, but will come out the winner. Prediction: Great Muta
Sean: It should be noted that the rules for the Honor Rumble are different from the New Japan Rambo that we’ve seen at Wrestle Kingdom over the past couple of years. While the Rambo features eliminations via pin, submission, and getting tossed over the top rope, the Honor Rumble is basically your traditional Royal Rumble, meaning you can only get eliminated by getting thrown over the top rope (of course, they could change the rules in this particular instance, so we’ll see). This should be a fun way to kick things off, and hopefully we’ll see a couple of surprises along the way. In terms of which talents will be involved in this match, we know that the confirmed names for the Honor Rumble thus far are Jushin Thunder Liger, Kenny King, PJ Black, The Bouncers (The Beer City Bruiser & Brian Milonas), and Cheeseburger. We already have a decent idea of some of the other New Japan guys could be in it, based on who’s booked for either the Festival Of Honor, the Bullet Club Block Party, or for others shows that weekend. Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Shingo Takagi, BUSHI, Rocky Romero, Roppongi 3K, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Robbie Eagles, Ryusuke Taguchi, Hikuleo, and Haku (yes, even Haku) could all be in this match. On the ROH side, available talents include Lifeblood (Juice Robinson, Mark Haskins, & Tracy Williams), The Kingdom (Vinny Marseglia & TK O’Ryan), Colt Cabana, Jonathan Gresham, Delirious, Silas Young, Shane Taylor, Eli Isom, Coast 2 Coast (LSG & Shaheem Ali), Rhett Titus, Will Ferrara, and Ryan Nova. That’s A LOT of potential names, though I suspect the winner will probably be from the New Japan. Liger seems like the sentimental favorite, so I’ll go with him here. Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger
Suit: It’s a rumble with one person announced. I don’t really know what to say here. Since it’s Liger’s first time wrestling in MSG (according to Cagematch.net), combined with the fact that I’m lazy and he’s the only one announced, I’ll say that Liger wins. Besides, name a better option. Kenny King? Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger
NEVER Openweight & ROH World Television Championships
Will Ospreay (NEVER ©) vs. Jeff Cobb (ROH TV ©)
John: The first of two double title matches sees Ospreay and Cobb facing off in what feels like an oddly heatless opener, given the stakes. On its face there’s nothing really wrong with the booking here: Ospreay pinned Cobb in a tag match at the Honor Rising shows at Korakuen last month, which I always kind of figured had to be leading to something. I think the problem with how flat this feels is how little they’ve interacted since: Cobb and Ospreay haven’t been on the same continent since those two shows, let alone on the same show, and it feels like there was no follow-up until Cobb randomly challenged Ospreay nearly a month later (in a promo that accidentally went up too early and spoiled Ospreay’s New Japan Cup elimination, which I’m sure the office was thrilled about). Another factor in why this match feels weird is that New Japan already started building up Ospreay’s next NEVER challenger for the Dontaku tour, as he and Taichi got into it after both were eliminated from the NJC. Unless that’s a pretty massive swerve for the sake of having a swerve (which might be likely in other places but isn’t at all in New Japan), it makes this feel like an even more foregone conclusion than it already does. This could still end up being a really hot opener, don’t get me wrong, but the booking leading up to it was really kind of nonsensical when you really think about it. Prediction: Will Ospreay
Sean: I really like the fact that New Japan and ROH are doing multiple title vs. title matches on the same card. It’s a very cool idea, and with both promotions working so closely together, there are plenty of chances to switch those titles back later on. The first of the two title vs. title bouts will see Will Ospreay go up against Jeff Cobb. This bout was set up after Ospreay pinned Cobb in a tag team bout on the second night of Honor Rising 2019. These two are both great, and they should have a really strong match together. Ospreay has had an impressive 2019 thus far, while Cobb always seems to deliver on the big shows. With Taichi recently mentioning that he wants a shot at the NEVER Openweight Title, it would seem like Ospreay is the favorite to win this one. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s held the ROH World TV Title (he had a cup of coffee with it in late 2016), so it’ll be cool to see Ospreay back in ROH again. I’m not sure what a loss here would mean for Jeff Cobb, though. They can easily do a rematch down the road (maybe on the War Of The Worlds Tour or the next PPV), but I can also see Cobb moving up into the World Title picture. Regardless of the result, this should be a great match. Prediction: Will Ospreay
Suit: This is such a perfect match to open up this card. Jeff Cobb is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in ROH, and has delivered in big time PPV matches against the likes of Hangman Page and Shane Taylor. Ospreay is already one of the best wrestlers in the world, coming off of a great run in the New Japan Cup (save for a Fale match we’re all better off forgetting). These two are going to have a red hot crowd in the palm of their hands, and I cannot wait for it. Now ROH did spoil Ospreay’s New Japan Cup result by having Cobb challenge him before he was eliminated. New Japan may have returned the favor by having Taichi challenge Ospreay for the NEVER Title before this match, which I guess is fair. I’m fine with Ospreay showing up and continuing the trend of kickass TV title matches, and hopefully this moves Cobb up to the World Title scene. Prediction: Will Ospreay
Dalton Castle vs. Rush
John: Sean will hopefully be able to tell you more about what’s going on here than I can- I have no idea if these two are feuding in ROH or if this was just thrown together or what- but on its face this makes sense for one of ROH’s few matches of the card. Rush is clearly a guy who is rapidly ascending in the promotion, as he should given he’s one of the very few marketable wrestlers on that roster who has real top star potential, so on your biggest show of the year you put him over your former ROH World Champion who’s kind of on the way down (mostly due to injuries more than anything else). That all seems logical enough to me. Prediction: Rush
Sean: So the way this match got put together was very….strange, to say the least. At the 17th Anniversary Show, Dalton Castle joined the commentary team for Bandido vs. RUSH. During the bout, Castle kept commenting about how RUSH was a “mountain of man meat”, and after RUSH won the match, Castle challenged RUSH to a match at MSG. It was very hard to predict how ROH would fill out their side of the card, especially since the ROH roster has changed so much since the MSG show was first announced. With this match, however, it’s clear that ROH is using this as a showcase for RUSH. He’s arguably the biggest name out of the new crop of wrestlers that ROH has signed, and getting a win on such a big stage over a former ROH World Champion should be a big moment for him. The match itself should be pretty solid. You know both guys are going to be working hard, considering the setting. I’m sure there will be some reservations when it comes to Dalton Castle, but I feel like he’s healed up to the point where he can have really good singles bout when needed (see his matches with Jay Lethal and Will Ospreay from earlier this year). Castle will put forth a ton of effort, but the outcome of this one couldn’t be more obvious. Prediction: RUSH
Suit: The only straight-up, non-title singles match on the card, this is screaming a win for Rush. Now I get that Castle is on the way down, and he’s looking like half a Yetay with all the braces and tape on him. But he is a former World Champion, and beating him on this big of a stage would really help cement Rush as a big time player in ROH. I expect some fun back-and-forth before Rush gets the win. But whatever, nothing matters. Prediction: Rush
Women of Honor World Championship
Mayu Iwatani © vs. Kelly Klein
John: Ugh. When it was announced that Mayu Iwatani was going to be on this show defending her Women of Honor title, I can’t say this is what I was hoping for. Mayu has already beaten Kelly Klein twice (once to win the title and then again to retain), so having Kelly get yet another shot so soon just feels super lazy and makes the winner seem extremely obvious. This is really the best you can do with your women’s division on the biggest show of the year? Mayu will go from being surely a featured player on the dedicated STARDOM show the day before to probably losing her title (after a very underwhelming title reign) to a pretty bad wrestler on match three of this show, in a match that most of the arena will honestly probably use as a bathroom break. C’mon ROH, really? Prediction: Kelly Klein
Sean: When this show first got announced last summer, there were three titles that I figured were absolute locks to be defended on the card. Those were the IWGP Heavyweight Title, the ROH World Title, and the Women Of Honor Title. It was pretty obvious that ROH was going to want their women’s title featured on this event, and I have no issues with that. I LOVE the fact that I’m going to see Mayu Iwatani wrestle in MSG. That’s really cool. Unfortunately, I’m a little confused as to why we’re getting this match again. Iwatani won the Women Of Honor Title from Kelly Klein at Bound By Honor back in February, and defeated Klein again the rematch at the recent 17th Anniversary Show. What’s strange is that both of those victories by Iwatani were fairly decisive. In fact, the reason why Klein lost at the PPV was because she got cocky. Why does she deserve another shot at the title?
As for the match itself, I’m sure it will be solid. Kelly Klein isn’t exactly the most exciting women’s wrestler out there, but her best matches in ROH have been against Mayu Iwatani. That being said, these two have had three matches against each other in ROH, and each one has dipped in quality compared to the bout that came before (their bout in New Orleans last year was really good, the title change from February was good, and the PPV match was ok at best). This is MSG, so hopefully Klein will step up her game here (I have no worries about Iwatani). What sucks is that we’re probably getting a title change here. It’s probably the only reason why these two are being matched up again. Seeing Iwatani will be very cool, but unfortunately, Klein will probably take the title back. Prediction: Kelly Klein
Suit: Oh man. Kelly Klein stinks, and while Mayu is great, I don’t know if she’s a miracle worker. This is what we’re left with when companies feel obligated to have a women’s division. We get a half-assed booking effort, and an unappealing match to clog up this show. I hope we get a decent match, and for Klein to win so I can fully ignore these matches again. Prediction: Kelly Klein
NYC Street Fight Open Challenge
Bully Ray vs. ???
John: Again, see what I said about the Honor Rumble: tough to predict a match when you don’t know all the participants. On its face ROH wasting one of its “ROH-only” matches on a Bully Ray open challenge sounds like a horrendous idea that kind of sums up modern ROH in a nutshell. But there’s plenty of ways that this could actually end up being pretty fun, and maybe this won’t even end up being an “ROH-only” match at all. I’ve seen the theory going around that it will be Minoru Suzuki answering the challenge (perhaps after a fake out with Bully quickly beating the first challenger and then asking for another one), and honestly Suzuki getting his full entrance in MSG, everyone singing his chorus, and then him quickly tapping Bully out would probably be an awesome moment. So let’s just go ahead and assume that’s what will happen. Let’s be optimistic. At least we know it won’t be Flip Gordon, right? Prediction: Minoru Suzuki
Sean: Up until very recently, it seemed like Flip Gordon was the leading candidate to answer Bully Ray’s challenge. A knee injury had kept him out of action since January, and it was expected that he’d be returning in time for this show. Bully Ray even referenced Flip Gordon when he announced this challenge at the 17th Anniversary Show (he also claimed that he never said I Quit in his match with Flip Gordon at Final Battle). However, it was recently announced that Flip Gordon re-injured his knee after a recent OTT show in Ireland. The diagnosis is (unfortunately for Flip) four to six months on the shelf. With that revelation, this means the person who answers the open challenge could be anyone. Hopefully it’s either Minoru Suzuki or Tomohiro Ishii, because either of them would kick Bully Ray’s ass. This could also end up being a giant letdown. The possibilities are seemingly endless. The one thing that we can all agree on (or at least I hope we can all agree on it), however, is that Bully Ray should lose. It just seems like the entire purpose of this is for Bully Ray to get his ass kicked by a big surprise. I pray that they don’t do something really stupid. Prediction: The Mystery Opponent
Suit: At first I was gonna say Flip Gordon, but they wrapped that story up at Final Battle. Then he got hurt again. Then I was gonna say Yano, but god I really don’t want that. Then I started hearing people suggest Minoru Suzuki, which would be great. But then, fellow VOW contributor Griffin Peltier reminded me of the most obvious choice. This is New York. This is an open challenge against ECW alumni Bully Ray. Tommy fucking Dreamer is gonna come out to a shitty Man in the Box cover and get ECW chants in MSG. Because on the biggest night in Ring of Honor history, they would be dumb enough to get chants for a company that’s been dead for 18 years. Bully wins, and I pray this goes less than 5. Seconds, not minutes. Prediction: Bully Ray
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Taiji Ishimori © vs. Dragon Lee vs Bandido
John: When Dragon Lee came out to challenge Taiji Ishimori for MSG at the 47th Anniversary Show I was nothing but pleased. That felt like a really big junior heavyweight title match more than worthy of Madison Square Garden, and one that I thought could have been a sleeper match of the entire weekend. Even though I like Bandido, I groaned when he was added to the match. I despise three-way matches, as they’re almost always full of dumb “this guy gets tossed out of the ring and he disappears for a while for no real reason, oh wait he’s back just as this one-on-one exchange was getting good!” spots and a singles match is basically always preferable. This isn’t to say I don’t think this match will still be great, because I’m quite sure it will be. I just think the ceiling for this got lowered by about a half star or so, and that’s a shame. As far as who will come out on top, well, I know people have been predicting Hiromu Takahashi returns forever (myself included), but how about Hiromu coming out after his eternal rival just won the junior title to challenge him for that belt (that he never lost, remember, making him more than worthy of an immediate title shot) at Wrestling Dontaku? Sounds good to me. Prediction: Dragon Lee
Sean: I know a lot of people weren’t pleased with Bandido being added to this one, but I don’t have any problems with it. There’s certainly a stigma when it comes to three-ways or four-ways, particularly in situations when they’re not exactly needed. However, I will never complain about these types of matches if all the participants are great wrestlers. If the ROH representative in this match was….for example….TK O’Ryan, then I would be singing a different tune. That’s not the case in this situation. All three of these guys are great, and I fully expect this to be a wild and frantic match with plenty of crazy moments. While I doubt Bandido is winning the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title on his first try, there’s certainly a strong possibility that Dragon Lee walks away as the new champion (especially since you could easily transition to a title defense against the returning Hiromu Takahashi). However, I’m going with Taiji Ishimori in this one. I feel like his reign could go on a bit longer. Plus, with a couple of other Bullet Club title holders potentially losing later in the show, I doubt all of them would lose on the same night. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Suit: Unlike John, I think these are three guys creative enough to work outside of that three-way trope. Now as far as who wins, I’m not 100% sure. Despite his push in ROH, I’d be stunned if Bandido won. This may be more of a trial run for Best of the Super Juniors for him. It comes down to Ishimori and Dragon Lee. I love the idea of Dragon Lee winning, and Hiromu Takahashi coming out to murder him for stealing Mr. Belt. But that feud doesn’t necessarily need a belt on the line. Plus, hot potatoing the belt onto Lee, then right onto Hiromu doesn’t seem like a New Japan move. I think Ishimori can retain here, and Hiromu can win Super Juniors (beating Dragon Lee on the way). I know it’s a longer route to Hiromu getting the title back, but I don’t think there’s a downside in building up to the rematch of last year’s acclaimed BoSJ final. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
IWGP Tag Team & ROH World Tag Team Championships
Guerillas of Destiny (IWGP Tag Team ©) vs. PCO & Brody King (ROH Tag Team ©) vs. EVIL & SANADA vs. Briscoe Brothers
John: This is kind of a mess. So let’s backtrack: GOD teamed up with the Briscoes on Night 1 of Honor Rising last month and the two teams failed to get along, with their manager Jado accidentally causing the strange union to lose their match. The next night, GOD won the IWGP Tag Team Titles from EVIL & SANADA for a baffling fifth time. The Briscoes, then ROH World Tag Team Champions, challenged them at the end after retaining their own titles and it seemed clear that this was all to setup a GOD vs. Briscoes match for MSG with both sets of titles on the line. Okay, sure, that all makes sense, even if it wasn’t all that exciting. But wait! Then the Briscoes went to an ROH PPV and lost the tag titles to PCO & Brody King (who team with Marty Scurll in ROH as Villain Enterprises). So now the match is actually GOD vs. PCO/King, who have no feud whatsoever, right? Nope, the Briscoes are still in it, for some reason! And wait, here come EVIL & SANADA too! At least that kind of makes sense in a weird way- if you’re going to throw in the team that just lost the ROH tag titles for no real reason, I guess you may as well include the last team to lose the IWGP tag titles too. So there you have it. As far as I know, this is a one fall match where the winning team wins both sets of tag titles. So yes, for those of you wondering, EVIL & SANADA could apparently pin one of the two Briscoes (or vice-versa) and that would make them the new IWGP Tag Team AND ROH World Tag Team Champions, meaning both champion teams would lose their titles without being involved in the fall. That’s insane, yes, but on the other hand who cares about any of these titles anyway? Prediction: GOD
Sean: It should be noted that The Briscoes are getting their rematch for the ROH World Tag Team Titles against Villain Enterprises at a ROH live event on March 31st in Baltimore, so those titles could still change hands before MSG. Now I’m sure this match produced a ton of groans and eyerolls when it was revealed with the rest of the card. If you’re a regular follower of New Japan, then being frustrated with how the tag team divisions are booked is nothing new. However, to be completely honest, I have zero issues with this match. It’s certainly much better than the other two potential bouts that were originally presented to us. The Briscoes and G.O.D. have had solid encounters in the past, but having the top heel tag teams in New Japan and ROH (respectively) face off seemed like a very weird choice. After the title change in the main event of ROH’s 17th Anniversary, G.O.D. vs. Villain Enterprises was at least a more interesting bout on paper. Unfortunately, I feel like it would’ve been the weakest match on card. With this being a Four-Way, not only do you get both The Briscoes and the LIJ team of EVIL & SANADA on the card, but you get a match that will likely be more entertaining. Even if they get more time than we’re anticipating, this should still be packed with action right from the opening bell. With regards to the result, the fact that you have two sets of titles on the line, in a one fall match with multiple teams, makes this incredibly hard to predict. Theoretically, you could have one team win both titles without pinning either of the champions. What adds to the unpredictability of this one even more is that, regardless of the result (a ROH team winning the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles or a New Japan team winning the ROH World Tag Team Titles), there are plenty of opportunities in the next month or so to switch the titles back to their respective promotion, whether that be on the upcoming Dontaku Tour or the War Of The Worlds shows. Just for the sake of being different, I’ll pick a team that John and Suit didn’t pick. Prediction: EVIL & SANADA
Suit: Since John already covered the build-up to this match, I can go into analysis. I don’t even know how or why EVIL & SANADA got into this match, so they’re just here to make up the numbers. GOD have been champs since Honor Rising, but god that road has been traveled to death. Brody King has worked with New Japan on the New Beginning USA shows, and PCO would get over in Japan with his…unique style of hurting himself. But I think the Briscoes will walk out with both titles after this one. They have been around since day one of the company, they held the IWGP Tag Titles back in 2016, and there’s a more than zero chance that they come into this match with the ROH Tag Titles anyway after their rematch with Villain Enterprises on March 31. I think they will get the win and stand tall on the biggest ROH show of all time. Prediction: The Briscoes
British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
John: Let’s be real folks: before these next two matches were announced, this card was looking pretty dire. Yeah, the three-way junior title match looked good, and maybe Cobb-Ospreay looked okay, and obviously you still had the main event, but this was shaping up to be kind of a downer for a first time ever Madison Square Garden show. I’m not sure if NJPW always had these next two matches on the books for MSG or if they just took a look at what ROH was announcing (and maybe the poor advance ticket sales for the G1 opener in Dallas too) and decided it was up to them to save the day, but they more than came through with two top level, main event caliber matches. As soon as the New Japan Cup wrapped up it was announced that Zack Sabre Jr. would defend his British Heavyweight Title against Hiroshi Tanahashi, a title shot Tanahashi earned by beating Sabre in the quarterfinals of that tournament. That match was good but it felt like they were holding back a little and perhaps keeping something holstered for a rematch, and now that we’ve seen the quick turnaround here it’s pretty clear why.
One thing I haven’t really mentioned yet is the “MSG factor”, or in another words the idea that these guys are really going to want to kill it in the world’s most famous arena, and I think that will hold especially true for this one. Tanahashi appeared on New Japan World’s “Bar MSG” (basically a series of interviews with top stars about what wrestling in MSG means to them) series and made it very clear how special wrestling in this famous building that his hero Tatsumi Fujinami once also wrestled in was to him. I would be really shocked if he and Sabre do anything less than absolutely kill it here. I expect Sabre to retain, but a Tanahashi win to set up a rematch for this title (perhaps as a major match for Royal Quest in London this August?) wouldn’t shock me either. Also let’s take a quick moment to laugh at the simple fact that the British Heavyweight Title is on the line here in New York City but the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title isn’t. That US belt might be the most pointless title in all of wrestling right now. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
Sean: These two have had a number of encounters since Zack Sabre Jr. came to New Japan in 2017. Going into 2019, Sabre had a 2-1 edge over Tanahashi (those victories were on the first night of the 2017 G1 Climax, and in the finals of the 2018 New Japan Cup). However, Tanahashi was able to even up the score in the 2019 New Japan Cup, when he defeated Sabre in the quarterfinals (ending Sabre’s undefeated streak in that tournament in the process). It seemed like a setup for Tanahashi getting a shot at Sabre’s RevPro British Heavyweight TItle, but I don’t think anyone expected it to occur this soon. It’s pretty cool to see some RevPro representation on this show, since they’re part of that alliance with New Japan, ROH, and CMLL. As far as the matches goes, I’m not sure if it’ll be on the same level as Naito/Ibushi and Okada/White, but it should still be a fantastic match. Both guys are excellent pro-wrestlers, and all of their previous encounters have been great. The only thing I’m not sure about is the result. While there are a couple of reasons why I would go with Sabre (that main one being that I can’t see him losing to Tanahashi twice in only a few weeks), it would be a really big moment for RevPro if Tanahashi won their top title in MSG. This one could really go either way, but I think I’m going to give the edge to Sabre here. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
Suit: Thank god for this British Heavyweight Title. It gave New Japan an excuse to book Sabre vs. Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom, and it gave them a reason to book this match on short notice. Tanahashi beat Sabre in the New Japan Cup, and I think he’ll beat him again here to win the title. New Japan has a marquee event coming up in England with Royal Quest, and I think a Tanahashi singles match main event would do big business for that show. And I know Tanahashi is bulletproof, but him losing the IWGP Heavyweight Title with zero successful defenses isn’t a great look. I can see him bouncing back and getting a new motivation to bring Love and Energy to that sad, dank country. Imagine Tanahashi in a Spoons. It would be magic. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. Kota Ibushi
John: From the moment Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito in the first round of this year’s New Japan Cup it seemed obvious we were getting this title match, but I would be lying to you if I told you I expected it to be here at the Garden. Just two weeks after this show NJPW is holding a brand new big event called Sengoku Lord in Nagoya, and I kind of expected the Naito-Ibushi showdown to be earmarked as that show’s main event (under the assumption that they’ll be saving the IWGP Heavyweight Title match of the tour for one of the two nights of Wrestling Dontaku two weeks after that). But suddenly things took a turn when Naito invited Ibushi to name a place for their eventual showdown, and singled out MSG as a possibility (alongside far less likely places like “randomly throwing it on night 1 of the next tour”). Needless to say as a G1 Supercard attendee my ears perked up greatly, and the very next night Kota came through and declared he indeed wanted to challenge Naito for the IC title at MSG (which Naito quickly agreed to). Naito and Ibushi is possibly the greatest rivalry in modern professional wrestling, having produced back-to-back ***** matches in the G1 and then another ****3/4 epic in the aforementioned NJC first round last month, so to say this was a welcome addition to the card would be a pretty epic understatement.
Believe it or not this will be the first time Naito and Ibushi have ever faced each other in a singles match outside of a tournament: they met in the 2013 G1 and 2015 New Japan Cup semifinals with Ibushi winning each time (Kota went on to win that year’s NJC, in fact), the 2015 & 2017 G1 with Naito winning, and finally the 2018 G1 & 2019 NJC with Ibushi winning. That means the record stands at 4-2 in Kota’s favor, including a two match winning streak. But this time around instead of fighting for points in the G1 or to stay alive in the NJC they’ll be fighting for the Intercontinental Championship. Ibushi has made it clear in promos that he doesn’t take kindly to Naito’s ongoing disrespect of the title (even during this reign, when Naito has toned it down quite a bit, he still drags the belt across the floor like he couldn’t care less about it). In a weird way, you can almost take it as Kota saying how dare you take this title I could never win for granted. Naito challenged for the IC title exactly three times- against Michael Elgin on September 25th, 2016, Minoru Suzuki on April 29th, 2018, and Chris Jericho on January 4th, 2019- and all three times walked out of the building as the new Intercontinental Champion. Meanwhile, Kota Ibushi has challenged for the belt twice- once against Shinsuke Nakamura on January 4th, 2015 and once against Hiroshi Tanahashi on November 5th, 2017- and failed on both occasions against wrestlers he has come to revere.
Understanding how much he now looks up to both Nakamura (the “god” referenced by the Kamigoye) and Tanahashi is an important piece to all of this. It isn’t just that Naito disrespects a title Kota has never won- it’s that he disrespects a title Kota was unable to take from two of his biggest heroes. Naito views the IC title as an active hindrance in the worst of times and now as a tool more than anything else (“I need it so I can become the first person to hold the IC and Heavyweight titles at the same time!”); Ibushi views the title as a goal onto itself, which he can honor Nakamura and Tanahashi by winning and once again respecting as a worthy prize. Will the third time finally be the charm for him? This is a real coin flip that I could see going either way, but my gut tells me Tetsuya Naito will one again prevent Kota Ibushi from winning the Intercontinental Title, ultimately setting up another rematch for Dominion where Ibushi will finally win the gold. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
Sean: I’m not going to even try following John’s brilliant essay on this match, so I’m going to keep my preview short and sweet. This is going to be a stellar contest that has a strong chance of being the match of the night. These two have amazing chemistry, and if their bouts over the last few years are any indication, I’m sure they’ll try to kill themselves more than one with some crazy spots. As for the result, I’m going to predict a title change here. My pick does run a little contrary to what John and Suit think of the potential result, but it is MSG, and I feel like the IWGP Intercontinental Title is going to end up on Kota Ibushi sooner rather than later. It’s the title that’s eluded Ibushi for so long, and what better place for him to finally capture it than the world’s most famous arena. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
Suit: I was expecting this match to be saved for Sengoku Lord back in Japan, but hell, I’ll take it here. Ibushi beat Naito in the first round of the New Japan Cup to win this shot. Originally, I was going to pick Ibushi to win again since New Japan finally got him to sign a contract. But that would pretty much leave Naito in the wind until the G1, as his character has no impetus to go after this title again. I think Naito would be better off holding this title until Dominion, then go right into a G1 Climax that I fully expect him to win. Ibushi will get his moment in the sun at some point, but for now, I’m picking Naito to retain. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
ROH World Championship 3-Way Ladder Match
Jay Lethal © vs. Matt Taven vs. Marty Scurll
John: After I watch two of my all-time favorite wrestlers do battle, I’ll then, uh, watch this thing! Look, I would be lying to you if I said I had any kind of emotional connection to any of these participants; as such, I will leave it to Suit or Sean to really dig into the backstory here. I’m not even really a big fan of ladder matches (especially in 2019), as I find them to all be pretty much the same thing, but I’ll go in with an open mind. I’m sure they’re capable of producing something pretty cool in this spot, especially considering they’ll certainly be working extra hard due to the “MSG factor” I talked about earlier, but is there a pretty high chance I’ll be so spent after another Naito-Ibushi classic (not to mention seven other matches before that and five other shows on the weekend) I won’t be able to pay much attention? Yeah, probably. And that’s maybe the danger of this match. I do think there will probably be enough Elite fans in the building (who bought their tickets back when those dudes were all still maybe going to be on this show) cheering Marty on to keep this from being totally heatless. But if this ends up being a bit of a death spot I won’t be too surprised. Prediction: Marty Scurll
Sean: Originally, it looked like we were going to get a straight singles match for the ROH World Title between Jay Lethal and Marty Scurll. Of course, Scurll earned a title shot after winning the 2018 Survival Of The Fittest Tournament. Then, everything changed after Matt Taven went to a one hour time limit draw with Lethal at the 17th Anniversary Show. With the issues between those two still unresolved, they decided to make it a Triple Threat Ladder Match (not a Ladder War) for the ROH World Title. While this is the third time that the ROH World Title has been defended in a Ladder Match/Ladder War (what differentiates those two, exactly?), it’s the first time since WrestleMania Weekend in 2014 in New Orleans, when Adam Cole retained against Jay Briscoe. Initially, I didn’t like the fact that Matt Taven was being put into this match, but the fact that it’s a Ladder Match definitely makes it more interesting. Plus, it’s not like Taven was shoehorned in this for absolutely no reason, like Charlotte was with the Becky Lynch/Ronda Rousey feud. While this won’t be the greatest Ladder Match in ROH history (that just speaks to the extremely high bar that’s been set over the years), this should be an incredibly entertaining semi-main event. These guys are going to be working very hard, and I’m sure we’ll see a couple of wild moments. It wouldn’t shock me if we saw interference from The Kingdom in this one (the balloons are definitely coming out at some point), but hopefully it doesn’t have a major impact on the overall quality of the match or the outcome (I do expect the likes of Jonathan Gresham, Lifeblood, and maybe even Villain Enterprises to make the save should we get that involvement from The Kingdom). When it comes to the result, I’m going into this fully expecting the title to change hands, and I believe Marty Scurll will take it. This is the right time and moment to put the title on him (especially if he’s not sticking around come later in the year). Scurll’s going to be the most over guy in this match, and because it’s a Ladder Match, you can easily set up title bouts with Jay Lethal and Matt Taven (Lethal will get his rematch, and Taven can continue claiming that he’s the “real” World Champion). The chances of Taven winning are very low, and having Lethal retain would be a huge mistake. This a big moment. A Ladder Match, in Madison Square Garden, for the ROH World Title. Do the right thing, ROH. Prediction: Marty Scurll
Suit: Everyone and their mothers have had Marty Scurll winning the title at Madison Square Garden written in stone for months. But I have questions. If Marty was going to win the title, why did Ring of Honor feel the need to add Matt Taven to the match? And why was this made a ladder match? I think ROH don’t want to put the title on a guy who is counting down the days before he slides into All Elite Wrestling, but since he is under contract for a while, they don’t want to pin him. And I’m not completely against it. It wouldn’t be a great look for ROH to see the man who won the World Title in their biggest ever show be gone a year later. But then you look at the other two guys in this match. Jay Lethal is ol’ reliable, but he’s in the same territory as the Briscoes as retreaded ground. Matt Taven is such a mid-level act in my eyes, but ROH fans do seem to be a little more into him than I am. Am I really picking Matt Taven to win a World Title in the semi-main event of a show in Madison Square Garden? Yes, but only so he can lose it to Jeff Cobb ASAP. Prediction: *sigh* Matt Taven
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Jay White © vs. Kazuchika Okada
John: Finally, we wrap things up with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The backstory here is fairly simple: Jay White told Kazuchika Okada to his face after Wrestle Kingdom 12, when he foolishly brought him into CHAOS, that he was going to stab him in the back. A ridiculously cocky Okada, at the absolute peak of his powers coming off his stunning defeat of Tetsuya Naito in the WK main, simply laughed him off. White proceeded to beat Okada on the first night of the G1, take Okada’s longtime manager and influential CHAOS member Gedo from him, beat Okada again at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in stunningly quick fashion, and then go on to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Hiroshi Tanahashi at New Beginning in Osaka. But while White ascended to his highest level, Okada has simultaneously slowly started rebuilding the Rainmaker empire: he vanquished White’s enforcer Bad Luck Fale at the same New Beginning in Osaka show and then went on to win the biggest New Japan Cup ever, going through five other competitors to claim the crown for the second time. The last time Okada won the NJC was way back in 2013, when he went on to defeat Tanahashi for his second IWGP title. He’ll be trying to make history repeat itself and claim his fifth title here.
Of course many of you probably know by now that Kenny Omega apparently told Dave Meltzer the plan for this MSG show, had Omega re-signed with NJPW rather than leave for AEW, was for him to lose the belt to Okada here. No matter what you may think of Omega or White in the ring, I think Okada beating White for the belt here instead is an even cooler moment than that would have been, all things considered. More than anyone else White sort of represents Okada’s downfall from last year- his hubris as the “unbeatable champion” reaching such heights that he didn’t just let a fox into the proverbial hen house, he let in a fox wearing a giant sign reading “IN CASE YOU ARE NOT AWARE, I AM A FOX AND I AM GOING TO EAT YOU ALL”. He was so overconfident that he didn’t think it mattered. Whatever, we’ll be fine! I’m the Rainmaker!
White tried to take his unit from him, and frankly you could make a strong argument he succeeded: CHAOS hasn’t been nearly the same since Gedo left. The overwhelming force of White’s new BULLET CLUB ended up resulting in a CHAOS alliance with the main New Japan army, so now the cards are filled with teams made up of CHAOS and hontai wrestlers just teaming up constantly. That would have been unthinkable even a year ago, nevermind further back than that, and leaves CHAOS feeling only slightly above a Taguchi Japan-esque “quasi-unit” status. And White’s win over Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 13 felt especially definitive given that Okada broke out all the trappings of his previous Rainmaker persona that he had locked away: the music was back to his normal theme song after having shifted to a somewhat-bizarre remix following his title loss last summer, the robe was back, and perhaps most importantly, he ditched his long tights (which actually debuted at WK12) for his old shorts. It was all set up to feel like the return of the “old Rainmaker”, but none of it mattered- he still lost to Jay for the second time, this time in just 15 minutes. So add it all up and it honestly feels like Okada is walking into Madison Square Garden looking to get ultimate retribution on the Switchblade who took nearly everything he had. If Okada is indeed finally going to beat White for the first time and reclaim the title, as frankly seems very likely, it’s a much cooler story to me than just “Okada got his win back against Kenny again”. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
Sean: When it was first revealed that the winner of this year’s New Japan Cup would be getting a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Title in Madison Square Garden, many saw Okada as clear favorite to win the whole thing. Well, he did just that, as he defeated SANADA in the finals to capture his second New Japan Cup. Okada’s run through the tournament was impressive, but his victory meant that he would (once again) be facing off against his archrival and former CHAOS stablemate Jay White. It’s really amazing to look back at the impact that Jay White has had on New Japan since his return from excursion at the end of 2017. Not only did a number of the key storyline moments in 2018 involve him in some form or fashion (whether that be the fracturing of The Bullet Club and his eventual takeover of the group, aligning with Gedo, getting CHAOS and the home army to join forces) but he picked up victories over the like of Kenny Omega, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and even Okada (up to this point, White is actually undefeated against Okada at 2-0). Two of White’s biggest triumphs came within the first two months of this year, as he defeated Okada clean in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 13, before going on to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi at the New Beginning event in Osaka to capture his first IWGP Heavyweight Title. Now he’s making his first title on the biggest stage possible. As far as the match quality is concerned, I expect this one to be fantastic. Their bout at Wrestle Kingdom 13 was awesome, and I’m sure we’ll get another great encounter between these two (especially in this environment). I don’t think it’ll be as good as Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi, but it should still be one of the top matches of the night. While I don’t think Jay White’s chances of winning are at 0%, I don’t think it’s very likely that White escapes MSG with the IWGP Heavyweight Title. It just seems like the time is right for it to go back to the “Rainmaker” (and if you believe what Kenny Omega told Dave Meltzer a few months back, Okada winning the title back on this show was always the plan). Seeing Okada celebrate in the middle of the ring, with that IWGP Heavyweight Title, in Madison Square Garden (as confetti and Okada dollars fall from the sky) just seems like the perfect way to finish off this show. Jay White might’ve emerged victorious in their previous two meetings, but Okada won’t be losing to him for a third time. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
Suit: And we get to our main event. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the line. The winner of the New Japan Cup, Kazuchika Okada, going up against the man who has made his life hell for a year, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Switchblade Jay White. Who will stand tall at the end of this historic event as champion?
Come on now. You already know the answer. Jay White has done well. But on April 6th, King Kazu reclaims the throne. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada