New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sengoku Lord in Nagoya
July 25, 2020
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers
John Carroll: John still can’t believe that Tetsuya Naito lost the double gold and basically everyone except most hardcore Naito fans seemed to have a problem with it. We truly live in bizarro world now. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla, their podcast @wrestleomakase, and check out the Wrestling Omakase Patreon for a special same day podcast review of this show (only $5 per month for all our bonus audio!).
Griffin Peltier: Griffin is still buzzing that we have DOUBLE GOLD EVIL with some Dick to go. He is happy that we have fans in the buildings despite the shows still being weird as hell with the no cheering and chanting rules in effect. Follow him on Twitter @HiImGriffinP and he recommends the Wrestling Omakase Patreon because John is a good dude!
Matt Francis: Matt can’t be bothered with getting worked up by Bullet Club EVIL or Master Wato as he is currently busy writing a letter to Gedo explaining that now is the optimal time to finally elevate Hirooki Goto to the top of New Japan’s cards. He also occasionally writes about old NJPW matches and NJPWoA at this very website. Follow him on Twitter @archivingmatt and whatever you do, do not subscribe to John’s Wrestling Omakase Patreon even though it is a great value that already has a ton of fun, evergreen content. Don’t do it! (Okay, you should probably go ahead and check it out).
Yuya Uemura vs. Taiji Ishimori
John: I think everyone has been impressed with the new and improved #BigBoyYuya since NJPW has returned to action, which is the rare thing that western New Japan fans can seem to agree on these days. On paper this match has potential to be a pretty fun opener, but I would caution that Ishimori has a major tendency to not give a shit when he’s in matches like this. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Griffin: This should be a very fun match if Ishimori goes out and tries. I think this could be a good preview of what could be a very fun Best of the Super Juniors match if the tournament happens this year with the limited roster. Yuya has become a straight up hunk but that won’t be enough to topple BONE SOLDIER. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Matt: Call me a naive optimist, but I think Ishimori is going to at least put on his working boots for this match (if not lace them up), due to him getting some residual push from the current Bullet Club main event program resurgence. Mix in the rapidly improving Yuya Uemura, who had a really fun bout in a similar spot against Kanemaru during the NJ Cup, and I think you have a recipe for entertaining Young Lion vs. Vet opening bout. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Satoshi Kojima & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Yota Tsuji & Gabriel Kidd
John: The CHAOS/Hontai ceasefire or alliance or whatever you want to call it has quietly been shelved during these pandemic times, probably because there’s just no one else to match them up against with so much of the roster missing. The only members of the home army that CHAOS have been teaming up with have been the Young Lions, as they are in this match, so instead of a CHAOS/Hontai alliance they’re behaving more like distinct and separate units except with the YLs sort of floating between both as free agents. Personally I prefer this, but I doubt it will last after more of the roster returns. Anyway, this will certainly be a match that will happen. Prediction: Makabe & Honma & Kojima & Taguchi
Griffin: I love it when the dads are fighting the young guns, and I am weirdly excited to have Ishii and Tsuji on the same team. I don’t think the match will be anything to write home about, but we should get some fun Taguchi/Yano antics and Kojima should have some good action with both Tsuji and Kidd. Prediction: Makabe, Honma, Kojima & Taguchi
Matt: A lot of times with NJPW undercard tag matches I find myself more engaged with one or two of the wrestlers than the match as a whole. With that in mind, I will be keeping my eye on our two Young Lion representatives in this match, as Tsuji looks like he is close to taking the next step in his career (although COVID-19 might continue to slow things down if that next step is an excursion), and Kidd has already gotten his feet under him as a tough and fiery upstart who is destined to eat the pin in matches like this. Prediction: Makabe, Honma, Kojima & Taguchi
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & SHO) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI)
John: A lot of people, including yours truly at first, kinda freaked out a little when they saw Naito go from double champion to third from the bottom here, but I kinda think people may have been reading too much into that. We’ll see by the end of the night if my theory is correct, but I think Naito will be running out to save Hiromu from a BC beatdown and set up a title rematch, probably for the “big outdoor show” there’s been rumblings about in the Japanese press. If he picks up the fall here over YOSHI or SHO I think it’s even more likely, but I guess we’ll see. There’s of course at least one other likely candidate who people may be expecting to challenge EVIL after the main event, but I’ll talk about him when we get there. In the meantime, this is another very standard six-man. Would be nice to see them actually do something with Hirooki Goto at some point during this period…. Prediction: LIJ
Griffin: I don’t know why, but I am very excited for this match. With YOH out for an extended period of time and after his awesome matches with Shingo, I am hoping we get a strong SHO push and I think it starts in this match. LIJ is well established and can take a loss, plus I think Naito will be popping up again in the main event, so they will be fine taking the loss. BUSHI has been hinting at turning evil on his Twitter, but I don’t think he does and he stays the job guy of the group and eats this pinfall. Prediction: CHAOS
Matt: On paper, this should be the most entertaining of our opening tag matches. In my heart it would serve as step one of heating up Goto for one last run to the top…but in reality this seems more like an easy opportunity for Naito and LIJ to pick-up a victory as they continue to look for revenge on EVIL and Bullet Club down the road. Expect some fun tag action culminating in a LIJ victory. Prediction: LIJ
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Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Master Wato vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
John: Korakuen definitely confirmed we are in This Feud Must Continue territory when it comes to the Golden Aces and Dangerous Tekkers, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if that was another big match for the rumored outdoor show. I thought their match at Dominion ruled and was the clear match of the night, so I’m more than down for a rematch between the two teams. Meanwhile, Nagata-Suzuki and Wato-Kanemaru feel like fodder for the upcoming Summer Struggle tour and the roughly five thousand Korakuens booked on it. DOUKI is always the best candidate to lose the fall of whatever match he’s in, but I think the way they’re booking Wato he’s going to get pinned by Kanemaru again just like at New Japan Road to finally set up his big win in a singles match. Prediction: Suzukigun
Griffin: MASTER WATO is a DORK! I like that the Golden Aces and Dangerous Tekkers feud seems to be continuing. This one should be full of antics, especially with Suzuki-gun putting a bright blue target on Master Wato. Suzuki-gun has a strong lineup in this match, but I wish they put Kojima in Tenzan’s place in this one. I’m ready for him to retire and find some mobility in his ankles without having to do very bad run-ins. I think Wato is going to get his ass kicked by Suzuki-gun once again (and he might do a good lucha thing like moonsaulting on his own head) and eat Kanemaru’s pin yet again. Prediction: Suzuki-gun
Matt: At the risk of continuing a conversation that the masses are ready to be done with, put me in the very small camp of fans who have enjoyed Master Wato in a non-ironic fashion up until this point. Dude is fine…hell, better than fine…for a low-to-midcard wrestler that adds some variety to these types of tag matches. As for the match itself, I would expect lots of out of the ring brawling, the pairing off of wrestlers who are programmed with each other, and typical Suzuki-gun shenanigans. Wato will likely get some hope spots near the end, before ultimately getting pinned by Kanemaru (probably after receiving a cheap shot from another Suzuki-gun member). Prediction: Suzuki-Gun
Kazuchika Okada vs. Yujiro Takahashi
John: Contain your excitement folks! Restrain your emotions! Hold back your feelings! Yes, with the New Japan roster decimated by the ongoing Japanese travel restrictions during this global pandemic, especially on the heel side and even more especially BULLET CLUB, what we have here is Okada vs. Yujiro, a match that it is almost impossible for me to imagine will be very good. Their interactions in a very below average pair of tag team matches at Dominion and New Japan Road certainly didn’t inspire much hope, but I guess miracles have happened before. The general crux of this feud is that Yujiro has now cost Okada two major titles (the IWGP Heavyweight to AJ way back in 2014, when he left CHAOS for BC in the first place, and of course now the 2020 New Japan Cup) but Okada can still barely find it in him to give a shit, and that if anything has only pissed Yujiro off more. It’s not a bad story, but unfortunately it’s setting up a match that probably will be bad. I at least hope they keep it short.
We also need to address the elephant in the room here: the theory that Okada is going to beat Yujiro clean, waltz out at the end of the main event, challenge EVIL for the double gold (or maybe even just the IWGP Heavyweight) and then win. Obviously this scenario is very possible, and I totally get why people are thinking that EVIL could ultimately just be a way to get the big belt back on Okada without having him beat Naito, but I don’t think it will happen. The EVIL story feels like an LIJ story at the end of the day, and I think it’s far more likely that the main event ends with some kind of big melee (involving THE SPOILER Dick Togo and his chord thing again I’m sure) and post-match beatdown of Hiromu which leads to Naito, or even someone like SANADA if they want to do an EVIL-SANADA defense during the Summer Struggle tour first, making the save to set up the next title match. It would feel more than a little weird to me if EVIL retains against Hiromu by choking him out and then the follow up is Okada coming down with a smirk on his face, even though you of course can’t rule it out.
So where does that leave Okada then? Surely something else must be happening to occupy his time until the G1? I’ll give you what I think are the two most likely scenarios: 1) Someone else is attacking him and joining BULLET CLUB, whether it’s yet another outside wrestler like Togo (don’t ask me who it could be, I have no idea) or a babyface who could desperately use a heel turn and feud with Okada to freshen themselves up (Hirooki Goto, come on down!) or 2) Jay White’s cheeky Instagram post where he took a picture of himself on an airplane with the date of this show (7/25) was more than just him trolling us, and he returns to attack Okada here and kick off the feud they were clearly supposed to be doing to occupy him right now (remember they were originally matched up in the 1st Round of the NJC, which was probably going to feature White eliminating him and starting a series of matches for 2020). Either one would make a lot of sense to me, but under no circumstances do I see Okada actually getting pinned by Yujiro. I think either he’ll beat Yujiro and the attack will happen post-match, or we may even see a rare DQ finish in New Japan. But if I’m wrong and Okada just wins clean with a Rainmaker and nothing else happens in the post-match, yeah, he’s probably waltzing out at the end of the night and challenging EVIL, which would be bad!
(NOTE: After I wrote all of the above but before this was published, Kazuchika Okada came out and told Tokyo Sports that he wasn’t interested in challenging for the double titles right now. As you may know already, NJPW wrestlers do tend to work a lot of angles in that newspaper. He also made a lot of worked-shooty comments about how he “hopes the fans are interested in the LIJ/BC feud” because he’s not, how they’re devaluing the belts and just being together in general makes them worth “half as much”. Hat tip to Andrew, @puffinbrain on Twitter, for the translations by the way! So anyway, I guess the question now is- is it a swerve and Okada’s coming out at the end after all? Or is he really going to be staying away from the IWGP Heavyweight for a while, at least probably through the G1? We’ll soon find out.) Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
Griffin: I’m calling it now, Kazuchika Okada is winning the IWGP Heavyweight title before the G1 Climax. I’m sure Yujiro will come out and try his best, but he’s no match for The Rainmaker. Unless Jay White or KENTA returns to cause the distraction, Okada is going to steamroll right through Yujiro ahead of challenging the winner of the main event to a title match. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
Matt: So…this is a match. John already hit the main points for why I am less than excited for this singles encounter. Additionally, from my perspective, no New Japan wrestler has underdelivered post-hiatus more than Okada, whose work has often felt uninspired and has largely involved unimaginative attempts to get over a new submission. All of that said, my expectations are now low enough heading in that I will probably look at the match somewhat fondly if they simply use the bout as a springboard to keep Okada out of the title scene for the short-term, and have him win with anything other than his modified cobra clutch. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
NEVER Openweight Championship
Shingo Takagi © vs. El Desperado
John: Shingo is sort of your sop to the workrate marks right now- while EVIL’s ballshot antics may not appeal to them, they can still enjoy all the fast-running, lariat-throwing action they desire here in these NEVER title matches. I particularly like that they’re using this strange pandemic time to emphasize the openweight nature of this championship, which got ignored for years at a time when this was simply treated as just another heavyweight title, and I hope they keep that up even after the pandemic ends because it’s a great way to differentiate it from the US title (which will return at some point after all). Meanwhile this is one of the biggest spots of Desperado’s career so far, but I have very little worry over him stepping up to the challenge. As I said earlier, western New Japan fans don’t seem to agree on much these days, but I think the vast majority are excited for this one. Prediction: Shingo Takagi
Griffin: Shingo is the best wrestler on the planet and it’s a treat every single time he steps into the ring – no matter if his opponent is a junior or heavyweight wrestler. I love that the Openweight nature of the NEVER belt is being explored during this weird COVID time, and I know that the super underrated El Desperado will step up and provide a great match for Shingo. This will easily be match of the night but I don’t think the result is in question. Shingo Takagi is on a roll and cannot be stopped. Prediction: Shingo Takagi
Matt: Make it three for three previewers who are excited about the NEVER belt becoming a true openweight title. And as a semi-related shameless plug, if you want to dive back into the origins of the NEVER Openweight Title, may I recommend to you this lovely little column called The Lion’s Vault: Return to NEVERland which looks back at the development of the NEVER concept and the first four title matches for the championship (with chapter two coming in the near future!).
As for our semi-main, I absolutely love the idea of Shingo using the title as an easy way for him to take on a “challenger of the month” (something which they seemed to be setting up pre-pandemic hiatus as well), and Desperado is exactly the type of wrestler that deserves to get one of these spotlight opportunities. In addition to being a hard hitting bout, I think their respective in-ring personalities can play off of each other brilliantly, and that even in defeat Desperado will be further elevated from this opportunity. Prediction: Shingo Takagi
IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship
EVIL © vs. Hiromu Takahashi
John: Just going to put this out here immediately- a lot of the critiques I’ve read of EVIL since he won the double championship match at Dominion have left me wondering what the hell people are watching. I understand if you don’t like his in ring, or if you just think his in ring style doesn’t lend itself well to the kinds of 35+ minute main events New Japan likes to do (especially given that they’ll also be featuring a ton of BULLET CLUB interference and bullshit, although that’s been around since Prince Devitt and is nothing new)- I disagree with those takes, to be clear, but I at least understand where people are coming from. But when people say things like “EVIL doesn’t have any charisma or presence” I sincerely do not know what you are watching. This man projects bad ass heel about as well as anyone in wrestling right now, and he’s only been doing this for two shows. He speaks his promos in a deep and commanding voice (and they’re better than ever now that he’s dropped the corny “This is EVIL, everything is….” refrain and just gone with “remember that” at his catchphrase), he carries himself like a star, and he has plenty of charisma. For years I heard people say things like “man, it’s too bad SANADA doesn’t have EVIL’s charisma or presence” (from people who fundamentally misunderstand SANADA’s appeal, but uh anyway that’s another story) and now all of a sudden EVIL….has no charisma or presence? Come on, what are you talking about? EVIL has always had charisma, he’s always had presence, and I think his new makeover- losing the goofy scythe and the eyeliner being the biggest pluses- have just made him come off like even more of a star than he did before. Again, I’m not saying you can’t dislike EVIL- like or dislike whatever you want- but I really don’t understand where that particular critique is coming from.
So with that out of the way, let’s discuss this match in particular. When folks started in on the “man I wish this was Shingo Takagi instead” stuff, this match is a great example of why that just wouldn’t resonate with LIJ fans (who this feud and storyline is actually for!) on the same level as this EVIL turn. Shingo Takagi did not start out in the same NJPW dojo class as Hiromu, both becoming friends and disciples of sorts of Naito- EVIL did. Shingo Takagi did not carry around Hiromu’s jacket with him while he was out injured, to signify that he was still part of LIJ and they couldn’t wait for his return- EVIL did. Simply put, Hiromu’s wailing to EVIL’s awesome new theme song and his promos lamenting where they’ve ended up when he originally joined LIJ to fight alongside Naito and EVIL both would not have had anywhere near the same emotional resonance with people who have actually been fans of these folks all this time if this was Shingo Takagi instead of EVIL. Yeah, okay, maybe the match would have been better, but so what? People watch professional wrestling for reasons other than match quality, and if you’re here only for that reason, Shingo vs. Desperado in the semi-main is right there! There will be more seven star main events or whatever the fuck in NJPW’s future- this EVIL reign will end, probably sooner than you think (true heel champions do not reign very long in the Bushiroad era). But I have very little problem with them taking some time to tell a fun little story that has more than a few parallels with a samurai betrayal epic (check out this Reddit post detailing how this compares to a real life Sengoku-era betrayal), and frankly I think some western NJPW fans need to lighten up a little bit. The fournas will return soon enough. Oh yeah and by the way, I think this match will probably fucking rule anyway. Relax nerds. Prediction: EVIL
Griffin: I think John hit the nail on the head in their analysis of the IWGP Heavyweight scene and I won’t repeat it. On a pure match basis, this one should be a banger even with the constant interference that will happen throughout. The all-out gang warfare between LIJ and BULLET CLUB will for sure impact the ending of the match but the story getting there will be something to behold. This feels deeply personal with the amount of anguish suffered by Hiromu by EVIL’s betrayal and that will translate well with Hiromu’s fantastic facials in the ring. With the current COVID situation, I think the booking team is ready to try out some balls to the wall decisions that will further enhance storylines for when the promotion returns to normal. I think Naito is the equalizer and costs EVIL the title and Hiromu gets to shock the world and add another wrinkle of unpredictability to the IWGP Heavyweight title scene and will lead to him competing in both the G1 Climax and the Best of the Super Junior tournament concurrently. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
Matt: I absolutely love John and Griffin’s passion for this match! And I agree that this is a great storyline, and that EVIL does indeed have an awesome presence to him!! Unfortunately, where we differ are is that I am in the camp of people that have felt that EVIL’s matches against Okada and Naito were lacking from an in-ring perspective (and perhaps my expectations are too high…but I don’t think it is unreasonable to want main event programs that resonates with you both storyline and action wise). That said, I don’t necessarily blame EVIL for either of those matches as I think he was the better performer in the NJ Cup Finals, and I think the match structure largely worked against his match with Naito (which I think would have improved dramatically if it was closer to 20 minutes than 35, had the outside interference compressed into a single segment, etc.).
But enough about the past, let’s instead focus on why I think this match will be great. In addition to the ongoing feud between BC and LIJ, and the very personal nature of Hiromu vs. EVIL, Hiromu is the perfect wrestler to work with EVIL’s bully character. Living up to his nickname, the guy truly feels like a ticking time bomb right now. Add in his ability to elicit amazing sympathy from fans, and a reckless in ring style feels like it was intentionally designed for matches like this, and you have a recipe for a memorable main event. Finally, while I think it would be great if this match had a clean finish, this is also the type of match that could actually…dare I say…benefit from SMARTLY USED shenanigans down the closing stretch, which to me would focus more on EVIL’s willingness to embrace his heel character to destroy his former friend than the usual uninspired Bullet Club run-ins. Ultimately, I think Hiromu will be given an opportunity to be the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the future, I just don’t think the timing is quite right yet. Prediction: EVIL