New Japan Pro Wrestling
April 1, 2022
The Fairmont Hotel
Watch: FITE / FITE Fest Bundle (FITE)
Full WrestleMania Weekend Schedule
When I volunteered to preview this card for Voices of Wrestling’s annual Wrestlemania Weekend Preview, two matches had been announced. One of which featured the return to the ring of Chris Dickinson post-injury versus Tomohiro Ishii. This match alone sold me on the pay-per-view price and I simply hoped more would be added to round out the event. Two weeks ago, I submitted a draft to Rich where I complained of the lack of matches being announced in a timely manner and I pontificated about who I thought would be added in the coming weeks. My preview featured four matches; this final draft has five. Because the latest match announced features Killer Kross, I am somewhat regretting my decision to scrap my original draft. In addition to the following matches, there are several announced for NJPW Strong which will air at a later date.
Try not to focus on the clap-crowds still mandated at shows in Japan, soon enough they will be back to pre-2020 form. Instead, focus on the reality of NJPW having a PPV show in America, during the hottest wrestling weekend of the year. Shit is getting back to normal! Get excited!
Ren Narita vs. Rocky Romero
Ren Narita is having a hell of a year. In January, he was hand-picked by Shibata to wrestle opposite him at Wrestle Kingdom. That momentum has led to standout matches against Josh Barnett and Buddy Matthews and it’s only mid-March. He seems to have the stamp of approval from the office which makes me happy. Ren wrestles a style I have always enjoyed. If he stays healthy and, on this trajectory, look out.
Rocky Romero is a wrestler who can deliver any night of the week. The question is, will he? My opinion is leaning to yes simply based on the overwhelmingly positive opinions of Narita by his trainers and peers. In February, Romero had a couple of televised matches, a tag match with Trent Berretta versus the Young Bucks on AEW and a match versus Black Tiger on Strong. In both, I felt he delivered great performances.
I predict this to be a solid to possibly great opener with Narita winning to build some momentum heading into summer.
David Finlay, Juice Robinson, Kevin Knight, Daniel Garcia vs. Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, Yuya Uemura, Mascara Dorada
I wish this match had more than 20 minutes. Most of the guys in this one can deliver excellent 20-minute matches on their own. Standouts here are Knight and Garcia on team 1 and Fredericks, Uemura and Connors on team 2. Selfishly, I wish the match was simply these four guys paired off however they wanted. FinJuice is in this match, so that means Juice Robinson will eat up a bunch of time in the ring. Dorada is back being featured on Strong later next month in a likely lower mid-card feud with TJ Perkins. Uemura is coming off a tremendous losing effort against Brody King at Strong New Beginning USA and he has a match upcoming on Strong Rivals versus Garcia. As of this writing, that match had not aired. Uemura is another of the dojo students who I believe is being positioned for big things.
This one should be very good in spite of the inclusion of Robinson. I look for Connors, Fredericks, Knight and Uemura to be featured heavily as they are the star pupils. Who gets in the win in this one? Who really knows, probably Juice Robinson.
Killer Kross vs. Minoru Suzuki
Killer Kross is making his way back to indie wrestling cards coming off his recent, marginally successful turn as an indentured independent contractor. This is his first match back and should be a hell of a test since Minoru Suzuki hasn’t ever shown restraint in the ring. Suzuki’s excursion stateside late last year was a mixed bag at best. I think I fall in the category so many others fall into, I expect too much from this 53-year-old man. I marvel at what Sting, a 61-year-old, manages to do, but his career path was much different than Minoru’s. Suzuki’s storied career is the stuff of legend and I am grateful to see him still going at this age. Kross has always been an ‘all-sizzle’ wrestler in my book. He has never had a match I’ve seen that made me take notice or have I read of one that made me want to check him out. That said, I am not averse at the least in his resume outside of the recent NXT run where I was less than impressed. When Suzuki wrestled Danielson last year, it snuck up on me so I had no real expectation of it. Which is how I am going to approach Suzuki vs. Kross. If we get something remotely close to that one, it will exceed anything I could have foreseen.
This match should be a stiff, almost shoot-style affair which Kross will probably get the win, not damaging Suzuki’s resume in the least and it will set up Kross’s return to independent wrestling.
Mike Bailey vs. Jay White
Of course, the time limit increases once we get to the Switchblade’s match, hopefully, this is a good thing. Jay has been featured monthly on Strong in the ‘U.S. of Jay Challenge’ which he is using to get himself back in the NJPW United States title picture. The last televised Strong match he was in prior to this writing was against Sw3rve Scott and was an excellent example of how good Jay White can be. When he doesn’t drag a match to a snail’s pace, White is one of the best wrestlers in NJPW, making him one of the best in the world by proxy.
Mike Bailey is finally allowed back stateside! Making his return to PWG in January for the Battle of Los Angeles and having what is being called the best match since the venue change to the Globe Theater in the finals against Daniel Garcia, Bailey has been featured on Impact, GCW and many other independent cards throughout the United States. Bailey is a standout pro wrestler who should be set up for a big year.
The styles clash here is intriguing and should bring out the best in both guys. If so, it will be the match of the night and maybe the weekend. Although, the competition at Wrestlemania Nights 1 & 2 appear to be tough to beat this year as we are being blessed with a Roman versus Brock match and something featuring a Rick Boogs. I expect White to win via shenanigans to continue his jaunt toward a title match.
Chris Dickinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii
If Tomohiro Ishii comes to America a motivated pro wrestler and Chris Dickinson is fully recovered, this match could be an incredibly fun barn burner. Ishii, like Suzuki before him, had a recent American excursion that left a lot of meat on the bone for most fans. The recent ‘Golden Age’ of NJPW in the last decade or so, has perhaps spoiled us to anything but excellence from the man. His Cagematch rating is 9.57 as of this writing, very few wrestlers can boast of a higher average. Ishii didn’t light the world on fire in his AEW debut, probably more to do with the story of the match than anything. Nonetheless, his most recent visit to the U.S. did give us a very good match against Brody King (there he is again). His opponent, Chris Dickinson is the last of the contemporary national indie stars not to be signed by AEW or assigned a ridiculous new name and stupid gimmick by the office in Orlando, Florida. Dickinson suffered a gruesome leg injury in August at an NJPW event in Los Angeles. Initially, there was concern he may not ever get back in ring condition. Modern medicine and the resilience of the human spirit has so far proven that wrong. Like I wrote earlier, if both men are ready to put their best efforts forward, a match-of-the-year candidate is certainly a possibility. Notebook match at the least.
Dickinson should pick up the win here, a loss by Ishii is of no consequence to his stature in 2022.
I would be remiss not to mention the absence of someone who was having a banner 2022 and on track to be my Wrestler of the Year, Gabriel Kidd. The pandemic affected all of us differently but most of us could likely agree that it wreaked havoc on some relationships in our lives and damaged our mental health. Isolated from his family in England for months on end, sheltered in Japan, Kidd was not impervious to this. As much as I will miss him on this show and until or if he returns, I hope he comes back when he is healthy and happy.
Overall, this card should deliver on match quality with the slightly improbable possibility of being the show of the weekend. Initially, the announced cards for the weekend were underwhelming for my particular tastes. As the weeks passed by and more matches gained daylight, my opinion has changed. Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor, Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport and this card have bolstered my hope and ignited my excitement for what should be the best weekend of wrestling of the year, even considering Juice Robinson’s inclusion in matches, Brock versus Roman and whatever the fuck Rick Boogs is.