New Japan Pro Wrestling
Burning Spirit Night 3
September 5, 2022
Meet our reviewers
J Michael: I listened to the entirety of The Queen is Dead on my commute home last Thursday. The British really know how to do it: set up meaningless monoliths of society, almost solely for the purpose of being miserable and crafting enchantingly miserable works of art. We’re too deferent in America, and should have maintained a monarchy.
We should have just jumped from the English crown to the Dutch Stadtholdership. We should be celebrating Koningsdag. We should be draping ourselves in orange. We should be speaking… uh, scratch that one. We can keep English.
If you’re interested in retweets about Despy, cute animals (ie, red pandas, bat-eared foxes, DOUKI, etc.), Japanese indie pop, fencing (the sport), opera buffa, and manga about reincarnated fans of a literally star-eyed idol, by all means look @ryugu_jo.
Bad Dude Tito vs. Minoru Suzuki, the opening match of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s September 5 Korakuen Hall show, is not just the most important match in New Japan Pro Wrestling history. It is the most important match in wrestling history and the most significant event in the scope of human history.
Fair enough, we admit that is not true.
History encompasses far beyond the range of recorded human history. Therefore, Bad Dude Tito vs. Minoru Suzuki is technically the most significant historical event.
That includes recorded human history, pre-historical time, and all of time stretching back to and exceeding the birth of our universe, membranes and parallel universes, and alternate realities funneling out from the other side of black hole singularities.
Big Teet and The King of Pro Wrestling’s encounter is the closest humanity has come to realizing the final battle in Gurren Lagann. Twenty years from now, an aged Tito Escondido will look down upon us from the fruitful tableland, beaming with avuncular pride, whispering to himself, “the stars are mighty, and the mighty don’t kneel.”
That’s where we realize that he was the narrator of our story all along.
Joel: And what a story it was. This match nearly killed me.
I had just finished a work meeting and it was 4:27 pm, three minutes before the show was due to begin. Do I stay at work to watch it and potentially out myself as a Shin Nihon Freak to my colleagues, or even worse, superiors? Absolutely not. I left work immediately, hopping on the back of a motorcycle taxi.
I now had two choices: 1) follow safety protocols and wait until I arrived at my destination before getting my phone out to watch the match; 2) attempt to put in my earphones and then load up NJPW World from the back of a speeding motorcycle.
There was no choice to make. I accepted the dangers, having intrusive flashforwards of me lying in a hospital bed, explaining to my wife exactly who Bad Dude Tito is and why this happened to me. Or worse yet, ending up splattered over the road, my mangled hand still gripping a cracked mobile device belting out a tinny rendition of Kaze Ni Nare as a grotesque dirge as I pass into the afterlife, really annoyed that I podcasted my way through 2.5 years of clap crowds only to die right before they ended. Just my luck!
Fortunately, I didn’t die, and I’ve just remembered that there was that really long Hiromu promo, so my anecdote about watching Suzuki vs. Tito on the back of a motorcycle isn’t really accurate. However, I did use a lot of 4G. Was it worth it me risking my life and incurring hefty mobile data charges? Let’s find out.
We are going to break the match down in 15-second increments. We really underestimated what that would entail.
Bad Dude Tito’s Entrance
Lo-fi hip hop plays. Tito comes out. Tito shakes the barricade and leaps over the top rope. He takes off his shirt and flexes at the corner when his name is announced. He looks around to take in the atmosphere, then flexes his pecs to applause and cheering. He screams and does a hand gesture to pump up the crowd.
J. Michael: Already, I am feeling despondent.
Bad Dude Tito is supposed to be the ultimate atavist’s thrill, the personification of an age commemorated through… well, the mountain of commemorations for wrestlers from that reached middle age and found out that they had actually reached the finish line. BDT’s entrance music should be a propulsive, immediate, vaguely carnal onslaught of distorted Gibson Flying V’s and tinnitus-inducing drums. Preferably, either a music-library rip-off of a copyrighted song, or an unauthorized instrumental version of a copyrighted song.
Instead, he comes out to something that sounds ripped from whichever jazz-hop Youtube stream your teacher uses as their get-out-of-jail-free, shut-the-fuck-up-and-write-godammit card.
Soundcloud does not exist in Bad Dude Tito’s universe. Bandcamp does not exist in Bad Dude Tito’s universe. Tidal does not exist in Bad Dude Tito’s universe (our universe overlaps with him there). There’s only one way out of this: New Japan shifts gears and, from this point forth, Tito emerges with a look of utter confusion, looking around as if he is not only perplexed by the sounds playing through the PA system, but how he can hear music without being able to see the musicians playing. If not, get Kyp Winger on the phone, stat. Or at least the dude from Queensrÿche.
I can’t be too upset, though. He flexed his pecs, which shows me that Tito’s done his homework on what gets people over in New Japan. Look at who flexes their pecs, excessively, demonstratively, almost belligerently in New Japan: Taichi, SANADA… YOH… uhhh, hmm. That started well and then plummeted…
Joel: I have invested in Tito stonks from Day 1, in the NJPW Strong segments of the podcast that everyone skips. I knew he would be a hit in Japan because he looks like a stereotypical American wrestling character from an early 90s Data East arcade fighting game. And he just nails that aesthetic with this entrance. Plus the bouncing tiddies, like J. Michael has correctly pointed out.
Minoru Suzuki’s Entrance
The opening string hits of Kaze ni Nare fill the room. The crowd claps along double time to the beat. Suzuki emerges to a pop. Stone-faced, he stalks the ring. He climbs to the apron with his usual timing. He enters the ring as the song reaches the lyrics’ climactic “Kaze ni Nare!”. The crew drops the audio during this crescendo. The crowd effusively fills the void.
Joel: TV Asahi still haven’t taken down my tweet with this clip. I like to think that somewhere in Japan, a TV Asahi DMCA Twitter assassin saw it, his finger hovering over the ‘Report’ button, and then muttered to himself, “Not today,” a rare smile creeping over his face.
J. Michael: Joel mentions how he got away with one by posting this entrance on Twitter, and I’m pretty sure he’s just double-working us. This is confirmation that Joel is a TV Asahi employee and almost certainly a low-level officer of some kind in the TV Asahi bureaucracy. Or actually, maybe he’s a bigwig with Warner Music Japan and that’s how he gets around the copyright strike. I was wondering why he keeps DMing me asking if I wanted crates of post-90’s Cornelius albums. [Joel: Please do not blow my cover. I will DMCA the shit out of you.]
This was tremendous. I’m not sure if they have always dropped the “Kaze ni Nare” in the track to let the crowd’s voices ring out, and I just never noticed it until now. If this is something new, it’s a very inspired choice, especially for this particular entrance. [Joel: They should’ve dropped the track during clap crowd shows, so Suzuki just climbs into the ring to a bizarre four-second stretch of silence.]
00:00 – 00:15
Bad Dude Tito does a slow spin around the center of the ring. Suzuki bursts from the corner to circle the center. Tito plays to the crowd. They finish circling the center of the ring
J. Michael: Wrestlers babble all the time about the lock-up, and I do love a staunch lock-up, but I probably love the ring circling even more. Suzuki’s burst here was an early indication that this was going to be a fun one.
Considering that he seems more considerate with selling socks and traveling his routine across North America, the one concern I had coming into this was how motivated Suzuki would be in there. Once he got his theme entrance climax, it was certainly plausible that Suzuki would give us 2-3 minutes of matwork, a dozen or so barricade whips, and then call it a night. Suzuki’s burst here, with such spry alacrity, was an early indication that this was going to be a fun one.
Joel: This was a loving tribute to the famously terrible UFC 9 “superfight” between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, except this match kicks ass.
00:15 – 00:30
Suzuki claps to lead the crowd. The crowd chants for Suzuki. Suzuki feigns a shoot. They feel out the distance and Tito shoots a go-behind and applies a waistlock.
Joel: Remember that Suzuki vs. Killer Kross match where MiSu didn’t let former NXT champion and current Paul Levesque darling Kross get in any offence whatsoever, then punked him out and called him a stupid idiot baby? Today, Big Teets lands the first move. Think about the significance of that.
J. Michael: Joel makes an excellent point, but can Tito do an impression of Jesse Ventura’s voice that is so accurate, that I look at his campaign contributions and not be able to tell the difference? It’s like he’s actually in the room with us!
Another concern with this show was the potential apprehensiveness of the crowd. Japanese promotions besides New Japan have already run limited capacity cheering shows, and the results have been mixed. I’ve sensed a definite reticence from the DDT crowds to instantly return to their previous levels of clamor and acclaim, though I’ve also been told I am dead wrong about that.
It would have been reasonable to expect some kind of feeling out process, some liminal period where the crowds would reacquaint themselves with sonorous responses to this carnival nonsense. And that especially seemed fair for a Korakuen Hall show. These people have seen New Japan stalk this poor, exhausted, overharvested building 118 times in the last 30 months. 67 times in 2021 alone.
Perhaps this crowd contained fans that bowed out early in the pandemic, also known as the Self-Satisfied English-Speaker Response. Perhaps these fans were the converse, those that had endured 30 months of increasingly enervated environments, and wanted to be there to celebrate the return of normalcy.
Either way, the response was immediate: these people were here to have a good time, and they wanted to exult their heroes. It was fitting that Suzuki hold the distinction of the first person to get a crowd chant on this show.
00:30 – 00:45
Suzuki grabs Tito’s left hand. He wrings Tito’s arm into a wristlock, snaps the arm, and then drops Tito to a turtle position. He drives an elbow into Tito’s shoulder blade. Tito rolls through and wrenches Suzuki’s left arm.
J. Michael: Contrary to my earlier concerns, this match has very little of what I would call actual matwork. There was some grappling, but even that was more akin to what we see here. To some, this section may come off as perfunctory, but here I tend to differ with some of the more ubiquitous criticism of New Japan.
Certainly, there’s a lot of New Japan house-style tendencies that don’t always bear close examination. Some of those were made starkly evident when match length increased by about 30% or so during the pandemic. Of all their strategies for dealing with this thing, that has to be one of the most corrosive non-EVIL ones.
But I like a slow opening, even if it is totally inconsequential, peripheral nonsense to fill time and settle in at the beginning of a match. I suspect this one was even more intelligently inspired; they probably didn’t know exactly what the tenor of the crowd would be at this point. Also, as you might have presumed, Bad Dude Tito and Minoru Suzuki had never shared a ring before this moment. What the fuck is wrong with just settling in?
You know who doesn’t settle in? CM PUNK at press conferences, when he accosts beautiful, cherub-faced Nick Hausman right out the motherfucking gate… <Editor’s note: We’re not even getting into this. The rest of J. Michael’s diatribe has been removed, and J. Michael has been suspended from enjoying the VOW office ice cream truck for the next week>
Joel: Tito has answers for every one of Suzuki’s moves. He has been studying his entire back catalogue and can read him like a book. But not a very good book. Certainly not ‘Bravo Two Zero’ by Andy McNab, which actually improves with every read.
00:45 – 1:00
Suzuki attempts to pick Tito’s right ankle. Tito turns the wristlock into a hammerlock. Suzuki ducks under to reverse
Joel: These locks echo the Covid lockdowns of early 2020. This isn’t just a wrestling match; it’s a grappling interpretation of the last three years of global news events. Pay close attention.
J. Michael: My favorite locks, ranked by waterway:
- North Sea Canal (de tweede grooste in de wereld)
- Panama Canal (sorry for being so basic)
- Lake Washington Ship Canal
- Yangtze River/Three Gorges
- Canal du Midi
- (Joel: John Locke, not the English philosopher but the fictional character played by Terry O’Quinn on the ABC television series Lost.)
- J Michael: <Crowd chanting “John Locke the fictional character portrayed by Terry O’Quinn”>… I was saying John Locke the English philosopher.
01:00 – 01:15
Suzuki holds hammerlock and crossfaces Tito and kicks Tito’s left knee, dropping Tito to his knees. Suzuki grabs a facelock, which he turns into a chinlock. Tito squeezes out
Joel: There are more locks in this match than the Pont des Arts! Thank you! I’m here all week!
J. Michael: There are more lakes here than the Southwestern corridor of the Indian subcontinent!
01:15 – 01:30
Tito butterfly’s Suzuki. The crowd is clapping.
Joel: The butterfly is another elegant metaphor for where we are in the NJPW timeline. 2017-19 was the very hungry caterpillar, munching away at all the yummy treats. 2020-21 was the cocoon, still and silent, almost devoid of action save for those still watching carefully. September 5th 2022 is the day that the beautiful butterfly is born, which is also fitting because Eric Carle’s is Tito’s favourite author.
J. Michael: When butterflies emerge from their chrysalis, they are so damp that they can’t fly. They have to stretch out their wings slowly, and flap them to dry. Then they can fly. In Joel’s analogy, we are all very damp right now, saturated in our own metabolic juices.
Joel: I’m saturated in my own [redacted] <Editor’s note: Save that low-brow nonsense for the podcast, Joel>
01:30 – 01:45
Suzuki delivers wide-eyed threats to Tito. Tito relinquishes the hold willingly and stands up. Tito steps back to a neutral corner. Suzuki stays on the ground and dares Tito to engage.
J. Michael: One thing in remarkably deficient supply in this match: Bad Dude Tito and Minoru Suzuki just making faces at each other. For both of these guys, a fundamental character trait is sticking their tongue out. For Suzuki, it’s an indicator of his demented sadomasochism. For Tito, he’s an inflated Andrew W.K. at peak post-workout pump.
My expectation was some comedically hard-boiled confrontations at the start. Then these displays of bravado would become more macabre as the match progressed, their faces becoming increasingly vermilion, capillaries exploding beneath their taut skin-cover and serpentine veins disturbingly protruding from their moist, distorted, Bosch-esque faces.
But, unlike my prose, they were restrained. A couple Suzuki laughs. One Tito recalcitrant no-sell. All brief flourishes.
Joel: I like to imagine Bad Dude Tito studying tape on Suzuki’s funny faces and preparing his own funny faces to counter the funny faces that Suzuki likes to pull. A real student of the funny face game.
01:45 – 02:00
The crowd chants“Mi-no-ru! Mi-no-ru!” There is hand wrestling until Suzuki scores with two strong low kicks from the ground. Suzuki scoots forward to close distance and stands up
Joel: This sounded like an “Es-con-di-do!” chant to me.
J. Michael: Right before the first shutdown, back in Feb 2020, New Japan ran two retirement shows within a week, one for Tiger Hattori and another one for Manabu Nakanishi where they basically forced him to leave. I have two fond memories of those shows:
Obviously, the second is very cool because they were referring to each other by their real names, but the fact that they were referring to each other by their first names was also stirring. It has significance, which is probably why it’s almost always a heartening occurrence when Japanese crowds chant a wrestler’s first name.
Chanting “Mi-no-ru” is even more delightful because he’s such a hard-boiled, caustic, maniacal foil for such affection. Suzuki is a beloved figure across the world, simply for his dedication to unflinching truculence while sporting one of the most ludicrous haircuts in the history of the business. He literally shaves his fucking head to look like a devil fruit from One Piece.
02:00 – 02:15
Tito scores with a headlock takeover. Suzuki quickly turns it into a headscissors. Tito bridges backwards
Joel: Tito’s bridge is the metaphorical bridge between the clap crowd era and the new dawn of over-excited 50% Korakuen audiences.
J. Michael: The beauty of Tito is that there is no subtlety, subtext, or profundity to his character. It is bereft of layers, while he himself is literally layer upon layer of stiff, varicose muscularity. The way he bridged backwards was actually a mutedly impressive bit of agility and craftiness.
There was a lot of weight to hold up, with so much meaty flesh stuffed into that singlet, so Tito had to do it twice before he could roll. But maybe I’m the only one who resonated with this, considered the crowd, Suzuki, the Japanese announcers, and Kevin Kelly all ignored it.
02:15 – 02:30
Tito rolls to his knees. Suzuki gives up the headscissors and attempts a cross armbar. Tito rolls forward. Suzuki attempts to finish the cross armbreaker, but Tito blocks the second leg from coming over his chest. Tito twists out and stands up out of the hold.
J. Michael: We didn’t mention it, but the crowd really filled in these moments tremendously. Once Tito stood up they started shouting and hollering. We also got some dueling tongue, which is what I was here for, no doubt.
Joel: Tito, like the NJPW fandom, cannot be held down. He, and we, and me, keep getting back up.
02:30 – 02:45
The crowd claps rhythmically in appreciation. They circle the ring. There is hand wrestling. Suzuki grabs another hammerlock.
Joel: This hammerlock is symbolic of the etc. etc.
J. Michael: I’m not a very perceptive person, but I’m picking up on some subtle clues that Joel is losing steam with this dumb premise for our review.
The beauty of this match-up is on display here. They are both preternatural weirdos that are impossible to neglect. There’s also a complete style clash here. Both play to character, and so we have a shooter vs. an 80’s LJN-era power wrestler.
The genius of having these two face each other as the first cheering match after 2.5 years is manifest. There’s a bizarre energy, even by wrestling standards, as these two circle the ring. On any other night, I would suggest that this match-up galvanized and agitated the crowd, acting as some sort of theoretical catalyst for a perpetual cheering machine… but on this night, the crowd needed no agitation. They were ebullient from the get-go, and if anything the wrestlers had to match them.
02:45 – 03:00
Suzuki holds the hammerlock from the front. He kicks out Tito’s leg. Tito drops and Suzuki turns the hammerlock into a kimura. Tito picks Suzuki’s ankle for a takedown.
J. Michael: I’ll get the jump on published MMA critical journalist Joel Abraham: the kimura = Sakuraba for me. I’m pretty sure that noted bibliophile Andrew Rich would correct me on my use of “kimura” here; I’m sure there is another name for it in pro wrestling, but what Suzuki did here is a fucking kimura. I remember Pride 10, with Sakuraba applying a mind-blowing twisting kimura from a standing position, dislocating the elbow of an oddly serene Renzo Gracie.
And so, if someone goes for one in a wrestling match, even someone with whom the move is closely associated, like KUSHIDA, I think of genial, flippantly winsome Kazushi Sakuraba fucking up the arm of the one likable Gracie.
Joel: My favorite is the one that Frank Mir did on Big Nog at UFC 140. I hope that wasn’t his bum-wiping arm!
03:00 – 03:15
Tito spins around Suzuki before grabbing an elbowlock. He sits down with it, and attempts to straighten Suzuki’s arm for a cross armbreaker.
J. Michael: Suzuki obviously negates Tito’s power through his limber dexterity and innumerable hours of experience. But Tito showed a little smoothness here himself. The transition to the spin was a little disjointed, but the spin itself was unexpectedly fluid.
Not that I want Bad Dude Tito to initiate and perpetuate matwork and submission stalemates. I want Suzuki to stymie Tito with his world-class maneuvering, Tito to break through the technique with raw, tactless power, and then Tito to walk around the ring for no reason until Suzuki recovers, preferably flexing his pecs and rubbing grease from his saturated hair into his biceps. Remind me of the decade I don’t even remember, Tito!
Joel: If nothing else, this is a matchup handcrafted to remind us of the painful truth of the Church of Lapsed: it used to be better.
03:15 – 03:30
Suzuki attempts to roll through the cross armbreaker attempt, but Tito blocks it halfway. Tito tries to break Suzuki’s grip with some palm strikes to Suzuki’s hands. Suzuki rolls through, but Tito holds on. Suzuki rolls through to the ropes. The crowd is clapping rhythmically and random shouts for the wrestlers pepper the action.
J. Michael: People usually quote the same 2 or 3 lines from Vince McMahon’s 2-minute, 3-second verbal ejaculation over Gary Strydom’s Top-Hat-and-Cane WBF routine. My person favorite is, “SIDE CHEST, GIVE IT TO ‘EM!”
Visualizing the voice-over is a harrowing, disturbing mental exercise. It is illuminating; everything falls into place when you consider the scene:
We find a 47-year-old Vince, staring down the barrel of a federal litigation nightmare, one that he assuredly knew would test the resolve of his scummy amorality, to the point where he not only wore the ridiculous neckbrace but, even more demeaningly, purposely engaged in hours-long phone conversations with Jerry Jarrett for the sake of saving his company.
It is at least 2:30 AM, and there are at best 3-4 other people in the building besides security. Vince tossed his blazer aside hours ago, and his tie soon after that. He’s not sopping damp, but he’s been sweating all night. His crisp white oxford shirt was already see-through when the night began; now it clings to his body like wet drapery sculpture. I’m sure at some point in his life, Vince wore an undershirt, but those days were long gone by 1992.
He knows enough to set the levels and record on his own. He just finished a workout and he goes straight from the bench to the booth. The post-pump vitality reaches a crescendo the second Vince put the headphones on and rolled tape.
At that point, he just screamed into the microphone for 2 straight minutes, working himself into full lather. His fervent, incandescent performance has left his face and neck a perverse garnet hue, trails of sweat pouring from his disheveled hair like snowcaps filling valley riverbeds. He is alone, and this is probably the greatest moment in his life.
Notice, I never once mentioned steroids, cocaine, methamphetamines, or anything like that. That would be too easy an explanation. He is simply an obsessive, overbearing person.
Anyway, the point is, when Tito was fighting to break Suzuki’s grip, I thought, “LOOK AT THAT MASS.”
Joel: …are you okay, my friend?
03:30 – 03:45
The referee breaks the hold. The crowd chants for Suzuki. Suzuki rolls to the apron. Tito tries to bring him back in. When Tito grabs Suzuki’s head, Suzuki punches him.
J. Michael: One thing I’d like mentioned: why does New Japan sometimes count it when someone is under the ropes, and sometimes they don’t? It’s been a long time since we’ve heard Kevin Kelly audibly grapple with the painful illogic of New Japan’s rule system. I think we’re overdue for another. I want to hear some nonsense like, “Well, as it turns out the area between the apron and the bottom rope is technically considered a transitional area between the entrance way and the ring, and so unless you’re completely on the apron it doesn’t break a hold because placing a limb under the bottom rope is considered a passive act, which the referee is not obliged to acknowledge, whereas the act of grabbing or placing a limb on a rope is considered an active declaration of intent…”
Joel: It’s times like these that I strongly believe New Japan would benefit from a VAR system to iron out problems like this. Imagine Kenny Omega’s glorious defeat of Kazuchika Okada after the grueling hour+ contest at Dominion 2018, followed by Red Shoes being called over to squint at a ringside monitor for eight minutes, to then declare the result null and void because one of Okada’s laces was 3mm under the rope.
03:45 – 04:00
Suzuki applies his over-the-ropes cross armbreaks. He breaks the hold on the ref’s count, somersaults backwards to the floor, and drags Tito to the outside
J. Michael: Suzuki often finds clever ways to arrive at the ropes-armbar, but this time he just grabbed the arm and did the move. The crowd was excited to see it. There were some woo’s from the crowd when Suzuki let it go and dismounted from the apron. I don’t remember Ric Flair ever doing that, or anything remotely athletic, so it’s safe to assume that this crowd was amped up and loved Suzuki.
04:00 – 04:15
Suzuki attempts to Irish whip Tito into the barricade, but Tito reverses it. Suzuki slams into the barricade chest first.
J. Michael: I might as well bury this in the middle of the review: since I started writing for VOW in late 2020, I have written about 70 pieces for the site and, sigh, around 275,000 words. I’m about a third of the way to the First Folio’s word count.
Because I’ve covered New Japan, this stands as the first show I’ve ever reviewed or analyzed with cheering. How have I written so much about something so few care about, performed under the most heinously sterile conditions?
Quite simply, I internalized this nonsense quickly. Clap crowds just became the norm, nothing to fret about because those are the conditions and everyone is performing under them equally. When the big two in America both exploited the fucked up ethics of Florida to run increasingly normalized crowds, it simply became a cultural difference.
I was able to ignore the absence of cheering, which wasn’t much of a chore, either. It has been a unique, dreadful period of time; it was almost natural to embrace the situation and focus on the charming aspects. It also didn’t hurt that my two favorite wrestlers in the world were the singles champions of the company for most of early 2021.
What does take effort to compartmentalize is the irish whips into the barricades. I remember a time not long ago where every match in WWE, and it was every goddamn match, involved someone being whipped into the ring steps. Whenever I check in on Stamford, I see it still happens, but not nearly to the level of preposterous ubiquity that it used to happen.
Then there was the era where it seemed like every match had a tope. It makes sense why both:
- People stopped watching WWE in droves
- Serious wrestling fans became unable to tolerate WWE programming
- Insufferable atavists who only have only lived through WWE as a modern reference point discard the entirely of modern wrestling
Anyway, during the BOSJ, Robbie Eagles pointed out that some of his matches in that tournament never left the ring. He was right to point that out. It’s still one of the more commendable things that has happened in the company in 2022.
Joel: Robbie, I hope you’re reading this. He’s on your side!
04:15 – 04:30
Tito chops Suzuki. Suzuki stands up, they go forehead-to-forehead, and Tito chops him again. Tito stalks Suzuki.
J. Michael: I was a bit thrown by this. The forehead-to-forehead was quick, instantaneous, and never repeated. The idea that these two had a match, one that went nearly nine minutes, and only had one forehead clash, one that accounted for less than a second, roughly .14% of the match, is unforgivable. I will take this feeling of emptiness to my grave.
Joel: A good forehead clash can add extra stars to the rating of a match at the rate of five seconds : ¼ star. This is a secret rule of match ratings that I’m not supposed to reveal. However, if the forehead clash goes longer than 20 seconds then there is a complex algorithm that starts to deduct stars exponentially.
04:30 – 04:45
Tito overhand chops Suzuki. Suzuki stumbles and hangs over the barricade. He flashes his demonic, sadomasochistic smile and the crowd volume increases. Tito picks up Suzuki and awkwardly lifts him and drops him backwards to the mat. It looked like the beginning of the spot where a wrestler stunguns a wrestler on the apron, but Suzuki landed in a sitting position.
J. Michael: We couldn’t really figure out how to describe this one. It’s not clear what Tito intended to do here. He just sort of lifts Suzuki up over himself and places him gently on the mat. Nothing Suzuki does after this provides any perceivable context clues to make sense of it. Whatever it was that Tito was trying to do, it was inconsequential enough that they just kept going. It wasn’t even a seamless cover, or a seamless transition. It was immediately forgotten.
Joel: Which is very much a metaphor for NJPW’s <Editor’s note: Not this again! Enough!>
04:45 – 05:00
Suzuki slaps Tito, then applies a guillotine choke. Suzuki gets off the apron, lets go of the guillotine, and delivers an elbow to the Tito’s neck.
J. Michael: Tito’s strange near-stungun accidentally ended up being a bit of public charity as he ended up helping an old man up a level. It was awkward, and even though they pressed forward, it wasn’t exactly a fluid or consummate stretch. Suzuki’s choke looked weird with the lack of leverage he had on the apron. The apron cut off Suzuki’s crank, so just as soon as he locked in the guillotine, he had to hop off the apron and abandon the hold.
That said, I do like the quick decision-making going on here. Suzuki could have held that unfortunate choke for another minute if he wanted to, forcing us to ignore its blatant ineffectualness. Instead, he instantaneously realized that it felt deficient and would look completely stupid if he held it.
Joel: Perhaps this is the hangover caused by Suzuki’s heartbreaking addiction to wrestling in the US. Ever since he worked Dynamite, he’s been slapping on ineffective chokeholds in what he thinks are advertising breaks, even during matches in municipal gymnasiums in remote midwestern towns that aren’t even being recorded, let alone televised. The promoters were simply too frightened to tell him.
05:00 – 05:15
Suzuki applies a camel clutch through the barricade, wrenching Tito’s neck from underneath the top bar. He lets go of the hold and kicks the barricade with Tito’s neck still underneath the top bar.
J. Michael: It’s a cool spot. All I have to add is that this is where I started to notice, upon rewatches at least, that Tito’s nipples had emerged. Or maybe they had always been displayed? Looking at the minutia of this match might have rendered me unable to watch singlet-ed wrestlers for a while. Eventually, I am going to hone in on the teets.
In fact, maybe Joel and I should start a Big Teet’s Teets Tracker, where we host a living document spreadsheet that tracks Bad Dude Tito’s areola exposure. Before the match? If not, at what point during the match? If so, what move induced the unguardedness?
Joel: I have my fears that this peekaboo nipple incident may be the start of a huge scandal for New Japan. Nobody tell Bix.
05:15 – 05:30
Suzuki grabs Tito by the hair, walks him over to an adjacent corner, and slams his head into the barricade.
J. Michael: If it’s not self-evident by now, Joel and I devised this 15-second interval method before the match. We thought it would be funny to break down this eccentric match-up to such a thorough degree. That it would be something rarely ever done.
We never really considered how short 15 seconds can truly be in the context of a wrestling match. If this was a meaningful Okada match, our 15-second-interval concept would have swaths of 4-5 section chunks wiped out ost-20-minute-mark selling.
Joel: With each subsequent unfunny comment I labor to excrete, I look at the next timestamp and think ‘Sweet Jesus, I am barely halfway through the match’.
J. Michael: It took us an entire week to write this drivel.
05:30 – 05:45
Suzuki throws an elbow to Tito’s neck, and walks around for a bit while the fans clap and cheer
J. Michael: If it’s not self-evident by now, Joel and I are very stubborn, and if we think an idea is funny when we joke around about things, we’re committed to trying it. In self-interest, we’d almost consider that admirable. In this case, we expected this match to be 5, 6 minutes, TOPS. At most we’d have to fill around 20 segments worth of analysis and nonsense.
This match ended up going 8:44, requiring us to fill thirty-five fucking sections. In his first run-through, Joel ran out of steam at the 2:30 section and my brain fried at the 0:45 second section. It’s taken us over a week to write this.
Joel: I am only still going out of a sense of duty and comradeship to J. Michael, because nobody else is reading this. I am the 2012-2019 YOSHI-HASHI of writing partners. Tag me in, friend! I might fuck everything up, but the main thing is that I’m here!
05:45 – 06:00
Suzuki puts Tito in a facelock, which he breaks on the ref’s count. Suzuki goes to intimidate the referee, who comes to the outside. The fans start chanting for Tito
J. Michael: And there we have it, the definitive proof that the world is healing: a Korakuen Hall crowd chanting for Bad Dude Tito. We can’t really tell what triggered the support at this particular point in the match. Sure, Suzuki was being a fuckface, but his funny faces were no less jocular when they were grappling in the ring than they were here.
What happened: a group of 2-3 started to chant, “Ti-to, Ti-to!” On the third cycle, the whole crowd had already joined them. That’s how acutely calibrated this crowd was to the match, the wrestlers, and each other. After six minutes of minute momentum shifts, the tide had fully swung against Tito.
In that instant, a small coterie of fans recognized Tito’s need for moral support. They started chanting for Tito in an attempt to undergird his comeback. The rest of the crowd, high-strung after 30 dithery months, started to join in on the second go-round.
This certainly confirmed that this particular crowd was going to be rambunctious all night. It also suggests that, moving forward with cheering crowds, it is going to become quite evidence that New Japan is more of a “everybody likes everyone” promotion. The United Empire, formed during the pandemic as the new heel faction in an attempt to balance things out a bit, have already swung to tweeners before pandemic conditions could be lifted. We now need a new heel unit to replace the new heel unit.
Joel: Look, without naming names, there are established wrestlers on this show who’ve held championships who wish they’d got the reception that Tito got. You might say that Tito getting the opening match meant he was going to get cheered regardless, but there is a good chance that it’s the delicious combination of funny faces, circling, locks and nipples that the NJPW faithful have come to adore.
06:00 – 06:15
Suzuki throws Tito back into the ring and follows him in.
J. Michael: My favorite songs with the word follow in the title:
- The B-52’s – “Follow Your Bliss” (Cosmic Thing, 1989)
- De la Soul – “Brain Washed Follower” (Me, Myself, and I single, 1989)
- Novella – “Follow” (Land, 2015)
- The Action – “Follow Me,” (Rolled Gold, 1968)
- Tom Misch – “Follow” (Geography, 2018)
- Alice in Chains – “Don’t Follow” (Jar of Flies EP, 1994)
- The Beatles – “Follow the Sun” (Beatles for Sale, 1964)
- Allah-La’s – “Follow You Down” (Worship the Sun, 2015)
- Sibille Attar – “Don’t Follow” (Paloma’s Hand, 2018)
- Rocket Juice and the Moon – Follow-Fashion (Rocket Juice and the Moon, 2012)
Joel: I have only two proper songs in my iTunes library that contain the word follow:
- Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
- Saosin – “Follow and Feel”
06:15 – 06:30
Suzuki whips Tito in the blue corner and follows with a running boot to the face. He snapmares Tito over and goes for his running penalty kick, but Tito catches Suzuki’s foot.
Joel: Nothing to say about this, JMM? I bet you spent at least 15 minutes trying to think of something before taking a deep breath and moving on, a little part of you dying forever.
06:30 – 06:45
The crowd reacts to Tito catching the foot. Tito throws nine forearms to Suzuki and then knocks him down with a running shoulder tackle
J. Michael: The structure of the match was purposely simple, as it should have been, but there’s a reason we specifically noted the number of forearms Tito threw here. Yes, there’s plenty of room for hyperbolic critical symbolism with what the number nine could be. That’s for Joel to explore and embellish. What matters here on my side is the escalation.
It’s an excessive number of forearms, even for a comeback. It’s Young Lion stuff, to be more precise. When you graduate from Young Lion status, somehow your forearms attain significantly more power, and it’s unnecessary to throw them in frantic bundles.
But it works for Tito here because of the superfluous nature of them. With each strike he gained momentum, and more importantly each strike gave the crowd the chance to escalate as well. This was a smart crowd. Not that they had printouts of the Flagship Patreon updates in their back pockets. What they had was perspicacity, a keen understanding and awareness of what was going on in front of them.
Matches after this one would exploit this facet: repetition was good on this night. The crowd comprehended the meaning without fail: if something is repeated, you react exponentially higher than the previous time, in succession until the wrestler decides the sequence has concluded.
Here, Tito gets the first taste.
Joel: This is a great point. Nothing to add, really. Just wanted to say it was a great point well made.
06:45 – 07:00
Tito plays to the crowd, who respond boisterously and begin chanting for him again. Tito hits a Blue Thunder Bomb.
J. Michael: There weren’t a lot of moves in this one. We’re grateful for that, because we blank on move names. We couldn’t remember what this back-suplex-into powerbomb-slam-thing was called. With Japanese commentary, unless they specifically have a name for something, and they specifically shout the name in English, we’re lost.
This system actually works out well, since the Japanese commentary team are:
- Always shouting
- Always shouting English move names
- Always shouting random English words (mainly Milano)
Hey, Always Be Shouting, right?
Fuck you, that’s my name.
You’re a rude, thoughtless, little pig.
You prefer cold pizza? And so on…
The point here is: it took seven minutes for the first big move of the match. In hindsight, that was to be expected, considering that Suzuki doesn’t do many big moves, and we still don’t even know how Tito ended up here, but a Blue Thunder Bomb is a hell of a way to open a match up to the consequential actions.
Tito’s body language and gesturing was tremendous here. When Tito hits that shoulder tackle, he throws up the most generic hand sign imaginable, throwing up three fingers like Michael Fassbender was supposed to do in Inglorious Basterds, but didn’t and so single-handedly caused the deaths of several dozen people.
Tito gets it right, and his reward is Korakuen Hall chanting his name. In any context, that would be sweet, a career highlight for any American wrestler, but obviously it is orders of magnitude higher in this specific match.
Also great: when Tito moves to get behind Suzuki and set up the Thunder Bomb, he has his arms outstretched the whole time. Just a full wingspan from one side of the ring to the other. The nostalgic charm of this man is fantastic. You could superimpose him over 1988 episode of Superstars, of the Ice Hockey Haired muscle freak of your choice, and I swear it would match up perfectly.
Joel: I’ve figured it out. Tito is like one of the gladiators from the TV gameshow ‘Gladiators’, or to American viewers, ‘American Gladiators’.
07:00 – 07:15
Tito gets a two count off the slam. Suzuki gets up and hits Tito with a body shot-forearm combo. Tito responds with a forearm, and Suzuki hits another right body shot. Tito follows with another forearm.
J. Michael: New Japan is turning into a body shot company, and I’m here for it. I think you could grab any random HBO Boxing broadcast from the 2000’s, edit out Lampley and Merchant (keeping Harold Lederman, of course), and you would end up with a 10-15 minute clip, most likely.
Hit play at the beginning of a match and just let Kevin Kelly do his thing, and Manny would chime in from beyond. Interrupting Kevin wouldn’t be an issue because Manny would have done that anyway.
I guarantee you that if you did this during a Tanahashi, Henare, or Suzuki match, you would absolutely hit an alignment where Manny either calls the bodyshot in perfect sync, or Steward implores the fighter to go back to the body after one of the wrestlers threw a body shot. It would happen at least 2-3 times per match, with this method.
07:15 – 07:30
Tito hits five forearm strikes, the last one a spinning forearm, the crowd responding to each strike in rhythm. Suzuki crumbles. Tito wrenches the gut, which he turns into a gutwrench powerbomb
J. Michael: I’m still not sure which of the current Young Lion crop I want to throw my allegiance towards. I am on a pretty good streak lately: Oka, then Narita, then Uemura. I very apprehensive to show any affection for Yuto Nakashima, since he’s already shown a healthy amount of bad luck and proneness to injury (or an intertwining of the two).
Kosei Fujita had that tremendous trainee battle with Yasutaka Yano, but right now I’m leaning towards Ryohei Oiwa. Sure he has a nondescript face, but he has one thing going for him, one that indicates to me that a Young Lion has the stuff: he wrenches the gut.
Oiwa loves wrenching the gut. He’ll build towards wrenching the gut. He’ll wrench the gut and gutwrench suplex in multiple succession. The guy was born with some sort of a priori notion of the gut, proper wrenching placement, and wrench-release points.
And so, when Tito wrenched the gut of such a legendary wrestler, a guy who was actually trained by Karl Gotch, the God of Wrenching the Gut, I wondered whether I would have to break my scale and delve into 5+ star territory for this one. It was a beautiful wrench, and a spectacular twist into the powerbomb. Fantastic.
Also, if it’s not apprent here, I’m pretty sure we lost Joel for good until the wrap-up. If I couldn’t coax him back into this with Young Lion talk and What We Do in the Shadows references, there’s no hope.
07:30 – 07:45
Tito gets a two count off the gut wrench powerbomb. The crowd gasps at the kickout and start clapping and cheering loudly.
J. Michael: I am fully convinced that gasps alone would have propelled EVIL’s heel turn and galvanized the House of Torture from its zygotic period onwards.
Gasps alone would have saved Ibushi’s title run, because the gasp Korakuen would have unleashed would have been so hilarious it would have broken the tension around V4’s retirement.
This is the power of the collective gasp. I’m not sure why the crowd gasped at this two-count, unless they thought Tito’s finisher was an arbitrary gutwrench powerbomb. Or, perhaps they were responding to the deprivation of covers. This was the second count of the match. There would only be one more, and that one ended the match. Maybe they just wanted to be surprised by a near fall. Either way, another great leap forward in the fun factor of this match.
Joel: Gasps have been the benchmark of success for any given angle during pandemic NJPW. Many of our corpses are strewn across hills marked ‘The clapping was slightly louder here’.
07:45 – 08:00
Tito picks Suzuki up into a fireman’s carry position. Suzuki slips behind him. Tito throws a back elbow. Before Suzuki can land a punch, Tito follows up with a forearm strike. Tito hits the ropes. Suzuki follows, ducks under a clothesline attempt, and does his trademark quick go-behind. He applies a sleeperhold for three seconds.
J. Michael: Josh Barnett does not conjure fun memories for me. He reminds me of a time when the UFC had returned to PPV, but with Ricco Rodriguez on top of the heavyweight division. Super heavyweights that were so fucking massive that they sent Randy Couture back to the drawing board and the light heavyweight division.
But then, he also is responsible for my favorite moment in pro wrestling history: the night he decided to jump the rails and chase Jay White into the ring, presumably to legitimately beat his ass, because Jim Ross was sent into a Paul Bearer-esque flop when white slammed Juice Robinson into the barricade in front of the announce desk.
Keep in mind, Jay White did this spot in every single match, he still does this spot in every single match, and also… Josh Barnett was a fucking announcer trying to shoot fight the guy Gedo had pegged as the company’s next big star. Just followed him to the ring and barked at him with cavalier agitation.
The best part: Jay kept character. He ran away from Barnett into the ring, then taunted Barnett to step inside the ring with him, then bolted once Barnett stepped through the ropes. It was a masterful performance under legitimate duress and danger. Unfortunately, White and Rock Hard apologized after the match.
So yes, Josh Barnett is a curious fellow. A tremendous commentator for 95% of the call, and a supercilious, obstinate bastard the other 5%, where he undermined the product and got heat with the talent.
One thing he got right: never running the ropes.
Sure, his gimmick was “shoot fighter guy shifts to wrestling,” but it turns out he’s a genius, because running the ropes is the worst possible thing you can do in this company. Where does it go wrong for Young Lions? When they run the ropes. When did it go wrong for Bad Dude Tito, in this match? Right here, when he ran the ropes? In fact, when did Suzuki lose his momentum earlier in the match? WHEN HE RAN THE ROPES.
We keep telling everyone to listen to Taichi, and we’re proven correct again. Taichi gets rid of ropes. Taichi knows.
08:00 – 08:15
Suzuki lets the sleeperhold go and hits a big forearm. Tito screams in defiance, which gets a big cheer. Tito goes for a lariat, but Suzuki ducks, goes behind, kicks out the back of Tito’s right knee, and hits a brutal forearm to the back to Tito’s head. Suzuki pauses to coax more cheering from the crowd. The crowd starts clapping and cheering in rhythm for Suzuki.
J. Michael: Incredibly, this is the only no-sell of the match. Coming in, I was certain that the match would not only contain no-selling, but forearm no-selling would be the sinews of the match. Moves, even movement itself, would be delineated by forearm no-selling. That wasn’t the case. As with the forehead-to-forehead nova, this was alarmingly, stunningly brief.
The match is worth watching for that brain stem forearm. Just a devastating strike.
08:15 – 08:30
Suzuki applies a sleeperhold for four seconds and then spins Tito around into the piledriver position. He lifts Tito into the Gotch Style piledriver position
J. Michael: We decided to note the length of time Suzuki holds onto positions here, because it was masterful.
08:30 – 08:45
Suzuki holds the Gotch style piledriver position for seven seconds, allowing the cheering to escalate, before hitting the move. He gets the three count for the win. The crowd loudly counts along with the pin.
J. Michael: This is why we noted specific timing as the match headed to its denouement. The crowd’s cheering undulated, shifting between bursts of clamor and delightful tension as Suzuki just held onto this Gotch piledriver position. Suzuki has really worked the hold in the last year or so, making it seem like a legitimate struggle to achieve the hold.
Here he really savors the response, as they awaited the most protected move in the company. Here’s where having Suzuki in the opener was genius. People do not kick out of the Gotch piledriver. And sure, they don’t kick out of Chase Owens’ package piledriver, either, but because of Chase’s position in the New Japan hierarchy, it would be shocking but not earth-shattering if someone kicked out of his finisher.
But no one, no one kicks out of the Gotch. It doesn’t matter who they are. That’s why this was so genius. That crowd so desperately wanted to count a fall, and with Suzuki there was no need for reticence or hesitation. You could boldly count to three once he hit that Gotch because there was zero chance Tito was kicking out. It was the right guy, the right move, and the right balance of opponent, someone significantly below Suzuki in the hierarchy (in fact, a guy that barely registers on the hierarchy) but compelling enough to make things entertaining.
Joel: Between starting this piece and finishing it, my son took his first steps. He walked so Minoru Suzuki and Bad Dude Tito could run. God bless you, gentlemen.
J. Michael: This is my shortest piece of writing in ages.
The crowd continues to clap and cheer, with Suzuki’s encouragement. Suzuki backs the referee into one of the neutral corners while Tito is helped to the back by Ryohei Oiwa and Yuto Nakashima. The referee raises Suzuki’s hand. Suzuki offers the referee a handshake, which he turns into a arm ringer with such force that Suzuki falls backwards, bringing the referee with him.
The crowd laughs at this slapstick and Suzuki rolls out of the rings, laughing and clapping his hands to encourage the crowd. Suzuki walks to the back.
J. Michael: Suzuki was having too much fun here. For one, he stole Naito’s spot. There is no doubt in my mind that Naito had a thoroughly timed sequence for LIJ’s victory pose, and the referee was going to get fucked with mercilessly. Suzuki beat him to the punch.
The backstage comments are really worth it here. Suzuki is downright effusive and blithe, espousing streams of positivity and conviction. Tito, of course, screamed his way through a monologue on his resolve and perseverance.
J. Michael: This is where we find New Japan, and ourselves, a full 30 fucking months since submicroscopic bundles of nucleic acid ruined everything:
- Relaxed regulations and restrictions, but apprehensiveness about exploiting them
- Numbers significantly better than 2021, but still significantly below 2019 (and early 2020)
- An exhilarating Best of the Super Juniors, replete with a fresh set of novel foreign talent and substantially lowered match times
- A joint-PPV with AEW, in which the talent overcame the frenetic booking to deliver an all-time event, and NJPW single-handedly saved their partner and reversed course on AEW’s 2022 lull.
- An adequate G1 Climax, with matches that hovered between good to great, a format that seemed overambitious, and scheduling that rendered the whole thing inane
- An author on the roster who admirably sold the first print of his autobiography
- The return of actual crowd cheering, ushered in by Bad Dude Tito, a laboratory-produced experiment splicing the genetic material of Dr. Death Steve Williams and Duke the Dumpster Drose, and Minoru Suzuki, leader of the New American Comedy Wrestling movement.
How funny it is, how goddamn fucking funny it is, that this show was the panacea that, if for a few hours, alleviated the baleful, toxic, deleterious atmosphere that American wrestling had infected the wrestling landscape. This match occurred mere hours after AEW, the company for whom so many shallow, callow motherfuckers abandoned this company, or simply jumped to in exasperation over Japan’s properly cautious pandemic regulations, folded in upon itself at its apex. From that point since, a pervasive befuddlement has endured.
And so, again, how fucking funny is it that the company that has caused so much grievous sorrow in the last 30 months was the soothing presence on the morning of September 5.
Joel: We have suffered. We lost many along the way, false freaks who lacked the heart to endure the dark days. When the geeks were separated from the freaks, we were left with something beautiful. The human spirit personified through those of us who were ready to go down with the ship. That is:
- Me and Damon (although between you and me, I think he pretended to watch a lot of the shows)
- Chris Samsa and J. Michael on the VOW Slack
- The absolute pervert energy distilled into its purest form that is the Super J-Cast Discord
We are the real heroes, and this was our hour of glory. This match was a portent of victory for us. We, who stayed STRONG. The fairweather fans may try to scramble back on board, seeing the Kaze ni Nare clip and desperately clutching at the bow of the ship as I swat their filthy hands with my oar and condemn them to their well-deserved watery graves. Get off my boat! THIS MATCH IS NOT FOR YOU.
In many ways, the outcome of the match was immaterial, as although the records will show that the winner was Minori Suzuki, the real winners are us (and more specifically me, who invested early in the Tito stonks).
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