New Japan Pro Wrestling
Battle in the Valley 2023
February 18, 2023
San Jose Civic Center
San Jose, California
Meet our reviewers
Jeff Andrews: While most people continue to work through their problems with Stockholm Syndrome while watching Elimination Chamber, Jeff decided that he’s going to enjoy his evening instead and watch the best wrestling on the planet. It should be a great night.
Joey O’Doherty: Thanks to New Japan’s habit of cheaping out on production in the States, Joey got to watch Sami and Reigns’ story end on a whimper and watch this show too. It shouldn’t be hard for NJPW to outdo WWE’s offering in terms of wrestling quality.
Alex Coughlin def. Jr. Kratos
Jeff: Alex Coughlin continues to impress by being freakishly strong. His continued development as a worker continues to shine through, even if he is a touch slow in certain aspects of his work. The Bridging slam he gave Kratos towards the end of this match looked like it should have snapped his back in two, and it’s refreshing to see a match that feels pulled directly from the territory days used to develop someone with as much potential as Alex seems to have. ***1/4
David Finlay def. Bobby Fish
Jeff: As the world’s one and only David Finlay stan I wish there was more I could say about this match but all in all it was a fairly adequate match. There was some really fun chain wrestling to open the match but the finishing stretch was difficult to get into. Bobby Fish in particular looked a little stiff, and might belong on washed watch. ***1/4
Kevin Knight, KUSHIDA, The DKC & Volador Jr. def. Adrian Quest, Josh Alexander, Mascara Dorada & Rocky Romero
Jeff: Fun match that seemed to get the crowd back in a major way in spite of the production issues. The DKC was the weak point of the match, a shame in light of him getting more shine than several other participants I would’ve preferred to see more of. Kevin Knight continues to get a lot of shine working with Kushida, and him picking up a pinfall here is a surefire sign that they see in him what everyone else does. Lots of feuds progressed nicely within this match, the ending callout from Volador for a hair vs hair match with Rocky should result in another great match between these two. ***3/4
Joey: I missed the pre-show, so after an eternity of the usual production issues NJPW seems to have in the US, this was a real fun way to kick things off for me.
Plenty of storyline progression and great action. Knight, Alexander and Dorado all excelled here but others like DKC underwhelmed. Really enjoyable stuff overall. ***1/2
NJPW STRONG Openweight Title
KENTA def. Fred Rosser (c)
Jeff: Fred Rosser is pretty good and has been really excellent in his role on NJPW Strong. KENTA is really good for comedy spots in tags but unfortunately, I think his days of genuinely strong singles matches are behind him. This was a fine, hard-hitting match that was done a disservice by several referee bumps that looked like shit and a mediocre interference spot to end the match. Not what I want from my New Japan Pro Wrestling, here’s to hoping they got the bullshit out of the way early. **1/2
Joey: I LOVE FRED ROSSER. He’s been a revelation since leaving WWE behind and he really brought the crowd to life early on. Like Old Grey Mare, KENTA ain’t what he used to be and while he wasn’t terrible, he just seems so unmotivated to get out of second gear. His attitude was reminding me of WWE’s Randy Orton and then he performs a draping DDT. A sign if there ever was one.
Rosser is hard working, but working with a past-his-prime KENTA who is going through the motions, coupled with the nonsense with the ref, meant this match struggled to deliver. A match straight out of the WWE booking playbook. **1/2
NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Titles
Motor City Machine Guns (c) def. West Coast Wrecking Crew
Jeff: New Japan should offer a very nice contract to the Guns for one last run in Japan proper, because they still look as good as they ever have. The West Coast Wrecking Crew may have had better odds if they could have found the other half of their trunks, but despite showing quite a lot of ass on PPV they acquitted themselves well enough. The team has a lot of upside, and if the floor is where they’re at now then they’ll be a good team to keep around for the Strong shows. ***1/2
Joey: Shelley and Sabin show no signs of missing a step as they are as smooth as ever. AEW, WWE and NJPW should all consider giving these guys a run considering all of their tag divisions are lacking in depth.
WCWC gave a good showing. Lots of potential with this team, they just need to make some adjustments and they could go a lot further. A fun entertaining bout if nothing spectacular. ***
Loser Leaves NJPW
Eddie Kingston def. Jay White
Jeff: If this is the end of the Switchblade era I’ll be the first to admit I’ll be sad to see him go. He is maybe the best shitbag heel wrestling has seen in 20 years, and I say that with a lot of reverence. The Western crowd still seems to like (to hate ) him a lot, and for the first time on the show there feels like there is audible buzz for this match.
The match was excellent, a pure blood and guts fight filled with spit and blood flying around the ring. The pair encompassed Strong-Style as closely as any two gaijin ever have and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Jay finally got to show his stuff, he got to show the heart and fire we always knew he could, and yet that just made it that much sadder when he was pinned. If this is the end for Jay, it was an excellent end to his tenure in New Japan and I feel genuinely happy I was there from beginning to end. This is the wrestling I love, and instead of bitching about the multiman tags Jay skipped out on I’m going to take time to appreciate what he did provide in his time on the roster. This match lacks the functional excellence needed to get full marks on it, but the drama and work was so beautiful that it came close the whole way. ****¾
The ending angle.. Folks as the lone Finlay stan before this show let me just say you motherfuckers were LATE TO THE PARTY. As Finlay entered the ring and wacked Jay in the head with the shillelagh I have to confess I damn near screamed with excitement. Finlay is a guy, and this promo and ending angle has all but solidified that. As one chapter closes, another one begins. Time for Finlay to get his shine.
Joey: The first big fight on the show. Two men who are arguably amazing at their roles of man of the people and cuntface heel respectively.
I really enjoyed this match. Jay not only played his part by delivering his well executed offense, but he sold like a boss for Eddie. His facials and mannerisms on every chop were excellent. The match itself built up nicely to a pretty definitive finish with both men working hard to get me invested, which they accomplished. A wonderful bout with no shenanigans, plenty of nearfalls and some excellent, emotional in-ring storytelling. That’s what the people want.
The aftermath initially had me thinking this was the end of Jay White in NJPW and it probably still is. The loss, the respect from Eddie, the potential speech. Then Finlay appeared and nailed White and I’m sure Jay White is going nowhere now. Finlay cut a decent promo and I feel a White/Finlay program is on the horizon. Loved it all. Needed more time to go further than my rating. ****¼
Filthy Rules Match
Tom Lawlor def. Homicide
Jeff: Good luck to these guys!
If you were wondering, no, they didn’t top the last match or come anywhere close. This match was a dumb garbage match like most Homicide matches after the year 2006. Just decidedly not my speed and a pretty piss-poor way to follow up what could go on to be the match of the night. The best thing I can say about this match is they killed each other, and it didn’t overstay it’s welcome.
As an added aside, the middle fingers from the choke position is very very stale and old and looks incredibly lame. What are you, 12? Who thinks that shit is cool that is legally allowed to drink? Docking half a star for the most overdone lame ass finish in the biz. This is not what I want from New Japan. **1/2
Joey: Homicide is a legend, but he’s been washed for sometime. To have a WWE-style hardcore battle follow Eddie and Jay is fine to cool the crowd a bit because nothing is following that on this show, but this is not for me. Surely they could have found a better use for Filthy Tom than this.
That said, it had a few good spots and it was probably better than it had any right to be. Ultimately this match serves its purpose after the top notch match before it.
I will admit that the running DVD/Spicoli driver through the door was an awesome spot though. **3/4
NJPW WORLD Television Title
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) def. Clark Connors
Jeff: This is the match I’ve entered the night most excited about. Clark Connors has entered the match a lot smaller than he’s been previously, and it has hurt his presentation a bit in my view. A lot of his offense was built around being a power junior, and not looking like a granite shithouse has taken quite a bit out of that. Still, the match by the end was a lot of fun and while it didn’t meet my lofty standards, those may have been unfair to place on Connor’s shoulders. I couldn’t quite go notebook, but the match was fun. ***3/4
Kevin Knight came out at the end of the match and folks, if ZSJ is gonna be at all these US Shows then we are in for a treat. Looking forward to that match!
Joey: I can’t not see Hollywood Hunk Nick Nemeth when I see ZSJ with his bleach blonde hairdo.
That aside, I really enjoyed this bout. Connors had me biting on a few near falls, as well as his count into a rear naked choke. A nice closing stretch with ZSJ looking impressive in victory yet Connors looked strong despite the loss. ***1/2
IWGP Women’s Title
Mercedes Mone def. KAIRI (c)
Jeff: I was never as into Sasha Banks’ WWE work as everyone else was, so we’ll see how this lands for me.
I came into this match with pretty low standards and have left pleasantly surprised with Mercedes in this match. There are some quirks to her game I still don’t like, a lotta vestiges from her time in WWE that I hope slowly phase their way out of her work and god did I not need another useless ref bump but all and all this was a tremendous first account of herself. As the resident Mercedes doubter, this match was good enough to make me eat crow and I’m excited to see where things go from here. ****
Joey: Mercedes still feels like a big star. Mercedes has always been capable of excellence but she always lacked consistency and mostly underwhelmed in what I see as an overrated career. In some ways the opposite of Kairi.
The match certainly had its moments, but dragged at times, mainly when Mercedes was in control. It feels like she’s still in WWE mode, where she feels the unnecessary need to automatically slow things down.
To be fair, she kept up with Kairi when required as the match progressed, esp in the final stretch as things started to heat up.
Then the ref bump happened and while I dislike another ref bump tonight, the table spot it set up was worth it I guess. A decent finish and a predictable new champ is the crown. A very good match but short of excellence for me. ***¾
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada def. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Jeff: Hiroshi Tanahashi’s new outfit is really slick, and seeing him in the ring with Okada in America is still surreal after all of this time. This is what New Japan is all about. The match was everything we could’ve expected from it, callbacks were plentiful throughout and Tanahashi yet again finds a way to turn back the clock and put on a banger against all odds. The chemistry these two share is unreal, and even as he moves down the card Tanahashi continues to find ways to both make a match look competitive, and to definitively put over the stars of the new generation. There will never be another wrestler like Hiroshi Tanahashi, and there will never be another feud like Tanahashi Okada. We’re all lucky for getting to see it here in the States, and everyone who called it past it’s prime can fuck as far off as possible. This is pro wrestling. A wonderful way to end the night. ****½
Joey: Just like KENTA, Tanahashi ain’t what he once was but he is still motivated to go above and beyond to deliver the best work he can. Tanahashi still looks like a million bucks despite his age and there’s no better dance partner than Okada.
Both men turn back the clock to deliver a prime example of the best NJPW has to offer. The synchrony between these two all time greats is still absolutely magical, and it’s a shame for some to label this as a past it’s prime match don’t have a clue. After watching the Elimination Chamber earlier, I can say with confidence that Tanahashi and Okada’s effort far outshines anything WWE has to offer. This is pro wrestling at its finest. ****¾