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Frank Olson
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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Frank Olson » Thu Jan 03, 2019 7:18 pm

I decided to do a little report card for most of the New Japan roster and their overall 2018 performances. I’m going off of personal enjoyment and not factoring in things like drawing power, etc. It seemed like it would be unfair to include Young Lions, since their role is to learn their craft and not to blow us away with their charisma and in-ring prowess, although I will say that they are all awesome, with Uemura being my favorite but Umino probably being the most advanced. (I’m also leaving out quasi-Young Lion Yoshida). In the interest of not driving myself insane I’m also leaving off guest stars who only appeared on one or two tours (so no Flip Gordon, Chris Sabin, Jeff Cobb, Dragon Lee, etc.), although I am making an exception for Chris Jericho since he’s been positioned as an important main eventer. Lastly I’m leaving out performers who primarily function as managers (Gedo, TAKA, Rocky Romero, etc.). I’m not discounting their importance to the product, but it’s just tough to evaluate their in-ring contributions when they primarily work on the sidelines these days.

BAD LUCK FALE
Though never a great bell-to-bell talent, the giant Tongan does fill a role on the roster, and has had some shining moments in the past when he’s seemed motivated and/or been in the ring with the right people. This year Fale cut weight but has somehow seemed lazier, clumsier, and less coordinated than he used to be. Apart from his disastrous G1 run Fale hasn’t really been featured much in singles matches, and he hasn’t done much to impress in multiman tags either. He definitely had the worst overall 2018 of any semi-pushed performer in New Japan.
Best Match: vs. Michael Elgin (G1 Climax)
Grade: D

BERETTA
The momentum of Beretta’s push as a midcard heavyweight was unfortunately derailed by an injury that saw him miss about half of 2018. He was delivering good performances and the crowd was rallying behind him, but by the time he came back on the Destruction tour it seemed like the Japanese audience had forgotten about his existence. He has consistently been delivering in the ring though, both as a singles performer and (more regularly) in Best Friends tag matches. In 2019 I would like to see him get a less bland theme song.
Best Match: Triple Threat vs. Dalton Castle vs. Beer City Bruiser (Honor Rising)
Grade: B-

BUSHI
This is the year that I turned on BUSHI. While I’ve never thought of him as being in the same league as the top stars of the junior division like KUSHIDA or Hiromu, I usually enjoyed him as a heel gatekeeper. This year he seemed largely uninspired though. He seemed on autopilot throughout most of Best of the Super Juniors, where he was the only performer in his block who managed to have a lackluster match with Will Ospreay. His tag work with Hiromu and Shingo has been solid, but he has clearly been the #2 man on both of those teams, not just in terms of position on the card but also in terms of in-ring work. His collection of masks is truly amazing, though.
Best Match: Triple Threat w/Hiromu Takahashi vs. Roppongi 3K vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Anniversary Show)
Grade: C

CHASE OWENS
The MVP of New Japan’s multiman tags in 2018. While Owens’ role as a jobber to the stars ensures that he doesn’t get to peak as high as some of the other guys in his stable, he may be the most consistent on a night-in night-out basis. He’s an expert glue guy who can work well with or against anybody on the roster. This year he’s also managed to get a lot more of his own personality to come through and get over with the crowd, but he also knows when to pick his spots and when to let his partners or opponents shine. He’s also low-key been part of the some of the very best closing stretches this year. On top of all that he was also hilarious as the color commentator on the last night of Best of the Super Juniors block competition.
Best Match: w/Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay (Best of the Super Juniors Finals)
Grade: B+

CHRIS JERICHO
It was unquestionably a smart business move to bring Chris Jericho in for his handful of appearances this year. Aside from obviously drawing buzz from western wrestling fans, Jericho has also clearly been a big hit with the native audience, and no one could accuse him of phoning it in in his rare in-ring appearances. For my own personal enjoyment though I would have preferred if the Kenny Omega Wrestle Kingdom bout had been a one-off. That delivered as a wild dream match, but it seems to me that since that feud Jericho has really just been repeating the same formula to diminishing returns. I’ve seen enough surprise appearance beatdowns, video promos from remote locations, and sports entertainment brawls at this point.
Best Match: vs. Kenny Omega (Wrestle Kingdom)
Grade: B-

CHUCKIE T
Chuck Taylor has been working hard in New Japan all year (and has appeared for the promotion a lot more consistently than I would’ve expected at the beginning of the year), but until recently most of his efforts have been met with crickets by the live audiences. That seems to be changing with this mysterious new direction he’s started going in since World Tag League, where he’s snapped in the middle of some matches and turned into a glassy-eyed psycho. It’s a really intriguing storyline, and one that has made him one of the least predictable wrestlers on the roster going into 2019.
Best Match: w/Beretta vs. Togi Makabe & Toa Henare (World Tag League)
Grade: B-

CODY
Though he appeared in featured matches on many of the big shows and played a pivotal role in the Bullet Club breakup storyline, Cody has never really felt to me like he fits in on the New Japan roster. He often just seems like he’s doing an imitation of his favorite heels from the 1980s. And when he’s in positions where he needs to fill a significant amount of time he simply isn’t good enough to deliver. He did manage to have a pretty good match with Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom (though I find the match overrated and would argue that it would not be memorable if it weren’t for the insane Cross Rhodes from the apron to the floor bump that Ibushi took) and he does look good in a suit. But that’s about all that Cody brings to the table. I’m really hoping to not see Cody in New Japan post-Wrestle Kingdom.
Best Match: vs. Kota Ibushi (Wrestle Kingdom)
Grade: D+

DAVEY BOY SMITH JR
I’ve never been a big fan of Killer Elite Squad, and I’ve always thought of Smith as the lesser half of the team. He’s a perfectly proficient worker, but he’s very bland and uncharismatic. He also seems pretty unfocused. Sometimes he’s a big power wrestler, sometimes he’s a quasi-MMA guy, sometimes he’s a tribute act to his father, and a lot of times he’s a boring walk-and-brawler. It’s great to have a hybrid style, but in Smith’s case I don’t feel like the various elements add up to a coherent or interesting package.
Best Match: w/Lance Archer vs. Beretta & Chuckie T (Destruction in Kobe)
Grade: C-

DAVID FINLAY
Finlay was my favorite Young Lion in the group with Jay White, Yohei Komatsu, and Sho Tanaka, but he is definitely the least exciting of those four now that they are all established members of the roster. Finlay’s biggest issue is that he just doesn’t look like a fighter. He just kind of seems like a nice guy with a goofy sense of humor. Juice Robinson has a lot of those same qualities, but he also has a competitive passion that Finlay seems to be lacking. The Jay White matches did bring out a little more intensity from Finlay (and I think that their Road to New Beginning match is one of the hidden gems of the year) but otherwise Finlay hasn’t done a ton to impress in 2018. It’s a shame because he has some really crisp offense and is a very smooth and polished worker (I love his flying uppercuts), but it seems like he is resigned to his spot on the roster and isn’t interested in making the improvements to his look or demeanor that would move him up the card.
Best Match: vs. Jay White (Road to New Beginning)
Grade: C+

EL DESPERADO
A good way to measure El Desperado’s year over year improvement is to compare his lackluster Junior Title challenge against KUSHIDA from the 2017 Destruction tour to his wild Junior Title challenge against Hiromu on this year’s Kizuna Road shows. And that particular match with Hiromu wasn’t even as crazy or heated as the exciting brawl the two had during the Best of the Super Juniors tour. Of course the bulk of his work this year has been in the junior tag team ranks, where he and Yoshinobu Kanemaru have proven to be a surprisingly stabilizing force as sleazy heel champs. I still think that Desperado relies a little too much on corny heel tactics and crowd brawling (though his brawling does at least have a convincingly out of control feel to it), but he’s definitely been a standout in the junior division this year.
Best Match: vs. Hiromu Takahashi (Best of the Super Juniors)
Grade: B

EVIL
EVIL is a reliably solid performer as one of the two heavyweight gatekeepers (along with SANADA) of LIJ, but I can’t say that he’s had too many standout matches or moments this year. He had a really disappointing NEVER Title match with Goto on the New Beginning tour, largely felt like just a guy in the G1, and had a good if unremarkable Power Struggle main event with Jericho. His biggest improvement this year has been gradually developing more tag team chemistry with SANADA. When they started as a team they just felt like two singles guys thrown together, but by the time of the World Tag League they had developed some exciting tandem offense and really started working fluidly together.
Best Match: w/SANADA vs. The Young Bucks (Dominion)
Grade: B-

HANGMAN PAGE
I’ve gone from thinking that Adam Page was underrated as a solid hand to now thinking that he’s a bit overrated as a potential superstar. But then again the fact that we’re even having discussions about him at all now shows how much he has grown this year. His match with Ibushi at Supercard of Honor definitely exceeded what I thought he was capable of, and he also performed well in a high-profile Dontaku match against Omega considering that he went into that match with a groin injury. On the other hand, I wasn’t all that blown away by Page’s G1, where he failed to step up against big stars like Okada and Tanahashi. If Page is still around in New Japan in 2019 I think he’ll continue to be a solid part of the midcard, but I also won’t miss him all that much if he’s gone.
Best Match: vs. Kota Ibushi (Supercard of Honor)
Grade: B-

HIROMU TAKAHASHI
Hiromu was out with injury for half the year and still managed to have one of the best 2018s of anyone on the stacked New Japan roster. His Best of the Super Juniors run was just as strong as the overall G1 performances of Ibushi or Ishii, climaxing in a remarkable tournament final against Taiji Ishimori that was as exciting as any match I’ve ever seen. In the years since I’ve been watching Hiromu is the only wrestler in the junior division who has consistently felt like as hot a star as the heavyweight main eventers. His loose cannon charisma and explosively reckless wrestling style make him arguably the most exciting wrestler to watch anywhere in the world. Hopefully he gets well soon and is able to bring more amazing action to 2019.
Best Match: vs. Taiji Ishimori (Best of the Super Juniors Finals)
Grade: A

HIROOKI GOTO
I’m a Hirooki Goto fan, but it’s been a pretty uneven year for him. On the one hand he had the highly dramatic match with Suzuki at Wrestle Kingdom, the weirdly compelling match against the Beer City Bruiser at Honor Rising, a great NEVER Title defense against Juice during the Dontaku tour, a really strong G1 (in terms of performance if not in terms of winning points), and an underrated match with Ibushi at the World Tag League Finals. On the other hand he had very disappointing NEVER Title matches with EVIL and Elgin, and two very boring ones against Taichi. Ultimately I think there was more good than bad, but it doesn’t feel like Goto has much momentum heading into 2019.
Best Match: vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax)
Grade: B-

HIROSHI TANAHASHI
Tanahashi had a very weird storyline trajectory in 2018, taking big humiliating losses to Suzuki and ZSJ early on in the year, not getting revenge on either of those guys before taking another big loss to Okada in a Title challenge that seemed at the time to put him definitively out of future IWGP Title contention, and then turning around and winning the G1. As a performer he’s noticeably taken it easy during tag matches, any match that he has overseas, and even a large chunk of his G1 matches. But he still projects a big star aura like nobody else in wrestling, and has a stronger command of the live crowd’s emotions than anybody in New Japan. As Joe Lanza once famously said, in the big spot nobody delivers better than this guy, as evidenced by the aforementioned Suzuki and ZSJ matches, the great and underappreciated New Japan Cup semifinal against Juice, the highly dramatic G1 Final with Ibushi, and especially the epic Destruction in Kobe briefcase defense against Okada, where Tanahashi’s command of selling and psychology was absolutely remarkable.
Best Match: vs. Kazuchika Okada (Destruction in Kobe)
Grade: B+

HIROYOSHI TENZAN
Tenzan still has the mind and instincts of a great pro wrestler, but his body is just broken down to the point where he can barely move. In recent years he’s managed to have a few dramatically compelling matches that have exploited the tension between what Tenzan wants to do and what his current physical state will allow. But he spent most of this year wrestling Young Lions, so there weren’t many opportunities for drama in his matches.
Best Match: w/Satoshi Kojima vs. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. (World Tag League)
Grade: D

JAY WHITE
The Switchblade character got off to a rough start with a poor Wrestle Kingdom showing against Tanahashi, but Jay White has steadily made improvements to both his character and in-ring work and now generates the most genuine heel heat of anyone in the industry. White is a fascinating, complex character who I find totally captivating both in the ring and in backstage promos. He even got me to watch some of the G1 undercard tags, where he had a hilarious dynamic with YOH. White’s match quality has been less consistent than his promo work, but he’s done really good stuff with Finlay, YOSHI-HASHI, Tanahashi (at King of Pro Wrestling), and particularly Juice Robinson. He and Juice felt like the biggest stars in the company when I saw them in San Francisco, and White showed tremendous poise in that match when the accident with JR seemed like it might have sent the whole thing off the rails.
Best Match: vs. Juice Robinson (G1 Special in USA)
Grade: B+

JUICE ROBINSON
Juice’s placement in the workrate-heavy B Block of the G1 exposed him somewhat as not quite being on the company’s upper echelon of in-ring performers. Still, he has an incredible crowd connection and great charisma, and when he’s got the right storyline he can deliver matches as exciting as anybody else’s. This was best evidenced by his awesome San Francisco match against Jay White, where both men played perfectly off of the broken hand angle that had been so skillfully set up during the Kizuna Road tour. Robinson also delivered big in his New Japan Cup semifinal against Tanahashi, in his NEVER Title challenge to Goto, and in his G1 match with Naito. He might not be the best wrestler in New Japan but he’s one of the ones I’m most invested in.
Best Match: vs. Jay White (G1 Special in USA)
Grade: B+

JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER
He’s rarely a featured performer these days, but Liger is still a reliable hand with an unparalleled crowd connection. While he’s nowhere as good as he was in the ‘90s, he’s still shockingly agile for a man of his age, and can still step up and deliver quality matches in the rare cases that he’s asked to.
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (Strong Style Evolved)
Grade: B-

KAZUCHIKA OKADA
Whatever Okada did this year was bound to be overshadowed by his otherworldly 2017. The second half of his epic two-year IWGP Heavyweight Title reign was certainly not as memorable as the first, but still featured strong matches against the likes of Zack Sabre Jr and Hiroshi Tanahashi, not to mention an absolutely incredible title loss to Kenny Omega. The “Broken Okada” stuff since then has brought some interesting new dimensions to Okada’s character, and allowed the main character of New Japan’s narrative to take a temporary backseat to allow rising stars like Jay White to flourish. The downside of Okada’s new direction is that he hasn’t quite been the one man Match of the Year factory that he was in 2017, but his feud with White feels like the hottest thing going on in the company right now, and he’s still managed to pull out some terrific matches like the Destruction briefcase challenge against Tanahashi.
Best Match: vs. Kenny Omega (Dominion)
Grade: A-

KENNY OMEGA
This has been a weird year for Kenny Omega to say the least. On the one hand, he’s peaked higher and reached those levels more often than the rest of New Japan’s Big 4 main eventers. On the other hand he’s had some of the worst IWGP Title defenses of the modern era, and was the centerpiece of a major storyline (the Bullet Club Civil War) that started with tons of promise and then completely fizzled out. (This feud also included my very least favorite New Japan match of the year, which was Kenny’s G1 bout against Tama Tonga). Omega’s really presented himself poorly as a champion, with awkward worked shoot promos, and an almost total absence from the company for the last quarter of the year. I think that part of the problem with Omega’s 2018 was his contract situation, which put the company in a position where they were seemingly rushing to cram in several years’ worth of storylines while they knew they still had him under contract. The Bullet Club breakup, the reunion with Ibushi, the victory over Okada, and the building tension with Ibushi have all played out at once with no room for any of these storylines to breathe, not to mention no room to properly build up Omega’s Wrestle Kingdom main event with Tanahashi. Omega’s character got lost somewhere in the process, and now he seems like a haphazard assemblage of heel and babyface traits that just don’t fit together.

Despite all of those frustrations, you really can’t argue with the quality of Omega’s high end output. The IWGP Title win over Okada is one of the best and most exciting matches I’ve ever seen. While I would have liked to see a proper Tag Title run for them, all of the Golden Lovers matches have been excellent. The G1 matches against Naito, Goto, and especially Ishii were all outstanding, and the rest of his tournament (apart from the aforementioned Tama Tonga match, and a disappointing showing with Juice Robinson) was very impressive as well. But there was just an exhausting amount of Kenny Omega this year, with too much going on for all of it to work. He was in 4 of my 10 favorite New Japan matches this year, but for everything that he did that was great there was at least one match or storyline or promo that either underwhelmed or straight up sucked.
Best Match: vs. Kazuchika Okada (Dominion)
Grade: B

KOTA IBUSHI
There aren’t too many people on the New Japan roster who had as consistently strong an in-ring year as Kota Ibushi. Whether he’s striking, flying, or doing comedy Ibushi is one of the most dynamic and exciting wrestlers around. His G1 run was phenomenal, full of thrilling matches wrestled in a wide variety of styles. The Golden Lovers didn’t get the full-blown tag team run that I wanted, but all of their matches were great, and they arguably even exceeded The Young Bucks in terms of high end tag team match output. The only issue I had with Kota’s year is that he too often felt like he was in his partner’s shadow. It’s very possible that that is an intentional storyline device to set up a future match between he and Kenny, but Omega’s had so much other stuff going on that it’s sometimes felt like Ibushi is just an accessory to his partner rather than his own wrestler, which is a shame since he’s definitely been the more consistent performer of the two.
Best Match: vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (G1 Climax Finals)
Grade: A-

KUSHIDA
Even though he ended it holding the IWGP Junior Title, it was a pretty quiet year for KUSHIDA. He largely took a back seat this year to allow Ospreay and Hiromu to lead the junior division. Aside from a terrific Junior Title challenge against Ospreay at Dontaku KUSHIDA didn’t really have any outright bangers this year, though he was reliably and consistently very good. He really didn’t do anything wrong but just didn’t have the spotlight on him much this year.
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (Wrestling Dontaku)
Grade: B

LANCE ARCHER
I really like some of Archer’s signature moves (he’s got a great chokeslam, and the rarely-seen Blackout is one of the coolest finishers in New Japan) but I’m not a fan of his walk-and-brawl match structures. I feel that he’s held back by being tied to the bland Davey Boy Smith Jr., and also by the hot-and-cold booking of K.E.S. Archer would probably excel in the role of big guy gatekeeper monster (he’s certainly more athletic than Fale), but he is stuck in a boring and seemingly expendable tag team. I am glad that his tedious water spitting entrance is a thing of the past, though.
Best Match: w/Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Beretta & Chuckie T (Destruction in Kobe)
Grade: C

MANABU NAKANISHI
I really don’t even know what to say about this guy’s 2018, which I suppose speaks volumes in and of itself. I really had to dig deep to come up with something I could even call Nakanishi’s “best match,” and it’s something that was mostly memorable to me for featuring one of Nakanishi’s hilariously bumbling attempts to fly over the top rope.
Best Match: w/Yuji Nagata vs. Beretta & Chuckie T (World Tag League)
Grade: D

MARTY SCURLL
Scurll might be the only gaijin I can think of who’s actually gotten less interesting as a worker since coming to New Japan. He relies way too much on goofy comedy spots and outdated heel tactics, and his big matches tend to go on way too long with little in the way of structure. That said he can still deliver when he’s in the ring with eternal rival Will Ospreay, and did so in two very memorable matches this year. The KUSHIDA match at King of Pro Wrestling was pretty solid as well. Still, that doesn’t excuse his lackluster performance through Best of the Super Juniors or elsewhere. I expect that he’ll spend most of his 2019 in Ring of Honor or All Elite Wrestling (depending on his contract situation) and I won’t miss him if he’s not around in New Japan.
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (Sakura Genesis)
Grade: C

MICHAEL ELGIN
I generally believe in separating the art from the artist. The problem with doing that with Michael Elgin, though, is that part of his appeal used to be watching a hardworking guy living his dream, and knowing what we know now about his personal life has irrevocably damaged that part of his game. What we are left with then is just an evaluation of his in-ring work, which was shakier and less consistent in 2018 than in the past few years. Elgin had a good run as the reliable workrate guy of the G1 A Block, but he also disappointed in his NEVER challenge against Goto, and just generally didn’t have too many standout moments in 2018. I’m not sure what Elgin’s contract status is, but if he is still with New Japan in 2019 I think I’d prefer to see him regularly teaming with Jeff Cobb rather than working as a singles wrestler.
Best Match: vs. Hangman Page (G1 Climax)
Grade: C+

MINORU SUZUKI
Suzuki really bounced back this year after a lackluster 2017. He still relies too much on tedious crowd brawling for my taste (although I can understand why a man of his age might need to pad his matches a bit), but he had a number of memorable and genuinely good matches this year where he wasn’t just resting on his undeniable charisma. The war with Goto at Wrestle Kingdom and the sadistic torture of Tanahashi at New Beginning particularly stand out, but the slugfests with Makabe and Ishii have been fun too. Of course he also had a notably lousy feud with Naito, but overall Suzuki had about as strong a 2018 as could be expected for a guy who is likely in the twilight of his career.
Best Match: vs. Hirooki Goto (Wrestle Kingdom)
Grade: B-

RYUSUKE TAGUCHI
I considered Taguchi to be the multiman tag MVP of 2017, but he played a much less vital role this year. He largely just repeated the same Taguchi Japan comedy routine that he established in 2017, and while I’m more inclined to be amused than annoyed by those antics I also can’t really identify any major new modifications he made to the act in 2018. With the exception of the match I have listed below as Taguchi’s best of the year I also can’t think of any instances of him really stepping up and delivering any particular standout serious wrestler performances this year either.
Best Match: vs. Hiromu Takahashi (Best of the Super Juniors)
Grade: C+

SANADA
I was a little down on SANADA in 2017, but he really made a great comeback this year. He was a standout in the G1, even in the very competitive B Block. I loved his “anything you can do I can do better” narrative throughout that tournament, which really allowed him to show off his versatility as he went hold for hold with Zack Sabre Jr, did some excellent comedy work with Toru Yano, went toe to toe with Tomohiro Ishii, and of course had a perfectly built match against stable leader Tetsuya Naito. I also remember the IWGP Title challenge against Okada on the New Beginning tour exceeding my expectations, though I can’t say that that match has stuck with me. I still think that SANADA has a ways to go in the charisma department, though with the type of crowd reactions he’s been getting all year he could probably slide into the main event scene pretty easily.
Best Match: vs. Zack Sabre Jr (G1 Climax)
Grade: B

SATOSHI KOJIMA
It’s a bit challenging to grade Kojima’s 2018, because he was out for most of the first half of the year with injury and hasn’t been given a chance to do anything of note since returning. (I also never got around to seeing his match with Walter in the UK, which I’m guessing was good). He’s looked good in multiman tags though and his signature spots are still a lot of fun.
Best Match: vs. Rush (Fantasticamania)
Grade: C+

SHINGO TAKAGI
Though I’ve only seen a small sampling of his Dragon Gate work, I strongly suspect that we haven’t come close to seeing the best of what Shingo will be able to do in a New Japan ring. And yet he’s still managed to project a superstar aura during his brief time in the company. He won’t really be able to spread his wings until he’s done filling Hiromu’s spot, and I do think that being a tag team with BUSHI is holding him back to some extent, but Shingo’s looked great and I’m excited to see what 2019 has in store for him.
Best Match: vs. Shota Umino (Road to Tokyo Dome)
Grade: B

SHO
If KUSHIDA were to leave New Japan next week (and it sounds like there’s a possibility that that might actually happen) SHO could step into his spot without the Junior division missing a beat. SHO is one of the most dynamic workers on the roster, smoothly mixing technical wrestling with power moves with high flying. He’s great as a tag worker or a singles wrestler (he probably had my favorite overall Best of the Super Juniors run this year aside from Hiromu) and has demonstrated a superstar charisma that I never would’ve predicted from his Young Lion days. He doesn’t have a super deep resume of great matches yet, but I see big things for him in 2019.
Best Match: w/YOH vs. The Young Bucks (Wrestle Kingdom)
Grade: B+

TAICHI
Taichi’s had a very up and down year. His surprisingly strong showing against Naito at the Anniversary Show made it seem like he was going to make a great transition into being a bully, but then he immediately reverted back to his boring “stall and then hit the opponent with a foreign object” heel shtick. He really did nothing of note for most of the middle part of the year, before having two extremely dull NEVER Title matches with Goto. Then suddenly, and inexplicably, he started seeming like he gave a shit again during the World Tag League (of all tours), where he showed surprisingly excellent chemistry with Brits ZSJ and Ospreay (as a partner and as an opponent, respectively). Gedo doesn’t quite seem to know where to position Taichi on the card, as it seems like he’s either been in the middle of a push or doing nothing at all (including being completely left off of the G1), but I have more faith now than I did at the start of the year that a properly pushed and motivated Taichi might be able to do some good things in the new year.
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (World Tag League Finals)
Grade: C

TAIJI ISHIMORI
After a solid Best of the Super Juniors debut outing against Will Ospreay, the new version of Bone Soldier settled in for a fairly lackluster string of single cam matches where it seemed like he was being lazy and was not really interested in taking advantage of the bigger spotlight he was now under. But goddamn, did he prove me wrong by the time he appeared in the amazing tournament final. Hiromu was the bigger and more dynamic star in that match, but Ishimori’s performance was equally incredible if more subtle, and he really sold the progressive physical toll of the match brilliantly. Since then he’s done a great job as the workhorse of the Bullet Club multiman tags, and has made that unit’s matches way more entertaining than seemed possible when the heavyweight OGs were stinking up the G1.
Best Match: vs. Hiromu Takahashi (Best of the Super Juniors Finals)
Grade: B+

TAKASHI IIZUKA
Iizuka’s character is kind of fun in a goofy way, but the entertainment tends to stop once he actually gets in between the ropes. Of everyone on the New Japan roster he’s the one who currently seems least capable of delivering a quality match.
Best Match: w/Minoru Suzuki vs. Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi (World Tag League)
Grade: D

TAMA TONGA
Please, no more Tama singles matches. I’d always been a “give Tama a chance” guy in the past, but his godawful 2018 G1 run broke me. He’s a solid tag team worker, although I can’t say that I’ve been particularly blown away by anything G.O.D. did this past year either, aside from the terrific match where they won the Tag Titles from The Young Bucks.
Best Match: w/Tonga Loa vs. The Young Bucks (Fighting Spirit Unleashed)
Grade: C-

TETSUYA NAITO
For a bonafide main event superstar, Tetsuya Naito sure wasn’t given a ton to do this year. After losing to Okada in what I thought was a somewhat disappointing Wrestle Kingdom main event, Naito floated around in brief feuds with the likes of YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi, and then had more drawn-out feuds with Suzuki and Jericho, which resulted in him appearing in brawls that didn’t play to his strengths. Fortunately Naito was able to have an outstanding G1 (I’d rank him as the third best performer in that tournament, behind only Ibushi and Ishii) and a great series of intricate chess game matches against Zack Sabre Jr that helped bolster his in-ring resume. Naito’s considerable charisma and unique gimmick have ensured that he’s stayed near the top of the New Japan food chain even when he’s been stranded by the booking.
Best Match: vs. Zack Sabre Jr (G1 Climax)
Grade: B+

TIGER MASK IV
Tiger Mask really stepped his game up in Best of the Super Juniors, where he was one of the most entertaining parts of a fairly dry A Block. With frequent tag team partner receding further into the background, Tiger has really done a good job of filling that role of the solid veteran hand. His grumpy old man promos are an underrated source of comedy too (check out his post-King of Pro Wrestling one where he complains about the IWGP committee not doing anything to prevent foreigners from breaking the rules).
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (Best of the Super Juniors)
Grade: B-

TOA HENARE
Henare continues to show great promise as a fiery underdog in the mold of Tomohiro Ishii. He’s a little one dimensional at this point (partially due to the inherent limitations of his chosen wrestling style, and partially due to his typical placement on the card) but he’s very convincing as the tough guy with more guts than brains. I think he’s the person in New Japan who could most benefit from a run in the 2019 G1 run, especially if they tell one of those stories where he’s struggling to get a victory.
Best Match: vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Road to Wrestling Dontaku)
Grade: B-

TOGI MAKABE
The Unchained Gorilla is a fun character, but I’d like to see him continue to step down from his somewhat prominent position and become one of the Dads. He had a few solid singles matches this year (two surprisingly strong brawls against Suzuki, and an atypically fast-paced G1 bout with YOSHI-HASHI), but for the most part I feel that the working standard of modern New Japan has passed him by, and I’d prefer to see him spend his time going forward as a tag team guy (whether with Yano, Henare, or Honma) than compete as a singles star.
Best Match: vs. Minoru Suzuki (G1 Climax)
Grade: C

TOMOAKI HONMA
I feel bad criticizing a guy who was forced out of action for so long due to catastrophic injury, but Honma has really looked terrible since his return. He isn’t quite as immobile as elders like Nakanishi or Tenzan but he has a weird stiffness to his movements that is depressing to watch. The office has clearly taken notice too, since the Great Bash Heel team seems to be getting phased out in favor of the reunion of the Most Violent Players. It feels to me like Honma is basically in the same spot that Yoshitatsu was in after his return from injury in 2016.
Best Match: w/Togi Makabe, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Toa Henare, and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI
Grade: D

TOMOHIRO ISHII
Ishii is the most reliable wrestler on the New Japan roster. He never seems to give less than 100%, and he never seems to get tired or hurt, which is why he can always be counted on to be one of the top 3 performers in any given year’s G1 (this year, where I thought he was second only to Koba Ibushi, was no exception). Outside of the G1 and a somewhat disappointing IWGP Title challenge against Kenny Omega Ishii has mostly spent his time tagging with Yano (a combination that’s never done much for me despite liking both of them as singles competitors) or taking part in a good-but-not great feud with Suzuki. Ishii hasn’t had enough to sink his teeth into this year for me to give him full marks, but he always holds his end of a match up and remains the gold standard for “more guts than brains” wrestling characters.
Best Match: vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax)
Grade: B+

TONGA LOA
Tonga Loa is the one guy who really benefitted from the incredibly tedious Bullet Club OG G1 storyline. He started picking up a lot of falls around that time with his very cool new finisher Apeshit, and although his promos weren’t exactly good (many of them were actually really terrible) they did go a long way toward making him feel like something more than just Tama Tonga’s brother/pinfall eater. Between his improved presentation and New Japan’s wise decision to hide his in-ring deficiencies by keeping him out of singles matches, Tonga Loa has risen to the level of mediocrity.
Best Match: w/Tama Tonga vs. The Young Bucks (Fighting Spirit Unleashed)
Grade: C

TORU YANO
I’ve been a fan of Toru Yano’s shtick ever since I started watching New Japan regularly in 2015, but even I can admit that his signature spots can get repetitive, dull, and even annoying at times. But this year he really varied his act up a lot more, especially with the hilarious “fair play” storyline he had going on in the G1. I’ve never been a big fan of the team with Ishii, but they even managed to do some decent stuff as a team this year, particularly in their underrated showdowns against Suzuki & Sabre at Dominion and the San Francisco show.
Best Match: vs. Zack Sabre Jr (G1 Climax)
Grade: B

WILL OSPREAY
Ospreay’s always been thrilling to watch in the ring, but this year he really stepped his game up in terms of selling, psychology, and just generally projecting a superstar aura. He had an outstanding run with the IWGP Junior Title, with memorable bouts against Hiromu, Scurll, and KUSHIDA. He had fun non-title matches against Jushin Liger and Kazuchika Okada, and got to end the year in a Korakeun tag match that was built around him despite featuring 3 main eventers. He was in the weaker Best of the Super Juniors block, but still managed to carry himself very well as the standard bearer for the division, and gave just about everyone he faced in the tournament their best match. Aside from perhaps Ishii and Hiromu, there is no one on the roster who consistently goes harder or delivers bigger than Ospreay. With the move up to heavyweight 2019 might be an even bigger year for him in New Japan.
Best Match: vs. KUSHIDA (Wrestling Dontaku)
Grade: A

YOH
Though he’s been overshadowed a bit by his more charismatic partner, YOH has had a really strong in-ring year and has been a very consistent performer. He hasn’t had much of a chance to stand out as a solo performer, as he was stranded in the weaker Best of the Super Juniors block, but his tag team with SHO is one of the most exciting acts in the company, and I expect them to be an essential fixture of the junior division for years to come.
Best Match: w/SHO vs. The Young Bucks (Wrestle Kingdom)
Grade: B

YOSHI-HASHI
CHAOS’ loveable loser is typically at his best when the crowd is fully behind him as an underdog, but it’s been so long since he’s had a meaningful win, or really even a meaningful feud, that fans really had no reason to rally behind him in 2018. In the absence of big crowd reactions we’re just left with a performer who is reliably pretty good but never great.
Best Match: vs. Kota Ibushi (New Japan Cup)
Grade: C+

YOSHINOBU KANEMARU
Kanemaru is still a bit dry as a singles performer (his Best of the Super Juniors match against Taiji Ishimori might have been the most tedious New Japan match of 2018) but his run as Junior Tag Team champ alongside El Desperado has been surprisingly strong, and has much longer legs than I ever would have expected. Desperado may be the more exciting and dynamic half of the team, but Kanemaru has excellent chemistry and timing with his partner. He’s also been a solid glue guy in a number of multiman tags this year, and had some unexpectedly exciting closing stretches against Ishii in December. On top of all that he really stepped up and had a fantastic one-on-one match with Ospreay in the UK that showed that he can still deliver in a singles setting when properly motivated.
Best Match: vs. Will Ospreay (Strong Style Evolved UK)
Grade: B-

THE YOUNG BUCKS
It wouldn’t seem right to give Matt and Nick Jackson separate profiles, which is one of the things I like about them. They are a genuine tag team in an era where that is rare, and their chemistry with each other and ability to work well with seemingly anybody is really impressive. In 2018 they gave teams as different as Roppongi 3K, The Golden Lovers, EVIL & SANADA, and G.O.D. their best matches of the year. Which made it all the more disappointing that the team basically elected to take the last quarter of the year off from New Japan, including not even appearing in the World Tag League tournament, where they surely would have been standouts. (And then awkwardly inserting themselves into the Wrestle Kingdom Tag Title picture anyway). I love the Young Bucks’ matches, but by the end of 2018 they didn’t really feel like New Japan roster members, and I’m ready for them to move on.
Best Match: vs. Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi (Strong Style Evolved)
Grade: B+

YUJI NAGATA
Nagata is past the point in his career where he’ll likely be in any more meaningful singles programs, but I think he really excels in his current role as Head Dad/Young Lion Punisher. It’s clear that he takes a lot of pride in training the next generation of talent, and he’s had some good matches on the Lions Gate shows with his students. He feels like the most vital of the Dads at this point.
Best Match: vs. Walter (Strong Style Evolved UK)
Grade: B-

YUJIRO TAKAHASHI
Yujiro has had a low key decent year, at least by his standards. I still think that his sleazy pimp gimmick feels out of place in a relatively classy promotion like New Japan, but his wrestling is much more palatable now that he’s relying less on tired heel tropes and is also firmly slotted lower on the card. Yujiro had a pretty solid tag dynamic with partners as diverse as Kota Ibushi, Chase Owens, Taiji Ishimori, and Hangman Page, and while he was clearly the lesser member of each of those teams he at least didn’t completely stink the matches up the way he might have a year or two ago. He also stepped up and had a genuinely good singles match against Juice in the New Japan Cup, and a fun match in the UK with Walter. Yujiro is still one of the lesser wrestlers on the roster, but I never felt that he was an active detriment to the product like he has been in years past.
Best Match: vs. Juice Robinson (New Japan Cup)
Grade: C

ZACK SABRE JR
Zack Sabre has always been a phenomenal bell-to-bell talent, but this year his presentation in New Japan really improved. After his incredible New Japan Cup run and the inclusion of TAKA as his hypeman ZSJ truly feels like a threat to anyone on the roster. Though technically not the leader of his stable, Sabre has clearly been positioned on a higher level than gatekeepers like Ishii or Fale, as he wound up with the same amount of points as Omega, Ibushi, and Naito in the G1, and also got clean victories throughout the year over every main eventer in the company sans Omega. Zack’s as reliable a big match performer as anyone in the company, and with a style that is totally distinct to him. My only reason for not giving him full marks is that while I think he was consistently pretty great this year, I don’t feel that he had any undeniable Match of the Year level bouts. (The G1 matches with Ibushi, SANADA, and Naito probably got the closest for me). But he’s one of my favorites to watch and he’s totally unique.
Best Match: vs. Kota Ibushi (G1 Climax)

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Frank Olson » Thu Jan 03, 2019 8:45 pm

My Top 10 New Japan Matches of 2018

1) Hiromu Takahashi vs. Taiji Ishimori (Best of the Super Juniors Finals)
This is the best Junior division match I’ve seen since I started regularly watching New Japan in 2015. It was breathtakingly insane – Hiromu getting hurricanrana’d down the stairs of Korakuen set a new standard for outrageously dangerous looking spots – but was far from just an intense spot fest. Both competitors did a phenomenal job selling the progressive damage of the match, and the match somehow seemed more intense and exciting as it slowed down. A brilliant way to cap off the tournament and one of the very best matches I’ve ever seen.

2) Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (Dominion)
Matches don’t get much more epic than this, a 2/3 Falls, No Time Limit IWGP Heavyweight Title match set in a castle. This truly felt like a proper climax to both Okada’s unforgettable 2-year title reign and to Omega’s 2-year run in the main event scene. The match was structured beautifully, with each fall seeming like its own mini-match while still forming an impressive whole. The callbacks to the previous three matches that these men had, as well as to other notable highlights of each man’s career, were impressively layered without ever interrupting the flow of this match. One of the best matches I’ve ever seen, and it was really a coin toss between this and the match above for the #1 spot.

3) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (Destruction in Kobe)
This has to be the best-ever Tokyo Dome Briefcase challenge match. Okada was great here as he subtly heeled it up, knowing that the crowd didn’t want to see New Japan go back to their golden boy so soon after he’d been knocked off of his pedestal. But Tanahashi was otherworldly with his leg selling here, and really had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole time. This was one of his finest performances ever, as he really milked every possible bit of drama out of his leg work and managed to come back and win in a way that was totally convincing.

4) Juice Robinson vs. Jay White (G1 Special in USA)
This is easily the best match I’ve ever seen live. The babyface support for Juice and the heel heat for White were both off the charts, a testament to both men’s charisma and to the outstanding build up that this match received during the Kizuna Road tour. These guys had to work around an odd stipulation (Juice not being allowed to use his casted left hand) and a rampaging Josh Barnett and they made it all work.

5) Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA (Wrestling Dontaku)
There weren’t too many opportunities to see high-profile KUSHIDA matches this year, as he mostly hung out in the background and allowed Ospreay and Hiromu to lead the junior division. But this match was so spectacular that it single-handedly gave me everything I needed to see from KUSHIDA this year. He and Ospreay have chemistry that rivals that between Okada and Tanahashi, Okada and Omega, or Hiromu and Dragon Lee. They just seem to deliver every time, and this rivals last year’s Best of the Super Juniors Final as their best outing together. KUSHIDA’s rolling leaping DDT to Ospreay from the apron to the floor was among the most memorable moments of the year.

6) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi (G1 Climax Finals)
The pomp and circumstance (Shibata and Omega acting as seconds, the Budokan atmosphere, and the general air of importance generated by the end of a long tournament) really put this match over the top and made it genuinely feel like one of the most important matches of the year. Tanahashi and Ibushi also delivered a banger of a match on top of that, which played off of everything that had happened in their respective tournaments up to that point, as well as their past series of matches together. Tanahashi was noticeably taking it easy earlier in the tournament, but really put his body on the line here, as he suffered a brutal looking Lawn Dart, an inside/out German suplex, and, most memorably, one of those standing Moonsault knees where Ibushi actually slid into Tanahashi’s jaw. An elegant, classy match that gradually becomes an ugly, heated war.

7) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax)
An insane, borderline-reckless sprint whose high intensity left Omega’s bloodied lips practically falling off of his head by the time it was over. These guys had several great matches together in 2017 (plus a good but disappointing IWGP Title match this year) but I think this exceeded them all.

8) The Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks (Strong Style Evolved)
This match perhaps seems less impressive now that the Bullet Club Civil War storyline turned out to be such a wet fart, but it was humming along nicely back in March and this match did a great job of simultaneously playing off all of the storyline elements that had been built up to this point and also delivering more than its fair share of lightning fast high spots. Perhaps the match leans a little too heavily on the meagre acting abilities of Kenny Omega and Matt Jackson, and Kota Ibushi is uncharacteristically sloppy at a few points, but this might be the most purely ambitious match of the year, and it’s really amazing how much they managed to pack into this.

9) The Young Bucks vs. Roppongi 3K (Wrestle Kingdom)
The structure and style of this match was so different and surprising compared to what’s normally expected of a Junior Tag Title match. There was still some impressive high flying (mostly courtesy of Nick Jackson) but the match was mostly built around back injuries for Matt Jackson and YOH, who both sold so convincingly that I was legitimately convinced that the match had gone off the rails. There were also some really smart callbacks to 2017’s Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice Wrestle Kindgomd match (one of my favorites of last year) that made it seem as if manager Rocky Romero had really coached his young team on strategies for dealing with the Bucks.

10) Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto (G1 Climax)
I love the dynamic of a dominant champion getting taken to the limit by a hard-working underdog in front of a Korakuen Hall audience, and while this wasn’t quite as good in that regard as the 2017 G1 match between Okada and Elgin it was still a totally electric and exciting bout. Goto preventing Omega from doing one of his springboard dives by chucking a (non-folding) chair at the champion’s head remains one of my favorite spots of the year. This was also the only match of the year not featuring Hiromu to have a really memorable and exciting crowd brawling spot as well, climaxing with Omega doing an insane Moonsault onto Goto right on Korakuen’s wooden bleachers.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Rich Kraetsch » Fri Jan 04, 2019 12:13 pm

It's over.

What'd you guys think? No champions retained. Felt like a true changing of the guard show. Thoughts/ratings, etc. put 'em here

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by rollup » Fri Jan 04, 2019 12:17 pm

from a in ring action pov it was not as high as other wrestle kingdoms but the booking and setups were great important for the outlook for the company.

Jay White is a made man and you can go in multiple directions for both naito or tanahashi title defences

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by yaritaihoudai » Fri Jan 04, 2019 1:31 pm

Great show. Everything feels a lot more fresh coming off this this, even with Tanahashi entering his 8th reign. All new champions with clean slates coming into 2019. Next challengers for any belt feel like total dice rolls. We'll have a clearer idea where they'll be going 24 hours from now, but tonight feels like a real palette cleanser.

White obviously got over huge, but Ishimori and Shingo also got huge bumps from this show.

I think the Elite guys will be sticking around at least in a part time capacity, but if this is it, can't say it's a huge loss. I'll watch the Bucks matches in AEW. I don't know if there's any super juicy matches left in NJPW I'd be dying to see. Only super teams that NJPW doesn't seem to want to book together like Suzuki/Sabre, Ishii/Goto, or an Okada/Tanahashi that I doubt they would ever book. Cody can kick rocks after that cringe fest tonight (how did he fuck up the Pulp Friction?), and while I'd like to see more Omega matches vs. Okada, Naito, and Tanahashi, the only match I feel would leave a hole in his resume is his ultimate battle with Ibushi.

Whatever happens with all that, I'll be looking forward to what develops in NJPW in the weeks to come.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Danwaka » Fri Jan 04, 2019 2:04 pm

Very good show for the most part, helped that I was taking it in during the early hours of the morning and right after logging off is when I went to have lunch. Missed the first three matches live so I'll need to go back and watch them, but it was a lot of fun. I think Okada's return as Rainmaker was an incredible tease, and the main event was definitely my match of the night. Naito vs. Jericho was fun but I'm not a big Jericho fan so it didn't do as much for me as for those who grew up on the guy. The heavyweight tag match was fun, the kind of clusterfuck I can really get behind.

One thing I will note is that with most of the titles picked up by LIJ, there seems to be a place for SZKG to make an early 2019 push and challenge for titles. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tetsuya Naito, KES vs. EVIL/SANADA, and Desperado/Kanemaru vs. LIJuniors, Suzuki vs. Ospreay sound like great New Beginning matches to me.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Ckkj14 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:56 pm

Ospreay v Ibushi - ****1/2
Junior Tag - ***1/2
Ishii v ZSJ - ****1/4
Heaveyweight Tag - ****
Cody v Juice - ***
Kushida v Ishimori - ***1/2
Okada v White - ****3/4
Jericho v Naito - ****1/2
Omega v Tanahashi - *****

Probably the high Man on Okada v White but absolutely loved how much they put over Jay White. He's a superstar. The main event was incredible. Looking forward to New Years Dash tomorrow to see what angles get set up

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by armsofsleep » Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:33 pm

Good not great show. I think the pacing did help a lot of matches but nothing before the last three matches went over ***1/2 for me, and some of it (Cody/Juice, KUSHIDA/Ishimori) was straight up bad. I do think the top three matches delivering helped it a ton, with the semi-main standing out as the only MOTY level match.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by BoxingRobes » Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:08 pm

Kota Ibushi (c) v. Will Ospreay - ****1/4
Junior Tag - ***1/4
Tomohiro Ishii (c) v. Zack Sabre Jr. - ****
Heaveyweight Tag - ***1/4
CODY (c) v. Juice Robinson - ***
KUSHIDA (c) v Ishimori - ***
Kazuchika Okada v. Jay White - ***1/2
Chris Jericho (c) v. Tetsuya Naito - ****1/2
Kenny Omega (c) v Hiroshi Tanahashi - in the ****1/2 to ****3/4 spectrum. idk.

The weakest WrestleKingdom of recent vintage. Wasn't a bad show by any means, the working floor was pretty high, but the final four matches really failed to get to recent WrestleKingdom standard. Junior Title and Okada v. Jay White really just didn't get there for me. Felt both matches were get in, get out type fare.

I really enjoyed the co-Mains though. Felt the upper mid-card failed the show. Everything else was right where it probably should have been.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Frank Olson » Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:20 pm

This Wrestle Kingdom didn't peak as high as some of the other recent ones, but it was probably the easiest front-to-back watch. A lot of times these mammoth shows can feel like a bit of a slog even when there's a lot of great stuff on them, but this one flew by.

The NEVER gauntlet match wasn't anything special, but there were some interesting developments (Finlay picking up the first two falls, a low-key angle that seemed to separate Chase Owens and Yujiro from the Elite guys) and fun random pairings of guys that you don't normally see work with each other (Nagata vs. Scurll, Suzuki vs. Taguchi, etc.). I do think that moving this to the pre-show really helped the pacing of the main show, as has been much discussed.

Ospreay/Ibushi reminded me a little of the Ibushi/Omega match from the G1 in that in what was a really spectacular match by any reasonable standard but couldn't quite live up to the wild expectations that I had for it. There were some really great moments in it though, like Ospreay countering the Golden Triangle Moonsault with a chest kick, or that striking battle they had while Ibushi was hanging upside down in the corner. It wasn't the best match on the show like I was hoping it would be, but it was definitely a hot opener.

The Jr Tag Title 3-way was, like most 3-way matches, hard to get invested in, but it had some decent action for the amount of time they were given. The spot where SHO and YOH blocked simultaneous BUSHI mist and Kanemaru whiskey spit spots was funny, and the closing stretch between Shingo and SHO was cool.

Sabre/Ishii was pretty great, probably my second favorite of their matches together behind the 2017 G1 match. The story of Sabre working over Ishii's arm was simple but well told. The thing where Sabre absorbed the damage from the top rope brainbuster in order to get in one more shot on Ishii's arm doesn't make a ton of sense on paper but worked very well in context.

The Heavyweight 3-way was surprisingly a little better than the Jr one. I loved that crazy tope sequence between SANADA and the Bucks. I don't seem to remember G.O.D. doing much of anything in the match, which is probably just as well.

Juice/Cody was the one real stinker of the night. Brandi is not exactly Sherri Martel when it comes to valet work, and it felt like an awful lot of the match was centered around her for some reason (until Tiger Hattori was forced to eject her from ringside, to no reaction from the crowd). At least they kept it short and the right guy won.

Ishimori/KUSHIDA was an exciting fast-paced match with a VERY definitive win for Ishimori. It seemed like he kicked out of or no sold virtually all of KUSHIDA's signature spots, so I guess the rumors about KUSHIDA leaving are true. The new champion should bring a fresh direction to the junior division, and it will be interesting to see who his title feuds are with (I'm thinking Taguchi will be up first since those two will be across from each other in the NEVER 6-man match at Dash.

White/Okada was in some ways the most interesting match of the night. I wouldn't know what star rating to slap on it, but it was brilliant from a storytelling perspective. It's crazy how exciting it was to finally hear the proper Rainmaker theme and see Okada wearing the proper gear was. He dominated practically the entire match with all of his signature spots and then White just countered the Rainmaker out of nowhere into the Blade Runner and that was it. They got the crowd hotter than they've ever been for Okada as a babyface, made it look like he was for sure winning, and then dashed everybody's hopes with one perfectly executed spot. Great stuff, and great in a totally different way than you expect from a big time New Japan match.

Naito/Jericho really exceeded my expectations. I didn't really care for their first match, and wasn't into the build for this one, but this match was laid out and paced really well. It felt more like a proper wrestling match with plunder elements, whereas the Dominion match felt like a plunder match with some sloppy wrestling. I started getting really into it at that moment where Naito looked like he was going to do his fake dive taunt, only to actually dive, and then only to get blasted in the face with a kendo stick. That moment was just perfectly executed. Everything from there on out was very exciting. Naito having to use the belt that he hates to help him win the match was a nice storytelling moment too. He dragged the belt with him to the back rather than destroying it or just leaving it on the ground, so hopefully that was a signal that there will be some development to his character going forward.

Tanahashi/Omega was definitely my favorite match of the night. The build may have been lackluster, but they really delivered big time in the ring. I was surprised by how heated and violent the match felt. That inverted dragon screw that Tanahashi hit while Omega was laying across the top rope was brutal. I went into the match thinking that Tanahashi would win, and then when Omega kicked out of the first two High Fly Flows I was convinced that I was wrong, so it was kind of a rollercoaster.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by IIDXias » Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:08 pm

Here be my stars (I didn't rate the gauntlet cause I was honestly still half asleep and barely paid attention; all those crazy show announcements before 3 am woke my ass up real quick though):

Ibushi-Ospreay: ***1/2
junior tag: ***
ZSJ-Ishii: ****1/4
heavyweight tag: **1/2
Cody-Juice: 1/4*
KUSHIDA-Taiji: ***
Okada-White: ****
Naito-Jericho: ****3/4
Omega-Tanahashi: ****1/4

Would definitely agree that it was one of the weaker Wrestle Kingdoms of recent vintage, but still not close to what I'd call a bad show or anything. Top 3 matches saved it after an undercard that was just there. I did like the Naito-Jericho Dominion match a lot, went ****1/2, but this one was even better and the clear match of the night for me. Main event I just wasn't into the first half at all but once Tanahashi went through the table it really picked up. The usual issues I have with Kenny (some really absurd selling choices like the ridiculous looking coughing fit on the apron to sell the Sling Blade, his faces in general, clutching his knee like he was seriously injured and then immediately hitting a perfect running V Trigger) dragged the main event down, but it was still an excellent match. Tanahashi was incredible.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Bloodbuzz Bunk » Sat Jan 05, 2019 2:26 am

I will comment on Wrestle Kingdom later once I have watched it all.

But I want to comment on that schedule they released for the first half of the year. Ballsy as hell to put the BOSJ Final in Sumo Hall. But most importantly I'm so excited for the first night of the G1 being in Dallas that I am going actually attend it. I haven't attended a pro wrestling event since middle school(so fifteen-ish years for me) and I am gonna travel 8 hours to get there. I am that excited for it. It's a great move and bet it sells that 20k stadium out.

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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by throwstuff165 » Sat Jan 05, 2019 4:31 am

Gauntlet - ***
Ibushi/Ospreay - ****3/4
Jr. 3-Way - ***
Ishii/ZSJ - ****
HW 3-Way - ***1/2
Cody/Juice - **
KUSHIDA/Ishimori - ***1/2
Okada/White - ****1/4
Jericho/Naito - ****1/4
Omega/Tanahashi - *****

I'm almost impressed that Cody and Juice managed to have a match that was literally nothing but interference followed by a finishing sequence. The more I think about it, the more I hate it.

I appear to be the high man on Ibushi/Ospreay. Honest to God, if there had been a little more to the finishing sequence, I might've gone the full five. It had most of my favorite spots of the night and managed to fit them all into a cohesive, well-paced match with no wasted movement or time. Always love when Ospreay gets nasty and busts out that elbow.

Conversely, I seem like the low guy on the IC Title match. I still quite enjoyed it, obviously, but it felt like it was missing the creativity and novelty of the Omega match from last year. Maybe I'm docking it unfairly by comparing the two. Or maybe I'm just kinda bored with Naito, I dunno.

Bushiroad Era WK Ranking:
11 > 10 > 12 > 13 > 9 > 8 > 7

Bloodbuzz Bunk
Posts: 209
Joined: Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:50 pm

Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Bloodbuzz Bunk » Sat Jan 05, 2019 6:24 am

Now that I finished the show, I have to say that all the negative buzz about the undercard has been a little overblown.

1) Ospreay v Ibushi 4 stars: This was 3/4 of a great match with a nonexistent finish. Perhaps Kota’s concussion is legit and they needed to wrap it up quickly or maybe they were holding back the juicy finishing sequences for a main event spot down the road. Nonetheless good to great match that it is being somewhat maligned because it’s not gonna break Meltzer’s scale.

2) Jr Heavyweight Tag Title 2.5 stars: This and two other matches are worth truly gripeing about. This obviously just got gutted and they salvaged it best they could by making it a Shingo showcase. Still sucks that R3K and SZG have had this intense year long under the radar feud and it didn’t factor at all in the match.

3) ZSJ v Ishii 4 stars: This could have been longer and been a little more awesome but you got the gist of this rivalry with this. So many counters on top of counters which is to be expected in a pairing’s fifth featured match in 18 months. ZSJ definitively put Ishii behind him for now which I’m happy with.

4) Heavyweight Tag Title 4 stars: This is the underrated gem of the undercard. The match had a crappy build and likely also got its time gutted but the Young Bucks proved that they can make lemonade out of piss at All In and do it again here. Add in the Sanada star making spot, Tama’s little story about going straight, and the subtle storyline payoff of LIJ finally beating the Young Bucks and getting the tag titles back after back to back losses and we have sneaky great match on our hands.

5) Juice v Cody 2 stars: This is where shit went off the rails. This match was the bullet points of a great match. Cody heels off, Brandi and Cody work over Juice, Juice hits a baby face comeback, trade finishers/steal finishers/counter sig spots as the finish leading to a definitive dominant Juice win to establish himself as a star in the Dome. Likely that was notes Cody had for his 15-20 minute match when he got to Japan or the Dome and when Gedo told him he had nine minutes he seemed to panic and just cram it all in without giving the crowd time to properly process and build to each bullet point. It’s so weird to see a failure of that magnitude at this level. The match is all unearned finish with no build or match to speak of.

6) Kushida v Ishimori 2.5 Stars: Opposite problem of Juice v Cody, this match is all build and no finish. They laid the groundwork with the arm work on each guy and both dudes got some of their signature shit in but when the finish should have started, it just ended abruptly. I don’t think I have ever seen NJPW bomb two singles matches back to back like this much less title matches. So weird( I assume that axs or the ppv gutted time overall or NJPW is not happy about contract season becoming the wild Wild West).

7) Okada v White 4.5 stars: This could have used another five minutes but it was great while it lasted. Okada busting out his old rainmaker gear/look but still not being fixed enough to hit one good rainmaker much less a series against a quality opponent is a great long term story. That reversal sequences at the end was sick and if we get another version of this match with an extended edition of that than I will die happy. White is winning the title at New Beginning right?

8) Naito v Jericho 4.75 Stars: Excellent match with all the little call backs to Dominion getting tied off into nice bows. Jericho actually looked crisp during the wrestling portion of this match for the first time in about 3.5 years. Naito is fine and will get his in a year calendar year.

9) Omega v Tanahashi 4.75 Stars: The storytelling was perfect Tanahashi proved that heart, will, and endurance are enough to outlast a younger, brasher, more athletic foe and Kenny proved that for 75% of the match that his style whips the shit out of Tana’s old school psychology approach. Great frigging spots and all the stops were pulled out( table bump, three stiff power Bombs, Tana reverse rana, and a top rope dragon suplex) but in the end for me that match isn’t perfect because ironically Omega was inconsistent on the leg selling( that’s a big Tana peeve I have tbh). Everything else about it was perfect and it made a great main event. I really feel like White is gonna squash Tana for this belt as this all felt like Tana hanging on by a thread to win one last time and that this win will doom him going forward.

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Ckkj14
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Re: Strong Style Spirit - New Japan catch all thread

Post by Ckkj14 » Sat Jan 05, 2019 12:06 pm

Jay White is winning the belt and I'm all in on it

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