Even with a possibly less than intriguing tour leading up to this, at least we’ve ended up with some great title matches!
Hiromu overcoming injury to get to this show is a big factor in that story. Suzuki’s master plan may pay off at the expense of the Rampage Dragon. Tanahashi continues to try to prove to Ibushi that he’s not a liability. Lastly, Naito looks to get his belts back, in a baseball stadium, and avenge the betrayal of his first pareja.
All of those are great stories, but honestly, I’m not sure what to make of the KOPW tournament. It intrigues me the most since it’s an odd set up. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Toru Yano finds a way to clownshoes his way to becoming the first ever King of Pro Wrestling? Yeah, I just talked myself into wanting that to happen.
Bring out the clowns!
- Master Wato vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru: Kanemaru wins via Cradle @7:30 – ** ¼
- KOPW Fatal Four Way: Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA vs Toru Yano vs El Desperado: Yano wins via Low Blow/Roll Up @7:00 – *** ½
- NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs Minoru Suzuki: Suzuki wins via Gotch Style Piledriver @14:55 – **** ¼ – TITLE CHANGE!!
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs Hiromu Takahashi (c): Ishimori wins via Chickenwing Over the Shoulder Crossface @13:30 – **** – TITLE CHANGE!!
- IWGP Heayweight Tag Team Championship: Dangerous Tekkers (ZSJ & Taichi) (c) vs Golden Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi): Dangerous Tekkers retain via Zack Mephisto @16:00 – *** ¼
- IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championship: EVIL (c) vs Tetsuya Naito: Naito wins via Destino @26:20 – **** – Title Change!!!!
Master Wato vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Interesting spots in this match, and some odd moments that might’ve been counters or just fatigue since it’s outside and around 91 Fahrenheit while the show is going on. Wato started off quickly, but Kanemaru’s veteran guile slowed the youngster down often enough.
The end of the match we saw Wato pull off the Dreamcast Kick, a variation of the Styles Rush and tried to punctuate it with a Fallaway Facebuster, but Kanemaru landed in more of a seated position than on his face. Could this have been by design? The clever veteran way of making the young wrestler think they executed it fine and then catching them with the cradle. That’s possible, or hell, it’s at least a good way to save some odd spots.
Not awful, paced fairly well, just the awkward spots take away a little bit.
KOPW Fatal Four Way: Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA vs Toru Yano vs El Desperado
So admittedly I didn’t care about the preliminary matches because the winners were a little obvious, but aside from SANADA and Okada, the rest didn’t come off as intriguing to me. With this four way though, we’ve got a favorite 2, the heel dark horse and the Sublime Master Thief who could win out of nowhere.
This, was one of the most logical four way matches I’ve ever watched. SANADA and Despy gang up on Yano during Okada’s entrance, take out the faction members, it’s smart. Then they throw Okada in the corner, do some running attacks, see Yano is up and Yano tells them to wait, and watch. So Yano charges at Okada screaming “I’m sorry” and hits Okada with a Hip Attack.
Then in another logical moment, SANADA and Okada roll in, Okada wipes out Despy, and tells SANADA to get up, so they Double Lariat Despy. Okada playfully extends the fist bump just to throw off SANADA and then kick him. SANADA at some point gets Yano in the Paradise Lock and right before he dropkicks, Okada gets in the middle and suggests leaving him in the lock and focusing on 1 on 1.
Yano gets out of it because SANADA misses the Moonsault and Okada John Woo Dropkicks SANADA back into the tangled up Yano. Despy tries to take advantage of the situation by hitting a Frog Splash while SANADA has Okada on the ground in a Skull End, but can’t win off of that. Okada manages to get Despy in the Money Clip, but our sneaky Sublime Master Thief slides in, hits Okada in the Ding Ding, rolls him up, AND WINS! Sublime King of Thieves!
Hilarious that afterward Yano gets on his knees next to a still selling Okada and apologizes for about a minute straight, while SANADA has a dumbfounded look on his face. Much better match than I anticipated.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs Minoru Suzuki
As to be expected, both men ran at each other and there was never any relenting. They traded shots the entire match. Suzuki of course took it outside for a few moments, with some crashing moments against the guardrail, but never a weapon.
Part of the story they told here was that one of Shingo’s trainers was Genichiro Tenryu during the height of his powers, while the man was in his 50s. So Shingo equated a lot of his former teacher to his current opponent, and Shingo made sure he was game for the fight. This could’ve gone either way, with neither man backed off the gas.
Shingo tried to hit a few big spots with Death Valley Driver and Made in Japan, but Suzuki responded with that single leg Dropkick that he times so perfectly. Then there were open hand slaps, forearms, and headbutts aplenty. Great embodiment of NEVER and the Strong Style that the New Japan brand was built on. As we got to the end, Suzuki rocked Shingo, but wouldn’t let him fall. Every time Shingo wavered, Suzuki grabbed him, just to hit him again.
With a Sleeper, spun into the Piledriver, and a look to the heavens, Suzuki hits the Gotch Style Piledriver and wins the NEVER title!
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs Hiromu Takahashi (c)
Ishimori came over aiming for the injured shoulder. He took a page out of the former Bullet Club member Robbie Eagles, and became the new Sniper of the sky. Two quick Pump Kicks to the bad shoulder, then Ishimori hit a La Mistica just to add insult AND injury, to the already injured shoulder.
It was from here that we got that heart that Hiromu showed us throughout the New Japan Cup. He kept trying to fight out of submissions and bad spots, with a few of his bigger signature moves. Ishimori had one great counter to the Overhead Release Belly to Belly, where he just jumped through it, landed decently on the ropes, and when Hiromu tried to Powerbomb him, hit the Reverse Frakensteiner.
Hiromu’s hope came from when he caught Ishimori and hit the corner Death Valley Driver, then went right into Time Bomb, but Ishimori kicked out. So this just meant he’d pull out Time Bomb #2, which we saw him invent against Ishii. Ishimori countered, hit the Bloody Cross…and then did the smart evil heel thing. He locked in the Yes Lock, just to torture the injured shoulder more. Hiromu almost gets to the ropes, and then Ishimori rolls back to the center, applying a Garga-NO Escape. Hiromu submits and Ishimori gets his second reign as Junior champ!
IWGP Heayweight Tag Team Championship: Dangerous Tekkers (ZSJ & Taichi) (c) vs Golden Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi)
Now there was a decent bit of story here with Ibushi wavering at some point if Tanahashi was worth teaming with, and them overcoming it to prove to the Tekkers that Tanahashi wasn’t washed up. Couple that with the fact they gave ZSJ a little taste of his own medicine when they Dragon Screwed him to the point of needing to tape up his leg, referenced back to the dismantling of Tanahashi. So there’s stuff to play with, and let’s see what happens.
This was an alright match, but frankly, following the last two matches, this was doomed a bit. It was a more story driven match, which placed the pacing a little on the slow side. Sure seeing Ibushi and Taichi continue their personal kicking warfare was nice, and ZSJ continuing his saga against Tanahashi; but this match never really seemed to pick up.
I feel like the story was a little too focused on Tanahashi trying to prove himself, and given the eventual failure, it caused the match to drag in spots. Ibushi did have a great moment where he just slowly stalked down ZSJ, whilst Tanahashi was being tormented in a submission, slowly undid the hold and looked to Kamigoye ZSJ back to England…but Taichi made sure that didn’t happen. Frankly, that kinda felt like the pacing of the match. As soon a momentum swing felt possible, someone came in to save the situation and bring us back to normalcy.
Not a bad match, Tekkers retaining is nice to see since that tag division needs some new life and Tanahashi and Ibushi need to be in singles action.
IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championship: EVIL (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
EVIL and Dick Togo attack Naito before the match introductions even start. EVIL hits Naito with the Heavyweight title, takes him to the outside, does the Homerun CHAIRSHOT, and just dominates early on since he got the early jump. Nothing Naito tried managed to stick for a while. He attempted the Tornado DDT, but EVIL shrugged it off and dropped him. He hit the Combinacion Cabron, and EVIL still takes advantage of the turnbuckle he exposed and just kept the hits coming.
Natio tried to Baseball Slide Dick Togo, and then focus on EVIL, but he continued having to swim upstream. IT’S ABOUT GOD DAMNED TIME THAT LIJ MEMBERS FINALLY HELPED NAITO! BUSHI ran out to try and stop all of the cheat, but Gedo comes out to neutralize BUSHI. SANADA finally had enough and hit the TKO on Togo, Dropkicked the chair back into EVIL, allowing BUSHI and SANADA to take the trash to the back for a one on one finish.
Since Red Shoes was bumped and pushed around by EVIL a bit, EVIL hits a low blow, reminiscent of how he won the Cup and the titles, but Naito kicked out. Both men are exhausted, Naito blocks the low blow in front of Red Shoes, EVIL’s last attempt to cheat to retain, and his Valentia and then Destino to win back the double titles!
Great story, great moment for Naito finally getting to enjoy his win and in a Baseball Stadium! A stadium, where he watch the last NJPW show 21 years ago.
Overall Score: 8/10
So this show punctuated the New Japan return quite well. Anyone wondering what was going on with EVIL as champ, a goofy KOPW tournament or the Bullet Club turn…it all came to a head tonight. Once again, Naito got to fulfill a dream from childhood; he overcame betrayal, numbers and many things going against him these last few weeks.
Yano being able to come up with a bunch of goofy matches to defend his trophy will be a good way to keep him active and help make undercard shenanigans fun. Shingo getting freed up to possibly move up the card, or maybe into the tag division with SANADA is fine, especially with Suzuki getting another NEVER run. Ishimori proves that he is really one of the best Juniors in general, and how he’s adapted his style from NOAH and Impact Wrestling, to this methodical heel Bone Soldier, is just great.
Lord Taichi retained so all is right in the world. Naito got his belts back in a match with solid action, better storytelling and just a pleasure to watch. This was probably the first real blow away big event from New Japan since their return, but damn, does it feel like things are nearly back to normal.
Now if only the Strong show would stop being the slow kid in the New Japan pool, that would be great.