Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Originally, Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) were set to face Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano for the IWGP Tag Team Titles. Honma suffered an unfortunate neck injury, so they were replaced by TenKoji, which also caused the undercard to change around a bit.
As much as I enjoy seeing shows in Korakuen Hall, I always appreciate when NJPW runs shows in other buildings.
I was planning on skipping this since it was a dark match, but Oka has impressed me in short stints, so I like watching him. Nakanishi’s gear mostly makes him look like a young lion who just got old and never graduated. They did a test of strength early before trading strikes. Nakanishi proved to be too powerful at times, until Oka nailed a body slam that got the crowd going. Nakanishi fought off the youngster’s best shots and won with the torture rack. Again, Oka impressed me enough. His match with Yuji Nagata was better but this was still solid.
A cool video package opened things, showing some of the company’s history. It then ran down the big matches on the card, including the Jr. Tag Team Title match, RPW British Heavyweight Title match, Jr. Heavyweight Title match and the main event.
In typical Suzuki-Gun fashion, they attacked before the bell. There was a lot of action at ringside in the opening minutes, with Suzuki-Gun in control. Smith is in fantastic shape. He flexed after slamming Gedo and looks way better than during his WWE run or even previous NJPW stints. Gedo was on the receiving end of the heat segment until he dropkicked Suzuki in the knee and tagged Goto. After he went at it with Suzuki for a bit, YOSHI entered and took a beating. YOSHI fought off Suzuki and trapped TAKA in the butterfly lock, making him submit. Fun way to open the official card. Everyone seemed to work hard, it had a good pace and the crowd was hot. YOSHI is like, the strongest dude in undercard tags.
Kenny Omega just looks like he’s ready to get back into real matches. He’s been on these multi-man tags, kind of taking it easy until the New Japan Cup. Being the scrub that he is, Yujiro found himself in trouble and had to have a pin broken in the first minute or so. Tiger Mask got worked over for most of the match, with the Bullet Club taking turns until Loa was hit with a top rope arm drag. Makabe came in hot and yelling obscenities. Shortly after, we got the hot tag to Nagata. BLUE JUSTICE! I love when the old dudes kick ass and that’s just what Nagata does. He got Tonga in the armbar but it was broken up in a great false finish. The BC had fun when Omega body slammed each member onto Finlay. He tried it on Fale but he was too big and fell on Omega. Finlay got left alone with Fale and fought valiantly, but fell to the Grenade. Fun enough match and Fale gets a win heading into the NJ Cup. Not as much fire as the previous match, but more entertaining at parts.
Roppongi Vice got jumped during their entrance, giving the Suzuki-Gun duo the upper hand. Once the match officially got underway, it was standard Taichi and Kanemaru bullshit. They used a bunch of underhanded tactics, including using the ring bell hammer. The problem isn’t with the idea of cheating so much, it’s the execution. Both guys are just unbearably bland and uninteresting. Rocky got worked over until Beretta got the hot tag and ran wild for a bit. It was some of the only energy this match had. In the end, Kanemaru hit a DDT for two before hitting one off the top that got the win. The tag divisions in NJPW are incredibly lackluster but they just put titles on the worst of the worst. The only thing that kept this from being truly awful was Roppongi Vice. Bless them, they tried but their opponents were just so bad.
I have their two RevPro matches at ***½ and ***¾. Shibata took the title from Sabre in November. Sabre came out wearing both his PWG and Evolve Championships. I watched the show with Japanese commentary, but apparently the English guys noted Sabre will be a junior heavyweight in NJPW. Like their previous matches, this got off to a methodical start with counter grappling. It felt like neither man wanted to make the first mistake. Sabre showed he could strike with Shibata a bit before going to work on the arm. He started kicking Shibata, which just angered the champion. Sabre still had answers, withstanding some strikes and kicks before going back to submissions. Shibata responded with some Germans in between Sabre offense. He applied the sleeper but here came Minoru Suzuki. He distracted the referee and Shibata kicked them off the apron. Smith Jr. ran in with a lariat and Suzuki planted Shibata with a Gotch piledriver. He held Shibata in place for a Sabre PK that resulted in a new champion. Damn good match. I liked the finish because it was a surprise and if Sabre is going to be a Jr. Heavyweight, it keeps Shibata strong. The match itself featured some good wrestling, strikes and counters. This was a really good match with a better angle.
Zack Sabre Jr. fist bumped Minoru Suzuki. The rest of Suzuki-Gun appeared and they all beat up Shibata, with Sabre officially joining the group. After the poor booking in the previous match, they got this completely right. This kept Shibata strong, made Sabre an instant player, gave RPW a more full time champion (and more exposure), added fuel to Shibata/Suzuki and gave Suzuki-Gun a fresh face, which they needed.
TenKoji had fellow New Japan Dads Nagata and Nakanishi with them. Yano shenanigans opened the match but Tenzan was having none of that and responded with Mongolian chops. Kojima and Ishii got into a great strike exchange. MANLY MEN! Kojima was sent into an exposed corner, selling it like death. After he got worked over for a while, Tenzan got the hot tag. He and Ishii went at it, reminding me of their awesome G1 Climax match last year. They traded headbutts and Tenzan hit the floor. Ishii fell back and Yano tagged in. Kojima came in, lighting them up chops and then got a HUGE pop for busting out Honma’s Kokeshi! They did some great teases of Yano stealing it with rollups. He got very close after a low blow and Ishii lariat, but Tenzan broke it up. They continued the teases until Kojima hit another Honma headbutt and Tenzan locked Ishii in the anaconda vice. Kojima beat Yano with a lariat, earning the duo their sixth reign (Tenzan has twelve on his own, while Kojima has seven). You know what? I thought that ruled. They worked an exciting tag match with great false finishes. That’s the beauty of Yano. You can do a lot of false finishes without burning finishers since Yano is the rollup master. The tributes to Honma were touching and the crowd ate everything up. It was a feel good moment on the Anniversary Show for two legends. Now give me TenKoji vs. War Machine for the straps.
As usual, the heel stable jumped the faces early and it led to ringside brawling. Tanahashi was getting jumped, but fired up and hit each member of the opposite team to a pop. The numbers overwhelmed him back to the ground though. It was interesting to see Tanahashi play face in peril, since it’s different. Elgin got the hot tag and just tossed people around. He DID THE DEAL, getting two on a falcon arrow. KUSHDIA was next to get shine, working fun stretches with SANADA and BUSHI. The finishing stretch saw everyone get some sort of interaction with each other, which gave us fun combinations. Juice survived a fair amount but Destino was too much for him. They’ve done this combination a ton but it never gets old. LIDJ are just too entertaining and their opponents here are all talented guys who tend to deliver. It helped build EVIL/Tanahashi, while making me want to see SANADA against everyone on the opposing team.
After the match, Juice got a beat down from LIDJ.
Taguchi is typically an undercard comedy guy, but as he showed in the BOTSJ Finals last year, he can go when called upon. Takahashi has found trouble with the ankle lock lately, so Taguchi went for it instantly and he scattered outside. Takahashi got in his head by stealing some of Taguchi’s signature spots. The champion gained control and focused his offense on Taguchi’s back. Taguchi got in hope spots, including a blue thunder bomb, but Takahashi continued to have the ankle lock well scouted. Takahashi delivered some disrespectful slaps but all it did was fire up Taguchi. Taguchi hit Dodon for two and finally applied the ankle lock. Hiromu stood and countered a second Dodon into his own ankle lock. Taguchi had a counter ready for that and hit a frog splash for two. Takahashi responded with his corner DVD but Taguchi countered Time Bomb into the ankle lock. He did some great transitions, including turning a potential armbar into another ankle lock. Takahashi reached the ropes but Taguchi was fired up. He hit a release tiger suplex and popped up after a suplex from Takahashi. The fans were in a frenzy, chanting for Taguchi. His hot streak was topped by a trio of superkicks and Takahashi went into a flurry of offense. The corner DVD and Time Bomb led to him retaining. Like the BOTSJ Finals last year, BIG MATCH TAGUCHI delivered. This wasn’t a major title defense but Taguchi seemed like a credible threat thanks to the ankle lock and they built part of the match around that. The fans bought into it, Taguchi brought fire and the action was great. In the end, Takahashi was just too good for him.
With that score, Takahashi joins AJ Styles and Pete Dunne as the only men to have at least three ****+ matches from me in 2017.
After the match, KUSHIDA confronted Takahashi, most likely setting up a Wrestle Kingdom rematch. It’ll probably go down at Sakura Genesis in April.
These two headlined the 42nd Anniversary Show when Kota Ibushi was Jr. Heavyweight Champion. They worked a quick paced opening to showcase how relatively even these guys are. The match moved outside, where Okada did his signature cross body into the crowd. Okada had control back inside for a bit. Tiger Mask W came back with the triangle moonsault, which always looks great. Inside, Okada worked red ink but Tiger Mask W reached the ropes. Side note, I think Okada should win some lesser matches (tags or G1 bouts against smaller names) with red ink. It would establish it as a legit finish, similar to what they did with AJ Styles and the Calf Killer. Tiger Mask W avoided the Rainmaker with a snap German. They traded strikes and Okada brought out his heel side with stomps and a shove of the referee. That led to Tiger Mask W firing back his own closed fists and this getting more heated. It led to a great final stretch. After Okada blocked the tiger driver, they fought up top where Okada nearly hit a super tombstone. Tiger Mask W got free and delivered the Pele. Back up top, Tiger Mask W hit a SUPER TIGER DRIVER that I thought might have ended it but Okada kicked out. Okada countered a powerbomb into the Rainmaker and held on for a second. Tiger Mask W countered a third but still ate a German into another Rainmaker that ended things. That was a blast. Despite not being straight up Kota Ibushi, this was about what I’d expect if he was playing himself. They had a fantastic finishing run and made people believe this anime character would somehow beat the top champion. Okada’s off to a much better start this year (he had disappointing bouts with Tanahashi and Goto to kickoff 2016), while I love seeing Ibushi in any capacity. To build drama in a match like this was impressive, though it did go a bit long.
Overall: Man, this helped get the bad memory of Fastlane out of my head. New Japan delivered a great anniversary event with some notable moments. Three titles changed hands, Suzuki-Gun gained momentum and a new member and they set up future programs. Nothing on the card was bad, outside of the Jr. Tag Title match, and everything else had some sort of entertainment value. The second half of the show was very strong with the British Title match, Sabre joining Suzuki-Gun, TenKoji winning the Tag Titles in a fun match and the final two matches delivering in a big way.