Sunday, March 12, 2017
Night one was one of the worst New Japan shows in recent memory. The card for this show looks much better though, so there’s hope. Manabu Nakanishi missed the show with the flu, so the undercard got shuffled around a bit.
Originally, this was set to feature Nakanishi with Tiger Mask but Finlay is replacing him. That also meant Finlay vs. Oka was scratched. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s always weird when I see Liger and Tiger Mask on opposite sides. The best parts of this involved Finlay, despite Tiger looking more fired up than usual. He did get lit up by some Nagata kicks though. Nagata ate the Tiger Driver but Liger broke up the pin. Liger sent Finlay out and Nagata tried an ankle lock. He transitioned to the armbar and Tiger Mask tapped. Solid little tag to get things going. Nothing more, nothing less.
If I never see Tanga Roa work another singles match, it’ll still be too soon. We got the standard Bullet Club pre-match attack. It was slightly different though, since Kawato was jumped during TenKoji’s entrance. That pissed off the champs, who responded with offense until Fale took them down. Tenzan took a shot heat, with Tonga making the mistake of head-butting Tenzan. It’s like head-butting a Samoan but worse. Kojima came in and did his thing. Kawato eventually got the tag and ran wild but you knew what was coming. Roa put him down with a Rikishi driver that Kawato sold the hell out of. Better than I thought it would be thanks to Kawato being a nutcase and TenKoji being awesome. Maybe the Guerillas are the first challengers for the dads.
Tanahashi and his lads against LIDJ again. KUSHIDA/Takahashi and EVIL/Tanahashi both came face to face during introductions. The latter pairing nearly started things, but EVIL decided against it and tagged BUSHI before LIDJ jumped Tanahashi. This led to a brawl around the ring involving everyone. Naito had the highlight by spanking Taguchi. The underhanded tactics led to Tanahashi getting worked over in the early stages. Elgin got the hot tag and hit everything moving. We saw a preview of KUSHIDA/Takahashi as their exchanges continue to be great. Things broke down near the end and Taguchi nearly scored an upset over EVIL. EVIL turned things around and pinned him after the STO. Yea, this happens a lot but it’s always entertaining. Some of the pairings are still just fresh enough to be fun and different (Tanahashi/BUSHI, KUSHIDA/Naito, etc.) and it’s just fun. Still, mixing things up occasionally will only help these shows.
I’ve seen LIDJ vs. Tanahashi and his buddies a ton and it’s still infinitely more fun than these matches. And there’s no Suzuki here, which only makes matters worse. Of course, Suzuki-Gun attacked before the bell and we got a brawl outside. The problem was that with no Minoru or Davey Boy, Suzuki-Gun is weak as hell. Their offense was shit and the CHAOS guys didn’t exactly bring it either. Gedo made the hot ag and Okada worked Taichi like yesterday. It wasn’t good. Goto got some shine too and then Yano came in, but instantly got beat up. Still, he used a low blow and beat Desperado. Most guys either sucked (Iizuka, Taichi, Jado) or slept walked through this (Goto, Okada) and it never worked. I damn near fell asleep.
Why the hell did they change Yujiro’s theme? Early on, the match moved outside where Yujiro hit a fisherman buster only for Juice to beat the count back in. You gotta tease those countouts. They messed up a snapmare spot and Juice’s neck twisted in awful ways. Juice is good at taking a beating and garnering sympathy, but Yujiro’s offense is so damn bland. Yujiro had answers for Juice’s rally attempt, countering Pulp Friction into a reverse DDT for two. Juice avoided Tokyo Pimps but missed the corner cannonball. Juice still got a near fall on a powerbomb before hitting Pulp Friction to win. Yujiro’s heat segment sucked. Other than that, I enjoyed this and Juice brought a lot of fire. The crowd is reacting very well to him and has improved far beyond what I expected. That Yujiro segment just took up too much of the match though.
I’ve honestly wanted this match for almost a year now. These two lit it up against each other during the awesome LIDJ/CHAOS wars last year. I thought it would happen in the G1 but they were in separate blocks. To start, they tried one upping each other and SANADA used his athleticism for the first advantage. After some exchanges, they traded slaps, forearms and uppercuts in the center of the ring. Skull End got applied but YOSHI reached the ropes. YOSHI hit a shoulder breaker, looking to possibly set up the butterfly lock. It became SANADA’s turn to break a submission with the ropes. Their final stretch saw some great counters, including SANADA turning Karma into Skull End, only for YOSHI to get free of that with an arm drag. SANADA then moonsaulted into Skull End, getting the victory. This felt like something I’d see in the G1 Climax, which is what I wanted. They worked a very good, compact match with good counters, smooth work and some hard strikes.
The second Minoru Suzuki returned to NJPW, this is the match I wanted above all others. They mixed in grappling with some strikes in the beginning, working a bit of a subdued style. That didn’t last long though and they were wailing away on each other soon after. Outside, shitty Taichi got some cheap shots in. They fought through the crowd, with Suzuki choking Shibata with a chair. Suzuki held serve inside until Shibata awoke and fired off a series of strikes. I’m not exaggerating when I say it might’ve been the most corner forearms I’ve ever seen Shibata hit. Suzuki looked to wear him down again but Shibata reached the ropes to break an abdominal stretch. An exchange of strikes went down in the middle of the ring that ended when they ran into each other with kicks. Suzuki slapped on a sleeper and Shibata faded. He blocked the Gotch style piledriver before hitting an STO and German suplex. They traded sleeper attempts before Shibata hit the DVD and PK to advance. Not quite the war I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a damn good match with a great finishing stretch, but the early goings didn’t click with me. The dead crowd (they’ve been that way all show) didn’t help matters. One good thing is that it felt like the first in a series of matches, so maybe there’s better matches on the horizon.
No t-shirt or funky color tights tonight. Kenny Omega means business. After getting overpowered, Omega traded strikes with Ishii. They went to the floor and teased a One Winged Angel, but Ishii slipped free only to take a reverse rana out there. From there, Omega focused on the shoulder, including on a body slam on the apron. He talked shit while having the upper hand, angering Ishii. Ishii got an opening with a powerslam before garnering a near fall on a brainbuster. A little while later, they battled up top where Ishii busted out a GODDAMN SUPER RANA! WHAT AM I WATCHING? Omega landed badly on a German trying to land on his feet but then gets walloped by a lariat. Kenny came back with a brainbuster on the knee and his trademark tope con hilo. He didn’t dot the Terminator nonsense, but the fans clapped it for him. Omega hit a superkick and V-Trigger, yet Ishii kicked out, which he did again after a gutwrench powerbomb. Ishii again avoided the One Winged Angel and hit a German, keeping both men down. Ishii leaned into strikes from Kenny but can’t fire back strong enough due to his shoulder. Due to that, he pulled out V-Trigger of his own! A sliding lariat followed for two. Omega with the V-Tigger again only to run into a lariat for two. Ishii fought off One Winged Angel again, so Omega modified it into a huge German for two. Omega ducked a strike, hit a snap dragon suplex and another V-Trigger. Ishii countered his finish yet again and tried a brainbuster, but Omega got free and got two on a reverse rana. GOODNESS! Ishii then found the best One Winged Angle counter ever, turning it into a stunner for two. He got the crowd going and hit a lariat for an absurd near fall. Finally, a brainbuster (that Kenny was clearly still fighting to get out of) put him away for another upset. What a match. That was tremendous in so many ways. Ishii sold like a champ and Omega impressed once again. He’s on the best run of his career by a mile, while Ishii continues to be the best and most consistent performer in NJPW (and possibly the world) over the past few years. I loved that the One Winged Angel was protected again. He shouldn’t hit it until using it to win the title. Despite this going 30 minutes, it never felt long and had me on the edge of my seat. Ishii/Omega >>>> Omega/Okada.
Overall: I thought this show was gonna be another disappointment. The first half didn’t do much for me, with only the LIDJ tag barely standing out. The opposite of night one happened though, where the second half delivered. Juice/Yujiro was about as good as we could get from a Yujiro match. SANADA/YOSHI was a great back and forth battle, while Shibata/Suzuki didn’t quite live up to expectations but still managed to rule at times. Then that main event. Ishii and Omega put on some incredible performances and delivered a must-see match that was my favorite in NJPW this year and tied for the highest rating I’ve given out in 2017. The tournament is wide open with favorites like Suzuki, Tanahashi, Omega and Elgin gone.