Saturday, April 29, 2017
The middle show of NJPW’s three big events this week. As I stated before the last one, this easily has the best card. When LIDJ headline a show, they tend to deliver and we’ve got Hiromu Takahashi, EVIL and Tetsuya Naito at the top of this one against one of the most fun wrestlers around (Ricochet), the ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi) and a fresh fiery babyface (Juice Robinson).
Today, I learned that his name is Shota, not Syota. Go figure. They ran this match at the 4/27 show. Like that match, the junior dads opened things. We got another taste of Oka against Kitamura, which was again fun. Everyone played the role you’d expect, from the dads to powerful Kitamura to Wildman Kawato. Oka put Umino in the young lion crab but he fought out. Oka hit a spinebuster and slapped it back on, making Umino submit at 7:28. Pretty similar to the match two days ago. The junior dads stayed back and let the lions do their thing, but it lacked some of the energy from the tag on 4/27.
Kanemaru lost the titles with Taichi at the last show. He got a new partner for this non-title affair. He was pissed and brawled with Rocky before the bell. I appreciate that it wasn’t the typical Suzuki-Gun match opening since it didn’t lead to a floor brawl or anything. After an energetic start, the match slowed thanks to some typical Suzuki-Gun antics. Desperado pulled the DREADED RING BELL from his boot. Someone took notes from Taichi. Beretta brought some of the energy back with a tope con hilo that took out both opponents. Desperado tried using a chair but failed. He ate double knees and Strong Zero to end it at 8:00. A fine undercard tag match to get the champions a win. I give RPG Vice credit for making these Suzuki-Gun guys watchable.
Taguchi feels left out since his name isn’t all caps. TATSU is still in Triple H cosplay mode. Will it ever end? Also, why does he do it? LIDJ got control early as BUSHI choked TATSU with his shirt and SANADA tied Taguchi up in the ropes. The faces fought back behind Taguchi (and partially by using Taguchi’s behind). He made the mistake of leaving TATSU alone with SANADA though. We all know how that story ends. The Skull End made TATSU tap at 6:24. Man, YOSHITATSU can even drag down matches involving guys I really like. BUSHI and SANADA tried, even Taguchi put in effort but TATSU’s just bad.
They did the same match two days ago but with Chase Owens instead of Yujiro. In a nice turn of events, it was the face team who jumped the Bullet Club. Tama Tonga worked with a sleeve on his arm due to an injury yesterday. Kojima took a short heat for his guys, getting beat down in the Bullet Club corner. Tenzan eventually made the save and put Tonga in the Anaconda Vice. Yujiro made the save and match came down to Tanga and Finlay. Tanga got the win using a Rikishi Driver at 8:39. Slightly less inspired than the Chase Owens tag two days ago. That match had the Bullet Club mocking TenKoji, which was fun. This was less so.
Learning from the previous match, CHAOS jumped Suzuki-Gun before the bell rang. Goto was clearly yearning for revenge after losing his title at the last show. Either way, it still led to the Suzuki-Gun brawl around the ring. Suzuki and Goto focused on one another for the most part. I suspect they rematch their title match at Dominion. YOSHI got worked over for the most part, with Suzuki looking joyful at beating him up. Suzuki and Goto went at it again before it came down to TAKA and Ospreay. Ospreay hit his signature shit and picked up another win with the Oscutter at 9:26. A step up in quality for the show so far. Angry Goto was fun, YOSHI took a fine beating and Ospreay had a good finishing stretch.
Fale hit the ring announcer during his introduction. That oddly never gets old. This CHAOS team didn’t learn, getting jumped before the match. That led to Yano taking a beating for a while. Ishii came in and ran over Owens before going at it with Omega. Their New Japan Cup match ruled as have their interactions in the buildup to the rematch. We also got some limited back and forth with Fale and Okada, as expected. Okada ate some group offense for a bit but was left alone with Owens. He countered the Package Piledriver and hit a dropkick. Fale returned, looking for a Tombstone, but Ishii made the save. Okada nailed Fale with an impressive air raid crash like move before putting Owens away after a Tombstone and Rainmaker at 13:11. Good stuff to hype the upcoming matches. It was kept short enough with a good amount of action. The crowd was hot and Okada winning made sense since Fale has dominated these matches lately.
Takahashi has been one of, if not the best wrestler in 2017. Takahashi charged at the bell, so Ricochet met him with a big boot. He followed with a series of dives and offense, including a springboard 450 splash, nearly winning in a minute like Hiromu did against KUSHIDA. That set the tone for a wild match full of crazy action. Ricochet had the champ scouted, countering the sunset flip bomb to the outside with a rana and a top rope move into a super wheelbarrow slam of sorts. Takahashi responded with a brutal apron DVD but his next dive was caught into an awesome Northern lights suplex into a brainbuster. WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING? They traded blows inside, punctuated by a series of Germans from Hiromu. Ricochet went for the SSP but Takahashi got his knees up. He smelled blood, following with a belly to belly to the corner and the Time Bomb for a near fall. Ricochet survived a corner DVD and went into a flurry, capped with the Benadryller (he didn’t hit it cleanly) and it only got two. He made a crucial mistake, crashing and burning on the 630. Takahashi nailed a destroyer, corner DVD and another Time Bomb to retain at 16:29. Hiromu Takahashi is mental and I love every second of it. This was wild and as frantic as I hoped for. There’s a sense of urgency in Hiromu matches that I don’t get from other people. He’s had the best Jr. Title match in the Dome in a long time, an insane match with Dragon Lee, a more subdued but still great encounter with Taguchi, squashed KUSHIDA and now this. Hiromu is the best wrestler in 2017 so far.
Tanahashi took his annual first round New Japan Cup loss (Yano in 2015, Fale in 2016 and EVIL in 2017) and is out for revenge. That was clear as he took out EVIL during his entrance with a plancha. He held serve for a bit until EVIL turned the tide with his signature steel chair spot. EVIL remained in the driver’s seat for the most part, with Tanahashi getting in a hope spot here or there. They went back and forth, nearing the quality of their NJC match. That all changed when we got a ref bump and out came BUSHI and SANADA. BUSHI messed up and misted SANADA before Taguchi arrived and fought them to the back. Tanahashi nailed a dragon sleeper but the referee was still down. When he finally got up, EVIL took back over but never had enough to keep Tanahashi down. He rallied and won after two High Fly Flows at 18:46. Like I said, this was nearing their previous encounter but the interference and ref bump took me out of it. It wasn’t overdone too badly but I think it made EVIL look a bit weak and ultimately was unnecessary.
It’s the biggest match in Juice Robinson’s career. The video package before the match talked about how Juice has grown since arriving in NJPW and the pride he has in the company. Juice wanted to go but Naito was Naito and avoided contact. They got going on the outside, where Naito used the guardrail and dropkicks to weaken Juice’s leg. It looked quite violent and set up the knee bar. That knee became the focal point of everything Naito did. Juice sold the hell out of it, from limping to struggling with offense to clutching it after using it. Naito threw himself into everything Juice did, including big bumps on a ridiculous apron spinebuster and taking the cannonball into the guardrail. I didn’t like how Juice did a full sprint for that though, since the leg had bothered him so much to that point. Back inside, they traded blows only for Naito to go back to the knee. Juice fought like hell in the knee bar before finally reaching the ropes. Shortly after, Naito escaped Pulp Friction and hit a modified Destino. He hit a full Destino for a near fall that made everyone lose their minds. Juice countered his next attempt into a rollup for two. Naito got his own rollup but ran into a huge left hook from Juice. Juice tried Pulp Friction again only to have it countered into Destino and Naito retained at 26:42. That ruled. They both did everything in their power to make Juice look like a star. They had a great plan and told a simple, but effective story. Juice sold well and is so good at the plucky babyface character that it all worked. The finishing stretch was top notch as well. It’s a successful coming out party for Juice, who should have a fun G1 run. Meanwhile, Naito has had three singles matches in 2017 and all have been awesome. For all the talk about Okada's Heavyweight Title reign, I've preferred Naito's IC Title work.
Post-match, Hiroshi Tanahashi showed up because he doesn’t like how Naito treats the IC Title. It looks like that’ll happen at Dominion. With that, Bucks/RPG Vice and the rumored Omega/Okada bout, Dominion sounds like it’ll be full of Wrestle Kingdom rematches.
Overall: A step up from the 4/27 show. There’s not a bad match on the show, though a few of the early matches are easy skips. The second half of the show is where things pick up. You have a good CHAOS/Bullet Club tag and a solid but disappointing match involving Tanahashi and EVIL. The two title matches are killer though, with Naito and Hiromu reminding everyone why they’re the best things going in NJPW right now by a fair margin.