Monday, July 3, 2017
NJPW made their big debut in the United States. The show needed to deliver and sell well to make things a success. They sold out quickly and now it was up to the quality of the show itself. This was an ambitious move for NJPW and one that could prove to be one of the most pivotal in recent wrestling history. An IWGP Heavyweight Title match and a tournament to crown an unneeded (I’m with you Naito) US Champion awaited.
After a pretty cool video package, Jim Ross and Josh Barnett handled commentary. The setup for the arena felt way too much like Ring of Honor. I understand why, but I’d have liked something a bit more original.
Ah, Bullet Club vs. CHAOS will never die, huh? Bullet Club are ridiculously popular in the States (I’ll never understand why they still are), so opening with them was wise. A famous rivalry started things when Ospreay and Scurll went at it. Shortly after their interaction, things broke down with everyone going at it and the spots just kept coming, capped by an Ospreay SSP to the outside. I’m glad I didn’t do play-by-play, because this moved too quickly for it at times. Beretta continued his trend of taking big bumps in 2017, when he took a Bad Luck Fall onto a group of competitors outside. In the end, the Meltzer Driver was cut off, allowing Rocky to roll Matt up and win in 9:21. Exactly what I expected and what it needed to be. It got the crowd going, gave everyone a chance to shine and was a wild, fast-paced match. Plus, Rocky getting the win was cool since he apparently played a role in them coming to Long Beach.
After some announcement gaffes in the opener, there was another production issue with Hiromu’s theme here. JR blatantly admitted to not knowing the difference between BUSHI and EVIL. The LIDJ unit was way over, as was Liger. It’s awesome that Liger got to be part of this historic event. JR said the first time he saw Liger was against Brian Pillman in 1992 (that match is great, by the way). Liger took a short heat before we got a quick renewal of the amazing Lee/Takahashi rivalry. LIDK brought chairs into play on Titan, leading to Hiromu getting the win with Time Bomb at 6:44. While the opener had lots of energy, this fell flat. It might be the first time ever that a Bullet Club tag bested an LIDJ one. It wasn’t bad at all, just a solid little sprint.
Page jumped Lethal during his entrance. Lethal had his ribs taped and was selling an injury from ROH’s most recent PPV. That became the focus as Page wore him down and used moves like the abdominal stretch. If that doesn’t sound exciting in written form, believe me when I say it wasn’t much better in physical form. Lethal’s comeback wasn’t too great either. He ended things with a bad looking Lethal Injection at 8:30. Most people expected this to be the worst match of the tournament, yet it was still a disappointment. It was clunky, Page’s heat segment was dull and it never connected. I say this as someone who has been impressed by Page.
Unlike the previous outing, the crowd was invested in this throughout. Sabre immediately took to the mat, put the focus on Juice’s arm and proceeded to twist him like a pretzel. Juice’s rallies were well done, as it always felt like he was using fire and energy to combat the fact that Sabre was simply better. Each time Juice seemed to get something going, Sabre found an escape and got right back in control. When Juice powered out of an armbar and hit a powerbomb, it got one of the best pops of the night. Sabre excellently countered Pulp Friction into an Octopus Hold. Juice did everything to escape, but Sabre found ways to pull each arm away from the ropes and into more pain, causing Juice to submit at 10:04. The best thing on the show so far. Sabre as a controlling asshole always works, while Juice continued to portray one of the best natural underdog babyfaces in wrestling.
It’s great seeing White, Tanaka and Komatsu back in an NJPW ring. Not so much for YOSHITATSU. Komatsu working with KUSHIDA made for a fun exchange that was probably the highlight of this one. Gunn got major heat. The fans were not interested in seeing this old WWE guy in a New Japan ring. To be honest, I’ve never seen the appeal with Billy, even in his prime. They did a Gunn/Tanahashi faceoff to build to tomorrow’s title match. Tanahashi’s hot tag got a positive response before they Gunn flubbed a relatively easy spot. The finish saw a frenzy of offense (some better than others) and White get the win with a Flatliner on TATSU in 9:40. Outside of the KUSHIDA/Komatsu stuff and White getting the win, none of this worked for me. Gunn looked horrible, dropping Tanahashi and barely being able to take bumps.
Before the bell, War Machine asked to make this No DQ since GOD cheated to beat them last time. That’s very American of them. There was a lot of brawling from the start. Some of it was dull and felt like time killing, but some of it was fun. GOD was alright, but War Machine was impressive again. Japan loves their brute like gaijins and War Machine fits that bill well. When it looked like they would win, Chase Owens made a run-in with a chair. Nobody seemed to recognize him, INCLUDING COMMENTARY! They barely mentioned it. Roa had the funniest moment, popping up after a series of moves, only to fall after a knee while remaining confident. War Machine won back their titles with Fallout through a table at 11:06. That table was tiny. This was alright. The weapons helped it stand out on this card, at least. The run-in was poorly done and another Tag Title change continues to make those belts seem pointless.
With Shibata done, I’d say Ishii and Naito have the best chemistry in all of wrestling. I’ve never given one of their matches less than four stars. Last year their New Japan Cup match got ****1/4 from me and the title match at Wrestling Dontaku got ****1/2. Another production gaffe when Ishii’s music played, then instantly turned to Naito’s. Naito started with a cheap shot and taunted. Like their NJC match last year, Naito was disrespectful, leading to Ishii kicking his ass for it. There were moments where we saw how well they know one another, countering signature moves. Ishii stopping a Naito rebound attack with a headbutt was great. the crowd loved Naito during his entrance, they got pulled into rooting for babyface Ishii. Ishii’s just so good in that role. There was a rare flub, as Naito botched the tornado DDT twice, but stayed with it and hit it on the third try. Both guys came close down the stretch, but Ishii continued to have Destino well scouted. Naito kicked out of two lariats, but couldn’t do the same after a brainbuster, losing in 15:51. Great, hard hitting match. It’s what the show needed. Their chemistry is top notch and, outside of the DDT spot, they nailed everything. Naito was a total dick who unmercifully went after the head, but Ishii was too tough for it to keep him down. This is somehow their worst match I’ve seen together.
Ishii gets Sabre in the next round. We’ll also see it in the G1. Same for Ishii/Naito. And Omega/Elgin. So, yea.
Last year, I gave their matches a lower score each time. **** for Road to Wrestling Dontaku, ***1/2 for the Dominion ladder match and ***1/4 for the G1 Climax. JR claimed Elgin never lost to Omega in a singles match, but he did in their first match last year. Omega had some fun with the Bucks and the referee early, but Elgin was all business. He looked focused and his strategy to overwhelming Omega with his power worked. Kenny used a series of counters to swing the momentum and nearly win via countout. From there, they proceeded to throw bombs at one another. Omega brought his best and still bumped and sold like an ace for Elgin. He completely folded when taking a wild German suplex on the apron. Not done, Elgin followed it with a middle rope crucifix bomb for one of the best near falls of the year. Out of desperation, Omega got an inside cradle for two, before trading strikes with Elgin. His hands weren’t gonna do it, so Omega started in with V-Trigger after V-Trigger. One came after Elgin dared him to bring it. On his second attempt, he hit the One Winged Angel to advance at 22:31. A wild match that was exactly what I wanted. It started slow, like a lot of big NJPW matches, but didn’t have the nonsense segment where limb work is done for the sake of it. They didn’t want to have the limb work effect the back half of the match, so they never went to it. Brilliant. That limb stuff has affected some big NJPW matches for me this year. This was their best match together. Just balls to the wall action, with Omega doing a fantastic job making Elgin’s offense look even better than usual.
Commentary did a good job selling how Okada is in enemy turf, which is rare. Cody added to it with an elaborate entrance, including his wife being decked out in an American flag dress. Though he wasn’t at home in Japan, Okada had the crowd behind him. Early on, this reminded me of Cody/Daniels. Cody did a lot of the stalling tactics we’ve seen, but I liked it more here. He took time to play into how much the crowd was against him. While Cody’s matches since leaving WWE have been consistently good (and far from great), the one thing he’s always excelled at is character work. Another production mistake came when they messed up the Rainmaker pose camera zoom. Kenny Omega arrived to add to the drama. Cody tried throwing in the towel for him at Dominion, so Kenny was gonna do it here. The Bucks stopped him and they argued while he tried to make Brandi do it, but she declined. Okada is tremendous at finishing stretches, which helped Cody here. Cody hit his own Rainmaker for a big near fall. He didn’t just want to win, he wanted to show up Omega. He tried the One Winged Angel, but Okada slipped out and hit a German. A Tombstone and Rainmaker later and Okada retained in 27:12. Possibly the best match of Cody’s career. It wasn’t a carry job either, like some would say. Cody was the star in the early stages (the part of Okada matches that tend to lack), while Okada made the finishing stretch work. The story of the Cody/Omega drama added a lot to the end, as Cody’s obsession with outplaying Omega cost him.
Post-match, Omega cut a promo about how this is Okada’s night but he’ll beat him in the G1.
Overall: I’d call this a successful debut for NJPW in the States. They delivered some quality New Japan matches, sprinkled in with some showcase stuff. To get the bad out of the way, I wasn’t a fan of Lethal/Page, the LIDJ tag (which shocked me) or the Tanahashi tag. Juice/Sabre was quietly awesome, while Naito/Ishii delivered the greatness we expect from them. Elgin/Omega ruled and was their best match ever, while Cody and Okada put on a quality main event that furthered the Bullet Club angle. Throw in a fun opener and a show that, despite being four hours, mostly flew by, and it gets a thumbs up.