Sunday, April 1, 2018
The April Sumo Hall show. Usually, this is one of the stronger NJPW events of the year. It features the fallout from the New Japan Cup, while setting up the rest of the spring shows and even starts some of the Dominion talk. However, this is the weakest April card I’ve ever seen NJPW put out, with only the main event feeling like an interesting matchup. I’m intrigued to see if they can over deliver.
Shoutout to the Young Bucks for moving to the heavyweight division and STILL being in the opening tag. This continued the Bullet Club battles, with the guys “TOO SWEETING” each other. Also, Yujiro had PIETER with him, so I instantly enjoyed this more than expected. The action in the match was fine. Matt continued the trend of selling his back since January. He went to do his Sharpshooter spot where he’s in too much pain and can’t keep it locked in, but Yujiro broke it up, which messed it up. He eventually slapped the hold back on and made Chase tap at 9:23. Like I said, it was fine and nothing more. The Bucks got a rebound win.
Ah, so this is the time of the year when Ishii wastes time. By the way, NJPW ran this EXACT match during the New Japan Cup and it was the first Ishii match I ever gave the DUD rating too. So, good job on booking it again, Gedo. The good news is, this was better than that match. The bad news is, this still sucked. Lots of Suzuki-Gun bullshit, mainly from lazy ass Iizuka and not enough of what makes Ishii and Yano work. Yano rolled up Iizuka after an Ishii lariat to win in 7:42. Yea, that wasn’t good. Please give Ishii something interesting to do.
I feel like people would’ve given WWE hell if they kept booking and pushing Michael Elgin the way NJPW has. Anyway, Elgin took the heat segment for his team, leading to the hot tag to Makabe. It’s a bad move to have Elgin as the face in peril because A) Taguchi is better in the position and B) nobody really has any sympathy left for Elgin. He gets beat up and we’re all like, “Good.” The champions withstood a flurry by the challengers, before Taguchi got put away with Gun Stun in 11:20. Having Elgin take the heat was a bad move and easily the sluggish part of the match. Other than that, this was decent.
The ongoing stories here were the upcoming Finlay/White US Title match and Juice’s rivalry with Goto. I hope Juice dethrones him. Fittingly, White and Finlay beat the hell out of each other at the start. Finlay got thrown into the guardrail and took the heat for a while. Juice was just delightful in his run against Goto. Their singles match should be better than the one last year. After Tanahashi got tagged, everyone came in and got some stuff in. It was a fun run. Juice hit Goto with Pulp Friction again, to a very strong pop. Tanahashi was the legal man, though, so he pinned HASHI with High Fly Flow in 9:18. Hey, some good wrestling on this show. I appreciate it finally. Lots of strong interactions and build for future matches. Pretty much what I want from my multi-man tags.
LIDJ remains the best stable in the world and have been the only guys to make Suzuki-Gun watchable on a consistent basis. They’re also typically the saviors of an NJPW undercard. An early attack by Suzuki-Gun backfired. Minoru’s need to go after Naito allowed the LIDJ leader to turn the tables. Naito’s attitude is a great foil for Suzuki, because the IC Champion gets angrier when Naito is nonchalant about everything. Lance Archer stole the show by making a kid cry in the front row. Amazing. Naito got isolated until he found an opening and tagged in SANADA. He gave us a strong hot tag segment. In the end, Suzuki held Naito back as KES planted SANADA with the Killer Bomb. EVIL fought it off, but also fell to the same move and lost at 11:27. This was very good and built to Suzuki/Naito and KES/EVIL & SANADA II. Good back and forth that made me more interested in what’s coming next.
After the match, Naito challenged Suzuki for the Intercontinental Title. I’m hype for the match, but it continues to feel like Naito’s character is lost. Why would he care about going back after the title he treated like trash? It’s been three months and the loss at WK makes less sense every day. I’m sure people will still grasp at straws in an attempt to defend it. Anyway, Suzuki vs. Naito should be great. I’m assuming it main events Wrestling Dontaku.
NJPW ran this exact same match at the Anniversary Show, which was where Suzuki-Gun won the titles. Unlike that match, which was surprisingly good, this one lacked a ton. This was just kind of a mess, with seemingly no rules and a bunch of tropes. Like, there would be one team thrown outside at a time and it just never clicked. Hiromu was the best thing about this match, like he is in almost everything he does. In the end, Kanemaru pulled the referee out following Time Bomb and Desperado used a shot with the title to retain in 12:45. Nowhere near the level of their solid Anniversary Show match. Disappointing and another in a long line of forgettable Jr. tags.
This is one of the most uninteresting Jr. Title matches NJPW could put on. Don’t get me wrong; these guys have great chemistry. It’s just been so overdone and their NJPW matches have never reached the level of their stuff in RevPro or PORGRESS. They’re familiar with one another on a crazy level, leading to tons of counters and reversals. It’s all good stuff. Marty targeted the neck, which made sense as it still allows Will to do his flippy stuff and not look like a fool who can’t sell. Remember, he only sells when he feels like it. However, Will went out and just keeping doing offense that would further damage his neck. He came across as dumb. Some of their counter stuff was natural and great looking, while some felt very contrived. Like they felt they just had to get it in, rather than because it made sense within the flow. Will had a nasty moment on a Spanish Fly off the apron, when he cracked his head on the apron. It led to a gross looking cut. It felt like that would be the end for Will, but he continued to fight valiantly. The visual is the best part of the match. Scurll kept dropping Ospreay on his head and Ospreay kept surviving, to the point where it felt way over the top. There’s such a thing as “diminishing returns.” Ospreay hit the Oscutter out of nowhere to retain in 30:44. Yea, this had no business going thirty minutes. It had some good moments, like some of the counters and the bloody Ospreay stuff, but it also had several contrived moments and way over the top stuff near the end. I wouldn’t call it bad, but it tried way too hard to be something epic and missed the mark by a lot.
Post-match, Ospreay called out KUSHIDA, who was on commentary, to prove that his win over him wasn’t a fluke. I mean, I get the story they’re telling with Ospreay, but it’s causing us to get way too many rematches. Especially since Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA hasn’t come close to the level of their first encounter.
The Bullet Club are at war, in case you forgot. Cody draws a ton of draw, probably the most in NJPW. He did great at the psychological stuff here. He’d attack Kota Ibushi viciously to upset Kenny and the fans. It felt like everything he did was done to bother Kenny or the crowd. Kenny took a chair to the face from Cody, which set up some isolation on Kota. Kenny ended up isolated for longer and Cody nearly put him through a table. However, the Young Bucks showed up to voice their displeasure with this idea. Cody ended up getting busted open the hard way, just as the Golden Lovers truly got rolling. Page cut off their Golden Shower (yikes) and then went into a series of good offense. The finishing stretch was as wild as you’d expect. Kenny set Cody up for One Winged Angel off the apron and through a table, but he fought it off and Kota went for the dead lift German. Instead, Page came in and get hit a doomsday dropkick. The finish was great, as Page grabbed Kota’s leg to prevent Cody from eating Kamigoye. Cody then rolled him up with a handful of tights to steal it in 23:52. This was very good. Cody played a great heel and there was some dynamite storytelling throughout. Kota and Kenny continue to have fantastic chemistry and Cody is a great foil for them.
After the match, Cody and Page attacked Ibushi. Cody went to use a chair, but Omega took it from him and ran them off.
Okada is at his best in matches that take him out of his formulaic comfort zone (Shibata, the third Omega match, etc.). Sabre is just the kind of guy who can do that. Sabre wasted no time taking Okada to the mat, where he was clearly superior. In true Okada title defense form, he was obsessed with beating Sabre at his specialty, so he worked him on the mat too. Okada tried, but Sabre responded by twisting him up with relative ease. One of my favorite moments came when Sabre caught Okada’s signature dropkick into a submission. I love that because if a guy does the same stuff over and over, the way Okada does, a smart wrestler would counter. There was also his counter of Okada’s signature neck breaker by going right into an octopus hold. Sabre began to pick apart Okada’s Rainmaker arm. Okada realized that he’s in more trouble than he thought and can no longer focus on trying to beat Sabre at his own game. He’s overmatched. Sabre also had a submission counter for the flying elbow and even did one for the Rainmaker pose. Incredible. There’s also a great moment where Sabre caught Okada in the same submission that Okada tapped to in the G1 25 against Shinsuke Nakamura. It’s the only time Okada tapped in his career. Okada survived and went into Rainmaker mode. Sabre had a counter or two ready, like everyone else when Okada goes into his finishing stretch, but he eventually hit one that ended this at 34:58. A great main event that did enough to pull Okada out of his formula. They told a stellar story, where Okada tried to match Sabre on the mat and fell way short, but fought valiantly enough to withstand it all. Sabre did his homework and had answers for everything. I do think the finish was a bit too similar to many other Okada matches, which took away from some of it. Still, this ranks only behind Okada’s defense against Shibata and right up there with the first Omega and the Marufuji ones.
After the match, Hiroshi Tanahashi showed up to challenge Okada for the title now that Okada has tied his defenses record. I’m sure it’ll be a great match (all but their WK10 match were), but I’m not interested in seeing it again.
Overall: 5.5/10. Easily the worst April Sumo Hall show I’ve ever seen. The main event delivered and was mostly the great match I was hoping for. The Jr. Heavyweight Title match was the worst I’ve ever seen from those two and everything else on the card, sans the Golden Lovers tag, was forgettable or kind of just there. It worked to set up some future shows, but that’s about it. Major disappointment from a show that usually delivers.