KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
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The New Beginning in Osaka
February 11, 2017
Osaka, Japan at Edion Arena
Report by R.W. Andrews, PWTorch contributor
It’s a new beginning… again. And God bless em’, Kevin Kelly and Don Callis have made the trip. They gelled well in Sapporo, so I’m expecting great commentary with a side order of sarcasm tonight.
Edion Arena scales far more impressively than Sapporo upon first camera sweep. It’s a large venue nearly blacked out on the perimeter while tracks of light shine down on the ring. One of my favorite parts of a New Japan show is how the rampway is decorated. I gotta say, thumbs way up for this one. Tonight the rampway is decorated with a ribcage sculpture of linear rounded bars offset from the ramp as rows of spotlights dance near its base. The main focal point is flanked on either side by three medallion-shaped NJPW lion’s head banners. A large screen oversees it all, situated above the metallic thorax below it. And the first thing it displays as a gravelly voice speaks? Why the words “Taka is Coming. Mother Fu**er.” Naturally.
Match#1 – Taka Michinoku vs. Henare
I’ll say it again, Taka Michinoku looks like he hasn’t aged a bit. Even draped in the embrace of a terry cloth black robe, his athletic build stands out. Henare gets the Young Lion treatment – no flash entrance video with a generic NJPW logo and a no frills get-up of plain black trunks and black boots. He sprints to the ring, which might be a mistake given that Taka can still make the rounds at the same clip he did in the 90s. As Henare excitedly bounces side to side before the bell, Taka simply rolls his neck to loosen up while eyeing up his opponent with an unruffled expression. The bell rings and Henare screams towards the crowd, which is met with polite applause. They’re probably thinking the same thing I am, but socially attempt to give the young guy a unified pat on the head.
Henare gets the better of a potential tie-up, taking Taka to the mat and rolling back to a full stand with a wristlock. Taka rolls out, spins around Henare before putting him into a side-headlock takeover that Henare escapes. The crowd applauds the effort as Taka sucker-kicks Henare in the gut while Kelly informs us that Michinoku has the flu. Callis is also fighting the flu, as evident by a bassy voice trapped in the chasm of lungs backfilled with phlegm. Either that or he’s covering for sucking down a whippet before the mics got hot. Henare answers a shove by Taka with multiple forearms, but the rally is cut short with a poke to the eyes. Excellent move. Taka gets a snapmare, rakes Henare in the eyes, and steps on his face. This type of offense is right up my alley, Guys.
Taka whips Henare into the corner and strikes with a running knee to the face as someone in the crowd yells, “Heeeeey”. Taka gets a snapmare/knee-to-the-face combo for two, snatching Henare’s leg to roll him into a half-crab. As Henare drags his and Taka’s weight to the ropes for the break, Kelly informs us that Iizuka will be replacing Lance Archer – who is out after suffering a herniated disc – in the upcoming tag title match. Yano’s odds of escaping with his share of the title has increased tremendously. Henare runs the ropes, ducking multiple Taka attacks to hit a shoulder-tackle, followed up with two body slams and a suplex for two. Kelly: “We’re looking forward to Bad Luck Fale returning to competition very, very soon.” THESE are the breaking news nuggets I like to hear. He mentioned all of the Bullet Club returning, including Kenny Omega, but I’m trying to give The Underboss more pats on tush than usual these days.
Taka reverses an Irish Whip with a takedown that he transitions into a crossface, locking his hands together to peel Henare’s head back. Henare stretches for the ropes to break it and fires back with a forearm. Taka feigns a forearm as Henare covers up, leaving his shin exposed for Taka to tap it like he was trying to sink a two foot putt. Awesome stuff. With Henare momentarily stuck tending to his shin, Taka hits the ropes, only to come back into Henare’s awaiting Samoan Drop. Henare heads to the top rope, launching himself into Taka with a shoulder-block for two. Before Taka can recover, Henare reaches down to possibly grab for a Boston Crab, but leans into an eye poke and a triangle choke that is transitioned into a rollover pin for the win. He’s trapped in tight, getting humiliated by Taka who keeps him pinned well after the bell has rung.
Winner: Taka Michinoku
(Andrews’ Analysis: I know, I know. I gush over cheating tactics like eye pokes and eye rakes. Man, I don’t know what to tell you. I just love that type of stuff in wrestling. The match itself was ho-hum, but it told an effective story of a young guy just trying to make it in this mashugana world while trying to learn the ropes at the feet of a master. Working with someone of Michinoku’s caliber is a nice way for Henare to get better in the ring. That being said, I can’t wait to see Taka in a big time singles match that goes ten-plus minutes. He is just so good in the ring, even when keeping it simple against a guy still getting his feet wet. As far as Henare goes, I’m actually looking forward to watching him wrestle so I can see how he grows as the battle scars add up. His style isn’t particularly what I enjoy, but you never know what a guy can adopt over the course of a career. Hell, I’m sure you pros out there remember a young Nakamura/Okada/Naito and I’m sure there were some bumps on the runway before they took flight.)
Match#2 – KUSHIDA & Yoshitatsu vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
Damn, the second the rolling percussion of KUSHIDA’s theme hits I felt my adrenaline spike. The crowd is applauding to the beat as KUSHIDA comes out with Yoshitatsu in his wake. Ok, I’m going to do this one last time and I promise to put the gripe to bed moving forward. Yoshitatsu is doing the HHH thing, and I’m sure there is a reason behind it. I haven’t been in the game long enough to see Yoshitatsu doing Yoshitatsu, which is what I want to see. I like people to be themselves, whether in the real world or a creative endeavor. Why try to light a torch off of another person’s spark? Be original. Be yourself. Simply put, don’t let someone else’s style ghostwrite your s-.
The “music is altered” for Tenzan and Kojima, but while that plays Kelly runs down a long and impressive list of accolades from the veteran team. I haven’t mined much of The World, but after hearing that list I really want to turn the headlight on and begin digging towards the core of their careers.
Before the bell rings, Yoshitatsu holds KUSHIDA back so he can surprise Tenzan and Kojima with boots in the gut and forearms to the back. Yoshitatsu tosses Tenzan out as the bell rings, with KUSHIDA just standing idly by with the tag rope in his hand. I’m a little surprised he let that type of unsportsmanlike conduct go unquestioned. Yoshitatsu stays in a rage, laying the bottom of his boot into Kojima’s ribcage before tossing him into the corner to tag in KUSHIDA. I will say this, KUSHIDA got the tag and gave Yoshitatsu plenty of space before getting into the ring. I’ll take that as a solid form of protest.
KUSHIDA lays in two solid kicks to Kojima’s ribs before the third gets blocked. KUSHIDA hits a snapmare, cartwheeling into position for a basement dropkick. Great camerawork catches Kojima holding his hands up as a last line of defense before his face puffs up when KUSHIDA’s feet break through to tag him on the cheek. KUSHIDA starts to work on Kojima’s arm, pinning it to the ground before stomping down on it. He tries for the Hoverboard lock, but Kojima counters with a suplex that snaps KUSHIDA’s back to the mat. And good for Kojima, he gets up and decks Yoshitatsu off the apron. Kelly: “That’s what you get, Yoshitatsu, for being a…troublemaker.”
Tenzan gets the tag, joining Kojima for tit-for-tat Mongolian Chops to KUSHIDA. Kelly muses that he’s paying for his partner’s actions while the double-team continues. Tenzan covers for two, staying on KUSHIDA after the kickout with a Mongolian Chop and a chest chop in the corner. KUSHIDA tries to chop him back, but is met by a headbutt. Yoshitatsu tries to come in, which distracts the ref long enough for Tenzan to drop his knee into KUSHIDA’s crotch. This partnership is not long for this world.
Tenzan whips KUSHIDA into the other corner, following with a splash. KUSHIDA blocks a suplex attempt, runs to the ropes to generate speed, but gets headbutted in the stomach on the way back. He reflexively hits the Pele Kick, tapping Tenzan on the skull. KUSHIDA tags in Yoshitatsu, who shoulder-blocks Tenzan before trucking towards Kojima to shove him off of the apron and into the guardrail. He stays on Tenzan with some really well placed kicks to the chest, each one lacing louder than the next. He hits a wheel kick and covers, with Kojima coming in just to scream at Tenzan to kick out – which he does.
Tenzan backdrops Yoshitatsu and tags in Kojima, who drives Yoshitatsu into the corner. KUSHIDA runs in, winding up stacked in front of Yoshitatsu. Kojima gets the machine-gun chop on KUSHIDA, who tightens up his chest and clenches his teeth until Kojima is satisfied. Yoshitatsu gets the same treatment, but a little extra pop is thrown into the last chop as the crowd applauds. Kojima whips Yoshitatsu into the opposite corner and hits a splash. As Kojima climbs to the top, KUSHIDA hits a handstand kick which draws immense hatred from the crowd. Tenzan boots KUSHIDA in the stomach and tosses him into the ropes. KUSHIDA counters with a handspring back-elbow, turning the fickle crowd right back to his side.
Tenzan rolls outside, followed closely by KUSHIDA. The legal men are left standing, with Yoshitatsu drilling Kojima in the pasties with a deadly collection of kicks. Yoshitatsu hits a Blue Thunder Bomb for two, followed up with a Pedigree that is countered with a cutter. Tenzan is back in, still hounded by KUSHIDA who hits a springboard missile dropkick to send him right back out. Yoshitatsu screams “Kojima!” before strapping him with a clothesline. Kojima yells right back at him, daring Yoshitatsu to try it again. Yoshitatsu does, hitting the ropes for extra oomph, but as his arm extends out Kojima sickles the s- out of it. Then he sickles the s- out of Yoshitatsu’s throat, decorating his neckline with sweat beads left by the imprint. Kojima covers and Yoshitatsu doesn’t even move as the ref slaps the mat for the pinfall.
Winners: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
After the match, Kojima goes to shake Yoshitatsu’s hand, which is rebuked with a forearm to the face. They go back and forth before the ringside crew step in to break it up. Callis to Kelly: “That’ll be like you and I later tonight.”
(Andrews’ Analysis: Some praise for Yoshitatsu. His non-Levesque offense is pretty slick. He has amazing zip on his kicks and is really agile around the squared circle. So far I’ve only seen him in traditional and six-man tags, but a nice one-on-one with say, Kojima, would definitely pique my interest. KUSHIDA got another night off, so hopefully he’s resting up for the winner of Takahashi/Dragon Lee. I think we can all agree that either matchup would be a pleasure to watch. This match was built off the backs of Kojima and Yoshitatsu, with Tenzan and KUSHIDA playing grab-ass in and out of the ring for most of it. Yoshitatsu and Kojima have an issue that needs addressing, so the match was successful in setting that up.)
Match#3 – Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Jado & Gedo (CHAOS) vs. Yuji Nagata & Juice Robinson & Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask
When Goto’s heroic theme hits, the crowd applauds to the beat. That’s how you treat a damn warrior! Jado and Gedo do a tandem pose, while Yoshi-Hashi and his cane pose together on the ropes. Goto gets the middle of the ring all to himself, with the crowd cheering the announcement of his name loudly. After having a war with Shibata and a very damn good match with Juice Robinson, I’d say he deserves every single voice screaming for him. A smile has spread across my face as Yuji Nagata gets the star treatment – his entrance video and “music is altered” bringing out the troops. On a side note, I think I want a “The Blue Justice” Nagata t-shirt complete with underside Nagata sketch. I’ve really grown to love the guy – abhorrent after-hours behavior and all.
Callis says that 2017 could be the year of Juice Robinson. Kelly echoes the claim after saying the names EVIL and my pick, SANADA. After the two sides have a parlay over who will start out, Nagata and Yoshi-Hashi earn the nods. Yoshi-Hashi sneaks in a kick to Nagata’s stomach, followed by two louds chops to the chest. Bad move. Nagata snarls at him in a side-glance, forearms him twice, and kicks him in the chest thrice. He misses a boot to the face, which Yoshi-Hashi takes advantage of with a shoulder-block that gets him a thunderous round of applause. For that!? Ok, Edion Arena.
Yoshi-Hashi lifts Nagata up for a suplex, but before he can even set his feet Nagata bats him away and drags him to the mat in a crossface. Nagata is so much quicker than he looks. Jado breaks it up, but it doesn’t matter as Nagata locks in a modified armbar while glaring at the CHAOS corner. Goto runs in to break the hold, his body snatched up and sent outside within seconds. Nagata makes a move towards Jado and Gedo, but they clutch the top rope and lean waaaay back to give the man his personal space. Nagata tags in Tiger Mask as Yoshi-Hashi tags in Gedo.
Gedo’s arm gets twisted in a wristlock as he sashays in a circle screaming, “Hey, hey, hey, hey!” to the crowd’s delight. Gedo gets flung in an armdrag, yelling “Son of a bitch” at Tiger Mask as he stomps into another arm drag. I love a nice dose of Wet Bandit style buffoonery in wrestling when there’s a parental advisory sticker slapped on the presentation. Gedo gets dropkicked out of the ring and ducks out of the way of a charging Tiger Mask. But Tiger Mask never flew, instead twirling into the ropes while Gedo was down. Jado jumps Tiger Mask, whipping him into the corner. Tiger Mask scales the ropes and leaps off with a crossbody to decommission whatever Jado thought he was planning to achieve. Liger gets the tag, palm-striking all four members of CHOAS before missing a running palm strike in the corner to Gedo and turning into a slap in the face.
Gedo digs his fingers into Liger’s eyes, pushing him into the corner for Yoshi-Hashi to tag himself in. Yoshi-Hashi hangs Liger over the top rope while Goto holds him in place for an incoming dropkick to the back of the head. He covers, but Liger is out at two. Goto gets the tag, bullying Liger into the neutral corner and banging his forearm off the side of his mask. Liger shoves him, yelling and pointing for Goto to try it again. Goto does, and Liger is fuming about it, bumping chests with Goto to push him back on his heels. Goto lobs Liger back into the corner before getting caught by a palm strike. Liger tags in Juice, who jumps into the ring to knock Yoshi-Hashi, Jado, and Gedo off the apron. With only Goto in the ring, Juice hits a second rope flipping stunner before running to the opposite corner and coming back with a cannonball. He covers, but Goto shoves him off at two. Goto reverses a suplex and hoists Robinson in the air for a neckbreaker to the knee.
Goto tags out, which brings the rest of CHAOS in to clear the opposition from the apron. Robinson gets chopped in the corner, whipped into a Gedo superkick to the stomach, punted in the face by Jado, and receives a neckbreaker from Yoshi-Hashi. All of that leads to Juice kicking out of Jado’s pin attempt at two. Jado tries to punt Robinson in the face again, but Juice scoots away and kicks him in the stomach. They have a mini-Batsu of chops and straight rights, ending with Robinson connecting solidly with a left jab and a senton before covering for the pin. Jado might have stayed down, but all three of the remaining CHAOS member’s boots stomped down into camera view to break it up. It was a cool shot where Robinson picked his head up at the count of one and his eyes widened before the trio of boots stomped down on him. Robinson’s teammates come in, toss the illegal men out for a rumble, and Robinson hits Pulp Friction – a.k.a. a leaping Unprettier – for the win.
Winners: Yuji Nagata, Jushin Thunder Liger, Juice Robinson & Yoshi-Hashi
(Andrews’ Analysis: This is the Big Review of Apologies. I once compared Gedo to Salacious Crumb, but I’ve really fallen for the older, wiser version of him. His offense is essentially a bag of shake – not much to it, but it gets the job done. The guy’s in-ring and out-of-ring antics are superb.
I’m guessing that Robinson is going to get another crack at Goto, as demonstrated by him scaling the turnbuckles to make the “there should be a title here” hand sweep over his waist. I think it’s well deserved as he and Goto put on a really good match in Sapporo, leaving just enough on the plate to keep everyone content but not full. Kelly even referenced the upcoming New Japan Cup – which will be fun for me since I’ve never seen one – where the winner can challenge for whatever title they damn well please. Overall, a nice easy day at the office for everyone involved.
Ahh, it just hit me. Taka Michinoku versus Yuji Nagata. Bang! There’s the singles match I’d like to see.)
Match#4 – Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi Vice (CHAOS) vs. Minoru Suzuki, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi (Suzuki-Gun)
So I’ve seen one Suzuki match and am already smitten with what he does in the ring. My God what a wrestler! I even like his theme song, which fits like a static-cling blanket around a man so far removed from the operatic sway of the tune. I especially love when the crowd claps along before hitting the “Kaze ni nare” line as one. Suzuki looks awesome on his way to the ring, booting the cameraman’s lens out of his path as the towel draped over his head swings aside to reveal a deep scowl and menacing eyes shifting from one side of the arena to the other. As Kanemaru and Taichi follow behind their leader, another figure emerges. It’s Taka Michinoku, sniffles and all.
Okada’s ring entrance hits and the beams at the rampway course purple volts of electricity. RPG are out first with smiles on their faces, to which Callis wonders if they know exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into. Okada is decked out as you’d expect, his robe flowing with flamboyant red and black designs pock-marked in the remnants of a glitter-bomb. As Okada heads to the ropes to pose, Suzuki clubs him in the back and pitches him outside. He follows after Okada, stomping him on the floor as RPG dosey-doe’s their way to stereo splashes in the corner on Kanemaru and Taichi. Beretta uses Romero as a battering ram – knees up – to trounce Taichi. With Kanemaru and Taichi outside, RPG charge and weave between the ropes with dual dives.
As RPG hype up the crowd, you can see Suzuki in the background peering from around the ring post with a look on his face like, “What in the f-?” He then turns his gaze to Taka while Beretta rolls Taichi in the ring. Beretta hits a Northern Lights suplex for two, which Taichi escapes by crawling to the corner with his hand out for the tag. He picks his eyes up to find Romero, says “Oh s-“, and backs away into a Beretta chop that drops him to a knee. Beretta heads for the ropes, which is met by a knee to the back by Suzuki. Beretta turns to him, only to find himself caught in a hanging armbar within seconds. Suzuki is so dangerous. I absolutely love this guy.
Suzuki lets Beretta go, only because he sees Okada. Not satisfied with the beating from earlier, he whips Okada into the guardrail as Kanemaru sends Romero into another section of the rails. Suzuki rips apart a long section of the railing and sandwiches Okada between it to give him a camel clutch using the rail for leverage. He clearly did not take the loss in Sapporo well. Meanwhile, Kanemaru is legal for a second before tagging Taichi back in. Taichi has the timekeeper’s hammer, smacking Beretta’s Medulla before raking the blunt end across his face. As Taichi throws it away, Callis tells Kelly, “Oh my God, Suzuki’s coming”, to which Kelly replies very quietly with, “Just don’t make eye contact with him.”
Taichi strips off his pants, whiffs on a sweeping kick to Beretta’s head, and gets school-boyed for two. He tags in Suzuki, who cackles and locks in a heel hook. Okada jumps in and tries to kick Suzuki off of Beretta, but is dragged down to the mat and put into a heel hook with Beretta. Romero comes in to kick Suzuki off of them, but Suzuki just shoves Okada’s leg away and drags Romero into the depths of a heel hook. This guy is unreal. Suzuki lets them go, laughing to himself about it, and kicks Beretta in the chest. Beretta gets up and chops Suzuki, who just looks at his chest and laughs. He says something to Beretta before smacking him across the face. Beretta catches Suzuki with an enzuigiri and scampers away to tag in Okada. He was probably thinking, “Dude, this is your fight. You get in there.”
Okada runs wild on Taichi and Kanemaru before running into Suzuki, who stops him cold with a boot to the gut. Okada hits a running elbow and a DDT, kipping up with a twinge of discomfort in his knee from repeated attacks in the past. He hits a running uppercut on Suzuki, pinning him for two as the crowd shifts gears with a loud “O-ka-da” chant. They better hope Suzuki doesn’t hear that s- when his ears stop ringing. Okada slams Suzuki and slowly makes his way to the corner. Suzuki, like f****ng Samara Morgan crawling out of your TV screen, crawls creepily across the mat using only his feet and shoulder blades to gobble up Okada and elbow him in the knee. He hits a big boot in the corner, snapmares Okada into position for a running knee to the face, and covers while screaming to Tiger Hattori to “Come on, come on, come on.” Okada kicks out a two as Suzuki has a chuckle.
Back to a full stand, Suzuki forearms Okada. Okada fires back, which is met by Suzuki patting him on the chest before cocking back and swinging a forearm to Okada’s jaw. Okada retaliates, then Suzuki, then Okada, then Suzuki, then Okada, before Suzuki fakes a forearm and smacks Okada in the face before zippering his head up in a sleeper hold. Okada reverses, holding onto Suzuki’s wrist to spin him out, but as he lunges for the Rainmaker Suzuki boots his arm away. Okada answers with a dropkick, coming up clutching his knee.
Suzuki tags in Kanemaru as Okada tags in Romero – with Kanemaru running right into Romero’s crossbody. Romero ducks a Taichi clothesline and catches him with a Hurricanranna. He smacks Taichi, which sends him backpedaling into the corner opposite a recovering Kanemaru, and hits Forever Clotheslines. Truth Time: Romero is growing on me. Beretta gets in, draping Kanemaru over the top rope for Romero to dropkick him. Beretta follows up with a running knee before Okada picks Kanemaru up mid-roll and drops him with a neckbreaker. Romero covers as Suzuki re-emerges to break it up. Okada tosses Suzuki out, leaving Romero one on one with Kanemaru. Romero misses Sliced Bread, which gives Kanemaru a chance to distract Tiger Hattori for Taichi to kick Romero in the crotch. Kanemaru lets Hattori go and hits a spinning DDT. He covers, but Beretta and Okada break it up.
Suzuki gets back in, has a mini-Batsu with Okada, and locks in the sleeper before dragging Okada to the corner. He sits down with Okada still in his grasp, forcing him to watch as Taichi hoists Romero up for a Razor’s Edge as Kanemaru comes off the top to hit a DDT for the win. As the bell rings, the camera pans to Suzuki who lets Okada roll out on his own as he flashes a satisfied grin.
Winners: Minoru Suzuki, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi
After the match, Taka hands the IWGP Junior Tag Titles to Kanemaru and Taichi, who pose with it before beating Beretta over the head while Romero lays flat on his back. As they toss the belts aside, the camera pulls back to find Okada and Suzuki trading forearms outside. Okada throws Suzuki into the guardrail and limps away hugging his IWGP Heavyweight Title. With Romero being assisted outside, Suzuki walks over to him and condescendingly taps him on the head before taking his leave.
(Andrews’ Analysis: Well, this s- isn’t over. The match served well to let us know that Okada vs. Suzuki II is definitely happening, and RPG will have a date with Kanemaru and Taichi in the very near future. It was a chaotic match with not much in the way of law and order. Which made for a great match by the way. This is what a faction hell-bent on taking over New Japan should do. The hell with the rules when you’ve got a message to send.
Now more about Minoru Suzuki. I love this man. He’s that guy you never want to cross paths with and if you do he will make you pay dearly for it. His offense is just amazing. His presence is sinister. His mood swings in such a schizophrenic pendulum over the course of a match that it’s downright dangerous. There’s nothing flashy about him, and that works perfectly given his demeanor. He just beats you up and has a good time doing so. And I loved the way he crawled backwards after Okada as the champ tried to catch a breath. Great stuff!
Although I’m warming up to Roppongi, I’m so-so on Kanemaru and Taichi. Kanemaru is pretty good in the ring, but I haven’t quite seen enough from Taichi to want more. But much like everyone else I’ve questioned after only…I don’t even know…TWO matches, I’m sure there’s some dynamic stuff in the pipeline. And hey, since he and Kanemaru are next in line for RPG’s titles, I’m sure that “some” will be on display sooner rather than later.)
Match#5 – Hiroshi Tanahashi & Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. SANADA, &EVIL & BUSHI (Los Ingobernables de Japon) – NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship Match
The EVIL entrance video is so well put together. It’s very stark, possibly filmed in the deep recesses of Aokigahara as a masked face – which in my mind casts allusions to Guy Fawkes – stares into the camera from various angles. The words “Everything is EVIL” are burned onto the screen in a crackle of grindhouse font. EVIL’s laser light show focuses on the ceiling, strobing infra-green as the camera pulls back. The sickle needs to go, but other than that I’m starting to get on board. BUSHI’s mask has the makings of a great tattoo, though this skin will pass on the pleasure of ever feeling the needle. And SANADA is SANADA – looking terrific as always with his gun-smoke tinted mask and black baseball bat. Kelly about SANADA: “One of the finest, most gifted athletes we’ve ever seen.” Callis talks about SANADA’s workout prowess, comparing some of his numbers to those used at the Combine. Hey, I could have told you that SANADA was a SPARQ score wunderkind, but now you’ve got a seasoned voice telling you.
Surprise, surprise, Tanahashi’s new song brings out the champions. Oh, something tells me that there wasn’t a coin flip to decide who got the go-ahead. On this team, whatever The Ace wants The Ace gets. I’ll say this, Tanahashi should really use his influence to tell Taguchi NOT to come out dressed as EVIL. Nor should Nakanishi, whose swollen face can barely fit a mask akin to BUSHI’s. But Tanahashi clearly kept quiet – in fact there might have even been a coup for the crown – as he’s swept in Taguchi’s whirlwind of madness coming out dressed as SANADA. He has on Aviators and is holding a green whiffle bat that he air-guitars to his song. Callis: “Well, Tanahashi can get pretty much anything over, can’t he?” As the guys get into the ring, Taguchi removes his EVIL hood to reveal black eyeliner smeared carelessly under his orbs like a strung out street walker. As does Tanahashi. I think Taguchi might be leading these guys astray.
When the guys pose in the middle of the ring, Los Ingobernables jump them, leaving Nakanishi the lone man in the ring. EVIL strips him of his shirt and smacks him in the face with it. The bell rings as SANADA and EVIL try for a double-suplex. Nakanishi drops his weight down to stall their progress, switching his arms for a double suplex. BUSHI rolls in and is quickly Torture Racked and tossed onto SANADA and EVIL outside. They mock the Los Ingobernables team building pose before Tanahashi recovers BUSHI from outside while Nakanishi tags in Taguchi.
BUSHI sends Taguchi on a jog, back and forth from rope to rope until Taguchi wises up and hits him with a hip attack. Taguchi gets a snapmare, followed by multiple hip attacks and a tag to Nakanishi. Nakanishi hits three hip attacks and tags in Tanahashi. Tanahashi hits two hip attacks and tags in Taguchi. They clear the other members of LIJ off the apron as Taguchi sets himself on the second rope, his ass jutting out for Tanahashi to whip BUSHI into it. BUSHI takes the trip, but dropkicks Taguchi in the landing strip as SANADA and EVIL reenter to take Nakanishi and Tanahashi outside.
“Oh God!” Kelly and Callis scream simultaneously after a loud crash can be heard off camera. BUSHI peels the shirt off his own back and strangles Taguchi with it. The announcers yelp again, explaining that it was caused by EVIL horse-collaring Tanahashi and teeing off with another chair. It’s a shame the typically spot-on camera crew missed that. It’s always fun to see. SANADA gets the tag and packages up Taguchi’s limbs, ala Jack Gallagher versus Tozawa in the CWC, and hits a basement dropkick to the rear.
EVIL gets the tag and clears Nakanishi off the apron before hitting a senton for two. Taguchi fires three chops to EVIL’s chest, which is met with one single stiff chop by EVIL that drops him flat on his back. EVIL scoops up Taguchi and whips him into the corner. Taguchi bats him away, but his hip attacks are thwarted by two inverted atomic drops. EVIL smacks him on the ass, causing Callis to mumble, “a little slap and tickle there.” Taguchi hits the ropes, finally scoring with a hip attack to put EVIL down.
Tanahashi gets the tag and jumps into the fray with a flurry of hip tosses and flying forearms. SANADA and BUSHI whip him into the ropes, but Tanahashi hits dragon screw leg whips to everyone claiming LIJ. Tanahashi misses a Slingblade, but counters EVIL’s fishermen’s buster with a dragon screw neck whip. He heads for the ropes, but a swifter-by-the-minute EVIL upends him with a lariat. Nakanishi gets the tag, as does SANADA.
Nakanishi spears SANADA, lumbering coast to coast with a clothesline to follow up. BUSHI and EVIL get back in, but dual hip attacks by Tanahashi and Taguchi drop them. The champs all do the “hooooo!” and lariat the challengers. Tiger Hattori is completely neutered so far, not even trying to restore a semblance of law and order in this damn match. SANADA fights out of a Hercules Cutter attempt and reverses a suplex to counter with a Dragon Sleeper. Nakanishi powers out and racks SANADA as Taguchi and Tanahashi charge the ring to stop BUSHI and EVIL from interfering. With SANADA nearly snapped in two, Taguchi locks BUSHI in an ankle lock while Tanahashi turns EVIL over for a Cloverleaf. As Hattori gets way too close to see if SANADA wants to tap, SANADA grabs him by the collar and throws him to the mat. Nakanishi hits the Hercules Cutter, but Hattori is ice bag bound.
Taguchi and Tanahashi both head out to crack open some smelling salt for Tiger, but it’s too late. SANADA has recovered enough to flip out of a release German Suplex and evades a charging clothesline in the corner. The Los Ingobernables trio go on a mad fit of offense – hitting a lariat, a reverse backstabber, and a side suplex in succession. Taguchi breaks up the pinfall attempt and is chased out promptly. SANADA strips off his shirt as the Nagata contingent of female fans swoon loudly. He locks in a Dragon Sleeper, but Tanahashi gets back in to hit a Slingblade to save Nakanishi. EVIL gets back in, slamming Tanahashi down with a monstrous Blue Thunder Bomb. Taguchi rolls back in, covering ground quickly to hit EVIL with a hip attack. And one for BUSHI as the cameraman seemingly trips over his own feet as the image of the ring rocks violently back and forth before the lens settles on a ground-up view of the apron. They switch to Rainmaker Cam as Taguchi flies off the apron for a hip attack on EVIL. Nakanishi is still legal, his monolithic frame working overtime to get him to the top rope. Wait, what the hell is he doing up there? Son of a bitch, he flies off with a crossbody that absolutely engulfs SANADA! 1, 2…a mountain is moved!!! SANADA’s body reappears with one shoulder scarcely lifted an inch from the mat!
Nakanishi goes for another Hercules Cutter as Hattori parries backwards to stay away from SANADA’s flailing limbs. SANADA gouges Nakanishi in the eyes to escape and runs towards Hattori who cowers into a tight ball at the sight. With SANADA causing the distraction, BUSHI hops onto the apron and sprays green mist in Nakanishi’s face. SANADA locks in a Dragon Sleeper on Nakanishi as Hattori ventures up close and personal to find his face riddled with anguish and slathered in a green sheen. Nakanishi tries to hang on, put taps out as SANADA wrenches back on his head.
Winners: SANADA & BUSHI & EVIL to regain the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships
After the match, the bell is smacked ad nauseam as SANADA refuses to break the hold. With mist running down Nakanishi’s face and neck, Tanahashi comes in to break it up, but gets hammered by an STO from EVIL. Damn it, I was really hoping that Tanahashi and SANADA were going to go at it to hint at a possible singles feud down the road. SANADA finally breaks the hold, only to go outside and tie up Taguchi ass-out in front of the Japanese announce team. How embarrassing. But f- it. Taguchi is the one who wanted to poke the bears.
(Andrews’ Analysis: This was an awesome match. Although short, they crammed in so much insanity in the time allotted. Seeing Nakanishi take flight was a particular highlight, and kudos to SANADA for being willing to break his fall. Now THAT’S paying your dues. The more I see SANADA, the more I’m convinced that he’s going to be a huge star. To be fair, it probably won’t be as the baseball bat toting street tough, but the guy is incredible in the ring and he always leaves me wanting to see more. I’m actually a little raw that we didn’t get a prelude to a Tanahashi vs. SANADA feud, but one day if we’re lucky.
And yet again a referee gets abused. These guys should just come out in red shirts because you know their demise is coming somewhere after the climax begins to fall off. Oh, and those damn titles keep getting passed around like a joint. Keep it on LIJ for at least a fiscal quarter to build up some sort of intrigue in the chase. Or better yet – and this is just me spit-balling here – drop those belts down a garbage shoot and let a Dianoga have its way with them.)
Match#6 – Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Will Ospreay – Revolution Pro British Heavyweight Championship Match
Ospreay is out first, his music a little too Alexander Wright for my tastes. He ditched the Reptile haberdashery for a more understated black and gold sleeveless robe. Actually, whenever the word sleeveless can be used to describe a robe than I suppose it’s not that understated. He flips into the ring with style, mandating the crowd to oooh and ahhh.
Holy s- its Shibata. The arena permeates a blue hue as the camera zeroes in on Shibata’s tribute to combat. He comes to the ring as you’d expect – head low, eyes focused, belt gripped tight in his stride. He stands dead center in the ring, his gaze never wavering from Ospreay. Marty gets the call for this match, taking the belt from Shibata as the champion wipes his brow with his “The Wrestler” towel and sidearms it to the ringside crew.
Shibata and Ospreay start out in opposite corners, both posed low and leaning into an imaginary starting block. Ospreay thinks better of firing out full bore when the bell rings, instead popping up to his feet to meet Shibata dead center in the ring. Shibata stuffs Ospreay’s single-leg before reversing a hammerlock into a wristlock. Ospreay pirouettes free, grabbing Shibata in a side-headlock before getting batted away. Shibata whiffs on a kick, as does Ospreay, and they separate to applause.
Ospreay hits a low dropkick and wrenches on Shibata’s leg. Shibata rolls to his side and shifts to a headlock takeover that Ospreay counters into a headscissors. Shibata gets out, pats Ospreay gently on the knee, and rifles a kick that Ospreay barely rolls out of the way of. They separate again to a round of applause. Shibata gets Ospreay into a wristlock and takes him to the ground, hooking the fingers as Ospreay yells, “Referee!” Shibata stays on the arm, slamming it to the mat before trapping it in a submission attempt that Ospreay is forced to break at the ropes.
Shibata pushes Ospreay into the corner and throws swift, crisp forearms that sing a loud melody with each bassy thud to the face. He sprints for the opposite corner, possibly coming back with the floating dropkick, but Ospreay stays with him to hit a dropkick of his own. Shibata rolls outside, with Ospreay chasing on the apron. Ospreay takes two steps and effortlessly levitates skyward for a standing shooting star. He catches Shibata move away mid-flight, readjusting to land on his feet. Ospreay goes for a spinning wheel kick, which Shibata ducks, so Ospreay rolls his shoulders along the apron to land on the other side of Shibata. Ospreay slides back in, slamming the mat in frustration as he darts to the far side of the ring to come back with a Tope that drives the back of Shibata’s head on the ramp. Nasty. Ospreay rolls back in just long enough to hit a handspring backflip over the top rope, with a tuck, and onto Shibata! He dives back in and squats down in the middle of the ring, mimicking Shibata’s signature pose. Absolutely stellar.
Shibata gets in at fourteen, met by Ospreay’s boot. Ospreay hits a shinbreaker before rolling them both to the mat for a modified deathlock. Shibata props his upper torso in a push-up position, popping his palms against the canvas to circle around and grab the bottom rope. Ospreay positions Shibata in the corner and begins hammering him with forearms, a deluge that actually puts Shibata down. Ospreay picks up some extra momentum in the opposite corner and returns with a floating dropkick traced perfectly from Shibata’s playbook.
Shibata rises to his feet and hounds after Ospreay, who turns around and clubs him in the neck with a forearm. Shibata scratches the mark, gesturing for Ospreay to do it again. Ospreay fires off another round, with Shibata pointing at his neck again. Ospreay cocks back and drills Shibata in the neck full force, causing the crowd to “oooh” as Marty flinches and winces at the sight. Shibata fires off his own salvo, tagging Ospreay in the face so hard that his knees buckle before he crumples to the mat. What a brutal shot!
Shibata throws Ospreay into the corner, racing to catch him on the rebound with a kick to the face. He launches his attack, loading up on CompuBox stats with a volley of forearms that make Ospreay’s arms dangle at his sides before falling seated in the corner. Shibata hits a floating dropkick, followed up by a suplex and a cover for two. He locks in an Octopus Hold, grunting as he tries to keep Ospreay from the ropes. Ospreay tickles the top rope with his fingertips, causing the break, which Shibata adheres to before punting Ospreay in the chest. Shibata tries for a release German Suplex, but Ospreay backflips away before lunging forward to lock his hands around Shibata’s waist and hit his own release German Suplex. Shibata pops right back up! He tries for another release suplex, but again Ospreay flips free. Ospreay races for the ropes, handsprings off of them, and rotates midair to try and strike Shibata in the back of the head. Shibata catches Ospreay’s foot, tucking it back against his stomach to ensure that Ospreay can’t flip away, and hits a release German Suplex. Unreal!
Both men are on their knees – eye to eye as they try to catch a breath. Ospreay hits Shibata on the cheek with a forearm. Shibata hits him back. They trade forearms to even footing, which suits Shibata’s rangy limbs to a tee as he cocks back and drives his forearm against the side of Ospreay’s head. He keeps firing, the sounds coming off of Ospreay’s head reminiscent of Balboa sparring in a meat locker. Ospreay drops to his knees with his arms flopping by his sides as Shibata leans down to continue the assault. He hops to his feet, and in one fluid motion swings his leg around to paste Ospreay in the chest with a kick so hard that he flies through the ropes!
Shibata goes outside to retrieve Ospreay, but the challenger grabs Shibata’s arm and pulls him into the post shoulder-first. Ospreay screams and superkicks Shibata flush in the face, dropping him lifelessly to the floor. With Marty’s count hitting its stride, a bewildered Ospreay frantically tries to lift Shibata’s dead weight. The ref hits the teens and Ospreay hasn’t moved Shibata an inch. He swivels his head around for something to help him, but as the seconds squeeze closer to twenty he desperately grabs Shibata’s leg and rolls across his body, coming up with the champion in a fireman’s carry to dive in at nineteen. That…was…amazing. Incredible ingenuity!
Ospreay tries for a pinfall, but Shibata – after over twenty seconds of a nap – kicks out. Ospreay goes to the top rope to take flight, met by a groggy Shibata who stumbles into the corner and shoves his ankles to crotch him in a perch up high. Shibata heads to the second turnbuckle and tries for a key lock, but Ospreay frantically jabs his ribcage to escape between his legs. He reaches up on the way out, dropping Shibata’s head to strike back with a superkick before slamming him to the mat and covering for two. Ospreay heads back to the top rope, long-jumping the ring to hit a flying forearm. Ospreay calls for rain! He spins Shibata out, but Shibata kicks him to break the lock on his wrist. Ospreay comes back with a kick/uppercut combo before hitting a shining wizard to drop Shibata to the mat. He drags Shibata in the corner and scales to the top, diving off with an inverse Shooting Star Press! Holy s-! 1, 2, kickout! Holy s-!!!
Ospreay keeps the pressure on, hitting a 720 Shining Wizard to the back of Shibata’s skull. As Shibata rises back to his feet, Ospreay springboards off the ropes to catch him with a cutter, but Shibata takes a step back and catches him in a rear naked choke. Ospreay begins to fade, but gets a sudden surge of energy to reach for the ropes. Shibata reaches out to pull his arm back and flips them both backwards in the air, landing near the middle of the ring as Ospreay’s body is drooped over in a seated position. Shibata races towards the ropes and charges back at full speed. PK! 1, 2, 3!
Winner: Katsuyori Shibata to retain the Revolution Pro British Heavyweight Championship
After the match, Shibata graciously shakes Ospreay’s hand and bows to the crowd as they reward him with a respectful round of applause. The camera cuts to Okada who was on commentary for the match, nodding approvingly at what he got to witness front and center. Shibata lays the title out and squats down on the mat, his arms folded as he drops his head and closes his eyes.
(Andrews’ Analysis: This is an unequivocal recommend. I was looking forward to this match the most and it did not disappoint. They never strayed from their styles, the contrast paying off with huge dividends as Ospreay’s flash and Shibata’s rabid physicality intermingled beautifully. Ospreay dazzled the crowd with up-tempo acrobatics while Shibata wowed them with strikes that even had Marty wincing. The suspense of watching Ospreay grind out calculations in his head on how to lift Shibata’s lifeless body and beat the count was masterfully done. God damn, you guys. Matches like this one keep my quest to get back into wrestling not only alive, but thriving.)
Match#7 – Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (c) vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Takashi Iizuka – IWGP Tag Team Championship Three-Way Match
One half of the Killer Elite Squad and Iizuka are out first, with their 33.333333% odds of winning dwindling with each step Iizuka takes through the crowd. Davey Boy comes out wearing a pearl white robe, which I must say is a sharp look. Poor Taka gets the job of being Iizuka’s handler, trying to lead him towards the ring. I think my assessment of Iizuka taking the old Dog Face Gremlin persona to its absolute apex was off the mark. I’m retconning that with the new evidence brought to light that Iizuka’s persona is just hot garbage and can’t be saved. “The music is altered” for Makabe and Honma, and you better believe I’ve got the right Steiner in mind for Makabe. He shares the same wild, ready-to-snap glint in his eyes as one Big Poppa Pump. We get treated to Yano’s exceptional entrance package. He comes out with a death-grip around the leg of a folding chair, which won’t be enough to survive the Greater Rift awaiting his arrival. The only thing that could possibly save him is a weapon that fetishizes the feel of busting out enamel. Enter Tomohiro Ishii.
Yano stiffens up immediately upon seeing Makabe and Honma running towards them, dropping the damn chair before they get jumped on the ramp. Iizuka shambles up the ramp to punch Honma and lumbers back to help Davey Boy roll Yano in the ring. They stomp Yano for a moment before Davey Boy, not showing the best game planning skill in the world, steps outside to make Iizuka the legal man. Yano gets whipped into the ropes, where he hangs on for dear life before leaping towards Honma and Makabe to tag out. They drop down, avoiding his hand and possibly an easy win by foregoing the opportunity to tee off on Iizuka. Yano gets choked on the mat and bails to the ropes to ask for a break. He runs Iizuka into Makabe and Honma’s corner, finally tagging out with a smack to Honma’s shoulder. Kelly: “Yano doing what Yano does best, which is accident avoidance.”
Honma gets right in there and fires away at Iizuka, hitting him with forearms and a double axe-handle before missing a falling headbutt. Iizuka kicks Ishii off the apron before tossing Honma outside. He whips Honma into the rail, followed by Smith tossing him into it a second time. Iizuka reaches under the stash spot and pulls out a chair to smack Honma across the back with it. Marty’s count starts about a minute in, so Smith gets Honma back in the ring at like 3 ½, give or take a second.
Iizuka gnaws at Honma’s head before finally, thankfully tagging in Smith. Smith hits a wonderful suplex on Honma before wrenching back on his leg. He deadlifts Honma in a Stretched Muffler submission while carrying him to the corner to tag Iizuka back in. Game plan, Junior. Game plan. Iizuka grabs a rope from his boot and chokes Honma before Marty breaks it up. As Marty fights to pull the rope from Iizuka’s hand, Yano belts it into the ring to grab Iizuka by the dog collar and bring him closer to Ishii so he can tag in. Yano pitches Iizuka outside, which may very well be his only show of strength in the match. Ishii cocks back and chops Honma in the chest, leaving a heavy-handed imprint on his skin. He hits a clothesline in the corner and goes on a forearm/chop spree before turning to Makabe and lobbing a loogie in his direction. That cage door is always open for the bird to return home, isn’t it?
Yano gets the tag and is immediately shoulder-tackled. As Honma reaches to tag in Makabe, Ishii races across the ring to knock Makabe out of range. Honma misses a falling headbutt on Ishii, but hits Yano with it. Honma gets the tag to Makabe, making the threat to the titles imminent. Makabe shoulder-tackles Yano before forearming Suzuki-Gun off the apron. He unleashes a right hook on Yano, but Ishii blindsides him with a club to the back. Makabe reverses an Irish Whip by Ishii and hits a pair of forever lariats on the champs, ending with a speeding freight train of a lariat that pops Ishii into the air like he’s being set up for a juggle combo. Makabe gets a ten-punch on Yano and laughs to the crowd as Iizuka forces his presence back into the match.
He and Yano collaborate to eat a double lariat before Makabe sends a right hook into Yano’s cheek and screams “F- you” at him. He heads for the ropes, but Yano stops him by snatching a fistful of hair, twice. Yano, displaying eyes in the back of his head, ducks a Makabe lariat, but gets leveled by a second attempt. Honma clears Ishii off the apron and sets up on the top rope for a diving headbutt. Makabe whips him into the corner…and Honma hits it! Yano staggers back into Makabe, who hits a bridging German Suplex for a reaaally sloooow twoooo cooount byyyy Maaaartyyyy.
Honma and Makabe unload on Yano with lariats and a low headbutt, keeping Ishii on the outskirts as they attack. Makabe goes up top for the King Kong Kneedrop, but Iizuka stops him. Ishii hits a side suplex to Honma and races up to meet Makabe for a second-rope stalling vertical superplex. Makabe pops right back up and the two men growl at one another before colliding with dueling lariats. Ishii clotheslines Makabe’s arm mid-swing and lunges the crown of his head into Makabe’s chin to wobble him into the ropes.
Smith tags himself in off of Makabe’s back and hits a beautiful dropkick – full recline with both feet up – to Ishii before kipping up. He hits a running knee to Makabe in the corner before distracting Marty so Iizuka can choke Yano. Iizuka throw Yano into a Davey Boy big boot, who sees Ishii coming and clotheslines him to the mat. He lifts Yano up and flips him over for a Butterfly Bridging Suplex for two. It’s such a gorgeous move! Smith hits a sit-out powerbomb to finish off Yano, but Honma keeps the match going by breaking up the pin at two. Honma and Smith trade forearms in the middle of the ring before Smith gets the advantage and whips Honma to the ropes. Honma runs him through with a shoulder-block and tries to drag Smith to Makabe for the tag, but Iizuka pulls the rug out from under Makabe.
Honma hits the ropes for a shoulder-tackle, but Iizuka throws Marty into it. Callis: “That’s the end of Marty.” Iizuka hits an inverted atomic drop and reaches for his oversized fanny-pack. He pulls out the world’s cheapest looking Infinity Gauntlet and punches Makabe in the throat with it. Smith holds up Yano for Iizuka to spike him, but Ishii clotheslines Smith and combos the hell out of Iizuka’s face. Ishii tags Smith with an enzuigiri, but spins back around and gets hammered by the Infinity Gauntlet. Yano grabs Marty and holds him in front of his body like a human shield as the ref tries to dance away. Smith grabs Yano, causing a chain reaction where Yano shoves Marty aside and ducks the Infinity Gauntlet thrust that inadvertently nails Smith. Yano drops down and uppercuts Iizuka and Smith in the dangles before rolling up Smith for the three count.
Winners: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano to retain the IWGP Tag Team Championships
(Andrews’ Analysis: The match was very similar to the one in Sapporo, even with Iizuka filling in for Archer. I’m always game for the brief stints of offense between Ishii and Makabe, and am becoming a bigger Yano and Smith fan by the day. That said, if you saw the Sapporo match than there isn’t much for you here. In fact, the Sapporo match was far and away the better one. Maybe it was the chaotic nature. Maybe it was the amount of action. Maybe it was Lance Archer. I don’t know, but it was just a better match.
Hopefully this marks the end of the three-way title defenses and we can get down to traditional tag team business. I will say this though. I’ve always been a fan of the mismatched tag team of Yokozuna and Owen Hart and am willing to let this slapdash ride of Yano and Ishii ride out to see if they can climb the totem pole and take their spot. They share a fun dynamic, but I do worry that the act could grow stale over time. Worst case scenario, it gets Ishii back in singles matches. Who could complain about that?)
Match#8 – Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Dragon Lee – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
The bars on the ramp flash a ROYGBIV spectrum as the stench from “the music is altered” in Sapporo follows Dragon Lee to Osaka. It’s such a bad song that I’d rather them dub over the real music with white noise. As Lee makes his way to the ring, Callis says that he might be the best young athlete in the sport next to Will Ospreay. With Lee in the ring, the arena lights dim as the ring basks in a blood red tinge. The camera zooms in on Takahashi’s entrance before pulling back to show the bars sparkling gold. Takahashi bolts into the camera like Mysterio being catapulted out of the floor. Voluminous bouncy balls can be seen around the arena, the overinflated orbs hovering over sections at a time by eager hands popping them into the air. Red Shoes is called to duty, grabbing the title from Takahashi to display it to the crowd.
When the bell rings, both men bolt to the middle of the ring and send overhands slapping against the other’s chest. They swap boots and clotheslines in the corner before Lee cartwheels out of Takahashi’s Hurricanranna attempt. Takahashi tries for another, and yet again Lee cartwheels free. Lee hurricanrannas Takahashi out of the ring and dives out with a Tope that connects solidly. Red Shoes steps outside to try and corral them back in the ring, refusing to count even after Lee slams Takahashi against the guardrail. Lee heeds Red Shoes’ reprimand and rolls Takahashi back in, where he hits a low dropkick for two. Lee whips Takahashi to the corner, but Takahashi slides right under the ropes. Lee slides out after him, with Takahashi diving back inside to hit the ropes and come back to a Dragon Lee forearm. Lee tries to sunset flip inside, his effort greeted by a stiff sounding superkick. He hits the ropes again, this time diving over Lee and grabbing hold of his waist for an incredible sunset flip powerbomb. It was all in one fluid motion, his feet never hitting the floor to jostle Lee off the apron for the spike. Unreal! The back of Lee’s head smacked off the ramp on the way down, which of course signals Red Shoes to start the count.
Takahashi walks up the ramp and charges, sliding low to kick Lee in the chin. As the count gets to sixteen, Takahashi presses his index to his lips in a shushing motion. Red Shoes keeps counting, which Takahashi nods and tells him, “Ok”, before rolling Lee back inside. Takahashi tries to unmask Lee, furiously untying the laces on the back of his mask before giving up mid-act. Lee recovers from the powerbomb and backdrops a charging Takahashi to the apron. Lee hits the ropes and darts back towards Takahashi, his body high-jumping over the top rope to trap Takahashi’s head between his shins for a Hurricanranna to the floor! Jaw dropping athleticism! Callis was definitely on to something with his earlier puff piece on Lee.
As Takahashi tries to get up, Lee heads back inside, only to dive over the top rope again and send Takahashi right back to the floor. He rolls Takahashi back in – there was no count by the way – and hits two rolling Northern Lights Suplexes transitioned into a vertical suplex for two. Lee picks up Takahashi and slaps him on the chest, causing Takahashi to fall back to the mat. Lee perches Takahashi on the top turnbuckle, but Takahashi pulls on his mask before sending him to the apron. Lee recovers and forearms Takahashi, who bends back with his feet trapped under the turnbuckle, his upper torso dangling over the floor. Takahashi reaches out for Lee and snags him, chucking his body off the ropes and onto the floor! Lee’s back splatted on the concrete! Takahashi gets down and dashes across the apron to leap off for a hurricanranna, but Lee counters and spikes him to the floor with a powerbomb! Holy s-! Red Shoes counts! They both get in at nineteen, barely!
Lee and Takahashi trade snap German Suplexes before Takahashi hits a wheelbarrow reverse slam. They collide into each other with clotheslines, with Takahashi hitting the ropes and coming back into Lee’s “One man Spanish Fly” (Kelly) for two! They trade overhand slaps to the chest before Takahashi dropkicks Lee with so much force that he flies into the turnbuckles like it was wire work! He tries for a suplex, but Lee counters with a snap suplex of his own into the corner! This God damn pace! Relentless!
Takahashi rolls to the apron as Lee races to the ropes, coming back with another Hurricanranna attempt. Takahashi catches him and powerbombs him onto the apron! Jesus f****ng Christ!!! Takahashi climbs up top and dives off with a senton that nearly blows Lee’s spine out when he crashes back to the floor! You can hear the Japanese commentator scream, “Diving sentoooooon!” as the thud reverberates off the walls! Red Shoes counts as Takahashi scrambles to the middle of the ring. Lee gets in at eighteen to a well deserved round of applause.
They trade smacks again, with Lee countering a strike into a crossface, rolling Takahashi away from the ropes. Takahashi drags them to the ropes, but as he reaches out Lee hooks his arm back to apply an extra measure of punishment. Takahashi slithers on his stomach, rotating around to nip the bottom rope with his boot. As Red Shoes checks on Takahashi – not learning a damn thing from previous brushes with LIJ outlaws – Lee comes in with a dropkick. Takahashi grabs Red Shoes by the collar and pulls him right into the dropkick. Red Shoes is down! Takahashi superkicks Lee, then lifts him into a seated position on the top turnbuckle. He climbs up and tries for a reverse possibly-hurricanranna-possibly-Destroyer, but Lee catches him. Takahashi reaches back and unmasks Dragon Lee! His side profile is fully exposed as his mouth hangs agape in shock. Takahashi garners enough torque to hit the move, coming straight down on Lee’s back. He covers. 1, 2, kickout!
Lee slides head-first towards a member of the ringside crew who has his mask and quickly submerges his face in it. Lee gets up to the view of Takahashi’s superkick coming his way, but counters into a Dragon Driver! 1, 2, kickout! Lee picks up Takahashi and pops him into the air for a powerbomb, but Takahashi counters mid-air with a Destroyer! Unbelievable! They trade another torrent of slaps, curing each other’s chest with chops into shades of Gabagool. Lee hits a running knee strike, but gets superkicked and stumbles back. Takahashi dashes forward…and hits ANOTHER Destroyer! Holy f****ng s-! He covers. 1, 2, are you kidding me!? Kickout!!! Takahashi picks Lee up in a Firemen’s Carry and drives him into the turnbuckle. He quickly gathers Lee off the mat and hits the Timebomb! 1, 2, 3! F****ng son of a bitch that was amazing!!!
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
After the match, Taguchi comes down the ramp and gets up on the apron, applauding Takahashi when their eyes connect. He gets into the ring and grabs the mic. He applauds Takahashi’s effort again, getting the crowd to clap as well as Lee can be seen getting carried to the back. Whatever Taguchi said was met with a lot of laughter and applause, with Callis wondering why Taguchi can’t just let Takahashi enjoy his win. Takashi tries to hit Taguchi with the belt, but Taguchi ducks and take Takahashi down and into an ankle lock. Callis: “What a cowardly attack,” and “a crass display of unsportsmanlike behavior.” Translation: Takahashi has his next challenger.
(Andrews’ Analysis: What an absolute high-wire, high-tension war! The pace of this match was relentless. The action was big ass bump porn, with both guys nearly killing themselves multiple times over for our delight. And a delight it was. I’ve been left wordless to describe this match further, which based on the lengths of my reviews is a rare treat for you guys. All I know is that I’m going to watch it again tomorrow before combing through the vast library of this incredible feud. And I’ll need to because based on Taguchi butting into the title picture, I don’t think I’ll be getting a new Takahashi/Lee match on The World for a while.)
Match#9 – Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Michael Elgin – IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Have I sang the praises of Elgin’s theme enough? It’s such a wonderful piece of music – one half hair metal/one half Black Belt Theater – which is an absolute masterstroke of cool. And speaking of cool, Naito. Green laser lights oscillate across the arena as the crowd claps to the heartbeat of his Mega Man music. The bars on the ramp begin to pulse purple and pink as Naito comes out in a crisp merlot three-piece, the belt drug behind him like the passing thought he deems it to be. He unmasks to a raucous response, revealing a stoic expression taking in the worship of LIJ liturgy. Kelly makes reference to his former treatment in Osaka, his voyage to Mexico, and now finding his home. Callis: “I find Naito to be disingenuous, I find him to be disrespectful, but I also find him to be awesome.” Amen.
Naito slowly enters the ring and lobs the title in the air. As the belt straps flail in the freefall, Naito casts his gaze towards Elgin before patting his orbital socket to add insult to the injury he created. Red Shoes recovers the belt, buffs it clean with his sleeve, and gives Naito a soft push. You just know his ass is taking a spill later. Naito shoots him a glance as he undoes his cuffs, already devising a plan on how to sacrifice Red Shoes to his own advantage. When Naito’s name is announced over the speakers, an underground swell of boos meet the once dominant cheers as Kelly states, “THAT’S the sound Naito wants to hear.”
As Naito leisurely disrobes, Elgin stares him down, eagerly awaiting the chance to uncork his bottled up rage. When the bell rings, the crowd deafens Kelly and Callis’ voices with an “Elgin” chant. Naito snickers at the show of support before lobbing a loogie towards Okada who is still on commentary with Gedo. Naito still has his eye on the prize.
Elgin goes in for a tie-up, which Naito rolls under to pose before rolling out of the ring. That still hasn’t gotten old. Naito patiently takes his time getting back in, but Elgin gets fed up and rolls out after him. Naito rolls back in and tries to catch Elgin off guard, but Elgin leaps over the ropes to connect with a spinning back-elbow. Elgin is nimble. He nearly knocks the nips right off of Naito’s chest with a chop, followed with a forearm to the face. He slams Naito to the mat, steps out to the apron, and springs back in with a splash. Wow.
Naito counters a suplex with an eye rake, but Elgin swats him away. Naito boots Elgin in the knee and hits the ropes, finding himself hoisted atop his ivory tower in a press slam. Elgin misses a running clothesline in the corner, with Naito diving over the top with a kick to Elgin’s face. Before Naito can hit the heel trip, Elgin smacks him across the chest with a clothesline to dump him to the floor. Elgin steps onto the apron, takes three yard-churning steps, and cannonballs onto Naito! Elgin is flashy as f-! Elgin rolls Naito back inside and climbs the turnbuckles, but Naito dropkicks him in the knee. With Elgin outside, Naito races to the ropes and leaps out with a suicide dive, but Elgin catches him. He hoooolds Naito up, marching him up the ramp for a vertical suplex. Elgin is strong. They beat Red Shoes’ count to the fan’s applause.
Elgin hops onto the second turnbuckle and tries to deadlift Naito. Naito fights out and gouges Elgin’s eye before transitioning into a leg-lock between the ropes that Red Shoe’s has to break up. Naito looks at the crowd as they start an “Elgin” chant, spits in their general direction, and tells them “Tranquilo”. I loved every second of that.
Naito continues working on Elgin’s knee, dropping elbows on it from outside and jamming it against the apron. Naito spits at the floor and rolls back in as Elgin rests on the guardrail. When Elgin follows, Naito hits him in the knee with a low dropkick. After an elbow to the knee, Naito holds onto Elgin’s boot and wrenches it sideways. He lets Elgin go and spits on him to a chorus of boos. Elgin fights back with a chop and a forearm before Naito drops down for another basement dropkick to the knee. He hits a shinbreaker, followed by another low dropkick. He puts Elgin in a modified deathlock, folding his arms behind his head to relax while Elgin struggles to the ropes.
Elgin clubs Naito in the chest and face before laying in a chop. Naito goes back to the knee, but Elgin counters – tagging Naito with an enzuigiri before hitting a f***ng unbelievable inside-out Falcon Arrow that dumps Naito to the mat. Beautiful move! Elgin hits a running lariat in the corner, coming back around for another that nearly pops Naito over the top rope. He sits Naito up top, but Naito rakes his eye. Naito misses a leaping axe-handle and gets a release German Suplex into the turnbuckles. Elgin deadlifts Naito into a bridging German Suplex for two, with the bad wheel costing him a stronger hold on the pin. Elgin lariats Naito in the chest, then the back of the head, then the chest, then the chest, then the chest! Brutal! Naito hits an inverted atomic drop and dropkicks Elgin in the knee to slow him down.
With Elgin staggering into the corner, Naito leaps over the top with a kick to the face, heel trips Elgin to one knee, but when he comes back in for the dropkick Elgin catches him. Naito wriggles down Elgin’s back and tries for a sunset flip, but Elgin wraps his arm around the back of Naito’s head and powers him up for a vertical suplex. Naito counters, twirling behind Elgin’s back, but Elgin rotates back behind Naito to hit two rolling German suplexes. Elgin goes for a third, but Naito gets away. Elgin screams “Naito!”, then rushes in for a lariat that is countered into a tornado DDT…that Elgin holds! He raises his finger in the air as the crowd exhales a loud “Oooooh”, then lifts Naito into a stalling suplex. Naito counters, snapping his body downward to take Elgin into a DDT. Awesome stuff! He covers, but Elgin kicks out at two.
Elgin clubs his way out of a shinbreaker and hits Naito with a forearm. Naito fakes a forearm and kicks Elgin in the knee. They trade forearms before Naito rakes Elgin’s eye and hits another basement dropkick. He hits the ropes again, but Elgin front kicks Naito into the air and they both crash to the mat. Elgin punishes Naito with four forearms before landing a discus-forearm. He scoots Naito into the corner and perches him back up top. Elgin climbs to the second rope – which Callis questions the wisdom of doing so – as Naito fights out with a rake to the eye and a Sunset Bomb.
Naito, hugging the turnbuckle pad to catch his breath, hops onto the top rope and leaps off with a missile dropkick that Elgin counters into a Powerbomb for two. Great catch! Elgin plants Naito in the center of the ring with a slam and heads to the top rope. Wait, Elgin’s going up top now? He leaps off, his limbs splayed out wide, and hits a god damn top rope splash! 1, 2, kickout! Naito’s still breathing!
Elgin limps after Naito and forearms him in the face before Naito answers with another low dropkick. Naito blocks a lariat and hits a sick sounding enzuigiri, but Elgin never drops and charges with a lariat that launches Naito into the air. He hits the ropes and comes back with another lariat that sends a gob of Naito’s spit to the ceiling. 1, 2, kickout!
Elgin tries for another powerbomb, but Naito hangs onto his knee to block the upswing. Elgin slaps him across the face and perches the champion up top so he’s facing the crowd. He tries for another powerbomb, but again Naito fights out. Naito hops off the turnbuckle and charges Elgin, but gets nailed by a thrust kick. Elgin climbs to the top turnbuckle, seating himself facing Naito as the champ dashes in and throws a forearm to Elgin’s knee. He rakes Elgin’s eye as Red Shoes shakes his head at him. Naito climbs up top and goes for a top rope Frankensteiner, but Elgin holds him place to stall the move. He snaps Naito’s body like he’s shaking out a sheet to set up for a powerbomb, but the motion helps Naito create enough momentum to hit the Frankensteiner. Elgin is up on his feet, but wobbles towards the corner. Naito leaps onto his shoulder and hits a reverse Frankensteiner! He covers, but Elgin muscles out at two.
Naito tries for Destino, but Elgin elbows him off. He whips Naito into the ropes, but Naito counters a pickup attempt into a rolling kneebar. Elgin tries to pry Naito’s legs apart, only escaping after Naito gets caught fidgeting to keep his legs locked. Elgin crawls out to the apron with Naito in pursuit. Naito stomps on Elgin’s knee and goes out with him. He spits at Elgin again and smiles, launching a lariat towards the challenger. Elgin ducks and picks up Naito for a Death Valley Driver on the f****ng apron! Oh my God, Man! Elgin places Naito on the apron, his body flat and motionless. Elgin stands on the second rope and gathers up Naito by the head to lift him up and over the top rope for a Falcon Arrow! 1, 2, Naito survives! Callis: “The whole ring moved about a foot!”
Elgin decks Naito in the back of the neck with a discus-forearm and limps to the turnbuckle. He spits at Naito and hits another discus-forearm that whips Naito 180 before he falls to the mat. Elgin hits a spinning backfist before launching Naito into the corner with a buckle bomb! Naito gets to his feet and staggers towards Elgin. Elgin spins Naito onto his shoulders, but Naito digs into his eye socket to wriggle free. After dropping down to the mat, Naito grabs Elgin’s head and dashes for the ropes, springing off with a tornado DDT! Then Destino! 1, 2, Elgin kicks out!
Naito goes for a second Destino, but Elgin catches him and drives the champion’s body into the corner. The crowd chants for Elgin as Naito spills outside. Elgin rolls out after him, dropping to his knees in exhaustion. He gets to his feet and picks up Naito, sitting him on the apron. Naito rakes his eye once more, but Elgin counters with an Apron Bomb! Elgin picks up Naito in a powerbomb position and lobs his body into the guardrail. The crowd stirs loudly as Elgin rolls Naito back inside the ring and hits a spinning, twisting Elgin Bomb! 1, 2, Naito kicks out! Are you kidding me!? This is amazing!
Elgin is swamped with exhaustion, draping his body over Naito before slowly placing him in the corner. He perches Naito on the top rope and picks him up for the Burning Hammer. Naito reaches back as he’s popped into the air, reversing into the Destino! Both men are down! Red Shoes counts, with Elgin getting close enough to his feet at seven to stop it. With Naito slumped in the corner, Elgin charges as Naito raises his boots. Elgin catches his legs and positions Naito into the rack. Naito flips away from a Burning Hammer attempt and rattles Elgin’s temple with an enzuigiri. Spinning backfist by Elgin! He misses a lariat, countered by a wheel kick from Naito. Naito grabs Elgin by the head and climbs to the top rope. Top rope Destino!!! He covers, but Elgin kicks out again! Naito scrambles back to his feet and snatches Elgin’s head, his body flipping back around for another Destino! 1, 2, 3!!!
Winner: Tetsuya Naito to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
After the match, the rest of LIJ walks out to congratulate their leader. BUSHI hands Naito a water bottle as Red Shoes hands Naito the belt. Naito begrudgingly takes it as a very Disney-esque track trumpets throughout the arena. Naito drops the title and steps on it as Kelly says, “A middle finger extended to this sold out house.” Red Shoes can be seen in the background acrobatically sliding under the ropes before the inevitable happens. He’s learning. Naito grabs the mic and says, “Buenos Noches, Osaaaaaaka!” He gets a positive response from the crowd, mentioning Osaka multiple times in his speech. The crowd chant along with his “Los Ingobernables” catchphrase before confetti rains down from the ceiling. All of LIJ toss their belts in the middle of the ring and pose amidst the clutter as Kelly says that the power seems to shift from faction to faction. Before Naito takes his leave, he tosses the IC title in the air. And just like that, he’s gone.
(Andrews’ Analysis: What an incredible main event. There was a great story told here, with Naito picking apart Elgin’s knee while resorting to eye rakes and eye pokes whenever the challenger swung the momentum in his favor. Elgin was chosen by the anti-Naito portion of the crowd to do their bidding and take the title from enemy number one, all the while fighting off fits of exhaustion in his quest to inflict as much damage on Naito as Naito did to him last year. Elgin hit Naito repeatedly with bone-jarring shots – holding nothing back when planting him on the mat, on the floor, on the apron, and into the guardrail. Naito showed how tough he is, taking so much rough-house offense and still finding that second and third wind to keep his steps just as swift as they were when the match started. I’m really hoping that this isn’t the end of the feud, but after this match I can’t possibly see how anything could have been left on the cutting room floor. Unbelievable performances from both men, with each guy holding up their end of the bargain to put on a match that not only rivaled Okada/Suzuki in Sapporo, but topped it.)
Overall Thoughts: The New Beginning in Osaka was far and away the better event than Sapporo. There was just no way to top the brilliance back-loaded in the card with Shibata/Ospreay, Takahashi/Lee, and of course Naito/Elgin. As I mentioned last week, Okada vs. Suzuki was an incredible match, but the fans in Osaka got wrestling excellence on the flipside of the intermission – even with the multi-man tag match as garnish. I realize that not every card can be Wrestle Kingdom, but damn if they didn’t try. There were so many moments that made my jaw drop, so many performances that have me scratching my head on how it can ever be improved upon. New Japan Pro Wrestling is the best promotion on the planet and they have made my foray back into wrestling a fruitful endeavor, rewarding my patronage with mind blowing matches while continually reaching for loftier heights. All they ask in return is that I root them on. It’s a hell of a bargain.