SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING FIGHTING SPIRIT UNLEASHED
SEPTEMBER 30, 2018
LONG BEACH, CALIF. AT WALTER PYRAMID
STREAMED LIVE ON NEW JAPAN WORLD
Announcers: Jim Ross & Kevin Kelly
At times, it appears that they have a very impressive crowd, but at other times as the show begins, you can see rows of empty yellow bleachers. As a Missouri fan, I hate when an arena has seats that when empty obviously show up on TV. That’s the case here. (Note, as the show continues, they seem to be shooting this better)
(1) ROPPONGI 3K vs. JUSHIN LIGER & ACH & TAGUCHI
There was lots of action here, some comedy and plenty of athleticism. In a moment that I’m sure will get plenty of attention, Ross called Yo, Sho before Kelly politely corrected him. They are kind of switching back and forth on the play-by-play but Kelly for the most part is contributing with color type comments. They both mentioned how much they like each other probably to try to quiet some of the social media critics.
Yo gave Liger (who got the biggest ovation by far of the six competitors) a clean break but was arrogant about it early. 3K played the subtle heels here. ACH had some moments where he showed some nice athleticism including a nice plancha.
The camera almost missed the Dodan to finish off Rocky and it kind of came out of nowhere.
WINNERS: Liger & ACH & Taguchi when Taguchi pinned Rocky with the Dodan in 9:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: Overall, good action for an opener with about the right amount of comedy.)
(2) SCU (Frankie Kazarian & Christopher Daniels) vs. THE BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens & Hangman Page).
Page and Daniels started with a brawl which Page got the best of. Page and Owwns had some nice double team moves and they came across like a cohesive team.
Page handles himself more and more like a star every month. Owens almost got a surprise pin at the seven minute mark when Daniels signaled for the BME. Owens taunted SCU with a “worst town ever” comment and found himself the victim of a great looking Best Meltzer Ever about twenty seconds later.
WINNERS: SCU in 9:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: I liked this match quite a bit. It helped build a popular team and didn’t hurt Hangman in the least.)
They are taking about thirty seconds between each match which is great for fans, but it makes it a little tough to keep up on my end! At this point either the crowd has filled up or they have figured out how to hide the empty seats which is a very good thing.
(3) FLIP GORDON & CHRIS SABIN & JEFF COBB vs. THE BEST FRIENDS (Chuckie T & Trent Beretta) & HIROKI GOTO.
This seemed to me that it could have been a bit of an odd style clash with some of the guys going in but everyone worked together pretty well. This match did a good job of building Jeff Cobb and Goto confronted him after the match. I know I’d like to see these guys square off in a singles match again.
Goto got a pretty big reaction as you would expect when he first appeared. Not surprisingly they referenced Cobb’s win at Best of LA. Cobb is a local favorite and got a really nice response. The Best Friends appeared to be the most over with this crowd though.
Sabin and Chucky T started and exchanged some near falls. It quickly turned into a six man battle where the Cobb team took over. Cobb prevented the best friends from celebrating which the crowd did not like and he squared off with Goto. A few seconds later the best friends were able to hug to the delight of the crowd. The best friends hit some impressive looking, “Cannonballs over the top rope” as called by Ross. After a few minutes, the Best Friends took over on Sabin but when he tagged in Flip, Flip got in a great offensive explosion I can’t completely describe.
At the eight minute mark Goto and Cobb got hot tags and squared off in a rematch of the last AXS NJPW show. Cobb reserved the GTR and turned it into a suplex. The Best Friends after a tag hit Cobb with a double suplex. Then Cobb managed to suplex both Best Friends with an impressive display of strength. Chucky T hit an impressive pile driver on Cobb but Sabin broke up the pin. Cobb won with a very impressive Tour of the Islands on Chuckie T and as I mentioned his post-match confrontation with Goto was pretty intense.
WINNERS: Gordon & Sabin & Cobb in 13:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: Another good match, everyone is working hard so far and the matches are moving along quickly in a good way for this type of an undercard.)
(4) TETSUYA NAITO & EVIL & SANADA (LIJ) vs. DAVEY BOY SMITH JR. & LANCE ARCHER & ZACK SABRE JR.
There have been rumors circulating that we might see some Chris Jericho interference during or after this match and with his feud with Naito and a possible match with Evil in the works, it would make perfect sense.
The LIJ music and intro of Naito got an enormous reaction. J.R. made a great comparison to the excitement back in the day of the Freebirds coming to the ring back in the day and I thought he made a great point.
Suzuki Gun jumped Naito as the match started and quickly we had ZSJR square off with Sanada. Lots of back and forth action for the first eight or nine minutes before ZSJR squared off with Evil and put him in some typical amazing submissions. Evil was able to make the tag and LIJ triple teamed Zach. Evil missed with Everything is Evil but hit Darkness Falls at the ten minute mark for a near fall. ZSJR then picked up a shocking leverage pin just after the ten minute mark which left Evil frustrated. Naito (who didn’t do a whole lot in this match, looked frustrated with his teammate). Smith attacked one of the young boys after the match for no apparent reason. Naito complained to Tiger Hatori about the call which was a clean pin but he’s not supposed to be a good loser so I like that. They teased something happening to Evil as he was the last one to leave the ring but no Y2J after all at least for now.
WINNERS: Davey Boy & Archer & ZSJR in 11:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: This match really featured ZSJR much more than his teammates. I think that’s the right call as he hasn’t been featured quite enough here in the U.S., in my opinion. I kind of expected to see Jericho but he’s great at showing up when it’s unexpected.)
(5) KUSHIDA & HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. GEDO & JAY WHITE
White should still be red hot coming off the Gedo turn on Okada after the recent classic Okada vs. Tanahashi match for the right to main event Wrestle Kingdom. I got super excited just to hear Tanahashi’s music as he really hasn’t been in that many matches that I have seen in the US. Tanahashi was carrying the briefcase and is dressed for business (unlike Naito who not surprisingly kept his shirt on for the last match). Gedo is wearing a Jay White shirt as one would expect.
White and Tanahashi squared off to start and Tanahashi was out for revenge for the G1 loss and showed great fire. White was able to take advantage of Tanahashi on the outside of the ring and there was great heat from the crowd for White. JR and Kelly in my opinion are working really well together just bouncing off one another. When you have two guys who do a great job treating what is in front of them as a legitimate sport, it’s really not that hard to expect a great outcome.
White took over on offense after cheating and tagged in Gedo who kept the offense for a bit. Ross asked Kelly if he knew Japanese and Kelly responded “I’m fluent in Gedo (trash talk)” which I thought was a great line. Kushida finally tagged in after over five minutes of Tanahashi mostly selling.
Tanahashi tagged in and hit a sling blade on White at the eight minute mark. White grabbed the referee when Tana was going for the High Fly Flow and Gedo hit him with brass knucks. White then pinned Tanahashi with the Blade Runner just before the ten minute mark. The crowd does really hate Jay White probably for a multitude of reasons. They are chanting F You Switch Blade and they don’t edit these things out on NJPW World. White claims in the post match that he has the right to the briefcase since he beat Tana while Okada only drew with Tana. White said NJPW is scared about the idea that he could headline against Omega and not Tanahashi. I mean, he’s right, I’m scared of that also but not for the reason he mentioned! Still a good promo.
WINNERS: White & Gedo in 10:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: I mean it’s kind of a BS finish, but they are all in on Jay White and he can use the momentum. If I was giving star ratings here, the finish would still be a negative to me but I get the story.)
Overall as we hit intermission this seems like a big time show and the first ninety minutes have flown by. The action in the last match wasn’t quite up to expectations but it served a purpose. So far this is shaping up as an easy thumbs up show. Everything has been in the right place so far.
I actually have no problem with having an intermission but the intermission consisted of a wide shot of the ring. I don’t need a lot to be entertained but NJPW has had some awesome interviews from Juice and others promoting the upcoming matches. Would it kill them to put those on the live feed?
(6) WILL OSPREAY vs. MARTY SCURLL – Semi-Final for the vacant IWGP Jr. Hvt. Title.
Winner to face KUSHIDA on October 8 at Sumo Hall. Ross called this “the main event” before saying each of the remaining matches was a main event. While that may sound like hyperbole, I think it more than fits in Both guys got the reaction from the crowd as if they were main eventers before the match started.
I know there has been some criticism of not making this a bigger deal with an eight or even twelve or sixteen man tournament but to me taking the four most recent champions and putting them in a shorter tournament does make sense.
Also, it set up this match which turned out to be pretty great.
Ospreay emptied the offensive weaponry in the first thirty seconds of the match including near falls, shooting star presses, and a little bet of everything. This crowd is completely into this offense I can’t do justice to. Marty was able to recover and take over on offense fairly quickly. The early offense is very difficult for me to keep up with.
The Villain got a four count by standing on Will’s hair or ears or something like that Ospreay is selling the neck and it is “negatively” impacting his offense in a way that adds to the drama of the match. At the seven minute mark they should have been exchanging chops on the ring apron but Ospreay was hitting kicks which is pretty amazing. Ospreay hit an amazing move over the top rope. It is not easy to keep up with this man’s incredible offense.
Both men were perched on the top rope at the 11 minute mark when Ospreay appeared to accidentally slip. I think after that they mixed up the plan and Scrull hit a rana which was if it was an audible made perfect sense and shows these guys are thinking on their feet. After some amazing back and forth very uniquely British type offense Marty locked in the cross face chicken wing at 12:30. This led to all kinds of back and forth near falls. Folks, I’m trying but I can’t keep up with Will Ospreay, you certainly need to see this for yourself.
Marty knocked Will off his pens as he was setting up for a moonsault at the 15 minute mark. Scrull hit a double chicken wing suplex off the top rope that somehow wasn’t the finish. He followed up with a type of package piledriver and then won with the Graduation.
WINNER: Scurll in 16:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: This was pretty great, no nonsense from Marty, no finger breakers which I think is smart for Marty not to do every match. Some amazing back and forth offense but the finish tied into the work on Will from earlier in the match and made a lot of sense. One could argue that Marty “learned how to be more serious” in the Okada match at All In and if that’s the story they want to tell that works great here.)
(7) THE YOUNG BUCKS vs. TAMA TONGA & TANGA LOA – IWGP Tag Team Championship match
They set this up with a very good and serious video package. It’s nice to see the serious and angry Young Bucks in this video. I love the inside references as much as the next person but this match calls for a serious tone and everyone involved did that.
Ross pointed out Haku is at ringside. According to the Twitter-verse Mauo Ranallo is there as well. It would be cool if they would let him do a cameo but I suppose that’s too much to ask. Some may disagree but I think Kelly is bringing out the best in Jim Ross overall and I think Kelly listening to Ross and responding works for him really well also. The camera work ion this show has gotten better after a shaky start. I have no complaints with the production of this show outside of intermission.
Bucks again have some cool new (I think) ring jackets. If the Tongans can’t make this match work, I don’t know, I mean the Bucks are mega over with this crowd so getting heel heat shouldn’t be all that tough. Nick and Tama Tonga start it off and they have some good fire combined with athletic moves. Bucks take over early on with some of their patented type tandem offense. Matt has reinjured his back in a really bad way after tagging in just before the three minute mark. He had to quickly tag out to Nick and he is selling his frustration with the injury.
Tonga Loa is illegally attacking Matt outside the ring and the official just lets it happen. This is a lack of logic and it should result in a DQ. I was just watching the first Clash of Champions and the ref forcing Bobby Fulton back to “his corner” while Tommy Rogers took a beating outside of the ring was great. They could use that type of “cheating” here where the bad guys are actually taking advantage of the rules instead of just obviously cheating.
Anyway, I digress. Matt Jackson goes to the top and Tonga Loa puts him through a table outside of the ring so things are looking really bad for the Bucks at the seven minute mark. The Tongans get some sustained offense on Nick while Matt is still trying to recover. To continue the 80’s references Matt is trying to get back to the corner a la Bobby Eaton in the match where they lost the World Titles to the Road Warriors in 1988. Nick takes over on offense but he still has no one to tag in at the ten minute mark. Nick managed to make a great block of a DDT like maneuver before tagging in his injured brother at the 12:30 mark. Matt gets the sharpshooter on at 13:30 but his back was too weak to execute it well.
Loa threw Matt on to Tama’s knees in a cool spot designed to further injure Matt’s back at the 15 minute mark. The Bucks hit a double super kick but Matt was still hurting. Nick helped set up Loa for More Bang for Your Buck and after a struggle Matt pulled it off. It was not done quickly enough to finish Loa off though. I’m really liking the story being told here. I thought the Gun Stun was the end of this match at 18:30 but Matt kicked out. The second Gun Stun ended it at just over the 19 minute mark though and even though the Tongans were heelish, they mostly “took advantage of Matt’s injury” and built some momentum here while winning the belts.
WINNERS: Tonga & Lao in 19:00 to capture the IWGP Tag Titles.
(Kuester’s Analysis: This match told a good story and the Guerrillas were very good at being the bullies and unlikeable heels. I’d call this one of the best performances I’ve seen from the Tongans. They subtlety came across as “too big” for the Bucks when they were on offense. Matt really does a great job of selling that injured back. I love the serious NJPW Young Bucks and this was really some great stuff.)
They are going to another video package for the U.S. Title match which is great because Juice Robinson has been doing so many awesome promos and they need to be heard. This show has been just fantastic so far. It is very typical of New Japan to expect a “good show” and then they hit you with a blow away great show like this.
(8) JUICE ROBINSON vs. CODY – IWGP U.S. Championship
This match set up a bit of a booking quandary with the NWA Champion challenging against Juice who I felt could use at least one successful title defense.
Brandi Rhodes accompanies her husband to ringside. She certainly adds quite a bit to the overall package of Team Cody. As I mentioned earlier, when she and the Bucks and others debut new gear for a show like this it makes it feel even more special. Kelly is hammering the fact that Juice thinks of himself as the American Dream. Cody broke out a bit of face paint and actually may have new gear also. He threw his T-shirt to Brandi instead of the crowd presumably to be more of a heel.
Cody elects to not give a clean break about two minutes in presumably just to fire both guys up. Juice hits Cody with a rough belly to belly on the floor and then shoves Brandi down who had grabbed him from behind, this led to Cody taking over on offense. Cody is not the hero from Chicago this evening. Not surprisingly the announcers are directly referencing Cody as the NWA Champion.
Juice hit the Cannon Ball at about the six minute mark. Brandi continues to make it obvious who the heel is by raking Juice’s eyes as he rests in the corner. Cody then reversed an effort at Pulp Friciton into the Figure Four. Juice managed to reverse the figure four and this is shaping up as a good old school type match. They had a really good back and forth where Cody was trying for Cross Rhodes and Juice was trying for Pulp Friction but when he hit it, Brandi pulled Cody to the outside.
They teased the 20 count for both guys at the 13 minute mark. They then traded punches but Cody took the advantage with a thumb to the eye at the 15 minute mark. Juice is certainly “out wrestling” Cody for whatever that is worth. They had a pretty confusing double pin when Cody countered a superplex at the 17 minute mark and Cody got the best of it for the pin at the 17 minute mark. This happened so quickly it called for a replay which still hasn’t come.
WINNER: Cody in 17:00.
(Kuester’s Analysis: A good character driven match overall, it was a bit jarring for Cody to be the 100% heel here. Again, they kind of booked themselves into a corner here but I suppose Cody kind of picked up a “fluke” win. I really want to see the replay of the finish because I’m still not exactly sure how Cody was the only one to score the pin here. It was a good match but certainly a different type of match than some of the all action stuff we have seen earlier.)
Still to come…
(9) TOMOHIRO IISHI & KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. THE GOLDEN LOVERS (Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega)
The crowd is electric for this one as anyone would expect. They stared with Ibushi and Okada and quickly tagged out to Omega and Ishii. This crowd knows these guys are superstars (actual superstars not just a generic term being thrown around) and are responding accordingly. Ishii took over on Kenny early on. It is great to see Omega hurt his elbow trying to hit Ishii with those elbows. Golden Lovers came through with some great tandem offense early.
The action eventually went to the outside and Ishii beat on Omega outside the ring. This left Kenny unable to tag in when Ibushi was hurting which could make for a subtle story to pay attention to. Ibushi hit a dropkick on Ishii that even Okada may have been jealous of at the nine minute mark and was able to tag in Kenny. Ishii escaped “you can’t escape” and continued to beat on Kenny. Tomohiro has had some strong offense here.
Okada tagged in but the Golden Lovers took over on offense and hit an awesome Cross Slash. They followed up with a team “You Can’t Escape” on Okada which was a thing of beauty. Okada and Omega start exchanging blows at the 13 minute mark and it is an electric atmosphere in Long Beach. I love that Ross calls the Okada dropkick the “Million Dollar Dropkick” for many reasons but that didn’t hit and Omega couldn’t hit the one winged angel either.
Okada does hit the dropkick but Ibushi broke up the RainMaker. This match is just fantastic. Omega hit the V Trigger but neither guy can hit their move until Okada hits a tombstone and Ibushi saves Omega a second time.
Ishii and Ibushi square off at the 17 minute mark. Omega reverses a dropkick for a suplex at 18:30. Ross is feeling the greatness of this match now. The crowd is rightfully chanting “New Japan” and I’m having a hard time keeping up with the offense. Ishii and Ibushi are exchanging some crazy and brutal slaps at the 20 minute mark and Ibushi gets a near fall. It may seem crazy to score a pin off slaps but not those brutal slaps, damn. Ibushi misses a Kama Goye and got destroyed by an Ishii clothes line for another near fall. Ishii hits a brutal high impact power bomb for another near fall on Ibushi.
Golden Trigger hits and the Golden Lovers win an amazing, brutal but athletic match. Kenny Omega is calling for the microphone and JR and Kelly are rightfully (in my opinion) praising one another for a job well done.
WINNERS: Golden Lovers in 23:00.
After the match, Kenny thanks the crowd for nearly a full house in Long Beach. He then mentions they have a big match coming in more than a week. He sets up the match with Ibushi in one of the best baby face vs. baby face setups I can imagine. He challenges Ibushi to the rematch and Cody takes the microphone! Angle alert is hitting all of a sudden. Cody asks the crowd if they want to see the rematch and if he can make it a three way match! I can’t say I saw that coming. Kenny joking about sticking to a script gets the appropriate type of boos as NJPW fans want no part of that.
(Kuester’s Analysis: I loved this match and I appreciate the finish. The Golden Lovers are more of an established team and I’d argue therefore they should have won this one particularly in Long Beach. I think they should save the one on one match with Kenny and Ibushi for a bigger stage so I am good with the intrigue of this three way match for next week.)
Are you happy with the Cody vs. Kota vs. Omega match announced tonight for next month? #njpwUSA
— Pro Wrestling Torch (@PWTorch) October 1, 2018
FINAL THOUGHTS: This has been a fantastic show overall. There is very little to complain about and there were enough of the big hitters that this felt like a “legit” NJPW show. Having three Japanese performers in the main event is something that probably should have happened before. Nearly four hours has flown by as if the show just started. I thought the announcing was top notch and the presentation was great. Everyone thought this show would need to be heavy on angles to be memorable (myself included, really), but the matches and the storytelling in those matches made for an outstanding show. This show is an easy thumbs up. Highly recommend!
NOTE:Veteran PWTorch columnist Sean Radican will post his full review with star ratings Monday night so check back for that.