SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
-As with most recent shows, only Japanese commentary is up at the moment, but English will follow soon for those who prefer to wait for it.
(1) Taiji Ishimori def. Yuya Uemura at 8:02. Very smooth other than a moment where Ishimori had to wait for Uemura to steady himself on the top rope for a slingshot cross-body. Ishimori hit the Bloody Cross followed by the Omoplata to get the submission.
(2) Togi Makabe & Satoshi Kojima & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano & Gabriel Kidd at 10:25. Standard Yano and Taguchi shenanigans in the middle while Makabe and Kidd did the heavy lifting in the beginning and ending sequences. Makabe hit a lariat and then a German suplex with a bridge to pin Kidd. Kidd continued to get in Makabe’s face afterward. They match up surprisingly well.
(3) Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Sanada & Bushi) def. Chaos (Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Sho) at 10:32. This match had fingerprints all over it, as it involved three men he beat in the New Japan Cup (Goto, Yoshi-Hashi & Sanada) as well as Naito, whom of course he beat for the double championship. Something as simple as the LIJ pre-match fist bump seemed significant in the wake of Evil’s Bullet Club turn. The match was largely a showcase for Sho, who continues to look like a can’t-miss singles star while his partner Yoh rehabs from injury. Sanada made Sho tap to Skull End. After the match, Naito made a big production of inviting referee Kenta Sato into the ring to raise their arms, after which immediately he wrenched Sato’s arm and Sanada hit Sato with a basement dropkick.
-A video aired promoting a show on August 29th in Jingu Stadium (the home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball team) as part of the Summer Struggle series. It’s the second-ever NJ show at the stadium and the first since 1999.
-Intermission for cleanup & sanitization
(4) Golden Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi) & Yuji Nagata & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Master Wato def. Suzuki-Gun (IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) & Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Douki) at 12:56. Tenzan, who made the save a couple of weeks ago when Wato was being beaten down by the Suzuki-gun Junior Heavyweights, entered with Wato to Wato’s music. There are three ongoing issues here, and all of them (Wato-Kanemaru, Golden Ace-Dangerous Tekkers, Nagata-Suzuki) paired off in the early going either in the ring or outside it. The highlight of the match was a long Ibushi-ZSJ sequence. Ibushi pinned Douki after Kamigoye. The same issues continued to burn after the match ended. The faces did a significant amount of posing afterward, and Tanahashi singled out one thrilled woman who was displaying his rally towel and gave her an “air hug” from about six feet away.
(5) Kazuchika Okada def. Yujiro Takahashi at 13:44.
Yujiro bailed early to draw Okada outside. He had him in a fireman’s carry on the ramp, but Okada escaped, threw some rights and put Yujiro back in the ring. When Okada followed, Yujiro slipped out the other way. Okada followed again and put Yujiro in the steel barricade. Okada charged but Yujiro moved, then hit an inverted DDT on the outside. Yujiro reentered and referee Marty Asami reached 14.
Okada entered again and Yujiro mounted him for a couple of forearms. Snap mare, leg drop, elbow drop by Yujiro. Cover for a one count. Yujiro hit a headlock and a running boot for a two count. Okada hit his feet and the two exchanged forearms. Yujro set up Okada on the ropes and hit another running boot and then an inverted Russian leg sweep for two. The crowd clapped to get Okada fired up. Okada hit his feet and threw some big rights. Thrustkick by Yujiro, who charged into a boot by Okada, then another. Shotgun dropkick by Okada.
Rope run. Back elbow by Okada, who fired up. Irish whip and big back elbow by Okada. DDT by Okada for a two count. Rope run. Yujiro put on the brakes and kicked Okada, but Okada hit a headlock. Yujiro bit Okada’s arm to escape and hit a nice-looking brainbuster for two. Both guys hit their feet. Rope run and Okada laid out Yujiro. Both guys sold for a moment. Okada blocked a big boot and threw forearms. Yujiro returned fire. Yujiro hit another boot, then ran the ropes right into a dropkick by Okada. Piledriver by Okada. Cobra clutch by Okada, but Yujiro reached the ropes.
Gedo showed up and distracted Marty Asami long enough for Yujiro to hit Okada with his cane. He covered for two. Yujiro sold frustration and lurked over Okada. He ran the ropes and hit a lariat for a near-fall. Okada wriggled free of Yujiro’s finisher, then rolled through another attempt, and hit the cobra clutch again. Yujiro bit Okada to break it once more. Okada set up the Rainmaker but Yujiro hit a lariat instead. He wanted his finisher again but Okada hit a back bodydrop. Big boot by Yujiro, who ran the ropes right into another dropkick. Okada knocked an interfering Gedo off the ramp. Cobra clutch. When Yujiro didn’t immediately tap, Okada hit one more piledriver, then applied the cobra clutch a final time to get the submission. ***1/4
(Wells’s Analysis: It’s been a very long time since Yujiro had a significant singles feud. He acquitted himself well enough, considering that he was removed from the annual G1 Climax some years ago for having matches that were, at best, underwhelming. The match told a decent story with Okada determined to win with a camel clutch submission, no matter how many attempts it took. With Yujiro likely in the rear-view mirror, Okada is likely free to get back into the IWGP Heavyweight Championship picture and has to be one of the heavy favorites to win this year’s G1.)
(6) Shingo Takagi (NEVER Openweight Champion) def. El Desperado at 17:03.
Referee Red Shoes Unno had only been reffing main events since New Japan returned, but he had this semi-main tonight as well. Shingo retrieved his belt, which Desperado had stolen, and taunted him with it.
Action spilled outside early and Shingo ran Desperado into the steel barricade. He took him to another corner and did the same. Desperado reversed and ran Shingo into a barricade, but a fired-up Shingo no-sold it. Desperado put Shingo into the ring post, then wrapped his leg over the barricade and stomped it. Desperado hit Shingo with a chair, which drew Red Shoes outside to try to get things back in the ring. Desperado grabbed the belt and pointed at it demonstratively, after which the two finally got back in the ring.
Desperado wrapped Shingo’s leg around the second rope in a corner, then stood on it until Red Shoes broke it up. Shingo fought back from the corner but Desperado hit a dragon screw to break off the hope spot. Desperado locked up Shingo’s legs and taunted him as the crowd started to clap for Shingo. Shingo tried to bounce toward a rope but needed a few attempts to make it. Desperado held on as long as he could before breaking, then mocked the clapping crowd.
Desperado ran the ropes into a back elbow, then another, and a lariat by Shingo. Shingo taunted a grounded Desperado, then wrapped up his arms on the top rope and hit a dragon screw inside the ring from there to applause and covered for two. Shingo missed a running elbow, then fought off a figure-four attempt by Desperado. Shingo caught a charging Desperado, but Desperado hit a spinebuster. Desperado quickly put on a stretch muffler, but Shingo just as quickly reached the ropes to break.
Desperado ran corner-to-corner for a lariat, then ran the ropes but Shingo followed and hit his own lariat. Desperado caught a charging Shingo in a stretch muffler and tried to power him down for a count, but Shingo powered out from the other side. Double-underhook by Desperado, but Shingo powered out and attempted a backslide. When Desperado resisted, Shingo whipped around and hit a DDT instead. Gory bomb by Shingo.
Action went outside again, and Desperado grabbed a chair. When he smashed it against the apron, he unintentionally got somewhat close to hitting Red Shoes, who was exiting the ring. Desperado grabbed the NEVER belt and hit Shingo with it. Desperado reentered the ring and counted to 18 before Shingo was able to hobble to his feet and get back in the ring. Desperado speared Shingo and went for Pinche Loco, which Shingo blocked. Stretch muffler in the middle of the ring by Desperado, who’s been working the leg to get to this all match long. He rolled Shingo into a cover for two.
Desperado called for Pinche Loco but Shingo blocked again. Desperado stood above a grounded Shingo and taunted him. Shingo threw rights until Desperado dropped his knees down on Shingo’s bad leg. Desperado covered for two as Shingo sold the agony. Both guys eventually hit their feet and there was a forearm exchange. Shingo threw a lariat that didn’t quite ground Desperado. Rights and left by Shingo. Desperado ran right into a knee, then Shingo hit Made in Japan for a long two. The crowd continued to fire up Shingo.
Desperado reversed a fireman’s carry to a crucifix for two. Desperado cornered Red Shoes and went for a low blow away from his eyes, but Shingo blocked and grounded Desperado. Shingo ran the ropes and hit the Pumping Bomber lariat. Last of the Dragons was good to finish. ****
(Wells’s Analysis: Strong, stiff action as one would expect. Finally getting a couple of Juniors involved in some NEVER Openweight challenges has been a great move, as Shingo is excellent at adapting to whatever style of wrestler comes his way. Shingo now has three successful defenses in this reign, just off the record of four shared by Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii and the title’s overall first reign by Masato Tanaka. This is also the longest reign in days other than the aforementioned Suzuki and Tanaka reigns, of course ballooned by the pandemic)
-Second intermission for cleanup and sanitization
-A video hyping the night’s deeply personal main event aired.
(7) Evil (IWGP Heavyweight Champion & Intercontinental Champion) def. Hiromu Takahashi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion) at 33:57.
Hiromu often has smart-aleck comments written on his wrist tape, but this time it simply read “EVIL.” Hiromu rocked back and forth and clutched his Junior championship as Evil, seconded by Dick Togo, entered to his new incredible theme music. Togo wore a dapper all-white suit and a black Che Guevara-style beret.
Hiromu exploded out of the corner with a shotgun dropkick. He ran the ropes and hit another, and Evil slipped outside. Hiromu hit a shotgun dropkick from the apron without skipping a beat to send Evil into the barricade, and then did it again. Red Shoes exited the ring to ensure Dick Togo didn’t get too close to the action. Hiromu took a look at Togo and rolled Evil back into the ring. Hiromu went at Evil with chops against the ropes. Hiromu ran the ropes but Togo grabbed his leg to trip him up. Evil tossed Hiromu outside and Togo put the boots to him. Evil headed out to Hiromu to do his two-chair spot around Hiromu’s neck. Very bizarre to see him do that particular spot to an LIJ guy.
Evil headed back into the ring as Hiromu sold outside. Red Shoes reached 11 and Hiromu rolled back in. Evil dropped an elbow on Hiromu’s upper back, and then dragged him up to do another. Hiromu, from his knees, threw palm strikes, but Evil hit him with a hard Irish whip. Evil stalked Hiromu until he got up, then hit another Irish whip. Evil put on a rear chinlock and added a knee to Hiromu’s back. Hiromu looked to elbow out, then Evil grabbed Red Shoes to distract him while Hiromu ran the ropes and got tripped by Togo again.
Neckbreaker by Evil, who covered for two. Evil went for a suplex, but Hiromu went dead and didn’t allow it, and then hooked a leg to block. Hiromu went for one but failed as well. Evil chopped Hiromu down then immediately missed a standing senton. Both guys sold for a moment. Evil chopped Hiromu in a corner, but Hiromu reversed an Irish whip, hit a splash in the corner, then hit a basement dropkick in the middle of the ring. Hiromu ran the ropes and hit a huracanrana. Togo got up on the apron and Hiromu cleared him with a forearm. Hiromu went for his sunset flip outside the ring. He kicked Togo to clear him again, then sunset flipped Evil directly onto Togo in a fun spot.
Red Shoes began the count with both guys outside, and reached 14 when Hiromu rolled Evil inside. Hiromu whipped Togo into a barricade, because why not? Hiromu hit a falcon arrow inside the ring and covered for two. Evil fought off a fireman’s carry and shoved Hiromu to the mat using his hair. The audience clapped rhythmically, as they have for much of the match, in support of Hiromu. Evil reached his feet and charged the corner, where he hit an inverted curb stomp on Hiromu. Hiromu crumbled on the apron, and Evil joined him there and put him in a fireman’s carry. Hiromu wriggled free and hit a superkick, then hit Evil with a death valley driver on the apron, which Evil sold the hell out of.
Evil slipped outside and Togo stood above him, trying to get him back into it. Hiromu climbed the turnbuckle and Evil threw Young Lion Yuya Uemura in front of him, then shoved Yuya Uemura into Gabriel Kidd and charged up to Hiromu. Hiromu knocked him off, and Evil grabbed the Young Lions again, so Hiromu went ahead and hit a senton on all three.
Red Shoes reached the count of 16 when both guys went into the ring as the ring announcer mentioned we were 15 minutes deep. Hiromu hit a Dynamite Plunger for two. Rope run, both guys blocked moves, and Hiromu hit a shotgun dropkick to send Evil to a corner. Evil got the leg up as Hiromu charged, then hit a snap suplex to send Hiromu into the corner pad. Evil hit a big running lariat in the corner, then set up Hiromu on the top of the corner, and went up with him to hit a superplex that sent the announcers into an amusing frenzy. He covered for two.
Evil taunted Hiromu and called for the end in the camera, but Hiromu blocked Everything is Evil. Evil hit a German suplex, but Hiromu fired up and no-sold, then hit a German of his own as the counter hit twenty minutes. Evil hit another German suplex. Hiromu charged and hit a lariat, but Evil didn’t go down and hit yet another German as the crowd’s applause kept up. Evil hit a fourth German and admired his work. It’s still strange to see a smirk on that face.
Evil dragged Hiromu up by his tights and hit a fifth German. Red Shoes checked on Hiromu, no almost immobile, and Evil shoved Red Shoes out of the way. Evil hit a sixth German and looked over at Red Shoes as if to challenge him. Red Shoes shook his head at Evil as he looked on, seemingly knowing it was over for Hiromu. Evil dragged up Hiromu, who just barely slipped out of Everything is Evil before collapsing to the mat. Evil put his hands on his hips, kicked Red Shoes out of the way again, and dragged up Hiromu. Hiromu blocked Everything is Evil, then shoved Evil into an exposed corner (did Togo remove the pad?) for an opening. Hiromu hit a triangle choke and Evil rolled him up to break. Hiromu reversed a slam to a bulldog and both guys sold on the mat as the match reached 25 minutes.
Hiromu went into his trademark machine gun wail to fire himself up, and he hit his feet first. He lifted up Evil for a suplex, but Evil blocked. Hiromu threw palm strikes to put him on his knees. Evil tried to throw a forearm but Hiromu beat him to the punch. Hiromu hit his original Time Bomb and got a long two count. Frequent finisher block spot. Hiromu turned Evil inside out with a huge lariat and covered for a hugely long two.
Togo hit the apron, and Hiromu hit a running back elbow to clear him out. Hiromu slammed Evil to a corner pad and signaled for the end. Evil blocked Time Bomb 2 and Hiromu charged the corner, but Evil moved and Hiromu splashed Red Shoes. Togo immediately hit the ring, removed his jacket and put the fists to a grounded Hiromu. Evil and Togo hit a Magic Killer on Hiromu as Uemura and Kidd tried to wake up Red Shoes. Togo went to the top rope, but Hiromu dropkicked Evil into the ropes, which crotched Togo in the corner.
After another blocked finisher exchange, Hiromu hit Everthing is Evil on Evil. Red Shoes was just starting to show signs of life, and reentered the ring. Hiromu dragged Evil to his feet, put him in a fireman’s carry and hit a DVD into the corner. Hiromu threw his arms out and screamed. He hit Time Bomb for a long, convincing near-fall. He shrieked again, hit Time Bomb 2 and the audience lost their minds. He reached two and Togo yanked Red Shoes out of the ring. Oh my god.
Togo entered the ring and startied choking out Hiromu. Hiromu put up Togo in a fireman’s carry, but Evil hit a low blow and Togo went back to choking Hiromu. Hiromu crumbled to the mat as Togo rolled Red Shoes into the ring. Evil put up Hiromu and hit a sitout powerbomb, and Everything is Evil finished.
After the match, Taiji Ishimori joined his Bullet Club brothers in the ring and hit the Bloody Cross. Ishimori grabbed Hiromu’s own IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship and taunted him with it in a clear display that the two will clash for the title soon. Evil held up Hiromu for Ishimori to hit him with his belt, but Tetsuya Naito ran to the ring and broke it up. Naito met Evil in the middle of the ring and spoke to him; I went to @njpwglobal on twitter for the translation:
“Naito: You’ve talked about justice a lot. Justice and darkness. Are you confused, EVIL? Two belts seem much to heavy for a guy like that. Rental time is over. Give ’em back.”
Naito and Hiromu took off, leaving Evil to posture with his championships, flanked by Ishimori and Togo. Evil walked up the ramp, smirking, and then posed with the belts one last time to end the show. ****3/4
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, on commentary, got real fired up afterward: “The IWGP committee needs to rethink this crap. That sort of interference will happen every match! This is supposed to be New Japan!”
(Wells’s Analysis: We knew that there would be a heavy dose of emotion in this match, but this clicked in every possible way, as Hiromu is one of the most universally lovable talents in New Japan and he’s doing a great job of selling the heartbreak Evil has caused. There was no reason to believe Hiromu would win the championship here, but all the same, the Time Bomb 2 near-fall filled me with a rush of adrenaline that’s hard to describe. Hiromu continues to be on an insane roll, while Evil had the best singles match of his life tonight, and continues to do his part in by far the biggest opportunity he’s ever been given)
FINAL THOUGHTS: This show settled in to a nice seven-and-a-half range through six matches, with plenty to like but nothing to really remember, and the main event easily pushed it to must-see territory. New Japan’s biggest angle in years continues to bring the goods. The Summer Struggle series gets going tonight already (and the following night as well), and ideally, there will be announcements about potential Best of the Super Juniors or G1 Climax tournaments. It could be that New Japan is waiting to see which international names can return to perform, of course, given the world we live in right now.