SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NJPW LONESTAR SHOOTOUT REPORT
NOVEMBER 10, 2023
CURTIS CULWELL CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON FITE TV
Announcers: Walker Stewart and Veda Scott
Welcome to the alt-perspective report from NJPW’s Lonestar Shootout! You can see Sean Radican’s full live report here, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts and commentary on the action. Let’s do this!
(A) BARRETT BROWN vs. MATT VANDAGRIFF
I remain impressed by Matt Vandagriff’s ring presence. Barrett Brown was making his first appearance in New Japan in over a year.
Vandagriff took early control with an impressive Tiger Feint kick in the corner, and hit a standing moonsault for a near fall. Brown came back with a suplex into the corner pad for his own near fall. He stopped Vandagriff in his tracks with a half and half suplex but it was still only enough for two.
Vandagriff was able to counter a lariat into a buckle bomb and then connected with a spear for a two count. He went to the top for a 450, Brown moved but Vandagriff was able to roll through. It didn’t help him much as he ate a running kick and a brainbuster for a very near fall.
Frustrated, Brown slapped Vandagriff and went for a Tiger driver. Vandagriff flipped out of it, hit a roundhouse kick, and then connected with the 450 splash for the win.
WINNER: Matt Vandagriff via pinfall in 5:00. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Serviceable enough. Vandagriff sells well, moves well, and seems to have something of a character to him. That said, I didn’t get any sort of impression of what Brown might have to offer, which might suggest that Vandagriff didn’t do his job in this one. He’s only 25 and Brown is 29, so there’s time for both men to build on what they showed here.)
(B) FRED ROSSER vs. TOM LAWLOR
A match on the preshow seems like a distinct step down for both these men, especially Lawlor who has competed in the G1. They also have a storied history over the Strong championship.
Both men started out on fire, staring at each other throughout Rosser’s entrance. Rosser jumped Lawlor before the bell. Lawlor went for an early ankle lock but Rosser fought him off with palm strikes. Rosser tries a back suplex on the apron but Lawlor countered with a head kick and a jumping knee.
On the outside, Lawlor retained control and did a full lap of the ring before connecting with a stiff kick to the chest. Back inside, Lawlor went to work on the leg of Rosser. He hit a sharp kick to the spine that sounded immensely painful, but his attempt to repeat the act was blocked and countered by a dragon screw at the five minute mark.
Rosser went to work with strikes but ran into a dropkick from Lawlor. The crowd chanted “Filthy” for Lawlor. On the apron Lawlor hit two pump kicks to Rosser and applied a guillotine choke. They went back and forth teasing a Death Valley driver on the apron with neither able to complete the move. Rosser was however able to connect with a back suplex on the hardest part of the ring.
Back inside, Rosser tried for the Gut Check but Lawlor countered into the ankle lock. Rosser kicked him into the turnbuckle and hit a roaring elbow, the Gut Check and a sliding knee to the head for a near fall. Lawlor countered another Gut Check attempt with a leaping knee strike at ten minutes.
Lawlor whipped Rosser to the corner and hit a charging headbutt to the midsection. He hit a head kick and went for a Kamigoye but Rosser blocked it and hit a running Death Valley driver for another near fall. Emerald Flowsion got another two count.
Rosser tried for the STF but Lawlor made the ropes. He tried to lift Lawlor but could not hold him up. Kamigoye from Lawlor! Another one to the back of the head! Lawlor again applied the ankle lock, Rosser rolled through into the STF and continued rolling into a pinning combination for the win.
WINNER: Fred Rosser via pinfall in 13:00. (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This was a really good, solid match from two guys who are well-versed in the North American style. They told stories about the apron, the ankle lock, and the STF. They exchanged counters and blocks and clearly knew each other well. Nothing too flashy or contrived, just good solid storytelling.)
The two men shook hands after the match, then exchanged slaps to the face.
(1) TIGER MASK & ATLANTIS & MASCARA DORADA vs. ROCKY ROMERO & ULTIMO GUERRERO & HECHICERO
“Daddy Azucar” will never get old for me, as someone who remembers the Havana Pitbulls and “Azucar” Rocky Romero. This match was a follow-up to Rocky’s disrespect of Atlantis at Fighting Spirit Unleashed. Mascara Dorada is better known to US wrestling fans as Gran Metallik.
Atlantis and Guerrero started the match with some lucha mat work exchanges…let’s just say at a deliberate pace. Hechicero and Dorada tagged in, and as expected the pace did pick up. The two (presumably) younger men worked a series of mat escapes and pinning combinations. Dorada maneuvered an ankle lock into a headscissors takedown but got flattened by a shoulder tackle.
Dorada and Hechicero exchanged more holds, takedowns, and pins, culminating in a standing shooting star press by Dorada for a two count. Tiger Mask and Romero tagged in. Guerrero grabbed Tiger Mask from behind and Romero took control as we reached 5 minutes.
Tiger Mask got the upper hand with a monkey flip and a mule kick to send Romero to the floor. He hit a tope to the outside, but was slammed off the top rope when they came back in. Romero tagged in Hechicero, and he called in Guerrero to help deliver a series of wishbones. Romero tagged back in and hit his Forever Clotheslines in the corner. He was cut off at the fourth one, and Tiger Mask hit the Tiger Driver!
Atlantis and Guerrero were tagged in. Atlantis took out the whole opposing team, and hit tilt-a-whirl backbreakers on all three. He flipped Hechicero to the floor. Dorada hit a double-jump plancha to the outside on to Hechicero.
Back inside, Tiger Mask whipped Romero into a backbreaker from Atlantis for 2. Atlantis tagged in Dorada, who hit a crossbody from the top and a headscissors. Dorada and Romero exchanged kicks, Romero got the advantage and tagged in Hechicero. He hit a rising knee on Dorada in the corner and a spinning hammerlock backbreaker for a near fall.
The action degenerated into a brawl. We were left with Hechicero and Dorada in the ring as the others brawled outside. Hechicero used a beautiful popup roll through to apply a choke, then transitioned to a crucifix-style pin for a near fall. He went for a popup powerbomb, Dorada tried to block but ended up in position for the hammerlock backbreaker again. Dorada escaped that and got a backslide for a near fall.
Dorada connected with a crucifix driver, went to the top and hit a beautiful floating shooting star press for the win.
WINNERS: Mascara Dorada & Atlantis & Tiger Mask via pinfall in 13:00. (*1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This was not my cup of tea at all. It was disjointed, there was next to no psychology, and I found it hard to follow. There were some very nice spots, especially from Hechicero, but overall this just felt ugly to me.)
Hechicero and Mascara Dorada exchanged heated words post-match. The commentators mentioned that this match helped shape the picture for FantasticaMania in February.
(2) JOEY JANELA vs. TORU YANO
I expected this one to be interesting. Yano is mostly a comedy guy these days, but he used to be a pretty vicious heel. Janela is capable of comedy and is known as a hardcore guy. Janela was making his NJPW debut.
Janela jumped Yano during the latter’s interminable ring introduction. He found “all” of Yano’s hidden tape (I highly doubt it was all of it) before getting on the mic and demanding a no DQ match. Yano’s answer was delivered via spray to the eyes. Yano choked Janela with his robe and removed the corner pad.
They took turns trying to run each other into the exposed corner. Yano was ultimately successful, then removed the remaining corner pads. Janela thanked him for this by running Yano’s head into the corner, and they went to the floor.
Janela threw some chairs into the ring. He threw Yano’s special red chair OUT of the ring, to the disapproval of the fans. Yano avoided a clothesline and hit a rebound belly to belly suplex onto the pile of chairs. He went for a powerbomb on the chairs, but Janela escaped. Yano tripped Janela on the apron as we reached the 5 minute mark.
Back inside, Janela hit a superkick and a piledriver onto the chairs. That only got a near fall, somehow. Janela did some interior design, setting up two chairs in the middle of the ring. Yano rolled to the apron, so Janela went up top for a senton. He missed. That must have hurt, that’s the Hardest Part Of The Ring (trademark Michael Cole)!
Yano hit a powerbomb onto the chairs Janela erected, but only got a two count. Yano set up another chair, seated Janela in it, and produced another roll of tape. Shocking. He attached Janela to the chair and played to the crowd, but got kicked in the daddy button.
The referee freed Janela from the chair, which was very nice of him. Janela hit a Death Valley driver onto the chair, then put that chair on Yano’s ribs. Janela hit the top rope double stomp through the chair, but again only got a two count.
Janela taped the hands of Yano and, at the bidding of the crowd, retrieved Yano’s red chair. He took a big swing but Yano moved, and Janela’s chairshot rebounded off the ropes into his own face. Yano hit a groin headbutt, a double axehandle to the groin, and got the schoolboy for the win.
WINNER: Toru Yano via pinfall in 9:00 (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I like Yano in small doses. This was on the verge of being too large a dose of Yano, but it was different enough from his normal nonsense that I was able to enjoy most of it. I could have done without all the kickouts from erstwhile finishers, but ultimately this was an OK brawl with trappings of a comedy match.)
Emily Mae was backstage with TJP. He explained that his match with Mistico is personal. He said he has a lot of respect for Mistico, but this is personal. OK, but why is it personal?
(3) BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Alex Coughlin & Chase Owens & Clark Connors & Gabe Kidd) vs. GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (Tama Tonga &ga Loa) and INTERGALACTIC JET SETTERS (Kevin Knight & Kushida)
It’s good to see Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa as a team again.
Owens and Loa opened the match, but the match quickly broke down into chaos with all 8 men in the ring. The faces each had an opponent in a corner for the ten-spot punches simultaneously, and everyone but Loa and Ownes went to the floor.
Kushida and Kevin Knight hit a tandem move on Owens ending with Knight hitting a splash on the back of Owens. Kushida was hit from behind by Kidd, allowing Owens to hit a rebound backbreaker. Coughlin tagged in and hit repeated backbreakers to Kushida, then applied the back stretcher over the knee. He tossed Kushida into the Bullet Club corner with a fallaway slam.
Bullet Club went to town on Kushida in the corner. A brainbuster from Kidd at the five-minute mark got a near fall. The crowd got behind Kushida, and he managed to hit a shotei to Kidd and a handspring double elbow to Connors and Owens. Kushida crawled and made the tag to Tama Tonga.
Tonga came in with exploder suplexes for Coughlin and Connors. He hit a Tongan Twist on Owens and flattened Kidd with a clothesline. A Stinger splash and another exploder followed. He went for the ten-spot punches but Kidd escaped with a stun gun in the corner. Kidd tagged in Connors.
Tonga made a blind tag to Knight who came flying in with a clothesline to Connors and Kidd. Knight hit a Stinger splash on both men at once, but Owens tripped Tonga from the floor. Coughlin nailed Knight with a lariat. Loa hit a missile dropkick to Coughlin. Owens hit Jewel Heist on Loa. Tonga reversed a second Jewel Heist attempt and hit Gun Stun on Owens! Kidd blocked a Gun Stun and threw Tonga to the floor.
Knight hit a spike DDT on Kidd at the ten-minute mark. Connors and Coughlin came in but got hit with a double Pele kick from Knight. He went for a springboard spike DDT but got obliterated by a Clark Connors spear. That was smooth.
Coughlin clotheslined Kushida, then he and Connors hit a tandem elevated DDT on Knight, dropping him directly on his head for the win.
WINNERS: Bullet Club War Dogs via pinfall in 11:00. (***1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Matches with this many people are often chaotic. This one managed to avoid that trap, and the action was crisp and entertaining. Connors getting the pin on Knight tells a continuing story coming out of the Junior Tag League.)
We got a video package for the tag title match coming up next.
(4) GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (Hikuleo & El Phantasmo) (c) vs. WEST COAST WRECKING CREW (Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs) – NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship Match
West Coast Wrecking Crew, despite being an established team, have never held the tag team titles.
ELP and Hikuleo wasted no time in going on the attack, jumping the Wrecking Crew before the bell. There is bad blood between the teams as WCWC jumped the champs two weeks ago after their defense.
Hikuleo clotheslined both opponents to the floor, and ELP hit a walk-the-ropes moonsault to the floor. Back inside, Nelson hit a Stun Gun on the ropes on ELP. Isaacs pulled him through the ropes into a suplex position, then walked around the ring with him still held in the suplex position. Nelson hit a tope to the floor onto Hikuleo, and Isaacs finally dropped ELP on top of his partner. That was impressive.
Back in the ring, Isaacs dropped an elbow on ELP. He then hit a delayed drop vertical suplex which got a two count. Isaacs did a set of ten squats while holding ELP up in the gutwrench position, before suplexing him over. I like this guy.
Isaacs and Nelson continued to work on ELP with quick tags. At the five-minute mark, Nelson went through an elaborate series of gyrations and then raked the back of ELP. The challengers took the time to pose, which allowed ELP to fight back. He ducked a series of clotheslines and hit a springboard crossbody and a huracanrana. Nelson yanked Hikuleo off the apron to prevent the tag. The prevention was short-lived as ELP escaped again to tag in the big guy.
Hikuleo took down both opponents with lariats. Isaacs escaped the chokeslam but ran into the snap powerslam for a two count. ELP tagged in and they hit the big boot-cutthroat neckbreaker combo for a near fall.
Isaacs blocked a Sudden Death attempt from ELP, then ducked the second one causing ELP to connect with his partner. A schoolboy to ELP got a two count. He hit a bridging German suplex for another two count. Nelson tagged in, and they hit a popup powerbomb into a tandem move that saw Isaacs drop ELP over the knees of Nelson for a near fall. The ten-minute announcement was made.
Nelson and Isaacs hit a tandem Dominator and DDT. Isaacs connected with a piledriver, and Nelson dropped a top rope elbow. He tried to stop Hikuleo from breaking up the pin, but he got kicked into the referee. With the referee down, Isaacs low-blowed Hikuleo and Nelson cleaned his clock with the championship belt. He tried to repeat the feat with ELP, but ELP ducked and Nelson hit Isaacs. Sudden Death by ELP! That’s enough to retain the titles.
WINNERS: Guerillas of Destiny via pinfall in 14:00. (***1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis:I am now a West Coast Wrecking Crew fan. They looked really good here, and ELP sold like crazy for them. Everything they do looks good. The finish was anticlimactic, and Hikuleo continues to be just on the good side of acceptable. What I really want to see is FTR vs. WCWC. )
(5) MÍSTICO vs. TJP
Once again we saw the action start before the bell. They went to the outside early with TJP on the attack. Back inside, TJP sent Mistico shoulder-first into the corner and went to work on the arm.
Mistico came back from a whip to the ropes with a handspring elbow. He hit a tornillo to the floor and continued his attack on the outside with a trio of very loud chops. Back inside, it was TJP’s turn to acrobatically escape a whip to the ropes. He locked in an STF in the ropes, which was visually impressive and painful. He snapped the arm of Mistico and got a two count as we passed five minutes.
TJP applied a scorpion deathlock, and then transitioned into an Indian deathlock. Strange choice of offence considering he was working the arm. TJP went to the apron but his springboard senton missed. Mistico hit a headscissors, then a lucha armdrag sending TJP to the outside. Mistico followed with a tope.
Back inside, a springboard crossbody by Mistico got a near fall. He followed up with a top rope senton for another two count. TJP stopped him in his tracks with a tornado DDT, but in turn got stopped short by a kick to the head. Both men fought on the top turnbuckle. TJP hit the Cheeky Nando’s kick, a shout out to his faction leader, but Mistico fired back with a superkick of his own at the ten minute mark.
Mistico went for a moonsault but only got knees. He was still able to hit a snap powerslam for a near fall. Both men were down briefly, then TJP locked in the seated octopus hold. He rolled it into a pinning combination for a two count.
Mistico came back with a springboard crossbody for two, then was able to hit La Mistica into a pretty sloppy armbar for a submission win.
WINNER: Mistico via submission in 12:00. (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Again, this felt a little disjointed. Mistico played the face, but his comebacks seemed to be out of nowhere and without any real rhyme or reason. As a result we got two men each doing a series of moves without any cohesion or flow to them. It looked good but would have been much better with some degree of logic to it.)
(6) EDDIE KINGSTON vs. SATOSHI KOJIMA – NJPW Strong Openweight Championship Match
Kingston’s year of dream matches continued with this one. Whatever you think of the guy, his 2023 has been one bucket list check after another.
We started off at a slow pace with an exchange of shoulder tackles. Eddie went to the floor shaking out his shoulder. He went back in the ring and got shoulder tackled again, sending him back to the outside. This time Kojima followed, and they brawled on the outside.
Kingston connected with a loud chop on the outside, then rolled Kojima in for a cover and a two count. Kojima avoided a charging Eddie and hit his trademark machine gun chops in the corner. Eddie seemed to be enjoying them almost as much as he was hating them.
Kojima hit a running forearm in the opposite corner, but Eddie absorbed it and then laid in HIS trademark machine gun chops in the corner. I think we all expected this exchange. Eddie finished the chops with an exploder suplex. Kojima rolled to the outside.
Eddie tried the half-and-half suplex on the apron, but Kojima escaped and planted Eddie with a DDT on the apron instead. Back inside, Kojima hit a strike combination and a DDT. Eddie blocked the Koji cutter and hit a Saito suplex and a half-and-half suplex for a near fall.
Eddie continued to sell his left shoulder, He applied a stretch plum, Kojima fought his way free. Eddie hit a clothesline, Kojima absorbed it. They each threw a lariat, but only Eddie went down. Koji cutter by Kojima! 1…2…no!
Eddie blocked the Kojima lariat and hit three uraken. Kojima exploded out of a stagger with a lariat! He stayed in control with a brainbuster, and got a near fall at the ten minute mark. Kojima looked for the lariat but Eddie beat him to the…lariat. Northern lights bomb by Eddie! 1…2…no!
Eddie once again grabbed his shoulder, then hit a pair of uraken and a second northern lights bomb to retain.
WINNER: Eddie Kingston via pinfall in 10:00. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: When Japanese wrestlers start to age out of the main event, they tend to slide down the card to special attraction tag matches. Kojima’s style is well-suited to this sort of match however, and Eddie Kingston is a perfect opponent for him. This showed how entertaining a hard-hitting, brutal affair can be without needing wild spots, weaponry, or blood. It’s a shame we are only now getting to see what Eddie can do as a fighting face champion, because he is so good at it. )
Post-match, Gabe Kidd jumped Kingston and beat him down. I wonder who the next challenger might be? Kidd leveled Kingston with the belt and called for a microphone. He said top guys like to duck him, but he was going to come for Kingston whenever Kidd wanted. He choked Kingston with the microphone cord before standing over him with the belt.
Backstage, Trent Beretta said he always wondered what it would have been like if he had never left NJPW. He said he would show Shingo, the fans, NJPW and AEW who he is.
(7) BLACKPOOL COMBAT CLUB (Jon Moxley & Wheeler Yuta) vs. BULLET CLUB (David Finlay & Kenta)
Finlay did not have Gedo with him for once. Moxley and Yuta entered through the crowd as per usual, but the lighting tech was clearly not ready for it as they were basically in the dark until they got to the lower levels.
Keeping with tonight’s theme, Bullet Club jumped the BCC before they could get in the ring. Yuta and Kenta brawled up the entryway while Finlay dropped Moxley ribs-first over the barricade. Kenta and Finlay rolled Yuta into the ring and the bell finally rang.
Finlay and Kenta punished Yuta in their corner. A snap suplex by Finlay only got a one count. Yuta tried to battle back but Kenta went to the eyes. Yuta managed to connect with an inverted atomic drop and an enzuigiri, allowing him to tag Moxley.
Moxley came in with furious kicks and strikes to Kenta in the corner. He chomped down on Kenta’s head. Mmmm, delicious hair. A stalling piledriver from Moxley got a two count. Moxley hit a succession of 12-6 elbows. Kenta got to his feet and they exchanged round kicks, Moxley blocked one though and applied the Scorpion deathlock.
Finlay tried to break the hold with kicks to Moxley’s head. Yuta attacked Finlay, but the distraction allowed Kenta to roll up Moxley for a near fall. Moxley hit a cutter on Kenta and the BCC went for a spike piledriver, but Kenta backdropped Yuta and Finlay crotched Moxley to counter. Kenta ran through Moxley with a penalty kick, and tagged in Finlay.
Finlay connected with a pendulum backbreaker for two at the five minute mark. Finlay made the mistake of slapping Moxley and got leveled by a lariat as a result. Yuta tagged in and got a near fall with a high crossbody. A corner clothesline and top rope forearm followed, with a bridging German suplex getting another two count.
Yuta got the better of a series of reversals with a victory roll for a near fall, but then walked right into a uranage backbreaker. Finlay connected with the Dominator for a near fall. Kenta tagged in and hit a DDT for a two count. Kenta went for Go To Sleep, but Yuta escaped and hit a dropkick at the ten minute mark.
With Finlay distracting the ref, Kenta tried to clock Yuta with the Defy World title. Yuta ducked and hit an Olympic Slam which he apparently calls the Yutalizer. Unfortunately. Moxley and Finlay both tagged in and exchanged forearms, then exchanged suplexes. Finlay won the exchange with a spear, then tagged Kenta who connected with the double stomp for a near fall.
Moxley escaped the Go To Sleep, but Kenta tattooed him with a series of palm strikes. Kenta went for Go To Sleep again, Moxley had it scouted though and hit Death Rider for the win.
WINNERS: Blackpool Combat Club via pinfall in 13:00 (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A little teaser for the triple threat at WrestleKingdom, but also a good showing for Yuta here as he did not look out of place with the bigger names. He also didn’t take the pin, which I thought was a mortal lock coming in.)
(8) ZACK SABRE JR. vs. MIKE BAILEY – NJPW World Television Championship Match
I am an unabashed Speedball fan. I am also a very large ZSJ fan. It is possible I will enjoy this confrontation. Like all matches for the NJPW TV championship, this has a 15-minute time limit.
ZSJ mocked Bailey during ZSJ’s entrance. He is so good at playing the smarmy guy.
Bailey actually waited for the bell before blitzing ZSJ with strikes, including the rapid-fire alternating body kicks. He sent ZSJ to the floor before hitting the triangle moonsault to the outside. Bailey’s onslaught continued on the outside.
Back in the ring, ZSJ countered a charging Bailey with a trip. He twisted both of Bailey’s ankles and then hit the neck snap. ZSJ locked in the bow and arrow, then tossed Bailey across the ring. Bailey tried to fight back with some rapid forearms, but ZSJ countered with a nasty armbreaker. Bailey made the ropes.
Bailey again tried to counter, this time turning a whip into a handspring elbow, but ZSJ caught it and locked in an armbar. At the five-minute mark, Bailey kicked a charging ZSJ and then connected with a missile dropkick from the middle rope.
A series of kicks by Bailey and a standing shooting star press got a two count. The two exchanged ducks, dodges, and counters and even watching this is exhausting. Both men missed penalty kicks. Good grief, they are so fast! They exchanged snap mares, and finally Bailey connected with a penalty kick. Bailey set for the standing moonsault double knees but ZSJ got his own knees up to block. Ouch.
Both men exchanged kicks from a seated position. That’s a unique spot. They battled to their feet, ZSJ hit a series of European uppercuts but Bailey came back with a stiff front kick. ZSJ Matrix-dodged a superkick but could not avoid the second. Bailey went for another kick, but ZSJ blocked with a kick of his own to Bailey’s kicking leg.
ZSJ stomped on Bailey’s knees, then locked in a knee bar. He added an ankle lock for good measure, then moved into a combination crossface-ankle lock. Bailey got to the rope at the ten minute warning.
ZSJ applied a heel hook and refused to break the hold even with Bailey in the ropes. The ref for some reason did not see fit to count. They shimmied to the apron where they traded slaps. ZSJ repeatedly kicked at Bailey, who shrugged them all off and hit the moonsault double knees on the apron.
With ZSJ on the outside, Bailey hit a double-jump plancha. Three minutes left. ZSJ avoided the tornado kick and went for a tornado DDT, Bailey escaped that however and connected with the tornado kick in the corner. Bailey connected with Ultima Weapon! 1…2…No!
ZSJ caught a roundhouse kick and hit the Zack Driver! 1…2…NO! Only two minutes left, I smell a draw. Bailey hit a Frankensteiner for a near fall, and they worked through a series of rollup reversals and choke reversals. Spanish Fly powerslam by Bailey! Still not enough! I am loving Walker Stewart on commentary telling Bailey to go for pinfalls and not to showboat.
Bailey pump-faked the moonsault knees, then flipped ZSJ over and hit the knees to the back. Tornado kick countered into a triangle choke by ZSJ! Only 30 seconds left! ZSJ wrapped up Bailey like a pretzel, snapped back on his little finger and got the tapout with seconds left.
WINNER: Zack Sabre Jr via submission at 14:58. (****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This was really good, and was made better by the commentary. I have not said that in quite some time. There was some good story in the match but the psychology was still off for me. The exchanges and the pacing were incredible, but I really could have done without seeing Bailey’s finger post-snapping. )
We got a video package for the women’s title match.
(9) MAYU IWATANI vs. STEPHANIE VAQUER – IWGP Women’s Championship Match
I was impressed with Vaquer at Fighting Spirit Unleashed, and I have heard nothing but praise about Iwatani.
Walker told us nobody has held both the CMLL and IWGP women’s titles at the same time. Vaquer and Iwatani exchanged armdrags and headlock takeovers to get us going. Why does Iwatani have a tail on her tights? After another exchange, Iwatani hit a low dropkick. Vaquer stopped her momentum with a superkick, then hit a dragon screw in the corner. A snap leg drop got a two count.
Vaquer rolled over with a headscissors and repeatedly bounced Iwatani’s head off the mat. That cannot be fun. Vaquer hit a trio of headbutts and choked Iwatani with her boot as we reached the five-minute mark.
Iwatani came back with a headscissors and a basement dropkick to send Vaquer to the outside. Iwatani looked for a dive but was stopped in her tracks by a kick to the head. A springboard clothesline got a near fall for Vaquer.
Vaquer went for a big lariat but ran into a very pretty superkick from Iwatani. A beautiful dragon suplex from Iwatani sent Vaquer rolling to the outside.Iwatani followed with a tope that almost completely overshot Vaquer. That could have been nasty, Vaquer barely held on long enough.
Back inside, Iwatani connected with a frog splash for a near fall. Everything she does looks so smooth. Iwatani went for a moonsault, Vaquer countered it and applied…I think that’s a gogoplata? Iwatani got to the ropes to break the hold.
Iwatani slapped Vaquer, who responded with a release German that sent Iwatani halfway to Austin. A meteora in the corner got a near fall at the ten-minute mark. Iwatani was able to counter a lariat with a crucifix driver for a two count. Vaquer absorbed one head kick but not a second, and again Iwatani got a two count.
Iwatani connected with a tombstone. A gorgeous floating moonsault from the top was enough for Iwatani to retain.
WINNER: Mayu Iwatani via pinfall in 11:00 (***3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: That was very, very good. I would have gone higher but it felt short, and the finish was abrupt. Vaquer has everything but good English skills, and I can see her attracting interest in the US. Iwatani is as good as advertised, she just seems so seamless and smooth.)
(10) SHINGO TAKAGI vs. TRENT BERETTA – NEVER Openweight Championship Match
I wonder if Trent has ever had a main event in NJPW before tonight?
Trent hit an early standing meteora to a running Shingo, not something I expected to type. A headscissors takedown and a low superkick got a one count for Trent before Shingo grabbed the bottom rope. Shingo was able to come back with his back elbow-stiff jab-clothesline combo to send Trent to the floor. We got an early point at the camera from Shingo before he followed Trent to the outside.
Shingo avoided a sure disaster when he dodged a charging Trent, who hit the barricade at high speed. That rattled MY teeth. Shingo hit a stun gun on the apron (the hardest part of the ring, by the way) and a DDT on the floor at the 5-minute call.
Back inside, Shingo hit a vertical suplex for a two count. He locked in a body scissors, which Trent escaped with a pair or elbows. Shingo clapped his ears and hit a senton. Walker Stewart kept saying that people were questioning if Trent still had the fire. Interesting.
Trent regained the momentum by hitting a pretty slingshot spear into the ring from the apron. A tornado DDT sent Shingo rolling to the floor. Trent went to the second rope on the outside and hit a moonsault to the floor. The crowd started to get behind Trent, which only increased when Trent retrieved a table.
The table unfortunately was caught on a cord, so Trent just pushed it into Shingo’s head a few times. With the help of a ringside tech he freed the table and slid it into the ring at the ten minute mark. He propped the table up in the corner, and shoved the referee down.
With the referee down Trent hit a running Death Valley driver through the table. He picked up half of the broken table but Shingo avoided the strike, stole the weapon, and smacked Trent in the head with it multiple times.
On the floor, Shingo ran a chair into Trent’s head. Trent was busted open, likely by the table. The referee had recovered enough to count one on the cover by Shingo. Shingo started to lay in strikes, but Trent hit a series of rolling Germans and a half-and-half suplex. A running knee strike from Trent got a two count.
Shingo blocked the Dudebuster attempt and absolutely planted Trent with a DDT at the fifteen-minute mark. A Gory bomb was followed by a nasty wheelbarrow suplex into the corner pad. Trent fought out of a superplex and went for a sunset bomb, but Shingo held on to the ropes. They exchanged strikes, Trent went up top with Shingo, but Shingo took control…avalanche Death Valley Driver! 1…2…no!
Trent countered Made in Japan with a victory roll, but it did not bring victory. Shingo hit a sliding lariat for a two count. Pumping bomber by Shingo led to Made in Japan for a very near fall. Trent blocked Last of the Dragon but ate a series of lariats. Trent reversed another Gory bomb attempt into the Dudebuster! 1…2…NO! Heavens, that was close.We have gone past twenty minutes.
Both men exchanged strikes from their knees. They got to their feet and continued waffling each other. Shingo clearly got the upper hand but Trent rolled through a backslide into a Gotch-style piledriver for another very near fall.
Trent went for the Dudebuster again but Shingo blocked and countered with a cross-armed high-angle powerbomb for a near fall. Shingo forearmed Trent in the back of the head and applied a sleeper, then transitioned into the ground octopus hold. Trent fought hard and barely made the ropes at the 25-minute call. I did not expect Trent to look this good.
Trent tried the slingshot spear again but got caught with a final cut. One Last of the Dragon later, and Shingo retained.
WINNER:Shingo Takagi via pinfall in 26:00. (****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Shingo gave Trent a LOT here. As much as people rag on WWE for misusing talented folks, AEW has clearly not been using Trent Beretta to his full potential. Sure, Shingo was very giving but you still have to be able to put on a convincing show with your offence. The crowd were slow to get into this but they built with the action. In any other year you would have to consider Shingo as Wrestler of the Year but…Will Ospreay exists.)
– Shingo took the mic and said next time, no DQ. Trent nodded his acceptance and soaked in the cheers before going to the back. Shingo thanked the fans and called for his next challenger. Nobody answered the call.
Shingo promised to come back to the US, which prompted Tama Tonga to come out. Tama said the loss to Shingo had been eating at him, and since Shingo asked for a challenger so nicely, he now had one. Shingo made the match for WrestleKingdom.
Overall thoughts: This show seemed to go by a lot faster than the last couple. The production was not great, far too many missed camera angles and a couple of lighting mixups. There were also a few clunky, unwieldy matches early on. Although nothing on this card rose to the level of Fighting Spirit Unleashed or Power Struggle, it was still an enjoyable card that further aligned things for January 4.
You can contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . We’ll have a roundtable podcast later this weekend! Thanks for joining us!