NJPW SOUL REPORT (6/16) – Lansdell’s recap and analysis of Desperado vs Sho, Henare vs Shingo, TMDK vs War Dogs, and more!

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch contributor


JUNE 16, 2024

Announcers: Walker Stewart and Chase Owens

This was the first event in a Soul tour, with no match cards announced yet for the remaining dates. Interesting way to do business…


Kojima was making his return to NJPW, and he did so at the reigning MLW World champion. I don’t know what it is about the United Empire entrance, but it always amps me up.

Somewhat surprisingly this one got underway before the bell, with the two Young Lions jumping United Empire. It will not shock you to hear that it did not work. Walker Stewart mentioned that Cobb has issued an open challenge to any member of the AEW roster for Forbidden Door, but nobody had accepted yet. I don’t blame them.

This was fine. Jeff Cobb got to show off, clearing house and throwing Ishii with ease in an overhead belly-to-belly. After a brief moment on top for Kato and Murashima, Akira picked up the win with a Nova Knee.

WINNERS: United Empire via pinfall in 8:00 (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: No real story developments here. Akira was coming back from injury, Kojima from a tour of the US Indies. Aside from some post-match staring between Newman and Ishii there were no title match suggestions and no character building. Fine for what it was.)

(2) JUST FIVE GUYS (Douki & Taichi) vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Ren Narita & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

We were robbed! Taichi did not sing his entrance! Minus one star, right off the bat. This was pretty standard fare from both teams, including the induced ref bumps and attempted cheating from House of Torture. We were mercifully spared any outside interference, but the push-up bar and whiskey bottle both played a part. Douki picked up the win with a seatbelt clutch rollup after thwarting Kanemaru’s attempt to spit whiskey in his eyes.

We did get a tease of a potential Narita-Taichi feud, which might come up in the G1.

WINNERS: Just Five Guys via pinfall in 9:00 (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Just an excuse to get Taichi in the ring I think. Nothing to see here.)

(3) BISHAMON (Yoshi-Hashi & Hirooki Goto) vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Evil & Dick Togo)

This was scheduled to be a six-man with Shota Umino and Dick Togo on their respective sides, but Umino picked up a training injury. One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be very little mention of Chaos now. Ishii was referred to as being part of Hontai earlier in the card, but Goto and Yoshi-Hashi had the Chaos logo by their nameplates and were announced as belonging to that stable. They might be the only two left at this point. Yoh is injured, Yano is busy with his six-man Hontai team, and everyone else is in AEW.

With Dick Togo in the match there was never a doubt what the ending would entail. Yujiro, who accompanied House of Torture, made his presence felt with a DDT on the outside. We also got more of the manufactured referee distractions we expect from House of Torture, but to no avail as Bishamon picked up the win after a Shoto on Togo.

WINNERS: Bishamon via pinfall in 8:00. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: For all the talk about outside interference ruining House of Torture matches, I might disliked the contrived referee distractions more. Hugging the referee and turning them away from the action should be a straight DQ in my mind. Nothing to see here really, it was billed as a way for Bishamon to get back in tag title contention. I don’t know how pinning a manager does that, but that’s a minor thing. I could not get into the match at all.)

(4) LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Tetsuya Naito & Titan) vs. JUST FIVE GUYS (Taka Michinoku & Yuya Uemura)

What better way to prepare for a world title match with Jon Moxley than to have a tag team match with a junior heavyweight and a young up-and-comer? Sometimes these preview tags baffle me. I get the desire to put your big stars on the card, but what was the thinking behind this match?

I am ashamed to say that until Walker Stewart referred to Uemura as paying tribute to Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, I had not considered the comparison. I would assume it is intentional, but it is also highly apt.

Titan got the pin on Taka Michinoku with a springboard double stomp.

WINNERS: via pinfall in 9:00. (**1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Another nothing match. These tag matches are usually referred to as “preview tags” but so far there has been precious little previewing being done. Uemura and Naito had some brief interactions but not enough to make it mean anything. With the remainder of the tour having no matches announced, it’s hard to do previews…so just don’t? Try something else, maybe?)

(5) LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi & Yota Tsuji) (c) vs. BOLTIN OLEG & TORU YANO & HIROSHI TANAHASHI – Never Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship match

We were into the meat of the card with this match. The one-week-later rematch again felt very North American and unlike New Japan, a concerning trend that I had hoped would go away following Tanahashi’s ten-point plan. The appeal of New Japan has always been that it is very different. Making it more like the North American promotions is a mistake, because they have neither the expertise nor the presence in the zeitgeist to make a mark in that realm.

Yano and Hiromu started us off with some corner pad hijinks. Yano hit an inverted atomic drop which allowed him to tag in Oleg. Tanahashi joined him for a double-team shoulder tackle. Oleg slammed Hiromu, Tanahashi dropped an elbow and Oleg hit a splash for a two-count. Stewart told us that the bandage on Hiromu’s head was due to him headbanging too hard to Jun Kasai’s entrance theme at a recent show. He hit his head on the guard rail and busted himself open. He’s hardcore!

Yano tagged back in and avoided a charging Hiromu, sending him into the exposed corner. The rest of LIJ intervened with a pair of low dropkicks, and Hiromu took control. He tagged in Bushi, who choked Hiromu in the corner with his knee. Bushi attacked the arm of Yano, then tagged in Tsuji who continued to wring the arm. Hiromu tagged in with a double axehandle to the shoulder. He followed up with a corner clothesline and a basement dropkick. Hiromu called for Tsuji, who lifted him and dropped him on Yano for a two-count.

Bushi tagged in, but Yano blocked their Irish whip and pulled off some misdirection to take down both men. He tagged in Tanahashi, Bushi tagged in Tsuji, and Tanahashi took him down with a flying forearm. He scooped Tsuji up and slammed him, then connected with a middle-rope senton for a two-count. Tsuji avoided a slingblade and dumped Tanahashi over the top, Tanahashi held on and tried to skin the cat but turned around into a sharp forearm. A Stinger splash from Tsuji followed by a tackle and a splash got a two-count as we went past five minutes.

Tanahashi countered a suplex attempt with Twist and Shout. With both men down, Tanahashi was able to tag in Oleg. He came in with a shoulder tackle that flattened Tsuji. He whipped Tsuji into the ropes, Tsuji came off with a flying arm bar but Oleg CAUGHT HIM and hit his alternating gutwrenches. Wow. Tsuji tried to crawl away, Oleg caught him but ate a back elbow and a backbreaker-curb stomp combo.

Bushi tagged in and hit a missile dropkick. He hit a corner butt-butt and a spinning neckbreaker, then was joined by Hiromu for a series of moves that ended in a backstabber by Bushi for a two-count. Bushi tried a monkey flip, Oleg blocked it, and Yano slammed Bushi down by the head. Hiromu superkicked Yano, he tried it again on Tanahashi who caught his foot. Tsuji tried to superkick Tanahashi, and his foot was also caught. Double dragon screw by Tanahashi! Bushi ate a slingblade, but escaped the Kamikaze attempt from Oleg. Again Bushi got caught mid move, but another Kamikaze attempt was reversed into a schoolboy for a two-count that was broken up by Tanahashi pushing Tsuji off the top into the pinning predicament. That was a cool spot.

Tanahashi came off the top with a crossbody to all three LIJ members. Oleg tried a third time for Kamikaze on Bushi, and connected! 1…2…3! New champions!

WINNERS: Oleg, Yano, and Tanahashi via pinfall in 10:00 to win back the Never Openweight Six-Man Tag Team championships. (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: The match itself was fine, and gets extra marks for the cool spots, but the booking is just incomprehensible. Why switch the belts only to switch them back again? The stories being teased both involved Tsuji, one with Tanahashi and one with Oleg. Clearly he cannot feud with both, and he shouldn’t be in this title picture anyway. There was a mention of Tsuji not being a team player in general, but that has been on the slow boil since he returned from excursion. I just do not get it.)

(6) BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Drilla Moloney & Clark Connors) (c) vs. TMDK (Kosei Fujita & Robbie Eagles) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match

On paper this would seem to be an easy defence. Fujita is still young, and New Japan has been excessively reluctant to put any titles on any of the young guys. War Dogs have been dominant, and Eagles isn’t always available to New Japan. The match came about because Fujita beat Connors and Eagles beat Moloney in BOSJ, which is at least a valid reason. ZSJ was at ringside for his team.

Connors and Fujita kicked off the match. Connors took a wild swing at Eagles, who ducked, and both members of TMDK waffled Connors with punches. TMDK hit a combo snap mare-PK, then slammed both of Moloney’s knees onto the mat. Fujita lined up a dive to the outside onto Moloney, only to get wiped out by a Jeep Flip from Connors. Moloney and Eagles brawled up the entrance ramp, whereupon Moloney threw Eagles into a row of seats. On the other side of the ring, Connors repeated that on Fujita.

Moloney bodyslammed Eagles onto another row of chairs as the referee started to count. Connors got back in the ring at 11, with Fujita rolling back in at 16. Connors knelt on his face. Moloney tagged in and continued the brawling tactics. Connors came back with an elbow drop to the back of the head for a two-count at the five-minute mark.

Connors applied an inverted figure four on Fujita. Eagles tried to break the hold but Moloney cut him off. Fujita made it to the ropes to break the hold, then fired back with some right hands. Connors shrugged them off and hit a single shot of his own, then ate a Fujita dropkick. Eagles was not in the corner for a tag, but Moloney was and tagged in. He tried to stop Fujita from reaching the corner, Fujita kicked him off and tagged a recovered Eagles.

Eagles springboarded in over the head of Moloney and knocked Connors off the apron. He took Moloney over with a huracanrana, then planted a succession of round kicks to the chest of a kneeling Moloney. He hit the ropes for a final blow but was intercepted by Connors. Eagles avoided the double-team and connected with a low dropkick to Moloney and a Northern lariat to Moloney at the same time. Running double knees in the corner by Eagles! A second one! It was only enough for two. Eagles went to the top, Moloney moved out of the way of the 450 but Eagles rolled through. He went for a running boot but Moloney caught the foot and went for a powerbomb, which Eagles countered into the Ron Miller Special. Connors broke up the submission with a succession of stomps.

Moloney briefly sold his knee while Eagles tried to fight off both members of War Dogs. Eagles tagged in Fujita, whose springboard was intercepted with an attempted Drilla Killa. Fujita escaped out the back and both he and Eagles hit a springboard missile dropkick at the ten minute mark, sending the champs to the outside.

Fujita hit a slingshot tope con giro to the floor, wiping out both War Dogs. He rolled Moloney back in, and TMDK hit the T-Bomb for a two-count. They hit a superkick-German suplex combo, and followed up with a double superkick for a near fall before Connors broke up the cover. Connors and Eagles ended up on the outside. Fujita and Moloney went through a series of counters that ended with Moloney connecting with a double stomp-elbow drop combo. He tagged Connors, who positioned for the spear…blocked! Fujita went for the German suplex…also blocked! Connors used back elbows to break Fujitas’s grip, then planted him with a snap powerslam.

Eagles grabbed Moloney’s foot to prevent a tandem move, allowing Fujita to apply a modified STF surfboard combo submission. Moloney tried to break it up but got caught with the Ron Miller Special! Moloney crawled his way over to the point where he could rake Fujita’s eyes, breaking the hold on the legal man. War Dogs rolled to the floor to recover as Eagles checked on Fujita. Eagles dived to the outside with a tope con giro…CAUGHT! Assisted Drilla Killa on the floor! That looked fantastic.

As we passed 15 minutes, War Dogs stalked Fujita in the ring. The youngster tried to fight back but got flattened with a spear. War Dogs measured Fujita and hit a high/low Spear/chopblock combo. 1…2…no! Moloney lifted Fujita for a suplex as Connors went to the top…Fujita escaped and hit a German suplex on Moloney! Chaos Theory…Connors blocked it, and ate a spinning hook kick! Pop-up German suplex by Fujita! 1…2…no! Fujita set for Abandon Hope, but Moloney returned with a superkick and the Drilla Killa! No Chaser by Connors! Full Clip connected! 1…2…3!

WINNERS: Bullet Club War Dogs via pinfall in 18:00 to retainn the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: This was exciting and well-executed, with Fujita really getting to show out without winning. The result was not really in question in my mind, but that only slightly damaged the match quality. I don’t know who the next team in line will be, but Connors and Moloney are doing a great job with the dominant champions gimmick. Fujita will be fine, it took three finishers to put him away and he was portrayed as a resilient threat throughout the match. Big things to come for that kid.)

G1 lineup announcement time!

A Block
Tetsuya Naito
Shota Umino
Shingo Takagi
Zack Sabre Jr.
Gabe Kidd
Jake Lee
Competing for the last slot will be Tomohiro Ishii, Yoahi-Hashi, Callum Newman, Kenta, Chase Owens, and Yujiro Takahashi.

B Block
Hirooki Goto
El Phantasmo
Yota Tsuji
Jeff Cobb
David Finlay
Ren Narita
Yuya Uemura
Konosuke Takeshita
Competing for the last slot will be Hiroshi Tanahashi, Toru Yano, Boltin Oleg, Satoshi Kojima, Taichi, and TJP.

We will have full thoughts on the announced names here on PWTorch very soon, but my initial impression is that they got this almost entirely correct. The play-in is filled with guys who have not been pushed much recently, while the top names occupy the 18 automatic slots. A block definitely seems to have the bigger talent. Notable by his absence is the current IWGP World champion, Jon Moxley. That is very interesting.

(7) SHINGO TAKAGI (c) vs. HENARE – Never Openweight Championship match

They started where they left off, exchanging forearms. Henare took over Shingo with a snap mare and kicked him in the spine, but Shingo just stood up. They traded headbutts, and again I cringed. I know they are protecting themselves but it just looks scary. Henare won the exchange with a jumping headbutt, kicked Shingo in the chest, and got flattened with a shoulder tackle. Shingo hit a corner clothesline then peppered Henare with jabs. He whipped him to the opposite corner, followed with a clothesline, and then a back suplex. A vertical suplex got a two-count for Shingo as Henare retreated to the floor.

The reprieve was temporary as Shingo followed him out and whipped him to the barricade. Shingo lifted Henare for a fireman’s carry, then dropped him jaw-first on the apron. Back in the ring, Shingo tapped Henare in the head with some taunting kicks. Henare got to his feet and quickly left them after a lariat. Shingo called to the crowd before burying a succession of knees into the gut of Henare. At the five-minute mark, Shingo’s charging attack was countered with a pop-up Samoan Drop from Henare. Should that be a Maori Drop?

It was Henare’s turn to go on offence in the corner with a clothesline and a flurry of strikes. He dropped Shingo with a fireman’s slam and followed up with a senton. Shingo blocked an Irish whip out of the corner so Henare popped him with an elbow and a Disaster Kick. Henare hit a Berserker Bomb for a two-count. Henare went for Rampage, Shingo blocked it and hit a DDT to leave both men down. Henare tried for Rampage again, and again Shingo countered with a DDT. Maybe try a different move, Henare?

Shingo propped Henare on the top and went up with him for a superplex. Both men sold the impact, with Shingo recovering first and calling to the crowd. It’s Shingo Time! He hit a pumping bomber, Henare would not go down. He hit a second, Henare went to one knee. Shingo laid in some stiff forearms, which only seemed to wake Henare up. Shingo ducked a pair of lariats from Henare, one from each side, and hit one of his own to stagger Henare at the ten-minute mark. Shingo charged right into a Rampage, again leaving both men down.

Henare connected with a running rugby kick, only for Shingo to pop right up and level Henare with a pumping bomber. They crawled into each other with headbutts, then stood up and traded blows. Shingo laid in chops, Henare returned fire with round kicks. That still seems an unfair trade to me. Indeed Henare won the exchange, and his prize was a blocked kick that turned into Last of the Dragon! Shingo could not capitalise right away, but hit multiple 12-6 elbows as Henare looked to be out cold. Shingo hit a sliding lariat, Henare rolled through and came up with a knee lift to the side of the head! Good grief.

Back to the headbutts they went. Henare flattened Shingo with a headbutt, Shingo retaliated with a pumping bomber, Henare hit a battering ram headbutt and Shingo responded with a sliding forearm to leave both men prone on the mat. Almost a replica of how the last match ended, with a double KO. The referee started to count both men out, Shingo made it up at seven and Henare followed at nine and three-quarters. They stood in opposite corners and charged, colliding mid-ring. Shingo peppered Henare’s jaw with alternating forerms, Henare ducked one and hit a body shot and a spinning back kick only to get flattened with a pumping bomber. A cover only got a one-count. A second pumping bomber got a near fall.

Shingo went for Last of the Dragon again, Henare escaped and hit Streets of Rage for a near fall. Henare fired up and pulled Shingo up, but Shingo fought off whatever Henare was trying and landed several headbutts to the chest. Henare returned fire with a solid headbutt to the jaw, but only got a one-count. A running rugby kick connected for a near fall. Henare went for Streets of Rage again, Shingo blocked it by dropping his weight and avoided an attempted headbutt. Shingo hit a right to the jaw and a headbutt. He went for a lariat, Henare caught his arm, Shingo tried the other arm and that was caught as well. Henare launched himself head-first into Shingo! 1…2…3! That was unexpected!

WINNER: Henare via pinfall in 19:00 to win the Never Openweight championship. (****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I liked this a great deal more than last week’s match. It wasn’t just 15 minutes of trading strikes, they worked in some wrestling too. The headbutts were more to the chest than the head, and they limited the head-on-head alpha male displays. The finish felt a bit sudden, but every now and then you need that to keep people watching. With Shingo about to go to the US for the Owen Hart tournament this title change makes sense, I just hope they let Henare get a few defences in. This was his first singles title win.)

Henare performed the haka after the match in celebration.

(8) DAVID FINLAY (c) vs.SANADA – IWGP Global Championship match

I will live and die on this hill: Sanada lost most of his mystique and character when they took away the beard and Cold Skull gimmick. Meanwhile David Finlay seemed to be trying to channel Randy Orton with the ultra-slow stroll to the ring.

Finlay has his faults, but he has the cocky slimeball heel act and facials down to a tee. He backed Sanada to the ropes and spit in his face in the early going, which I guess counted as a clean break? Sanada then backed Finlay into the ropes and I fully expected him to return the favour, but he just let it slide. They ran the ropes, Sanada flattened Finlay with a shoulder tackle and then hit a gorgeous dropkick.

They went to the outside, and immediately Finlay took control. He bounced Sanada’s head off the apron, mounted him and bombarded him with right hands. Back inside, Finlay went for a cover but referee Red Shoes refused to count the pin. Finlay applied a hammerlock then just decided to rub his forearm into the face. Red Shoes called for the break, which made Finlay angry again. Big feelings. A snap suplex got a two-count for Finlay.

Sanada tried to mount a comeback with a back elbow but he missed a standing moonsault. Finlay covered for another two-count. He whipped Sanada hard to the corner at the five-minute mark. Finlay wrestles at such a deliberate pace, again evoking Randy Orton. He measured Sanada and charged with a back elbow in the corner, then just yeeted him across the ring with an X-plex for a near fall. Sanada rolled to the apron, Finlay stopped his escape and hit a series of European uppercuts with Sanada caught in the ropes. He went for the Heat Seeker piledriver in the ropes, but Sanada reversed it and backdropped Finlay over the top to the floor.

Sanada hit a slingshot crossbody to the outside as a faint Sanada chant broke out. He rolled Finlay back inside, Finlay rolled back out again, so Sanada decided to hit another slingshot crossbody. Sanada went for a tope con giro, Finlay ducked but Sanada saw it in time and held on to land on his feet on the apron. He hit a third slingshot crossbody to the floor and the Sanada chants grew in intensity.

Back inside, Sanada hit a Russian leg sweep for a two-count. Finlay escaped a fireman’s carry and rolled Sanada up with a schoolboy for a two-count of his own, and countered a charging Sanada with a release blue thunder bomb at the ten-minute mark. Finlay clotheslined Sanada over the top to the floor, followed him out, and ran him back-first into the barricade three times. Finlay went for a piledriver on the floor, Sanada was able to counter with a backdrop. Finlay charged Sanada at high speed but found nothing but the barricade. They went into the crowd where Sanada hit a piledriver on the floor.

They made it back to the ring, and Sanada planted an elbow on Sanada’s neck. Finlay tried to fire back but there was nothing behind the shots. Finlay spit in Sanada’s face again, and flipped him off right in his face. Sanada went berserk and beat down Finlay. Red Shoes tried to break it up but Sanada threw him aside. The distraction allowed Finlay to trip Sanada on to the middle rope, he tried to follow up with a powerbomb but Sanada escaped out the back and locked in Skull End! Finlay escaped with an arm drag, but ran into a boot and another attempted Skull End. Finlay rolled through, lifted Sanada and dropped him over the top turnbuckle with a stun gun. Dominator by Finlay! Sanada kicked out at two at the 15-minute mark.

Finlay laid in some crossface forearm strikes while taunting Sanada. He hit a sliding Northern lariat for a near fall, then prompted the referee to check on Sanada and call the match off. Finlay continued to circle and taunt Sanada, who countered a powerbomb into a huracanrana and clutch for a near fall. Sanada went for a magic screw, each man rolled through for an O’Connor roll, but Sanada countered Finlay’s attempt into Skull End! That was pretty. Finlay looked to be out, Red Shoes checked his arm but Finlay showed signs of life. Sanada released the hold and went up top…moonsault found only knees!

As we went past 20 minutes, both men exchanged strikes from their knees. They got to their feet still trading European uppercuts , albeit at a very deliberate pace. Both men staggered and stumbled, Finlay tried to hit a lariat but Sanada ducked it. Finlay went for a tilt-a-whirl, Sanada countered and went for Skull End, Finlay blocked and went for Into Oblivion, Sanada countered THAT and hit the magic screw. Deep breath. Sanada quickly climbed to the top and hit a moonsault for a near fall. He called to the crowd who still were not fully behind him, and went for Deadfall. Gedo started to get in the ring, Sanada kicked the rope to crotch him, but then got rolled up with a small package! 1…2…no! That would have sucked as an ending.

Sanada hit a shining wizard to the back of the head, and both men were down. Sanada kipped up but Finlay ducked the Shining Wizard and hit Into Oblivion! 1…2…no! Finlay hooked Sanada for Overkill…blocked! Sanada rolled through with a bridging pin! 1…2…still no! Shining Wizard by Sanada! Deadfall…Finlay escaped but got dropped with an enzuigiri at the 25-minute mark. Shining Wizard…Finlay caught him! Well, sort of. He didn’t quite manage to hold on, but deadlift him up for a powerbomb. Overkill…connects! 1…2…3!

WINNER: David Finlay via pinfall in 25:00 to retain the IWGP Global championship. (***3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: The Finlay experiment just does not seem to be getting traction with the fans. Neither does the Sanada redesign. The result of both those things led to a very good match that just failed to click with the crowd. Finlay’s character work has been much better than Sanada’s, but his lack of big wins and inability to keep the title seems to have hurt him. I think this was the right result and might go some way to restoring Finlay’s aura, but Sanada is in dire need of another rework.)

(9) SHO (c) vs EL DESPERADO – Cage match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Multiple officials checked Sho before they let him in the cage, finding a pair of scissors in his pants. Evil joined the Japanese commentary team while the referees continued to check Sho, finding handcuffs and a wrench in his tights and a steel plate in his shin guard. The ring skirt had been removed, making it clear that nothing and nobody was under there. The cage door was closed and chained shut, but of course the key was in the possession of a fragile referee. That will in no way come back to haunt them I am sure.

After literally five and a half minutes of Sho’s entrance theme playing, and 45 more seconds of stalling, the bell finally rang. Desperado got the better of the early hold exchange, tying up Sho’s legs and applying an armbar. Sho wriggled free, Desperado took him over with an arm drag and kept hold of the arm. He went for a crossface chicken wing, transitioned into a headlock takedown, then lost control as Sho applied a headscissors. He shifted into a short arm scissors, but Desperado quickly countered with a cross armbreaker. Sho went straight to the ropes to break the hold.

Desperado hit a deep arm drag and a shoulder tackle, sending Sho rolling to the outside. Sho seemed to be looking for a way out. Desperado chased him and got thrown into the cage, but quickly came back with a backdrop on the outside at the five-minute mark. Sho crawled around the outside of the ring to the front of the announce desk, where Evil passed him a wrench. Red Shoes confiscated it immediately, but Sho was able to hip toss a charging Desperado into the wall of the cage to shift the momentum.

Sho shoved Desperado into the cage three times, then slowed the pace right down. He raked Desperado’s face along the cage, tearing open his mask around the eyes. He did it again for good measure, pausing in front of Evil to soak in the applause of his faction leader. Back inside the ring Sho gouged at the eyes, then choked out Desperado with the corner pad ties. I’m surprised we don’t see that more often. Sho taunted Desperado with soft kicks, Desperado tried to fight back but was stopped in his tracks by a stiff right at the ten-minute mark.

A kneelift to the gut stopped another brief Desperado comeback. A second one resulted in a two-count for Sho. Sho charged with a shoulder to the midsection, draped Desperado over the top turnbuckle and hit a running kneelift to the gut for another two-count. Sho dug his feet into the ribs of Desperado and pulled back on his arm and leg, which looked silly but sounded painful judging by Desperado’s screams.

With his mask a torn mess and his head seemingly bleeding, Desperado rolled to the floor. Sho whipped him into the cage several more times, but tried it once too often as Desperado reversed it. He found a second wind and threw Sho around on the outside, then went into the ring only to come flying out with a tope con giro to crash Sho into the cage. Desperado continued his onslaught, throwing Sho into the cage repeatedly. Back inside he hit a back suplex and a vertical suplex at the 15-minute call. A frog splash from the top connected, but the damage to his ribs prevented him from making the cover.

Desperado hit Guitarra de Angel for a near fall, but Sho blocked Pinche Loco and kneed Desperado in the gut. He slammed Desperado down by the mask, and untied a corner pad while holding it in place. Desperado charged, Sho moved and whipped away the pad, sending Desperado into the buckles. Sho whipped him into the exposed corner and hit a sweet spear for a near fall. Sho went back to the ribs with a knee, and again whipped Desperado into the exposed corner. German suplex by Sho into a cross armbreaker, into the Snakebite by Sho! That was a gorgeous combo. Desperado faded but managed to struggle to the ropes. Sho refused to break, so Red Shoes pulled his hair and screamed at him! Tremendous scenes.

Red Shoes checked on Desperado as Sho taunted him. Desperado fired in a couple of forearms, but got nearly decapitated by a lariat. Sho hit a sitout Dominator, which is apparently called the Uwajima Pimps. Whatever it is, it was only enough for a near fall. Sho went for Shock Arrow, Desperado was able to counter with an Angle Slam leaving both men down. Desperado’s mask was barely hanging on as he hit some ineffectual chops. Sho fired back with more power, a flurry of forearms, but ran right into a stiff forearm shiver. Pinche Loco! Desperado held on, rolled through and went for a second Pinche Loco…Sho shoved him off and into the referee! Shotgun dropkick by Sho, and again poor Red Shoes was in the path of a falling Desperado. Sho then blatantly dropped an elbow on Red Shoes and beckoned to the locker room.

All of House of Torture came to ringside with an array of steel chairs as we hit 25 minutes. Sho pressed Desperado’s face against the cage long enough for Narita to waffle the cage with a chair. Sounded and looked way nastier than it actually was, I imagine. There was some commotion at ringside as apparently Oleg, Kojima, Tanahashi and Yano tried to stop the interference. They ended up getting beaten down with chairs. House of Torture threw their collection of chairs into the ring while Sho played to the crowd. Desperado got to his feet, chair in hand, while Sho’s back was turned. Chair to the head of Sho! Desperado placed Sho’s head on a chair and hit a home run swing! Back back back back…gone!

House of Torture tried to scale the cage, but a combination of chair missiles and a recovered Hontai kept them out. Red Shoes was presumably still comatose on the floor as Hontai took House of Torture to the back. Desperado set for Pinche Loco…low blow by Sho! Red Shoes had managed to roll back into the ring, though he was still out of it. Shock Arrow….no! Strong Zero! Pinche Loco Driver! Pinche Loco! 1…2…3! Junior Heavyweight wrestling is saved!

WINNER: El Desperado via pinfall at 29:00 to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. (***¾)
(Lansdell’s analysis: This would have surpassed four stars had they resisted the urge to overbook the closing. Now granted, it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been, but it still hurt the match a lot. I was enjoying seeing Sho actually wrestle, even with dirty tactics. That’s the other massively frustrating thing about this faction: half of them are really good wrestlers. I will give credit for the apparent commitment to the refs fighting back and Hontai trying to even the score, but we have a long way to go. Desperado as champion will be a big improvement, and although he doesn’t usually excite me he does seem incapable of a bad match.)

  • During his post-match remarks, El Desperado called out Douki as his first challenger.

Final thoughts: The title matches were all good to decent, and many of you will enjoy the main event more than I did. The G1 announcement was big and almost without disappointment. Considering this was the second show in seven days they did well, but they dealt themselves that hand. The Soul tour will be interrupted by Forbidden Door on June 30, but I expect some fireworks leading up to the G1. The recovery continues…for the most part.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Thanks for joining us!

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