NJPW 45th Anniversary Show
March 6 2017
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Ota City General Gymnasium. Hosts are Kevin Kelly and Don Callis.
Tomoyuki Oka vs. Manabu Nakanishi
Oka is a big hopeful for New Japan. He looks like a smaller version of Nakanishi, hence the pairing. Big Nak is a bit slow but his sheer size gives Oka a story to tell. Callis criticises Oka for going toe to toe with Nakanishi but that’s what Japanese do. You have to fight honourably. It’s expected that you do. Oka gets his moments, specifically slamming Nakanishi and getting a belly to belly. He also battles out of a Hercules Cutter. The match probably rumbles on a few minutes beyond a logical conclusion and the Hercules Cutter finishes. Oka is one to watch.
Final Rating: **
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, TAKA Michinoku, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & El Desperado) vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Gedo & Jado)
Goto, Mr New Japan Cup, isn’t in the tournament this year because he holds a title. Minoru is in it though and he’s got Shibata in round one. Oof!
Except viciousness. This match is a total throwaway with lots of brawling around ringside. Suzuki-gun, as a unit, are generally trash. You can pretty much skip over most it, apart from Suzuki vs. Goto, which has some tidy little sequences. YOSHI-HASHI also does some nice work opposite Minoru before picking off TAKA with the Butterfly Lock.
Final Rating: **1/4
Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Yuji Nagata, Togi Makabe, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & David Finlay
Omega has enormous popularity following Wrestle Kingdom. “Keeping the shirt on, not a big match. Don’t worry, it’s coming”. King Kenneth at work. I’ve seen many poor quality Kenny Omega tags in the past year but it’s worth it, as he saves himself for the big occasion. His use of the t-shirt to demonstrate when he doesn’t give a fuck about the match is downright wonderful. At one point he’s choking TMIV from the floor and yells “I’m cheating” at the cameraman while laughing maniacally. Maniacal is a great word to describe Omega. He’s like a cartoon super-villain. The bit where he slams all the rest of Bullet Club onto Finlay is amazing. Like a general feeding waves of troops into enemy machine gun fire while wildly lobbing bombs into the mix. Grenade pins Finlay. This was all Omega and his wild-eyed enthusiasm for professional wrestling. When you’re in this company and you completely outshine everyone you know you’re a fucking superstar.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Miho Abe is the name of Taichi’s girl, for future reference.
She’s a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy tag team. This is typical Suzuki-gun bullshit with Kanemaru attacking RPG Vice on their way to the ring. Taichi works pure garbage throughout, including using the bell hammer but jabbing with the back of it like some sort of confused simpleton. He’s like the village idiot who doesn’t know how to use doorknobs or light switches. They should totally give him a Eugene gimmick. Try as they might RPG Vice can’t utilise their fun spots enough to make this match work. They manage flashes of fun in a sea of Suzuki-gun manure. It might be fun for a moment but sooner or later the smell overcomes you again. Kanemaru, the base of NOAH’s junior division a few years back, seems to not care anymore. Being paired with Taichi just exposes this. Suzuki-gun orchestrate some cheating and Kanemaru finishes with a sloppy diving DDT. Which means the normally fun junior tag division is in the toilet. All those hoping for change, I hope you’re happy now.
Final Rating: *3/4
Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
These two have wrestled each other twice in Rev Pro already, with them split at one win each. The latter being the win that scored Shibata the title.
This is also Sabre’s New Japan debut, although he’s well known in Japan thanks to his run for Pro Wrestling NOAH. The match is very technically sound. To the point where I don’t want to look away. It’s the kind of match wrestlers are glued to, hoping to pick up some technique.
Some of Sabre’s counters draw the politest of applause and the odd gasp. The reactions to Sabre wrenching at Shibata’s arm are entirely different. They’re scared Sabre is going to tear Shibata apart and are relieved when he gets into the ropes. Sabre impresses with his debut, pulling out all his greatest hits and it helps that Shibata understands all the spots and gets into place for them. The storyline is about Minoru Suzuki and Shibata’s clash with him in the New Japan Cup. The ref gets bumped, through Shibata’s recklessness and Suzuki-gun allow Sabre to hit the PK for the title. The match was going well until the booking kicked in. Putting Sabre in with Suzuki-gun at least gives them two good wrestlers. Not sure it’s the best use of Zack, who’s an incredible talent and a champion world-over but if Suzuki-gun are hanging around they will need a degree of competence to their workers.
Final Rating: ***1/2
IWGP Tag Team Championship
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (c) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
This match is all about Tomoaki Honma, after his unfortunate neck injury sustained while wrestling Jado a few days ago. He suffered paralysis and we’re still waiting for positive word about his recovery. This is an ideal match for me to eat my dinner while watching. It’s not imperative that I catch everything because I can tell from Yano’s yelling what’s happening, and Tenzan’s “shhhh” Mongolian chops. I’m having spaghetti and meatballs by the way. Very tasty. Ishii and Kojima decide to just go and have a great match, which involves them wailing on each other for extended periods. If Dusty Rhodes was commentating on this, god rest his soul, there would be extensive “clubberin”. Kojima throwing out a Kokeshi, for his fallen comrade, is a lovely touch. They put together a fun little match that plays off every one their characters and move sets. Yano eats a lariat for the pin and CHAOS lose a second set of tag straps tonight. This was definitely a feel-good switch, with TenCozy winning for Honma.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Juice Robinson vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
Naito shows he gives zero fucks about the IC title and lobs it over his shoulder before heading to the ring. This is another for the rich catalogue of Los Ingobernables multi-man tags. Every single one is great fun and they’ve gotten so consistently good at every aspect of them. Tanahashi doesn’t treat this like one of his usual tour tags either and specifically busts a gut whenever he’s in the ring. And yet he’s handily outshone by Elgin, looking to prove his worth as a top tier guy. His power moves are freaky. All the faces get the chance to excite the crowd and, for the most part, they succeed. It’s perhaps a waste of Naito to have him hidden away here, especially as the other three are a good unit without him, but at least it gives Juice an ‘out’ to get pinned by Naito. Destino finishes the job.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
This feels like a Hiromu establishment match. A match to make him a stronger champion. They do have a little sidebar about Taguchi’s menacing anklelock, sold like death during Honor Rising clashes. Naturally Taguchi fucks about so Hiromu gives him a dose of his own medicine by doing all his hip attacks. Then Hiromu works over Taguchi’s ironclad posterior to prevent such antics in future. It’s a solid idea and shows that Hiromu isn’t just crazy dives and dangerous bumps. The whole shebang manages to walk the line between the goofiness that makes Taguchi popular and the workrate that makes him a great wrestler, when he’s so inclined. The match steps up a gear when Hiromu starts slapping Taguchi and my God, it just triggers Taguchi into kicking the shit out of him. If Taguchi went through life angry he would be one of the greatest fucking wrestlers on the planet.
I think that’s what really irks me about Taguchi. On his day, when suitably motivated, he’s a world-beater. Why does he have to be such a goofball 90% of the time? The anklelock, after all the hype, feels like a genuine finish and a few of the transitions into it are startling. Hiromu treats it as he’s being burned alive. In between teasing the finish with submissions they throw in a bunch of head drops for my amusement. Yes, murder each other while Honma is still in the hospital recovering from a head drop. Taguchi gets dumped on his head one more time, with a corner DVD, and the Time Bomb finishes for the champ. Awesome match with Hiromu switching gears. He’s had three great matches already this year.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Tiger Mask W vs. Kazuchika Okada
This is such a bizarre situation. As if Ibushi wouldn’t sign for New Japan but will quite happily appear as a cultural masked icon from time to time. It’s the same way he’ll wrestle for WWE whenever they ask but won’t sign for them.
That’s if Ibushi was Tiger Mask W, which of course he isn’t. They look nothing alike! It’s a conspiracy.
Tiger Mask W has so far not existed in the New Japan Universe. He’s only wrestled other animated characters. So this makes this very special and a huge crossover event. Okada has been the champ, and ace, for a while now so he acts like he’s above some wanker in a mask. The way in which he undersells is palpable. Unless TMW breaks out something crazy like the triangle moonsault. The contrast is there in almost every sequence though. Okada is bigger, stronger and has the feel of an iconic performer. TMW looks solid, capable but not the talent he was before the neck injury. There are moments where he steps up and the transition between one move and hitting the ropes is like lightning. It’s almost like he’s not the man we’re used to seeing unmasked, but rather playing the original Tiger Mask is a form of cosplay. The way he moves, the way he strikes and the way he hits the ropes are not only reminiscent of Kota but also Sayama. This cannot be a coincidence.
Once we get into the meat of the match Ibushi starts to look really good. As if he was saving himself for business time. Plus the switch in gears from him marks the point where Okada goes from under to overselling to compensate for his earlier jackassery. There’s something quite refreshing about seeing the company ace take a kicking from a cartoon character. Okada is ballsy as a motherfucker too because he goes ahead and takes a Tiger Driver off the top rope. With that out of the way Okada begins the destruction of the cartoon tiger and wipes him out with the Rainmaker. This went nearly thirty minutes but didn’t feel it at all. Both men did good work while in charge of the match and it felt like another in a series of top performances from the champ.
Final Rating: ****1/4
The show got off to a slow start. The first four matches were entirely superfluous to my enjoyment of the show. Everything from Sabre-Shibata onward worked for me. The last two matches were naturally on a higher level and I was very impressed with Hiromu vs. Taguchi. That might even edge the more epic Okada-Ibushi for MOTN. Despite the shaky start this ended up being another very strong New Japan show with minimal complaints. Nothing that will make my Match of the Year consideration but proof Ibushi is capable of being of use to a major company in a major role. Why is that not happening somewhere already? Oh yeah, he’s a nutter.