We’re back to Korakuen Hall for some more Block B action, which is intriguing as I’d have said this was one of the weaker rounds of matches on paper in an absolutely stacked groups. Still, we’ve got KUSHIDA vs. Marty Scurll and a grudge match between Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado at the top of the card, and a bunch of fun stuff beneath, so lots to be optimistic about!
Flip Gordon & Tomoyuki Oka vs. Taiji Ishimori & Chase Owens
This was a perfectly enjoyable formula tag match. I don’t see why a heat segment on Tomoyuki Oka was necessary, I will always advocate for cutting those out and doing a sprint unless absolutely necessary, but the finishing stretch was frenetic and enjoyable, and even before that Gordon and Ishimori got a couple of fun flips in. Owens dumped Oka with the Package Piledriver for the win at 7:28. ** ¾.
A.C.H & Shota Umino vs. Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
There were two cool storylines competing in this one; Suzuki-gun wanted to be left alone to bully Shota Umino in peace, while A.C.H wanted to incite a war with Minoru Suzuki, with Yoshinobu Kanemaru trying to get in his way. This made for a very fun little undercard tag, with A.C.H taking particular credit. His sequences poking the Minoru Suzuki shaped bear whilst running through Kanemaru with some delightfully fluid offense were a joy. I want to see an A.C.H-Suzuki singles so badly. The action wasn’t always that purely excited but there was enough sheer heat to carry it through. Kanemaru tapped out a desperate Umino with a Boston Crab at 9:43, while Suzuki restrained A.C.H with an ankle lock. ***.
Will Ospreay & Gedo vs. YOH & Yoshi-Tatsu
The card gets incrementally better! I really liked this, they mostly just went for a full on sprint. Could it have been sprintier? Yes. Will Ospreay and YOH’s sequences were clearly the best in the match, so full of energy and verve, and it makes me so excited for their meeting later in Group A. Will Ospreay is the Jamie Oliver of professional wrestling, his manic enthusiasm and Essex inflected joie de vivre both his biggest gift and curse, but that remarkable belief that he can steal the show every single evening comes into its own in matches like this where other wrestlers might not even try. Yoshi-Hashi and Gedo didn’t make much of an impression, and even their ending was a bit flat, with Hashi just sort of wearing Gedo down into a submission with a Butterfly Lock at 8:58. But seriously, check out some of those Ospreay-Yoh sequences. Goooooood stuff. *** ¼.
Tiger Mask IV & Toa Henare vs. Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI
Another good tag match. It was good in the same sort of way the rest of them have been, by ditching the standard tag formula and just having guys zip in and out the ring and throw moves at each other. These were interesting opponents for each other as well; I only dip in and out of New Japan but it strikes me you probably don’t see many substantial interactions between Tetsuya Naito and Toa Henare, which were got here. They were fresh and enjoyable! Fun, if completely forgettable match. Naito put Henare away with Destino at 9:58. ***. Bushi ripped off Tiger Mask’s tiger mask afterwards. And then we got that fucking promo from Chris fucking Jericho, you fuckers. Swearing and particularly the f word are very very cool and we all know it, but nonetheless this was not one of his best.
Chris Sabin vs. SHO
I thought this was good and solid. Some parts were too slow, but what stuck with me were the stretches of really nice, snappy, fluid Jr. heavyweight wrestling. I also dug the early outbreak of proper nastiness with both men going after each other’s limbs to get an early advantage. It’s main drawback was that it was committed to telling an underdog story with Sho that didn’t quite ring true, not because of anything the guys did wrong in the ring, but because Chris Sabin’s not been in New Japan for a while and is very beatable for a guy on Sho’s level. I think if those moments of Sho underdog fire had come off even better, this match would have pushed on towards greatness, but ultimately it stayed grounded in a still very respectable *** ¼ position. Sho did indeed pick up the victory with the Shock Arrow at 15:09!
Dragon Lee vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
For a while, this match had it’s own neat little thing going on, with Lee and Taguchi both trying to impose their styles on one another. If you’ve never seen either man wrestle before, Lee’s style is ‘sublime lucha mayhem,’ while Taguchi’s is ‘arse based zaniness.’ That mash of fluffy comedy and state of the art jr. heavyweight action ensured the early stages of this stood out, but as it wore on it got more and more serious, and it was hard to take it seriously after all of Taguchi’s antics. But, still, it was never boring, both guys were working hard, Dragon Lee is one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, and he won comfortably with the Desnucadora in 11:14 to go 2-0 in the group. No complaints here. ***.
KUSHIDA vs. Marty Scurll
Reaching the point where I’m running out of ways to say “more good/really good pro wrestling that I enjoyed very much.” This was by a small margin the best match of the show so far. I thought it had similar energy to Sabin and Sho and similarly impressive sequences of silky high flying and counter wrestling, but had more of an effective story of just two really good wrestlers taking each other to the limit. Their is a limit on matches that have Marty Scurll control segments because he doesn’t have the offensive depth to make them super interesting, and KUSHIDA I think is only capable of absolute top drawer matches in the company of absolute top drawer opponents. But he was great in this, don’t get me wrong. I always like little things like his hip toss directly into an arm bar. No wasted motion with him at all. Loads of good counters and near falls down the finishing stretch and, yeah, this was fine fare indeed. Kushida landed the Back to the Future at 19:22 to get off the mark in the group. *** ½.
Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado
Right. OK, so, I was on board with the opening portion of this match in a big way. These two just beat the shit out of each other. Takahashi wiped out Desperado with a running dropkick in the crowd, and while it wasn’t quite Samoa Joe hurling himself back first down a flight of stairs levels of lunacy, he still landed with enough of a thud to induce a wince. Takahashi’s absolute disregard for his own safety is a joy. El Desperado fought back by dismantling like ten rows of seats with Hiromu’s body. There was spilled beer, chairs all over the place, the intensity and genuine wildness was incredible and totally different to anything we’d had in the tournament. What disappointed me a little was that, as the match wore on, it did become more akin to what had gone before it, even on this show. Perhaps less reliant on smooth counter wrestling and more on just big moves and melodrama, but it all felt a little too… hinged. Especially from Takahashi, whom obviously is a maniac and yet didn’t quite hit top gear; that insane sunset flip powerbomb of his would have been perfect for a match like this. They still did a great job of making Desperado a credible bully of Hiromu despite being several places lower than him right now on the totem pole, conjuring memories of him having demeaned Takahashi when the future Ticking Time Bomb was just a wet behind the ears youngster. The crowd were absolutely 100% in love with Hiromu, and with good reason. But, I dunno, I never felt like they quite recaptured the magic of those opening few minutes, I was waiting for them to and it didn’t quite happen, and at times it felt like they were dragging on longer than they needed to trying too hard to peak. A very good match, but short of greatness for me. Still, I’m a low bar on this and Korakuen was going ape shit so this is still a fairly essential watch. Desperado picked up a moderate upset at 22:48 with the Pinche Loco! *** ½.
SCOREBOARD AT THE END OF THE NIGHT IS AS FOLLOWS
Dragon Lee- M2 ,W2, D0, L0- PTS 4
El Desperado- M2, W2, D0, L0- PTS 4
Chris Sabin- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
Hiromu Takahashi- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
KUSHIDA- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
SHO- M2, W1, D0, L1- PTS 2
Marty Scurll- M1, W0, D0, L1- PTS 0
Ryusuke Taguchi- M2, W0, D0, L2- PTS 0
Still far too early to take much from the rankings, but it is interesting to see Marty Scurll languishing in joint last with back to back defeats to serious rivals Hiromu Takahashi and KUSHIDA. Up top, El Desperado’s hot start is surely unsustainable, despite the momentous nature of his win over Takahashi.
Night 4 was a consistently enjoyable night of pro wrestling, culminating in a match a lot of people have been really raving about. It’s fun all the way through and well worth taking in the full card.