May 3 2017
We’re in Fukuoka, Japan. Hosts are Kevin Kelly and Don Callis.
Tomayuki Oka & Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yoshitatsu & Hirai Kawato
Kelly calls Tatsu “broadcast excellence”, causing Cyrus to laugh out loud. “He’s a better wrestler than he is a commentator” Callis adds, diplomatically. That’s not saying much Don. Tatsu has now been relegated to competing with the Young Lions to avoid having him wreck a higher card match. Kitamura looks like the finished article, until he starts wrestling. He reminds me of a young Zeus. He’s got the look down very early in his career and just needs to fill in the holes in his prowess by regularly wrestling. Tatsu alternates between giving the youngsters something to bump and trying to break Oka’s neck. The match is significantly better when Tatsu isn’t involved. It’s gotten to the point where he’s comfortably outshined by rookies. He can always fall back on his commentating career….oh. Tatsu ends up getting the submission win over Kitamura. This crop of Young Lions continue to grow. There’s still a lot of work to do with them all but the potential is there.
Final Rating: *3/4
Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay)
Opening match Ospreay is it? He doesn’t have a lot to work with. Chase is an old school heel who likes to slow the pace and while he can make Yujiro look competent it doesn’t help Will’s aims in the match. He’s a better bet than Yujiro though. Takahashi just stands there taking Will’s spots. At least Chase can contribute. Ospreay does a lot of flippydos as he actually understands the concept of a hot opener. This is something routinely lost on the Japanese promoters (apart from CIMA). Will flips onto Yujiro allowing Tacos to submit Owens with the Butterfly Lock. The perverted New Japan cameramen make a point of leering over Yujiro’s two valets on their way out.
Final Rating: **1/2
Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask IV
Liger has announced he’ll be competing in his final Best of the Super Juniors this year. It’s probably the right call as he’s been slowing up of late. Here he’s fighting wildlife in the form of two tigers and a gorilla. It probably helps that he’s already a mythical beast. This is the same undercard filler as the last match with lots of personalities at play and the crowd happily clap along for everyone’s trademark stuff. In populating their pointless undercard tags with talents who are over New Japan has made life easier for their wrestlers and the fans are reciprocating. It doesn’t make the undercards any easier to sit through but at least this way none of these guys is likely to get hurt. Everyone gets their shit in and Makabe downs Big Nak with the King Kong Kneedrop.
Final Rating: **1/2
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Taka Michinoku) vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Trent Beretta, Rocky Romero & Jado)
English commentary crack me up at the top of this by bantering with Taichi and then basically hiding when Suzuki comes near to them. Suzuki has that aura about him that you cannot teach. CHAOS are having a jolly good time here, doing silly multi-man spots and even Goto is smiling, despite being a perennial choker who can’t win the big one. Yano banters his way through the match, using Suzuki-gun’s attempted referee positioning against them. Never try to out-cheat the sublime master thief. Cyrus wants Yano vs. Suzuki. Everyone else: oh god, not again. Tiger Hattori has great difficulty organising the ten men, especially as most of them are raging cheats regardless of heel/face alignment. Goto eventually isolates Taka and hits the GTR for the win. This was messy. I’ve seen too many Suzuki-gun matches and this was one of many that I didn’t enjoy at all.
Final Rating: *1/2
Post Match: They have another pull apart brawl and Suzuki gets so annoyed with it he PUNCHES KITAMURA IN THE FACE. Like full on smacks him across the jaw.
— LARIATOOOO!!! (@MrLARIATO) May 3, 2017
David Finlay vs. Cody Rhodes
Two second generation lads going at it. Finlay is New Japan to his core while Cody had a run in WWE before turning up here. Finlay has developed in front of the eyes of the NJPW fanbase. His gimmick has gained little touches each time I see him. His black eyeshadow is a nice touch. Cody has improved a lot since leaving WWE, taking time to acclimatise to Indie wrestling and the New Japan fans haven’t taken to him as yet. The result is a tepid atmosphere for this short contest. It’s probably a misjudgement of the bookers to put a young gun like Finlay in with Cody before Rhodes has gotten over with the Japanese audience. It’s not helping Finlay in the slightest. Cody doesn’t help in the slightest by working a WWE style that I’d hoped he’d grown out of. Maybe he’s just jetlagged but he sleepwalks through this before hitting Cross-Rhodes for the win. This was a misfire on all counts.
Final Rating: *1/2
KUSHIDA & Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi
This is KUSHIDA’s first match since getting bodied by Hiromu at Sakura Genesis. While Finlay-Cody was bad booking Juice-Naito has been the opposite. When one guy is over and the other is getting over the clashes work. When one guy isn’t over and the other guy is merely on the way to being over you have issues. There’s a notable uptick in crowd interest for this match versus the last one. Of course Naito is a megastar but he hasn’t always been. He wasn’t born into the main events.
Anyway, KUSHIDA is hot about losing to Hiromu in two minutes and takes him out into the crowd for a fight. It’s interesting to see a different side to KUSHIDA. Naito continues his knee assault on Juice from their main event clash at Toyonokuni. This is almost secondary compared to the fire that KUSHIDA shows. This is the benefit for an actual squash match featuring a star. It makes them so much more determined to come back. His sequences with Hiromu mean so much more here because of it. The only reason KUSHIDA doesn’t get that measure of revenge is because Juice can’t keep Naito contained. While he hung with Naito at Toyonokuni he’s still not on that level and Naito knows he can slip him at will. This leads to a numbers advantage and KUSHIDA eats a Timebomb for the pin. Not sure I’d have done that but it keeps Hiromu super strong and whoever wins BOSJ will have a tougher challenge against this strong champion. Say what you like about the farm system that NJPW employs but in Hiromu Takahashi they have a star they patiently created via the excursion route. Now all that hard work is paying off for both Hiromu and the company. Patience is a key virtue for New Japan.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us a line-up for BOSJ. Liger is in his final BOSJ but there are some newcomers to counter that. Included are a few genuine surprises. None more so than the Villain Marty Scurll. Debuting Scurll at BOSJ is very exciting for the BritWres fan in me who loves seeing talent plucked from the UK and working elsewhere. I like that this video shows all the predictable entrants first before going ‘oh yeah…and Marty Scurll and ACH and Volador Jr and Dragon Lee’.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (c) vs. TenKoji vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
This feels like War Machine putting the existing New Japan tag division in the ground before establishing some new feuds. TenKoji are always there as a team to fall back on but GOD started badly and became worthwhile. That doesn’t mean I want to see Tanga Loa on every tour. “I should be a member of Bread Club with Kojima” says Kevin Kelly. T-shirts are only a matter of time #breadclub.
The champs come out dressed like extras in a Gerard Butler movie with sandals and blood. When the match gets underway it becomes apparent this is going to be a War Machine showcase, which I am completely fine with. When you have new champions, who are the standard bearers for a division, you need to ensure they’re established properly. You can do this without sacrificing everyone else entirely and Kojima gets to do all his trademark stuff. Hanson’s version of the Forever Clotheslines is certainly getting over and War Machine have enough innovative and powerful stuff for the crowd to latch onto. Tenzan is showing some signs of aging, like whiffing on a kick because his opponent is moving backwards into the corner. He’s better off keeping it basic, like Nakanishi does. TenKoji make a point of doing Honma spots, with him still recovering from a serious neck injury earlier in the year. While TenKoji make light of the situation, they tend to interrupt what could have been a blinding two on two against GOD for the incumbent champions. Every time they do spots they’re great. Fallout puts Tenzan down for the champions to retain in a very solid three-way match. Presumably, with Tenzan losing again, GOD will get a standard match down the line somewhere.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Championship
Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi & Ricochet) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
It’s really weird that Taguchi has a stable and somehow Tanahashi is in it. It’s been a good run for Taguchi and pals. LIJ should have been the lynchpins of this trios division but I’m happy they’ve managed to do something worthwhile outside of them as a unit. Taguchi is great here, combining his jokey side with his actual wrestling ability. He’s faster than you think, he’s more inventive than you remember. With Tanahashi being the Ace and Ricochet the King of whatever he’s king of (flips?) there’s a lack of weak link. LIJ do work together as a team too so it’s actually one of the toughest matches to call since the NEVER trios belts came into being.
They do fine work in keeping everything fresh and fast paced. There’s never a dull moment. It’s possibly the peak of Taguchi as an all-round entertainer. From the butt attacks to the Nakamura tribute to his actual wrestling skill. He’s a key component here. Everyone around him is so fluid that it’s easy to construct a fun match. I’ve heard people complaining about LIJ being in so many samey multi-man tags but they’re all great so it’s hard to argue with the booking. The finish is the only thing I don’t care for in this match with BUSHI submitting with the referee bumped before Taguchi eats The Mist and takes a diving MX for the loss.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Ishii beat Omega in the New Japan Cup. Omega isn’t pleased about it. How unpleased is he? Well, he isn’t wearing a goddamn t-shirt here. He’s all fired up. The tempo they set here is insane. Right from the bell they’re going at it with big strikes, big power moves and last gasp escapes. They’re very quickly into what appears to be the stretch, even though the match is only a few minutes old. They do the Gedo Special and tease a count-out before Ishii survives an early V-Trigger.
The two men are both great at selling and Omega in particular has tremendous facial expressions. Ishii is tough as old leather and spends a fair chunk of the match trying to wear out Omega by being kicked while lying on the mat. It’s the auld rope-a-dope, only instead of moving out of the way Ishii is just taking a pasting. Omega has to up his game beyond chops and strikes. His solution is to hit a crossbody into the front row, where he almost clears Ishii and both end up dead. From there it’s all-out war with both guys just beating the shit out of each other. I’m slightly uncomfortable with Ishii doing headbutts this soon after Shibata’s injury although he blatantly isn’t nailing them. The near falls get very exciting as Omega goes after Ishii’s neck and they continue to leather each other. Some of Kenny’s strikes are on point. The knees especially but his slaps are perfectly done. He eventually puts Ishii down for three with the One Winged Angel, the new best protected finish in wrestling. Kenny Omega, when he’s suitably motivated, is on a different page. Ishii remains one of the best wrestlers in the world and you cannot beat a war between two really good wrestlers. Ishii makes me uncomfortable post match too by stumbling, and often falling over, to the back in identical fashion to Shibata after his brain injury at Sakura Genesis. That’s perhaps a little too ‘real’ for my liking.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Snowflake Tangent: I went ****1/2 on their New Japan Cup match too and I watched both spoiled. I’ve noticed a few ratings higher than that and I suspect that seeing such a battle unspoiled is key to truly loving it.
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Bad Luck Fale
Fale is “The Underboss” in the Bullet Club and he’s happy with that spot. He’s never going to be the main star like Devitt, AJ or Omega. When it comes to monsters in New Japan there’s nobody above Fale in the pecking order though, which is how he gets these opportunities. He’s been getting progressively better although this still feels like a filler main event before they go to Okada-Omega II.
The greatest achievement of this match is that during it I learn how to GIF properly. It’s something I meant to learn in 2017 and it took five months for me to find the piece of software I was comfy with. It’s like with everything, you have to learn how to do something and work at it before you get good. Much like Fale.
First attempted GIF test… pic.twitter.com/z76HFW3K41
— Arnold Furious (@ArnoldFurious) May 8, 2017
His power moves have been well developed and now he has the ultimate proving ground, the main event. Okada is an opponent he’s familiar with and their history allows a nice mixture of big moves and counters to big moves.
The match, like all big Fale matches, never blows me away but it ticks all the big boxes. All of Fale’s big spots are played on and Okada works around Fale’s shortcomings. The last year has seen Okada prove he belongs on top of New Japan’s cards. There are plenty of other wrestlers that deserve a top card spot but Okada has made the position of company Ace his own. Regardless of Tanahashi’s gimmick. The way he takes Fale apart towards the conclusion is reminiscent of Tana himself, demolishing his biggest threats by taking away their power base and hitting multiple big moves clustered together. Okada chains Rainmakers to retain. Okada made Fale feel entirely legitimate here, like never before. He’s The Man.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: Bullet Club come out to help Fale to the back and Okada calls out Omega.
As per usual the undercard was uneventful here and New Japan are paying the price for stretching out the talent across three major shows, instead of one massive show. However financially rewarding that may be there’s no doubt that by watering down their major shows it’s causing some quality issues. Imagine Tanahashi-EVIL and Naito-Juice being on this show as well as Okada-Fale and Omega-Ishii? That’s a stacked card. Instead it was three cards diluted into something less. Dontaku is arguably the stand-out show of the three, although all of them suffered from weak first halves. This show finished strongly though and I would recommend everything from the second half here.