June 11, 2017
The Young Bucks . . . become the Michael Jordan of the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Division.
KUSHIDA . . . tries to take home Hiromu Takahashi’s arm as a companion prize to the IWGP Jr. Title.
Hiroshi Tanahashi . . . vows to avenge his Tokyo Dome loss to Tetsuya Naito, even if it means doing so with one arm.
YUJI NAGATA/TOGI MAKABE/TIGER MASK/TIGER MASK W vs. HIROYOSHI TENZAN/SATOSHI KOJIMA/MANABU NAKANISHI/JYUSHIN LYGER
If you haven’t seen Manabu Nakanishi attempt a Mil Mascaras flying cross chop, then you’re just letting the best in life pass you by. Actually, this really isn’t anything all that special, everyone does their stuff and moves on, without any attempt made to tell a story or to build up to a hot tag. Some of the exchanges are nice, like the Tigers trying to work over Nakanishi’s legs, and the only obvious flub is Nakanishi jumping the gun to do his spear, before Makabe was on his feet. So, it’s inoffensive, and certainly watchable, but, you’d think a match with this much talent and experience would strive for more.
SANADA/EVIL/BUSHI © vs. BAD LUCK FALE/ADAM PAGE/YUJIRO TAKAHASHI vs. TORU YANO/TOMOHIRO ISHII/YOSHI-HASHI vs. YOSHINOBU KANEMARU/ZACK SABRE, Jr./TAICHI ISHIKARI vs. JUICE ROBINSON/RICOCHET/RYUSUKE TAGUCHI (NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Titles)
CHAOS vs. Bullet Club is fun, even though they didn’t do anything that was especially fresh. The intensity was nice, and the other four did some nice bumping and selling for the two heavy hitters, Fale and Ishii. Yano got the hot tag and did his usual cheating, leading to him getting the pin on Takahashi. The Suzuki Gun/CHAOS bit is over before it starts, which is probably for the best, so that Kanemaru and Ishikari don’t get a chance stink things up. Yano tries to steal a second fall, but it backfires, and he’s the one who gets fouled and pinned by Sabre. Taguchi’s team vs. Suzuki Gun is the best fall yet, once they get the comedy out of the way, but even the baseball comedy works. Ishikari clocks Juice with the bell hammer, and gets a near fall from a Tajiri style kick, but Kanemaru misfires and hits Ishikari, leading to the Pulp Friction.
The final fall, with Los Ingobernables, is quite good too. Sabre wearing down Juice with the Octopus hold during the Los Ingobernables entrance, puts them behind the eight-ball to start, and it forces Ricochet and Taguchi to pick up the slack, so he can recover. There are some nice sequences and exchanges, and after Juice gets his bearings back, it looks like a genuine contest for the titles, with the only issue being the big superplex spot, that wound up with Ricochet getting clobbered. As much as the Takahashi/Taguchi junior title match annoyed me with how the ankle lock was treated, this time it’s perfect, with BUSHI able to escape, but Taguchi being relentless in getting it back on. The finish is also great, with Taguchi avoiding the MX, but he winds up trapped in SANADA’s Dragon sleeper, the other two keep Juice and Ricochet at bay, and the sleeper softens up Taguchi enough that a second MX lets Los Ingobernables retain.
ROCKY ROMERO/TRENT BERETTA © vs. NICK JACKSON/MATT JACKSON (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles)
I thought their 1/4 match was good, but that they could do better, and here they are doing better. Matt injures Rocky’s back early on, and leaves Trent on his own, and it’s the one time where the Bucks penchant for flashy double team moves actually works. They have plenty of things to do to work him over, but it also shows that they really aren’t taking things all that seriously, because it seems like they have the win in the bag. Trent’s comeback, starting with his own clever way to avoid MBFYB, is also nicely done, and when he’s in control he makes them pay for their decision to goof around, rather than to try to genuinely win the titles.
Rocky finally has to get involved, when Nick breaks up the pin after the Strong Zero, and Rocky is perfect doing the fired up babyface routine, while still showing that he’s in a lot of pain due to the onslaught to his back. The Bucks show that they learned from their mistake, and focus on Rocky’s back with the sharpshooter, and they use their usual spots, like Nick’s springboard facebuster and the Indytaker, as vehicles to get the hold applied, and it pays off when Rocky finally has to tap out. The only misstep is Rocky’s Hulk-Up and rapid crawl to the ropes for the break. With how well he’d been selling the back, it seemed very out of place. But, all four were dead on other than that. These are the sorts of matches that show that the idea of the Young Bucks being the best team in the world isn’t such a crazy notion. ***½
HANSON/RAY ROWE © vs. TAMA TONGA/TONGA LOA (IWGP Tag Team Titles)
Well this is the opposite of the previous match is just about every possible way. There are some nice spots, but the match as a whole is anything but. It’s all go-go-go without any regard for telling a story or building up to something, and then Rowe and Loa start blowing off German suplexes. At least they go all way with the mediocrity with a horrible finish, involving a ref bump and a chair getting involved. This puts them at 1-1 in title matches, meaning that a rubber match is inevitable. Oh joy!
MICHAEL ELGIN vs. CODY RHODES
It took a little while for them to get warmed up. The first half consists of a lot of punch, forearm, and chop type of stuff. But, once they show off Cody’s penchant for outsmarting and outwrestling Elgin, then things start picking up. Elgin doesn’t get squashed by any means, he shows that he’s capable of doing pretty much whatever he wants to Cody, and even makes Cody pay for his showing off, when he stops to crowd play. But, Cody is able to keep himself out of serious trouble by being ready with a good counter, like avoiding the discus lariat by taking him down at the leg, and, the spot where Cody ties Elgin up in the ropes and a lariat/facebuster combo is a good example of Cody’s creativity. It makes sense for Cody to go after the leg, to take the away Elgin’s size advantage, although the American Nightmare submission didn’t come off as well as Taguchi’s ankle lock or Matt Jackson’s sharpshooter. Cody’s leg attack game plan, and his ability to outsmart Elgin come together for a good finish, when Cody escapes the deadlift superplex and takes a shot at the leg to give him the opening for the Cross Rhodes. It’d be interesting to see what a rematch would be like, if they had a few tags or trio matches together to get more familiar with one another and maybe set up a story for them to play off, but, this is a solid effort on its own.
HIROMU TAKAHASHI © vs. KUSHIDA (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title)
If this isn’t the most hateful match in recent memory, then it’s got to be up there. There’s no doubt that the title is important to them, but with Takahashi wanting to move on from wrestling KUSHIDA, and, KUSHIDA wanting redemption after his embarrassing sub-two-minute loss to Takahashi in April, it’s perfectly believable that they’d have this same match in a non-title setting. Between their overall hate and intensity, the selling (particularly Takahashi’s after KUSHIDA goes after his arm), and the smart ways they use their big spots, this is an occasion where it seems like everything they do just works. Even things that normally wouldn’t come off well, like Takahashi taking the punch to the face and staying up, but, he’s not blowing it off the way Kensuke Sasaki would, he screams and his facial expression shows that he has no idea where he even is, and KUSHIDA pops him again to try to finish him off. The Time Bomb near fall almost seems out of place, but, between the fact that KUSHIDA hadn’t been worn down too much, Takahashi’s arm already being hurt, and Kevin Kelly’s explanation that he tried changing up how he does the move, it’s more than believable that it was a desperation attempt for quick win that didn’t work. KUSHIDA shows that he may very well have lost his mind, with spots like the running dropkick into the crowd, and stomping Takahashi into oblivion before he puts on the final Hoverboard lock, complete with bending the arm and wrist as much as possible and forcing the submission.
KUSHIDA working over the arm, which carries a good portion of his control segment, is also done rather smartly. It starts with a surprise counter to the Sunset bomb, resulting in a Juji-gatame on the apron. KUSHIDA may not be able to win the match, but he can do plenty of damage. The Hoverboard lock on the top rope is the same idea, and then KUSHIDA shows how far he’s willing to go with a Spanish fly with the arm still hammerlocked, and then goes back to the hold. Takahashi’s reactions to the hold, and his long term selling are both perfect, even after he’s able to take over, he keeps the arm at his side, to keep in mind how banged up it is. When Takahashi surprises KUSHIDA with the running lariat and when he beats him to the literal punch, when he clocks KUSHIDA first, it’s with the other arm. After three matches in less than six months, not to mention all the lead-in tag matches, these two have definitely earned a break from working against each other. I just hope that they can keep up this momentum while working with other guys, and help create a new glory period for the New Japan juniors. ***3/4
MINORU SUZUKI © vs. HIROOKI GOTO (NEVER Openweight Title - Lumberjack Death Match)
Compared with the match that came before it, this is a let down in every way possible. Neither of them shows even a fraction of the anger that KUSHIDA and Takahashi showed, and that’s an especially big failing on Goto’s part. The lumberjacks more or less do what you’d expect, Suzuki’s guys try to cheat for him, with CHAOS being there to even the odds, and they wind up spending more time fighting each other than doing their jobs. Their work, especially toward the end, is nice for the most part, especially seeing Suzuki try to fall back on his MMA experience to counterbalance Goto’s power advantage. Ttheir counter and reversal sequence leading to Goto finally hitting the GTR was well done. But, Taichi takes out the ref, brings in a chair, and Suzuki winds up retaining. This is nowhere to close to what Shibata and Goto did in January. In fact, Suzuki’s antics have me much more excited at the prospect of Suzuki defending the title against Lyger and against YOSHI-HASHI, rather than another go-around with Goto.
TETSUYA NAITO © vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI (IWGP Intercontinental Title)
This is a ton of fun, but, it falls short of their January Dome match. The biggest issue here is the story involving Tanahashi’s hurt arm, it’s lots of fun watching Naito work the arm over and Tanahashi’s selling is usually superb, but, Naito never shows that he’s using the hurt arm to try to win the match. He’ll yank the arm, and then slap Tanahashi in a dismissive manner, he uses a couple of nice armbars, but nothing that anyone believes could get a submission. You can’t even say that he tries to use the arm as a means to get to his bigger offense. The one time he tries that is after the missed High Fly Flow, when he charges for the Destino, and Tanahashi winds up blocking it, which leads to their slap exchange and Tanahashi taking over with a German suplex. Naito gets a good near fall from the top rope variation of the Destino, but he got there after a couple of spikey Germans of his own. Again, it’s fun to watch Naito sharking on the bad arm, but, considering how much they try to play the injury up, I expected it to be a much bigger part of the match.
It’s too bad that they don’t go all the way with the arm work, because Tanahashi’s selling is great. I’m hesitant to say it’s Kawada-esque, just to steer clear of hyperbole, but it’s really good. It’d be hard to not notice the arm, with its heavy wrapping, but, Tanahashi never lets you forget about it. There are a few occasions when he slips up, but they’re usually followed by something smart to make up for it. The first time is when he gets the German suplex a little too easily, and he follows up by trying to ground and pound Naito with his other arm. The other one is one of the better moments of the match, when he’s able to pull Naito out of the corner for another German, but, winds up using all his strength for that, and isn’t able to actually do the suplex. It’s unreasonable to expect Tanahashi to not do any of his usual offense, but he always shows just how much of a toll it’s taking on him. Both the High Fly Flow to the floor, and the missed one in the ring end with him writhing in pain and clutching the arm, and it looks like the spinning uranage hurt him even more than it did Naito.
Considering the finish is Tanahashi tapping out Naito with the Texas Cloverleaf, things seem a little backwards, with Naito’s knee not being focused on as much as you’d expect. But, those few times that it comes up, it’s done well. The Dragon screw spots are pretty much par for the course by this point, although Naito holding the ropes to try to stop the move, and making it worse on himself was a very nice touch. There’s also a nice moment, when Tanahashi stops Naito by pushing his foot into the back of his knee to take him down. And, because the knee wasn’t relentlessly worked over, it makes sense for Naito to linger in the hold before tapping out. The hold itself looks ugly, although it’s still sunk in as deep as possible, which one can also attribute to Tanahashi’s arm not being at full strength to apply the hold the way he normally would. If they were able to go all the way with the story of Tanahashi’s arm, and made it seem like Naito could use that as an avenue to win the match, then not only would his have surpassed their January match, but possibly surpassed Okada/Omega. ***1/4
KAZUCHIKA OKADA © vs. KENNY OMEGA (IWGP Heavyweight Title)
Okada and Omega may have had an amazing forty-five minute long match, but, they apparently don’t have enough in the tank to go the full hour. That’s not necessarily a knock on them, because there are very few with that ability, and, while this may come off disappointing compared with their previous match, it’s by no means a disappointing match on its own merits. It helps that they had the previous match to play off, which they do rather well, such as Omega freaking out when he realized that Okada is trying to put him through the table on the floor in same manner as the first match, and the urgency that Okada shows when fighting out of the full nelson to escape the Dragon suplex off the top. Omega finally hitting the One Winged Angel may have been the best individual moment of the match, and nothing winds up being resolved, because Okada gets a lucky break when his foot touches the rope. So, even though he took the move, it’s debatable whether or not he survived it, and the question is still out there as to whether or not he’ll be able to. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about the Rainmaker. To their credit, they had some good ideas, to delay or prevent it so that Omega wouldn’t have to survive it umpteen times, so, the only time that it comes off looking bad is the first time, because Okada had already spiked him with two Germans before going for it. But, things like Cody’s intervention with the towel, which causes the delay and gives Omega time to recover, and, Omega collapsing and causing Okada to miss the lariat are both great ways to keep Omega alive, without making the move look bad.
The biggest disappointment, to me, was their failure to make the body part work factor into the match long term. Omega is outstanding when he goes after Okada’s knee, showing a viciousness that he hasn’t shown nearly enough of. Okada is almost right up there with him when he works over the body. The shotgun dropkick into the rail would make SUWA proud. But, in the grand scheme of things, neither of them seemed to matter all that much, Okada quit favoring his knee after a bit and Omega left it alone, and although Okada still used offense that could weaken the body, like the dropkick to the back, he also made it clear that he’d moved on from that idea. There were several chances to bring the weakened body parts back into focus, such as Okada losing the bridge on his German suplex because of his knee, or Omega’s superplex hurting him just as much as Okada, but, they never go back to either idea.
That one issue aside though, they still do a ton of good things here. It’s neat watching the progression of their trademark strikes, Okada’s dropkick and Omega’s V-Trigger knee strike, as they go from being familiar looking moves, to being used to set up the finishers, to looking like they could be KO strikes of their own. The failure of both Omega and Okada to recognize that the strike itself could be enough to win is a reason that this winds up going to the time limit. There are times that both of them seem to be out cold, but, instead of going for the pin, they choose to expend the time and energy of getting them up for the finisher, which allows them to recover. It’s debatable whether or not Omega learned the lesson during the match, as his last pin attempt was a desperation cradle, but, the final shot before the bell was Omega being stunned with a dropkick, and Okada hitting the Rainmaker, and being too spent to cover, which causes the time to run out. Much like the first match left the question about One Winged Angel, this one beckons the question of whether or not someone could have won, had they tried for a pin after hitting either the dropkick or V-Trigger.
Being not only their second singles match, but, also the much anticipated rematch to one of the most laureled matches in recent memory, it’s obvious that there are going to be throwback spots and familiarity spots, which almost always come off well. As annoying it sometimes is to see Okada constantly going for the Rainmaker, it’s neat to see the various ways he’s able to outwrestle Omega in order to get him set up for it. The One Winged Angel is more complicated to set up, so Omega isn’t able to reciprocate that, but he gets in several nice escapes and counters to the Rainmaker, Omega’s V-Trigger counter to the Rainmaker would have been the best spot of the match if he hadn’t outdone himself with the Rain-Trigger. And, while Omega isn’t afforded the luxury of having so many easy setups for his finisher, Okada shows plenty of flair with his counters and escapes, one of which actually perfectly sets him up for the Rainmaker. This is another area where it shows the length of the match taking its toll, at first Okada’s escapes are flashy, like his big flip, but eventually, he’s only able to adjust his leg a little bit, and, because Omega is also spent, he’s able to slide down to get out of the hold.
Overall, despite them improving on the shortcomings of the previous match, namely getting rid of the needless head drops, and finding smart ways to play off their previous match, this just doesn’t come together as seamlessly as their first match. The body part work, which played such a pivotal role in the first match, being left by the wayside, despite there being plenty of chances to bring it back into focus, is the big negative here. But, unless either of them chooses to leave New Japan to seek their fortunes elsewhere, Okada/Omega looks worthy of standing alongside classic rivalries like Chono/Muoth or Lyger/Samurai, if their two matches have been any indication. ***3/4
Conclusion: Another outstanding offering from New Japan, with the good stuff far outweighing the bad.