Been a minute.
I want to take a brief moment here and do two things. First, a very belated thank you for everyone who voted me 3rd in the Doomies. Actually means more than a bit that people seem to enjoy what I do, and it helps me keep doing it. I’ll catch Tommy someday, damnit.
Second, for those unaware (and I won’t bore anyone with the details yet again) my family, specifically my wife, has gone through quite a bit of tragedy over the last several weeks, hence my hiatus for a bit there. I genuinely appreciate everyone who reached out or listened, because I needed it. Despite the bickering and silliness, there’s really no other place on the ‘net that I would rather discuss wrestling than right here with all of you. It’s a good place, everyone, and y’all make it that way.
With all that said, we’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
NJPW Castle Attack – Night 1
Two nights of shows here, and the first night is mostly grudge matches as we’ve got a CHAOS vs Bullet Club theme going this evening; much like the last tour was Bullet Club vs Suzuki-Gun, we had a theme leading to our shows this time around.
Up first, we had The United Empire (Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, The Great O-Khan) over Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, & Satoshi Kojima in 10:22.
Tonga Loa (w/JADO) vs YOSHI-HASHI
So, we’ve got two singles matches tonight that will feed the tag title match tomorrow. And while I’ve been singing the praises of the revitalized YOSHI since the G-1, I gotta say that carrying Loa may, in fact, be the toughest mountain to climb.
And he can’t climb it, but he makes the best effort possible. He decides to work the arm of Loa, who does sell enough to indicate slight discomfort. He clobbers YOSHI with a clothesline to turn the tide and stomps away. Suplex and a back suplex slam gets two for Loa. YOSHI comes back with a dropkick to the knee and a neckbreaker, but goes for chops and Loa no-sells EVERYTHING, wagging his finger in YOSHI’s face and clobbering him before putting the badmouth on him. A bit much, there.
That fires YOSHI up and he hits another neckbreaker on Loa before going up, Loa meets him at the top, so YOSHI goes over the top and powerbombs Loa for two. Butterfly Lock (pick ANY other submission hold, YOSHI, I’m begging you), but Loa escapes and hits a jumping knee to drop YOSHI. Spinebuster by Loa gets two. YOSHI comes back with superkicks, but Loa no-sells 5 of them in a row before finally having the courtesy to go down on the sixth. And lest you think I’m using hyperbole, he literally taunted YOSHI and dared him to fire kicks at his face, then sold nothing.
YOSHI with a lungblower, then a Swanton for two. Back to the Butterfly Lock, but Loa ain’t quitting here and barely looks like he’s broken a sweat. Loa grabs the ref and JADO comes in, but YOSHI superkicks him out and rolls Loa up for two after some heel miscommunication. Dragon suplex and a Meteora from YOSHI and he goes for Karma, but Tama Tonga runs out to distract him. Loa takes advantage and reverses, hitting Ape Shit for the pin. (Tonga Loa over YOSHI-HASHI, pinfall, 12:58)
THOUGHTS: **1/4. Ending sequence was basically all there was to this one, as Loa just pretty much did whatever he wanted selling-wise, and YOSHI carried it on his back. Last few minutes brought it over the average.
GoD beatdown commences on YOSHI, so Goto runs out for the save, and we might as well get it on:
Tama Tonga (w/JADO) vs Hirooki Goto
Tonga immediately cradles him for two and they start trading back and forth. Goto gets tossed and JADO gives him a lovetap with the kendo stick. Back in and Tama beats him down a bit more, suplexing him and going to the eyes. Finally, Goto has had ENOUGH of this shit and avoids a Stinger Splash to get on some offense. Bulldog from Goto gets two. Tama counters with a the Tongan Twist for two. Gun Stun is blocked by Goto, so Tama DDTs him, but goes up and misses the frog splash.
Time for some Bullet Club nonsense now as JADO distracts the ref and Loa walks into the ring, but Goto quickly disposes of him. Then he knocks JADO from the apron and I’m weirdly okay with all of this, because it leads to one of the crazy-fastest sequences I’ve seen in the heavyweight division in awhile, as Goto and Tama trade reversals, rope runs, leapfrogs, and just in general run out a very intricate and excellent sequence that ends with Goto hitting the GTR for the pin. Last 30 seconds added a * by itself. (Hirooki Goto over Tama Tonga, pinfall, 6:40)
THOUGHTS: **3/4. Not really much to the match, but that last minute was really spectacularly fun. I definintely would have switched the times on the previous two matches, no question. But this was fun and I have no quarrel with splitting the wins to set up the tag title match tomorrow.
Chase Owens vs Toru Yano (C) – King of Pro Wrestling title match – Yano Strap Match Rules
Alright, so this is a strap match with Yano rules, which means that instead of touching all four corners, you have to remove all four turnbuckle pads while being strapped to your opponent. Now, Chris Charlton points this out as did others during the match, but really that means that you only have to be the guy who removes the LAST turnbuckle pad to win, which is certainly an interesting take on a strap match.
Gino gets a funny line in about how the strap is his donated weight belt as Chase gets strapped in. Yano protests a bit as the ref hooks him up, and we’re finally off. Anyway, there’s not much to say. It’s a strap match; both guys play tug of war a bit, and Yano is first to whip Owens with the strap and claim a turnbuckle pad. Chase comes back and takes control from there, and this match isn’t playing as well for me as I watch it again – I think there’s a palpable disconnect between the humor of Yano’s matches and the fact that this one became stiff and brutal very quickly. There’s just not a lot of fun in this match, you know? And that’s kind of what I want from Yano’s matches.
Owens gets hold of some tape and tapes both Yano’s hands shut, which should ostensibly make it impossible for Yano to untie any turnbuckle pads. Owens gets the 3rd pad and looks close to victory, but Yano hits the Greco-Roman ballshot and goes for the 4th…..but he can’t untie it because of his taped hands. Owens leaps from the ring pulling Yano into an exposed buckle in a neat spot, then drags Yano out and sends him to the barricade. He exposes the concrete but takes a Yano backdrop onto the cement.
Yano can’t move the dead weight of Chase and comes back out, to which Owens promptly smashes him with the ringbell. He chokes out Yano with the strap and I’m kind of over this match now, frankly. It’s been a slog. Back in and Owens wipes out Yano with a knee and goes for the pad, but can’t get it untied in time as Yano yanks him back and powerbombs him. Yano’s hands are free now, and he unties the last pad to retain and end this. (Toru Yano over Chase Owens, Pad removal, 12:50)
THOUGHTS: **. Boy, this one is a lesson not to watch some matches twice, I gotta say. I really, intensely, actively disliked this match on the second viewing. And I defend Yano all the time, but the key to his matches are and have always been the sense of playfulness that pervades them, and there was so little of that here that what was left was just a brutal match where they whipped each other. Problem is, that wasn’t that great either, so they took away Yano’s strength, which is comedy, and replaced it with an attempt at stiff brutality, which isn’t either guy’s strength. As a result, the match sucked.
Jay White (w/GEDO) vs Tomohiro Ishii
INJECT IT INTO MY VEINS! So what we have here is a good old fashioned grudge match, in that Ishii has beaten Jay like a drum every time they’ve faced each other. He beat Jay in the 2019 G-1. He beat Jay in the 2020 G-1. At New Years’ Dash, the night after Jay lost the longest match in Dome history and said he was going to quit NJPW, Jay and Ishii faced off in a CHAOS vs Bullet Club tag match. Guess who ate the pin? And guess who did the pinning? In short, Jay has NEVER beaten Ishii one on one.
And both guys are fucking insanely great top-shelf pro wrestlers, so that’s also a point in the match’s favor.
Jay fakes out Ishii and bails to start, because he’s a dick and wants Ishii to chase him – as Kevin Kelly says, Jay knows that Ishii ends up fighting him on the floor in the crowd, he gets suspended, so he’s daring him to do it. He really milks it hard and slides in and out several times to piss off Ishii more until Tomohiro finally gives chase. White fakes an injury and GEDO tosses Ishii to the barricade, then back in for Jay to stomp away.
Ishii comes back with a shoulder and they’re back on the floor as Ishii tosses Jay to the barricade. GEDO begging off is just the best. He’s such a shitheel, it works so much better with Jay than it did with Okada. Back in and Ishii kills him, so Jay scrambles for the ropes and screams for the ref to back Ishii off, then nails Ishii after the ref does and necksnaps him on the top, and now Jay decides to work the ribs. Back and forth, ring to barricade goes Ishii as now Jay wants to fight. He’s the greatest heel.
Back in and Jay stomps on Ishii’s ribs. To the corner as White shoulders Ishii in the ribs, then a waistlock on the mat. To the buckle now as Ishii sells it like death. After a blind charge misses, Ishii does manage to get a powerslam but can barely get to his feet. He beats up Jay in the corner and gets a suplex, hurting himself again. Back up and they trade holds, and you really don’t want to get into a situation where Jay can counter-wrestle you, since that’s what his character does well, and White indeed hits a DDT, then a Death Valley Driver for two.
White with chops in the corner as we set up for Ishii to power through and he does, absolutely annihilating White with chops of his own, slumping White to the corner. Corner to corner from Ishii, but he gets caught with a Flatliner by Jay and then a suplex. Jay suplexes Ishii to the buckles, Ishii falls to the floor. Jay follows him out and suplexes him to the barricade and Ishii rolls around in agony. He manages to roll back in at 18, so Jay promptly hits a Blade Buster for two.
HUGE Uranage by Jay sets up the Kiwi Krusher, 1, 2, no! Ishii blocks the sleeper suplex, so Jay knees him in the ribs and then stomps on said ribs. Ishii rises up with FIGHTING SPIRIT and shrugs off all of Jay’s shots before absolutely ethering him with an elbow. Ishii puts Jay on the top, White goes to the eyes so Ishii just POPS up with a headbutt that looked insane. Ishii on the second rope, superplex! 1, 2, no!
Ishii with a sleeper, but GEDO hops on the apron and Ishii breaks to go after him, allowing GEDO to nail Ishii in the ribs and Jay follows that with suplex and a sleeper of his own. REGALPLEX by Jay! 1, 2, NO! Back up and they avoid shots from each other until Ishii almost ends Jay’s life with a lariat! Sleeper by Ishii! Brainbuster is countered by Jay, brainbuster by White! 1, 2, no! Bladerunner attempt, countered by Ishii with a German.
Jumping enzugiri by Ishii! Powerbomb by Ishii gets two! GEDO tries to interfere with brass knucks, but Ishii is ready and blocks a low blow from Jay, then sends White into GEDO! Lariat by Ishii! Sliding lariat by Ishii! 1, 2, NO! Brainbuster attempt is countered and they trade holds back and forth before a half-and-half suplex by Jay. Back up and they go again, this time it’s Ishii with a headbutt! Ishii goes for a spinning lariat to finish, but Jay ducks it and grabs the arm, BLADERUNNER! 1, 2, 3!! (Jay White over Tomohiro Ishii, pinfall, 25:42)
THOUGHTS: ****1/2. This. Fucking. Match. How often do you get everything almost exactly right? The selling by Ishii, the pacing of the match, Jay doing just enough to keep the flow of the match going as a heel to ensure it’s never boring, just the right amount of interference by the heel manager, they nailed all of it. Jay White is the best, Tomohiro Ishii is the best, this match was the best. I’d watch them wrestle a million billion times and I swear they could make it somehow new every single time. This match watched even better the second time out for me, as all the little things they did stood out even more. These two are just phenomenal professional wrestlers.
EVIL (w/Dick Togo) vs Kazuchika Okada
Well, good luck following that one, gentlemen. Okada had to all but beg for this one, as EVIL had been trying to deny him a singles match for months, since the Finals of the New Japan Cup happened.
Okada flattens EVIL with a boot and EVIL retreats to get a breather. Back in and Okada gets a slam and a slingshot senton, and I saw a lot of people talk about how Okada was moving in this match, and I think they’ve got a point. Okada looked like he was in pain in a lot of spots here just moving from spot A to spot B, and I wonder if he needs a LOT of time off to get right.
Chinlock by Okada, EVIL makes the ropes. Okada continues to control the pace, hitting the running dropkick to send EVIL to the floor. Okada heads out and chases Togo through the ring, allowing EVIL to drop him with a lariat. EVIL beats on Okada on the floor and do you even need to ASK if he ends up sending Okada to the barricade and knocking the timekeeper silly? Timekeeper takes a hell of a bump, actually, and the ref checks to make sure he’s okay, allowing EVIL to hit the home run chair shot on Okada.
Back in and EVIL puts Okada in a single-leg Liontamer, Okada makes the ropes. EVIL to the eyes and he tosses Okada to Togo while EVIL distracts the ref. This is like a case study in how to do this type of match wrong where the previous match got it exactly right.
Snap suplex by EVIL for a few counts. Okada makes a comeback now as EVIL misses a senton, hitting a diving uppercut to get some breathing room. Okada with an elbow in the corner and a DDT for two. He puts EVIL on top and hits a dropkick to send EVIL to the floor. Good one, too. Okada goes out and chases Togo down, then hits a double DDT on both Togo and EVIL.
Back to the ring and EVIL catches an Okada kick before delivering one of his own. Fisherman’s Buster gets two for EVIL. Scorpion Deathlock time, but Okada makes the ropes. Flapjack by Okada now. Okada avoids an EVIL charge and hits a neckbreaker for two. Okada goes up, shotgun dropkick hits! 1, 2, no! Tombstone attempt by Okada is blocked as EVIL goes to the ropes.
Okada misses a charge and EVIL clotheslines him in the exposed corner. To the top, superplex by EVIL! Scorpion Deathlock by EVIL! Okada finally makes the ropes to break. Darkness Falls by EVIL! 1, 2, no! Everything is Evil is reversed by Okada and he slaps on the Money Clip and we get a really dumb bit of interference where EVIL escapes and tries to distract the ref so Togo can come in, but the ref turns around, sees Togo, POINTS AT HIM, and then Togo fires away at Okada anyway. Sure.
Okada deals with Togo and hits a dropkick to EVIL, and back to the Money Clip. EVIL grabs the ref to escape, so Okada tombstones him, then…..back to the Money Clip. EVIL grabs the ref AGAIN to escape and then runs Okada right into the ref. This is dumb as hell. Okada puts the Money Clip back on with the ref out, so Togo runs in and chokes Okada out before Okada runs him into the the exposed buckle and tombstones him.
Low blow by EVIL and I’m over this match now. I just am. EVIL goes for the Scorpion, so Okada kicks him in the nuts because why not? At least it shows Okada isn’t just going to roll over for this shit, which is good. Doormat babyfaces kind of suck. Spinning Tombstone to EVIL and we’re back to the Money Clip. EVIL makes the ropes just in time to force the break. So Okada finally just picks him up and hits a Rainmaker, but goes for a second one and EVIL hits a suplex.
EVIL off the ropes and he hits a GREAT lariat for two. Like, it may have been the best move in the match. They trade finisher attempts and Okada hits a Driver, then finally ends this nonsense with a Rainmaker. (Kazuchika Okada over EVIL, pinfall, 28:12)
THOUGHTS: ***. This was another one that did not view well a second time. Too much gaga, too much everything here. Both guys are very good pro wrestlers, but they really don’t have any chemistry together and that was proven here, because this may have been their best match with this iteration of the two characters and it wasn’t very good, honestly. Pacing was slow, the interference was REALLY dumb in spots, and I think Okada may be hurting badly these days. Just not much here.
Okada promises to win the New Japan Cup in his promo after the show. Frankly, I think there’s a better than even chance he’s going down to Shingo in the first round.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a one-match show. That match delivered, but the rest of it was very much a tough finish. Watch White vs Ishii, the rest is very skippable.
Okay, so Night 1 didn’t set the world on fire…..but there’s a Night 2!
NJPW Castle Attack – Night 2
Up first, we had Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan over The United Empire (Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb) in 6:56.
Bullet Club (Chase Owens, EVIL, Jay White) (w/GEDO & Dick Togo) vs CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano)
A fallout from yesterday 6-man, this was fine. I think there were enough hints about Jay and Okada that we may be headed there next. Ishii does what Ishii does as he sells the rib injury from last night on the very first shot today. He plays face-in-peril for the first part of the match to further prove the point as Bullet Club tees off on him. Everyone gets their licks in as the shortest and baldest Ricky Morton in the game shows you how great he is.
Finally, heel miscommunication looms its’ ugly head and Ishii wipes out the heels and it’s hot tag Yano! He runs wild and finishes with an inverted atomic drop on Chase before tagging in Okada, who goes with Owens for a bit before the match breaks down and everyone runs in. Owens takes out Ishii and goes for the Jewel Heist on Okada, but Okada turns that into the Money Clip for the tapout. (CHAOS over Bullet Club, submission, 8:35)
THOUGHTS: **1/2. These guys can do this match in their sleep, and this was fun. A placeholder match in a lot of ways, these types of tags are the rock-solid foundation of the NJPW undercard.
Every match from here on in is a title match, so strap in.
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI) vs The Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa) (C) (w/ JADO) – IWGP Tag Team title match
The CHAOS guys jump the Bullet Club before the bell, good for them! I hate weak babyfaces. They double-team both guys and then go for JADO, beating him down and allowing the GoD to attack in kind. Huge powerbomb kills YOSHI dead and HASHI sells the shit out of it. The Guerillas just beat the hell out of YOSHI for quite a bit of time until a kick hits for YOSHI and it’s hot tag to Goto.
Goto comes in house afire and takes out both Guerillas, then elbows Loa for two. They have a lariat showdown in the center of the ring, resulting in both guys hitting the canvas. Tags on both sides and YOSHI runs wild on Tama. Tongan Twist by Tama slows YOSHI down, gets two. Tonga back in and they go for Magic Killer, YOSHI escapes, but a double-team neckbreaker forces Goto to make the save.
Guerilla Warfare hits YOSHI and they go for Magic Killer again, hit it! 1, 2, NO! Powerbomb is countered by YOSHI with a ‘rana, but Tama hits a flapjack on him and stomps away. The GoD go up, Tonga misses a flying headbutt and Goto shoves Tama off the top, tag by YOSHI! Goto in and he beats up both Guerillas and JADO on the apron, double clothesline puts the GoD down. Bulldog gets two, Tonga saves it.
YOSHI in and it’s breaking loose now as the CHAOS guys get a double neckbreaker and a YOSHI superkick, GTW gets two on Tama. Tonga back in and all 4 guys are at each other. Seconds later, all 4 guys are down. Match took awhile to get going, but it’s going now. Tonga gets into a strike battle with YOSHI and no-sells everything from him, which is getting a bit annoying. Lungblower by YOSHI and both guys roll out, so we’re down to Tama and Goto.
They do a recreation of their sequence from the night before, albeit not quite as good, and Goto catches him on the shoulders, superkick by YOSHI into a DVD! 1, 2, NO! Loa back in with the belt and he swings at YOSHI, misses. Ref is distracted getting rid of the belt and JADO waffles Goto with the kendo stick and Tama finishes with the Gun Stun to retain. (Guerillas of Destiny over CHAOS, pinfall, 15:46)
THOUGHTS: ***. Last 5 minutes or so saved this one. They plodded along and then all of a sudden the match got good as they hit the near-falls and finish sequence. They’re clearly setting up GoD for a team from another promotion coming in to go after them as the English announcers alluded to it about a million times on commentary, so they might as well make the GoD look as good as possible, I suppose.
The Great O-Khan vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (C) – NEVER Openweight title match
I gotta say, no matter what you think of O-Khan, he’s got the entrance down cold. Decent bit back and forth to start us off, then Tana his a dropkick to the knee and Khan bails. He and Tsuji have a convo about the weather or something that Tanahashi rudely bails from the ring and interrupts, so Khan beats the shit out of him on the floor.
Back in and Khan goes to work. Gutwrench suplex gets two, Khan starts working on the knee. Tana breaks a kneebar by making the ropes, so Khan sits on him against the buckles and puts him in a bow and arrow there. Tana fights back, but GOK nails him in the throat to cut that off.
Flying forearm by Tanahashi puts Khan down. Somersault senton by Tana gets two. Dragon-screw legwhip by Tana! Another one! They fight over a cloverleaf and Khan makes the ropes. Necksnap by GOK, but he grabs the knee on his way down as Tana goes flying back into the ring. Dragon-screw through the ropes by Tana. Dropkick to the knee by Tana. Another dragon-screw by Tana. Cloverleaf attempt #2 is successful and GOK is in trouble.
He crawls for the ropes and makes it. He hits a kneelift on Tana but injures himself in the process, then a front suplex. He ties Tana into the Tree of Woe and works that for a bit with a sliding dropkick. Claw time, but Tana blocks the Eliminator with a claw of his own, then a huge palm strike drops GOK to the mat. Tana off the ropes but GOK avoids it and Tana wipes out the ref and Khan destroys Tana with a taped fist to the face. He asks Tsuji for a chair and Tsuji thinks about it…..then slides it to the Ace!
Tana sits in the chair, then avoids a charging O-Khan who ends up nailing the chair. Tana takes GOK down and goes up, Aces High! Again for the finish, High Fly Flow….misses! I actually thought he was losing when that happened here. Khan with a huge shoulderblock for two. Sling Blade by Tana, another one! Khan pops up and lariats a charging TanahashI! 1, 2, no!! Neato sequence there.
Claw now and we get the GREATEST MOVE EVER, as he puts Tana in a backbreaker across his own back while keeping the claw on, then he spins around in a circle before dropping Tana to the mat! THAT WAS AWESOME. Silly as hell, but AWESOME. GOK goes for the Eliminator to finish, but Tana slips behind into a crucifix, 1, 2….3!! (Hiroshi Tanahashi over The Great O-Khan, pinfall, 18:45)
THOUGHTS: ***1/4. This one watched MUCH better the second time around, as Tanahashi put over Khan as hard as possible without losing. He didn’t win with his own finisher, didn’t kick out of GOK’s finisher, sold like nuts for him….I don’t fully ‘get’ the O-Khan act and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about him as a whole, but this match was really quite fine and if he keeps improving from here, more power to him. Overall, I expected almost nothing here and was pleasantly surprised.
El Phantasmo vs El Desperado vs BUSHI – IWGP Junior Heavyweight title match
Only one result is acceptable here. As everyone knows, Hiromu Takahashi vacated the title due to a torn pectoral muscle that will keep him out for 6+ months, and we get this 3-Way to fill the vacancy. Hiromu nominated BUSHI in his place, ELP was supposed to be facing Hiromu in the first place, and Desperado pretty much pointed out he was the most deserving of them all by having the MOTY against Hiromu at the BOSJ Final.
I will not pretend for a single second that I’m not biased – Desperado is better than both other guys and is long, LONG overdue to end up with the big belt. Crazy three-way shit to start, too fast to call it. Everyone trades off the advantage and does some spots with the other two guys. BUSHI gets a neato ‘rana on ELP off the top rope, then a tope onto Despy on the floor, and ELP joins the party with a springboard splash onto both guys to put everyone outside.
Phantasmo tosses BUSHI to the post and focuses on Despy on the ramp now, he goes for a suplex, Despy reverses that, ELP blocks it by tearing at the mask of Desperado! You BASTARD. Oh, but wait – cradle piledriver on the ramp by ELP! Despy is down…..ELP rips off the mask! He wears it like a trophy back to the ring and stomps on it before kicking it away.
At this point, the mark in me wants ELP to DIE.
So now it’s BUSHI vs ELP as Desperado is being tended to, and BUSHI snaps off a crazy springboard ‘rana to let us know he came to play tonight. ELP continues to let us know who the heel is here, as he rips off BUSHI’s shirt and chokes him with it. He’s even stealing BUSHI’s cheating from him! ELP with a Lionsault for two. He’s really a good worker once you strip away all the character stuff he feels necessary to do, with the backrakes and eye gouges, etc.
UFO neckbreaker gets two for ELP. ELP goes up, splash off the top for two. He looks ready to finish….but Desperado is back! Like an Evil Zombie Mariachi, he’s got a new mask and he’s stalking back to the ring, and he fires away at ELP, clotheslining him to the floor. Despy does a tremendous job selling his neck the whole time, including when he crashes into both ELP and BUSHI on the floor with a somersault tope to send them to the railing.
Back in, brainbuster by Despy! He puts Phantasmo on the top and goes for a superplex, but BUSHI jumps to the apron to help by powerbombing Despy into said superplex. BUSHI gets two counts off both guys as a result. ELP gets hung up in the ropes and BUSHI hits a neckbreaker on Despy for two. ELP tosses BUSHI and goes for CR2 on Despy, then turns it into a Styles Clash! 1, 2, BUSHI sneaks in and cradles ELP, 1, 2, NO! ELP up, V-Trigger to Despy and he goes for the One-Winged Angel, Despy snaps off a capture cradle for two.
Spinebuster by Despy, Stretch Muffler time! TAP YOU SON OF A BITCH! TAP! TA….ahem. Sorry. ELP escapes that and Desperado goes for Pinche Loco, ELP reverses, Despy reverses back into an Angle Slam! Pinche Loco, but ELP hits a kick to the gut, then the CR2! 1, 2, BUSHI leaps in to stop the count! Huge Codebreaker on ELP by BUSHI! 1, 2, NO!
BUSHI goes for MX, ELP nails him with the superkick! BUSHI rolls to the floor so ELP sets up for the superkick on Despy now, misses it! HUGE right hand by Desperado! He roars and goes for Pinche Loco, ELP backdrops him for two, Despy kicks out and holds on, Pinche Loco hits! He goes for another one, Pinche Loco #2 HITS! Despy crosses the arms of ELP to finish things and leans over him, 1, 2, 3!!!! Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a NEW IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion!! (El Desperado over El Phantasmo and BUSHI, pinfall, 23:13)
THOUGHTS: ****1/4. A brilliant saga that caps off 8 years for Desperado, ELP played ultimate heel in this match and Desperado got to fight up from underneath it. BUSHI had a few good spots here and there for sure, but I would guess that the way this match was structured, Despy and ELP haven’t seen the last of each other. Pacing of the match was great, the selling by Despy was great, ELP being a dick was great – there were a few small issues here and there, but nothing to get upset about. Great match with the right result.
Post-match, Desperado is almost in tears as he carries all his belts to the back.
Tetsuya Naito vs Kota Ibushi (C) – IWGP Intercontinental title match
Ibushi wants to unify the titles, while Naito wants to stop him from doing it. It actually makes sense in a certain way, honestly.
I don’t know if I want to do a traditional match recap here, mostly because this match worked on some very, very different axes; it was much more like a trilogy of films in a certain way.
So – first part is our feeling-out process, but because these two know each other, it’s a lot of grappling back and forth with both guys seemingly reminding each other that there are no secrets here. Lots of mat work back and forth with holds. Ibushi works the arm of Naito as they grapple and Naito returns the favor to the knee.
Ibushi ‘wins’ the psychological battle to start by holding sway over most of the reversals that the two keep using. So about 5 minutes in, we start to quicken up the pace a bit as Naito clobbers Ibushi in the corner and they do some running of the ropes. Somewhere in there, Naito tosses the ref down to dial up the intensity a bit and we end up with Ibushi down on the mat in pain.
And that leads us to the demonstrable second part of the match, as Naito starts to define his persona by dropkicking the knee of Ibushi to send him to the floor and then chasing out after him to the floor. This is the longest stretch we’ll have in this match, as Ibushi gets his knee torn apart by Naito and the antagonist (Naito) and protagonist (Ibushi) roles become much more clearly defined. Naito uses the post on Ibushi’s knee and doesn’t let up, kicking away and elbowing it before putting on a modified figure-four.
Naito absolutely dominates in almost a sadistic fashion now, utilizing kneecrushers and other moves to try to take Ibushi apart. Ibushi gets a few hope spots with a dropkick and a standing moonsault, but Naito eventually goes back to the knee for more punishment. He switches off to the neck for a bit with a neckbreaker and crucifix hold and they sprinkle in some of their more famous spots, including the tornado DDT from Naito that absolutely spikes Ibushi.
A dropkick to the knee and a heel hook trap Ibushi on the mat as Naito cranks away with a short scissors and Ibushi is jammed up again. He makes the ropes and now it’s time to accelerate again.
The 3rd part of the match, to me, begins when Naito hits a modified Diamond Dust out of the corner and then Gloria for two. He puts Ibushi on the top, but Ibushi slips out and drops Naito on the top turnbuckle and levels him with a kick. Ibushi kicks him to the apron and now you can absolutely FEEL the match becoming something different, as the cerebral nature of the first 2/3rds are giving way to bigger and nastier moves to bring about the conclusion.
Deadlift German from the apron by Ibushi almost kills Naito for real, but it gets two instead. Bomaye by Ibushi and he hits a Ligerbomb as we’re busting out moves now. The immediate contrast to the first part of the match is striking, but surely intentional. Ibushi wants the Kamigoye, but Naito turns that into Valencia. Naito destroys Ibushi with elbows and wants to finish big with Destino, but Ibushi absolutely clobbers him with a lariat as we’ve completely gone towards an action move finish as Naito hits a giant Destino in response.
Second Destino is blocked and Ibushi drops Naito with a knee strike, and the murderdeathkill Kamigoye to the back of Naito’s head sets up the kill shot, but Naito delays it just enough to kick out when Ibushi hits it….but it proves to be a pyrrhic victory, as a second one kills Naito deader than dead, and Ibushi literally falls on top of him for the pin. (Kota Ibushi over Tetsuya Naito, pinfall, 27:50)
THOUGHTS: ****3/4. I can’t decide if this is their greatest match together or not. The reason it felt less like a 3-act play and more like a film trilogy to me is the fact that Naito didn’t return to the knee at any point in the last ten minutes or so of the match, but also the stark contrast of the match segments when laid next to each other, from the grappling in the first part to the sadism and pyschology of the second part to the big move explosions of part three. The work was absolutely top-notch, a-level stuff with very little unsafe craziness from either man, outside of a few high suplexes from each guy. I think I kind of laid my thoughts on the match bare in the recap, so I won’t go any further here – but I think it was absolutely something special and worth discussing. There are a lot of wrestlers that could not have done this match, but these were two who could.
Post-match, El Desperado comes out and formally lays down the challenge for the Anniversary show, as the commentary points out that 7 years ago when Desperado returned to New Japan from excursion, he laid out a challenge to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion…..Kota Ibushi. And now we’ve come full circle.
FINAL THOUGHTS: A fabulous Night 2, with no bad matches and two ****+ matches delivering in the main events. This one is worth checking out, everyone.
Alright, that’ll do it. I’ll be back with the New Japan Cup – I plan to do a weekly wrap-up for the first few and then we’ll get individual workups on the last few days. See you all then!
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter