ZSJ for the win this weekend.
No, he’s probably not GOING to win it. Gun to my head, Okada wins the Cup and names Ibushi as his next challenger. It’s not what I would do, but I think there’s a good chance that’s what GEDO will do.
Also, Tanahashi is teaming with the GoD, so pretty much nothing in New Japan makes sense any more.
Time to go back to where NJPW makes the most sense these days – ‘Murica and New Japan Strong!
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
Your hosts are Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov.
The Rivals tour continues! Tonight’s main event gives us the return of Buddy Matthews, who will be facing one Ren Narita! Also tonight, Chris Bey of the Bullet Club takes on Blake Christian!
But up first, it’s a bit of 6-man tag action!
The Stray Dog Army (Bateman/Misterioso/Barrett Brown) vs Fred Yehi/Keita/The DKC
YAY! Fred Yehi is back! I love me some Fred Yehi. He’s a ten-year vet on the indies, which means that for at least 9 of those years it’s a CRIME that none of the big boys have signed him. Tony Khan, I know you read this column – sign this man.
Brown and Keita start us off, and I suspect this one is going to be a million miles an hour before long. Ian does a really cool little bit on Keita and being from Scranton (Koslov: “The Office!”), talking about them having pride in him despite going through a tough economic downturn with boarded up windows, etc, and it just highlights how truly good Ian Riccaboni is at commentary. Little things that tell stories and humanize the wrestlers, done in a way that’s relatable and smooth, is his forte. Tony Khan, I know you read this column – sign this man.
Anyway, now that I spent a paragraph putting over the announcer, I suppose I could talk about the match and the wrestlers in it. Keita hits a Side Effect on Brown to kick us off. Bateman gets a tag and they slug it out, won by Bateman. Jawbreaker frees him and we get a tag to Yehi, who drops Bateman and applies a Koji Clutch, broken up by the bad guys, and now it’s Misterioso in. Powerslam and DDT get two for the masked man.
Yehi with knees on a senton attempt and here comes the DKC. DKC walks the ropes into a ‘rana, but gets caught and slammed, then hit with a senton and it’s back to the heel corner as the Stray Dogs beat on DKC 3 on 1. They triple-team him for what seems like 10 minutes, thus proving that the New Japan training in America extends to their crackerjack ref squad. DKC finally frees himself with a dropkick, and it’s hot tag Yehi.
Yehi beats on Brown like a bitch, taking on all 3 of the heels on his own for a bit. Now Keita is back in and it’s breaking loose in New Japan! DKC comes off the top with a dropkick to Brown, then Yehi takes out Bateman with a spear to the knee to put everyone down. Misterioso puts DKC and Keita on the floor before moonsaulting onto them from the ring, and now Yehi is on his own against Bateman and Brown.
Heel miscommunication ensues, however, and Brown ends up taking out Bateman with a running knee. Spinning backfist (Yowza, it was a nice one, too) by Yehi sets up the Fisherman’s Buster to give Yehi the pin. (Fred Yehi/Keita/The DKC over Stray Dog Army, pinfall, 10:05)
THOUGHTS: **3/4. Pretty typical 6-man tag, all action from the jump with zero resting. DKC and Keita need more time in the Dojo system as they had a few stumbles here and there, but nothing really noticeable. The Stray Dogs are pretty reliable hands with Brown having some upside for the future. As for Fred Yehi, well, what can you say? The man is an incredible pro wrestler and really should be a much, much bigger star.
Post-match, Bateman stares down Yehi. Gimme more Yehi. And I like Bateman, so why not?
Chris Bey vs Blake Christian
Bey, of course, was personally recruited in Impact by Jay White to become a member of the Bullet Club. I have seen him wrestle exactly once before this, and I liked him. Let’s see what he’s got.
Crowd chants for Blake, so Bey does a little strut before we get going. Bey yanks the hair of Blake to hold onto a headlock, with Christian finally hitting a shoulderblock. From there, we get some flippity-floppity, with a neato sequence that ends with a Blake dropkick. They end up on the floor and Blake tries a flip off the apron, but Chris avoids it and sends Blake to the barricade with a shotgun dropkick. Bey runs him into the railing before tossing him back in for two.
Tilt-a-whirl gets two for Bey, and he stretches the arm and leg for a modified surfboard. Blake escapes that and chops Chris in the corner, but tries a wheelbarrow splash and Bey gets the knees up. The pace and counters in the first 5 minutes of this thing has been something else as Bay drops Blake with a suplex for two. Blake gets a 619 and an AWESOME jumping kick on Bey, then tries the wheelbarrow splash again and blocks the counter, then hits double knees and goes for it AGAIN, this time hitting the move! Alright, I’ll give it to them, that was cool.
Blake charges Bey in the corner but eats a boot and Bey hits him with a draping elbow, then a torture rack neckbreaker for two. Blake blocks the springboard cutter and hits a snap German, but runs into a superkick from Bey. More counters and a ripcord Spanish Fly from Blake is followed by an INSANE 450 splash for two for Blake.
Blake with a back elbow and he goes up, but a moonsault is caught into the Art of Finesse cutter, a move that probably sounded good on paper but didn’t come off particularly well. Regardless, it’s enough for the pin for Bey. (Chris Bey over Blake Christian, pinfall, 10:24)
THOUGHTS: ***1/4. These guys definitely watched Ricochet/Ospreay a few (hundred) times in their lives. This is not really my style of match, but for this style of match, these boys delivered and then some. This was super fast-paced stuff with moves, moves, and moves crammed into it. It’s really an example of the current indy style as nothing was really allowed to breathe, but they did throw in a few different chained together story bits (the part with Christian doggedly trying to hit that wheelbarrow splash was really fun), and just because this really isn’t my thing doesn’t mean that it isn’t exciting or good. If they would have hit the finish cleaner, I probably would have gone to 3.5. Bey is absolutely the right choice for Bullet Club and I hope they send him to Japan for the BOSJ.
Clark Connors video. He’s Filthy Tom Lawlor’s next challenger for the Strong title, but next week, it’s a 5 on 5 elimination match. This is the first time that Connors will get his hands on Lawlor, and as far as he’s concerned, there’s no other guys in the ring, just Lawlor. He’s ready to fight for the title and will win it when the time comes!
Commericals! Get some NJPW merch and stuff!
Main event time! This one should rock and/or roll!
Ren Narita vs Buddy Matthews
This appears to be pre-House of Black Matthews, as he’s slapping hands at ringside and is wearing some pink and blue in his tights. No matter, he’s still Buddy goddamn Matthews.
They spar with some grappling for the first few minutes, trading wristlocks. Matthews takes him down with a headlock takeover, Narita returns the favor, Buddy escapes and they exchange leg sweeps into a stalemate. Narita extends the hand and Matthews takes it, they shake on it….and then they go at it again. Nice. Narita escapes a sweep from Buddy and gives him the old Okada pat on the back. Ooh, that’s gonna get somebody slapped.
Matthews sends Narita to the apron, then catches a slingshot spear into a DDT back in. He drags Ren to the floor and tosses him to the barricade, then beats on him outside the ring. This is tremendous. Back in for two. He tosses Narita and does the Shibata cross-legged pose in the ring to mock Narita. Excellent. WHY did WWE let this man go?
Matthews with a back elbow, then a kick to the back. Another one, but Narita is SHIBATA-ING UP! Just sitting there cross-legged as Matthew hits PKs to his back over and over again. Buddy doesn’t know what to make of the T-Ren Thousand as he gets to his feet and smiles as Matthew clobbers him. I know what to make of it, and that’s that Narita is FUCKING GREAT. Kicks, but Narita avoids the last one and just ETHERS him with a right hand.
Kicks in the corner, Matthews tries to come off the ropes, Narita catches him with a throw, then hits a bridging suplex for two. Out to the apron and they slug it out there, and Narita ends up with a sleeper in the ropes, Matthew breaks with a back elbow. Narita with kicks and he brings Buddy in with a suplex for two. Buddy tries a running knee, but Narita rolls through it into a half-crab. Buddy escapes that, so Ren turns it into a figure-four.
Buddy makes the ropes to force the break, then absolutely murders Ren with a kick to the face. Buddy goes up and Ren stops him there. He tries for a superplex but Ren hangs on to block it, so Matthews takes one hand off the legs to grab the head and force it against the turnbuckle before hitting the turnbuckle kick. Nicely done, made perfect sense. Another one. Another one! Matthews powerbombs him out of the corner, then does it again, then hits a curb stomp! 1, 2, NO! Crowd chants “Holy shit!” and they are correct to do so. They also think this is awesome, and it is.
Okay, so. Now we get to the point in the match that bugged me, and it’s something that happens a lot these days in wrestling and I don’t particularly care for it. Matthews grabs Narita and traps the arm, then starts raining down elbows until Narita doesn’t answer them. This does not bother me. So the ref gets in there, and he forces Matthews to break this perfectly LEGAL maneuver, but does NOT call for the bell. And while I rarely agree with Bryan Alvarez, he was right on and has been right on in the past when he points out that the ref should not be breaking up legal maneuvers absent a submission or pin unless he’s stopping the match. Stopping one wrestler from beating up another, kayfabed of course, has to have a reason to happen, damnit.
In this case, Ren can continue, apparently, since the ref doesn’t stop the match. Matthews shoves the ref aside as Narita gets to his knees using Buddy’s tights to pull himself up. Matthews pats him on the back…..then hits a knee strike and Murphy’s Law to get the pin. (Buddy Matthews over Ren Narita, pinfall, 15:32)
THOUGHTS: ***3/4. I think I would have gone 4 were it not for that silliness with elbows. This was fucking GREAT, as Narita continues to improve with every single match. He’s so far ahead of where he was before Shibata got his hands on him, it’s insane. And what can I say about Matthews? The guy can work and should be a huge star, and I hope that AEW makes him one. This was really, really terrific wrestling with phenomenal pacing and strong character and story work.
I suppose I’m saying that you should watch it.
Ian tells us that next week, it’s a 10-man tag in our main event! And we’re out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Over 35 minutes of in-ring action in a 57 minute show. This is the best professional wrestling show currently being made.
What, do I need to say any more than that? I look forward more to New Japan Strong than I do any other wrestling show. You should, too.
Join us all tonight and tomorrow, late night, for the semis and finals of the New Japan Cup! I’ll be on the nightly thread to annoy y’all, be there to annoy me!
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter