It’s that time of the year when CMLL grab a bunch of their guys, fly to Japan and have a party. Love it or hate it, Fantastica Mania is a unique tour in the New Japan calendar.
This year, NJPW have treated it a bit differently too. Rather than merging their guys with the luchadors they’ve given a few of their stars a rest and left the CMLL talent to carry these shows. There are still New Japan men sprinkled across them, but they’re not being presented as the attraction.
Will it work? Time to find out. Let’s dish out some stars.
OKUMURA defeated Fuego
I’m not going to review this. The match was ruined by an unsavoury spot. OKUMURA came to the ring accompanied by his wife Mima Shimoda, a wrestler in her own right. A few minutes in, Fuego forced a kiss on her. OKUMURA responded not by getting annoyed at Fuego, but by slapping Shimoda.
It left a bad taste in my mouth. I have no issue with intergender wrestling or angles involving it. However, this Mima as an object that stands at ringside controlled by the whims of men. It comes across as cheap and nasty, and there are better ways to get heat.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, Rush and Bushi) defeated Satoshi Kojima, Dragon Lee, Star Jr and Hirai Kawato
This is the annual Black Cat memorial match. Before we started, the babyfaces presented his widow with flowers, and she said a few words in Japanese.
In a weird move, LIJ’s music had a copyright claim on it? Did they come out to Rush’s music? Why is this happening?
Whatever their music was, it inspired them to go all Suzuki-gun by attacking before the bell and evacuating the ring. Naito got so carried away that he started beating up Milano Collection AT too. It’s been a while since he’s gone for him. Milano tried to stand up for himself but to be honest, probably shouldn’t have bothered. It just saw him get beat up more.
The only wrestler I didn’t know here was Star Jr, and he looked pretty damn good. By which I mean he did a lot of cool Lucha flips which is all I really want from these shows. Unfortunately, his involvement was then limited by Rush ripping his mask clean off. He was having to work really hard to not be on full display, including covering his face with his hand while running the ropes. It certainly left me feeling sorry for him as he took the heat section.
Thankfully, the poor bugger finally escaped, and we got around to my favourite long-running feud in wrestling. Dragon Lee and Hiromu. These two are always incredible and I want them to fight forever. They should feud until the day they both retire at which point they will embrace in the centre of the ring and go off to live in a house together where they adopt orphans and raise them in the ways of being awesome punk rock wrestlers. Did I get carried away?
At the moment, I’m happy with them beating the shit out of each other. What I am less comfortable with is that nasty boy Bushi doing the same thing to lovely Kawato. Unsurprisingly, the Young Lion was the one to eat the defeat here. As usual, he showed a lot of heart on his way to that end. I’ll never grow tired of watching that boy get beat-up.
This was a fantastic undercard tag match. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It was just done really well. LIJ is that cool and sleazy gang who know they can get away with anything. It means they are at their best against pure babyfaces like the team presented to them here. It allows them to let loose and have a bit of fun and when wrestlers that talented are having fun we tend to be too.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Atlantis, Drone, Mistico and Volador Jr defeated Ultimo Guerrero, El Barbaro Cavernario, Puma and Disturbio
This was all luchadores, so we got all sorts of Lucha goodness. They were bouncing and flipping, and one of them is a caveman and Christ I can’t keep up. Did I mention the caveman? He did the Worm at one point.
Silliness aside, Volador was here, so it was good. He hit one of the prettiest hurricanranas I have ever seen after propelling himself to the outside. It was genuinely breathtaking.
He wasn’t the only one to impress, though. The caveman (whose name is Barbaro Cavernario and was one of my highlights from last year’s Fantastica Mania) is a nutjob and a total joy to watch in the ring. This version of Mistico is also incredibly smooth, and Ultimo Guerrero always entertains me. He moves like a guy half his size. I’m not entirely sure about Disturbio biting people’s nips, but as long as he got their consent backstage, I guess it’s okay.
What was less impressive was Puma vs Atlantis. It was worked in the same style as everything else, at half the pace. As Atlantis is fifty-five years old, I can let that go and that section aside, they did their best to protect him. Although he would get the win with the Atlantida. Post-match, Barbaro grabbed a mic and started talking to Volador. I speak a bit of Spanish so I can tell you that he was talking about night-time… Volador replied by saying something was big and perhaps that he was Cavernario’s daddy.
This was another fun tag team clusterfuck. I’m spending more time reviewing these than I do a lot of main events. There is just so much nutty stuff going on that I can’t help talking about it. I can’t imagine anyone watching this and having anything other than a lovely time.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
El Cuatrero defeated Ángel de Oro to win the CMLL Middleweight Title
I feel I should try to be at least a little bit more serious now. We’re onto the titles matches and up first is the CMLL Middleweight Championship.
This was an interesting match-up, and I’d be intrigued to compare my reaction to it to somehow who watches CMLL every week. From my point of view, it was a decent enough back and forth encounter. Neither man seemed to be able to get a clear advantage while the Lucha Libre style is always exciting to watch.
Which is where the interest comes in. Because I’m not sure if these men did anything particularly new. Even as someone who watches very little Lucha, it felt like they were working a slightly formulaic match and not one likely to break the bank. On the one hand, that could be seen as a smart move. They’re working a Japanese audience who doesn’t see them often. On the other, it’s a title change, surely you go all out?
The story seemed to be that these two men were equals. Control shifted from side to side as they flew around the ring. It looked like Ángel de Oro was about to claim it as he locked on a modified surfboard before standing up to get the maximum stretch. Unfortunately, it was at that moment his leg gave out. Which was weird because this was not worked around the leg.
That gave El Cuatrero an opening, and a spinning crucifix bomb got the win. This was decent enough. I can’t pretend I loved it. I think Lucha is at its best when it’s six men bouncing about unleashing insanity and this felt like a slowing down of the action after the tags that came before.
Verdict: Three Stars
El Soberano Jr defeated Sanson to retain the Mexican National Welterweight Title
Our second title match is for the Mexican National Welterweight Title. I have no idea if these are prestigious belts or mid-card deals or what. However, I did enjoy this one a bit more.
There was a relatively simple narrative running through it. El Soberano Jr wanted to take to the skies at every chance he got. The less time he spent on his two feet, the better. And while Sanson was also capable of flying, his main method of attack was through being smarter. When Soberano would take off Sanson would not be there. Stepping to the side or countering at the last-minute.
Which led to an entertaining match. Soberano is one of those luchadores that you can’t help but enjoy. The man loves a tornillo, and he pulled it out the bag at least three times. However, there was a moment where he looked like he’d made a mistake. Going for a Super Frankensteiner, he was caught be Sanson and flipped around from an Argentine Backbreaker position into a top-rope powerbomb. He survived by the skin of his teeth.
It would turn out that was all he needed. Just a few seconds later he hit a tombstone for the win. It was a slightly abrupt finish that seemed to come out of nowhere, but that was a small quibble. Nice stuff.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Niebla Roja defeated Gran Guerrero to retain the CMLL World Light Heavyweight Title
Gran Guerrero is sadly not Ultimo Guerrero’s granny. Instead, it’s his son, and he was going for the CMLL World Light Heavyweight Title against Niebla Roja a man who according to Wikipedia lost his mask to Guerrero last year. So I’m going to assume this is a big feud although they shook hands pre-match so a pretty friendly one.
It’s easy to forget in among the fantastic masks and the tumbling that there is a technical aspect to Lucha. Guerrero brought that here. While he left his feet a few times, he was playing Roja’s base. The man who was looking to floor the high-flyer and outpower him when he got the chance.
It was a style that you could argue was more at home in New Japan and the crowd seemed to react to it. They were loud all night, but the volume went up an extra notch here as Guerrero look like he was going to get the win. On several occasions, he managed to muscle Roja on the top rope before sending him crashing down to the floor below for close two-counts.
Ironically, it would be Roja catching Gran on the top rope that saw the finish come about. Dropping Guerrero on his face from the second rope proved an efficient way to neutralise that strength and retain his title. This was the best singles match on the show and a great main event.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
I apologise to anyone who was looking for a serious Fantastica Mania review. However, this is a show where taking things seriously feels wrong. It’s NJPW having a laugh after Wrestle Kingdom season, and that is alright. In fact, in this case, it was great. I enjoyed nearly all of this card. It gave me the high-flying all-action style that I was looking for and made me laugh out loud more than once. These shows are far from essential for New Japan fans, but I can’t imagine disliking them.