NJPW Strong Style Evolved Review

Bullet Club is not fine. Credit: NJPW

New Japan Pro Wrestling has made its way back to America with a card that, if we’re honest, lacks the sparkle of last year’s G1 Special. However, there’s still a handful of matches that have the potential to shine. So much so that I’m willing to spend a couple of hours in the company of Josh Barnett and JR. Let’s dish out some stars.

Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO and YOH) defeated SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky)

Eat knee, Kaz (see what I did there?) Credit: NJPW

We hadn’t even started when Barnett got Scorpio Sky and Kazarian muddled up. He and JR apparently missed out on their tapes.

There was a moment early on where Kazarian went for his springboard leg drop, slipped off the ropes and sold it like he was injured. He was back in shortly after, so I presume he was okay. A rare sloppy moment from the veteran.

The action peaked when SHO and YOH took control. I love watching those two work. They bring so much fire to what they’re doing. Even picking up a straightforward win over Scorpio Sky felt like a big deal.

It made for a fun opener. While it’s unlikely to linger in the mind, the crowd were hot and Roppongi 3K got a chance to shine.

Verdict: Three Stars

Juice Robinson and David Finlay defeated CHAOS (Hirooki Goto and Gedo)

For some reason, this is the only match without pictures. Maybe they ran out of film.

Juice and Goto kicked things off with Robinson continuing to poke the NEVER champ. He perhaps did it a bit too snugly as Goto’s lips were soon stained with blood. I’ll be honest, it made Hirooki look cool as hell.

CHAOS eventually got the upper-hand on Juice, which gave him a chance to show off his selling. He’s got some of the best facial expressions in the game. The wide-eyed way he stares around the ring, seeking an escape from his plight is fantastic.

Equally enjoyable is the pairing of Robinson and Big Dave. They have a natural chemistry that shines on-screen. New Japan would be daft not to stick them together and see what they can do in the tag division. Unless they have plans for them both to be carrying belts soon.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr) defeated CHAOS (Chuckie T and Toru Yano)

Yano joins small children in being scared of Archer. Credit: NJPW

Archer has no worries about being sued as he soaked the front few rows. He is overtaking Triple H as wrestling’s top water spitting boy.

Yano and Chuckie T were shockingly over, and we all wanted to see them interact. It was a pairing that placed Yano in the best spot for him. Let him go out and entertain the crowd on the third match of a long show, don’t let him main event those shows.

Because in this spot, he tagged in and the room exploded. It was classic Yano with the added benefit of a fresh audience who laughed along like they’d never seen it before. He was out gimmicking KES and even set them up for Taylor’s big dive over the ropes. Poor Chuck, he wrestled Keith Lee the night before and then he had to deal with Archer and Smith, that can’t be a relaxing weekend.

His job wasn’t done either, as Yano tagged him in while he fled Archer. Chuck had a hot flurry, even hitting a piledriver on the big man. Unfortunately, he followed up with a missed moonsault before being caught in that big old chokeslam, Archer was a bit too lackadaisical on the pin and Taylor was able to roll it over for an agonisingly close count of his own. Sadly, that was to be his last gasp as he ate a Killer Bomb shortly after.

At this point, we’d had a solid New Japan undercard. I can’t imagine anyone was watching it with their pants around their ankles, but there was no reason to be hating it either.

Verdict: Three Stars

The Bullet Club (Cody and Marty Scurll) defeated Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)

Not impressed. Credit: NJPW

Cody got the microphone to explain that there wouldn’t be a match because Bullet Club is fine. Guerillas of Destiny didn’t look like they agreed.

Everyone was great during the promo. As a general rule, I’m ambivalent to GOD. However, as they stood there glaring at Cody, they looked like the coolest motherfuckers in the room. I wanted to see them get their hands on the slimy little rat.

When they did, quickly dumping Cody to ringside at which point Marty decided to hedge his bets by celebrating with them. They weren’t impressed, and he was sent to meet Cody.

If all of that didn’t make it clear, we’re in storytelling land as the Bullet Club saga continues. GOD made it very clear that while they might not have declared for Team Kenny, they aren’t Team Cody.

Meanwhile, Rhodes continues to descend into madness. With his pre-match tactic failing, he had no qualms about becoming a vicious wee bugger. Mocking GOD and using Brandi as a distraction at every opportunity. I’ve spent a lot of time ragging on Cody since he joined NJPW but he’s doing the best work of his career at the moment. Fully embracing his weasel of a character and bringing that into the ring. He even tried to steal some glory from Marty, tagging in as he did the ridiculously long set-up for the Chicken Wing.

And in the end, he weaselled his way to victory. Slipping out of a GOD attack, he shoved the brothers into each other before hitting a Cross Rhodes on Tanga Loa for the three.

The character work elevated a straightforward contest. None of these men can deliver five-star classics in their current forms. However, armed with this story, they are doing a fantastic job.

Verdict: Three Stars

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Hiromu Takahashi and Bushi) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA and Dragon Lee

Slap, slap, slap! Credit: NJPW

The reaction for LIJ continues to grow in America. While they used to be overshadowed by Bullet Club that undeniable charisma is slowly doing its job and they got a big old pop.

I saved my pop for some classic Dragon Lee vs Takahashi action. By which I mean the moment where they slapped the fuck out of each other. I love those two. I love them more than I love some people that I consider close friends. There is a danger I’m repeating things I’ve said a million times before, but I hope they slap each other forever. Never stop you beautiful bastards.

They weren’t the only two to fall back on classic spots, as this was a multi-man tag designed to give everyone their moment. You got Taguchi doing butt stuff, Sanada tying people up in Paradise Knots and Tanahashi being one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet. It was for the people in the building rather than those of us sitting at home.

To be clear, that is not me suggesting it was bad; far from it. Anyone that follows New Japan regularly sees hundreds of these LIJ multi-man tags, and they always deliver.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Despite his injury, Rey Mysterio made his way out and got on the mic. He made it clear that he still wants to wrestle Liger which is interesting since all rumours point to him signing with WWE. If he’s scheduled to be fit in time for the Cow Palace, it will make a lot of sense to do it then.

Will Ospreay defeated Jushin Thunder Liger

Thunder Gods don’t age. Credit: NJPW

Liger’s music hits and crowds explode. It’s what they do. Christ, I pop sitting at home. By the time he was in the ring, I had my clothes off and was doing a dance. A passing bird crashed into the window.

Anyway, wrestling. What’s special about Liger at this time is that we get used to him as old Uncle Liger. While he beats up the Young Lions every now and then, he’s usually chilling out and having a laugh. It’s when he gets dropped into a singles match that we remember he’s a grumpy bastard who can still go.

They were able to build a story around Liger outmuscling Ospreay. He’s not dumb, he knows he can’t fly anymore. What he can do is slap him. He can bully Will and use all those years of experience to make this young punk regret stepping into The Thunder God’s ring.

It was a tactic that nearly paid off for him too. He hit a Liger Bomb, an Avalanche Brainbuster and a massive Shotei (Ospreay sold it by doing a full backflip) all of which brought him within milliseconds of getting the win. The legend still has it in him.

However, if you want to bully Will Ospreay, you have to keep a hold of him and keeping a hold of Will isn’t an easy task. Despite appearing to come down awkwardly on his knee early on, he was as fantastic as ever. Any shortcomings that Liger might have (and they are few) were hidden by Will’s immense talent.

An unsurprisingly great showing. Will brings it no matter who he is up against and was always going to be motivated in there with Jushin Liger. Jushin, meanwhile, is more than capable of stepping up to the plate on the big stage. With his retirement from Best Of The Super Juniors, we won’t see him doing many singles, so it was nice to see him.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Afterwards, Ospreay got on the microphone and praised Liger. He then made the point that he’s nobodies replacement and followed up by challenging Rey Mysterio.

Before Rey could say anything, a wild Marty Scurll appeared behind Will and smacked him with an umbrella. Mysterio tried to come to his rescue and Marty yanked his mask off. Liger eventually returned to chase Scurll off.

I’m hearing we’re getting Scurll vs Liger and Ospreay vs Mysterio, then they’ll presumably swap opponents. All of which is fine by me.

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii)

Get used to this, Kazu. Credit: NJPW

Josh Barnett should have been fired on the spot for talking over Kaze Ni Nare. While it’s not as bad as WCPW cutting it off before they hit the sing-along moment, it’s still wrong.

If you’ve missed it, Suzuki and Zack have been teaming in RevPro and doing a great job. They kept that going here as they joined together to torture an incredibly over Ishii. The poor bugger was as defiant as ever, and I’m sure if he’d been able to walk, he would have dished out a kicking.

We weren’t here to see that, though. We were here to see how Zacky boy got along with Okada. The answer was that he got along with him the way he gets along with everyone. Which meant they were very close, just not in a way Okada will have enjoyed. Limbs aren’t supposed to bend that way. Okada did have some interesting counters to Zack’s holds, which gave me a twinge of excitement at the thought of their match in a few weeks.

They also blessed us with Ishii and Suzuki attempting to murder each other. If you don’t enjoy that, you’re watching the wrong kind of wrestling. The sound their forearms made as they smashed into flesh was genuinely unsettling. New Japan, do us all a favour, give Ishii a shot at the belt. He deserves it.

If he is to get one, it won’t be through beating Suzuki in America. As Minoru tied Okada up in the corner, Zack took Ishii Orienteering with Napalm Death. He was never going to tap out, and the ref knew it, calling for the bell before too much damage could be done.

Suzuki-gun weren’t done though, Zack leapt at the chance to put the Octopus on Okada and then stood definitely over him. ZSJ and Suzuki then tortured Marty Asami a bit, because they’re evil bastards.

What was interesting here was that Suzuki-gun never looked like losing. They are pushing Zack and Minoru hard right now. There is a part of me that wonders whether it’s leading to a shock at Sakura Genesis (it’s probably not, but I always get carried away).

Verdict: Four Stars

Jay ‘Switchblade’ White defeated Hangman Page to retain the IWGP US Title

Ow. Credit: NJPW

F\or the first time on the night, the crowd let down the men in the ring. They didn’t seem to care, It wasn’t until White almost murdered Page with a German on the apron that they woke-up.

Which was frustrating, because it was Hangman’s best match yet. They had a slugfest full of stiff strikes and tough looking suplexes. It was clunky and sloppy at times, but it felt like a fight, and I enjoyed that.

I just don’t know if a fight is what Jay White needed. I am into the Switchblade character. I love the way he stirs the shit, and while I was initially very harsh on the Tanahashi performance, I have softened my view on that and thought he and Omega had an outstanding bout.

However, there’s no getting past the fact that a lot of people aren’t sold on him yet. Having him go out there and slug it out with Hangman doesn’t seem like the way to fix that. After the star power that had come before them, there is no denying that they felt like a downgrade. I’m worried that it will be a perception that drills its way into a lot of NJPW fans.

However, I’m not really here to tell you what other fans might think. I’m here to tell you what I feel, and I enjoyed this, a lot. I’m a fan of people being dropped on their heads and it was stuffed with that kind of thing. Ignore the fans and try to appreciate it for what it was.

Verdict: Four Stars

If the in-ring didn’t get you excited, Young David charging out to challenge White must have. Finlay has been picking up wins while he and Switchblade have a backstory already set in place. That one could be great.

The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) defeated The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

Even there, Kenny looks like he is flinching. Credit: NJPW

Wow, I have so many thoughts that I’m not even sure where to start.

Okay, let’s kick-off by saying that this was a special wrestling match. It was a rare example of something that featured terrific in-ring work but also outstanding character beats. They played their parts to perfection with all four men deserving of a standing ovation.

Although Matt Jackson might get a slightly longer one than the other three because damn, did he do well here. Matt is the fulcrum on which the story rests. He’s the one who has been selling his back since January 4th and is the Buck that Omega pushed in the moments before his reunion with Kota. Matt is leaning towards Team Cody, and it’s threatening to rip The Elite apart.

And you could see Kenny trying so hard to get through to him. He stopped Kota focusing on the back and winced every time he did something that caused Matt to land on that broken part of his body. However, Matt wouldn’t accept it. He was verging on being the heel, dragging out the table and pushing Nick to take things to the next level. All while continuing to do a fantastic job of selling that injury. It wasn’t just about writhing around on the ground. It affected the way he moved.

The focus on Matt shouldn’t take away from anyone else, though. Nick worked just as hard as his brother to get the story across. His slow switch from curtailing his brother’s wilder side to embracing it was masterfully done. He even began to push Matt, helping him to hoist people onto his back and prodding him into doing things he wasn’t capable of. A touch that you’d be crazy to think will be forgotten in the future.

Then there’s The Golden Lovers, beautiful crazy Kota and the genius that is Kenny Omega. Kota could so quickly become the odd man out. The fourth wheel on a fascinating tale. Yet, he brought so much. His gentle pushing of Omega to forget his friendships and focus on their goal. Then there’s the actual wrestling, which is so easy to forget in amongst all the chaos. He reaches a level that most of his peers can only dream of.

Finally, Kenny, who sold every moment of pain and indecision through his facial expressions. His distress at having to fight his friends was clear and his anger at having to hurt them was difficult to watch. It almost twisted round on him by the end, as he used it to fuel the knees he drove into Matt’s face. He took no pleasure in destroying one of his best friends, but he had no other choice. Even Matt saw it, as he forced Omega to drop him on his head with the One-Winged Angel.

The final touch was Nick sat in the centre of the ring, tears streaming down his face as he held his brother. He was the kid stuck in a horrible divorce, broken as he watched the people he loved kill each other. He didn’t want this, he never wanted this.

They were always going to have an outstanding match. You’ve got four men who can literally do it all, and there’s no doubt in my mind that even without the story, I’d have loved it. When they wove their tale through that talent, magic was born. It was wrestling perfection.

Verdict: Five Stars

Overall Show

Who the fuck are you? Credit: NJPW

Right, let’s get the negatives out of the way first. JR and Josh Barnett were atrocious with the production crew not being much better. I know NJPW have a deal with AXS which they’d be stupid to let go, but if there’s a way for them to get their guys along with Kelly and Callis onto these shows. They need to do it. It’s clear that Ross and Barnett do not give a flying fuck about this promotion and that’s sad to see.

However, with the main event being that good, crappy commentators shouldn’t be the focus. It turned this from a decent show into one that we will never forget. Those four men went out there and killed themselves to tell a story that they love. If you have any affection for the world of professional wrestling, you need to see that match.

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