Here’s a treat that we don’t often get from New Japan. An entire card of singles matches. By combining the final days of both blocks, NJPW has put together a super show. Can it live up to the potential that it has on paper?
ACH (3-4) defeated Tiger Mask (3-4)
ACH came out wearing Tiger’s mask and a Tiger Mask t-shirt. Apparently, he’s a bit of a fanboy. Whatever the reasons, it was an excellent way to show respect to Tiger. Most of us wrote him off at the start of the tournament, and he surprised us all.
He continued that streak by having a fun opener with ACH. In many ways, they were perfect opponents as they both love a stiff strike. It quickly became a battle of chops vs kicks and Tiger was giving as good as he got.
The closing stretch saw ACH hit the Tiger Driver only for Tiger to respond with one of his own. He’d follow up with the Super Double Underhook before trying to connect with the Tiger Suplex. Sadly for him, ACH was prepared and trapped Tiger in a roll-up for the three. You won’t remember it in a month, but this was a fun opener.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Yoshinobu Kanemaru (3-4) defeated BUSHI (3-4)
It will surprise no one to hear that BUSHI and Kanemaru went out and battled to see who could cheat the most. Whiskey, mist and Young Lions were all employed in an attempt to get the victory.
Whether you enjoy that or not will all come down to personal taste. Personally, I could do without it. However, I do love Kanemaru weaponising the cubs at ringside. It makes me laugh everything. We also got a few of BUSHI’s insane suicide dives, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. If you’re in a rush, you won’t miss anything pivotal by skipping it.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Ryusuke Taguchi (3-4) defeated Chris Sabin (3-4)
You might be noticing a recurring pattern with the final points tallies for the wrestlers out of contention for top spot. In both blocks, everyone is finishing on three win and four defeats. While I know most people don’t give a shit, that’s not a typical New Japan move. Let’s hope Gedo isn’t about to start experimenting with 50/50 booking.
Anyway, onto Taguchi and Sabin who did a good job. There was some light comedy to kick things off as Taguchi kept rolling himself into submission holds. However, as time went on, they became to ramp it up. Sabin was in control and getting a lot of offence on the wielder of the Funky Weapon.
Taguchi wasn’t willing to let his Super Juniors end on a bum note, though (see what I did there). He came battling back and started focusing on Sabin’s poor ankle. Eventually, Chris had no choice but to tap, although before he got to that point, he did kick out of Dodon, so that’s at least a small feather in his cap.
Verdict: Three Stars
El Desperado (3-4) defeated Dragon Lee (3-4)
Yesterday I opined that Hiromu was mad at SHO for stealing Dragon Lee’s attention away from him. Judging by this, he’s not the only one who gets jealous in that relationship.
Lee and Despy somehow created a blood feud in twelve minutes. Right from the start, they went at each other with a level of violence that is starting to become Desperado’s trademark. It all started with El Desperado being dismissive of Dragon Lee’s Shibata tribute. From there they spiralled into a vortex of aggression involving mask ripping, steel chairs and more stiff strikes than you’d expect to see in a contest that was mainly contested for pride’s sake.
By the end, Despy’s mask was basically gone as he spent the final minutes of the action alternating between holding it to in place and trying to fight off Dragon Lee. It added to the tension of the moment as the fans would shriek whenever it came away to reveal his face. Amazingly, he still had the wherewithal to steal the victory as he caught Dragon Lee with a low blow/roll-up combo for the win.
El Desperado gained a measure of revenge post-match by ripping off Lee’s mask. Judging by this and his war with Hiromu, he can join SHO, Dragon Lee and Takahashi in the never-ending feud. Let them all fight!
Verdict: Four Stars
Before we got into the business end of the card, we had a pleasant surprise as Honma returned. He’s getting back into the ring to team with Makabe and has issued an open challenge. Considering how close he came to being paralysed, the fact he can wrestle at all is incredible.
Will Ospreay (5-2) defeated Flip Gordon (3-4)
This was the first contest that played a part in the tournament as Will needed a victory to remain in contention.
I also feel like there are two separate matches that I need to review. Let’s start with the fun one. Will and Flip went out there and did all sorts of insane shit. Ospreay is the perfect opponent for Gordon as he goes out of his way to make him look incredible. Plus, when Flip goes for the spectacular, Will’s right there with him, matching him move for move. He even took Flip out of his comfort zone, locking in some submissions and forcing him into a striking battle. It was easily Flip’s best performance of the tour, and while I’ve just praised Ospreay for it, he deserves a bit of that praise too.
However, the more I watch of Flip, the more I worry that he’s just not that good. The fast-paced segments with Will where he’s flipping over the top rope or bouncing through the air are easy for him. Yet, basic ring psychology seems to pass him by. Watching him in there with Ospreay it’s clear that he’s not in Will’s league. I can’t get over the fact that it’s just a flippy man doing stuff. In a world where Keith Lee is hitting hurricanranas and moonsaults, being flippy isn’t enough anymore. You have to have more to your game.
There’s still a chance Flip grasps it all. If he’s going to learn it anywhere, New Japan is the place to do it. The things he’s lacking are evident in the greenest of Young Lions. Right now he can be an entertaining wrestler, but if he ever wants to be an incredible one, Flip is going to have to learn to do more than just flip.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Taiji Ishimori (5-2) defeated YOH (3-4)
Will Ospreay’s good performances didn’t finish with the end of his match. A few minutes into this one he made his way to ringside to cheer on YOH. You could be generous and say he was supporting his stablemate, but let’s be honest it was all about needing YOH to win to make the finals. Ishimori had that all-important victory over Ospreay that would see him finish top if they ended up equal on points. Either way, Will brought a lot to this as he sold watching his dreams of reaching the final slip away from him at ringside.
For, despite YOH fighting valiantly, Ishimori just had a bit too much for him. YOH was fighting from underneath throughout, exploding with bursts of flashy offence as he desperately tried to find a crack in the steel of Bone Soldier Reborn.
However, the deeper they got into this, the more violent Ishimori got. Taiji has become an incredibly focused wrestler in this new character. Zeroing in on his opponent and dishing out as much damage as possible with as little effort as he can. While YOH is controlled chaos, Ishimori is focused on violent intent.
Yet, YOH almost caught him. In the closing seconds, he was frantically going for flash pins, coming with milliseconds of getting the victory. It was only when Ishimori was able to lock on the Crossface that he could finally put YOH down for good. It was a satisfying finish to an exciting contest.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
SHO (3-4) defeated Marty Scurll (4-3)
Before this one Scurll was technically still in the contest. He needed to win and have KUSHIDA and Takahashi fight to a time limit draw. It was a long shot, but it gave him something to cling to as he sought desperately to put SHO away.
It didn’t matter how desperate he was, though. SHO has impressed all tournament, and it’s clear New Japan have big plans for him. He took the very best that Scurll had to offer and still won, hoisting the Villian up for Shock Arrow despite having had his fingers snapped. With Marty having been positioned as one of New Japan’s top juniors this was a significant victory for the young Roppongi 3K man.
The match that got us there was alright although it went far too long. There were moments where it felt like these two were stretching things out for the sake of it. If you’d cut away at one of two sequences just a little bit, it would have made all the difference and might have prevented me getting distracted by whatever else was going on in the world. It’s a nice reminder that not every battle needs to be an epic one.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Hiromu Takahashi (5-2) defeated KUSHIDA (4-3)
Talking of epics, I feel like Takahashi and KUSHIDA’s feud is probably at that level now. What is it about Hiromu that inspires such grand wars? He doesn’t do friendly rivalries, does he?
This match will stand out as unique in their history too, as they wrestled it in a completely different style. In fact, Hiromu and KUSHIDA spent roughly the first five minutes or so engaged in a Collar and Elbow Tie-Up. Shoving each other around the ring as they battled for control. I’m sure some people found it dull, and I will not argue with anyone that did, but it stood out for me. It was different as it got across both the idea that these two hate each other and that they’re exhausted after a long tour. All they could do was shove at each other until one of them got the upper hand.
Don’t worry too much if that sounds like your idea of hell. Things did eventually explode, and when they did, we got all the madness you’d expect. These two are polar opposites, yet they fit together perfectly. KUSHIDA always has a plan, as he looks to set up that Hoverboard Lock. Takahashi, meanwhile, wrestles purely on instinct. Taking his life into his hands at every opportunity as he tumbles through the air in an attempt to cause damage.
In the end, though, it would be Takahashi’s wrestling ability that got him the victory. Locking on D, he was able to hold KUSHIDA in place for long enough to do the damage needed. Even when KUSHI got to the ropes, Takahashi just dragged him to the centre of the ring and hit a brutal looking Butterfly Piledriver before locking it back in. At that point, there was no way this was ending with anything but a Hiromu victory.
It wasn’t the best match we’ve seen from these two. However, when you remember how much they’ve wrestled over the last twelve shows, it was pretty incredible. Can KUSHIDA develop grudges with Lee, SHO and Despy? Then we can have him in the feud too.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
A wonderful end to the Super Junior blocks. This was a near perfect card as it started strong and ramped up from there. Sure, not everything was incredible, but even the worst performance (BUSHI vs Kanemaru) had enough to keep me entertained. Skip this one at your peril.