NJPW Strong Style Evolved UK Night One (30/6/18) Review

Suzuki-gun lads on tour. Credit: NJPW

New Japan finally got their asses over to the UK for a couple of shows in conjunction with Rev Pro. Taking place over two nights (one in Milton Keynes and one in Manchester), they brought a host of big stars and booked some damn impressive matches. While I went to the second night, I missed out on the first. Thankfully, the beauty of on-demand wrestling means I can still bring you my insightful thoughts on what went down.

Great O-Kharn defeated Shota Umino

Oka is entering his awkward teenage years, and rather than listening to emo, he’s decided he’s a jittering Mongol. I can’t pretend I think it’s a stroke of genius but in New Japan we trust. It looks like he is going to be spending a couple of months in the UK, so we’ll see how he gets on.

They set this up to show that O-Kharn is no longer a Young Lion. He went out there and dominated poor Umino, never really looking to be in danger and playing up to his size. His new gear is a lot more flattering than the Young Lion trunks were, emphasising the bulk of the newly christened Dominator.

While Umino had a few hope spots, including that beautiful Missile Dropkick, it was all about The Great O-Kharn who got the win with a Top Rope Mongolian Chop. It was a decent showing from the man formerly known as Oka, now let’s hope he shines during his time in the UK.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

The Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and Yujiro Takahashi) defeated Aussie Open (Mark Davis and Kyle Fletcher)

Surprisingly, Kevin Kelly alluded to Aussie Open’s Fight Club Pro split. As far as I could tell they didn’t wrestle any differently, so I wonder if it hints towards the possibility of that becoming a storyline in more promotions than Fight Club or was merely Kelly doing his research.

They worked the Aussie Open formula with Fletcher taking the heat section before a Davis hot tag followed by everything breaking down. It’s a formula that I’m a big fan of and also happens to quite closely follow how most NJPW tags go. The Aussies certainly didn’t look out of place in there with Bullet Club, and while that’s not a compliment when related to Yujiro, it is with Ishimori.

In the end, Ishimori hit The Bloody Cross in a decent if slightly unspectacular tag. I know I always bash Yujiro, but you can’t watch this and not be aware that he’s the weak link. Swap him for a Chase Owens, and we have a much better bout.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Tiger Mask defeated David Starr

David Starr had a whine about having to defend his title. I’m going to have to stop following him on Twitter because it’s putting me off someone who I enjoy watching in the ring. He refused to defend the belt so he won’t. I’m sure a lot of heels are amazed to discover they can do that.

The question coming into every Tiger Mask match is which kitty is going to turn up. Do we get going through the motions Tiger or do we get the one who gives a shit? Well, it’s kind of hard to say because David Starr worked his arse off to make sure that Tiger didn’t have to. My favourite kitty is the grumpy one that kicks people. However, we were treated to fiery underdog Tiger here as Starr heeled it up to the max.

In the end, the heeling would prove not to be enough as he was wrapped up in a Crucifix Pin for Tiger to pick up the win. It was a lovely example of Starr carrying an ageing legend to a decent match. Well done him.

Verdict: Three Stars

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado and Takashi Iizuka) defeated CHAOS (Jay White, Toru Yano and Gedo)

If you’ve seen one variation of the CHAOS vs Suzuki-gun brawl, then you’ve seen them all. There was a very similar match on the second night, so I’m going to talk in my review of that about the difference between seeing it live and seeing it on-demand. I watched this on-demand and honestly couldn’t have given less of a shit.

Verdict: One And A Half Stars

WALTER defeated Yuji Nagata

I was delighted with my choice of nights for these shows. However, if I could have stolen one match to have on the second card rather than the first, it would have been this one. WALTER vs Nagata is something that I needed to see.

They gave me exactly what I wanted. Two hard men being hard. A fight built around nothing fancy because WALTER and Nagata don’t need to be fancy. They’re men who can do more with a chop than most can do with a Destroyer.

Nagata slipped into the underdog role as one of WALTER’s chops sent him onto the back foot. From there, he looked to grind the veteran down, even locking him in a Crab at one point. Blue Justice isn’t a man who gives up, though. He battled from underneath, looking like a total hero as he did so. Even managing to get WALTER over with the Exploder.

Sadly, fans of awesome dads were to be left disappointed as WALTER proved too much for Yuji Nagata. These two warriors started teeing off on each other, throwing vicious chops and kicks. Nagata slipped out of the Gojira while WALTER made it to the ropes to escape the Armbar. It wasn’t to be enough, though, as the big man hit a brain-shattering Lariat for the three. Someone give WALTER a New Japan contract.

Verdict: Four Stars

YOSHI-HASHI defeated Chris Brookes

Trying to get a UK crowd to cheer YOSHI-HASHI over Chris Brookes was a gutsy move. While I know I can be cruel to poor YOSHI, he’s not that charismatic, and Chris Brookes is overflowing with the stuff. It led to a weird atmosphere as the fans wanted to cheer the CCK man and yet seemed aware that they weren’t supposed to.

They worked a style in direct contrast to what came before as the focus switched to intricate submissions. Brookes is fantastic at using that long frame to his advantage, getting rope breaks from the centre of the ring and utilising his height to make his holds look extra painful.

Unfortunately, it would end on a bit of a dud. It seemed like we were building to the finish when YOSHI hit Karma out of nowhere, and it was over. It left us with a match that while not bad, felt undercooked.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Will Ospreay defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Will Ospreay got a huge pop from the motherland as he made his way out. Kanemaru wasn’t impressed as he did what everyone in Suzuki-gun does and attacked before the bell.

That set up the unsurprising theme for the match. Ospreay would be a getting on a roll only to be brought shuddering to a halt when Kanemaru pulled one of his dirty tricks out of the bag. Whether it was launching chairs at his head or DDTing him on the entrance ramp, Yoshinobu seemed to have the edge.

Thankfully (or not, depending on how you look at it), Will spends most of his days in pain thanks to the way he wrestles. That meant battling through a bit more damage to his neck probably wasn’t a huge deal. He was able to survive all the shite Kanemaru threw at him and built some momentum of his own, kicking out of Deep Impact and finishing off the Suzuki-gun troll with a Stormbreaker.

Look, no-one is going to name Kanemaru as a dream opponent for Will Ospreay. However, considering Kanemaru’s weaknesses, this wasn’t bad at all. They had a fun match, and that’s all we can ask for.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii) to retain the British Tag Team Titles

Okada came down to the ring to a new variation of his theme and looking like Kazuchika Okada. By which I mean that the pep which had left him post-Omega seemed to be back. Kevin Kelly played up the idea that he’d been washed clean when he wrestler Minoru Suzuki in the rain which is a cool image.

The action in this one picked up the second Ishii and Suzuki starting elbowing each other in the face. They’re good at that. Ishii is the one who makes it special. He doesn’t just stand and absorb those blows. Instead, the Stone Pitbull sells them, staggering back before firing forward. Ishii won’t go down easily, but he will put over the pain. It’s how a man who is built like a bowling ball can be the best underdog wrestler on the planet.

That story very much took centre stage here, however, in Zack Sabre Jr and Kazuchika Okada they also had two of the best wrestlers on the planet involved. Two of the best wrestlers on the planet who also happened to have a match booked for the next night. While they took the backseat for most of the action, they still shone when it was their turn to get involved. Kazu, in particular, seemed fired up. Buoyed by the love of the fans.

Despite that, he did struggle with Zack. Continuing the story of their title bout from a few months ago, Sabre was able to cause the Rainmaker all sorts of problems, twisting out of Okada’s signature offence and tieing him up. ZSJ lost to Okada in that match, yet he still seems to have a mental advantage over the former champion. Sabre’s unique style unsettles Kazu, and maybe he’s not as okay as he’s acting.

The final sequence saw both teams going back and forth, desperately fighting for an edge and being unable to grab it. These four men were presented as being at the peak of the game with only the tiniest difference separating them. It would all come down to someone doing something spectacular. Despite Ishii battling out of a submission by lifting Sabre up for a powerbomb, Zack did not let go. He clung on and forced Ishii to submit bringing to an end one hell of a match.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Overall Show

A good show with a couple of outstanding moments. Suzuki is killing it every time he comes over to the UK, and this was no exception. Elsewhere, I can’t imagine WALTER will have done anything but impress those in charge of New Japan. Milton Keynes was the weaker of the two shows, and yet it still delivered. You’ll have to come back tomorrow to see what I thought of Manchester!

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