NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed (30/9/18) Review

 

Two of my favourite boys. Credit: NJPW

 

It might surprise you to know that New Japan ran a show in America recently. Has anyone made that joke yet? Yes, it’s true, New Japan’s latest trip to the US didn’t quite have the hype their previous journeys did. I’m not necessarily sure that’s a disaster, though. The more they come, the less exciting it will be, that’s only natural. They did recently sell out Maddison Square Gardens (let’s not pretend ROH had anything to do with that), so it can’t be going that badly. Anyway, I’m not actually that bothered by how big New Japan’s crowds are. I’m more interested in good wrestling. Time to find out if they delivered.

Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Jushin Thunder Liger and ACH) defeated Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH and Rocky Romero)

That building might not be full, but the people in it are making a lot of noise. They loved a bit of the Thunder God and who can blame them.

Liger pulled out all the greatest hits for them too. He’s been great coming out of the G1. The limited schedule is working for him as it keeps him feeling fresh and he’s able to let loose when he is in the ring.

He wasn’t the only person to impress as ACH made good use of his minutes. This match probably means more to him than anyone else in it. As an infrequent member of the New Japan roster, he takes every opportunity to impress, and he can chock this particular run out down as a success.

That aside, this was a New Japan opener. Unless you’re new to the product, you know what to expect. It was an entertaining blast of wrestling with the usual result of Rocky Romero taking the fall in under ten minutes. I’d be shocked if you didn’t enjoy it.

Verdict: Three Stars

SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels and Kazarian) defeated The Bullet Club Elite (Hangman Page and Chase Owens)

Hangman Page and Chase Owens are a tag team I can get behind. That’s two good boys with chemistry. As Tag League approaches, NJPW could do a lot worse than setting them up for a push.

In the ring, this caught me off-guard with how entertaining it was. Not that I expected shit, but it looked like a bit of a nothing match, and you wouldn’t have blamed anyone for taking it easy. Instead, Page and Kazarian set the stall out early, bringing a physicality that I didn’t anticipate.

It was also a lovely reminder of how good these four are. Everything in that ring was smooth as silk as they make the incredible look easy. I’m once again going to give a shout out to my boy Chase. He continues to prove himself worthy of The Best Undercard Wrestler On The Planet moniker that I have bestowed on him.

I can’t imagine watching this and not having a lovely time. It was four talented wrestlers doing a wrestle.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Jeff Cobb, Flip Gordon and Chris Sabin defeated CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Beretta and Chuckie T)

Did anyone else get the impression that JR didn’t approve of The Best Friends? However, he was getting peoples names right and letting Kevin Kelly keep things on track, so I’m not going to drag him too much. Although not enjoying Greg and Dustin is worthy of abuse.

Outside of that, this was a chance for the ROH lads to impress the New Japan office and they all worked hard. It’s not often I’ll give Flip Gordon credit, but he had a fantastic hot tag that got the crowd behind him. While Sabin wasn’t quite as flashy, I still think he looked good. I have my doubts as to whether we’ll see him New Japan proper again, though.

Of course, it turned out not to matter what they did because no one was taking the spotlight away from Goto and Cobb. Those two big boys went out there and did exactly what you’d want them to do. Both men have a physicality that you can’t teach and watching them lay into each other was always going to be fun.

Cobb would end up getting the win after taking Chuckie T on a Tour of The Islands. His ROH push has slipped into New Japan as Goto wanted a piece of him after the bell. With Cobb having picked up the ROH TV Title somewhere, that’s a feud I wouldn’t mind seeing. Although Goto did apparently admit in his post-match interview that he didn’t know what belt it was. New Japan loves to show respect to ROH, don’t they?

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada and EVIL)

People have been complaining that these American shows don’t feel like authentic NJPW. You don’t get much more New Japan than Suzuki-gun vs LIJ.

Thankfully, the removal of Suzuki from this did make a difference. It meant we could focus on something other than MiSu’s attempts to murder Naito.

Central to that focus was the continued putting over of Killer Elite Squad. Whether they’ll be the next challenger for the tag belts or will be taking that spot slightly further down the line, it is coming. Sanada spent a significant portion of the match selling for them while even Naito was put down by the two big men.

Our other story continued Zack Sabre Jr and EVIL’s flirting with each other. It’s not an obvious feud, but they seem to have good chemistry. Zack’s always worked well against bigger guys, and a war between the two might be what EVIL needs after an uninspiring year.

If he’s to win said feud, he’s going to have to learn how to kick out of that European Clutch. For the second time in recent weeks, Sabre wrapped him up in it and EVIL had no answer. This was the best match between these two factions for a while.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

CHAOS? (Jay white and Gedo) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and KUSHIDA

This was the business end of the card and Tanahashi was pissed. He made a beeline for Knife Pervert only to be pushed off the top rope and have Jay White take control.

The in-ring action was always going to be secondary as the focus was on seeing Gedo and Jay White together for the first time and how that worked. It’s safe to say they’ll put this down as a success. They got heat throughout and worked well together. Gedo’s sneakiness served as a nice counterpoint to Jay’s intellectual arrogance.

That sneakiness would swing the day in their favour as Gedo introduced some brass knuckles to The Ace. A Blade Runner later and this was done. No one will remember it as a great wrestling match (although it certainly had its moment), but judging by the boos that rained down on White as he challenged Tana for his briefcase, it did what it needed to do.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Marty Scurll defeated Will Ospreay

Death, taxes and Will Ospreay brings the best out of Marty Scurll.

The first three moves in this one were a Spanish Fly, a Space Tiger Drop and a Shooting Star Press. Fuck psychology. That’s the shit I want to see.

Except, that start did play into their story. It played into the story of Will and Marty’s entire feud. Ospreay might have beaten The Villian last time out, but this was still Marty Scurll. The man who always beats him. The longer this went on, the more the doubts would creep in. If he could finish it before it started that wouldn’t be a problem.

Sadly, he didn’t, and as time went on Marty began to assert himself. With a grim determination, he focused in on the long-suffering neck of Will to soften him up for the Chickenwing. No one knows Will Ospreay’s weaknesses better than Marty Scurll, and he still had an answer for all his tricks.

So, Ospreay started to take more risks, including a tribute to Hiromu with a Sunset Flip Powerbomb to the outside. It’s not in Will’s nature to play it safe, but when he’s in there with Scurll, he goes to a different level of risky. That’s the only way he knows to stop him.

And as they went on these two continually raised the bar. Scurll lifted Ospreay up for a suplex only to flip him around and drop him into a Chickenwing. Then, Will slipped out of The Graduation by twisting his body in a way that I’m pretty sure denied gravity for a second. Those years spent battling each other were written across this match. They stack signature moves on top of moves and have total trust in the other to do exactly what they said they were going to do.

After just over sixteen minutes of frantic action, Ospreay’s risk-taking would prove decisive. Going up top for the Imploder 450, Scurll swiped his leg from under him. Then, The Villian brought him back down to earth with a Super Chickenwing Suplex.  Sadly for Will, that would lead to The Graduation and once again being halted by his old foe.

Death, taxes and Marty Scurll always beats Will Ospreay.

Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars

Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa) defeated The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles

This did nothing to sell me on Guerillas of Destiny, but my God was it one hell of a performance from the Jacksons. Matt and Nick were outstanding in this match leaving me upset that they’ve ended up losing the Heavyweight Tag Titles without ever defending them.

The Bucks went into this and chose to tell the story they’ve been building all year. Matt’s back and the fact it has never healed. Early on it gave way on him and from there the champions were on the back foot.

To give Guerillas some credit, they did a sublime job of focusing in on that injury. Tonga Loa, in particular, looked like a killer. Ignoring tags to leap on the advantage and drive Matt’s injured body into the ring apron repeatedly. That would eventually culminate in Matt being thrown from the top and onto a table (they took one of those Japanese ones over with them, and it didn’t break), removing him from a large part of the match.

That left Nick Jackson to play the defiant solo warrior. Desperately fighting against what appeared to be inevitable. Both of them were sublime in these moments. Nick giving everything he had while Matt tried to get back to his brother’s side and back him up.

Eventually, he’d make it giving the two brothers a chance to try everything they could think of to get the win. That back, though. It just wasn’t up to it. Whenever they got on a role Matt’s body would let out a creak, and the Guerrillas were let back in. Not only were they let back in, but they won.

Look, I don’t like G.O.D. I wasn’t fond of them before this heel turn, and that definitely hasn’t changed. They’re not that good while The Young Bucks are. This was definitive proof of that. Everything that was great about this match came from the Jacksons. Tama and Tonga were just lucky enough to be dragged along behind them. It’s hard to get excited about it for that very reason.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Cody defeated Juice Robinson to win the IWGP US Title

Talking about being sad that people have lost belts. Poor Juice. Honestly, this feels like a mistake. Juice Robinson treated that belt like it was his world. It was a perfect relationship as he raised the belt up and it subsequently raised him. I don’t think that’s the case when it is in Cody’s hands.

As for the match, well, I don’t know. It had Cody in it. Much like The Guerillas, that provides a natural ceiling. He pulled out all the usual tricks here (Brandi got involved more than once) and managed to draw good heat from the crowd – which is impressive when you consider how over he is in the US – but it didn’t make it any more fun to watch.

Thankfully, Juice was across from him, and Robinson always gives everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if the knowledge that he was dropping the belt strengthened his determination to do exactly that. Juice Robinson worked his arse off which raised this above the level that Cody was operating at. That kid is 100% heart which is what gets him over with every crowd he wrestles in front of.

In the end, his heart might have cost him. He should have won after connecting with Pulp Friction, but Brandi pulled her husband from the ring. Still, Cody wasn’t stirring, and a count out was imminent. Juice didn’t want that, though. He wanted to win the old-fashioned way, so he broke the count before walking into a Cross Rhodes on the outside.

Back in the ring, they’d slug it out before Juice went for a Superplex. He’d take Cody over only for some instinct inside of Rhodes to click in. As they hit the ground, he slipped backwards, wrapping Juice’s legs up and trapping him in a ball. A three count later, and my boy’s lost his belt.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii)

It goes without saying that this was a great wrestling match. These four could have half-arsed it, and it would still have been better than 90% of wrestling. The fact they didn’t do that and wrestled at the top of their game put it up there with the best of what you will see in a wrestling ring. They intertwined the years of built up story between them and put on one hell of a fun match.

However, that wasn’t really what was intriguing about this. At the end of the day, it wasn’t for anything. No one in that ring is about to go after the tag titles and besides Okada or Ishii potentially pinning Omega and challenging for the big belt (which was never going to happen), it was a house show main event.

What made it intriguing was whether we were set for another big moment. Would New Japan choose to have the next chapter in the unfurling of CHAOS happen in the US? Beforehand, people had theorised that Ishii might turn on Kazu, leading to a monster heel run that we surely all want to see. Or perhaps we’d see Okada take the pinfall, continuing his spiral away from the title Omega wears.

Except, none of that happened. The house show match was given the house show finish as Omega pinned Ishii. There wasn’t some big angle planned, it was purely a fantastic display of wrestling. It’s weird that that doesn’t feel like enough.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

The real story happened after the bell where New Japan made it a trio of booking decisions that I can’t get behind. As Omega celebrated, he challenged Ibushi to a match at King of Pro Wrestling. I can safely say that I have no issue with that. My problem came in when Cody made his way out and weaselled his way into the bout. I do not want to see the IWGP Heavyweight Title being defended in three-way matches. I don’t care if Cody’s there to take the fall, it’s not the New Japan I love, but I worry that it’s the future we’re going to get.

Overall Show

This was an entertaining show that left me worried about New Japan. It felt very Western. Now, that might be because they were in America. Gedo seems to believe that he needs to cater to the hometown crowd. My problem is that they’ve set-up several people in prominent positions who work that style. G.O.D. and their lousy acting are now our tag champions while Cody is not only your US Champion but is also fighting for the Heavyweight Title in a three-way dance. I really hope these things turn out to be a blip rather than the new norm. Still, great wrestling!

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