Takashi Iizuka is hanging up his boot, and despite (at best) being ambivalent about him, I can’t help feeling a bit emotional. Sure, I’ve spent the last couple of years moaning about his bitey ways, but that doesn’t mean I hate the old cannibal. He’s alright really. Let’s see him out in style!
The Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and Robbie Eagles) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Yuya Uemura
Robbie Eagles is back in New Japan, and you have to wonder whether the current climate will help him earn a contract. He’s got a tonne of potential and would fit right in at AEW so it might not be a bad idea to get him signed up.
Robbie would take a backseat here as we are building to Liger vs Ishimori which I have high hopes for. The Thunder God is seemingly invulnerable to the ravages of time while Ishimori has the physicality to make up for anything that Liger has lost. We didn’t get much from them here, but what we did see was encouraging.
Talking of encouraging, Uemura is starting to stand out. He’s got that Young Lion fire which will serve him well when he’s getting beat up by the various Dads. Not that it stopped him getting pinned after a 450 from the Sniper of The Skies.
After the bell, Liger and Ishimori brawled into the crowd with Ishimori originally coming out on top only for Liger to hulk up and introduce him to the ring post. A fun brawl to end a decent opener which won’t linger long in the memory.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Great Bash Heel (Toa Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), Toa Henare and Tiger Mask defeated Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi, Yota Tsuji and Ren Narita
Tsuji is a brave one, ain’t he? Having already got on the wrong side of Henare, he started by calling out Makabe. The big man might be a bit lazy, but he will happily kick your arse, wee cub.
This became the story of the two rookies, as Narita got a chance to practice his selling. The English commentary team have been weaving a narrative around Henare being embarrassed when Tsuji and he lost to Yoshida and Umino, and he seems to have taken their suggestion he lacks the necessary aggression to heart. Poor Narita was being launched across the ring as Big Toa proved he was in no mood to play nice.
Tsuji, meanwhile, has been getting a chance to show off his big boy credentials. By which I mean he tried to rumble with Makabe and paid the price. His attempts to go after Henare were slightly more successful as he locked on a Crab, for a little bit. He probably regretted that decision when Henare headbutted him into next week. A Toa Bottom later and this was done.
We got the greatest hits from the legends, but this was about the youngsters while you have to wonder if Henare picking up wins is going anywhere. I’ve long said that he has something, and I’m hopeful that New Japan has realised the same thing.
Verdict: Three Stars
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated Yuji Nagata and Shota Umino
Government shutdowns initially deprived us of Ishii vs Nagata, but it’s now been announced for the New Japan Cup, and they were heating it up here. Those two do not like each other. It’s like two ancient and angry oak trees bashing into each other in a futile attempt to see which will collapse first. Actually, the oak trees would probably go down faster than those stubborn fools.
The animosity between the two is so bad that the match was almost forgotten in Ishii’s attempts to murder Blue Justice. Nagata would tag out, but Wide Tom did not give a shit. He’d beat up Umino for a bit only to get bored of that and go back to bashing his head off Nagata. I loved it.
With all of that going on it was kind of hard for Umino and YOSHI to stand out, but young Shota was definitely the more successful of the two. Ishii did not give a solitary shit about his initial flurry of chops, but Umino made him care. There was a second where he rocked the CHAOS man, and even if it was only a second, that’s a second more than most people rock Tomohiro Ishii.
That added up to a delightful tag match in which YOSHI-HASHI was there too. I am desperate for that Nagata Ishii match now, and it continues to be clear that Umino is a star. He had a run of offence against HASHI towards the end, and there were a couple of seconds where I thought he might actually do it. Of course, he was eventually forced to submit to that awful Butterfly Lock, but he’d done his job.
After the bell, YOSHI-HASHI tried to get in between Ishii and Nagata but had little to no success as they continued trying to beat the shit out of each other. I don’t think anything has summed up YOSHI’s career better than him desperately clinging to Ishii’s waist while he and Nagata slap each other. Sorry, YOSHI, love you really.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Before challenging for the IWGP Junior Tag Titles Roppongi 3K go over the old champions/number one contenders. That’s simple, but effective booking, and something you don’t often see in New Japan.
These two teams have good chemistry too. Roppongi 3K might have heeled it up when challenging LIJ, but they were always going to be the babyfaces here as it didn’t take Suzuki-gun long to get down to some general bastardry. They almost got the win with it too, a desperate YOH save was the only thing which saved SHO from being pinned following a Deep Impact.
It led to a match where for long periods SHO and YOH couldn’t get a grip on proceedings. While they had their moments, this was a continuation of the story of last year where Suzuki-gun were a step ahead of them. At least up until the final seconds. SHO had apparently fallen for their tricks one too many times before, and when Kanemaru went for the whiskey shot, he ducked out the way. A 3K later, and 3K’s spot as the number one contenders was secure.
This was good. We’ve seen these four go at it quite a lot, but they always deliver something watchable, and this was no different. It would be nice to see New Japan build-up another Junior tag team to get involved in the division, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Before Roppongi could make their way to the back, LIJ appeared. YOH got cheeky on the mic which inspired Shingo and BUSHI to beat them up a bit, much to the delight of the Korakuen crowd. Tokyo is LIJ territory.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Hirooki Goto and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr and Taka Michinoku)
I don’t think there are words to describe how happy Goto mucking around with Taguchi made me. They grew from early miscommunication issues to team poses through the narrative of this match, and it was lovely. The ultra-serious warrior and the class clown had more in common than they thought.
Elsewhere, we got Zack Sabre Jr. going after the posterior of Taguchi. For a wrestler who on the surface is Mr Serious, Zack is always up for a bit of a laugh. Although, I have to admit I prefer his chemistry with Goto to his jokes. Those two are a natural fit and always have good showings as Sabre’s technicality clashes with Goto’s brute strength.
It all came together for an impressive little showin. Even Taka got his working boots on and put in a shift. It’s not going to blow your mind, but you’d have to be a right grump to complain.
Verdict: Three Stars
Hirosh Tanahashi and Will Ospreay defeated Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr)
Tanahashi has been teaming with The Rainmaker, and he’s now aligned with The Rainmaker’s apprentice. This was an intriguing spot for Will Ospreay as he was slotted in with three heavyweights.
That led to Davey Boy having a sequence with Ospreay early on that was more exciting than anything I’ve seen him do in the last, oh, two years? Let’s go with that. He suddenly went all Junior Heavyweight and started pulling out cartwheels and kip-ups. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this was the best Davey Boy Smith performance I’ve ever seen. He took a Standing Spanish Fly from Ospreay! More of that, please.
That was the only fun Will got to have for a while. He might be the Openweight champ, but he played the Junior as Archer and Smith dominated him. Smith, in particular, seemed to be taking advantage of being able to perform moves on Ospreay that would be impossible with most heavyweights. He was pulling out Romero Specials and lifting him off the ground for Stretch Mufflers. It did not look like it was going to be Ospreay’s day.
And I was so convinced that was the case that the finish caught me completely off-guard. Having taken his beaten, Will came back, and I assumed we were just waiting for the moment he tagged out so Tana could wrap things up with a High Fly Flow. Except, that never came, instead Ospreay leapt onto the ropes and came crashing down with an Oscutter on Davey for the three. Will didn’t just get to tangle with the heavyweights, he just pinned one.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Hiroyoshi Tenzan and CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Toru Yano) defeated Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Minoru Suzuki and Taichi)
In a lovely touch, Shinpai Nogami came out to call Iizuka’s last match and was attacked by the old cannibal within seconds of taking his seat. He was left with a tie and no shirt which was a unique look to say the least.
Meanwhile, Korakuen was giving Iizuka a hero’s welcome. This is the first time I’ve watched a Japanese wrestler retire, and the atmosphere was incredible. They treated a guy who has been clogging up the under-card chomping on people like he was a wrestling god.
Before we started, Tenzan once again grabbed the mic and tried to bring Iizuka out of his fog. That earned him the traditional Suzuki-gun pre-bell cheap shot, and from there we got a match built around Iizuka. Can you imagine what that looks like? Yea, I won’t bother going into details then.
Because, truthfully, this wasn’t about the wrestling. There was some fun with Yano and Taichi while Okada and MiSu continued their generally awesome feud. It was all just snippets, though. This was all about seeing Mr Bitey out in style.
And in that sense, it worked. Iizuka was never going to wrestle an incredible match, but he got to go face to face with The Rainmaker as Korakuen chanted his name. He even reversed a Rainmaker into a Kneebar in a particularly cool moment. There was something beautiful in seeing this man give his everything one last time.
And, in the end, he went out the way he should have, to a Moonsault from his old friend, Tenzan. Sure, you could argue Tenzan doesn’t need the rub from retiring Iizuka, but Okada and Yano don’t exactly need it either. I don’t think anyone does. It was about the moment, and in that sense, it was perfect.
Then, after the bell, for just a second the old Iizuka came back and shook Tenzan’s hand. Right before he punched him in the face and Suzuki-gun attacked. The crazy old bastard was going out the way he lived, being a cunt.
As I said, this wasn’t a great match. It was at best alright, but they told Izuka’s story, and in that sense, it was perfect.
Verdict: Three Stars
A fun show with Iizuka’s farewell and Ospreay pinning Smith Jr being the only real headlines to come out of it. Still, the matches were solid from top to bottom with a handful creeping towards great. You won’t regret spending your time with it.
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