New Japan’s Anniversary show is an underrated date on their calendar. The last two years have seen Kazuchika Okada take on Tiger Mask W (aka Kota Ibushi) and Will Ospreay while this year sees Will get his second main event in a row against Jay White. Gedo seems to view it as an opportunity to bend the rules a bit, and that’s always going to be fun.
The Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa, Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale and HIKULEO) defeated Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Shota Umino, Ayato Yoshida and Ren Narita
Hikuleo made his televised return to the ring, although he had been wrestling on shows leading into this event. He’s been out for just over a year (and was greener than most Young Lions pre-injury), so there was intrigue in seeing how he got on.
And he was fine. They protected him, only letting him in the ring to work over the cubs as I don’t think he took a single bump. It wasn’t a good performance, but it wasn’t a bad one either.
Outside of that, it was a nothing match. If Umino, Yoshida and Yano had nipped backstage, no-one would have noticed, as they barely entered the ring and when Yoshida did get a tag it was to eat a Package Piledriver from my boy Chase. If you’re in a rush, this is the one to skip.
Verdict: Two Stars
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated Yuji Nagata and Toa Henare
Talking of people who could have headed backstage, Nagata and Ishii had no interest in Henare or YOSHI-HASHI. The only thing they cared about was beating the shit out of each other. At one point, Ishii tagged in, and while it was Henare he was kicking in the head, it was Nagata who he was staring a hole into.
It’s a set-up that you’d be hard-pressed to complain about. Nagata and Ishii are old-pros who make forearm exchanges as exciting as any number of incredible moves. It’s the little touches that create the magic, the way Ishii stumbles back after a stiff hit shaking his head to remove the cobwebs or Nagata slapping his thigh after an Ishii kick, scoffing at how little it bothered him. There is magic in the air when those two get violent.
They were so intent on dishing out said violence that they took each other out of the match, leaving Henare and YOSHI to close us out with a decent back and forth. It came to an end with YOSHI-HASHI hitting a Fisherman Buster for the three, but with the New Japan Cup just a few days away, Ishii and Nagata’s business is far from finished.
Verdict: Three Stars
Dragon Lee, Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask and Tomoaki Honma defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Taka Michinoku)
Having had a few issues with each other last year, Despy and Lee went straight after each other, quickly rekindling the magic they showed then. Hopefully, we see them face off again at Super Juniors. Because, of course, this was a Suzuki-gun match, so they didn’t get too much of an opportunity to show off. There was some crowd brawling to be done.
Once that was out of the way, this was a lotta fun. Kojima vs Suzuki is always deliciously vicious, and they ended up being dragged away from each other at the end before Suzuki went on the rampage with a steel chair. Elsewhere, Lee is spectacular while Taichi is threatening Honma with an iron fisting. Nothing offended me. Well, that last bit might offend me if it comes to pass.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Los Ingobnerables de Japon (Shingo Takagi and BUSHI) to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
LIJ’s title success has been built around Shingo Takagi. Since coming into NJPW, he’s been a human tank, plowing over everything in his way. SHO and YOH were well aware of that and went straight after him, trying to negate that hulking presence by having SHO charge across the ring. YOH then backed that up by going to work on his knee, hoping to take him off of his feet and negate some of that power.
The problem is that there is a shitload of power in that man, and they didn’t do enough. He absorbed the early attack, allowing him and BUSHI to take control and go to work on SHO. He was limping, but he was still standing and as long as he was still standing Roppongi were struggling.
Then, Shingo made a mistake. He went to Knee Drop YOH, but the faster member of 3K had the wherewithal to move out of the way. The second Shingo came down on that injured knee, YOH saw his opportunity and went to work. The man who had looked like he was going to single-handedly run through Roppongi was now on the back foot.
It was, in my mind, the defining moment. Because from there onwards, SHO and YOH seemed to grow in confidence. The unbeatable monster had been crippled, and they were suddenly finding ways to battle through his offence. Even BUSHI deciding to pull his weight didn’t slow them down as the mist plus a Rebellion to SHO was saved by a heroic YOH appearing from off-camera to make the save. Somehow, SHO continued on, catching BUSHI off an MX before tossing him into the air for the 3K as we crowned new champs.
What a fantastic tag. I loved the story they told while SHO and/or YOH vs Shingo is always a delight. While BUSHI was a bit quieter than the rest, even he stepped up when he was needed and, in the end, the right team won as this frees Takagi up to transition into singles action for Best Of The Super Juniors. Don’t sleep on this, it was great.
Verdict: Four Stars
Taiji Ishimori defeated Jushin Thunder Liger to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
The Ota City crowd were hot for Liger. Then again, every crowd is hot for Liger. I’m at home on my lonesome, and I popped when his music hit.
These two started slowly, working through wrestling holds as they grappled for control. Surprisingly, it was the veteran who decided it was time to pick up the pace. Throwing Ishimori out of the ring to hit his Somersault Senton from the apron before dropping Bone Soldier with a Brainbuster on the floor. The Thunder God was here to win.
It was a good move from Liger, but it didn’t work, and when Ishimori recovered he was more than happy to join the legend in upping the pace. Suddenly, the Junior champion was flying across the ring, hitting Triangle Moonsaults to the outside and showing everyone what he can do. It was his turn to raise the ante.
You know what you shouldn’t do, though? You shouldn’t antagonise Jushin Thunder Liger. As Ishimori raised the game, he went right with him. That old dog has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and they gave the Bullet Club man a shock or two. A Liger Bomb had the fans screaming, but nowhere near as much as the flash pin that picked up the win on the Honor Rising show. For a second, they believed.
Of course, Jushin Thunder Liger was never going to win. If the numerous reports that have come out of New Japan in recent years are accurate, the last person who wants Jushin Thunder Liger to win a title is Jushin Thunder Liger, He was there to make Ishimori look like the man. Eventually, the younger and fitter wrestler just had too much for old Jushin, and the second time he trapped him in a Crossface the legend was forced to submit.
Look, this wasn’t a five-star classic, and it was never going to be. Jushin Liger is 54 years old, he ain’t doing that anymore. However, as a symbolic victory for Ishimori over a Junior legend, it was exactly what I wanted it to be. They crafted a perfect story and for a few seconds had the fans in the palm of their hands. You can’t say better than that.
Verdict: Four Stars
Post-match Ishimori declared that he wants a match at The Garden before calling for an ROH challenger to make themselves known. He didn’t get one of those, but he did get a Dragon Lee, and that has the potential to be outstanding.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and Hirooki Goto defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL and Sanada)
Captain Kazu is still getting a pop for the trunks. He is going to milk that for as long as he can. Meanwhile, it says a lot about me that I am focusing on that rather than the fact six of New Japan’s top guys were in the ring.
Then they only went and started with Naito vs Okada. That’s one way to get a crowd excited. Those two just had to stand across the ring from each other, and the tension in the air started to crackle. When they began wrestling it reached a fever pitch.
Truthfully, this match then went the way of most of the star-studded multi-mans you see. It was good, without ever being incredible. None of these guys pushed themselves, so while there were moments of magic, it was never sustained. All six of them have bigger fish to fry.
However, there was one point of interest still left to be discussed, who was going to take the fall? NJPW does not throw pinfall defeats around willy nill, and there was no obvious choice in that ring. Well, the answer turned out to be Sanada, although it was in rather tricksy circumstances as Goto tied him up in an intricate pin that made it seem more like a shock than a decisive victory.
This was fun while it lasted, but nothing you need to go out of your way to see. It gave Goto a big win going into the New Japan Cup, a tournament that he usually does well in. Then, as they celebrated, all three men claimed they were going to be the winner of the Cup which led to a smidgen of tension between the victors. How fun.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Jay White defeated Will Ospreay
I know loads of people still doubt Jay White, but if you’re looking for that opinion, you’ve come to the wrong site. He was fantastic here, and it’s becoming dull to say that because he’s always fantastic.
For over the last year he’s adapted his wrestling style to fit his gimmick, switching from youthful exuberance to a counter-attacking style. He’s had his best when he’s dancing out of the way of opponent’s moves, twisting around to direct their dives into barriers or launching them into ring posts (both things he did to Will during this match).
And by doing so, he was able to open up Will’s ribs to attack. It was a calculated move as later on when Ospreay tried to hit the Stormbreaker (a move no-one has kicked out) he was unable to hoist Switchblade up. The champ is lighter than Jeff Cobb who he hit it on just a few days before, but the damage he’d inflicted was too much.
It is also a style that works perfectly against Will Ospreay. This is a man who flies through the air like a superhero, and when he’s flying, there’s always the chance he comes down badly. Time after time he’d cut Will off at the last moment, dropping him out of the Oscutter into a series of rapid elbows or finally using the same move to set-up the Bladerunner (although in truth that looked a bit shitty). The highlights of White’s matches are the strings of counters that he builds on, and Ospreay was right there with him.
If there was a flaw, it was Gedo, who seems incapable of staying out of the ring when White is in there. It’s frustrating because it feels so incredibly unnecessary at this point. Knife Pervert is over as a heel, he doesn’t need to cheat anymore. Gedo can slip back into the role he had with Okada, and it would be just as effective.
Still, aside from that and the dodgy initial Bladerunner during the finish, this was a fantastic match. Not that I’m surprised, you’ve got one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world in there with one of my favourite storytellers, I was always going to enjoy it.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Gedo wasn’t done for the evening as he brought White a chair to presumably punish Ospreay. Unfortunately for Jay, Kota Ibushi was on commentary and was having none of it. That brought out Bullet Club which subsequently brought out Tanahashi, Okada and Goto to make the save.
Which meant we finished the show with a hell of a lot of star power in the ring and possibly five of the favourites for the New Japan Cup. That certainly seemed to be what they were discussing, with Captain Kazu being particularly insistent he was going to win.
What an enjoyable couple of hours of wrestling! Not everything was great, but a lot of it was, and the stuff that wasn’t was still entertaining. It did a nice job of celebrating NJPW while at the same time building towards this mammoth New Japan Cup. I have a feeling that could be a special tournament.
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