Having put on two successful shows with RevPro’s assistance last year, New Japan came back to the UK to do it all by themselves. Royal Quest came from the Copper Box in London, and it’s worth pointing out that I was there live. That means this review is conducted purely by the memory of what I could see from my floor seats after the visual aid of many a pint of beer and while being overwhelmed with the excitement of my first New Japan show proper. That means that it will all be getting the famous live bump, making matches that might have appeared merely fine at home, a lot more exciting to witness in person. Understood? Great, on with the show.
Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH and Rocky Romero) defeated Ryusuke Taguchi, Shota Umino and Ren Narita
Shooter’s rise in popularity since he was partnered with Moxley can’t be overstated. I’ve always liked the kid, but he got a reaction similar to the more established wrestlers in this match as the UK crowd proved they love a bit of Shota.
Aside from that, this was a fairly standard opener. We got plenty of hip attacks, some Forever Clotheslines and the fun of watching the Young Lions live. It helped that the crowd were hot as hell for this show kicking off and were going to enjoy whatever was put in front of them, so when they got a solid match, they had a lovely old time.
Verdict: Three Stars
Kota Ibushi and Juice Robinson defeated The Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi and HIKULEO)
Of all the matches on the card, this was definitely the weirdest one. Not that I’m going to complain as it was my first time seeing Kota Ibushi live and, even if he ended up being worked over by HIKULEO and Yujiro, I was happy to gaze lovingly in his direction.
Honestly, Juice and Kota’s charisma carried this past the limitations of their mediocre opponents. If you’d put any other two men across from The Bullet Club pairing, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered it happened. As it is, I saw the actual Kota Ibushi standing near me, and that made me happy.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
The Birds of Prey (Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles) defeated The Bullet Club (El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori)
This was Robbie Eagles debut as a full-fledged member of CHAOS, and you can tell that he and Will Ospreay have been looking forward to teaming together for a while. They already had all sorts of cool sequences worked-out and would end up getting the win with a Double Spanish Fly from the top rope which the New Japan website is calling Red Wing.
Outside of the newly formed Birds of Prey, it’s incredible how over Will Ospreay is, and while this isn’t my first time seeing him live, it always catches me off-guard just how fast he is. Yes, he’s a bit of a penis, but fuck me he’s good. Elsewhere, Ishimori was another one who pops even more in the live environment, flowing around the ring before bursting into a sudden flurry of movement. I could use less of the childish frat boy humour with ELP, but that’s part and parcel with Phantasmo involved.
And despite my dislike of the British Cruiserweight Champion, this was a very enjoyable match, worked at a fast-pace and topped off with a crowd-pleasing win. After the bell, Will got on the mic and made it clear he and Robbie are coming for those Junior Tag belts, so we’re going to be seeing it again.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito and SANADA) defeated The Bullet Club (Jay White and Chase Owens)
I spoke about the charisma of Juice and Ibushi, but Naito came out and made everyone else involved in this show look like a talentless hack. The cocky arrogance of the lead Ingobernable was on full display as he faced off with White and he had the fans fully in his corner despite not doing a load. Of course, some credit does have to go to Switchblade, who despite being well represented in the t-shirts of those in attendance, did a fantastic job of drawing heat, refusing to play Naito’s games.
It’s also worth noting that whatever Twitter might say, SANADA is not only over in Japan. Both here and later in the show he got great receptions, and he would pick up the win, spinning Chase Owens around in the Cold Skull before dropping him down for the submission. Moves like the Paradise Lock might be silly, but fans love them, and every time he went for it the noise levels rose.
Afterwards, White looked to get one-up on Naito, attacking him as they prepare for an IC match at Destruction. For a few seconds, it looked like it would work, but Naito managed to fight off the Knife Pervert and hit Destino before taking a seat and having a pose. This was another match that largely got by on the charisma of those involved, but that charisma was mighty strong.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa) defeated Aussie Open (Mark Davis and Kyle Fletcher) to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles
It says a lot that in my first draft of this review, I completely forgot to include this match. That’s not because I was drunk by this point (although, I was), but because it was ultimately pretty damn forgettable. In what’s becoming a trend for GOD tag matches, I’d honestly struggle to tell you about one thing that happened here, as the main focus became how over Aussie Open was in their adopted homeland.
And from what I can recall, the Aussies did a good job. They’re great wrestlers, and while I think they still have a ‘get your shit in’ mentality that would need to be toned down a bit for a New Japan run, I could easily see them being part of this company in the long-term. I certainly can’t imagine this match will have done their chances any harm, as history suggests that talented wrestlers having boring matches with GOD is the norm.
Jado’s kendo stick would ultimately prove the difference maker as it set GOD up for the Super Powerbomb. I honestly can’t wait for the day that this team are no longer a featured act in the New Japan tag division, but I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time for that to be the case.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
KENTA defeated Tomohiro Ishii to win the NEVER Openweight Title
There were two halves to this match. The first of those was a fucking war as KENTA and Ishii beat the living shit out of each other. KENTA threw the first slap, and from there they were away, stiff blow after stiff blow as I bounced up and down in my seat having the time of my life. It was a beautiful orgy of destruction as KENTA unleashed, embracing his new heel persona while the UK fans booed the great betrayer.
Unfortunately, it would all go wrong when KENTA got what appears to have been a concussion off a German Suplex. From where we were sitting, it was hard to figure out exactly what was going on as the small details weren’t entirely clear (if New Japan come back to the Copper Box I’d recommend going into the stands rather than sitting on the floor), but having watched back a few clips it is startlingly obvious what happened. Poor KENTA barely knew where he was, never mind what he was supposed to be doing next.
And, it’s also probably fair to say that the match should have been stopped. However, it wasn’t, and all reports suggest KENTA is fine. In fact, he even managed to drag himself back from the brink, sitting across from Ishii and engaging in a vicious slap battle (which can’t have done the concussion much good) before getting the win with the Go To Sleep. So while there were flaws with this, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have an awesome time. It was two brilliant wrestlers beating each other up, and injury or not, that is entirely my shit.
Verdict: Four Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Zack Sabre Jr to win the British Heavyweight Title
The floor seats that made figuring out exactly what was happening between Ishii and KENTA a bit difficult when things went off the rails, made watching Zack Sabre Jr downright frustrating at points. Zack is a man who relies on the little moments, and those little moments tend to take place on the mat. When you’re straining to see what is happening on said mat, it can be hard to get completely drawn into his matches.
And yet, I still loved this. Who wouldn’t love it!? It was Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestling a big match and winning a title in front of my very eyes. It didn’t matter that I was wearing a Zack Sabre Jr t-shirt, I was off my seat dancing around like an idiot when Tana climbed that top rope and came crashing down with the High Fly Flow. Watching The Ace of the Universe get the win is worth all the pain in the neck caused by straining.
Plus, the match was still really good even with that inconvenience. These two have got this shit down to a science with Zack attacking poor Tana’s breaking body and The Ace battling back, showing all the heart in the world in his attempts to survive. It’s a simple story, but it was being told by two of the greatest wrestlers on the planet, and that was more than enough.
Verdict: Four Stars
Kazuchika Okada defeated Minoru Suzuki to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title
Let’s get it out the way quickly; Okada vs Suzuki was the greatest wrestling match I have ever seen in person. From the second these two strolled through the curtain, radiating a star power that you ain’t getting at your local indie, till Okada walked to the back having delivered his post-match speech, they held the Copper Box in the palm of their hands and took us on one hell of a journey.
Of course, Okada was a huge part of that, but this was Minoru Suzuki’s match. MiSu has made the UK his second home in recent years, and it showed in this performance as he strutted around that ring like he owned the place. I mentioned his evil grin as he begged Okada to hit him in my All Out review, but I’ll bring it up again because that alone made this a five-star match. While, in the past, he’s worked a limb when in there with Captain Kazu, there was none of that here. He took the war to the Rainmaker, forcing him to beat it out as clouds of sweat and the thud of strikes filled the arena.
And, despite all logic saying he was never going to win, there were moments when Suzuki nearly had me convinced. That Gotch Piledriver is such a death move that every time he came close to hitting it I was out of my seat, crouching half up and half down in an attempt to scream my joy, but also not get in the way of those sitting behind me. The fans ended up being so in his corner as he got closer and closer that when Okada locked in a Sleeper, the boos rained down on him. While they might have loved the champ, they were happy to show their disgust when he dared to use The King’s move.
In the end, the only way it was going to end was with a Rainmaker, and that was exactly what happened. However, the real story was that despite it going over half an hour, I felt disappointed, not because of the match or because of who won, but because I wanted more. I could have watched these two go to an hour draw, and I would still have wanted more. For that time, I was in heaven, and whether that would have been the same if I was watching at home doesn’t matter. It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, and I will remember it forever.
Verdict: Five Stars
After the match, Okada’s post-match speech was interrupted by a certain SANADA as he cashed-in his G1 win. As I mentioned above, the Cold Skull got a good reaction, and I have every faith that the match will be great.
The greatest match I’ve ever seen live unsurprisingly came at the end of the greatest wrestling show I’ve ever seen live. It was my first time seeing New Japan proper, and I had the best time, sitting next to my friend freaking the fuck out about everything and everyone. I’m sorry if you were also sat near me, I imagine it could have been annoying, but I was deliriously happy and couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to. So while Royal Quest had its flaws, they were practically invisible to me, I was having far too much fun.
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