Wow, this is a stacked card, isn’t it? The top four matches on this show could carry one of New Japan’s smaller shows single-handedly, but Osaka got them all, and sold out Jo-Hall in gratitude. All that was left was for the wrestlers to live up to their end of the bargain, so read on to find out what went down.
Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata and Tencozy (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan) defeated GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), Ryusuke Taguchi and Toa Henare
The Nakanishi retirement tour slid into Osaka and produced another fun match. It’s easy to be sniffy about these, and I do understand why some are. Most of these guys don’t move the way they used to, and at times it’s slow and plodding. However, there is a lot of joy to be found in seeing them crash into each other, pulling out everything they can for their old pal Nakanishi.
There was a fun exchange between Nagata and Henare (that’s a match I’d like to see) while Makabe actually bumped for the retiring hero, which shows how much respect he has for him. Accept this for what it is, and you’ll enjoy it.
Verdict: Three Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles
SHO came into Roppongi 3K’s first title defence on one leg after Despy and Kanemaru nipped away at his knee in the Korakuens building to this show. Unsurprisingly, the Suzuki-gun team didn’t change their plan here, attacking that injury and trying to take SHO out of the equation. Every time it looked like he was going to pick up some momentum, they struck, taking that leg out from under him.
It was a brilliant performance from Despy and Kanemaru while SHO did a great job selling it. At one point, he got Kanemaru up for a Powerbomb only to stumble before dropping him weakly onto his back, the busted leg making it impossible for him to get the power he needed. The crowd were willing him on, desperate for him to grit through the pain and find what he needed as they bought into the narrative these teams were telling.
Thankfully, he had YOH in his corner who showed some real fire when taking on Desperado, slapping him repeatedly across the face. 3K are such a perfect pairing, the power and the flash and YOH was all energy, SHO throwing him over the top rope to take people out. In the end, they’d manage to overcome the injury, SHO battling through the pain to lift Kanemaru for the Package Piledriver while YOH Stomped on his back. However, with YOH and Despy having to be pulled apart post-match, you wonder whether this feud will ever be truly over.
Verdict: Four Stars
We may get a rematch one day, but before that, Taguchi had a plan. He came out to shoot his shot, telling Rocky he’s not a manager, but a great wrestler and that they should challenge for the titles next. After some hesitation, it proved a temptation too big for Romero and the coaches will face off with their kids.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi and FinJuice (Juice Robinson and David Finlay) defeated The Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi)
Ugh, who the fuck decided it was a good idea to put those belts back on GOD? What was the thought process? ‘Oh, they’ve just had a shitty title run, should we give them another one?’ Jesus Christ, Gedo.
Anyway, it was nice to see Kota Ibushi looking healthy after being ill, and Tanahashi picked up the win which suggests we’ll still get The Ace and the Golden Star challenging for the titles. Outside of that, it was the match you’d expect it to be with that Bullet Club team. I mean, look at it, it’s nae exactly stacked with talent, is it?
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
New Japan will be returning to MSG, which is exciting. They seem to be promising a Wrestle Kingdom size show, so it will be fascinating to see how it sells. There was also an announcement that they’d be back on prime time TV in Japan, which is huge.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay) defeated Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr and Taichi)
After struggling past Taichi in Sapporo, this was a more straightforward victory for Okada, connecting with a Rainmaker while Ospreay flew over the top rope to take out ZSJ.
And it was part of a fairly straightforward match. We didn’t see much to hint at how the Sabre vs Ospreay will go down in RevPro, as the focus was on Taichi and Okada wrapping up their feud. The Singing Bawbag had his moments, I liked him responding to Okada’s customary slow start by trying to kick his head off, but the message was clear, Okada is the better man.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Jay White defeated SANADA
Gedo booking SANADA vs Jay White is a sneaky little fuck you to Western fans on Twitter who despise both of them. One suspects this match won’t be the thing to change their opinion either.
For this told the story White’s matches have been telling for a while. SANADA didn’t only need to beat Switchblade. He had to beat Gedo too, and it took the wee prick all of five seconds to appear on the apron. White was able to cut off everything SANADA attempted, and while he strung some moves together, at one point getting White in the Paradise Lock, it felt like Jay’s match. A slow and methodical beat down of the LIJ man.
Then, SANADA managed to take Gedo out, booting the top rope into his balls to leave the two of them alone for the final act. In theory, that should have been the moment that everything changed, that SANADA came into the match and got the win. However, it wasn’t to be. He came close, locking in the Cold Skull and climbing up for a Moonsault, but White rolled out of the way. In the end, the Bladerunner connected, and that was that.
What was surprising was just how definitive it was. There were hints of the finisher dance that dominates the closing stretch of most of these men’s matches, but it wasn’t the drawn-out affair you might expect. White brought SANADA over with a Suplex and hit the Bladerunner, that was all it took. What that means for SANADA (who hasn’t won a singles match since the G1) is anyone’s guess, but it certainly suggests that White is still hanging around the top of the card and Twitter can fume all it wants.
Verdict: Four Stars
Hiromu Takahashi defeated Ryu Lee to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Ryu Lee and Hiromu Takahashi have a very particular in-ring chemistry. These two men have faced-off countless times, battling in Mexico, America and Japan. Over that period, their rivalry has solidified into something that almost approaches love. They don’t hate each other, they push each other, dragging a level of physicality and athleticism out of each other that no-one else can get. The opening five minutes of this match was the perfect example of that as they chopped the living shit out of each other, overhand strike after overhand strike coming crashing down. More than once, one of them fell to their knees, unable to keep going until they looked up at their foe and found the strength, pulling themselves up to go again.
There was a second element to this match, though, the Phoenix Plex. The move that broke Hiromu’s neck was sitting there, the giant elephant in the room waiting to be unleashed. Twice Lee went for it, and twice Hiromu wriggled out, saving himself by the skin of his teeth. Weirdly, the fact it never connected is what keeps this never-ending feud alive. Hiromu got the win, but he didn’t prove that he can take the move that put him in a hospital bed for over a year.
Not that its failure to arrive meant this match was a safe affair. We got Double Stomps to the outside, Sunset Flip Bombs and the most ridiculous Tope Suicida you will ever see. Lee and Hiromu are a whirlwind of creative violence, two men who have no fear throwing themselves at each other until one can no longer stand. Hiromu won, but as Ryu Lee was carried to the back, he leaned against the ropes and said one more. If it happens, you better believe it will be incredible once again.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Jon Moxley defeated Minoru Suzuki to retain the IWGP US Heavyweight Title
When you get right down to it, Minoru Suzuki is a ridiculous human being. The man is 51-years-old, and he’s still spending his days beating the shit out of people and having the shit kicked of him. Not only that, but you can tell he loves it. There was a spot in this match where Moxley put him through a table only for the camera to catch MiSu smiling to himself in the wreckage and while that was part of the narrative of the match, I feel like at least part of it was genuine.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a technical masterclass. The two of them beat on each other, brawling through the crowd and smashing things over each other’s heads. It was the story of two men who love to cause pain, dueling with chairs and exchanging elbows. In the hands of two other wrestlers, it might have felt like a blood feud, but they don’t hate each other. They just like hurting each other.
In the end, Mox stood up to the King and took his best shot, inviting it in before delivering one of his own with a huge Lariat. For the first time, the smile left Suzuki’s face, and when he was dropped on his head with the Death Rider, this was over. It didn’t take long for the smile to come back, though. As Suzuki rolled out of the ring, collapsing onto the barricade, Moxley bowed to him, and you got the feeling MiSu knew he’d been in a fight, and he loved it.
Verdict: Four Stars
Moxley might have shown The King respect, but that didn’t stop the prince sneaking in for a cheap shot. As he celebrated, Sabre attacked him from behind, choking him out and picking up the US Title. Is it time for Sabre to bring socialism to America?
Tetsuya Naito defeated KENTA to retain the IWGP Heavyweight title and the IWGP Intercontinental Title
Osaka was the first place to turn on the Stardust Genius, booing him and continuing to do so even when he returned as an Ingobernable. It was a relationship that once led Naito to tell the Osaka fans to keep booing him until he returned with the IWGP Heavyweight Title, a request that they stuck to as the sold-out arena chanted his name the second his music hit. As Naito strode to the ring, clad in that magnificent black coat, Osaka made it clear that they’ve accepted him as their champion.
As for the match itself, well, there are almost two parts of it to review. The first was boring as fuck. We got all the KENTA antics, as he was stalling before the bell even rang. Then, when they finally started wrestling, he did everything in his power to slow it down. I get it, they are trying to get as much heat as possible on him, but you could have cut that period in half and Osaka would have booed the wee prick just as much. They went thirty-five minutes, and if they’d gone twenty, I think it would have been twice the match it was.
However, there was a turning point and, weirdly, it came when Jay White got involved after a ref bump. His plan wouldn’t work, first BUSHI and then Hiromu came out to run him off, but when he was dealt with Naito and KENTA threw themselves up the gears. Naito might have even gone a bit too far with it, driving himself into an exposed turnbuckle and busting himself open, blood pouring out of his head and covering his face. Suddenly, we were in a fast-paced back and forth, which was awesome to watch.
And, of course, Naito won, hitting Destino for the one, two, three, and I’m left feeling conflicted. In a weird way, this was a perfect summation of the current New Japan style, the one led by an Okada who wasn’t even in the ring. They worked a good match, doing what they wanted to do, but it was just too damn long, and it’s hard to claim love for something when so much of it was boring. The ending stopped it being bad, but I’m not sure it was enough to make it great.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Post-match, after telling KENTA to hurry to the back, Naito did what we were all hoping he would do and called out Hiromu, setting up their first-ever singles match for the Anniversary show and fucking hell, that’s going to rule. Then, finally, Naito got to make his roll-call and have his moment before he and Hiromu shared a fist bump over the three belts. What a man.
A slightly disappointing main event aside (and it still wasn’t bad), this was a fantastic show. Anything that has Hiromu vs Lee on it is going to rule, and when you throw in a few other bangers, we’ve got something that is definitely worth your time. New Japan is having a good start to the year. Fingers crossed they keep it up.
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