To say there were bombshells raining down in masses during the opening minutes of this show would be a hilarious understatement. To sum it up, before any of the matches even started here’s what went down: Elgin officially announcing being under NJPW contract, Shibata signing a 1 year exclusive NJPW deal (now no longer a freelancer), and the return of, yes, the SUPER J CUP. Represented in the Super J Cup will be NJPW, ROH, CMLL, NOAH, Dragon Gate, Suzuki-Gun, ZERO1, K-DOJO and even Ryukyu Dragon. Wow. What a laundry list of promotions. This is wonderful news for hardcore puro purists like myself and Izzac from the Puro In The Rough podcast. We’ll be debating who will represent in the J Cup for several episodes I’m sure. But believe it or not, there’s an actual wrestling show to follow all this madness so here we go.
This was what I like to call the Toru Yano Special. Yano always has his big crazy win in these tournament scenarios, and it came shortly against the much maligned Yujiro. Yujiro was beating the tar out of Yano with a chair and whatnot, and was celebrating on the outside. The brilliant Yano saw the opening, low blowed Yujiro who didn’t realize how the ref was counting them out, and Yano beat the ring count out for the win. A hilarious way to start the night and something you have to expect from the wonderfully crafty man from CHAOS. Buy the DVD.
What a damn match. Tenzan truly turned back the clock in this one folks. 2001 Tenzan was on full display here, and you have to think Elgin was the man to push that sort of performance out of him in this day and age. Elgin’s renewed energy and charisma in Japan helps matches like these out tenfold. The crowd was going nuts for Elgin, but don’t think that Tenzan had a small role in this. This was easily one of his best performances in the past several years and I don’t say that lightly. Elgin came out the winner in this one as expected, but damn it if Tenzan didn’t make me believe for a short period of time. He almost even attempted to bust out the moonsault before Elgin stopped him (probably for the better). A battle of two MEN, one being an older horse who wanted to show he still had some left in the tank against the new thoroughbred in town.
Thank god Tama Tonga gets a singles opportunity on an important-ish stage in New Japan. Only took like half of the roster leaving, but I’ll take it regardless. I for one had myself thoroughly convinced he had no shot in this one though, fodder for the established, trusted Makabe that New Japan always seems to go back to. Boy was I wrong. The match itself was nothing groundbreaking, a solid display of graps that no one is going to write home about even in the next day or two. The telling moment came when Tama hit the GUN STUN! Yes, the Karl Anderson tribute was glorious indeed and contributed to Tonga pulling off one of the more stunning New Japan tournament upsets in recent history when he then blasted Makabe with the Veleno jumping DDT for the 1-2-3. Wonderful move by New Japan here, they could have played it safe but they didn’t, instead making Tonga look great for his tag team title match against Makabe and Honma coming up soon. The match itself was incredibly average though up until that real hot finish.
This show is continuing to deliver. Honma and Kojima had a heck of a battle. Honma’s lead up to hitting the Kokeshi never fails to pop me. When he misses those first few, and then finally finds the opening and starts peppering his opponent with a ton of them from every conceivable angle, the work leading up to that moment pays off. The definition of Honma’s career is build up. It may not always pay off at the end for Honma, but the battle getting to that peak point is a relatable struggle every wrestling fan can get behind and associate with. And Kojima sure made him work for it in this one, dodging many of those first headbutts and nailing Honma with maneuvers like an apron DDT to make sure he stayed down. But Honma never does, hitting those flurry of Kokeshis to open up Kojima for the kill. But the veteran avoided the death-blow top rope Kokeshi which set up Honma for a lariat that he actually kicked out of and was a defining moment of his unwillingness to quit. But one lariat later shut the door on Honma.
These special tag matches can always be hit or miss on shows like this. Thankfully, this ones had even more of a purpose than I once thought. You had fired up Shibata fresh off of signing his 1 year deal, knowing that opens the door to so much more for him in the company this year. KUSHIDA had amazing chemistry with Sakuraba, the two using their shoot fighting expertise on each other was wonderful. Okada was great in his role here as the guy I wanted to see have his face punched in by the smaller champion KUSHIDA and mauled by badass Shibata. Shibata wasn’t having any of Okada’s cutesy clean break chest taps at the onset and stuffed him with elbows for days. Notably, Shibata demanded Okada at the start of the match, perhaps foreshadowing for a future IWGP title defense? Sakuraba and Shibata of course did their thing too, the chemistry they have is unparalleled at this point. The final stretch of Okada and KUSHIDA was downright fantastic and they had me buying KUSHIDA as a legit threat to Okada at the end. Unfortunately, Okada did end up coming out on top with a Rainmaker after he reversed a Hoverboard Lock attempt into a Tombstone. Everyone felt fired up and had a purpose in this tag, and possibly set up a few future matches (who knows, they could always do the junior champ vs. heavyweight champ thing). But, the biggest news was yet to come for KUSHIDA as after the match, Okada had an announcement for who the newest member of CHAOS was; the place went dark and on the video screen came WILL OSPREAY. We all knew Ospreay was coming to New Japan, but not this soon. Ospreay laid down the challenge to KUSHIDA: IWGP Junior title match at Invasion Attack 4/10. The junior scene just got even crazier.
I fully expected the New Japan Cup Wonderkind aka Goto to lose this match the way he’s been going lately. Goto came out just as uninspired in this one as he has been for the past several months now since losing the Intercontinental title. All I have to say is, thank the lord for Yuji Nagata and his natural charisma and incredible energy he brought to this one. He tried so hard to light a fire under Goto’s ass, working stiffer than he does in those cutesy multimans he mostly finds himself in and went full on grumpy old man in this. But Goto just continued to sputter and be incredibly boring throughout. Nagata can only do so much, even if it was a good amount during the match. I can’t really pick out a ton I really loved from this match. It wasn’t like it was bad or anything, it was just more flat Goto performance that has unfortunately become such a norm for him lately. How much is gimmick and how much is it just Goto being Goto? Who knows. But in almost fitting fashion, Goto didn’t even win this decisively, instead winning with his ridiculous looking flash pin he does every so often. If you’re gonna have him beat Nagata, have him BEAT Nagata. Nothing you want to really stick around for.
Surprisingly enough, after Naito’s initial control phase in this match (aided by the dastardly BUSHI at ringside of course) Naito gave YOSHI-HASHI a lot in this match! Naito took some sick bumps, including a YH lariat that sent Naito tumbling off the top rope onto the floor outside, yikes! It sure helped make YH look like a threat in his rare singles opportunity against a big star though. Some great counter wrestling followed, there’s one sequence in particular that was so smooth that involved Naito trying to hit his tornado DDT off the ropes, YH countering that and eventually hitting Naito with a spinning mule kick in which Naito responded back with a flying forearm. Awesome. Made this feel like a big fight. And it became even more so after that. YOSHI-HASHI came storming back once again, hitting an absolute bonkers flurry of offense on Naito including the lariat, shoulder breaker and the bridge pin powerbomb. YOSHI missed the top rope senton though, which just pissed him off even further, leading to an amazing slap fest between these two that was emotionally charged with the fans losing their minds over YH pushing the arrogant, indifferent Naito to his limits. A submission spot from YH had the place booming, with Naito locked in for what seemed like an eternity until just gracing the rope with his big toe which was such a great dramatic effect for this match. Naito had to go into overdrive mode here to finish the underdog off and escape by the skin of his teeth, crushing YOSHI-HASHI with a brutal spinebuster and the final Destino to win. Unreal first round match, match of the night easy and one of my favorite NJPW contests so far this year. YOSHI-HASHI came off looking like a true star for the first time, and Naito certainly helped in taking his offense so well and making people believe in YH. I don’t want to hear the “YOSHI-HASHI stinks!” stuff after this match.
Is it finally EVIL’s time to break out. He hasn’t had a big time performance since coming back from excursion, this may just be the platform for him to do it on. He faces the test of the now ROH TV Champion, Ishii who beat one of the best in the world Roddy Strong for said belt. So if EVIL were to win this, it would be a huge win and a telling upset. Man, I didn’t think Naito/YH was going to be topped but I sure as hell was wrong. You want to talk about star making performances? This was it for EVIL. Naito called this too, with many doubting EVIL and how he fit with the Ingobernables de Japon, that EVIL would have his coming out party in the NJ Cup. Naito as on the money, EVIL busted out so many vicious and devastating power maneuvers and hit just as hard, if not harder than the brutal Ishii himself. When you can match Ishii’s intensity, that says something. EVIL lived up to his name at the start of this by jumping Ishii at the bell and then lodging a chair on his head teeing off with another chair on the outside. Ishii’s willingness to take death blows like this is downright scary at times. He didn’t care though as he helped EVIL look like a trillion bucks in this back and forth war of attrition. EVIL tried as he might tried keeping Ishii down with brutal half nelson suplexes, sitout Widowmaker, headbutts, lariats; anything that could possibly destroy Ishii he did it. EVIL kicked out of some of Ishii’s big time moves like the sliding lariat as well, both of these guys refused to quit and EVIL wanted this so badly. But it was for naught as Ishii hit the brainbuster and put a cap on an amazing contest. The crowd started buying into how dangerous EVIL was more and more as the match went on making this even more tension filled and exciting. Ishii helped make EVIL look amazing in this match and I hope this is what he needed to come off as a legitimate threat alongside Naito and BUSHI now. Match of the night and a must watch for the year.
I think I’m not alone when I say I’m not quite the Fale fan. I think the guy gives close to zero effort at times and it shows. He plods and often times doesn’t come off as the big man threat New Japan ants to be. But Tanahashi has historically gotten some awesome efforts out of him, I really enjoyed their last match they had with Tanahashi’s G1 briefcase on the line, and it was probably Fale’s best stuff since the Nakamura IC title matches. So I’m coming into this with a more than open mind. Similarly structured to those other matches but I liked this nonetheless. Tanahashi tried doing his cutesy offense, in which Fale would simply respond by either sitting on him, hitting him with Vader hammers in the corner or tossing him like a ragdoll which is always good fun and what I want to see from Fale. Tanahashi gained a ridiculous amount of fan support by once again stealing Moose’s fist pump gimmick, eliciting ACE, ACE, ACE instead of MOOSE, MOOSE, MOOSE when he does it. Brother Moose better be getting some damn residuals from this. A big part of this match was Tana trying to hit a German suplex on Fale which failed for quite some time until Tana softened him up enough to hit it finally in an impressive feat of strength. Tana struggled to stay alive in the later part of the match, getting manhandled by a huge Fale spear and struggling out of Fale’s Bad Luck Fall twice, once countering it into a Slingblade. Tana’s craftiness couldn’t save him against the bigger, badder Fale this time when Fale finally hit him with the Grenade and the Bad Luck Fall to set up a 2nd round match of Elgin/Fale. These two worked hard in this match and have clear chemistry with one another. Fale is no workhorse but if you put him in there with a guy like Tanahashi who will take his big moves and push Fale to give some effort, he can have a solid match. Good way to close out the show, we unfortunately will not get that Elgin/Tanahashi partners clash matchup though!
My New Japan show of the year so far, easily. Nothing horrendously bad here at all, Goto/Nagata was a tad on the dull side but besides that, everything was either very good to awesome. Naito/YOSHI-HASHI and EVIL/Ishii are the two clear standout matches while Elgin/Tenzan was an amazing surprise and the tag match that setup for Ospreay’s arrival in New Japan was very entertaining and purposeful. Absolutely comes recommended from me.