NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome (7/25/2021)- Tokyo, Japan
NEW JAPAN RAMBO FOR THE PROVISIONAL KING OF PRO WRESTLING TITLE- -3/10
This was long and horribly boring and there were handcuffs involved. And what’s worse is that you could have used these thirty-six minutes or whatever it was to give us two great singles matches (let’s say Nagata vs. Suzuki and KENTA vs. Goto), but instead we got this snore-fest.
HIROMU TAKAHASHI PROMO- He’s coming back for the title he never lost… again.
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)(c) vs. Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi- 6.75/10
I could do without the clownishness in the heel shtick from Bullet Club. That stuff get you cheered in 2021. Just be vicious. It also would have been nice if Taguchi’s response to his friend gets his back raked (from off the top rope, because why do something more effective when you can be a goof?) wasn’t to get try to dance with the heels. Then he got punched in the face because he was being a clown. Why would anyone want to see him win after something like that?
Once that crap ended, we got some good babyface in peril stuff and a good hot tag and it devolved into your usual “ignore the tag rules” match so that everyone could hit a bunch of big moves. One of them was El Phantasmo hitting Rocky with a Styles Clash for a nearfall… and I’m not ashamed to admit that it made me cry a little to see the Styles Clash get kicked out of by Rocky Romero in the second match on a show. Remember when that was one of the most protected moves in the world (and most of that was in New Japan)?
Kevin Kelly was certain that a f*cking moonsault press to the outside was going to win the match. And not in a “heat of the moment” way during a pinfall after the move. That would have been good. This was Kevin Kelly mostly calmly saying “if he hits it, they’ll win” about a move that I don’t think has ever led to a pinfall (and certainly not in a match without some sort of gimmick rules).
El Phantasmo hit the move perfectly (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the finish), but in doing so, he apparently managed to accidentally load up his loaded boot gimmick, and thus he injured his ankle on the landing. What a dumbass. If you have a loaded boot, why do a f*cking moonsault press to the floor when you could just KICK THE OPPONENT IN THE HEAD WITH YOUR LOADED BOOT?! (And, of course, to set up this big spot, they were on the outside forever without getting counted out.)
The dumbassery continued, when the healthy Ishimori got Taguchi back into the ring, and the first thing he did was tag in the limping El Phantasmo. They hit moves for nearfalls.
At this point they started to do some stuff with the loaded boot that was relatively clever (like Taguchi blocking Sudden Death and swinging El Phantasmo’s leg into Taguchi’s face, taking him out). Taguchi got the ankle lock, but then gave it up to try to take El Phantasmo’s boot off. He eventually got it off and went to show the referee what was inside it. Wouldn’t that just result in the champs retaining on the DQ? Actually, with Rocky KOed, maybe getting a DQ win here and thus being entitled to a rematch where they can insist that El Phantasmo’s boots are thoroughly inspected before the match is a good strategy.
Ishimori immediately ran over and tried to yank the suspect item out of the referee’s hands, which really should be an automatic DQ. Can you imagine if an umpire went to check if someone’s bat was corked and one of the players on that team ran over and yanked the bat out of his hands? That would be an immediate ejection, and probably a suspension, too.
Ishimori struggling with the referee over the boot stopped the referee from seeing El Phantasmo hit Taguchi in the nuts. Then, in one of those little moments that drives me nuts, instead of just having the low blow be the finish, El Phantasmo has to get up and hit his finisher, which requires standing on both legs and jumping up, which does perfectly, despite having an injured ankle.
Anyway, the heels get the win and head to the back. If this were real, you’d think that New Japan officials would be swarming them and demanding El Phantasmo’s boot so they can examine it, but of course that didn’t happen. We’ll just have to sit through six more months of this loaded boot storyline…
Actually, do you know what? No. It’s not a storyline, and that’s exactly what the problem is. It’s not a storyline. It’s an excuse. It’s a way to give someone a win without the loser really having to lose. In order to do a storyline about a loaded boot, the promotion has to give a sh*t, and New Japan clearly doesn’t, just like with all of the other cheating in this company. No one gets a rematch because a bunch of heels ran in interfered in their match, heels never get in trouble for assaulting referees and ignoring rules. They’re all just things that happen to get “heat,” except how can there be any heat of the company doesn’t give a sh*t that any of this is happening (or, for that matter, when you have a babyface who runs around and hits people in the nuts and everyone is supposed to laugh)? Cheating leads to heat because the heel is getting away with something that he/she/they are not allowed to do. But when the promotion doesn’t give a sh*t, the heel is no longer getting away with something that they’re not allowed to do because the promotion isn’t making an effort to stop them. They heel is simply doing something that he/she/they shouldn’t be allowed to do, but the promotion is just letting them do it anyway.
I know this sounds like my usual rant (and, on one level, it is my usual rant), but the reason I’m including it here is not just a personal catharsis (though it certainly is that). This is also leads to why this match had me so frustrated. A heel’s own loaded boot injuring him and then hit having to tap to an ankle lock to lose the titles and then having the babyface also be able to finally reveal the loaded boot after the match would be a PERFECT way to blow off a six-month story about the heel using a loaded boot. But now they can’t do that, because 1) I think the “heel accidentally injures himself due to the loaded boot” is the sort of thing you really can’t do more than once without it starting to feel contrived, and 2) once you’ve gone as far as they did with this- with Taguchi ripping the boot off, seeing that it’s loaded, giving it to the referee, and then having Ishimori run over and yank it away from the referee and then let the heels leave without anyone coming out to try to get the boot away from them- you kill the idea that the loaded boot is something worth getting upset about, and thus the big pay-off at the end ceases to be poetic justice and is merely a poetic ending. If there is no injustice worth getting upset about, then there is no emotional investment in the story.
(And, by the way, to set it up, instead of a moonsault that makes no sense to try, how about you have the heel load the boot up and go for a superkick- the move he’s been using the loaded boot to win with- and the babyface ducks and the heel accidentally kicks the ringpost. Sorry. Had to get that in there because it feels like such an obvious way to set that up that I can’t believe they missed it. Then again, this is an El Phantasmo match, and he is rarely able to resist doing something he thinks will look cool, no matter how little sense it makes).
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH: El Desperado(c) vs. Robbie Eagles- 8.25/10
Both guys worked the knee. Robbie was at a disadvantage there because El Desperado had hit him in the knee with a chair last night, but he fought through the pain and overcame it and got what felt like a huge, emotional win. Both guys sold well, and it was nice to see them both wrestle a different (more technical and submission-heavy) style than they usually do.
KAZICHIKA OKADA vs. JEFF COBB (w/the Great O-Khan)- 7/10
Cobb worked over Okada’s back while Okada worked on Cobb’s neck, as usual… except in this match Okada wasn’t actually able to hit his big moves that focus on the neck. Okada got the win by relying on speed and finesse, avoiding the Tour of the Islands and countering an attempted Rainmaker by Cobb with a roll-up to get the win. This sets up well for a rematch, but I hope they give Cobb an actual win over Okada at some point, because he hasn’t gotten any big wins that feel real (and no, G1 wins don’t count. We’ve seen how Gedo works over the past decade plus. Wins and losses happen in the G1 to get the numbers to where they need to be. There is no actual follow-up, so no individual win ever elevates anyone).
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Sanada)(c) vs. Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) (w/Miho Abe)- 7.25/10
We start off with some wrestling early on, but then it’s to the outside to get the heat with a whip into the barricade and choking the babyface with the camera cable, because G-d forbid we ever cut the babyface off inside the ring with something simple like an eye-poke. Seeing the same formula over and over again in a way that feels so painfully formulaic- like they’ve been ordered to only get the heat on the outside, and told that when you’re on the outside, you have to whip someone into the barricade and the heel has to choke the babyface with something- kills matches for me because it makes them feel so inorganic. It’s the same issue as watching Raw and seeing a dive leading into the commercial (although at least on Raw you don’t have the referee watching the heel choke the babyface with a foreign object and just counting as if this was some sort of illegal hold and not something worthy of a DQ for using a foreign object).
Then we rolled Sanada back into the ring for Taichi’s repeated choking spots. Thankfully we only got two of those in a row (well.. three if you count the one with the cable on the outside) before Zack got tagged in to work a limb so we could get some heat that serves a purpose for the story rather than just wasting everyone’s time with what amount to cheap heat.
And then, moments later, Sanada is on the outside and working Zack’s knee over with the barricade. Why did you even do that stuff on the outside if the babyfaces were going to be back in control two minutes later? From there, Zack spent quite a while as the… heel in peril, I guess? Id there even a term for that? “Playing Stan Lane?”
Fortunately, Zack was able to get himself out of it by twisting Naito’s neck. He made then made the hot tag to Taichi for the… comeback? Is that still what you call it when the heel is doing it?
Taichi took over for a bit. Then we got the other two coming in and everyone went a million miles an hour with neither guy who had gotten his knee worked on selling it at all (until Zack got kicked in his knee just went down). That ended with all four guys going down, and once they were back up, we were right back to Sanada and Taichi doing the same stuff they had been doing before Zack and Naito ran in. They did their stuff for a moment or two… and then we got another double-down. Zack got tagged in and he’s remembering to sell his knee now. In fact, it feels like he’s over-doing it, based on what we saw before, especially when all he took since we saw him running around at a million miles an hour was one dropkick to the knee.
This would continue for a bit, with Zack running around whenever he wanted to and then just selling again when someone would kick him. He eventually finally got his selling to something that felt realistic and had a good segment with Sanada that ended with Sanada cutting an abdominal stretch with a hip toss, picking Zack up and giving him one of the nastiest leg-twister things (like a Dragon Screw if the guy taking it didn’t go flying) I’ve ever seen… and then Sanada just stayed down, too. This was the point where I figured out they were doing stuff like this to fill time because they were supposed to very long, and if you’re plan to go long is to fill the match with spots that are essentially excuses to wind up in double-downs, that’s not good.
Naito got tagged and he kept working over Zack’s knee. Zack’s selling had gotten quite good at this point. It would have been nice if Taichi had been on the apron in a position to receive a tag if Zack ever got the chance, but instead he was standing on the floor because… um…
Anyway, Naito kept working on Zack’s knee and it was really great… until Zack made his comeback and it was time for him to start running around again. LIJ got control again and Naito did… something to Zack (we didn’t see hit started because the camera was elsewhere), but it looked like it might have broken his neck on the way down. Fortunately, Zack seemed to be fine, so maybe it was just the camera angle, or maybe they worked it really well.
Zack was in control a few moments later with a submission. Sanada tried to stomp on him but Zack fighting-spirit-ed up didn’t give up the hold. Eventually Taichi got Sanada in a hold, too. Sanada escaped and walked right past Zack and instead climbed the turnbuckle to try to break the hold up with a moonsault instead of just stomping on Zack… but this time it actually made sense because they had established that the stomps wouldn’t work with the fighting spirit spot earlier. That was good. Much more logical than we usually get with Sanada (who always gets someone in a vulnerable position they can’t escape from and instead of stomping on their head, kicks them in the butt, and also likes to let go of his finishing submission hold to try to hit a moonsault, which, more often than not, results in him eating the canvas). From that point on we got a final few minutes between Zack and Sanada that were absolutely tremendous.
The downfall of this match, to me, was the decision to go so f*cking long (over thirty-seven minutes). The stuff that they did for the sake of stretching the time obviously wasn’t good, but even the issue with Zack’s selling I think was caused by not wanting to have LIJ just beating him down for so long uninterrupted, so they gave him a few rather extended hope spots, and to make those hope spots the exciting high they’re supposed to be for the crowd, they had Zack run around and go fast, and the rest was him forgetting to sell. If this match only goes twenty-five, I don’t think that happens.
IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH: Shingo Takagi(c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi- 8.75/10
A lot of people seem to like this a lot more than I did. I’m not saying it wasn’t tremendous. I just don’t see it at MOTYC level. Shingo worked the head and neck while Tanahashi worked over the knee, and also the head a bit, and also went for High Fly Flows because he’s Tanahashi. They hit their bombs and kicked out of stuff. Shingo didn’t really sell his knee much despite it being worked over. Shingo got to kick out of the High Fly Flow as well as get the win on Tanahashi, which both feel like big deals for him. New Japan is doing a very good job of making sure everyone understands that while putting the belt on Shingo might not have been the original plan, he is absolutely not to be looked at as an accidental champion.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- Shingo cuts a promo setting up for a rubber match against Tanahashi at some point down the line. EVIL then came out and laid Shingo out, guaranteeing that the next IWGP World Heavyweight Title match will not be as good as the one we saw tonight.
This was a very good show from New Japan (I would have called it great if not for the opener), but also one that I found quite frustrating because it felt like it could have been so much more, if not for some big mistakes that were made, pulling some of the matches down. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think Gedo is really capable of changing his booking style, so in the future, I think I’m just going to tune in for the big shows where the majority of the card is consequential matches, and maybe just cherry-pick certain matches from other shows.
NJPW, RevPro, CMLL, DDT, etc
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