OPENING VIDEO PACKAGE - AWESOME.
Josh Barnett tried to push the idea that winning a title in New Japan is very prestigious, and thus this new title will be very prestigious, at which point I scoffed, due to the pointless existence of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles. So important are these belts that later, when the champs were making their entrance and EVIL held his belt up to the camera I did a double take and started to wonder when he won the NEVER Openweight Title from Minoru Suzuki. That's right. I forgot that the damn things even existed, due to how poorly they've been booked... and I think that's exactly what will happen with this new US Title they're creating. Naito apparently said that if he wins the tournament, he'll the throw the belt in the Pacific Ocean, one-upping anyone who has ever done the "throw the belt in the river" angle. I really hope that actually happens.
THE BRISCOES, ROPPONGI VICE, & WILL OSPREAY vs. BULLET CLUB (Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, & the Young Bucks) - 6.75/10
This was a perfect opener- full of action, but they didn't do too much. The finish was also quite perfect, as it builds to tomorrow night's IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title match by both giving the challengers the win over the champions and subtly putting over the danger of the Meltzer Driver.
It just occurred to me that for no reason other than their respective nicknames, there is someone out there writing Bad Luck Fale/Sasha Banks slashfic. Also, it has been a year since Mark Briscoe shaved his head while Jay grew his hair out, but J.R. hasn't noticed.
JUSHIN "THUNDER" LIGER, DRAGON LEE, TITAN, & VOLADOR JR. vs. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON - 5/10
Ugly suit-wearing doll-hugging Hiromu is so much worse than "Ticking Time Bomb" Hiromu Takahashi. J.R. also can't tell some of the LIJ members apart during their entrances. They did their stuff. Liger got a huge reaction, as did Hiromu and Dragon Lee facing off. LIJ won after a chair shot and this time they actually bothered to distract the ref before doing a chairshot and made the chairshot matter by having it lead directly to the finish. Why can't they do it this way when they're in Japan?
IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOURNAMENT QUATERFINAL MATCH:
Jay Lethal vs. Adam Page- 6.75/10
J.R. is also under the impression that Lethal was injured "in the Beer City Bruiser match eight days ago in Ring of Honor," so he also can't tell the difference between the Beery City Bruiser and the man who Lethal actually wrestled in that match, Silas Young, who is a much bigger star.
Lethal's ribs were taped up on one side, so that naturally became the story of the match. The wrestlers did a great job telling it, and the announcers did a great job of amplifying it (although maybe they did too good a job at times, as J.R. trying to cover for the ugly botch of the Lethal Injection by claiming that Lethal's injured ribs somehow prevented his arms from holding on to Page's head to drive it down was silly, and was made even sillier by the fact that Page took a standard bump for it. The issue wasn't Page "slipping out" so much as it was that their timing was off so when they tried to both go down for the move, they weren't close enough together to make it look believable). They waited a suitable amount of time then did the spot again for the finish.
Page losing here once again makes him look like crap. I don't care how far they are going to have Lethal go in this tournament. Unless he's going to overcome his injured ribs and win it all (which he's not because that would make everyone he beats look like crap, and because I can't see New Japan putting the belt on him when they could put it on a guy like Omega, Elgin, or Naito, who are already over in both the US and Japan, whereas Lethal failed to get in over in Japan last year when they and ROH tried to push him), the story remains the same: the vicious, dastardly post-match attack by Silas Young & the Beer City Brusier eight days ago at ROH Best in the World 2017 injured Jay Lethal's ribs, causing him to be nowhere close to 100% in this tournament, so he lost. Having him get farther in the tournament does two things: 1) it buries his opponents for failing to defeat a man coming into a match injured- which is obviously bad, and 2) it makes Lethal look better for overcoming the odds, but Lethal is already a top star in ROH (which is where this storyline will play out) so making him look super-strong is unnecessary.
The desire to protect a top star so much that he gets the win even when he has an injury that gives him a perfectly fine out to losing is a booking problem that we see decently often in New Japan (see: Tanahashi, Hiroshi, and check out the entries for both this year's Dominion show and last year's G1) and it has reared its ugly head at times in ROH as well (see my review of last year's Reloaded Tour: Lockport for a more nuanced examination of one big example of this) and it has become a major obstacle to certain guys who the company wants us to believe are up and coming stars (Page, Sanada, and arguably EVIL) from getting over to that next level. Giving someone that one big win is a good first step (Page over Jay Briscoe last year at Death Before Dishonor XIV, EVIL's Never Openweight Title win over Shibata, and Sanada's victory over Tanahashi in last year's G1), but those wins ultimately stop meaning anything if you don't continue the momentum afterwards. This is yet another example of Adam Page doing a job when there is no logical reason for him to do so (and it comes just eight days after he lost cleanly to an almost forty-year-old Frankie Kazarian, to boot). This is another nail in the coffin of Adam Page, who just two years ago looked like one of wrestling's brightest young stars, but has now been reduced to an undercard loser on the n.W.o. B Team.
J.R. referred to Jay Lethal as a "former two-time Ring of Honor Heavyweight Champion," so he managed to not only get the number of times Lethal has been champion wrong, but also the name of the belt. It's the "Ring of Honor World Championship." Yes "world," no "heavyweight." Neither he nor Barnett seemed to have any idea about any of Lethal's signature moves, not providing names for any of them and not selling them as if they were anything other than regular maneuvers.
IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOURNAMENT QUATERFINAL MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Juice Robinson - 7.25/10
J.R. misidentified Zack Sabre Jr. as Will Ospreay. He apologized for this one when we got back from the commercial. He still seems to be completely in the dark about all of the other mistakes he has made tonight. He did mention Zack's win over Shibata for the British Heavyweight Championship, though he got the month wrong, saying it happened in February instead of March... and that's a match that happened in New Japan, not RPW. Barnett plugged the fact that Zack was also the top champion in both PWG and EVOLVE, which surprised me because neither is affiliated with New Japan, and EVOLVE is seen as opposition to New Japan's friends in ROH, and as being rather friendly to WWE (is WWE still actively helping them in ways other than scaring people away from ROH [and TNA], which helps EVOLVE by default?)
Barnett's commentary in this match seems to imply that Marty Scurll's finger-breaking is illegal, which makes you wonder why he never gets DQed for it?
These two had a great match, and the crowd was very hot for it. Zack worked over the arm in ways that made me cringe like I haven't cringed in a while. AJ vs. Suzuki might have been the last time I remember cringing like this. Before that it might have been my first live show when I got a second-row seat to Nigel McGuinness bending Tyler Black's arm and shoulder in very disturbing ways (ROH Injustice II). It's almost odd because I watch oodles and oodles of Zack Sabre Jr. matches every year, plus lots of other matches with the likes of Kyle O'Reilly, Minoru Suzuki, Matt Riddle, Timothy Thatcher, Bobby Fish, TJ Perkins, Drew Gulak, and all of you other grapplef*ck favorites, and yet this match seemed extra vicious despite them not doing too much, which seems to mean that much props are due to Juice Robinson here for his selling (and his facials were quite great). Juice was an excellent babyface here while Zack wasn't even a heel so much as he was a dangerous and determined competitor. Take all that, plus the hot crowd and pepper in some very good reversals and you've got yourself one pretty darn great match.
While plugging the main event J.R. accidentally said that Cody would face Kenny Omega tonight. Yes, everyone misspeaks, but J.R. is screwing up a hell of a lot tonight.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI, KUSHIDA, JAY WHITE, & DAVID FINLAY JR. vs. BILLY GUNN, YOSHITATSU, & THE TEMPURA BOYZ - 6.5/10
A very fun, fast-paced match, elevated by a crowd that just plain loved to cheer the babyfaces and hate the heels (Gunn and Yoshitatsu in particular). Speaking of things being elevated Jay White
RAYMOND ROWE PROMO - He notes that the Guerrillas beat them at Dominion by using a weapon, so he proposes that this be a weapons match. He asks the chairman if that is okay and the chairman seems to assent, so we have a weapons match. You paying attention, Delirious? First you create an issue between the competitors that builds to them wanting to use weapons on each other because they are so angry that a regular match will not sate their desire for revenge. Then someone asks the person in charge if making this change to an already advertised match is okay, and if the person in charge gives their permission then you can have your No DQs match. That's what we call a logical build. It makes a lot more sense than having a lazy has-been get on the mic before a match with a man he has no reason to be angry at and cut a promo that buries the concept of actual wrestling by saying that everyone came here to see guys hit each other with plunder, and have everyone just go along with it despite no one in power having authorized the change.
NO DISQUALIFICATIONS MATCH FOR THE IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLES:
Guerrillas of Destiny(c) vs. War Machine - 6.75/10
I love the fact that the graphic they put up for this match right after it started said nothing about it being a No DQs match for the simple reason that they didn't know it was going to be one. Compare that to the WWE graphics department having a video package for an obscure gimmick match waiting on standby even though not only did they not know what Jinder would choose, but they didn't even know that anyone would be making any sort of choice because Shane just came up with idea of giving Jinder the choice right on the spot.
For some reason Ross and Barnett both seem unsure if interference is allowed in a "No Disqualifications Match." Why wouldn't they be? What's the referee going to do? Disqualify someone? I let it slide when they said it about count-outs before because you could argue that there could theoretically be count-outs even though I've never seen a No DQs match that had them, but this one was just silly. The guy who interfered was Chase Owens, who I did not recognize at all because he's so bland.
War Machine won a decent weapons brawl. They actually kept the weapon use to a minimum, but did create a chaotic atmosphere and thy made their weapon shots mean something. I usually don't like quick title changes like this, especially if they're done just for the sake of letting someone win in their home market, but I'm fine with War Machine winning the belts back here because it is a good idea to give the fans something special on your first show in the market, as especially when you've built these shows up the way New Japan has.
J.R. said that War Machine were "seven-time Ring of Honor World Tag Champions." They've been champions once. He also kept referring to Ray Rowe as "Raymond 'Don't Call Me "Death"' Rowe," which is an odd thing to say about a guy who has regularly used "Death Rowe" as a nickname (according to Cagematch.net, anyway) and who I know uses that as the name of his finisher.
IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOURNAMENT QUATERFINAL MATCH:
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito - 7.5/10
Both guys worked the head and neck, and Ishii kept the no-selling to minimum. Unfortunately, Ishii won, which not only means that we're not getting Zack vs. Naito but also that Ishii will the get chance to ruin at least one more big singles match on this tour.
IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOURNAMENT QUATERFINAL MATCH:
Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega (w/the Young Bucks) - 9.5/10
Both guys worked on the head with lots of hard strikes and Omega too quite a few scary bumps on his head as well. The nearfalls were wonderful and the facials were excellent. This was just two guys who were determined not to lose doing everything they could to take the other guy out.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kazuchika Okada(c) (w/Gedo) vs. Cody Rhodes - 8/10
Cody is supposed to be a heel, but both he and his wife are wearing American flag-themed attire here in the USA. In another strange but possibly significant note, Cody's name did not have a Bullet Club logo next to it even though Okada's did have one for CHAOS.
More stalling from Cody. Can the referee at least start counting him out so that I know there will be some sort of limit on this? J.R. give us Cody's shoot last name for no reason... and when I say no reason I mean he said it literally one sentence after telling us that he is used to be known as Cody Rhodes. Why can't this just be the kind of situation we get in WWE all the time where we all know what Nattie's kayfabe last name is but they just never use it on screen? Why go and tell us that the name we've known him and his entire family under for years is wrong? Now he's telling us that the Clash of the Champions "was created by the American Dream himself." Why are we breaking kayfabe? Or even if this doesn't literally contradict established kayfabe history (though I can't imagine that Dusty wouldn't have taken on-screen credit for it if he thought it made kayfabe sense for him to have come up with the concept), why say something that takes people out of a kayfabe mindset?
According to J.R. the title can change hands on a count-out. I don't think I've ever heard this before. Also, for some reason in this case a count-out only starts once both men are down on the ground, like it was a ten-count in the ring.
Cody is taking forever between moves, randomly going into the crowd or posing or whatever. It's really annoying, and not in a heel heat type of way. It's annoying in a "why is this guy doing this lazy bullsh*t in a main event" type of way. At one point he spit in the referee's face for no real reason. Why would you risk a DQ like that?
They both worked the heads and tried to hit their signature finishers. All of the stuff they did to build up the issues between Cody and Omega (particularly the call-back to the towel spot form Dominion) were quite good and the match definitely had a lot of drama, but it was hurt by Cody's time-wasting antics interrupting the flow early on. Cody as a heel comes off as such a caricature to me, in his promos and in the ring, so I have a lot of trouble taking him as a serious threat to anyone. I know people have said the same about Omega, but to me Omega comes across as a guy who acts like a caricature because that's the schtik he- Kenny Omega, the kayfabe wrestling character- developed for himself, and he can turn it off when necessary. With Cody, it feels like this caricature that we see is the wrestling character that Cody Runnels' has developed. Kenny Omega acts like a caricature at times to entertain himself and others. Cody Rhodes is a walking caricature rather than an actual character.
OMEGA-OKADA POST-MATCH CONFRONTATION - Kind of disappointing. I was expecting Kenny to do or say something a lot more confrontation than be respectful. Omega left and then Gedo cut a promo putting over New Japan and Okada. Okada then got to cut the "how did you like the show? Thanks for coming!" promo that you usually get from top babyfaces nowadays.
This was a pretty great show from New Japan. The wrestling was great, and the presentation was very slick. The crowd was hot (and wasn't doing annoying sh*t or trying to get themselves over), and despite J.R. constantly getting facts wrong (and some of his other annoying habits), the announcing was very good. I liked it enough that I might try to stay spoiler-free for the next week and watch the AXS airing of tomorrow's show rather than watching it on New Japan World. This product, with this "real sports" style of presentation, felt like something that could do exactly what Okada said and expand across the world.