KATSUYA KITAMURA SEVEN MATCH TRIAL SERIES MATCH #2:
Katsuya Kitamura vs. Michael Elgin - 5/10
JUSHIN "THUNDER" LIGER, HIROYOSHI TENZAN, MANABU NAKANISHI, TIGER MASK IV, & KUSHIDA vs. SUZUKI-GUN (El Desperado, TAKA Michinoku, Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & Taichi) (w/Miho Abe) - 4.5/10
During Suzuki-Guns entrance, Taichi's song got cut off and they started playing Iizuak's song, and the camera got a wonderful shot of Miho Abe's face looking extremely concerned that this drooling lunatic was about to be unleashed. She's definitely one smart cookie, as I, too, become concerned any time I know Iizuka is about to be in a match. Hopefully he doesn't tag in much they just let the junior heavyweights and Tenzan do their thing. If forced to watch the world's most boring brawler Takashi Iizuka vs. Old Man Nakanishi when I could be watching, for example, KUSHIDA vs. Kanemaru, I might just go headbutt a wall.
Suzuki-Gun jump their opponents before the match... just like in every match. It's annoying enough that they always do the same thing every f*cking time, but it's even more annoying when it happens in a match that is only on the card to give KUSHIDA something to do. They couldn't have given us KUSHIDA vs. Liger or KUSHIDA vs. Tiger Mask and just given everyone else the night off?
This match started off as the same old sh*t except at least this time they're having the referee be distracted for the illegal tactics. Hooray for small victories. Speaking of small victories, that's what KUSHIDA got here by making TAKA tap out. The match was even approaching being decent by the end.
BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) - 3.5/10
Boring. The past half an hour of this show has been a complete and total waste of time. You could claim that Yano and Ishii's win is meant to build them up for a future shot at the tag titles, but I'd counter that argument by pointing out that 1) when, aside from the World Tag League, does anyone ever do something to actually earn a shot at those belts, and 2) that idea is predicated on the flawed assumption that the entire IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Division isn't a giant waste of time all on its own.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX-MAN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & the Guerrillas of Destiny)(c) vs. TOGI MAKABE, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, & TOA HENARE - 5.25/10
Before the match started, Tonga Loa broke Taguchi's sunglasses. Maybe we'll get serious Taguchi now? Yup. We get serious Taguchi... but unfortunately, he didn't really get the chance to do much but sell. Tama Tonga made Henare tap out to a new submission hold. After coming out of nowhere to feature in the Match of the Night at New Year Dash, these belts are right back down to "why do they even exist?" territory.
KOTA IBUSHI, JUICE ROBINSON, & DAVID FINLAY JR. vs. BULLET CLUB (Marty Scurll, Adam Page, & Cody Rhodes) - 7/10
This was a fun, fast-paced tag team match that told the story of Bullet Club being a more experienced tag team unit than the babyfaces while building up the inevitable confrontation between Kota and Cody. The sequence at the end with the various miscues between the teams was also pretty fun.
Both before and after this match, Bullet Club made appearances on commentary in which they acted like complete and total cartoon characters. During the post-match instance of this, Kevin Kelly asked Cody if there were issues between himself and Kenny Omega. Cody unequivocally declared that "Kenny Omega is the leader of Bullet Club" so that means Kenny is getting turned on soon. Either the Anniversary Show or the shows in the USA in March seem like the most likely times for that to happen.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Tetusya Naito & Hiromu Takakashi) vs. CHAOS (Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI) - 7.75/10
LIJ take a page out of the Suzuki-Gun playbook and jump the bell on their opponents. These guys had a really great tag match that wound up making me really want to see Ospreay vs. Naito in a singles match but New Japan will never book it. Hopefully ROH or RevPro or someone does. LIJ were all business here and cheated to win when Naito pinned Ospreay with a jackknife after kicking him in the nuts.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Great! YOSHI-HASHI got in Naito's face (presumably over his cheating) but Naito just kept ignoring him and trying to walk around him until YOSHI-HASHI snapped and went nuts on Naito on the outside! As the young-boys and ring crew were getting YOSHI-HASHI to the back Naito got up and ran towards him from behind... and bumped into him and then just walked right by him, like the reason he bumped into him was simply because he didn't see him. Like he doesn't even exist in Naito's world. YOSHI-HASHI ran to catch up to him and swung him around and went after him again and Naito once again all but ignored him, letting the young-boys pull YOSHI-HASHI off of him and get him the back. I don't think Naito even tried to hit YOSHI-HASHI once during this entire thing.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Sanada, EVIL, & BUSHI) vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, & Gedo) - 7.5/10
Sanada's new hairdo looks really stupid. BUSHI angered Gedo by pulling his beard so Gedo tried to rip BUSHI's mask off, only for Sanada to prevent him from doing so by coming in and grabbing him by the beard. The match was great, but I was hoping for more interaction from the guys in the big matches against each other. Okada and Sanada were fine, but it felt like instead of buiding up the tag title match we were given focus on Gedo and BUSHI.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Okada called Sanada back to the ring and they brawled, with Okada coming out on top. How does that help build up your challenger?
BULLET CLUB ELITE (Kenny Omega & the Young Bucks) vs. CHAOS ("Switchblade" Jay White & Roppongi 3K) (w/Rocky Romero) - 7.5/10
Jay White has said that everyone should be going for every championship, regardless of whether or not the champion is in their faction, while Gedo will not allow intra-faction challenges. Cyrus would later say that he thinks that because of this "Jay White will find working for Gedo very frustrating." That's seems pretty meta now, doesn't it?
This was a fast-paced, exciting tag team match that did an excellent job of getting me hyped up for tomorrow's double main event. That being said, if that was the goal then having Yoh get pinned instead of one of the Bucks was a pretty odd decision.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - In case you had any doubts that a Kenny Omega face turn is imminent, Jay White attacked Kenny from behind, like a total heel.
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Hiroshi Tanahashi(c) vs. Minoru Suzuki - 7.75/10
Suzuki came out with his faction, but in a totally random and uncharacteristic move, he sent them to the back. My guess is that this means there is a title change coming, because in Gedo's mind not having interference in a match where the title changes hands makes the title feel more legitimate, but it doesn't make everything else not feel as legitimate if there are interference and blatant breaking of the rules in every other match and nothing is ever done about it.
I know everyone has been raving about this match, but I thought it was a bit of a mess. Don't get me wrong: it was still a great match, but I think it's probably the worst match these two could have together.
Suzuki hit Tanahashi with a chair right in front of the referee but there was no DQ. That chair shot was to the back so you'd think maybe they'd work that but then they worked the arm some, then switched to the head and then finally settled on the knee after way too long. While Tanahashi did work over Suzuki's knee throughout (like always), he also had to shoehorn in his "High Fly Flow then go for another one but the guy gets his knees up" spot, which only seems to happen for the expressed purpose of Tanahashi getting his sh*t in but never having it actually get kicked out of. This sequence happens in every Tanahashi match to the point where I never buy any false finishes until it has happened. It's like the dude is obsessed with always doing the move. When he wins a match he always does so via High Fly Flow even though he works the opponent's knee in every match.
On Suzuki's side, he usually has similar issues where he always wants to hit the Gotch-style Piledriver so much that he will release a perfectly good sleeper hold just so he can try for the Gotch-style Piledriver. In this match he actually managed to hit the Gotch-style Piledriver after releasing a sleeper hold for it... and then he doesn't even go for the pin! He goes for a kneebar instead. What was the point of even doing the Piledriver?
People are going to frame this as Tanahashi's body finally giving out on him after working hurt for so long, but that's bullsh*t because it's his arm that has been injured for most of the past year but the story here was Suzuki working his knee. And even if that aspect of the story had made more sense, I still found chunks of this match boring. That big, long exchange of strikes to the head was Kobashi vs. Sasaki chop-fest level boring. It didn't carry the necessary emotion to feel like a battle of wills, so it was just guys punching each other back and forth. The struggle in the submission at the end was awesome and a lot of the stuff in the beginning was great and Suzuki was a good heel and Tanahashi was a great babyface, but the match just didn't mesh well to me.
A very solid show from New Japan, despite a main event that didn't quite live up to expectations. The top five matches out of the nine on the show were 7/10 or above, we got a great angle with YOSHI-HASHI and Naito and some good build to some other title matches. If you're someone who is happy to just skip the pointless undercard matches then this will be a short and thoroughly entertaining show to you. If you're not someone who skips those matches, this will be a longer show for you and will still be very entertaining.