YUJI NAGATA & REN NARITA vs. SHOTA UMINO & TOMOYUKI OKA - 5.75/10
Nagata and Oka had to be separated before the match. Everyone had great intensity.
RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, JUSHIN "THUNDER" LIGER, TIGER MASK IV, & DAVID FINLAY JR. vs. CHAOS (Jay White, Rocky Romero, & Roppongi 3K) - 4/10
Rocky Romero immediately went for Tiger Mask's mask, which actually does make sense because Rocky used to be Black Tiger IV and was unmasked by Tiger Mask almost a decade ago. That being said... they're both babyfaces now and it's been so long that I'd prefer that there be something that triggers that level of aggression between them rather than just going for the mask for the sake of going for it. Other than that this was a short match that was basically just people getting their sh*t in. Finlay pinned Rocky Romero after a Stunner.
TOA HENARE & TOGI MAKABE vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) - 6/10
Solid. Whenever the Ishii vs. Henare rematch eventually happens, it could wind up being pretty special.
GOLDEN LOVERS (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) & BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Takaishi Iizuka, TAKA Michinoku, Taichi, & Zack Sabre Jr.) - 2/10
Suzuki-Gun jump the bell on their opponents. This match was everything I HATE about New Japan all rolled up into one. I'm watching for interactions between Kenny and Bullet Club members that either never come or never wind up mattering. Instead I had to sit through one straight minute of Iizuka biting people and the referee standing there and impotently counting to four before doing nothing.
And the sad part is that the rest of this match wasn't bad at all. One or two bits they did were actually even good. But that one pointless minute of Iizuka f*cking stupidity destroyed my ability to enjoy this match. Someone please explain to me why this man is employed. You can stick him in a match with ZSJ, Kenny Omega, and Kota Ibushi... and he finds a way to make it suck. Someone please find me a match with Iizuka in the past six years that wouldn't have been a better match if you had swapped Iizuka out with any random young-boy. I understand that Japanese wrestling companies value loyalty highly and Iizuka has been in New Japan for over thirty years, but there are ways to reward his loyalty without hurting your wrestling product. You could, for example, give him a job in the office. Perhaps he could be in charge of booking wrestlers out to friendly promotions, or maybe help train students at the dojo. Hell, let him be the f*cking bus driver for all I care but just GET THIS OVER THE HILL, MATCH-KILLING HACK OUT OF THE RING!
HIROSHI TANAHASHI, MICHAEL ELGIN, JUICE ROBINSON, & KUSHIDA vs. CHAOS (Will Ospreay, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, & Kazuchika Okada) (w/Gedo) - 7.25/10
Goto & YOSHI-HASHI are both heavily taped up after their matches two nights ago. This was a fun match full of cool stuff and changes of momentum that really got over the chaotic feeling of an eight-man tag. KUSHIDA appeared to be hurt after the match. While people were checking on KUSHIDA, something happened between Tanahashi and Okada that caused Okada to charge back down the aisle and go after Tanahashi, and they had to be pulled apart.
BUSHI vs. EL DESPERADO - 4.5/10
BUSHI jumped the bell on El Desperado to start things off. It's nice to see that he has been paying attention to Suzuki-Gun's tactics and decided to not let himself become a victim. They did some stuff and El Desperado took over with an eye rake. They fought on the outside forever without getting counted out. El Desperado went for BUSHI's mask and shoved the referee down when the referee tried to stop him but was not disqualified. He went right back to doing the same illegal thing the ref had told him not to but was still not disqualified. When the ref yelled at him this time he actually listened for some reason and went back to the ring. Luckily for El Desperado, he got back to the ring right before the random portion of the match where count-outs actually are a thing so we could get our apparently obligatory count-out tease that no one ever believes but they still do it anyway.
BUSHI got back into the ring, they did one little spot... and then El Desperado went right back to the mask AGAIN. After that the match got pretty decent, but I've found over the past few years that going for the mask has become such an over-done cheap-heat spot (in and in ROH and NJPW in particular) that it completely kills the power of the spot, because going for the mask is supposed to be pretty much the opposite of "cheap." That is something that should be reserved for the most personal of feuds, and this doesn't feel like it comes anywhere near that.
They did some decent stuff after that, although I really didn't need to see a Canadian Destroyer kicked out of. BUSHI was setting up for his finisher but Kanemaru came out and pushed him off the top rope while the ref's back was turned... and then, even though the ref was turning around, he just got into the ring anyway and started stomping away at BUSHI for the DQ even though El Desperado now had the advantage.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. Kanemaru and El Desperado kept beating up on BUSHI for a while and El Desperado went back to BUSHI's mask again and almost go it off before Hiromu Takahashi came out to make the save. Where was the rest of LIJ? This is something that really bugs me about New Japan stables. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred they seem to only exist to create for why certain guys are teaming together (even though other guys like Liger, Makabe, Tenzan, Nagata, etc. don't seem to need a reason to team with people), but they never really act like an actual stable does with guys coming out to help their teammates in post-match brawls. If New Japan booked Tanahashi & Taguchi vs. Ospreay & Okada and Ospreay and Taguchi got into a post-match brawl, you might see Tanahashi and Okada run in to help their pals, but you wouldn't see other guys from CHAOS come out to help Ospreay and you wouldn't see other guys from Taguchi Japan run out to help Taguchi.
Anyway, Hiromu and Kanemaru brawled, which led into...
HIROMU TAKAHASHI (w/BUSHI) vs. YOSHINOBU KANEMARU (w/El Desperado) - 7/10
Hiromu's back got worked over in various ways. They were having a really good match until the pointless overbooking at the end... and it didn't even affect the finish, so what was even the point of it?
IWGP TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada & EVIL)(c) vs. the Killer Elite Squad - 8.25/10
K.E.S. did what could still technically be described as jumping the bell, but LIJ charged into the ring ready to fight so while it is unsporting, it's not quite as bad as usual for Suzuki-Gun. The match was pretty awesome, with a well-told story of EVIL getting isolated and his back getting worked over by K.E.S., but the match was hurt by the overbooking and/or various similar issues with the referee either seeing things he shouldn't and not doing anything about it or the rules being ignored of the sake of the spot. They were on the outside forever with no count-out. Later we got a table bump right in front of the ref but there was no DQ. We also hot a horribly soft ref bump with Archer after which the ref just decided to take a stroll around ringside. The table spot was a great way to take Sanada out, but the fact that the referee was looking right at it totally killed it. I really wish they would stay away from weapons and that sort of stuff because in New Japan it seems that something inevitably goes wrong and it hurts the match for me. And it's not always the ref, either. That spot Sanada did at the end where he put an open chair around Smith's neck and then hit that chair with another chair to make it spin looked absolutely terrible. It looked like it didn't hurt Smith at all... and a large part of that is because logically it really shouldn't. Simply from the angle he's swinging at he's clearly not hitting the chair into Smith, so it looks like sh*t, and here they did it in what felt like slow motion, so it just looked that much worse.
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Minoru Suzuki(c) vs. Tetsuya Naito - 8.75/10
Naito's stalling actually felt like a part of the story rather than just stalling because he kept doing it until Suzuki got frustrated and the next time he got up on the apron to get into the ring and Suzuki charged at him with a big boot, Naito was ready for Suzuki to do something like that and he blocked the boot, swept Suzuki's leg out from under him, pulled him out of the ring, and whipped him into the guardrail a few times. Compare this to Cody who goes on the outside just to waste time because it "gets heat" (which he clearly doesn't realize is the wrong kind of heat because it just makes me not want to see his matches).
Naito had control for a while but Suzuki got out of it and took over the match... and then the frustrating Suzuki-Gun/New Japan refereeing crap started. Suzuki hit Naito with a barricade in front of the referee but the referee didn't do anything about it. He wasn't even counting them out! Then he started throwing chairs at Naito. Still nothing. Then Suzuki kicked a young-boy security guard just because... and THIS is what the referee decided to admonish him for doing.
More stuff happened and the referee finally started to count them out, and lo and behold that got them back to the ring whereas just yelling at them totally failed. I'm just going out on a limb here, but maybe that's why the rulebook tells you to count the wrestlers out rather than just yell at them and then do nothing if they don't comply.
Naito's knee got worked over A LOT. Not quite to the level that Okada's did last February, but that's a good thing because this time it actually felt believable that Naito was able to walk again. Naito's selling was awesome. They showed some really great character here, too, and this is coming from someone who usually isn't a fan of the "I'm just going to let you hit me to show you how tough and defiant I am" spots. Suzuki's neck was worked over by Naito, which led to an unfortunately ugly-looking botch on a swinging neckbreaker towards the end, but that and the refereeing issues were the only blemishes on this otherwise fantastic match.
Another great show from New Japan. This has been the biggest show of this never-ending tour so far, and the big matches on this show all delivered. The undercard was pretty solid, too, with pretty much everything being solid to good for the time it got, aside from that Bullet Club/Suzuki-Gun match and the BUSHI vs. El Desperado match. I'm not sure how many shows are left on this tour, but I'm ready for it to end now. Hopefully the next show is the one with Okada vs. Tanahashi and Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA, and then I can take a much-needed break from New Japan.