CHAOS (Roppongi 3K, Rocky Romero, YOSHI-HASHI, & Gedo) vs. BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, the Guerillas of Destiny, & Haku) - 4.75/10
Both Ross and Barnett seemed to be under the impression that Yujiro is a junior heavyweight, which he hasn't been for YEARS. Jim Ross also referred to him as a "kid" who "might make it to heavyweight someday." He's thirty-seven. The match was fine for what it was, which was a nice little opener that let us all see Haku do his Haku stuff.
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.) - 5/10
A graphic screw-up accidentally labelled Suzuki as Zack. The English-language ring announcer also announced their RevPro championships in a very odd way, and also never actually named the promotion at all.
Speaking of those belts, just last week on an RPW/NJPW joint show, I saw Zack & Suzuki defend the titles in the main event against Ishii & OKADA. Why are we now going back to the same undercard filler match we saw last month at Dominion? This felt like a pointless step backwards, with the other team picking up the win this time, just to complete the reset. Everyone did their usual stuff and it wasn't bad or anything (likely because Yano was very toned down), but it wasn't good or exciting, either.
BULLET CLUB (Marty Scurll & Adam Page) vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI & KUSHIDA (w/Ryusuke Taguchi) - 6.75/10
Josh Barnett (and Ross agreed with him) said that Marty has been firmly on Team Cody recently... which not only completely contradicts everything ROH has spent the past few months building up, but ignores the fact that the Young Bucks have teamed with Cody relatively often in both ROH and New Japan over the past few months, and they're clearly in Omega's camp.
The match was fine, but a little on the disappointing side, considering the talent involved. Page pinned KUSHIDA in an attempt to help establish his credibility heading into the G1, seeing as how he hasn't won sh*t in New Japan yet.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH: Hirooki Goto(c) vs. Jeff Cobb - 7/10
They told a decent story with Cobb working over Goto's midsection and Goto working over Cobb's head, but kind of petered out towards the end. They did have some very good nearfalls, and the match certainly hit the minimum acceptable level for a championship so I can't really say they disappointed in a no-build match that was fourth on the card, but it wasn't anything that gave me any desire to see these two ever wrestle each other again, either.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: The Young Bucks(c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & Sanada) - 8.75/10
Josh Barnett explained to us why Sanada kicking Matt in the butt was an excellent strategic move, saying that "the heel of that boot is able to penetrate the glute muscle, that kills the mobility of Matt Jackson." Being snarky self I immediately typed out "Josh Barnett's guide to defeating the Young Bucks: Step one- penetrate Matt's ass with boot-heel." Then Sanada locked Matt in the Paradise Lock and Jim Ross just flat out made a prison rape joke. Was not expecting that.
The story of the match was once again Matt Jackson's injured back, but they didn't go nuts with the babyface-in-peril take on it, which I think does a nice job of showing some long-term progression. Matt's back has healed up quite a bit in the three and a half months since NJPW's last trip to California, but it's still something of an issue. In addition to that they had the usual excellent athletic spots and some wonderful false finishes, giving us our first truly New Japan big show quality match of the night.
CODY/OMEGA VIDEO PACKAGE & INTERVIEWS - Didn't like it. Omega trying to cast Cody the "manipulator" and "troublemaker" as being the same as AJ Styles came off really heelish to me. AJ is the babyface in that whole thing, 100%. He did nothing wrong and yet all of his friends turned on him to follow Omega, and so trying to paint Cody to be the same as AJ makes no sense. Now that I think about it, it would have been better to have Cody trying to paint Omega as AJ, with Cody's rightful ascent to leadership being merely the "next evolution of Bullet Club" or something like that and not in any way malicious.
That bit aside, my real problem with this was that it was a very concrete representation of why I hate this storyline (and the acclaim it has been getting) so much. If all you had watched was this video package, you'd think this was story was awesome. And if the only things that had happened in this storyline were the things that happened in this video package, then this storyline would be awesome. But it's not. Because this video package- like so much else in the narrative that has been repeated for this Bullet Club civil war story- picks and chooses only the moments and evidence that fit in with its narrative. It ignores, for example, that the Young Bucks have happily teamed with Cody in ROH quite a few times since they attempted to kick him out of Bullet Club, with no animosity even being hinted at. It leaves out everything about Kota Ibushi, and how Omega's decision not just to save him from Bullet Club but to team with him brought Kenny's ego into conflict with the Bucks' egos.
It leaves out every single thing that has happened with any member of Bullet Club other than Omega, Cody, the Bucks, Marty, and Page, and the disagreements that seem to have come and gone randomly between all of them, such as things Cody has done to the Guerrillas of Destiny the last time New Japan was in the USA, or Chase & Yujiro jumping the Bucks from behind at Sakura: Genesis 2018. And shouldn't those guys get some recognition? Certainly they should if, as Kenny said, that Cody had been manipulating ROH-based Bullet Club members, which suggests that the NJPW-based Bullet Club members are loyal to Kenny. You'd think they'd at least get the chance to speak on things, right? Especially Bullet Club founders Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga... and even more so when you remember the lecture that Tama Tonga gave to Kenny about being a leader during last year's G1. This becomes even more glaring when you take into account Barnett's statement when the Tongans were coming out for the opener that they had formed a sub-faction within Bullet Club led by Tama Tonga... something that has almost certainly happened due to them being unhappy about this Omega/Cody feud. But none of that is given any sort of lip-service.
And you'd think that Marty's recent issues with Cody's greed and ambition for titles in ROH would have given him something interesting to say, right? But no. That's ignored. Because that would mean admitting that Marty is no longer on Team Cody, which would have lent another strong voice to the "Cody is greedy" camp, which would then unbalance the talking points. Then again, being on "Team Cody" or "Team Kenny" doesn't actually seem to mean anything, does it, as despite the Bucks telling us that Supercard of Honor was them choosing Kenny's side, they were booked on Team Cody against Team Kenny in the intra-Bullet Club ten-man tag match at Dontaku.
Watching this video package reminded me of what this feud could have been. SHOULD have been. But Gedo (and Omega, Cody, the Bucks, Delirious, and whoever else either had a say in it or was responsible for booking a promotion where it was a factor that needed to be considered in storylines) allowed it to grow too large and in too many directions that wound up leading nowhere and failed to keep it focused, and as a result, the whole storyline fails.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI) vs. CHAOS (Will Ospreay & Kazuchika Okada) - 6.75/10
This was a very good match that really felt like it was starting to ramp up- like when you get that feeling that this was the first ten minutes of a match that is going to go down in history as an epic battle. Then Ospreay hit the Stormbreaker on BUSHI and pinned him and that was it. Neither Ross nor Barnett knew what to call the Stormbreaker, which is completely inexcusable at this point. He's been using the move for almost two months, including several major matches.
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Hiromu Takahashi(c) vs. Dragon Lee - 8.75/10
Dragon Lee jumped the bell on Hiromu... and when I say he jumped the bell I mean he literally JUMPED over the top rope to nail the unsuspecting Hiromu with a hurricanrana to the floor to start things off. He then nailed Hiromu with a dive. Then he rolled him into the ring and did Naito's signature corner spot... and Jim Ross called it "very innovative." Then he did the tranquillo pose to mock Naito, driving home to everyone how stupid Ross looked. NJPW on AXS needs new announcers. Or just use the Kevin Kelly/Don Callis commentary. Or grab Joey Styles to stick with Cyrus. Or basically anyone who will actually do his/her homework and keep informed about the product.
They did their usual stuff where it's totally insane and makes you think they legitimately want each other dead and don't care if they kill themselves in the process of killing the other one. Then Dragon Lee hit Hiromu with a Dragon Driver, and I screamed in terror because I was certain that Hiromu was paralyzed. Then Dragon Lee hit him with another move but Hiromu kicked out, then Hiromu countered something into a Canadian Destroyer but Dragon Lee kicked out, then Hiromu hit the Time Bomb for the win. I really hope Hiromu is okay.
IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Jay White(c) vs. Juice Robinson - 9/10
They announced right at the beginning of this match that if the referee thinks Juice is using his cast as a weapon, he has the right to disqualify him.
Jay White DESTORYED Juice's back by tossing him into guardrails. Unfortunately this required the referee to start ignoring the count-out rules. One of these times when they were on the outside saw White give Juice a SICK snap suplex into a guardrail. Not onto it; into it. Both the wrestlers and the guardrail were upright when the move started, and the guardrail remained upright after it ended. Jim Ross did not remain upright, though, as he fell out of his chair trying to avoid getting hit by Juice's legs. This all somehow led to Josh Barnett having a long stare-down and shouting contest with Jay White, including even getting in the ring for a while. Due to all of this, I popped huge for Ross declaring that "this lack of control out here is ridiculous" and suggesting that "the officials should get their sh*t together." He later- after the referee just watched as White stuck Juice's wrist through a chair then picked up another chair to hit him with- flat-out said "there are no rules here that are absolutely enforced. It's embarrassing." Jim Ross had been very bad this whole night, but at this moment he was my hero.
The above frustrations aside, this match was fantastic. Juice responded to the work on his own back by working over Jay White's back, and they did a wonderful job of weaving the story of the injured hand into all of this as well. The heat was crazy, the false finishes were compelling, and the finishing sequence was excellent. This is one you need to go out of your way to see.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kenny Omega(c)(w/the Young Bucks) vs. Cody Rhodes (w/Brandi Rhodes & Bernard the Business Bear) - 8.75/10
Look... if you want to have a no DQs, no count-outs match then just announce it as one! Is it really that hard? If they had announced this as a no count-outs, no DQs match and none of the people on the outside had been there, I probably would have given this something in the range of 9.5/10. But instead they decided to have a match where the referee just lets them fight on the outside forever and use whatever weapons they want... until it's time for the one spot where he is supposed to stop Cody from using the title belt and then weapons become okay all of a sudden. This was done to set up a ref bump which resulted in... absolutely nothing.
Meanwhile we've got the Young Bucks on the outside begging them not to use weapons on each other, but not actually doing anything to stop it. They just stood there yelling like some sort of... well... like a New Japan referee. Even after Cody shoved one of them for no good reason, they weren't willing to do anything to stop him from grabbing the IWGP Heavyweight Title belt to hit Kenny with, even though he walked right past them in both directions when he went to get it. This is even stupider when you realize they're in Kenny's fancy new stable without Cody, and even more ridiculous when you remember that the big climax of the last singles match between these two was the Bucks siding with Kenny over Cody... and even more ridiculous still when you remember that they accidentally cost Kenny that match so you'd think the least they could do would be to pay him back by stopping Cody from using a weapon to screw Kenny out of the title he finally won after spending eighteen months chasing it.
Nick Jackson in particular came off bad here, as he was willing to put Kenny though a table when he probably could have just hit Ibushi with his finisher instead and won the match in the Bucks vs. Golden Lovers match in the last New Japan main event in the USA, but now, when there is even more heat between Kenny and Cody than there was between the Bucks and Golden Lovers, he is telling both guys to not use weapons? AT BEST he's so self-absorbed that he can't see that this situation is much more heated than his was, and at worst this supposed babyface is a hypocrite.
The bear did nothing, and Brandi didn't do too much that bothered me, although her going to protect Cody with her body but then stopping and getting out of the ring just because the referee told her to was a little ridiculous, considering how willing she has been to be a human shield in the past.
The key point here is that it's a damn shame that this (mostly) external stupidity got in the way and dragged down this tremendous effort by Kenny and Cody. These guys did an excellent job of building up to their big spots, and making pretty much every move matter.
One other bit of external stupidity that I have to comment on came after Kenny and Cody's big ladder spot. They build up to this huge spot on the ladder and keep build to it and finally Cody hits Omega with a gigantic superplex and Kenny's selling it great and Cody is selling everything great and Ross and Barnett are even selling it great, and Cody crawls over onto Omega and drapes his arm across Kenny's chest for this bug, dramatic, nearfall... and the genius who produced this show thought this would be a good time to cut to an extreme close-up of the championship belt, and then stay there throughout the whole pin attempt, so we missed this big dramatic moment. Whoever made the decision to do this should be shoved out the door halfway through the plane ride home.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Hated it. Kenny helps Cody up. Cody goes to the back and Kenny gives a big speech, including putting over Cody's effort. The Bucks and Kenny headed to the back, being met at the ramp by the Haku family. Everyone Too Sweeted each other... and the then the Tongans attacked Kenny and the Bucks from behind. They ripped off their shirts revealed that they are now the "Firing Squad."
The rest of Bullet Club (aside from Cody) came down to try to make the save but they all got beat up. Then Cody came out and Tama Tonga gave Cody a chair to hit Kenny with but Cody turned babyface and attacked the Firing Squad, but they overwhelmed him and beat him down.
Are you telling me that at the end of all of this sh*t, Kenny and Cody (and Ibushi and the Bucks) are all just going to be friends again? NO! NO NO NO NO NO!
After I spent six months in two promotions trying to understand the dynamics of all of these relationships between all of these people as these grown adults acted like drama queens and allowed themselves to be divided into constantly-shifting groups where most of the divisions seemed to have no consistency whatsoever based on the events that came before them... to have the only change to the status quo being a couple people who had been complete and total background players turning heel turning heel to form a midcard stable? F*CK OFF!
And yes, they will be a midcard stable. Even acting under the assumption that Bad Luck Fale and Hikuleo will join them, they will never be anything more than a midcard stable because between Omega, Okada, Naito, Tanahashi, Suzuki, ZSJ, Ishii, Goto, Ibushi, and even Cody, White, and Elgin (plus Sanada and EVIL clearly being guys the company wants to elevate) there is no way in hell these guys will ever get near a title that actually means anything.
So yeah. I didn't like this because I thought it was a random, underwhelming, and anti-directional- and with the Cody part in particular I'd even say cheapening- next step for this story to take. The Cody thing in particular is a misstep to me. Even if you presume that he for some reason must wind up friends with Kenny and the Bucks, why would you turn him now? If he's going away for a while to do whatever film project he has, why wouldn't you keep him out of this so you have the ready-made angle of "whose side will Cody be on" when he returns?
This was a very entertaining, and very good show from New Japan that nevertheless still found a way to disappoint and frustrate. It definitely had its share of memorable moments, from Juice's title win to seeing Haku do his stuff in the opener to the main event... and even its aftermath, which, while I hated everything about the idea, was at least very well executed. It's definitely one you should see for yourself. I just hope it doesn't wind up being remember and the night Hiromu Takahashi's career ended.
Also, for the good of New Japan's TV presence in the US, Ross and Barnett have to go. Ross called a Standing Solo Spanish Fly by saying "what a takedown. High impact." It wouldn't be fair to say that they didn't care at all, but at best the total number of f*cks they were able to muster between them was in the mid-single digits.