TOMOAKI HONMA, YUYA UEMURA, & WILL OSPREAY vs. BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, & Bad Luck Fale) - 4.5/10
Spill to the outside, usual bullsh*t, blah blah blah. Honma does his usual stuff and gets his neck worked over like usual. I feel like I've seen this match a million times already. Then Opsreay got tagged in and things were great, no matter who he was in there with. Yujiro and Uemura also worked well together. Ospreay got attacked by Fale after the match.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (EVIL, Sanada, & BUSHI) vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer, & Zack Sabre Jr.) - 3.5/10
Suzuki-Gun jump the bell on their opponents. Zack and EVIL do some good stuff together before we spill to the outside for all of the usual bullsh*t, including the Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Buys(TM). After that we get the usual Suzuki-Gun doing a lot of choking and other illegal things until the four count, followed by a strike exchange between the babyface and Suzuki where Suzuki is overly cocky. In other words, the same thing that happens in every Suzuki-Gun match (and most Bullet Club matches as well). Why are these patterns any less worthy of criticism than WWE's "shine->dive->commercial break->heat during the commercial break->come back for the break at a chinlock->comeback formula?
Sanada eventually got the hot tag and ran wild. Suzuki pinned BUSHI after the Gotch-style piledriver. Zack and EVIL had a forced confrontation after the match. Suzuki-Gun beat up some young-boys just because.
KOTA IBUSHI & REN NARITA vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI & SHOTA UMINO - 6/10
Umino's arm is all taped up. Ibushi worked it over and Umino sold wonderfully. The match was very good for the time it got.
KARL FREDERICKS, CLARK CONNORS, & KENTA vs. TOA HENARE & CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI & Kazuchika Okada) - 5/10
BLOCK B MATCH:
Juice Robinson vs. Toru Yano - 0.25/10
After some stalling, we start off the match by establishing that Juice Robinson is a dumbf*ck for trusting Yano and accepting his handshake, which resulted in Juice being rolled up for nearfall. After that, we began the standard Stupid Yano Trick. Rocky Romero and Kevin Kelly have started giving the turnbuckle pads human names, saying "oh no. He's got Tod!" And why not? After all, everyone loved it so much when WWE gave Xavier Woods' trombone or Lucha House Party's pinata human names and kept referring to them like they were actual humans, so why not copy that.
Sometimes the referee tries to take the turnbuckle pads away from people, but apparently this isn't one of those matches. They did a spot where Juice tried to punch Yano but Yano blocked it with the pad... which, actually makes perfect sense. The problem is that many Yano matches involve someone getting hit with the turnbuckle pad and selling it as if it hurts, and these two scenarios are not compatible.
Juice missed a spear and hit his shoulder on the ringpost and rolled to the outside. They fount on the outside. Usually in New Japan the referee takes forever to start counting people out of the ring, usually waiting until one guy is back in the ring after going bunch of damage on the outside. This time he started counting rather quickly, which I appreciated. Still not quickly enough that it the time he took before counting wouldn't have made a difference (in the ref was doing his job correctly, Juice would been counted out, and probably Yano, too), but at least it's an improvement.
While they were on the outside they did the spot where Yano tries to tie his opponent to the guardrail with athletic tape but Juice managed to escape and threw the tape back into the ring. Once they got back in the ring, Juice demanded that the referee check Yano's tights for more tape, which the referee did and confiscated from him. There are two problems with this spot:
1. Why did the referee not check Yano for illegal foreign objects BEFORE THE MATCH, like he's supposed to?
2. If it is illegal to use the tape to tie up your opponent, WHY DID THE REFEREE NOT DISQUALIFY YANO WHEN YANO INITIALLY PULLED THE TAPE OUT AND TRIED TO TIE JUICE TO THE BARRICADE WITH IT?!
This set up a spot where Yano demanded that the referee check Juice as well, and when he did, Yano rolled Juice up and tried to get the pin. This would have been clever except for two things. The first, of course, is point #1 above. The second is that we often see NJPW referees refuse to count when a wrestler makes a pin after doing something the referee deems to be illegal, or sometimes even just disrespectful. If you're not going to count a pinfall because someone does the foot on the chest pin, shouldn't you not count a pinfall that is set up by one of the competitors abusing the trust of the referee like this?
They briefly teased having a part of the match that wasn't stupid when they built a sequence around teasing someone going into the exposed turnbuckle and then paying it off with a good false finish, but then they followed it up with Yano manhandling the referee and using him as a human shield without getting disqualified. They teased a Yano low blow when the ref was still out of position, which got turned into a teased Pulp Friction from each guy that was countered. Then Yano went for a low blow right in front of the referee. Juice then grabbed his arm and hit Pulp Friction for the win. The announcers tried to push that unlike last year, Juice avoided all of Yano's "traps"- their word for cheating when a babyface does it, because New Japan announcers are the worst hypocrites in pro wrestling, and imagine the ground that covers- but the truth of the matter is that he actually did get caught in about half of them. He just managed to kick out.
BLOCK B MATCH:
Hirooki Goto vs. Taichi (w/Miho Abe) - 1.5/10
Taichi stepped on a Goto shirt during Goto's entrance, so Goto attacked him to jump-start the match. Goto kept beating on Taichi when he was in the ropes, and shoved the referee down hard when the referee tried to pull him off. This was not a DQ. This sort of thing annoys me a lot because it never even leads to a ref bump, meaning that you could have just had the guy back off and you would have proven the same point without adding in a spot that makes it look utterly ridiculous that the guy doesn't get DQed.
Goto hit Tiachi with a spin kick near the ropes and we got to the outside. We get the usual fighting on the outside without getting counted out. The referee for this match is Marty Asami, who also refereed the previous match. There he began to count Juice and Yano out after about thirty seconds. Here, after the same amount of time, instead of beginning to count, he got out of the ring and began to follow the wrestlers around impotently begging them to get back in the ring while they ignored him.
We got the spot where Taichi uses Miho Abe as a human shield, followed by both the baby and the referee staying with Miho while Taichi sneaks off to do something else, because apparently we have to have that spot in every match. In this case that something else was Taichi attacking Karl Fredericks on the outside so that he could throw him into Goto. Why didn't he just attack Goto from behind himself?!
Tiachi throws Goto into things out the outside while the referee just looks at Miho for a while. Is it that hard to just assign a gay referee to Taichi's matches? Or ban Miho from ringside? "King of Sports" my ass. If this was a sport, the company would be taking action to stop this sh*t from happening.
The referee eventually gets back over to the wrestlers. He tries to stop Taichi from hitting Goto with a weapon but Taichi shoves him down. Not a DQ. Then Taichi does exactly the ring the referee had been trying to prevent him from doing and hits Goto with the illegal foreign object. Also not a DQ. Instead he goes back to the ring and begins to count them out, leading to the Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Buys™. I really hope that at some point during this tournament when they do this spot, during the bad dash as the referee begins to count twenty, the babyface trips over his own feet and winds up accidentally getting counted out, and that this f*cks up the booking for the entire tournament. Hopefully that will cause Gedo to put a moratorium on this dumb spot for a while so I won't have to see it in nearly every match.
We then got the "heel does a bunch of illegal moves until right before the ref hits five spot. They finished this off by having Taichi rake Goto's eyes and not break after four, at which point Marty Asami finally called for the DQ. Just kidding. That's what would happen if Gedo gave a sh*t about things making sense. Instead he RESTARTED HIS COUNT. Yes, really. This time Taichi actually stopped after four. Why? We've just saw that the ref won't DQ him if he doesn't break the hold.
But I'm sure those extra five seconds of eye-raking added enough to the match that it was worth to completely obliterate the little credibility that the referee had left.
Taichi is cocky, leading to a strike exchange that Goto wins to start his comeback, like in every other Suzuki-Gun match. After that they finally started to tell a decent story with each guy targeting the other's head, until we got the f*cking moronic spot where Goto (and these are Kevin Kelly's exact words here) "used his head to block the kick." This looked no different than any other enzugiri, except that this time the guy giving the kick was the one who sold it. At least Ishii does his idiotic "I block your forearm strike with my face" spot, he has some forward momentum. Not enough that he should be able to take a strike to the face without flinching, but at least it's something. This spot didn't even have that.
After Taichi kicked out of a reverse GTR and then avoided a Shouten Kai (or maybe the regular Shouten, because you never actually know until he hits it), he grabbed referee Marty Asami and threw him into Goto. Asami went down... but unlike every other time in this match, he didn't pop right back up. Taichi tried to cheat but Goto prevented it. The referee finally got back up when Goto had grabbed the mic stand but Goto through it away. Goto hit a big kick, then grabbed Taichi for the GTR, but Taichi grabbed the referee by the hair and pulled him in. This is was not a DQ. Goto didn't hit the move so Taichi was able to wiggle free. The referee got shoved into the turnbuckle. Not hard enough to bump him, but hard enough to prevent him from turning around for enough time for Taichi to block Goto's kick, then kick Goto in the nuts. Taichi then rolled Goto up with the Gedo Clutch and got the pin. The announcers were upset about this even though they applaud Yano for his cheating because they're ridiculous hypocrites.
The announcers also pushed that the tournament is almost surely over for Goto and it would take a miracle for him to come back and win the block, even though as things stand now he is only four points out of first place in his division, and by the end of the night can be no more than six points back, and has yet to face any of the wrestlers who either are even could potentially be four or more points (i.e. two wins) in front of him by the end of the night. Do these guys ever think before they speak?
BLOCK B MATCH:
Shingo Takagi vs. Jon Moxley (w/Shota Umino) - 8/10
They get in each other's faces right aw ay and trade strikes. Moxley tries a dive, leading to the usual stuff on the outside. Moxley tells the camera "I give zero f*cks." Also not giving any f*cks is Red Shoes, who makes no effort to count the wrestlers out, not to stop Moxley from setting up a table.
Once they got back into the ring Moxley changed tactics and began to work over Shingo's leg. Kevin Kelly said that this was a clear sign that "Moxley has done is homework on Shingo Takagi because if there has been one avenue for his opponents, it's to go after his legs. Kanemaru did that during the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament and nearly gave him his first defeat." So what? Kanemaru still lost that match. Meanwhile, of the two people to actually defeat Shingo, a grand total of ZERO of them worked over his legs. This is a perfect example of an announcer trying to sound smart, but actually coming out of it sounding stupider than he would have if he had simply said that this was a great strategy. Specifics are only good when the evidence actually helps your case.
They had a really great match based off of the work on the knee, which Shingo sold very well. They also did an excellent job (and the announcers do deserve some credit here of making the "Regal Knee" feel like a potential finisher even though we've never seen it before and it didn't get him the win here. This match almost seemed designed to show us that Moxley is not the one-dimensional brawler he has seemed like so far in his NJPW run. Just about the only thing I really hated was Moxley hitting Shingo in the knee with a chair and not getting DQed.
BLOCK B MATCH: Jeff Cobb vs. Jay White (w/Gedo) - 7/10
What is the purpose of White going to the outside to stall at the beginning of every match?
They fought on the outside for a while without any sort of count-out. White got the advantage off a distraction by Gedo. He hit Cobb with a neckbreaker to the floor but Red Shoes refused to count Cobb out for no reason whatsoever. Kevin Kelly claimed that this was because he would not allow White to benefit from Gedo's distraction. If that's the case then why didn't Uno do anything to prevent White from benefitting from the distraction before, like try to pull White off of Cobb when he was stomping on him, or try to stop White from hitting Cobb with that neckbreaker to the floor? And why hasn't he ejected Gedo from ringside to prevent him from interfering again?
Upon Red Shoes telling him that he wouldn't count, White went back to the outside and threw him Cobb into the barricade, then got back into the ring, and apparently we've now passed the point where White is no longer benefitting from Gedo's distraction, even though Cobb hasn't been on his feet under his own power since then. Kevin Kelly claimed that Red Shoes started to count now because he realized that if he didn't count White would just keep beating on Cobb. Well what the hell did Red Shoes think would happen if he didn't count? That White was going to just leave Cobb alone until he recovered? If White was going to do that then he wouldn't have kept beating on Cobb after the distraction in the first place. And if Red Shoes thinks that the fair thing to do after some gets an advantage after a distraction is to make the opponent give the other guy time to recover, why did he wait until now to do anything to try to enforce this instead of taking action right after the distraction happened? And why is Red Shoes refusing to count because White took advantage of a distraction, but didn't do anything to make Moxley give Shingo time to recover after standing there and watching Moxley hit him in the leg with a f*cking chair?
Cobb beat the count back into the ring and White continued to work over his neck. This included a slingshot guillotine into the bottom rope. Cobb went for a pin but Red Shoes again refused to count EVEN THOUGH HE STOOD THERE CAMLY AND WATCHED WHITE EXECUTE THE MANEUVER, MAKING NO ATTEMPT TO STOP HIM, either physically or vertically.
White shoved Red Shoes down, which was not a DQ. White kept working on the neck until Cobb finally reversed something. Cobb then tried to kip up but White grabbed him by the hair and pulled him down, which sounds like a great spot, but unfortunately we didn't get to see it because someone decided to cut a camera that was zoomed in on White's shoulder instead of on the view of Cobb who was rolling back to start a kip-up. At least when TNA was missing shots left and right back in the late 2000s the issue was that they were just cutting to the right camera too slowly. In modern New Japan and ROH we miss shots because they cut away from the right to a camera looking at something there is no reason for it to be looking at right now.
They worked the neck story for a while and Cobb made a good comeback, but then Gedo got involved again, this time holding White's foot so that Cobb couldn't lift him up. Red Shoes saw this, and despite this being the second time that Gedo has gotten involved in the match, Red Shoes did not eject him from ringside.
From that point on they had some good twists and turns and a great finishing sequence. I popped for the ref bump, because at least it meant that Red Shoes wouldn't be able to ruin this match for a bit. And I really do mean that. If you swapped out the parts that revolved around incompetent refereeing for some more focus on the story of the match, I would have given this an 8/10, but all of this stupid referee sh*t so far tonight has just kept piling on and on and makes it very hard for me to enjoy these matches. It's almost frustrating to see a match like this, or some of the stuff in he Goto vs. Taichi match because it's a glimpse of how great these matches could have been if instead of stupid bullsh*t they just stayed focused on their story.
BLOCK B MATCH:
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii - 9.25/10
This took some time to get going, but when it did, it sure as hell got going. The match built very well, their psychology was spot on, they had some great sequences, and exciting nearfalls. This was much closer to a match you'd see Ospreay or Omega or Okada put on with one of these guys where they actually do a good job of integrating their usual spots into each other rather than what we usually see when these two face each other (or Goto, or Tanahashi, or EVIL), which is that when Naito is on offense it's every Naito match ever and when Ishii is on offense it's every Ishii match ever. This felt like a real step forward for these guys.
This was an extremely frustrating show from New Japan, with even some of the matches I thought were awesome feeling like they made mistakes (hint: they all involved the referees) that could have made them better. Thankfully none of that was present in Naito vs. Ishii, which you really should go out of your way to see.