GREAT BASH HEEL vs. YOTA TSUJI & YUYA UEMURA - 5/10
TEN-KOJI vs. GABRIEL KIDD & HIROOKI GOTO - 5.5/10
This was a solid match. You don’t get any points for guessing who got pinned.
MASTER WATO vs. DOUKI - 4/10
DOUKI tried to hit Wato with his stick before the match but Wato ducked it and kicked his but, and did some big flying moves. That was a great way to shine up a babyface making his debut. Then DOUKI backdropped him to the outside and the usual Suzuki-Gun bullsh*t began, breaking all of the rules and not getting punished in any way. Why would you do this? You’re debuting this guy, and immediately telling you that there is nothing special about him by forcing him to have the exact same match as anyone else. He could be any other undercard guy on the roster and the match would have been the same.
So we get the sh*t that should be a count-out but isn’t, the sh*t that should be a DQ but isn’t, then the Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Buys™, then the heel toying with the babyface, which allows the babyface to make the babyface to make the comeback with strikes while he gets to his feet. Different day, same sh*t! People will complain about WWE matches (especially on the main roster) being formulaic, and they absolutely are… but these matches are just as formulaic, and at least WWE’s formula doesn’t involve several minutes of the referee completely ignoring the rules for the sake of this fake heat.
And yes, it is absolutely fake. That’s how it feels. It’s hard to get angry at the heels for doing something dastardly when the reason they are able to do it is that the rules of the universe are changed to allow them to do it without any repercussions. It makes it all feel phony. It doesn’t get me angry at the heels; it gets me angry at the referees for being so bad at their jobs, and angry at the promotion for having no f*cking quality control and letting this sh*t happen for years on end!
Master Wato sold well and he does a good job with the martial arts gimmick… but if he’s doing a martial arts gimmick to the point of calling himself “Master Wato,” why the f*ck is his finisher a sky-twister press? Shouldn’t it be some sort of big strike, or maybe a Jiu-Jitsu hold? Also, that blue hair is a real eyesore.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. Tenzan comes out and gives Master Wato an endorsement.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Sanada & BUSHI) vs. BULLET CLUB (Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi) - 4.75/10
The Paradise Lock is the dumbest thing ever and needs to go. Sanada is an idiot every time he doesn’t just stomp the helpless opponent’s head into the mat until the ref awards him the match via stoppage, and these heels look like idiots every time they do the spot where they try to lock him in it but fail. How hard can it be to get this move right? And if it’s really that hard, why have they not just hired some rudo luchador to come in and teach them?
KOTA IBUSHI, HIROSHI TANAHASHI, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, & YUJI NAGATA vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Taichi, & Zack Sabre Jr.) - 6/10
The heels are mugging Tanahashi and Ibushi in the ring and doing all sort so illegal double-teams and choking and so forth… and the f*cking Nagata and Taguchi are just standing there on the apron, not looking concerned or angry or even interested in the slightest.
HOLY F*CK THEY DIDN’T DO THE USUAL BULLSH*T! IT’S A MIRACLE!
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. The heels beat up the unimportant babyfaces but the important babyfaces make the save. This would be fine except that it kills the heat for tomorrow’s title match to have the babyfaces champions lay the heel challengers out on the go-home show.
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, & Sho) vs. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Hiromu Takahashi, Tetsuya Naito, & Shingo Takagi) - 6.25/10
A semi-main event with Yano crap in it. This match was very meh for fifteen minutes, and didn’t do anything to excite me for Sho vs. Shingo.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2020 FINALS:
Kazuchika Okada vs. EVIL - 6.75/10
So they locked up and Okada goes for his head and arm choke or whatever type of move his new finisher is (I’d look up the name but am afraid of spoilers) and EVIL gets to the ropes… and then Okada just rolls to the outside and grabs his head like he’s in a massive amount of pain. Um… what’s going on? Something is clearly wrong with Okada. I don’t know if it’s a work or a shoot, but either way, shouldn’t the referee be checking on him?
Instead of Red Shoes, it’s EVIL who comes to the outside and stomps on Okada. Okada fights back and shoves EVIL into the guard rail, then rolls him back into the ring. Red Shoes was not counting them out, leading to me to question if he is even paying attention to the match at this point. Okada starts selling his head again before getting back into the ring. He hits EVL with a neckbreaker and also sells a bit himself. Maybe it’s his neck or shoulder instead of his head? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not really sure how he got hurt, because EVIL didn’t seem to do anything to him, nor did EVIL act like he had done something to Okada.
Okada starts to work the head, but EVIL cuts him off and immediately pulls him to the outside for the usual bullsh*t. First it’s the whips into the barricade, then he goes to get the chairs for his dumb spot. Red Shoes starts paying attention to the match instead of wandering around the ring thinking about pie or whatever he does when he’s supposed to be counting the wrestlers out, and he tries to stop EVIL from using the chair, but EVIL shoves him. It was a pretty light shove, but it sent Red Shoes running far in the other direction, like he was a wind-up toy that EVIL had quickly picked up and reoriented, then put back down.
Hey! Look at that: Something different happened in an EVIL match! Instead of the dumb spot where he puts one chair around someone’s neck and then use another chair to hit that chair and spin it sideways, he just wraps Okada’s arm in a chair and slams into the ringpost. This was a nice change from the usual, but maybe we could have our change from the usual be NOT DOING SOMETHING THAT INVOLVES PUSHING DOWN THE REFEREE WHEN HE TRIES TO STOP YOU FROM USING A CHAIR AND THUS SHOULD BE AN AUTOMATIC DQ!
EVIL’s got another chair and Red Shoes is back… just in time be shoved away again. This time we see him run all the way into one of the barricades by the aisle in the crowd and take bump. I’ll be nice and pretend he hit his hip.
Oh… wait… now is when we get the dumb chair spot. At least Okada was smart enough to sell it like some part of the chair hit caught him in the face, as opposed to everyone else who just sells it like a normal chairshot to the head from the front, even though the physics on that makes no sense for multiple reasons.
EVIL gets back in the ring, and so does Red Shoes, and seeing as how Red Shoes is the guy who will refuse to make a count if a heel does something as simple- and, more importantly, legal- as making a disrespectful cover… just starts counting Okada out, even though EVIL not only clearly hit him with a chair, but did so after Red Shoes had ordered him not to, and after EVIL had then pushed Red Shoes down when Red Shoes tried to physically enforce that warning. Things like this are why people who claim that Red Shoes “stands up to the heels” are full of sh*t. He doesn’t stand up to the heels. He just has his spots he likes to do, and doesn’t give a sh*t if there is any logic or consistency to what he’s doing. Also, if the f*cking REFEREE says he has to get his sh*t in, the only proper response should be “that sounds like a great spot. I’m sure the people at the unemployment office will pop huge when you do it for them.”
I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that Okada beats the count. EVIL goes back to working his arm, which makes me wonder what was even the point of doing the chairshot to the “head” and the count-out tease?
EVIL keeps working the arm over, including by wrapping it around a guardrail. Instead of counting both men out because they’re both on the outside, Red Shoes runs to the outside and starts applying a five-count like it’s a rope-break. How does that make any sense?
Okada eventually makes his comeback and they wind up on the outside and again Red Shoes isn’t counting them out. Only once they finish with their planned spot (in this case a draping DDT onto the floor) does Red Shoes start counting. Sh*t like this makes matches feel more scripted, and thus makes it harder to immerse oneself in the fiction.
We get some good back-and-forth action, followed by a ref bump and a low blow by EVIL. He got a bunch of chairs and hit Darkness Falls onto them. Again, Red Shoes has recovered just in time to make the count for the dramatic false finish.
More back-and-forth stuff led to the big forearm battle. Okada won that with his dropkick, then locked in his new submission finisher. EVIL got out of it the first time by going to the eyes, but Okada locked it in again and had it in for a long time… at which point he made the most prominent mistake in New Japan and LET GO OF A PERFECTLY GOOD SUBMISSION HOLD TO GO FOR SOMETHING ELSE. This is the same mistake that Sanada has made against Okada in pretty much every match they’ve had together… and Okada decides to make it. He hits two short-arm clotheslines (not full Rainmakers), then locks the submission in again.
Okada seems to have the win in hand but Gedo runs out to cause a distraction, allowing Yujiro to run in from behind and attack Okada. EVIL hits a big lariat or two and goes for Everything is EVIL, but Okada is able to reverse it and locks him submission hold in again. EVIL backs them into Red Shoes in the corner for another ref bump and to break the hold. He hits another low blow, then the big nut-stomp, and then hits Everything is EVIL for the win.
This match a great example of so much of what bugs me so much about New Japan, and why I have a such a love-hate relationship with the product. There was a lot of good drama here… but they also did a lot of stuff earlier on that hurt the fabric of the match and even worked against that drama. All of that stuff I complained about in the beginning does bug me for the reasons I usually state. Wrestling has kayfabe rules, and those rules need to be adhered to in order to create immersion. So- as I’ve said a million times before- I don’t like to see that crap anywhere, be it New Japan, AEW, WWE, ROH, PWG, wXw, RevPro, PROGRESS, etc.
But what exacerbates the problem for New Japan in particular, though, is that a lot of that stuff that I object to on the above grounds often winds up working against the story of the match. When EVIL takes advantage of a ref bump to hit Okada in the nuts and go get some chairs, that should have felt like a big moment, and one where the stakes were being raised. But it didn’t feel that way for multiple reasons, which can all be traced back to that stuff they did in the beginning.
First and foremost, doing those spots with the chairs in the beginning means that EVIL is already using chairs and engaging in high-order cheating (using a weapon or low blow, as opposed to something like raking the eyes, which we can maybe forgive as something done instinctively in a moment of desperation). Using chairs isn’t a raising of the stakes if you’ve already used chairs several times.
Then you’ve got the way the referee was handled. Part of the drama of a ref bump should be the feeling that “oh my gosh, now ANYTHING can happen!” This is the moment in which the heel can really cheat, as he or she is unrestrained by the burden of having to stealthily hide his or her cheating from a referee who is actively on the lookout for such tricks. But if you show us (and especially early on) that EVIL can just throw the referee around willy-nilly if the ref tries to stop him from cheating and face no consequences for it, the ref bump stops feeling dramatic and starts feeling like a contrivance. What happens during the ref bump ceases to feel exciting and we just sit there waiting for the ref to get back up to see if the babyface is going to kick out or not.
What did we get with those chairshots and shoving the referee down and the count-out tease early on? One chair shot to the arm (which did work with the story of the match), but also the big chairshot to the head and count-out tease that didn’t. EVIL spent the match working over Okada’s arm, other than the usual forearms and this one chairshot. And the fact that the one supposedly big spot that didn’t fit in with the story of the match was a chairshot done in this specific way that is a signature move that EVIL does in pretty much all of his matches makes it feel like the narrative of the match is being interrupted by a fake wrestling making sure he gets his sh*t in, once again contributing to breaking emersion.
I crapped on the Lumberjack match between Wardlow and Luchasaurus on Dynamite a few weeks ago because they ignored the rules and pretty much ignored the point of the gimmick, too, to the point where it felt like the only reason the lumberjacks were there were to be a giant human crash-pad for these pointless dives and bumps off the stage they wanted to do. I thought it was f*cking stupid then and I’ll stand by that assertion now, but at least their breaking the rules and killing the gimmick was done in a way that worked with the story they wanted for their match. Again… that doesn’t mean it wasn’t f*cking stupid (as a general rule, if you need to ignore the basic concept of the match’s gimmick to tell the story you want to tell, that’s a sign that you need to start over from scratch because you’re telling the wrong story), but at least it was a necessary part of their match. In this case- and in many other cases in New Japan- they could have gotten to the same exact place by just having EVIL ram Okada’s arm into the ringpost or wrap it around a guardrail, and it would have cut out all of the problematic spots that both damaged emersion and that worked against build-up of the drama for the big spots later on.
Then there was the overbooking. This is a perfect example of a situation where it wouldn’t have bothered me… if we didn’t see interference and distractions so damn often in this company. THIS is the place where you do distractions and interference and low blows and weapons shots. Not in every singles pointless Bullet Club and Suzuki-Gun match and also most of EVIL’s matches on every f*cking show! That way, the interference would actually feel like it really meant something.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. EVIL cuts a promo in which I presume he called out Naito. Naito is apparently too dumb to have figured out what I think most of us have by now and… yup. Naito puts up the LIJ fist, but EVIL gives him the Too Sweet instead and hits him with Everything is EVIL. Bullet Club come out and they all pose over Naito until LIJ come out to chase them away.
As you can probably glean from the above paragraph, I thought Naito looked kind of dumb here for not seeing this coming, but I guess I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that he was asking for an explanation of the interference in Japanese, and EVIL did throw him off a bit with the way it was set up.
From a booking point of view, I really like this turn for several reasons. First, New Japan is clearly running with a smaller roster than usual due to COVID, and that seems to include not having access to certain big stars, so doing something big and dramatic to try to make someone new makes a lot of sense. In particular, Bullet Club has lost their top three heavyweights (KENTA, Jay White, and Bad Luck Fale), as well as their heart-and-soul guy who can function as a big name in certain symbolic situations (Tama Tonga), so giving them someone who can function as a new top guy makes a lot of sense.
I also really like the choice of EVIL as the guy to turn. My big criticism of New Japan’s stable system over the past few years is that it feels like it has damaged the potential of guys who aren’t in the top two, and especially the absolute top guy, in their stables. Look at the past two or three years of New Japan and ask yourself whose stocks have been elevated the most. My top seven would be Jay White, Ospreay, KENTA, Shingo, Ishimori, Hiromu, and Zack Sabre Jr., with something of an honorable mention to Lance Archer, Taichi, Juice Robinson, and Roppongi 3K. If you look at those names (and especially the top tier, you’ll notice something about them. Specifically, that they all fit into either one of two categories. Either they started getting their big pushes as junior heavyweights, or they are heavyweights who were members of a stable that had a big power vacuum (Bullet Club lost it’s big leaders/heavyweight singles players in Omega and Cody, and Suzuki-Gun never really had a #2 guy until Zack was established in that role in 2018, and really needs a third because they’re clearly limiting the number of big singles matches they’re giving Suzuki, which the way he was booked last year made quite clear… and last year was the year that suddenly Archer and Taichi are being given chances). The only guy who doesn’t quite fit in is Juice… but Juice is also the only one on this list who isn’t really a member of an organized stable (Taguchi Japan isn’t a real thing), so he was his own top guy.
Now think back over the past few years about the guys we were all expecting to get some sort of big push at some point: EVIL, Sanada, Ishii (and arguably Goto). These guys have pretty much stayed still, maybe occasionally getting a reign with the IC or NEVER titles, and all of their reigns with the clearly #2 IC Title having been very short (and many of their NEVER Openweight Title reigns even being short, too). And that’s because there has been on room for them to move up the card, with Okada locked in on top of CHAOS and Naito on top of LIJ. They’ve never been allowed to feel like top names, because someone else has always been the ace of the stable.
EVIL needed to make this change to finally get out of Naito’s shadow. Of course, now he’s pretty much got to win the title (and this review is being posted after my review of Dominion because I watched the main event here, then all of Dominion, then the pointless undercard on this show, so I can edit in the fact that I’m relieved that he did… although ambivalent because, as I said in my Dominion review, Naito has now won the belt twice and dropped it quickly twice), but at least he’s not stuck treading water behind Naito anymore.
This was a bad show from New Japan, with pretty much everything other than the pre-lims with the Young Lions underdelivering. Yes, the main event is very important as a rare major turn in a company that turns maybe one person a year, but the match itself could have been better, and a stronger undercard would have made the screwy finish an easier pill to swallow.