SATOSHI KOJIMA, YUJI NAGATA, & RYUSUKE TAGUCHI vs. GREAT BASH HEEL & GABRIEL KIDD - 4/10
Typical undercard stuff.
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Sanada, BUSHI, & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. YOTA TSUJI & CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) - 3.5/10
Stupid Yano tricks, stupid Paradise Lock spots, then some decent wrestling.
HIROYOSHI TENZAN, MASTER WATO, & YUYA UEMURA vs. SUZUKI-GUN (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & DOUKI) - 4.5/10
The heels won, and attacked the babyfaces after the match to boot.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Hirooki Goto) vs. BULLET CLUB (Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori) (w/Gedo) - 6/10
We got the usual crap where they were on the outside forever without being counted out, and the count finally started when they were ready to do their count-out tease. Other than that, this was mostly fine. Goto got busted open.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. The heels attack the babyfaces after the match. Yes, for the second match in a row. Okada’s next feud appears to be with Yujiro.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Shingo Takagi(c) vs. Sho - 7.5/10
This was good by the end, but the beginning felt a little repetitive. This was acceptable for what it was and its place on the card, but I was really hoping this would be something of a show-stealer. Hopefully this doesn’t damage Sho’s rising star too much (although with the amount of talent NJPW has in their junior heavyweight division, I think I would actually be happier with Sho not catching fire to make Roppongi 3K a sure thing when Yoh returns from his injury. New Japan doesn’t need another Naito and another Yujiro; they need a No Limit.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. El Desperado attacks Shingo, so there is your next title feud.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Golden Ace (Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi)(c) vs. Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) - 8/10
This started off as a decent brawl, but that ended when the heels cut Tanahashi off and Taichi just choked him with various things for what felt like five straight minutes. After that point this was awesome, but those five minutes ground it to a halt and dragged it down. Cut that repetitive sh*t out and just work the leg for three minutes!
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE AND IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Tetsuya Naito(c)(c) vs. EVIL - 4/10
Milano Collection AT is still holding up EVIL’s gimmick despite being a babyface announcer. Did he turn heel, too, or did he just not watch last night’s show?
I get wanting to change your look after a turn, but EVIL’s new gear is not flattering at all, and letting his multi-colored hair down just makes it look worse.
Naito turning his back on EVIL and all of Bullet Club felt a little foolish. I get that he’s all tranquilo and thus he’s trying not to sell last night’s betrayal at all, but that doesn’t mean you should put yourself in such a compromising position.
We spent a LONG TIME in the beginning with Red Shoes trying to get Bullet Club to leave ringside. Eventually they do, probably knowing that they can just come back out later and Red Shoes won’t DQ EVIL because Red Shoes rarely ever calls for DQs no matter how blatantly someone breaks the rules.
So the bell finally rings… and EVIL heads right to outside to stall. WHY? To “get into Naito’s head?” F*ck that sh*t. He doesn’t need to get into Naito’s head because he’s already there. He betrayed him and assaulted him a mere twenty-four hours ago! Why is he stalling? What’s the psychology here?
This seemed really familiar, so I looked back at my review of Naito’s last defense- against Bullet Club’s KENTA at New Beginning in Osaka 2020 (you know… before the world closed down)… and guess how that match started? Red Shoes throws Bullet Club out. They stay and complain for awhile before finally leaving, and then, when the bell finally rings, KENTA goes to the outside and starts stalling. Is that just how people in Bullet Club start their title matches now?
EVIL heads back into the ring… and immediately rolls back out. Like me, Naito has had quite enough of this bullsh*t, so he gives EVIL a baseball slide, forcing the match to actually start. Naito throws him into the barricades a bunch, then takes him behind the barricades. He slams EVIL’s head into the announcers table twice. Red Shoes, of course, isn’t counting them out. Now Naito starts dragging EVIL around by the hair and Red Shoes still isn’t doing anything. He spent so much time trying to get Bullet Club to leave so that they don’t break a rule and interfere, and now that rules are being broken, he’s just standing there with his thumb up his ass, not doing anything.
Naito eventually took EVIL back to the ring and started beating on him, this just didn’t click for me, as it felt like he only had about 25% of the fire necessary for the situation. I get that he’s supposed to be tranquilo, but there is a difference between acting cool and not actually being affected by a things, and a good babyface needs to be the former rather than the latter, because if Naito doesn’t actually care about being wronged, why should the viewer care about it, either? Being tranquilo is great and all, but for being tranquilo to be meaningful and used to its fullest, there has to be a time when Naito finally snaps, and being betrayed by a close friend and stablemate is EXACTLY the time to do that… and yet Naito isn’t doing it.
EVIL eventually clotheslined Naito to the floor and now it’s his turn for Into The Barricades™, the official wrestling maneuver on New Japan Pro Wrestling. Red Shoes isn’t counting, of course, but he does come out and apply a five-count when EVIL wraps Naito’s leg around the barricade, as if the barricade was a rope. Now EVIL is setting up a table and Red Shoes still isn’t doing sh*t.
Naito escapes but EVIL takes him down with a shot to knee. Then, instead of following up on the downed Naito, EVIL goes over to harass the announcer, because I guess he’s not really interested in winning the match.
Milano decided he wasn’t going to take this sh*t and jumped the barricade to go after EVIL. EVIL quickly took him out with a kick to the gut and- you guessed it!- a whip into the barricade. If you’re getting excited for a Milano Collection AT comeback, I will remind you that eleven months ago we were all getting excited about Shibata taking a bump, and there was no comeback match.
EVIL finally goes back over to Okada to once again do the leglock in the barricade and here comes Red Shoes to count it like it’s a rope-break. These guys have been on the outside for almost three straight minutes now and Red Shoes hasn’t even reach one on his ring-out count. EVIL finally gets back in the ring and starts taking off the turnbuckle pad. Red Shoes gets back into the ring and FINALLY starts to count someone out OVER THREE AND A HALF MINUTES after they initially went to the outside. And Naito is back in at two.
EVIL whips Naito into the exposed turnbuckle pad and takes forever to follow up. EVIL does not feel like someone who gives a sh*t about making sure he wins his first world championship tonight. Another whip into the exposed turnbuckle, and Naito sold it by going down and doing a headstand. It was quite wacky. EVIL took forever to follow up again before he finally started working over the knee. Naito tries to fight out of it by pulling hair and Red Shoes took forever before trying to get him to stop. EVIL cranks in on the hold and Naito sells well, but then he’s back to pulling the hair and has this crazy looked on his face and holy sh*t is he a TERRIBLE babyface right now.
EVIL started doing the cocky thing and not following up and daring Naito to hit him and all of that sh*t that they do in big New Japan matches that I absolutely hate. EVIL cuts Naito off by going to the knee, and that gets worked over for a bit. Unfortunately, that bit included thirty straight seconds of EVIL trying to herk Naito up for a vertical suplex but Naito not leaving the ground. Within a minute, Naito cut EVIL off by running across the ring for a dropkick. Naito sold it well afterwards, like that had taken a lot out of him, but Naito constantly cutting EVIL off is making it feel like EVIL really isn’t a main event guy. It feels like one of those times he would get to challenge for the IC Title on a secondary show’s main event.
Now Naito gets his first sustained offense in since the beginning… and he’s just running around all willy-nilly, not selling the knee very much. And he’s pulling hair again, too. Naito starts working over EVIL’s neck and gets him in this nice submission… and then starts raking his eyes like a total heel! Now EVIL gets to the ropes and Naito won’t break the hold. Dude… YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE BABYFACE.
EVIL soon cuts him off and we’re back to the f*cking light slaps on the check and the cocky sh*t. Dod you want to be the f*cking world champion or not? Because if you do, START FOLLOWING UP WHEN YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE!
They traded the advantage back and forth, and while they each always went back to the body part they have been working over they both also just kept taking f*cking forever to follow up after every singles move. There is just no killer instinct here, very little urgency, and even less fire. Even when they were teasing a f*cking piledriver off the apron through a table it just didn’t feel like there was any urgency here.
Naito was the one who wound up going through that table via kneebreaker from EVIL… and his knee f*cking obliterated that table. And this was one of those infamously sturdy Japanese tables, too. This happened right in front of Red Shoes, who, of course, did not disqualify EVIL for cheating. EVIL then got some chairs. He wrapped one around Naito’s knee while Red Shoes just stood and watched. Only when EVIL reared back to hit Naito’s knee with the other chair did Red Shoes try to stop him. He did this by picking up a large piece of the broken table to use as a shield. That was a very clever spot. EVIL, who in every single f*cking match will try to use a chair and then shove the referee down when the referee tries to stop him… just gave up here, put the chair down, and got back in the ring. Red Shoes checked on Naito for a while, then FINALLY began counting them out, even though they had been on the outside for over three minutes already. Why does EVIL want to win by count-out? Can the belt change hands on a count-out in New Japan?
When Naito made it back to the ring, EVIL started stomping away on his knee, and for the first time in the almost thirty minutes this match had been going on, he looked like someone who desperately wanted to win his first world title tonight. He locked Naito in the Sharpshooter and they had this GREAT struggle for the ropes and this FINALLY started to look like a match where the world title was on the line.
Then Naito made it to the ropes, and we were right back to taking forever to follow up on things, with EVIL pacing a whole lap around the ring before giving Naito one stomp to the knee, and then taking another lap before doing another stomp, and then he paced another lap and stood there just looking at Naito for a solid fifteen seconds before trying his next move. Once they got up again the match regained that urgent feeling, but by this point it has been almost HALF AN HOUR of the match feeling humdrum and completely unimportant.
We got about five minutes of lots of really good stuff, with the big moves and reversals and the forearm battle and the urgency of needing to put your opponent away quickly and the despair from the wrestlers that they were too injured to follow up a big move with a pinning attempt and all of that great world title match stuff… and then we got a f*cking ref bump.
Out came Jado, slowly walking to the ring with a Kendo stick. The then curtain opened up again and I assumed it would be a member of LIJ coming out to stop him, but instead it was Ishimori, running past him because I guess he realized Jado was moving way to slow to be able to get to Naito before Naito was able to recover. Ishimori knocks Naito down and holds him up for a Kendo stick shot, but finally someone LIJ shows up. It’s Hiromu. Shouldn’t the others be out here, too, in case the rest of Bullet Club decide to come back out?
Hiromu knocks Jado down and gives Ishimori a suplex into the turnbuckle, from which poor Ishimori appeared to land right on his head. Hiromu then brawled up one of the aisles with both heels at the same time.
Back in the ring, Naito went to deal with the apparently-unconscious EVIL but EVIL was playing possum and hit him in the gut with a chair, then hit him in the head with it (by the way the seat popped off, I assume it was gimmicked, which is good). Then he went for Everything is EVIL but Naito blocked it and hit an Enzugiri. So much for those chair shots. Red Shoes is back up now and Naito gets a nearfall off of a Reverse Tornado DDT. Naito hit a brainbuster and went for Destino but EVIL pulled Red Shoes out of position and kicked Naito in the nuts.
Someine in a mask then came down to ringside and looked like he was going to cheer Naito on, but instead he punched him and choked him out with some sort of cable. I assume the idea was that we were supposed to think this was BUSHI, but he was wearing a totally different mask from his usual, so I don’t think anyone (other than Naito, I guess) thought this was the real BUSHI. For that reason, this felt fairly underwhelming as far something that is supposed to seem like a turn goes. I guess EVIL was distracting Red Shoes while this was happening.
Now it was “BUSHI’s” turn to distract Red Shoes while EVIL stomped on Naito’s nuts. We’ve got a bogus BUSHI clearly interfering on EVIL’s behalf, so I have to ask… where is the real BUSHI? Why isn’t he out here, stopping this? And ditto for Sanada and Shingo.
EVIL hits everything is EVIL, and Red Shoes counts the pin from a position where he could not possibly have seen Naito’s right shoulder.
As you’ve probably surmised by now, I thought this was pretty bad. This was a thirty-eight-minute match during which we got a grand total of five or so that felt like a real world title match, with the rest of it being either slow and plodding or being a second straight night of ref bumps and run-ins in the main event, this time leading to a title change.
I think the title change was necessary because EVIL would have been badly hurt without it, but having him need all of this outside help and cheating to win a second time undermines his push. I was fine with it last night because it’s important to establishing that he is now with Bullet Club, but doing it tonight, too, helped no one. Well… I guess it helped Naito a bit by protecting him, but I do think there was still some damage done in Naito now having lost his second reign as world champion at the next Big Four show after winning the belt, just like in his first reign.
As bad as the interference title change was, though, the real issue with this match was the pacing and lack of fire. Forget about not feeling like a world title match; this didn’t even feel like the grudge match that it needed to. If you just watched this match, you would have no inkling that there was any sort of personal issue between these two men, when one of them turned on the other a mere twenty-four hours ago. This did not leave me optimistic for either EVIL’s future, or for Naito’s. The guy has lots of talent, but if all he can do in terms of a character is be tranquilo, that’s a big issue.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. The bullsh*t BUSHI takes off his mask and reveals himself to be… Dick Togo. Really. The same Dick Togo who turns fifty-one in a month. How many old bald guys does Bullet Club need?
They beat on Naito, but Hiromu came back to make the save. Still no sign of the others. They are very bad friends.
This was a bad show from New Japan. Yes, COVID means it shouldn’t be judged the same way as other Dominions, but the company still has plenty of talent, and of the three big matches on this card, only one of them was close to the level we expect from New Japan, and main event in particular was quite the stinker. EVIL’s reign is off to a crappy start. Hopefully things will improve.