WINNER CHALLENGES FOR THE IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOMORROW NIGHT:
Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo - 6.5/10
We open with cheap heat by having ELP throw Hiromu’s Best of the Super Juniors trophy. I’ve seen so much of this crap in New Japan that it doesn’t affect me anymore. Worse, it actually takes me out of the matched because it feels like the heel playing a character and purposely doing something to try to get heat, rather than something that has any sort of real emotion behind it.
That being said, the spot did, at least, allow for a hot start with Hiromu diving onto ELP (as opposed to, say, a Jay White match). From there they… mostly just did stuff. Hiromu’s hand got worked over a bit they chased finishers and ELP kept doing callbacks to previous Bullet Club leadership (although I don’t see why that should matter if it doesn’t mesh with the fabric of the story like it did in Omega’s G1-winning match) and everything they did made sense coming after the thing that came before it, but there was no real flow to the match, and no sense of urgency. Watching the match, I just felt like I was waiting for the next move rather than seeing a story play out.
Also, that ref bump was embarrassingly bad. That’s yet another reason that NJPW needs to knock it off with the ref bumps. They always look like sh*t.
IWGP TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Dangerous Tekkers(c) (w/DOUKI) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (w/Jado) - 4.5/10
WHOA! When did Tama Tonga cut his hair? I don’t like it.
Anyway, he starts off against Zack and they do some wrestling… and then Taichi comes in and it’s right to the f*cking choking. The Guerrillas (well… mostly Tanga Loa, really) took control of the match and Taichi became the… annoying heel in peril, I guess? I figured at the very least this would mean we’d go a while without any f*cking choking, but then Tama Tonga tagged in and started choking Taichi.
Stuff happened for a while. It was back and forth, but not in a way that felt exciting. It was just guys doing stuff. Things were always exiting when Zack was in. Taichi… not so much. Zack too a sick bump for a Gun Stun. Taichi got pinned after Tama Tonga hithim with the Iron Fingers and Tanga Loa it him with his finisher. Cheaters we don’t like cheated to beat other cheaters we don’t like. Unless the plan is for Bullet Club to wind up with all of the belts that they have access to at the end of tomorrow’s show, I don’t understand why they booked the Guerrillas of Destiny as the challengers here instead of a babyface team.
IWGP US TITLE #1 CONTENDERSHIP BRIEFCASE MATCH: KENTA(c) vs.
Satoshi Kojima (w/Hiroyoshi Tenzan) - 7/10
We start off with the traditional Bullet Club stalling by KENTA. He got into it with Tenzan a bit, and eventually threw Kojima into him. They did their stuff and KENTA won. Kojima can still go.
THE GREAT O-KHAN vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI - 7.5/10
I was not expecting to see some grapplef*ck here. That was a quite the pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, it soon turned into the expected fighting on the outside forever without getting counted out… until the big spot comes and it’s time for the Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Buys™.
The story of the match was O-Khan continuing the work he has done on Tanahashi’s leg in the build-up to this show. This was a good showing for O-Khan, but I don’t think it was good enough for him to feel like he gained anything in this loss.
KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. WILL OSPREAY (w/Bea Priestley) - 9.25/10
Apparently this match is being contested under special rules where count-outs only come into effect after there has been a table spot. That’s my best effort to make sense of the usual terrible referring in this company. The reality is more likely the same sentiment that Ospreay expressed earlier in this match, which is that Red Shoes is the worst referee there is.
Since we’re already on the few negatives in this match, we’ll start with those. They’re mostly the usual New Japan dumb referee sh*t. Everything from count-outs only being a thing when the match needs a dramatic count-out tease to Red Shoes trying to push Ospreay off of Okada when Ospreay was legally stomping on Okada’s head but then NOT calling for the bell (so why did he try to get in the way if not to stop the match?), to then not DQing Ospreay when Ospreay shoved him, to the more specific Red Shoes crap, like refusing to count a pin after Ospreay hit Okada with a completely legal knee drop to the back of the neck, or OPENLY CHEERING FOR OKADA AFTER OKADA HIT A MOVE. The sort of clearly biased stupid sh*t that there is absolutely no reason for him to do other than to call attention to himself, and that if a referee in a real sport (which is what pro wrestling is supposed to simulate) did, he or she would be investigated and almost certainly fired.
The other negative was the finish. This company needs a top-level heel who isn’t in Bullet Club (and Suzuki can’t be that top level heel anymore), and this was their chance to make one. Instead, Ospreay lost cleanly. This is how you turn potential main eventers into upper midcarders. New Japan is so work-rate focused that it’s not going to hurt Ospreay too much in the long run, but right now, it does feel like it defines him down (especially with the rest of his stable being midcarders). This felt like OkadaWinsLOL.
Other than that, everything about this match was tremendous. The story, the selling, the pacing, the facial expressions, the psychology, the execution of the moves. In particular, I thought they did an excellent job of keeping Ospreay from feeling like a babyface, even though the story was mostly focused on his determination to win. Bea was great on the outside, too. I loved her verbal communication with Ospreay, and her response to Okada glaring at her- “I’m a f*cking lady! You don’t put your hands on me!”- had me rolling.
Oh. One more negative. Chris Charlton said “If Ospreay’s the kingpin, I think Bea Priestley is his Lady Macbeth.” What do those two things have to do with each other?
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE AND IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Tetsuya Naito(c)(c) vs. Kota Ibushi - 8.5/10
Lots of work on the head and neck by both guys. I’m not a big Naito fan and I’m still burnt out from watching these two have a seemingly endless feud in 2019, so I’m sure others liked this a lot more. The biggest strike against this match in my mind (and this is often an issue I have with big Naito matches) is that you that neither guy was going to win with just one finisher. I know it’s a Tokyo Dome main event and thus that might not seem like a fair criticism, but the best matches can get you to bite on even that first false finish through storytelling (like Okada and Ospreay just did).
Ibushi’s win came across like the big moment it should have. I did not need the pointless Jay White promo at the end, ruining the moment. And it’s not good heat because it doesn’t make me anticipate seeing White get his ass kicked any more than I already did. It was me getting frustrated because Gedo couldn’t deviate from his dull pattern, even for a huge moment for a top star.
This was a pretty good show from New Japan. The beginning of the card was pretty clunky, but things picked up quite nicely as we moved along. Okada vs. Ospreay is one of those matches people will definitely be talking about for a while; both for the in-ring action and the questionable booking. Maybe we’ll even get some idea of why Gedo decided that Okada needed to win tomorrow night. Lots of big matches tomorrow, too, of course. Hopefully everything delivers.