February 26th, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
The first of two co-promoted shows sees Kenny Omega and Bullet Club return to NJPW for the first time since January 5th. Let’s get to it!
For these shows I’ve enlisted Rick Poehling, resident Ring of Honor reviewer for this very blog, for his take on the matches; someone with an ROH-centric view on proceedings. Take it away, Rick…
Rick: Hey everyone! My name’s Rick and I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling since the Megapowers exploded. I’ve been the Ring of Honor recapper at the Blog of Doom for over a year now, and my true passion is really cruiserweight wrestling (I also recap 205 Live), which was my intro to NJPW back in the 90s through tape-trading for the BOSJ tournaments. I’ve been watching ROH since Bryan Danielson was the champ, and it remains my favorite company to this day. I reviewed both of last year’s shows and am looking forward to this year’s, although I still want to find whoever put KUSHIDA in random tag matches both nights…..and kill them. For God’s sakes, you couldn’t spring for a plane ticket to fly Lio Rush over? Anyway, let’s have some fun!
Here we go…
David Finlay, Juice Robinson and KUSHIDA vs. Gedo, Jado and Silas Young
Ioan: Jado and Gedo assuming Young’s “Real Man” gimmick was a fun touch, although Young’s pre-match promo was completely lost on the crowd. Juice, meanwhile, continues to gain support with the Tokyo crowds, but a stray knee from Young almost certainly broke his nose. He finished the match, earning the pin over Gedo, so he remains on a roll which I hope won’t be interrupted too badly by injury. As usual, Kushida brought a high level of class to proceedings, despite being relegated to opening tags in recent months. **1/2
Rick: Good to see Finlay back. Can we just forget the other team and do a triple threat between Kushida, Finlay, and Juice? Silas cuts a heel promo before the match that is so incomprehensible, the crowd cheers him anyway. So much stomping and eye-poking as Finlay gets beat up for awhile. Kushida and Silas do a decent but awkward sequence, then it’s Juice and Silas. I really like Juice. He had a pretty good match with Marty Scurll recently on ROH TV, and he’s clearly come a long way. It breaks loose soon after and Juice hits Pulp Fiction for the win. Not much here. Pretty messy in spots, and Young really didn’t add much. The faces celebrate in the crowd and Juice probably has a broken nose. **1/2
Winners: David Finlay, Juice Robinson and KUSHIDA (Juice pinned Gedo via Pulp Friction at 10:13)
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA) (c) vs. Delirious, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
Ioan: Sanada and Delirious were able to manufacture a couple of decent near-falls in the closing stretch that had the crowd biting, but LIJ rightly claimed the win with Sanada’s Skull End dragon sleeper. He continued to disrespect commentator Milano Collection A.T. post-match by applying the Paradise Lock to a young lion and I find he’s generally building a solid, if currently low level, reputation. There’s not really any room further up the card at the moment, but should a spot open up he seems a good bet to take it. Tiger and Liger, as ever, looked remarkably sprightly. **1/2
Rick: Delirious is the head booker for ROH and is completely useless in the ring these days. He and Gedo had the worst match last year on these shows (and one of the overall worst matches of the year). Delirious does his usual BS to start and Evil beats him up. I approve of this. Ends up with Liger as the face-in-peril before Tiger Mask gets the tag back in. It break down and we end up with Delirious actually having a nice sequence with Sanada, before Evil clocks Delirious with a chair (he does NOT say “That’s for the booking in the first half of 2016!”, but I like to think it’s implied.) and Sanada puts on a Dragon sleeper for the win. Los Ingos pulled one of the better matches you can probably get out of Delirious at this moment in time. **
Winners: Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA submitted Delirious via Skull End at 10:42)
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI)
Ioan: There was nothing remarkable about Bullet Club’s performance, but the unit certainly felt fresher to me for having had a few months away. Fale and Loa blocked Ospreay’s attempted handspring kick by keeping hold of his hands in a neat spot, but after several minutes on top it was to them that Ospreay finally connected with the move. Okada slammed Fale without too much trouble, which is a nice little detail to suggest his progression as a competitor, while Yoshi-Hashi, as he’s demonstrated for the best part of a year, is one of the best sympathetic babyfaces around. Like Juice and Sanada in the previous two matches, Yoshi-Hashi getting the win is an important building block in establishing a strong midcard and sets him up nicely for tomorrow’s ROH title shot. ***
Rick: Our first Bullet Club appearance of the night. Yoshi is up tomorrow to challenge Adam Cole for the ROH World title. Ospreay takes a shot at Fale on the apron and gets choked for it, which made me laugh. Will gets tossed to the barricade after getting pulled to the outside off a handstand. Serves him right for that showboatin’. The Bullet Club tee off on poor Will, including Fale just sitting on him. Will finally tags in Okada, who runs wild and slams Fale. Yoshi comes in next, but the Bullet Club regain control and attempt to weaken him before his match against Cole tomorrow. Everyone runs in and Okada tosses Will onto Fale on the floor, and Yoshi finishes Takahashi with Karma. I liked the pacing and the booking more here, with Hashi taking a beating to set him up as a sympathetic babyface tomorrow, but still getting the win. If you were going to beat the Bullet Club tonight, these were the guys to beat. **1/2
Winners: CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI pinned Yujiro Takahashi via Karma at 11:05)
War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
Ioan: This had good heat from the opening bell, which is not always the case in all-foreigner matches and is testament to the impression War Machine made during the World Tag League. I really enjoyed the dynamic here. Both teams had the opportunity to demonstrate their best, with the Bucks in particular making the most of facing much larger opponents. I liked the ending in particular, with War Machine isolating each Jackson in turn; outsmarting as well as overpowering them. As ever with the Bucks, your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed this very much. ***1/2
Rick: I hate the Bucks. Matt stops to tell us that they’ve sold 500 shirts today. Great. War Machine is out next. I like them. Might be one of the last times we see them together, if the rumors about the WWE pursuing Rowe are true. The Bucks send War Machine to the floor, but get caught on topes and tossed into each other. They’re playing the big men/little men dynamic really well here, I freely admit. The match ends up being more of a showcase for the Bucks, as they hit all their double teams and War Machine bumps all over the place for them. Eventually, Nick gets tossed out and Matt gets left alone with both members of War Machine; he gives it a decent go, but ends up taking Fallout for what has to be considered an upset. I may hate the Bucks, but they can work when they want to. This was incredibly fun to watch, as the pacing was really good and watching the Bucks hit their offense on guys the size of Hanson and Rowe worked really well for me. Color me surprised that the Bucks did the job, though. ***1/2
Winners: War Machine (Hanson pinned Matt Jackson via Fallout at 12:15)
Dalton Castle, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Punisher Martinez & Tetsuya Naito
Ioan: Tanahashi and Taguchi were Castle’s Boys – I love it! This one was all about charisma and character, and floated along on a cloud of pure camp. Pro wrestling at its best, in other words. Naito went to Tanahashi’s knee in a callback to Wrestle Kingdom, but the LIJ pair steadfastly refused to tag in Martinez, until it remained the only available option. His South of Heaven chokeslam put Castle down for the three-count, which makes sense given he’s challenging Goto for the NEVER title tomorrow, but even in victory Hiromu and Naito refused play ball, giving him the bird as they walked out. Not that it needs saying, but Castle is a star. ***1/4
Rick: Taguchi and Tanahashi are the Boys! That adds an extra * right there. Taguchi’s expression when Martinez comes out is pretty awesome. Martinez and Castle do a bit to start, then Naito tags in, so Dalton tags in Tana. Naito and Tanahashi do their thing, which is always a pleasure to watch. I still think they had the best match at WK 11. Hip attacks galore on Naito by all 3 guys. Los Ingos take over on Hiroshi for awhile and work the knee, noticeably refusing to tag Martinez in. He finally gets in against Castle after Taguchi and Takahashi comes in, and Martinez no-sells EVERYTHING until Castle gets a suplex. Doesn’t matter much, as Martinez finishes with a chokeslam soon after. I can’t get a good read on Martinez as a wrestler because he rarely sells anything, even in ROH; it’s eerily similar to early Undertaker matches. He’s a pretty athletic big man and has a ton of potential, but that could describe a million guys on the indies. Match itself was cool, with good stuff from Naito/Tana & Taguchi/Takahashi, and the crowd loved Dalton, as most crowds do. ***1/4
Winners: Hiromu Takahashi, Punisher Martinez & Tetsuya Naito (Martinez pinned Castle via South of Heaven at 11:55)
Bullet Club (Cody and Hangman Page) vs. Jay Lethal and Katsuyori Shibata
Ioan: Seemed to me that Cody now has a better hold of who he wants The American Nightmare to be. Korakuen Hall was certainly a more favourable venue in which to demonstrate the character work, and while the Tokyo Dome debut was not a disaster, more regular appearances like this are what’s needed to establish himself. He’s made much of wanting to face-off with Shibata and had that opportunity here, and the post-match brawl suggests a singles match is on the cards at some point. I don’t get a whole lot from Jay Lethal and I get even less from Hangman Page, but this was solid. ***
Rick: SHIBATA~!!! Depending on what happens with Adam Cole in ROH (his contract is apparently up in April), I would not at all be shocked to see Cody get a few shots at whoever the ROH World champ is by taking control of the North American Bullet Club. Cody and Lethal have a grudge dating to Final Battle 2016, where Cody cheated to beat Lethal in Rhodes’ ROH debut. Cody dismisses Lethal and asks for Shibata, so naturally I have to wonder how many concussions Cody has had recently. Who ASKS for Shibata? Does this man want to die? They do some nice counter-wrestling in a keylock, and tags go to Lethal and Page. Adam takes over on Lethal in the corner as Rhodes takes a cheap shot. I would love to see them leave Page over in NJPW for six months, because I think he’d end up a really good worker if they did. He’s got the tools, but something is missing with him. Shibata and Rhodes end up back in, and we get my favorite part of any Shibata match, where he invites Cody to bring it, then turns him to hamburger in the corner with forearms after shrugging off Cody’s offense. I love this man. Shibata comes in with a Penalty Kick that had me grimacing, and Jay finishes off Page with the Lethal Injection. I really liked this a lot, as they did a bunch of tag formula stuff that I always fall for with the Bullet Club double-teams, plus they had Shibata being Shibata. Lethal has been on a quiet roll in 2017, having probably the best match in the Decade of Excellence tournament in ROH with Jay Briscoe amongst other good performance. Pretty much exactly what I wanted from this. ***3/4
Winners: Jay Lethal and Katsuyori Shibata (Jay Lethal pinned Hangman Page via Lethal Injection at 14:10)
Bullet Club (Adam Cole & Kenny Omega) vs. The Briscoe Brothers (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe)
Ioan: Kenny received a hero’s welcome upon his return and was soaking in the cheers, but the story here was his and Cole’s awkward alliance, with Omega increasingly irritated by Cole’s relentless BAYBAY schtick. The Briscoes looked decent – better than in their entire run in 2016, I thought – and while it certainly helped that Cole and Omega had their own thread going on across the ring, Jay and Mark’s intensity was most welcome. That said, I’m still not a fan. It all got a bit chaotic towards the end, with Cole’s Panama Sunrise not connecting cleanly, but everyone got it together to deliver a hot final few minutes. Good effort all round. ***1/2
Post-match, Cole snatched the mic during Omega’s promo and said 2017 will be his year. Dissension!
Rick: Cole gets the ‘Bay-bay!’ chant from the crowd, but they’re all waiting for Kenny and everyone knows it. Omega looks happier than anyone else to be back. Cole works the crowd to start, as he’s seemingly gotten over more and more in Japan. Cole comes back in to the ring and teases a tag to Omega and crowd goes nuts for it, so Kenny gets the tag. Cole keeps posing as he and Kenny tag in and out, and that causes the Briscoes to take over. They pull up the mats on the outside and Jay goes to hit Omega with a Jaydriller on the floor as the crowd shrieks in horror, but Cole stops that with a superkick and Omega sends Jay into the crowd before moonsaulting both Briscoes in the crowd. Back in, Cole takes over on Jay in the ring now. Omega back in as Jay hits a Death Valley Driver, but Kenny pulls Mark off the apron to prevent the tag. Mark does make the tag a bit later, and he hooks it up with Cole for awhile. Omega and Jay back in, and talk about a 1v1 that I’d LOVE to watch. Mark and Cole back in now, and they just stiff the SHIT out of each other in a really run sequence. Ugly Panama Sunrise by Cole gets two on Mark. Superplex/Froggybow combo by the Briscoes forces Kenny to stop the pin. The Briscoes try for a Doomsday Device on Omega, but Kenny turns that into a powerslam in midair, and Cole finishes Mark with the Last Shot. Welcome back, Kenny. I’m a mark for the Briscoes and Cole, and Omega is obviously one of the best wrestlers in the world. Stiff shots galore in this one, and they let everything hang out here. The pace was really great and Kenny looked thrilled to be wrestling again. ****
Cole interrupts Omega’s post-match promo as we tease tension between the Bullet Club leaders. I still say that Cole is getting turfed and sent to Vinceland before the end of 2017.
Winners: Bullet Club (Adam Cole pinned Mark Briscoe via Last Shot at 22:10)
Ioan: Solid show. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see, but it was great to see Kenny Omega back, I enjoyed the Bucks vs. War Machine, and the post-intermission tag match was great fun.
Rick: Overall, the show was better than last year’s night one, finishing with a nice tag and a strong second half. Two title matches tomorrow night; I don’t see a shocker happening like last year, where Ishii won the TV title from Roderick Strong, but you never know.
We’ll be back tomorrow for Night 2, which features Adam Cole vs. YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto vs. Punisher Martinez and Omega and Okada will face off for the first time since Wrestle Kingdom in an eight-man tag match. See you then.