April 10th, 16:00 from the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall), Tokyo
Big show today headlined by Okada vs. Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight title, with all but one of New Japan’s titles also being defended. Will Ospreay makes his debut against KUSHIDA in a much-anticipated bout, CHAOS vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón continues, Shibata battles another of The Old Bastards* (*not actual stable name), and Yoshi Tatsu returns after a broken neck and disastrous attempt at English-language commentary (which today is provided by Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino).
Here we go…
Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale
Takahashi and Fale have increasingly looked like hangers-on in the rapidly changing world of the Bullet Club. The former CJ Parker, meanwhile, has shown good fire in recent tour appearances, though his ringwork still leaves a lot to be desired. Not much to see here, with Fale and Takahashi looking particularly unmotivated. Bullet Club used cheating and chairs to gain the upper hand, leaving Robinson and Fale in the ring for the closing sequence. The Bad Luck Fall connected and the pin was academic in under four minutes. *
Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata & Satoshi Kojima vs. YOSHI-HASHI, Kazushi Sakuraba & Toru Yano
Nagata and Kojima, along with Tenzan and to a lesser extent Nakanishi, have recently been feuding with Shibata in a “grizzled veterans vs. young upstart” run that’s so far seen Kojima come up short in a NEVER title match (on March 19th), whilst the group have had the better of Shibata’s teams in multi-man tag matches. A surprisingly quick, crisp and stiff seven-minute match here, with Kojima and Sakuraba’s interactions particularly entertaining. Nagata nailed Yoshi-Hashi with the backdrop for the win, which makes sense assuming he’s Shibata final obstacle, but gives the impression that Yoshi-Hashi’s been shunted back down the card after a decent showing during the New Japan Cup. **1/2
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI & EVIL)
Following last month’s loss in the final of the New Japan Cup, Goto’s confidence was broken and he finally accepted Okada’s invitation to join CHAOS. Whether this is a temporary arrangement or not we don’t know, but what is certain is that he has a new finisher (the GTR – GoTo Revolution – a lariat into an over-the-knee backbreaker) and new red, gold and black gear. The Road to Invasion Attack tour was centred on a succession of good six-man tags between the two teams, with Goto’s needling of Los Ingobernables and their subsequent replies driving the feud. This was another fast-paced match, with all involved looking fired up. Ishii took the brunt of the offence in the early going, before a tag was made to Goto, who was heavily booed. Goto and Evil faced off for a few minutes, and it’s fair to say Evil’s looked better with every match. Bushi then got some offence in on Ishii for a minute or so, before an Ushigoroshi from Goto followed by Sliding Lariat from Ishii was enough to put the masked Junior away for the three-count. Goto and Evil continued fighting at the end of the match, so expect this feud to continue. ***
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Matt Sydal & Ricochet (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Trent Baretta & Rocky Romero)
A straight up 2 vs. 2 tag match in this division is something to be celebrated, but the talk is all about Ricochet’s status. A handshake to start us off, before Ricochet demonstrated some of his incredible offence and fake-outs against a perturbed Baretta. Sydal and Romero next, with Sydal looking for a dive but getting led into a trap by his opponents and Roppongi Vice taking control. An attempted double team led to a combination axe kick and jawbreaker from Sydal and the hot tag was made. Ricochet ran wild with a dive to each of his opponents before focusing on Baretta. A combination standing moonsault and shooting star press got two. A running knee from the apron from Romero took out Ricochet, then the match broke down, all four men hit a signature move, and the ring was cleared. Baretta was caught off the top with a spinning heel kick, but a shooting star press from Sydal missed and Baretta hit a Dudebuster (cradle belly-to-back piledriver) for a near-fall. Ricochet and Romero went at it with an elbow battle, the Benadryller missed, and a lariat laid him out. Ricochet flipped out of a super frankensteiner, but got hit with double jumping knees, then, after Romero nearly lawn-darted himself taking out Sydal, the Strong Zero (double team belly-to-back piledriver & springboard footstomp) connected and that was the match at 16 minutes. Roppongi Vice, as many expected, are your new Jr. Tag Team champions. Good match, much more like a regular tag match than we’ve been used to from this division, and that pleases me. ***3/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Will Ospreay
That Ospreay debuts with a title match and as a CHAOS member tells you everything you need to know about his reputation. Coming off a couple of very well received matches last weekend against Zack Sabre Jr. and Ricochet, my only hope was that he had enough left in the tank to make an impression at Sumo Hall. “I love you Travis, this one’s for you, buddy” from Ospreay to camera pre-match. It was even going in the opening minutes, with each man demonstrating their flair and athletic ability. Ospreay flipped up into an enziguri, and followed with a stiff elbow, but Kushida kicked his left arm hard, sending him to the outside, then followed with a plancha from the top rope. Kushida worked the arm, despite Ospreay’s many attempts to flip his way out of the predicament, until a rope break brought respite. Ospreay tried a handspring elbow, but his arm gave out, and Kushida once again went to work, the debutant screaming in pain. A no-hands handspring kick had Ospreay back in it, and a springboard dropkick was followed with an impressive dive to the outside. Standing twisting moonsault back in the ring brought a two-count. Ospreay signalled for the Rainmaker(!), but the was countered to a quickly escaped Hover Board Lock. Standing shooting star press into a second-rope Phoenix Splash from Ospreay connected for a two-count, then a huge flipping armbar off the top rope from Kushida had Ospreay close to tapping but he just made the ropes. A striking battle commenced, won by Kushida with a straight punch (booed by Sumo Hall). C4 from Ospreay gets two. Red Arrow hits the knees and is rolled into a small package for two. A jumping back elbow was reversed into an armbar by Kushida, then, despite Ospreay’s best efforts, transitioned into the Hover Board Lock for the tap out at 15 minutes. Great match. Pace, psychology and execution all top notch. ****1/2
Post-match, Liger came out to a huge reaction. He congratulated Kushida on his successful defence and challenged the new ace of the division… and Kushida accepted!
G1 Climax dates announced. Another 19-show marathon.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) (c) vs. Yoshi Tatsu, Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi
The Elite have been a breath of fresh air since establishing themselves as a (better, more entertaining) breakaway from the Bullet Club. Their act is chaotic and goofy, but it’s also anything but stale. Yoshi Tatsu returns after a year and a half on the sidelines having broken his neck taking a Styles Clash at Power Struggle 2014, and since Styles is no longer around, Kenny and Co. will be the ones to face his vengeance. Kenny cuts a promo to camera on the way to the ring, berating us – the audience – for paying for Wrestlemania last weekend. The Elite, by the way, are accompanied by Cody Hall and wearing sweet matching gear. Kenny immediately went for a Styles Clash, but was blocked and the Non-Elite cleared the ring. Chaos ensued. The Elite made their way to the exit, but were caught up, then Nick Jackson levelled everyone with a Swanton from the balcony above. Omega put Elgin on a trolley, placed a trash can on his head, and rolled him into a stiff super kick. Back in the ring, the Elite ran wild, culminating in a triple dive onto their opponents. They focused on Tanahashi, keeping him in their corner, and wore him down with a couple of elaborate back rakes, but Tanahashi was eventually able to make the comeback and tag in Yoshi Tatsu, much to the crowd’s delight. Chubby Tatsu completed a rusty-as-hell comeback, before Elgin pulled out the samoan drop/fallaway slam on the Bucks. Omega interfered with the cold spray and a triple-team rope-hung swanton connected for a two-count. Omega went for the Styles Clash again, but this time the “good guys” used the cold spray. Elgin with a German suplex on both the Bucks! Tanahashi’s Elgin-assisted splash hit the knees, but the Indytaker was prevented when Elgin caught Nick Jackson and threw him onto Omega on the outside. The Cesaroplex Falcon Arrow from Elgin almost got the win, then an assisted powerbomb from the second rope to Matt Jackson was enough for the three count and the titles. All over the place, but a lot of fun. Made sense for Tatsu to get the titles on his return, but a shame to take them off the Elite who are killing it right now. Cody Hall, meanwhile, was last seen being tended to after taking the brunt of the balcony dive – hope he’s okay [he was banged up, but nothing serious thankfully]. ***1/2
Post-match, Omega and Elgin faced off, and that’s your next match for the Intercontinental title.
Post-post-match, Fale attacked Tanahashi, so it looks like we’re getting a repeat of that programme too.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan
As mentioned earlier, this match is part of Shibata’s ongoing feud with the grizzled veterans of New Japan (by the way, Shibata is 36, Tenzan is 45). Having beaten Kojima last month, Shibata then accepted the challenge of Tenzan, who receives his first shot at a NJPW singles title in nine years. Masahiro Chono was out on commentary and all of Tenzan’s friends were at ringside. Early on, Shibata locked Tenzan up in a figure four, with Tenzan making the ropes. Shibata stomped and elbowed the shit out of his opponent in the corner, but Tenzan came back with a headbutt and some mounted Mongolian chops. Tenzan’s turn with the strikes in the corner, then an Anaconda Vice, which Shibata escaped. More headbutts from Tenzan, but Shibata got a triangle hold and Tenzan had to scramble to the ropes. Spinning heel kick from Tenzan got a two-count, Anaconda Buster for another two-count. Tenzan looked to go up top, but was caught with a powerbomb out of the corner. A couple of disgustingly stiff headbutts knocked Shibata to the mat, then Tenzan cinched in the Anaconda Max. Shibata looked to be in trouble, but was eventually able to get his foot to the ropes. Shibata hit Tenzan’s own TTD (Michinoku Driver-like tombstone variation) then locked in the Sleeper. Tenzan slumped to mat and Shibata finished him the Penalty Kick. Too much back and forth, with little flow, but the stiff shots in the closing section lifted it somewhat. **3/4
Post-match, Shibata bowed to the fallen Tenzan the kicked Nagata in the face. Oh yeah, it’s on.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) (c) vs. Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
Tanga Loa, the real-life brother of Tama Tonga and former Camacho of WWE, debuted by interfering in a singles bout between Tonga and Makabe on March 27th, causing a disqualification. Honma and Makabe have held the belts since Wrestle Kingdom. Makabe and Honma cleared the ring with ease, but outside the Guerillas took control. Back in, the face-painted brothers worked over Makabe in the corner for an age, until Makabe knocked Tonga off his feet and made the tag to Honma. The first Kokeshi attempt… missed and a criss-cross sequence ended with Honma knocked to the mat and Tanga Loa tagged in. Kokeshi connected at the second time of asking and Makabe was back in to run wild. Mounted punches in the corner followed by a northern lights suplex earned a two-count. A nice bridging German suplex got two, but the King Kong Knee Drop missed the mark. A big powerslam put Makabe down and the tepid tags were made. Dropkick from Tama Tonga, followed by a flapjack for two. Makabe slapped Honma to fire him up, and a Death Valley Driver and Kokeshi brought a near-fall. Honma no-sold a German suplex and hit a rocket Kokeshi, followed by a second-rope jumping Kokeshi, but the top-rope diving Kokeshi missed. Tonga was assisted in hitting the Gun Stun for a two count, then the Guerrillas hit a powerbomb/reverse DDT for a very close two-count, then connected with their elevated double-team DDT (Guerrilla Warfare) for the win and the titles at 17 minutes. The air went out of the building with that result. Slow to get going, and Tanga Loa looked like he was running through treacle throughout, but they worked hard in a tough spot. **1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito’s been on fire in the build up to this match, railing against not only Okada, but the promotion’s booker Gedo and owner Takaaki Kidani for their protection of the company’s golden boy. There is still some confusion as to whether this counts as Naito’s New Japan Cup winner’s title shot, since it was Okada who challenged him, nevertheless we’re getting this match far earlier than expected as it had been mooted as a possible Tokyo Dome headliner. Bear in mind, too, that the last time these two met in a title match was at Wrestle Kingdom 8, when they were ignominiously dropped to the semi-main spot thanks to a public vote. I can’t help but feel that that disappointment has led directly to the vastly different Tetsuya Naito who challenges today. We get a long video package to start, then Naito’s out in a white suit and sparkly skull mask accompanied by his stablemates. Okada’s accompanied by the diminutive Gedo. Big match feel here, the crowd split, but Naito the slight favourite and some clear boos for Okada.
Naito knocked Okada to the outside then did his customary fake-out on a dive, then Okada came back with a seated dropkick and locked in the straight-jacket chinlock. Senton for two. The slingshot senton was avoided and Naito got in control thanks to some Evil assistance. Naito threw Gedo in the ring and beat him down to distract the referee, meanwhile outside, Evil wrapped a chair around Okada’s neck a struck it with another. Okada just made it in before the count, but was hung up in the tree of woe and dropkicked in the face. Headscissors from Naito, then some elbows in the corner, a reverse DDT over the knee, and a seated dropkick for two. A desperation neckbreaker brought Okada some respite, then a couple of back elbows connected and a big boot turned Naito inside out. A dropkick put Naito on the outside and another big boot put him over the railing. Okada ducked Evil, threw Bushi to his stablemates, then launched himself over the railings to take out all three. Chairs everywhere! Back in the ring, Okada avoided a charge, but Naito’s neckbreaker had both men down. Naito spat at Okada then nailed the tornado DDT for two. Okada with a flapjack. Main Event Elbow Battle! A DDT spiked Naito, then a reverse neckbreaker out of the corner was countered, but Okada rolled through to lock in Red Ink. Okada broke the hold to deal with Evil and Bushi, but Naito went low and STO’d into Pluma Blanca (the Koji Clutch). Okada was fading, he looked gone, then he willed himself to the rope break. Naito got a second wind and hit the outside-in slingshot dropkick and super frankensteiner for two. Gloria dumped Okada on the back of his head for another near-fall. Spinebuster from Naito, Destino ducked and the reverse neckbreaker from Okada connected. A big seated dropkick from Okada sent Naito into the corner, then another, and another – two count only. Huge diving dropkick from Okada for two. Scoop slam followed by the diving elbow drop. Rainmaker pose. Referee Unno got a stray elbow in the face and Los Ingobernables pounced. Okada dealt with them both then nailed Naito with The Dropkick, but as he went for the Rainmaker a masked figure stood on the apron. He entered the ring and floored Okada with a TKO then revealed himself as Seiya Sanada (a freelance Junior, formerly of All Japan and TNA, who trained with Naito). He hit Okada with a moonsault for good measure, then Naito attempted Destino but Okada blocked it and hit a German suplex. He hung on, went for the Rainmaker… countered into Destino!!! One, two, three! Holy shit. Naito is the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion. That’s huge. This went almost thirty minutes, there were plenty of shenanigans, but it was a great match and even better booking. ****1/2
Post-match, Gedo gets laid out and Okada gets misted. Ishii and Goto make the save, but the crowd chant “Go Away”! The ring is eventually cleared for the presentation of the belt and Naito continues to be a prick by attacking Red Shoes Unno and still gets cheered!
Naito cuts a promo taunting NJPW’s owner Kidani then throws the belt to the mat and leaves without it. Deplorable behaviour.
Final thoughts: Wow. That’s how you book a big show. Massive developments, company-wide implications and I already want to know where we go from here. The best matches here were clearly Naito/Okada and Kushida/Ospreay, but elsewhere we got new tag champs in every division, and have three matches already set up for the next event. Since January, New Japan have made Shibata, Omega, Kushida and now Naito. An extraordinary run of star-making booking. Highly recommended.
Wrestling Hinokuni is on April 29th and Wrestling Dontaku is on May 3rd. I can’t wait. See you then.