NJPW Sengoku Lord – July 25th, 2020

Howdy!

Tonight, Hiromu Takahashi takes his shot at becoming Hiromu 3-belts, as he challenges EVIL for the big double gold! El Desperado meets Shingo Takagi to attempt to wrest away Shingo’s NEVER Openweight title! And, in a special singles match, Kazuchika Okada takes on Yujiro Takahashi!

2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?

Yuya Uemura vs Taiji Ishimori

Yuya is jacked, baby. He’s also still a Young Lion and Ishimori has a bitching samurai mask, so I don’t love his chances here. Not that the two things are directly related, mind you; it’s more of an observation than anything else. Uemura is going to be an excellent heavyweight someday, and he’s got enough skills on the mat that I kind of hope his excursion puts him in the UK, since I think those skills will be augmented better there. Either way, match is absolutely fine, over the average of a Young Lion squash, as Uemura gets in some decent offense before Ishimori puts him away with the Bloody Cross into the crossface for the submission. I quite liked this match. (Taiji Ishimori over Yuya Uemura, submission, 8:03)

THOUGHTS: **3/4

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii/Toru Yano) & Gabriel Kidd vs Ryusuke Taguchi/Togi Makabe/Satoshi Kojima

Kidd’s another one that is probably going to make it – I don’t know what Shibata is putting in the water over at the LA Dojo, but so long as it’s legal, he should keep doing it. Taguchi and Yano do a comedy sequence that ends with Taguchi actually calling a play successfully with nothing going wrong. He should probably buy a lottery ticket. Kojima and Ishii also do a dandy sequence before we end up where we started with Kidd and Makabe. Gee, wonder how this is gonna go? Togi actually gives Kidd a lot before absolutely ending him with a lariat and a bridging German for the pin. (Togi Makabe/Ryusuke Taguchi/Satoshi Kojima over CHAOS & Gabriel Kidd, pinfall, 10:25)

THOUGHTS: **1/4

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto/SHO/YOSHI-HASHI) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI/Tetsuya Naito/SANADA)

You know, being a tag champ in NJPW is kind of bad luck right now – SHO’s partner as the jr tag champs, YOH, is out for months, EVIL abandoned the rest of the NEVER 6-man tag champs when he turned on LIJ, and Zack Sabre is forced to team with Taichi. I mean, yeah, ZSJ obviously has the worst of it, but don’t discount what the others are going through.

Anyway, SHO is really beyond the juniors at this point, but he has no path to anywhere on the heavyweight side, whereas if he stays close enough to the weight limit he can just get MADE all the way in the BOSJ next year. Not that the Shingo matches didn’t already pretty much get him there, but he needs to go to the Finals or get really close. He’s the future. Goto plays face-in-peril for the first part of the match, and Naito is pissed the fuck off. YOSHI comes in off the tag and blands it up for awhile. Eh, it isn’t really that bad, to be honest. He shows some fire. SHO comes in and fights off everyone, with CHAOS ending up triple-teaming SANADA and SHO hits a spear for two. Tide turns and LIJ triple-team SHO now, and while SHO does his best, it’s not to be as SANADA taps him out with the Skull End. (LIJ over CHAOS, submission, 10:32)

THOUGHTS: ***. I liked this muchly, but I can’t get behind pushing SANADA over SHO. When I watch their matches, not just with each other but with similar opponents, SHO just seems to have so much more upside both as a personality and as a worker. Maybe I’m wrong.

LIJ beats up the ref after the match, because they’re bitter and angry. There’s something very cool going on here, with LIJ being the faction that was always kind of the cool kids; now they’re the ones who got betrayed by bigger dickheads and now they’ve gotta deal with it.

August 29th, we’re gonna fight in a baseball stadium! Jingu Stadium, to be exact, for the first time 21 years! Summer Struggle in Jingu!

Break time! Clean that ring!

The Golden Aces (Hiroshi Tanahashi/Kota Ibushi)/Master Wato/Hiroyoshi Tenzan/Yuji Nagata vs Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI/Taichi/Zack Sabre Jr/Minoru Suzuki/Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

WATO TIME~!!

So, to recap here – The Aces want a rematch for the tag belts with Sabre and Taichi, Suzuki and Nagata almost killed each other in the Cup (and they’re gonna do it AGAIN on August 1st! I’m so excited!), Wato and Kanemaru have beef because Kanemaru beat Wato the last time they faced off, and Tenzan and DOUKI…..well, they probably don’t like each other for some damn reason.

Suzuki-Gun jumps the faces before the bell, because, you know. They’re Suzuki-Gun. It’s what they do. Suzuki and Nagata are left alone in the ring, so the Murder Dads do what they do best, namely beat the holy fuck out of each other. Wato gets in (mistake) and he’s quickly the Master-in-peril, as Suzuki-Gun just kills him. And I mean they KILL him for an almost uncomfortable long time. Tenzan tries to finally stop it, but gets taken down on the floor with double ankle locks by Suzuki and ZSJ, which, considering how Tenzan looks when he walks, should basically cripple him.

Finally, it’s hot tag Tanahashi. He takes out Suzuki-Gun by himself, clearing the ring and doling out dragon-screw legwhips for everyone. Ibushi in next for a sequence with ZSJ, which I’m always in favor of. They do their thing for a bit, then the match just breaks down completely with everyone pairing off. DOUKI and Ibushi are the legal men and DOUKI goes for his pipe, but misses and Ibushi destroys him with a Kamigoye for the pin. (The Golden Aces/Master Wato/Hiroyoshi Tenzan over Suzuki-Gun, pinfall, 12:56)

THOUGHTS: ***. All action, super-fun, and DOUKI took the pin. What’s not to like? Good match.

Kazuchika Okada vs Yujiro Takahashi

You know, sometimes I’m wrong about wrestling. Scratch that, I’m frequently wrong about wrestling. Some guys have awesome chemistry together (those Christian/Randy Orton matches, for whatever reason, slapped super-hard in a good way), some matches just come out of nowhere and are fantastic – in short, I’ve been watching wrestling since 1989, 31 years of my life, and one of the things I appreciate is how much it continues to surprise me. So when I heard that they were going to do this match and my first thought was “that kind of sounds like it would suck balls”, there was a voice in my head that said that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be one of those times I was wrong.

Yeah, I wasn’t wrong this time.

Lots of stalling starts us off, but Yujiro hits the chinlock soon enough. Okada does everything he possibly can to make us think that Takahashi has a chance,  but the truth is that these two aren’t anywhere near the same level as workers and it’s painfully obvious. Okada fights for the Clutch, but Yujiro bites him to break. Okada hits a flapjack and a dropkick, Tombstone into the Cobra Clutch, which Okada apparently calls The ‘Money Clip’. Yujiro makes the ropes, so the match must continue. Lucky us. GEDO charges the ring with a wrench, allowing Yujiro to hit Okada with his cane for two. Yujiro gets a few more near-falls as they try to give us some drama, but I never bought any of it for a single second. Okada finally wipes out GEDO off the apron with a kick, then hits a jumping tombstone and puts on the Money Clip for the submission. (Kazuchika Okada over Yujiro Takahashi, submission, 13:42)

THOUGHTS: **. It was about 13 minutes too long. In all seriousness, there was no drama in the winner, Yujiro worked at a glacial pace, and Okada probably sold TOO much for him, to be honest. I did not care for this, to say the least.

Shingo Takagi (C) vs El Desperado – NEVER Openweight title match

Shingo dominates to start and just drills Despy in the corner, so Desperado takes a break and heads outside, but Shingo follows him and beats him up there. Desperado sends him to the post and starts to work on the knee of Takagi. Back in and it’s a kneecrusher from Despy, then more knee-related shenanigans including a dragon-screw and an Indian deathlock. So, we’re following up on what happened in their tag, with the knee work and Desperado trying to take the bigger man off his feet by taking out one of his wheels. Sound psychology works for me.

Shingo mounts a comeback, including a double dragon-screw for two. Desperado goes back to the knee, but can’t get the figure-four and the spear gets blocked. Spinebuster doesn’t, and Desperado goes for the Stretch Muffler, Shingo makes the ropes. Desperado gets it again, with Shingo somehow powering out. Pinche Loco attempt is blocked by Takagi, DDT by Shingo! Sliding lariat by Takagi, Gory bomb! No cover, as Shingo hits the knee and Desperado has enough time to dive to the floor to get away.

Shingo gives chase, but Despy nails him with a right hand, then tosses a chair in the ring to distract the ref so he can whack Shingo with the NEVER belt. Desperado looks for the countout, but Shingo makes it back in at 18. Desperado gets a spear and now the Stretch Muffler again, which he turns into a pin attempt for two. Shingo’s selling of the knee is just awesome. Despy gets a bit too confident and slaps Shingo around a bit, then comes off the ropes right into a headbutt from Takagi!

They’re back up and they slug it out, Despy off the ropes, Shingo catches him, Made in Japan by Takagi! 1, 2, no! Last of the Dragon is countered into a pin from Desperado, Shingo kicks out at two. Low blow attempt is blocked by Takagi, big lariat by Shingo! Takagi off the ropes, Pumping Bomber! Takagi hops a bit on his bad knee, but guts it out and hits Last of the Dragon for the pin to retain. (Shingo Takagi over El Desperado, pinfall, 17:04)

THOUGHTS: ***3/4. This was really good, but it also is very illustrative, at least to me, of the difference between a match that’s just slightly south of the 4-star mark and one that shatters it. Takagi’s selling in the match was superb and El Desperado was an excellent villain, but there were some slightly slow spots in the match, and it really didn’t feel like, at least to me, that Desperado really had a chance to win this thing. Overall, it’s worth watching the match, but it isn’t worth rushing out to do so.

Let’s take another cleaning break before the main to make sure that ring is spic and span!

EVIL (C)x2 vs Hiromu Takahashi – IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Championship match

Takahashi is simply superb. His facial expressions, his movements, everything he does from the moment he hits the ramp just exudes the emotion, the betrayal that this man feels. There just aren’t that many wrestlers in the world that can do it as well as he can. DICK MOTHERFUCKING TOGO comes out seconding EVIL to the ring, wearing the pimpest white suit this side of MARK MOTHERFUCKING TWAIN, y’all.

Alright, bad comparison. But he looks cool, I promise.

Bell rings and Hiromu charges EVIL with a shotgun dropkick, then another one puts EVIL on the floor, so Takahashi comes off the apron with one there. Again! Hiromu is on fire to start! Togo comes over, but Red Shoes stops him from interfering by asking where he got his suit. Togo won’t tell him, so we go back to the ring. EVIL tosses Hiromu for Togo to do some stompin’, then EVIL grabs a few chairs and stalks Takahashi. He wraps the chair around Hiromu’s neck, then swings the other chair at it. That chair is gone, baby! He swung for the fences on that one! Red Shoes goes out to check on Hiromu, allowing EVIL to take off the buckle pad in one of the corners.

Hiromu back in and he promptly gets sent to the buckle, whiplashing off it. EVIL just continues to bully Hiromu and Takahashi sells and sells, making EVIL look like the biggest dick in the world. I approve. Hiromu makes a brief comeback, even clobbering Togo off the apron and then powerbombing EVIL off the apron onto Togo. Back in and a Falcon Arrow from Hiromu gets two. They end up on the apron and Hiromu gets a superkick into a Death Valley Driver on the apron, sending EVIL crashing from the apron to the floor. Takahashi goes up now, EVIL cuts him off, Hiromu sends him back down and hits a senton to EVIL on the floor!

Back in and the Dynamite Plunger gets two for Takahashi. Shotgun dropkick sends EVIL to the buckles, but Hiromu charges and gets suplexed in the buckle pad. Superplex by EVIL! 1, 2, no! Everything is Evil is blocked, they trade a few holds, high German suplex from Hiromu! EVIL returns the favor! EVIL does it again! This thing is starting to pick up here.

Another German suplex and Togo wants one more, so EVIL obliges. Again and Hiromu is looking like a dead man walking now. Everything is Evil attempt, but Hiromu collapses. Another try, but this time Hiromu summons enough to drive him to the exposed buckles, then slap on a triangle. Wheelbarrow into a Flatliner by Hiromu, and he slaps the taste out of EVIL’s mouth. He hoists up the champ, Victory Royal! 1, 2, NO! EVIL tries for a low blow, but Hiromu has it scouted and just DROPS EVIL with a huge lariat! 1, 2, NO!

Dick Togo gets on the apron, so Hiromu nails him, then it’s the Death Valley Driver to the corner from Takahashi! Time Bomb attempt, EVIL escapes…..right in front of Red Shoes in the corner. Oh, I don’t like the look of this. And sure enough, Hiromu charges and wipes out Red Shoes when EVIL moves, so we’ve got no ref. Cue Togo, who hits Hiromu with a lariat, then stomps away. EVIL back up now, Magic Killer with Togo’s help! Togo goes up, but Takahashi kicks EVIL into the ropes, causing Togo to crotch himself and fall to the floor! EVIL goes for Everything is Evil again, but Hiromu blocks it and hits Everything is Hiromu!

Red Shoes is back in now, Hiromu hoists EVIL up, Death Valley Driver into the exposed corner! Time Bomb! 1, 2, NO! DAMNIT. Modified Time Bomb hits! 1, 2, Togo pulls the ref out and CUE THE BULLSHIT. Togo in the ring now with the garotte, Hiromu escapes the choke and tries to take out Togo, EVIL hits him with a low blow to break that up, and Togo chokes out Hiromu again before rolling Red Shoes back in. Crowd tries to rally Hiromu, but it’s not to be as EVIL hits Darkness Falls, then Everything is Evil to finish off Takahashi and retain. (EVIL over Hiromu Takahashi, pinfall, 33:58)

THOUGHTS: ****. Outside of the absolute garbage finish, this was a really good match, with the last 5 minutes of near-falls and comebacks being as good as pro wrestling gets until they did the nWo ending. It was better paced than the Naito match – still, it would have been a blowaway at 24 minutes instead of 34. It’s also one of the few cases that I actually went up on a rating after watching it a second time, because I could see more of the story they were trying to tell and I wasn’t just super-pissed about the ending. Hiromu Takahashi is just about the best overall wrestler in the world today, and if you wanted to make that argument, I wouldn’t argue it too strenuously.

Regarding the ending, I had a good discussion with Ioan Morris yesterday that made me think a bit. So let’s talk for a second. When I first saw the match, I was relatively pissed at the ending in about half a good “fuck EVIL!’ kind of way and about half a bad “fuck GEDO’s booking” kind of way. I’m still on the fence about it.

On the one hand – the ending makes perfect sense. The Bullet Club are heels, after all, and more to the point, the faction has a history of doing shit like this in NJPW, so it’s hardly a new occurrence. EVIL as a character had never won the big titles before now, yet with the BC behind him and using these tactics, he’s won both straps and successfully defended them. Why would he want to change now? He gave up everything he had for this, after all. It’s working for him, so in-character, this all makes sense and is completely logical. Just because it pisses me off personally shouldn’t change that, and the fact it pisses me off personally is an endorsement of it as a way to get heat on EVIL to make it better when he loses.

On the other hand…..

This type of finish gets very tiresome very quickly, at least to me. EVIL has zero credibility, to be honest – he cheated his way through the entire New Japan Cup, then through the final with Okada, the title match with Naito, and this one with Hiromu. There’s no real reason you can’t do this finish once in awhile, hell, even more than once in awhile, but it’s been 3 main events of 3 big shows in a row they’ve done it. Why did EVIL have to cheat THIS much to beat Hiromu? A minimal amount (but still some!) cheating from EVIL in a long match that allows Hiromu to hang with him before putting him away is good for both guys. If every main event is going to be like this, where I invest more than half an hour of my life only to get a cheap run-in finish, I’m going to turn on them pretty quickly. Jay White did this shit, yes, but he only successfully defended either of his titles ONE time last year – he dropped the heavyweight to Okada in his first defense, and only had one defense work against Goto before losing the IC title to Naito. If EVIL is going to have any type of longish run with the straps, he needs to have some real credibility.

In short, I dunno. I can see both sides of this one, because there’s merits in each one.

Post-match, Ishimori hits the ring and beats up Hiromu to set up the next program for Takahashi and the Junior Heavyweight title. Hey, if they want to tell the story of Bullet Club just decimating all of LIJ and taking their belts, fine with me. It’s a good story to work with. They set up Hiromu for a belt shot, but Naito finally hits the ring to put a stop to that. He stares down EVIL nose-to-nose, then gets a mic and lays out the challenge for the rematch, then helps Hiromu to the back, while EVIL celebrates in the ring with his titles.

While we don’t normally do this, I want to start looking at the post-match backstage promos, because I think they’re normally pretty good and they set up a lot of stuff, so they probably should be recapped. My thoughts are in bold italics.

Yuya Uemura: I was given a golden opportunity, but I didn’t rise to the occasion. Ishimori told me to rise to his level, and those words with haunt him.

Taiji Ishimori: Tells Uemura that he’s certainly bulked up and finally have a bit of personality. Who will Yuya align with – will he stay a good boy, or will he have the guts to be reborn? He tells Yuya that he may want to listen to him.

Hmmm…..Uemura maybe getting an invite to Bullet Club at some point? Interesting. 

Gabriel Kidd: Cuts a promo on Makabe, saying that he couldn’t tell that it was the Unchained Gorilla he was in there with. He wants 2010 Makabe. That’s what he asked for and he’s coming straight for him.

Ryusuke Taguchi: Thanks the fans, pretty much. He says that he’s not just an old man who fools around, he can’t even stand dirty jokes – the man who loves dirty jokes is coming up next!

Satoshi Kojima: Hee! He talks about Tenzan watching Wato’s back, so TenCozy is MIA and he has to rely on himself. He’ll make the most of it, because he’s been doing this for a long time. He’ll go full throttle, thank you!

Togi Makabe: He’s got one thing to say – he can see that you’re (Kidd) is motivated, but Makabe didn’t even break a sweat. That says it all. He likes Kidd’s style, but nothing comes easy in NJPW. He’ll face Kidd anytime.

Taguchi and Kojima got generic promos in, while they continue to build up Kidd vs Makabe. 

SHO: After his loss in the Cup, after losing to SANADA, he said that he’s the kind of man who holds a grudge. He still hasn’t moved on from his last loss, so he won’t get over today’s either. Even though SANADA has beaten him twice in a row, he wants to face SANADA again. One on one.

Tetsuya Naito: The main event is EVIL and Takahashi, but his eyes are only on EVIL right now. Revenge is on his mind and EVIL is in his sights.

Kanemaru: Wato, you only lucked out thanks to your partners. We’re not through with each other yet.

Minoru Suzuki: Nagata, let’s fight again! Hey New Japan pro wrestling! Minoru Suzuki vs Yuji Nagata. One on One. Nagata’s public execution.

This man is terrifying. I love it.

Taichi/ZSJ: No rematch. Stop asking. You want a title shot that bad – get on your knees and beg for it at my feet. Taichi asks the reporters if they deserve another shot. No rematch, they’re no longer listening – they might consider it if Ibushi finds a new partner. But Tanahashi? He’s done.

They are setting up Tanahashi making the big comeback, which I’m all for. ZSJ and Taichi were pretty spectacular in dismissing Tana out of hand here. 

Master Wato: Kanemaru if we fight one on one, we’ll have no problem beating you.

Tenzan: Master Wato is going straight to the top of New Japan! His possibilities are infinite, and Tenzan will support him, absolutely. He’s asked if he sees himself in Wato, and Tenzan says that his job is to get him in the best possible spot. He should pick a fight with anyone! He should pick a fight with a champion!

Yuji Nagata: Suzuki, come at me more. You can’t break me. I’ll pay you back, tenfold. It’s gonna be you or me, there’s no escape. I’m ready to do this.

Hiroshi Tanahashi/Kota Ibushi: I won’t ask for a rematch, because that would be lame. I have to earn my spot. I have to be on their radar, then I’ll take the belts back from Taichi and Zack. I have to prove my worth to convince the fans too! I want their approval. Ibushi promises that when they return to Aichi, they will return as champions. Tanahashi asks Ibushi how many belts he will be holding when Kota comes back to Aichi, and Ibushi proudly announces ‘3’! Tanahashi chuckles and says that maybe he’ll have 4! Ibushi says that in that case, he should have 5! Then 6 for Tana!

These two are simply the greatest babyfaces around. They’re so fantastic. 

Yujiro Takahashi: This doesn’t seem fair – in 2004, he made his debut, but Okada and Naito joined NJPW soon after. How did that work out for Yujiro? They were behind Takahashi, that’s how it used to be. But he’s not giving up!

Please give up.

Kazuchika Okada: Even though he was fired up to face me one on one, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re on two different levels. But I guess you’re finally motivated? Although they’re in different positions now, he hopes they can fight again, because Yujiro looked damn good tonight. He’ll gladly face Yujiro again, if he steps up and gives it his all. Younger wrestlers like Okada should be making New Japan more thrilling. He’ll say this – the next IWGP title challenger won’t be him. He doesn’t care about double or triple champions, he feels sorry for the IWGP title – but he does have an idea. Could be very interesting. Something interesting is coming up for old New Japan fans or wrestlers, but we should look forward to it.

Okay, so yeah. Okada says he doesn’t want another title shot, which is interesting, and then drops cryptic hints about what would later be announced as the King of Pro Wrestling title. I’m on the fence about whether or not that’s a good idea, but we’ll have to see. 

Shingo Takagi: That was a tough fight – a NEVER title match is no joke. Desperado put his dirty hands on his belt, but (Shingo pours water on the strap) now it’s cleansed. Even though I’ve been calling him an idiot, I can see how smart he is. He made on mistake – he made Takagi angry. None of his opponents love the belt the way that Shingo loves the belt, and that’s why you can’t take it from him. He then forces a Young Lion to help him up.

Good promo, puts over SHO and Despy whilst also putting himself over as better than they are. 

EVIL: Hiromu’s body, mind, and dreams all sunk to hell. Time to face reality. Naito, EVIL is justice and he’ll send you packing. Remember that.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This show was okay. The top two matches delivered, albeit not without flaws. The Okada/Takahashi match was not good and the undercard tags were the usual morass of decent stuff. I’ve seen better and worse from NJPW before. For now, the jury remains out on EVIL’s title reign, but Hiromu Takahashi put on a show in the main tonight.

As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter