Mike Reviews – New Japan Pro Wrestling Fantastica Mania 2015 (18/01/2015)

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

I watched some Lucha a couple of weeks back and was thinking of watching some more, so I decided to combine my love of Japanese Wrestling with some Lucha Libre by watching one of the Fantastica Mania shows on New Japan World.

For those not au fait, Fantastica Mania was when New Japan would bring over some guys from CMLL in Mexico and pit the Lucha stars against some of the native New Japan guys whilst also holding some matches between the Luchadores as well.

I’ve never actually watched one of these shows in full, so I thought I’d give this one a go just to see if I would enjoy it or not. Why not read along with my review to see whether I did or not?

The event is emanating from Tokyo, Japan on the 18th of January 2015

Calling the action are Shigeki Kiyono, Milano Collection AT and Mikitico (According to CageMatch.Net anyway. Apologies if I’m missing anyone out)

Opening Match
CHAOS (Gedo, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI) Vs Angel de Oro, Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask

This one is good fun, with Liger bumping Gedo around to start and the crowd enjoying it. Ishii coming in makes things a bit more serious, as he’s here to throw strikes and be all Japanese, whilst Liger and Gedo were attempting to do the Lucha. Ishii and Tiger Mask have a fun battle where they throw chops and kicks at one another, at which point it’s over to YOSHI and Oro for some more Lucha style, which is entertaining. Gedo ends up cheating to cut Oro off however, leading to everyone brawling around ringside, which CHAOS gets the better of.

Ishii ends up going for Tiger Mask’s…er…mask (that’s his face you monster!) but Oro comes in to rescue his partner before he can be unmasked. Things breakdown following that, with everyone coming in for a big move and the action being fun. Oro is someone I don’t know a lot about, but his high-flying is very nice here, with him smoothly delivering a series of crisp moves and dives. The crowd enjoys the action and responds well, as they know what they’ve come to see tonight and are happy to get some Lucha flavour. Eventually Tiger gets Gedo with a crucifix pin for three.

WINNERS: ORO, LIGER & TIGER
RATING: ***

This was just the right mix of Japanese and Mexican styles for me and it made for a fun match, with Oro shining for his team and Ishii getting to still be Ishii on his side

Match Two
El Barbaro Cavernario and OKUMURA Vs Triton and KUSHIDA

All the music has been scrubbed out of this one thus far, which makes me think they’re either using the music of the CMLL guys that they don’t have the rights to or this was during a period where they were jumpy about a lot of their own theme music and they dubbed a lot of them out on New Japan World presentations just to be safe. I don’t really know any of these three guys outside of KUSHIDA, although Barbaro seems to be doing his best Captain Caveman impression, complete with club that he brings down to the ring with him. Having guys in wacky costumes is hardly a rarity in Mexico, as I think CMLL were the company that has Los Talibanes, who dressed up exactly how you’d think they would.

Barbaro and KUSHIDA do some amateur styled grappling to start, although KUSHIDA is much better and fluid at it than his opponent. KUSHIDA is great in this match actually, with his high-flying looking good and his character work being on point as well, including a moment where he does a bunch of swinging arm drags and ends up getting dizzy as a result. Like the opener, this one is good fast paced fun and enjoyable to watch as a result. Triton has interesting looking gear and does the gimmick where he has a second mask under his first one at one stage.

Barbaro has some good charisma, whilst OKUMURA works well and is a good base for his opponents. The crowd continues to be great here, as they are clearly enjoying getting into Lucha Crowd mode, which is fun to see. It’s fun to see other people have fun sometimes you know? Surprisingly KUSHIDA’s team ends up going down to the defeat, as Triton gets caught in a Tequila Sunrise styled submission hold whilst Barbaro gives KUSHIDA a splash out on the floor and that’s enough for the submission victory.

WINNERS: BARBARO & OKUMURA
RATING: ***1/4

More good action with some fun character work as well

Barbaro attacks Triton’s second in the post-match and that leads to a pull apart. Barbaro cuts a promo and seems to dish out a challenge for tomorrow, although my Spanish isn’t great so I might have that wrong. The brawl picks up again following that anyway. Good angle there.

Match Three
La Sombra, Ryusuke Taguchi and Tetsuya Naito Vs Captain New Japan, Don Mascara and Mascara Dorada

Dorada would go on to be Gran Metalik, whilst Sombra would go on to be Andrade. Taguchi is dressed like an Egyptian Pharaoh here for reasons that escape me. Maybe it suggests an alliance with the Osirian Portal over in CHIKARA? Naito is also wearing a mask here to fit in with his partner, whilst Don is actually Manabu Nakanishi getting into the Lucha spirit with a wacky Lucha themed gimmick and outfit. Sombra was the original leader of Los Ingobernables over in Mexico and his association with Naito lead to the Japanese branch of the stable getting set up.

Sombra and Dorada start us out, which ends in a stalemate and then gives us Taguchi and Don going at it, which seems a bit unfair from a size perspective but Taguchi handles himself well enough. Taguchi is ALL COMEDY here, and to his credit it is pretty funny, complete with his mask coming off at one stage and Taguchi running away to shield his face. This leads to Don rolling back and doing the hip swivel in possibly the funniest bit of the whole match. Poor old Captain New Japan is bad as always, although at least as a babyface he had some appeal as a hapless loser you could sympathise with. Once he became BONE SOLIDER it was all over for him.

Captain New Japan quickly gets cut off and worked over, because he’s Captain New Japan, with the work from the Sombra/Naito/Taguchi team looking good. Sombra and Naito show some good chemistry as partners, and who knows maybe we’ll get them tagging in AEW or New Japan one day once it’s easier for guys to get in and out of the country? I’m writing this a couple of months back, so who knows maybe it’s already happened? Don eventually gets the hot tag, and has fun running wild on the opposing team. I love how it’s basically just Manabu Nakanishi under a mask with very little variation in wrestling style. It kind of makes the whole mask redundant but that almost makes it funnier.

Sombra and Dorada have some very smooth sequences with one another, the sort that suggest they’ve wrestled one another many a time, which ends with Captain New Japan coming back in and actually getting some offence in on Sombra. Captain New Japan misses a pretty sorry looking splash off the top though, which leads to Sombra taking over, only to run into a Rock Bottom for two. Things breakdown following that, with everyone coming in and Don even doing a dive out to the floor onto Naito and Taguchi. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t look great, but I respect him for trying it at least. Meanwhile, Sombra gets the knees in the corner and a split-legged moonsault onto Captain New Japan back inside for three.

WINNERS: SOMBRA, NAITO & TAGUCHI
RATING: **3/4

This was still fun but not quite as good from an in-ring perspective as the prior two matches. Don was funny in his role and Sombra looked great, but the majority of the match had Captain New Japan in there and, with the best will in the world, that’s always going to put a cap (no pun intended) on the overall match quality

Sombra and Dorada do some duelling promos following the match, which seems to lead to them both challenging one another. I’d certainly enjoy watching that match.

Match Four
NWA World Historic Middleweight Title
Champ: Volador Jr. Vs Gran Guerrero

Volador has an impressive entrance outfit, complete with wings and is seconded by Triton, whilst Gran Guerrero has Barbaro with him. Volador looked kind of cooler with his mask to be honest, but I’ve always been impressed by his in-ring whenever I’ve had a chance to watch him. There are a few sloppy moments in the early going here, but in general they have some exciting early exchanges, with both Luchadores getting dives out to the floor at one stage. I like how the seconds will try and wave towels to revive them following the dives. I have no idea if that would help in real life, but I’m guessing it happens in boxing and MMA and that’s where they’ve gotten it from?

Guerrero gets an incredible move at one stage, where he hooks Volador up in some kind of a pumphandle and then heaves him up into a wacky looking face buster. That was really cool and I don’t think I’ve done it justice. Volador is able to reply to that move with a Back Cracker though, which gets him a two count. We get some more near falls following that, and I’m digging this one well enough but it’s not really rocking my world either. There have definitely been a few moments where their timing has been a bit off, but the near falls have been executed well with both men waiting till JUST the right moment to kick out for maximum drama. The crowd gets into the near falls and is having fun with the big moves, including a second rope face buster from Guerrero and a big rana off the top from Volador. Guerrero tries for the Gory Special, but Volador slips out and Guerrero has to settle for a Choke Slam instead for a near fall. Volador keeps coming though and eventually gets a Spanish Fly from the top for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: VOLADOR JR.
RATING: ***

This was a bit sloppy in parts but it was also pretty entertaining and the crowd enjoyed it

We actually get a post-match handshake between Volador and Guerrero following that, which is nice to see. Volador then gives a promo backstage.

Match Five
Mexican National Light Heavyweight Title
Champ: Mephisto Vs Stuka Jr.

Mephisto is repping the Bullet Club here and comes out looking like a creepy Batman, although Batman doesn’t use guns so I doubt he would approve of Bullet Club using his likeness like this. Yujiro comes out with Mephisto to cut a promo and announce him as a BC member. This is one of those matches where, when they get momentum going and hit their spots then the spots in question usually look good, but the in-between parts are kind of slow and both guys get tired pretty quickly. It’s a strange match to watch as you’ll think “wow, they’re kind of working a slow going-nowhere match here” at which point they’ll do this smooth lightning fast sequence followed by a wild dive to remind you that they CAN, only to then slow it way down again.

It’s a not a bad match by any means, but it’s not an especially good one either outside of a few nice looking spots and sequences. The crowd doesn’t love the match but they are mostly positive towards it and it’s a watchable bit of Lucha that might potentially have benefitted from going on earlier before some of the better matches. Stuka ends up coming off the top with a pair of splashes but Mephisto kicks out for a good near fall. Mephisto replies with a sloppy underhook face buster off the top, which gets him a two count. Mephisto baits Stuka up to the rope for a second time and Stuka stupidly follows, leading to him taking another face buster and this one is enough for three.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: MEPHISTO
RATING: **1/2

This was kind of a strange match to watch, as parts of it featured some very good action but other parts felt like they meandered. The end result was a match that never really got going but wasn’t actively bad either, so I decided to rate it middle of the road

Mephisto is nice to Stuka post-match, which just looks wrong seeing as he’s not only Bullet Club but also dressed like a disturbing horror nightmare version of Batman.

Semi-Main
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura) and Polvora Vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Mistico and Stigma

This is not the Mistico who entered WWE as the original Sin Cara but rather a new version of Mistico that CMLL created in his place. He’d also wrestle as Dragon Lee and Dralistico. Tanahashi had recently defeated Okada at the Tokyo Dome in order to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title and he presents a shirt and some flowers to two people who appear to be family members of former wrestler of Black Cat. I apologise if I got any of that wrong, but when you don’t speak the language you kind of have to Google and hope for the best that you aren’t getting something drastically wrong and causing offence in the process.

Okada teases walking out to start in order to get the crowd to chant for him in a cute spot before going in there to do some Lucha with Mistico, which he’s good at doing. Polvora and Tanahashi get to do a bit together as well, with Tanahashi also committing to the Lucha theme of the show and doing well at it, possibly because I think he actually did work in Mexico for a bit at one stage. I must say that it’s been fun watching the usual New Japan guys doing Lucha in a setting where the fans are into it and understand what is going on. They’ve reacted a bit more like a Mexican crowd than a Japanese crowd and it’s really made for a fun atmosphere.

Nakamura and Stigma go next, with Nakamura also getting into the swing of things and seemingly having fun doing so. I struggle to remember these things sometimes but I’m thinking 2015 was Nakamura’s last full year in New Japan before jumping to WWE in 2016? As with the case in my CMLL review from a couple of weeks ago, there are moments where one team just clobbers one of their opposition three on one in the ring and the referee just stands there and lets it happen. Lucha rules, what are you gonna do eh?

Okada enjoys being a bit more of a power wrestler here, actively no selling some dropkicks from Stigma at one stage like he’s The Warlord. That leads into things breaking down and us getting the parade of dives, which then leads to the traditional Lucha spot of two guys getting in the ring and momentarily stopping their wrestling during the finishing sequence in order to clap and get the crowd to clap along with them. That leads into Mistco getting La Mistica on Polvora for the clean submission win.

WINNERS: TANAHASHI, MISTICO & STIGMA
RATING: ***1/4

This was more good fun, with the Japanese guys committing to working it Lucha style and having an enjoyable time doing so

CHAOS yells at Polvora following that, leading to Polvora grabbing a mic and cutting a promo on Mistico.

Main Event
Ultimo Guerrero Vs Atlantis

Both of these Luchadores are legends in the genre, with Atlantis actually winning the WON Match of the Year award for 2000 when he wrestled Villano III in a classic bout. When you consider how much good wrestling there was in 2000, winning the best match award is a sizable accolade. Ultimo Guerrero is one of the best in-ring workers of his or any other generation, and when I used to watch CMLL on The Wrestling Channel over here in the UK he featured heavily along with the likes of Rey Bucanero and Shocker.

Atlantis tries going for Guerrero’s mask early on, which would be a DQ under Lucha rules I think, but then Guerrero voluntarily unmasks anyway. I’m guessing Guerrero lost his mask in a match and then put it back on? That’s a big no-no in Mexican Wrestling culture anyway so it would explain why Atlantis was so desperate to unmask him. Taking off his mask seems to fire Guerrero up though, as he takes the fight to the outside and then leaps to clatter some metal railings between him and Atlantis. Guerrero teases going after Atlantis’ mask back inside but the referee manages to talk him out of it.

This match has had some good intensity to it thanks to the mask shenanigans and it’s been entertaining to watch as a result, especially as the work has been solid as well. They’ve gone for more of a psychology and crowd focused match rather than just going for hot moves and it’s worked well, especially as in the Main Event you generally expect there to be a bit more meat on the bones psychology wise. Guerrero ends up on the floor at one stage after some wacky victory roll antics, and that leads to Atlantis following with a dive for good measure.

Both guys trade stiff open hand chops to the chest back inside, with the crowd getting into the action and the pick-up in intensity between the two Luchadores. They’ve built this one really well, with both guys getting increasingly more nettled at one another and the match getting gradually harder hitting as a result. We get some nicely executed near falls from both Luchadores, as well as some more dives, including a wild one off the top turnbuckle to the floor by Atlantis. Atlantis is not a young man so to be pulling that off which such grace is to be applauded.

Guerrero goes to the Gory Special back inside following that, but Atlantis manages to slip out and go for a pin, which Guerrero then counters to his own pin for two. The near falls keep coming following that, and they continue to be well executed. I have to say that the general timing on the kick outs across the card has been fantastic. They clearly take that aspect of the game serious in Mexico and really drill it into the Luchadores as an important thing to do well. Guerrero ends up getting a reverse Suplex off the top and that’s enough for the win after a really fun match.

WINNER: ULTIMO GUERRERO
RATING: ***1/2

Guerrero thanks the crowd on the mic following that, in Japanese no less, and the crowd shows him lots of love in response. Sadly his music then gets dubbed out so that we can’t enjoy the full experience.

In Conclusion

Issues with the music dubbing and buffering on New Japan World aside, this show breezed by and was entertaining, with a few good matches thrown in for good measure. If you have a New Japan World sub then it’s worth your time.

Recommended show!