Previously on NJPW: Hiromu retained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and became champion of mixed signals, Taiji and Yujiro united their loves of bone soldiering and just plain boning, and Juice had to register a hand as an illegal weapon.
You can watch New Japan Pro Wrestling shows on their streaming service, NJPW World, which costs 999 yen (about 9 USD.) This specific show was exclusively on CEO Gaming’s twitch channel, though. You can also watch certain NJPW shows with commentary by Jim Ross and Josh Barnett on AXS.
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And now, the best and worst of CEO x NJPW: When Worlds Collide, a New Japan Pro Wrestling branded show at a video game convention in Florida that included Kenny Omega’s first in-ring appearance as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Somehow the fact that this show happened is not the weirdest thing about it.
Worst: A Quandary Over Quality
New Japan Pro Wrestling is currently working on expanding outside of Japan. Over the past few years, they’ve made their online content way more easily accessible to English speakers, started releasing DVDs outside of Japan, and had two (soon to be three) fully NJPW branded wrestling shows in the United States. They’ve also done crossover tours with sister promotions Ring of Honor in North America and RevPro in the U.K. Now their small number of shows in the U.S. includes this not super well attended shindig at the CEO 2018 fighting game convention because Kenny Omega is really into video games and has been CEO’s guest at these for the past few years and is now the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
I bet this show was really fun to watch live. The crowd was mic’ed poorly (unlike the ring, which was really loud and squeaky) so it was hard to hear their reactions, but it looked like they were enjoying themselves. However, the twitch stream didn’t do the product any favors. It was hard to see, the cameras had different color balances so cuts between them were jarring and made matches look disjointed, and the crowd noise wasn’t there to help get the over ten thousand people watching online hyped. The show also started over thirty minutes later than originally advertised because, according to audience members tweeting about the show, the floor seats weren’t numbered so it took people a while to find their seats. There were also multiple surprise intermissions during which we watched a countdown clock and were treated to what was definitely some gaming personality’s soundcloud playlist.
I didn’t go into this expecting TV Asahi-level production quality, but I don’t think it’s nitpicky to say that, at minimum, watching a wrestling show shouldn’t make you check to see if your screen’s color balance is off, or make you turn up the volume to the point where the commentators are stupidly loud in order to hear any crowd noise. Props to the commentators, though! You could tell they were rookies to calling pro wrestling, but they were way less cringey than a lot of people who have been doing it for years.
Worst: The Dark Match That Only Got Darker
When CEO announced the card for this show, they said it would include two dark matches, performers TBA. It turned out these weren’t true dark matches because they were shown on the twitch stream! It also turned out these were truly dark matches in that they were very bad, and also the first one featured a convicted sex offender!
In When World’s Collide’s first match, Chasyn Rance defeated Aaron Epic. It was the type of match you could see thrown together during open ring at a wrestling school. Naturally, people watching the show looked up these men making their debuts for the second biggest wrestling promotion in the world, opening one of their few American shows. At that time, the second result when you Googled “Chasyn Rance” was an article about his arrest for having sex with a young teenage girl. To find out what came of that arrest, you can go to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Sexual Offenders and Predators Search, type in “Chasyn Rance” (yep, that’s his legal name), and see that on July 18, 2011, Rance was convicted of “lewd or lascivious battery; sex with victim 12 to 15,” defined as “engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age.” It took about two minutes for me to learn this information.
The internet backlash against Rance’s booking was immediate, and was a big part of the viewing experience of this show for many. It was followed by an explanation that satisfied some and concerned others later that night and a better official apology the next day. It looked like Rance’s booking was due to typical wrestling practice gone wrong: letting the local talent who helped set up the show play a part in the show without background checking any of them. However, the scandal revived when it was discovered that CEO organizer Alex Jebailey said in a 2016 Instagram caption that Omega introduced him to Team Vision Dojo, of which Rance is the sole owner, after Omega claimed to have “met Chasyn Rance once in 2004” in his apology.
A lot of responses to this have been along the lines of “What about [this other bad thing/person in wrestling?]” Yep, that was/is still bad! The history of wrestling is full of terrible things. The history of the entertainment industry is full of terrible things! But just because those things were allowed to happen, or those types of people (I’m referring to Rance here) were able to have prominent positions in an industry that, among other things, works to create live-action superheroes for children, doesn’t mean that people should be expected to shrug it off when these things happen now. It’s certainly not good from a PR perspective, at the very least, for New Japan.
Worst: “This Is Worse Than Linda McMahon Wrestling!”
That quote from one of my housemates who rarely watches wrestling nowadays is the type of reaction New Japan wants to one of their matches, right? No? Even if it’s technically a dark match and doesn’t feature any of their regular talent?
The second match didn’t have me searching a sex offender registry within the first five minutes, but it sure did suck! Semi-retired DDT legend Michael Nakazawa, aka the guy Kota Ibushi ran over with a cart that one time, aka the guy Ibushi piledrivered into a toilet that one time, aka the guy who Minoru Suzuki “trained” to tag with him by punching him repeatedly in the stomach and pelting him with balls at the Pancrase dojo, came out and issued a open challenge to all American wrestlers in order to show the superiority of Japanese wrestlers. He didn’t quite get optimal foreign heel heat by cutting a Jinder Mahal promo to a crowd I’d bet had a high percentage of weebs, but he did inspire one of the Team Vision Dojo students to make his PRO WRESTLING DEBUT ON A NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING CARD and get squashed via thong attack. The evidence that this was this guy’s debut was in the caption of a Team Vision Dojo Instagram post, but it looks like they’ve deleted that whole account, so hopefully you can just trust me about that.
Nakazawa’s challenge was next met by none other than CEO organizer Alex Jebailey! How nice of him to fight for the honor of American wrestlers, and with a torn Achilles! I don’t know if I would have the confidence to come out and be what the kids call a “money mark” at the risk of seriously hurting my body as well as my image as an adult and a businessperson by coming out to do bad versions of wrestling moves to defeat an actual pro wrestler on a show my organization funded, but I’m not Jebailey (or Vince Russo, or Shane McMahon, etc.)
After all this white hot wrestling action, thank goodness we had a surprise ten minute intermission before the rest of the show with the actual NJPW wrestlers that people were excited to see.
Best/Worst: House Shows Are Fun, But There’s A Reason They’re House Shows
The rest of these matches were all fun to watch in their own way, although you could definitely feel the lack of stakes for most of the people involved. We started with Rocky Romero vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, with Rocky playing the scummy heel to Liger’s veteran superhero. It was a greatest hits match for Liger, and would have been a great opening match for the show if it was truly the opening match. Liger’s character work and legacy, like we saw at Dominion, compensate for his age, and, like we saw most recently on Kizuna Road, Romero is a master at putting opponents over.
I also spent like half this match explaining that, no, the guy in the mask is doing the Romero Special to the other guy, and it’s just a coincidence that the other guy’s last name is Romero. It’s not lazy move-naming, Drunk Housemate, you’re just drunk!
Next, the Guerrillas of Destiny (in the first true G.o.D. match of 2018!) defeated Juice Robinson and David Finlay, in a match I was Extremely Here For and somehow has not yet happened in even a World Tag League scenario. This was a very house show match that Tama Tonga won by 1) getting the pin, 2) starting the match in basically regular gym clothes but with his hair done all nice, 3) having the most fun of probably anyone at this entire show, including the audience. He beat up David Finlay in the crowd with seemingly no concern that the fans in the Ocean Center Arena would be less prepared for this than the Korakuen Hall regulars.
Best: The Stuff Most Likely To Hook New Fans
NEVER Openweight Championship challenger Jeff Cobb defeated everyone’s favorite mean, mumblecore-love-interest-lookin’, ascended jobber Chase Owens. Cobb is so dang good at wrestling, and Owens is good at looking like he’s kind of bad at wrestling while secretly being dang good at wrestling. His character work here was spot on, bullying a Daryl in the audience, doing a sad version of reacting to a joshi streamer on par with his Rainmaker pose, and responding to a two count gesture from the ref with multiple too sweets. Cobb did his wonderful hoss athlete things and made me even more excited for his upcoming battle of the thickest and most wholesome with Goto.
In another secret dream tag match (this one junior heavyweight division), Taguchi and Dragon Lee faced Roppongi 3K. The Coach absolutely came to play, and showed off first his comedy wrestling skills with Yoh, then that technical wrestling prowess it looked like we might not see until next year’s Best of the Super Juniors. And speaking of BOSJ, Sho vs. Dragon Lee II happened, sort of! The body guy heat didn’t reach the heights of their singles match, but it was there and it elevated their athletically impressive (especially for Dragon Lee) moments in the ring together.
The dynamic of our main event, the Golden Lovers vs. Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi (with Daryl Jr.) was interesting. Like in the recent Honma return and Super Strong Machine retirement matches, L.I.J. were special occasion heels. They’re really babyfaces in terms of crowd reaction until they do obvious heel things to their opponents, and their popularity gets people more excited for the match to be even happening from the time it’s announced. In international appearances though, the hype is so real for Naito and Hiromu that their turn is a little off-putting, especially since Naito will be the face when he and Omega clash for real at the G1.
If anyone took Kenny’s promo about him not being an international star to heart, the reaction of the crowd at Kenny’s Personal Brand And Also NJPW Show showed that that is absolutely not the case. And it felt like a breath of fresh air to see Naito get to wrestle at his full powers after two feuds in which we saw him tortured and fighting through extreme pain.
The main event also included the dream matchup of Daryl Jr. vs. veteran wrestler of inanimate objects Kota Ibushi, once again showing off the might of the Takahashi wrestling family. After this opening segment, we saw a lot of everyone showing off their big moves and taking bigger bumps than I expected after the house show vibes of the previous matches. It felt like a spot fest at times, but I think that was partly due to the jarringly different color balances on the different camera angles. If I was at this show and hadn’t seen New Japan before and someone told me these were some of their top guys, I think I would absolutely be motivated to check out more.
After the Golden Lovers won, Jebailey came out and gave special CEO belts to Omega and Ibushi, and did Kenny’s pose with him, because everyone likes non-wrestler promoters being as involved in their shows as much as possible. They said there will be wrestling shows at CEO in the future. If so, they should really make sure to background check everyone they book.
Overall, CEO x NJPW: When Worlds Collide was like a good indie or house show, the type that’s way more enjoyable to watch live than on a screen. It was hurt by poor production and scandal. If New Japan starts doing a bunch of shows like this, I think it will knock them of their pedestal as the most critically acclaimed wrestling promotion. It certainly hurt Kenny’s reputation in the eyes of many, although it’s not like he’s disgraced or anything, and he’s still clearly one of the best pro wrestlers in the world right now.
I’ll see you back here soon to talk about Strong Style Evolved UK, the across-the-pond crossover show with RevPro that continued some New Japan feuds and featured big moments for the Dad Army!