The Best And Worst Of NJPW: Royal Quest 2019

Previously on NJPW: Katsuyori Shibata got so mad about Kenta joining Bullet Club that he defied all medical advice to dropkick him in the face and Kota Ibushi won the G1 Climax.

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And now, the best and worst of Royal Quest, which took place August 30, 2019, at the Copper Box Arena in London.

Best: London Bridges

NJPW’s first UK show, finished with its two strongest matches, and, surprisingly, noted British person Zack Sabre Jr. lost his British Heavyweight Championship in one of them.

As we’ve seen time and time again and several times this year, ZSJ and Hiroshi Tanahashi work really well together. Though it was a rematch, it was a first-time-ever in the UK match, and probably even more of a natural crowd-pleaser than when it happened at Madison Square Garden this spring. I don’t think it was the strongest match these two have had – some of their previous ones had clearer directions – but their Royal Quest match is still entertaining and well-done. Tanahashi’s bridge counter of that leg hold early on is incredible and his win after only one High Fly Flow is a cool surprise.

Tanahashi winning the title wasn’t only a neat moment, but a smart use of the post-Ace and recent (once again) gravure model as it looks like NJPW is looking to strengthen their partnership with RevPro and make more moves in the British scene. (See also: picking up Gabriel Kidd for the LA Dojo and stating interest in opening a dojo in the UK.) If Tanahashi keeps the title beyond Destruction in Beppu, RevPro will probably get him for at least one main event. This could also easily lead to that guy who has his old slogan on his t-shirt winning the title.

It honestly sucks for the UK wrestling scene that they built something up for years and then once it was its own thing enough for big companies to notice, WWE ate up most of it and now it looks like NJPW is going after what’s left. But with a clear demand for wrestling in the region, this is what’s happening! At least people are getting jobs and some good shows out of it.

Worst: The Wrong Kind Of Going 2 Sleep

On paper, Royal Quest’s other title change made sense too. A loss would have killed the momentum Kenta had from the heel turn at the G1 Climax 29 final. Plus, if Shibata is coming back, there couldn’t be a more important match for him than one with the soulmate who betrayed him and with the NEVER Openweight Championship on the line when he’s pretty much the best champion that thing has had so far. The way Kenta won made sense too, confirming his commitment to taking the low road by using Bullet Club interference. However, Kenta on paper has been better than Kenta in practice for a few years now and that was true to a concerning extent at Royal Quest.

The match starts out not one of Ishii’s strongest, but a good time. It stops being a good time soon after the ten-minute call when, after an exchange of quick German suplexes, Kenta throws a clothesline with nothing behind it, then collapses after a headbutt from Ishii. We see the referee talking to the wrestlers for longer than usual. The crowd sounds uncomfortable because it’s clear something is really wrong.
“If there were technical knockouts in wrestling, the referee might have stopped it,” Kevin Kelly remarks on commentary, and that’s what it looks like has happened. Kenta later tweeted that he was fine, but also posted on Instagram that he had “zero memory” of his win.

While we’ve seen guys like Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi somehow be able to keep wrestling at their full powers after taking crazy bumps, Kenta really struggles to continue the match. It not only seems unhealthy, but it hurts both viewer’s ability to suspend their disbelief and the execution of the rest of the match. Kenta collapsing out of a vertical suplex attempt is concerning, as is the moment after the match when he can’t get up on the ropes to pose with the title. Continuing the match long enough for G.O.D. to get involved makes sense to a certain extent since this match was supposed to not only give Kenta the NEVER title, but set up a tag title feud involving the Guerrillas and Ishii (and Yoshi-Hashi), but it doesn’t look good.

All this plot stuff is set in motion and Kenta is a champ now, but the way this match played out hurt his momentum almost as much as if he had lost. It turned the conversation around him back to doubting if he can still wrestle at a high level and he was knocked out. Maybe things will pick up from Kenta from here, and it’s not like he can’t have a good match anymore, but nothing real, nothing besides him winning a shiny belt, made this match look positive for his career.

Worst: Revolution Pro-duction

Royal Quest went well overall and it looks like it went especially well for the live audience. The crowd was hot throughout the show and I only saw positive comments online from people who attended. Plus, it was attended by more people than the G1 show in Dallas (in a much bigger venue) last month, so I’m guessing this was considered an all-around success by NJPW. However, here were some downsides for viewers streaming the show that Royal Quest shared with Southern Showdown earlier this summer.

Royal Quest initially looked like it would also be, like Southern Showdown, essentially a VOD house show that NJPW also decided to sell as a Fite PPV for people willing to pay over two months’ worth of an NJPW World subscription to watch it live. There was more incentive to watch Royal Quest live because of the higher-stakes card, but the stream had similar issues. If you watched the show on NJPW World, you could also quickly tell that the production quality of this show was much lower than for most NJPW shows.

The shows in Japan are TV Asahi quality and the ones that broadcast live from the U.S. are AXS TV quality, but Royal Quest was RevPro quality, which is not the worst for an indie promotion, but not ideal. The show opens with a shot of Kevin Kelly and Gino Gambino talking but we couldn’t hear what they were saying, there’s no commentary for the first match, and the commentary isn’t as clear as usual for the rest of the show. The picture from one of the cameras is much darker than that from the other camera. One could also criticize that the backdrop backstage looked like it was from a very depressing school picture day, but that was pretty funny, so I won’t.

Ultimately, Royal Quest was easy to watch for, it sounded like, the live audience, and on NJPW World, though the production quality didn’t fit the second-biggest wrestling company in the world. Maybe skip on those NJPW Fite shows in the future if you have a World subscription and they’re using some indie production team because those have a bad track record now and you can get them a few days or weeks later anyway without dealing with stream issues.

The Undercard!

The way Royal Quest was produced as a live event, though, worked really well for the most part. Roppongi 3K opening international shows – which they’ve done a few times now, as Yoh points out backstage – is always a smart choice. They’re good wrestlers, everyone likes them, and they’re a lot of fun. A low-stakes R3K match leaves the audience feeling positive going into the rest of the card.

Kota Ibushi and Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo and Yujiro Takahashi is also enjoyable and low stakes. Juice and Ibushi are kind of a revelation as a first-time two-man tag team just in terms of the amount of pure babyface energy they bring to the ring together.

Tetsuya Naito and Sanada vs. Jay White and Chase Owens also falls into the category of “a fun thing for the live audience,” but with a little more plot involved. As seen in their interactions before their G1 match, Naito and White are clearly a really fun combination of characters in a similar way to how Naito and Chris Jericho were. It’s an irritating (in a funny way, usually) person who has no tranquilo versus the guy who is immune to his mind games and antics.

Naito gets to look so cool here that it actually makes me concerned for his upcoming title match with White, which, on a Super J-Cup show no one outside of the live audience has seen yet, White said would be the start of his own quest to be a double champ. There are now three people who want the Heavyweight and IC titles, so someone getting both of them seems more and more likely all the time. The two-day Dome show world is different!

But as changes and potential changes to the NJPW singles title picture abound, the tag division stays the same – very low priority despite some new blood. Unless Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi are hanging out in the tag division for a while, there are straight-up no real heavyweight tag teams besides G.O.D. in NJPW right now since Killer Elite Squad is over and Evil and Sanada are both busy doing singles wrestler things this fall.

Having G.O.D. wrestle adopted-local indie faves Aussie Opens for a UK show is a good temporary solution to this problem, and almost definitely a more meaningful Local Interest Match than when they wrestled the thrown-together team of Juice and Our One Australian Babyface Mikey Nicholls at Southern Showdown. However, the actual match feels more like if WWE had their Established Tag Team vs. Local Talent matches go twelve minutes than like one of four championship matches on the card.

Aussie Open say they might be back in NJPW but I don’t know why anyone would want that if they were introduced to them by this match. Mark Davis has looked better in other matches, but Kyle Fletcher always seems to look like a parody of an indie wrestler. He’s only twenty so maybe he’ll have a stronger future, but he’s been wrestling for five years and everything he does in the ring is immediately reminiscent of several other people doing it much better, and his hair situation is so tragic that it somehow makes all of it look worse.

I know people like to say, basically, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” about NJPW, but this RevPro partnership clearly isn’t them recruiting the best possible guest stars for the Best Wrestling In The World TM, it’s them getting the few guest stars they can from a promotion in a scene that has been decimated by NXT UK. But I guess NJPW is set on carving out their little piece of the UK market and they’re not friends with any other Japanese companies anymore in a way that would give them access to some way better tag teams and I guess they don’t want to bring in more people from CMLL right now.

I understand why NJPW is trying to do what they’re trying to do here (money), but I am not crazy about this partnership with a company that puts on shows of which two-thirds evaporate from my brain while I’m watching them. Some local interest stuff for the UK audience is understandable and cool for them, but if I wanted to be watching BritWres, I’d be watching BritWres. I’m not sure how broad of appeal a lot of these RevPro guys have.

And speaking of opportunities for me to restrain myself from hating on BritWres so much I get in trouble, the IWPG Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship picture is two-thirds Anglosphere indie wrestling drama right now and so corny it makes me wonder “Who is this for? Is this for people who watch New Japan???” and then I remember some people were into the BTE drama for the whole entired time it was going on and some people thought that Will Ospreay-Seth Rollins “Who is the Best Wrestler In The World?” Twitter feud was a legitimately cool and fun thing that happened. This storyline is for them, I think!

“What even is this storyline?” you might ask, and that’s a very understandable question because, between Best of the Super Juniors and the Destruction tour, it has played out on shows that did not air live on NJPW World, some of which still cannot be watched. Since this is both junior heavyweight title pictures through at least King of Pro Wrestling, here is a bullet point recap:

  • Robbie Eagles was an indie babyface who got his ass beat by his friend Will Ospreay and then he showed up in NJPW as a member of the Bullet Club before Super Junior Tag League and Will Ospreay was mad.
  • El Phantasmo was an indie babyface who got his ass beat by his friend Will Ospreay and then he showed up in NJPW as a member of the Bullet Club before Best of the Super Juniors and Will Ospreay was mad.
  • ELP beat Ospreay during BOSJ. Eagles beat also Ospreay during BOSJ, but due to unwanted interference by ELP. ELP also beat Eagles due to cheating.
  • Ospreay won BOSJ and the Junior Heavyweight Championship from various dragons.
  • ELP kind of stole Eagles’ tag partner (Taiji Ishimori) and the win that allowed he and Ishimori to challenge for the junior tag titles. Then on Kizuna Road, he and Ishimori won the junior tag titles from R3K in their first match as a two-man tag team.
  • At Southern Showdown. Ospreay beat Eagles to retain the Junior Heavyweight Championship and then Eagles turned on Bullet Club to join Chaos because everyone in the world has been kicking this dude’s ass but at least Chaos have been nicer about it. BC vowed revenge.
  • Ospreay was in the G1 and beat some heavyweights that have been in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship picture this year.
  • In the Super J-Cup, which is not yet available to watch online, ELP beat Eagles again, then beat Ospreay after some interference by Ishimori, then won the tournament by beating Dragon Lee. He proceeded to be a jerk on the microphone to Liger and Ospreay. He is getting a shot at the junior title at King of Pro Wrestling. The top junior heel in NJPW is a 32-year-old man who has an EDM gimmick in 2019, takes a billion years to set up moves that every other High Flyer TM can also do, and is overall the dollar store version of a fusion of Jack Evans and Angélico.

Now Eagles and Ospreay are a real-deal tag team called the Birds of Prey. They have colossally dorky matching outfits that make them look about nine years old. Eagles is completely Will Ospreay’s Friend now. ELP very sincerely says Will Ospreay is The Best Wrestler In The World, which is the worst character a wrestler can possibly get stuck with because then everyone gets to debate about whether they’re overrated or not and everything they do is up to be hyper-scrutinized and supposed to be taken very seriously when wrestling really is not that serious.

Anyway, Ospreay and Eagles have a cool tag team finisher with that double Spanish Fly and the match where they earned their tag title shot was decent so their actual tag title match could be very good. Everything surrounding it, though, is very much not what most of New Japan is like, and it kind of feels like what Cody’s matches and storylines are in AEW right now. It could be someone’s favorite thing but it’s not the main selling point of its home promotion and it’s extremely easy to react to with, “Okay, sure, whatever, good job, now let’s move on to some other wrestling that doesn’t come with self-important, corny baggage.”

Best: King Of The World

Now it’s time for this review to wrap up with a section that’s less likely to make people angry, the section about the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Kazuchika Okada and Minoru Suzuki and how it was good!

Okada and Suzuki haven’t always had the best matches, but they have had some really good ones and consistently have great chemistry. Something that makes this singles match of theirs a little different is how it embraces the special type of chemistry Suzuki has with wrestling fans outside of Japan, who love him the heck out of him, did not have the chance to see him live (unless they traveled to Japan) before 2017, and are much more willing to cheer heels they like than fans in Japan.

These cheers bring out a different version of Big Match Suzuki overseas, a little more theatrical and clearly relishing in his popularity. He gets to do things like play to the crowd more before that running PK on the ramp and cockily sit in a chair waiting for Okada to get back in the ring and people eat it up. When we haven’t seen a singles match from Suzuki since the New Japan Cup (unless you watched the main event of Taka’s new company’s first show in July, which I still have not!), these adjustments, as well as Suzuki’s usual wrestling, are so welcome to see again.

Although a lot of people cheered Suzuki and many would have loved to see him win the title, most probably didn’t expect that to happen. But Suzuki and Okada put this match together in a way that both keeps it entertaining despite the obvious result (moments like that long strike exchange that Suzuki eventually won) and moments that made the result seem suddenly not-so-obvious. The long tease of the Gotch Piledriver fakes people out in a really entertaining and well-executed way. By the time a Rainmaker ends the match, Suzuki and Okada leave viewers satisfied and happy.

The epilogue of Okada’s post-match promo takes the show home on a positive note. I continue to appreciate how NJPW is basically able to have Japanese wrestlers do promos for overseas crowds the same way foreign babyfaces do them in Japan, and audiences get into it. Use of the local language is appreciated a lot, but the audience doesn’t expect all the wrestlers to be fluent in it and doesn’t have a problem with them doing most of their speeches in their native language.

Sanada comes out to officially declare himself Okada’s next challenger (and possibly only other challenger between the G1 and Wrestle Kingdom) and though I’m not crazy about seeing them wrestle for a fourth time this year, at least Sanada incorporating his #ootd lifestyle into his wrestling character continues to be fun.

I’ll see you back here to talk about the Young Lion Cup, the builds for NJPW’s big September shows, and lots and lots of tag matches next week after the televised stretch of the Road to Destruction.