Previously on NJPW: Zack Sabre Jr. decided to start building his British Heavyweight Champion legacy against a guy with a New Japan legacy and a half, Sanada basically got us to forgive him for the beard, and Juice Robinson survived the dreaded Pocket Sand.
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And now, the best and worst of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s co-promoted G1 Supercard event from April 6, 2019, at Madison Square Garden. If you haven’t watched this show yet and are not sure how to do that, I laid out your options in the show preview here.
Best: New Era, Same As The Old Era
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Jay White and Kazuchika Okada showed the contrast between a tired crowd that really wants to get into a match and a tired crowd that just doesn’t care anymore and decides to shit on it. The main thing that made NJPW look so good on this show was their quality of matches, especially compared to some of the ROH ones, but I think this is worth pointing out! After the tension with the New Beginning in USA tour, this made the relationship between New Japan and their American fans look really strong.
The match itself was a real by-the-numbers New Japan main event. After the ladder match put everyone to sleep, this was not the easiest time to sit through White slowly breaking down the Rainmaker. The match was about thirty-two minutes long and I felt all of those minutes.
But despite the less than advantageous circumstances, every one of Okada’s comebacks delivered. He’s a great wrestler and the audience really, really wanted to him to win! And now he’s brought the People’s Babyface version of himself to America after that splash over the barricade and honestly heartwarming pose amongst the audience.
The audience wakes up for every dropkick and pops huge for the Rainmaker pose. The fact that everyone knows these guys could only possibly win with their current finishers means nobody gets into a lot of the nearfalls, but also leads to a really good, stressful, shocking moment when White kicks out of a Rainmaker. The match’s finishing sequence – JUST PIN HIM; STOP DOING RAINMAKERS – was even more effectively stressful and though this wasn’t the strongest match on the card, the payoff was still very satisfying.
Order has been restored to the wrestling universe! Kazuchika Okada and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship are finally reunited and it feels so good. He’s now on top of a very different New Japan landscape than when he won it previously or when he lost it and it’ll be exciting to see where this all goes next.
Best/Worst: Let’s Get Ready By Rumbling!
The pre-show Honor Rumble will not go down as one of the great battle royals of wrestling history, but it had enough good moments to make it worthwhile. Like the Wrestle Kingdom pre-show activity this year, I will cover these in bullet point form!
- Minoru Suzuki was such a perfect choice for the second entrant! He wasn’t doing much on this card (which, after his Bloodsport main event and his swearing at the RevPro audience fulfilled my Suzuki WrestleMania weekend activity needs, was fine with me) but the crowd got to see one of the big entrances they wanted and he was a solid part of the Rumble.
- That being said, how did they not get the music rights for “Kaze Ni Nare” for the broadcast of this show? But that being said, how great was it to see Suzuki take his time walking to the ring to Generic FantasticaMania Filler Slow Jam #3?
- The way Toru Yano was used in this match was similarly perfect, with he and Colt Cabana now established as basically best friends and some great contributions to English commentary by the Sublime Master Thief. Him being added to the match as an impromptu #31 was dumb, but I don’t think anyone cared at that point.
- I had forgotten that Shingo Takagi is in the middle section of the Venn diagram of “guys Japanese wrestling fans like,” “guys hardcore ROH fans like,” and “guys indie wrestling fans like.” Also, he and Sho’s inevitable BOSJ match and/or Dontaku tour singles match is clearly going to be a big deal.
- Taguchi and Rocky Romero’s player-coach partnership was perfect, as was Romero eliminating Bushi.
- I got weirdly emotional about the original Bullet Club theme being played in a big arena in America! For some reason, it meant something for at least that song to make it, though the early lineups of the group are now spread across promotions. It felt like they deserved this specific thing.
- That Fale vs. Milanos hoss fight tease, though, was a reminder that WrestleMania is going to be the show for quality big guy action this weekend.
- Thank you, MSG, for the perfect, borderline ironic pop for Yoshi-Hashi.
- How did Vinny Marseglia get the balloons under the ring? Is it supposed to be magic? Was he just the only guy who talked to production about an extra special entrance beforehand? Was it both somehow?
- I’ll probably forget a lot of this match, but The Great Muta (in his fancy gear!) has got to be one of the best possible final battle royal entrants of all time. Muta’s obviously been so important in the relationship between Japanese and American wrestling scenes, so it felt very appropriate for he and Liger to be seemingly the last two remaining in the ring on this specific show. And because of just who they are in general, it was awesome to see them wreck the Kingdom. And there was an air of actual awe when it was clear they were going to actually just wrestle each other now, unannounced, one-on-one.
- I guess Kenny King made a lot more sense as a winner than either of these guys though since he actually works for ROH! And now he has heel heat or whatever because of this ending! Make sure to tune into King vs. Taven whenever that happens!
Worst: No-edo Tai
ROH got me all excited for the six-woman tag featuring Kagetsu, Hazuki and Hana Kimura and then it turned out to be a dark match! I guess I should have figured that out when it was never added to NJPW’s match schedule on their website, but I thought they were just being slow about it! For shame! They couldn’t have cut the Street Fight in half or something?
Oh, and speaking of the Street Fight…
Worst: ROH WYD???
Things really started to feel off in this show when Juice Robinson was found attacked backstage in a segment that felt like straight-up the WWF. That’s not me being the kind of smark who refuses to use the current name; it felt that old and not in a fun, throwback way.
Then we got the WOH title match that made me feel obligated to tell you, if you’re not familiar with her work, that Mayu Iwatani is very good. This was an unmemorable match, but she is a memorable wrestler worth checking out. That cool crossbody to the outside was just the tip of the iceberg!
It’s not new information that ROH probably has the worst women’s division in the country. It is not at all a priority for them, but they pretend it is sometimes because, for example, it was a bad look for them in 2018 not to a championship for which these women could honorably fight. It’s never a surprise when any of their wrestlers (recently Karen Q, Tenille Dashwood) leave because there are absolutely greener pastures for them, especially if AEW keeps scooping up female talent and WOW keeps going and Impact, you know, exists.
This new angle with the Allure (which I think is supposed to be said in the same tone as “~Mandy~” but without the irony), though, is bad in a way I didn’t expect from WOH. I have no idea how people who presumably keep up with wrestling very closely in 2019 because they work in it could think people want to see a Divas-type angle from ten years ago complete with the inexplicable lipstick drawing. Maybe the nostalgia element of the Beautiful People can carry wrestling’s twelve-millionth “sexy mean girls” angle, but it still looks ridiculous for the company that calls their shows things like “Masters of the Craft” to start something so retro, especially on such a high-profile show.
Then we get this Street Fight, which you should absolutely read in the same tone as June Diane Raphael asking, “What exactly is a street fighter?” on “How Did This Get Made?” More accurately, we get a NERDCORE RAP PERFORMANCE before a very long Street Fight on a show that a lot of people bought to see because of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Heck, this extremely sports entertainment nonsense (not that all “sports entertainment” stuff is bad, but THIS WAS BAD) has got to be offensive to longtime Ring of Honor fans too – this company used to have the ROH Pure Championship! MegaRan was clearly supposed to be a sympathetic figure and got booed because literally, nobody wanted to see a musical performance on this show.
The following match that began with the return from injury of Resident Troop Flip Gordon and turned into a trios match was so aggressively not what anyone watching this show wanted to see. The highlight was I guess that all the wreslters got to get some stuff in but the lowlight was everything else about it and the fact that it completely killed the crowd.
And speaking of crowd killers, the ROH World Championship is not looking good after its highest profile championship match ever. It was about thirty minutes long, but it felt like forty. It embraced all the worst things you can do with a ladder match and focused so much on the construction of ridiculous ladder and/or table contraptions that it never gained momentum or built in intensity. There were some spots that looked both good and dangerous in themselves, but the audience mostly did not care.
There were two moments that I think summed up just how dire this match was. The first was when Lethal (slowly…) set up a ladder to elbow-drop Taven through a table outside of the ring and commentary exclaimed, “This isn’t about the title, this is about Taven!” This could have been some kind of storyline turning point in the match because it’s felt like The Franchise is all about this title, but it really just didn’t make sense because it was so high-risk and far away from the ring.
The second moment was the whole ending. The key turning point in this match was that Matt Taven snuck in a purple ladder that was taller than the other ladders. A purple ladder that was taller than the other ladders. This was “LOLTNA” levels of dumb. If the big twist in a story is “but then there’s a PURPLE LADDER” I think it has to be in a children’s book or a comedy or, I don’t know, some kind of Terrence Malick thing where it’s actually deeply symbolic and actually you’re stupid for not getting it. (Here it is symbolic of Taven liking the color purple.)
The bleakness of this match was driven home by commentary after Taven won (congrats, admirably loyal ROH company guy Taven) following it up with “twenty-five years ago in the world’s most famous arena, the ladder match was put on the map” and describing what just occurred as happening “tonight, in enemy territory…” Why would you immediately frame this huge, high-risk title match with months of storytelling leading up to it as sticking it to WWE rather than a success for your company in itself? And if you planned this statement beforehand, wouldn’t you call an audible after seeing that this actually did not redefine the ladder match and the audience did not enjoy it and that WrestleMania X match was a lot better?
It is incredible how far Ring of Honor is from its glory days right now and, although NJPW isn’t this perfect wrestling company, how far apart the two companies headlining this show are in terms of quality output right now. Another nail in the creative coffin might be the fact that it judging from ROH’s Twitter activity, as well as that of their new tag champs, the Enzo and Cass incident might have been a shoot angle. With Spandex will definitely follow up if it’s revealed that these two have signed with ROH so, sure, they’ll get publicity about it, but I know I’m not the only one who’s way less likely to watch or spend money on anything ROH-related if they’re involved. After the SummerSlam run-in and Daniel Bryan not being able to get a good match out of Cass, it looks like these guys need to just take the L in regards to their wrestling careers.
Best: Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Crushed
The first ROH match that felt out of place on an NJPW show was the best, the devastating squash of Dalton Castle by the Ingobernable Rush. Rush enters looking like a badass, swears at Castle, and destroys him in a match that is literally three dropkicks.
I hope we can see a real match between these two at some point, but this made a lot of sense. Maybe this won’t be a full heel turn for Castle, but it seems promising for his downward spiral to continue further so he can have a full return to glory. Rush maintained his winning streak and, based on backstage comments to the press, seems like he’s going into the World Championship picture with Taven, with whom he has a history in CMLL. Much about the future of ROH looks bleak right now, but hopefully, these two undeniable superstars make it work.
Best: Junior Heavyweights Can Save The World
Three also undeniable superstars who got the show back on track with some actual professional wrestling, something that should never have to happen on an ROH and/or NJPW show, were Taiji Ishimori, Dragon Lee, and Bandido. They had the exact triple threat you would want them to have and it ruled. Lee’s running Destroyer, Bandido’s pop-up cutter, and Bandido’s insane double super fallaway slam (Is there a name for this move already? There might not be!) were just a few of the cool moments in this high-flying sprint. It was such a breath of fresh air.
I did not expect Lee to win this title on this show, but I’m so glad he did. It’s seemed like he’s had an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship run coming to him for a while, and also oh my gosh, this means Hiromu Takahashi is definitely coming back in the near-ish future! If Lee defends against Ishimori one-on-one first I won’t complain at all – although I will complain again that nobody in NJPW respects the results of triple threats! This might be their worst storytelling trope to me!
Best/Worst: The Winner Takes It All
Other people probably liked the winner-take-all matches on this show more than me and I did mostly like them, but also – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – I have some COMPLAINTS about MR. WILLIAM OSPREAY. Namely, please stop trying to make me believe he can take on guys who actually know how to fight in a real fight! Do not make me watch him stand and trade with Suzuki like he did in that RevPro match this week! Maybe don’t do a Tale of the Tape about Ospreay and Cobb that points out that legitimate tough guy Olympic wrestler Jeff Cobb outweighs him by 90 pounds – although that did make Cobb’s opening of the match with a huge shoulder tackle and later catching of Ospreay extra entertaining.
Nothing about the way he behaves or looks or wrestles lends itself to the impression that he is a badass. It doesn’t help that the main way Ospreay himself tries to present himself as tough is by talking about all the injuries he’s constantly working through, which, since the nasty rib situation in the fall of 2018, have included, allegedly, a broken toe around the time of the PAC match and a broken nose on Friday at the hands of Suzuki.
It doesn’t help that Ospreay might be the worst actor in pro wrestling right now, which he displayed in this match with some of the most insane facials I’ve ever seen. They’re hammier that Kenny Omega’s, but he doesn’t have the comedy wrestling/campy background to his extremely earnest character to make them work on any level.
Anyway, after a mixed bag of spots, the STRAPS DOWN TOUR OF THE ISLANDS looked good as a finish to bring us Cobb Two Belts. Could this mean G1 Cobb? Should I not get my hopes up? Also, can Cobb be on Bloodsport next year? (Do you think editorial would notice if I snuck in a quick Best/Worst of Bloodsport within this article?)
On a regular New Japan show, the four-way winner-take-all tag match might have been a lowlight, but here it provided some fun, chaotic variety while also being a wrestling match with wrestling in it, the thing people came to this show to see. PCO stood out when, after a full-on, very deserved WrestleMania entrance that finally integrated Destro to his ROH character, he took bumps that were insane for a man in his fifties to even think about. However, everyone performed well, and this was basically the successful version of the craziness the Street Fight tried to achieve.
G.O.D. were the only team consistently booked in this match, are pretty over in America right now, and live there, so they made the most sense to become double champs. But especially after, according to @MrLARIATO on Twitter, Japanese commentary apparently loved PCO and Brody King, I’m hoping we see them do a New Japan tour sooner rather than later.
Best: Horrible Things Happening To The Human Body
Two clear highlights of the G1 Supercard were the rematches from this year’s New Japan Cup. First up, Zack Sabre Jr. retained his British Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi in a match I expected to have so much more knee work than it did! However, though the smartest thing for ZSJ to do would have been to focus on the Ace’s knees since going for his arm instead basically lost him their previous match, it felt true to his character for him to insist that no, actually, he is the Submission Master and he can submit Tanahashi by focusing on whatever body part he wants!
There were a few counters here that looked awkward to me (the way ZSJ basically no-sold that Dragon Screw made wrestling look faker than the fact that he’s a heavyweight at about 105 pounds), but overall this match was really strong. The crowd was with Tanahashi every step of the way and Sabre’s transition into his final submission, the Smiths one that the ROH guys on commentary absolutely were not prepared to call, looked especially excruciating.
Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Championship was both very scary to watch at times and very much a rematch from the New Japan Cup bout last month. There was a lot of neck work and stuff that looked CTE-inducing. This match could have had an epilogue like Jimmy Lloyd and Masashi Takeda’s death match at Spring Break III but with Ibushi and Naito jumping and landing on their own necks instead of smashing light tubes over their heads. I know we all accept that this is just what Ibushi is like and it’s part of why we love him, but this dude is crazy. This dude does not make decisions about his body the way other human beings do!
The closing stretch of the match, with Ibushi paying homage to his heroes he fought for this title in the past (I will probably never not get feelings for an Ibushi Bomaye knee) and then picking up the win with a Kamigoye was so exciting and so perfect. And not only is Naito now FREE TO PURSUE HIS HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP DREAMS once again (which the video package reminded us is still his main goal in contrast to Ibushi’s sincere dedication the white belt), but Ibushi has finally had what feels like an important New Japan title win. He looked so sincerely happy about it and this title reign is probably going to give us very good things.
It was also a very good thing – almost too good and now I’m suspicious – to give to the American fans. Aside from a great match, it, like the main event, showed a confidence that the fans outside of Japan do actually care, for the most part, about the same people NJPW’s primary audience does.
The next chapter in New Japan’s adventures abroad won’t be for a while though and I’ll see you back here later this month to talk about the matches and developments back in Japan on the Road to Wrestling Dontaku!