Previously on NJPW: Suzukigun terrorized precious hip-hop kids Roppongi 3k, Jay White tried to become the Cody to Okada’s Kenny (minus the gay subtext text), and Okada beat everyone. Oh, and the company was around for 46 years!
You can watch New Japan Pro Wrestling shows on their streaming service, NJPW World, which costs 999 yen (about 9 USD.) They have their show schedule on the homepage. They also feature a new free match on the site every Monday and you can do a free trial month, so it’s a pretty easy service to test drive. You can also watch certain NJPW shows with commentary by Jim Ross and Josh Barnett on AXS.
Don’t forget to follow With Spandex on Twitter and like us on Facebook. You can also follow our home site Uproxx on Twitter, and even follow me on Twitter @emilyofpratt. Please remember to share this column on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you use! Also, leave a comment with your thoughts on the show and/or article! All feedback is appreciated and will help us keep up the NJPW coverage.
Best: The Bright Blue Canvas’s Glory
I just wanted to make sure we had all watched and appreciated the extremely rad video package from the top of the show. The NJPW promo video game is so strong and I am so grateful for it constantly.
Best: Starting With The Most New Japan Thing Ever
Love them or hate them (and I oscillate between the two), giant tag matches happen a lot in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They start off pretty much every show with at least three of them, so it’s to be expected they would do so for the anniversary show. The thing that makes this particular 10-man tag extra anniversary-appropriate is the matchup of colorful vets (Jushin Thunder Liger, Kushida, Taguchi, Tiger Mask, and Tenzan) vs. four Young Lions, led by BLUE JUSTICE Yuji Nagata. The trainee team gets my probably my favorite entrance on this whole show, with Nagata looking like he herded up this bunch of twinks and Oka by interrupting whatever they were doing (it always looks like swimming) and yelling “Match! Now! Follow me!” and led them at a sprint to the venue. And they sprinted directly into the venue and started the match.
The story of this type of match is always that the Young Lions get the crap beaten out of them in the dojo every day, and these matches are their only chance to get back at their teachers. Failure is inevitable, but usually they get like one solid offensive spot in. In this match, it’s the Peak New Japan moment from the image in which two YLs get opponents in Boston Crabs at the same time, one of which Liger breaks up with a slap to the face.
The vets look good here, with Liger getting a glorious angry cape throw in at the beginning and Nagata getting a seasoned badass faceoff with Tenzan. Kushida’s cartwheel dropkick, which I’m always here for, looks really cool, and he gets the win for his team with an armbar. I feel like they need to pair up Kushida and put him in the Junior Heavyweight tag team scene (Time Splitters 2.0?) so he can be featured more, like Takahashi. He’s a super talented guy, but feels underutilized at times.
Best/Worst: Focus On The Future
I wasn’t crazy about the six-man tag pitting Chaos (Goto, Ishii, and Yano) against Juice Robinson, David Finlay, and Henare, but it was perfectly fine. It felt like NJPW featuring all the newish guys they’re going to push in the near future. In the case of Goto, they’ve been pushing him and he’s only newish as a singles competitor, but he, Juice, Finlay, and Henare all get their own similar moments to shine.
Juice is clearly going to be a big deal in the New Japan Cup this year, and he’s owning it. His new, very Dolls Kill entrance attire is that of a man who knows he’s not getting knocked out in the first round. I’m not a fan of how they’re promoting Juice vs. Ishii already though, pretty much nerfing Elgin and the Pimp, while acting like extremely narrow model Zack Sabre Jr. could legit mess up Tetsuya Naito. The first round of the New Japan Cup looks very predictable this year, but they could at least try to disguise that better.
Best: Especially Good At Expectorating
You all know that I love Roppongi 3K dearly and consider them to be my dumb babyface children, but I would throw them in the garbage for a full-on Suzukigun vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon feud right now. This triple threat tag team match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship showed off how exciting it is for these two factions to try to out-strategize each other.
Suzukigun (Kanemaru and El Desperado) get out of the ring before the match even starts and just bide their time by the guardrails, and Bushi follows. Sho and Yoh don’t keep track of them, and get snatched out of the ring by their feet later, but LIJ is ready and Bushi and Takahashi immediately strike back with simultaneous kicks. The match is filled with moments like this, with the two challenging teams always ready to counter each other’s heel faction tactics, but not wanting to spend too much time on each other so they can focus on the champs.
One such moment, the wackiest one, ends the match: Hiromu grabs the ref so Bushi can spit blinding mist at Sho, but Kanemaru immediately capitalizes by spitting booze in Bushi’s eyes and uses the confusion to get the pin. It’s a great moment, and something these teams will can easily use to fuel a future feud. With the Young Bucks all “Matt and Nick JACKED, son” now, it’s cool to see the Junior Heavyweight tag scene get new energy so quickly.
Worst: Shades Of Vintage Sanada
I guess there wasn’t anything bad about this match, but it felt like a step back for Singles Star Sanada. The story they’ve been telling with him is that he hasn’t been using his full potential because he’s a Cool Guy and hasn’t found the passion he needs to be a champion. He found it when he faced Okada, but he’s not a champion yet because he was facing the Golden God Ubermensch Breaker Of All Records.
It makes sense that he doesn’t have the same passion when facing Yoshi-Hashi on the midcard that he had for Okada in the main event. But it’s not that much fun to watch after such an amazing performance in Osaka.
Sanada gets the fighting spirit back towards the end when he gets fired up by a slap to the face and won’t submit to an extremely long butterfly lock. He gets his most exciting moment right at the end, when he seemingly knocks out Yoshi Hashi with the Skull End, but still hits a moonsault to get the pin. It played like he really cared about getting the win in that moment rather than he being an excessively violent heel. I’m very much here for driven, babyface Sanada, as the match’s finish reminded me, and I hope we see more of that in the New Japan Cup.
Rey Mysterio Is Not That Injured, Thank God
There were concerning reports that Rey tore his bicep at an indie show over the weekend, but hopefully the vloggy video they showed from him means it’s not that bad. But while we’re on the subject of injuries, let’s do an NJPW Injury Roundup:
- Tanahashi is back for the Cup, but I’m not sure how much less injured he actually is, and those reports of arthritis in his knees from around Wrestle Kingdom make me concerned
- Evil will be out for a while with a fractured orbital bone, which is why Sanada got a singles match on this show, which probably explains a lot of why it wasn’t great
- Kitamura is out with an unspecified injury, which doesn’t surprise me because last time we saw him, his range of motion made Jinder Mahal look like Ricochet
- Hikuleo is also out for the duration of the New Japan Cup, and his brother Tonga Loa will replace in him those tag matches
I think this qualifies as an NJPW Injury Bug now, so everybody be safe out there, okay? Ice the things you need to ice! Break out the kinesio tape! Do your stretching!
Best: Heavyweight Idol
Was anyone expecting Taichi’s heavyweight debut to be this good? Like, even huge Taichi marks?
Apparently Taichi attacked Naito because he criticized an independent show that he and Taka Michinoku put on (that he performed at) a few years ago, but the kind of lame feud is soon forgotten because Taichi looks like a total badass from the get-go. After the longest lip sync entrance we’ve seen from him in a while, he hauls Naito out to fight on the walkway to the ring and drops him with a massive powerbomb.
Amazingly, this match manages to put over Taichi as a new heavyweight contender and the more accomplished Naito as an underdog without making Naito look like a wimp. He barely beats the twenty count back into the ring, but it’s after underhanded and brutal tactics. And Naito still gets to heel it up, though justifiably, by countering Taichi’s attempted mic foreign object shenanigans by breaking the mic over Taichi’s head to get the win.
I don’t know what the plan is for Naito right now – I’d love to see him feud with Suzuki as part of an LIJ vs. Suzukigun thing, or finally get the belt off Okada after winning the New Japan Cup, especially since after a real-sounding tweet from Jericho saying he’s not working with New Japan anymore I think that feud won’t be happening – but I’m glad he’s still looking good in the meantime.
Best: Like A Demented Crab
Togi Makabe vs. Minoru Suzuki for the Intercontinental Championship was my most anticipated match of the night, and while it didn’t quite live up to my extremely violent dreams, it did not disappoint. This contest of will, strength, and expertise saw both men pulling out all the stops. Suzuki is heroically denied a chair by Red Shoes, but he’s never really needed foreign objects and pulls out a showcase of submission holds. Makabe impressed more with sheer toughness than cool moves, but got in an extremely rad spider suplex.
Although Makabe looked great and NJPW even sprung for us to actually hear his theme song this time, Suzuki was unquestionably the star of the match. He enters looking as out for blood as he’s ever looked, and starts the match with a kick to the face rather than a lockup. I enjoyed how the announce team put him over too, with Callis’s legitimately terrified-sounding, “Oh Jesus, he’s out here,” when Suzuki left the ring, and Kelly asking “Would you rather wrestle Minoru Suzuki and last five minutes, or give me all your money?” before the match.
The star moment continued after the match with his delightful, threatening exchange with the crowd. Although Suzuki is a crowd (and personal) favorite, he’s so great at being sadistic that he doesn’t make you want to cheer him despite being a popular heel – until he gets the crowd laughing here, and has escalate his threats until he swears he’ll kill each and every one of them to get them to stop. It’s a weirdly heartwarming moment befitting of an anniversary show. I hope Minoru Suzuki wrestles until he’s a hundred years old.
Best: The Invincible Champion And The Certified Global Phenomenon
“Beautiful” isn’t often a word that fits to describe pro wrestling, but, to me, Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay was a beautiful match.
I’m not the biggest Ospreay fan in the world, but I enjoy him a lot when he faces really good, non-flippy wrestlers (see: his best friend, Hiromu.) You don’t get much better non-flippy wrestlers than Okada. For Ospreay to make it to the fireworks factory, he first has to survive Okada’s extremely strong ground game. It’s not easy for him (which is fun to see, because before his most recent feud with Takahashi, Ospreay was getting super cocky and making it look like everything was easy for him and I hated it), but he shows he can hang. That’s a huge deal for Ospreay’s star in New Japan, especially since he’s a weight class lower.
As stablemates in Chaos, Okada and Ospreay know each other well, and it shows. Okada recruited Ospreay to the group after their first match in 2015 at Global Wars, and one can imagine they train together frequently. The result is a match that’s a masterclass in counters. Ospreay blocks a Rainmaker in a way only he could, and Okada transitions an OsCutter attempt into a tombstone piledriver.
I could probably extend this article by a couple hundred words if I just did a bullet point list of all the super cool exchanges in this match, but I already got that out of my system by yelling it at the person sitting next to me on the bus this morning.
It never feels like it isn’t an exhibition match, but you can tell how much it means to Will Ospreay. It’s not wrestling for the sake of wrestling and cool flips (Ospreay gets in relatively few flips); it’s a young talent working his purple ass off to prove himself to his mentor and the audience. And Okada loves him, but he’s an ubermensch and kind of an asshole and he’s not going to give any ground unless he has to, even without a title on the line. After he beats him, he reaches out for a handshake, and Ospreay goes in for a hug that Okada doesn’t look like he quite knows how to respond to emotionally, then collapses. The whole thing made me feel good about New Japan and great about pro wrestling. Here’s to 46 more years of the cerulean ring.
A Note About New Japan Cup Coverage
Next up for NJPW is the New Japan Cup! The third most wonderful tournament of the year! Like I said, the first round looks pretty predictable, but it should be fun. The tournament spans nine days between March 9-21, with probably between 20-30 hours of content. So I’m not going to do (or be able to do) Best and Worsts for every episode, and I, like Don Callis, will be back for the finals.
But we’ll keep you updated here on With Spandex with any shocking developments, and with a recap/highlights article after the semi-finals. So I’ll see you then to talk about the challenger of A Champion Of Their Choosing But Almost Definitely Okada.