Category Archives: Japan

Live Super J Cup (Night #1) Thoughts

Matt Sydal (ROH) vs. Kaji Tomato (K-DOJO)

I was disappointed with Tomato as the K-DOJO entrant. Its not that he’s bad in the ring. He’s actually very solid but his charisma is rather forced and let’s be honest – without the dancing ring entrance he wouldn’t have even been under consideration. The bigger issue was that there were better choices, Hori Tonai, Shiori Asai, and TAKA himself are all bigger names or also better overall wrestlers. My personal hope was that we would get Ayuma Honda. Honda is an fun submission and mat wrestler who would have brought something diffrent to the tournament. They could have beaten him easily but he would have had a fun first match and stuck out. 2000 J-Cup had Sano and also had Teioh working a more realistic style. This tournament is missing that sort of guy.

That aside, the tournament opener was a completely fine match. I had forgotten that Tomato is pretty great at getting big near falls out of flash pin attempts, which he did twice late against Sydal. The plancha was kind of weak but everything else he did was more or less on point. Sydal gave him a lot before beating him, which I suspect will happen a lot in this first round. They didn’t do too much and had a high energy match, which is really all you want from an opener.

Gurukun Mask (Dragon Pro) vs. Kenoh (NOAH)

I’ve never seen Gurukun Mask, but knowing Liger likes him gives me hope. Kenoh works the same heel junior shtick we have seen a thousand times and is starting to wear thin. They started with a cool kick exchange, then Kenoh took over with the help of some interference from his second. Gurukun looked good. He got nice distance on his dive and is a lot more polished than I would have thought. If I didn’t know and you asked me which of the guys works NOAH and which works Dragon Pro Wrestlingm based on their work here I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If you are going to do a mid-ring back-and-forth strike exchange, I guess I’d rather it be kicks like these two did because its a chance of pace and in general I prefer kicks to elbows and forearms. Still, I am so tired of that trope. Both guys have nice kicks and I’d rather see them weaved into the actual match rather than used in that manner. Like in the opener, the eventual loser (Gurukun) took much of the match. I want to see more of Gurukun after this. I like his mask and he showed enough in the match. Kenoh continues to do very little for me and the match itself is entirely skippable.

Yuma Aoyagi (AJPW) vs. Taichi (Suzuki-gun)

Speaking of heel acts that have run their course, here is Taichi.

Taichi “tags in” El Desperado to start the match and I am hoping the referee allows it (no such luck). Taichi takes an hour to disrobe. At best it drew a modicum of heat but was really just a waste of time. The chair stuff and Desperado distraction spots are met with similar disinterest. I have liked Aoyagi in the past and really wish they would have given him an opponent that could have highlighted his talent a little more. The allure of these types of tournaments is seeing guys of various backgrounds and at various stages in their career interact. Seeing Aoyagi against the most veteran wrestler in the tournament (Liger) would have been cool. Aoyagi is essentially Kanemaru twenty years ago so that match up would have been really neat. Instead, Aoyagi played random foil to Taichi’s usual (and so cliched) heel routine which seems like a waste. The offense Aoyagi got was overall good. I liked the planchas. The running shooting star press was iffy and he should probably shelf it. It is wild seeing an All Japan junior even try a move like that. Aoyagi does a few flash pins and gets a nice reaction, particularly on the bridging pin attempt. I appreciate that they switched up the formula from the first two matches by having the veteran take more of the match, but Taichi didn’t have the offense to make it work. There wasn’t a whole lot to this one.

Jushin Thunder Liger (NJPW) vs. Eita (Dragon Gate)

Ah, here we go. Eita attacks at the bell and does an immediate dive on Liger. Liger injures his arm in the process and finally we get a match that starts with a little juice behind it. Liger fights back with a brainbuster on the floor which Eita sells like he’s not going to be able to get up. Liger continued to pay attention to his own wrist even while on offense so I imagine that is going to come back into play. I could watch Liger roll out his signature offense against random opponents for the rest of my (or his) life and never get bored with it. Loved Eita’s counter of the Shotei into a Fujiwara arm bar. Eita is really wrenching on the arm, Liger wiggles around like he is in all sort of pain, and all of that leads to the most heated match on the card by far to this point.Liger manages to escape and hits a brainbuster shortly after for the win. I am guessing some are going to think the match was too short and I wouldn’t have minded a few more minutes, but I’ll take three minutes too short over three minutes too long almost every time out. Best match of the tournament by far to this point.

Titan (CMLL) vs. Will Ospreay (CHAOS)

Solid match, but Will Ospreay annoys and frustrates me. For every truly breathtaking move he did in this match – the Sasuke special, the octopus hold – je would do a move that was overly complicated and just didn’t look good. The spinning kick at the end was the best example of that. His major tool is that he is super athletic but that doesn’t mean you need to come up with whacky moves that you can’t hit cleanly just to prove it.

I liked the opening and thought Titan had a good showing. The Asai moonsault was beautiful. Not to continue to pick on Ospreay, but this match provided another example of why I don’t believe he is the “other level” flier that he is often made out to be. He is more athletic than almost anyone but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being the other flier. I thought Titan was every part his equal in the air and Titan is probably not a top 5 flier in Mexico.

The match was too short and too one sided to amount to much but was still fun,

Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Suzuki-gun) vs. BUSHI (LIJ)

These two got to do the one crowd brawling spot on the show. They went at it right away and went into the crowd, where Bushi did a plancha from atop one of the tunnels. The match peaked with that spot. The crowd was into Bushi as the de-facto good guy and the spot got a major reaction. The problem with crowd spots is there is a lot of time between the crowd stuff and getting back to the ring. It is easy to lose momentum and I think that’s what happened here. The heat was gone by the time they got back and the match meandered on for a while before the finish.

Daisuke Harada (NOAH) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW)

The execution was good and the structure was not necessarily bad, but the layout was also devoid of any sort of hook. This was one of those matches where it is just two guys doing stuff for 10 minutes without any sort of overarching story or structure before getting to the near falls. If the wrestling in those types of matches is not superlative (and it wasn’t in this case) then those matches have a limited upside. In a lot of ways, they wrestled a typical modern New Japan style match. There was not anything to sink your teeth into early on. They more or less killed time before they got to the near fall section. When they pulled out the big moves late, the near falls got a reaction but the rest of the match didn’t have a ton of heat. That seems par for the course these days, not only in New Japan but in most promotions around the world. On the positive side, once they got going with the near falls they never lost me. They didn’t break the momentum with back-and-forth forearms or no-selling or anything like that. They just rolled out four or five near pins and a couple of near submissions to good effect. Above average match (***-ish) but I’ll probably forget most of it in a couple of days.

Kushida (New Japan) vs. Taiji Ishimori (NOAH)

Very good match.

Easily the most “complete” match on this show and I’d go as far as to say it was a more complete match than anything on the first night of the G1. Kushida has gotten very good at structuring his matches so that they are engaging all the way through while still building in a step by step manner. I write that the match was “complete” because they hit on everything I want to see them hit on. They started with the usual Kushida opening mat work. Ishimori got an early showcase segment. Kushida’s transition where he goes after the arm is really well done. There are comebacks and cut offs throughout. There were a couple of points before the ending stretch where I thought they went a little too back-and-forth but for the most part Kushida’s offense and Ishimori’s comebacks were give enough time to develop.

Kushida almost locking in an armbar while in the fireman’s carry position was my favorite spot of the match. I could have lived without seeing another late match strike exchange with limited selling but I do enjoy how Kushida is starting to draw heat for his closed fist punch. Somewhere Jim Ross is smiling. Ishimori’s top rope fall away slam (reminiscent of Ultimo Guerrero versus Mistico) was also an excellent spot. Another thing Kushida does so well is establish the arm work early so that he can go back to it throughout his matches whenever he needs to. He does that hear at the end. I don’t think its essential to payoff early match limb work but it certainly helped here.

Best match of the opening round by far.

HARASHIMA vs. Isami Kodaka (DDT – 03/21/2016)

HARASHIMA vs. Isami Kodaka
March 21, 2016
Sumo Hall (Tokyo, Japan)

It does not bother me much if a luchador working a show in front of 200 people tries a bunch of stuff that doesn’t quite hit its mark. It doesn’t bother me when CMLL under card wrestlers do the same (Flyer!) or when student matches on IWRG shows are nothing but wrestlers trying shit out. There is a time to try things and situations like those are that time. While I am not exactly worked into a tizzy when a main event match in a fairly big promotion is rough around the edges due to the wrestlers trying out complicated spots, it does have a more substantial effect on my enjoyment of the match.

Harashima and Kodaka wrestled a main event title match in one of Japan’s most historic pro wrestling venues in front of over 6,000 fans for a promotion that is the 3rd biggest in Japan currently. There are certain expectations that come with that. The main one being the expectation of quality execution and an absence of overt sloppiness. I might not like what the wrestlers do, but at the very least I expect a big main event in front of a big crowd to be fundamentally sound from an execution standpoint. While I would not classify this match as overtly sloppy, there were more than a few execution issues that I felt were damaging to the match on the whole.

Most of these moments were the result of trying high precision spots that could have easily been replaced with spots that could have been pulled off cleaner. The problem is not with innovation or complicated moves in general. The problem is that this match should have felt like the two best wrestlers DDT has to offer fighting for the top title. When there are numerous spots that are off or at times hard to tell what they were supposed to be, that hurts that perception. Kodaka and Harashima tried a bunch of counters and moves that sounded cool on paper but were difficult to pull off correctly. I would have personally traded a few “high degree of difficulty” spots for better overall presentation.

Aside from that complaint, I thought the match was decent. Harashima went after the ribs of his opponent which is his usual strategy. Kodaka in turn targeted the leg. The build was okay. They ratcheted the action up really early (like two minutes in) but Kodaka brought things back down with leg-focused submission holds a few minutes later. That allowed them to ratchet up the action again for the proper finishing run. The elongated stretched run was what one would expect. Lots of big moves back-and-forth and some fighting spirit stuff, although the latter was kept largely in check. This match did have one of the better one-count kick outs in recent memory. Harashima hit one of his signature moves after being behind most of the match. It was early enough in the ending that I am not sure a late two-count kick out would have drawn a bigtime reaction so it wasn’t like they left a big moment on the table. Harashima smirked after landing the move, effectively indicating that he felt he had just turned the tide. He paused for a few seconds before covering and Kodaka kicked out at one as if to say “not so fast“. Kodaka kicked out in such a way that it did not come off as goofy or as if he had summoned super human strength. He merely kicked out of a signature (but non-instant death) move in a situation where I am not sure they could have gotten a strong near fall. I am not sure it necessarily added to the match but unlike many other late match early kick outs, it did not detract from the match.

KUSHIDA vs. Gedo (NJPW – 03/20/2016)

KUSHIDA vs. Gedo
March 20, 2016
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Amagasaki Baycom Gymnasium (Amagasaki, Japan)
** ¾

New Japan has done a fine job in varying up its house show lineups during the ongoing Invasion Attack tour. In addition to this unique pairing, this same show included a Ring of Honor TV title defense by Ishii as well as a NEVER Trios title match. The day before, Shibata defended his NEVER Open Weight championship against Satoshi Kojima on a normal house show. I had reached the point where I was skipping entire New Japan house shows on their digital service because there was not a lot of substance there. Not that I am canceling appointments to watch Ishii wrestle EVIL or anything now, but the effort has not gone unnoticed.

Anyway, this was one of those unique matches in the sense that they could have given KUSHIDA a couple of partners and ran a trios match with Gedo, Romero, and Beretta as a means of building towards KUSHIDA’s upcoming Junior title defense with new CHAOS member Will Ospreay. Instead we get this rare pairing that is filled with all kinds of on-paper possibilities. The match didn’t bowl me over like it had the potential to, however. I thought the first 80% of the match was rather pedestrian, save for Gedo amusingly swearing and trash talking in English. I saw this hyped as a great sub-10 minute match. When I think of good sub-10 minute matches, I think of matches that are wrestled with a sense of urgency and are wrestled differently than your typical 15-minuter. A lot of times short matches will have a sustained theme to compensate for the lack of time. Gedo and KUSHIDA largely wrestled a standard house show match. I was hoping for Gedo to work his Memphis tribute match or spend eight minutes on the mat with KUSHIDA, but instead it was more or less a standard throwaway Best of Super Juniors type match.

The last 90 seconds or so were very good I thought and elevated the match a little. They wrestled a frantic back and forth finish filled with pinning and submission reversals. Had they done more of that stuff elsewhere in the match, it might have made more of an impression on me.

Isami Kodaka © vs. Masa Takanashi (DDT – 01/31/2016)

Isami Kodaka © vs. Masa Takanashi for the KO-D Open Weight championship
January 31, 2016
Korakuen Hall
*** 1/2

Masa Takanashi excels at cat-and-mouse style matches. Much of his offense is of the quick hit variety – catching guys in funky submission holds, instant pinning combinations, and the like. He spends much of this match leaping onto Kodaka’s back in an attempt to land his sunset flip/Code Red type pinning move. Takanashi does not discriminate on when or where he tried to land the move, even attempting it on the apron to no success. Takanashi’s usual offense combined with the out-of-nowhere nature of his finish made for an exciting atmosphere in which you never really knew when or how he might strike.

The versatile Kodaka – death match worker by day, well-traveled junior heavyweight by night – made for a quality opponent for Takanashi. He was able to react to Takanashi’s sudden offense in a natural way, sell for him in a believable manner, and still get across the idea that Takanashi was the underdog. The match included some token limb work that didn’t play a major role nor did it detract in any major way. Takanashi’s scattered offensive attack does not exactly lend itself to focused limb work by its very nature. This was a match where the execution, quality of offense, pace, and some of the story elements were all strong enough that a very good – rather than simply “good” – match could have and maybe should have emerged.

The major issue holding the match back from being even more enjoyable was that it was a little too busy and went on too long. While the limb stuff did not actively detract from the match, it did muddy it up. It was kind of thrown in and distracted me from the more engaging aspect of the match – the underdog Tanakashi trying to steal a win with his fun offense. The back-and-forth sections of the match had a similar effect. Like a lot of matches, this was one begging for a more compact structure even if that meant a few less attempted near falls.  Some of the near falls they did manage were strong (particularly when Takanashi finally hit his signature move) but there was a lot of padding to the ending as there was to all parts of the match.

KO-D Open Weight title matches rarely disappoint me these days and this was no exception, even if it was a great 16 minute match trapped in a 26 minute match’s body.

Dia.HEARTS vs. Monster Express vs. VerserK (Dragon Gate – 02/04/2016)

Dia.HEARTS (Big R Shimizu, Dragon Kid, Kzy & Masaaki Mochizuki) vs. Monster Express (Akira Tozawa, Masato Yoshino, Syachihoko BOY & T-Hawk) vs. VerserK (Kotoka, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi & YAMATO)
Dragon Gate
February 4, 2016
Korakuen Hall
*** ½

The frenzied match pace often found in Dragon Gate works best in multi-man or multi-team match environments.

A match where there are a lot of bodies in and around the ring at one time lends itself to chaos more so than a straight singles or tag match.  The ability to continually swap wrestlers in and out of the ring allows for non-stop action while not shortchanging other areas like transitions, selling, or near falls. For example, in a chaotically paced Dragon Gate singles match you might find the wrestlers running through a series of sequences with little to no transitions, capping it with a kick out of a big move, and then immediately moving on in order to maintain the hectic pace. In an environment such as this, the wrestlers might work one sequence, end it in a big near fall where teammates make the save, and use that save to transition into a new pairing while the first to wrestlers leave the ring.  Chaos flows better when there are more wrestlers involved.

What this match did particularly well – and what separates it from other recent year multi-man/team Dragon Gate matches that I have watched – is how the match generally flowed well despite its nearly non-stop pace.  After the match, certain spots and parts of the match stuck with me.  It was not a case of all the action blending together into one indistinguishable mess which often happens in matches that attempt to pack so much in. The layout and rhythm allowed for certain moments to resonate in the midst of the frantic pace.

There was the first elimination, which went to Mochizuki when he pinned Kotuka about five minutes in and the near second quick elimination he almost scored before a last second save.  Big R Shimizu’s wrecking ball routine that started even before he surprisingly made T-Hawk the second wrestler out around the 16 minute mark was a notable and well executed performance. The second – and more major – of the two dive sequences would not have been out of place in an above average cibernetico. Yoshino and Shimizu going all Misawa and Taue with the arm drag chokeslam reversal was my favorite spot of the entire match. Kzy being booked surprisingly strong and lasting until the end was a storyline that was easy to pick up on even if you are not a Dragon Gate devotee (which I am not). The hurried saves – particularly as the field thinned out – made for memorable near falls.

In the past I have been left head-scratching when I read a certain DG match had excellent crowd heat only to be underwhelmed by the crowd’s responses.  This was not the case.  Save for a small stretch in between the hot opening and before the eliminations ramped up – which not coincidentally was also the weakest and least engaging part of the match – the Korakuen fans were very much into the match. The match sustained its heat throughout and managed some big time near fall reactions.

The eliminations were well thought out and well timed. I think that was evident in the crowd reactions.  Elimination matches should be roller coaster rides where each elimination and teased elimination adds to the overall drama. This was not a perfect elimination match in that regard – if such a match even exists – but the crowd reaction is proof that the layout was effective in building momentum and never ever halting it. There was never an elimination that deflated the crowd and there were several that got them stirring.

My issues with the match are the usual Dragon Gate-centric complaints – mainly involving the offense – so I won’t bother listing them all out. I’ll only say that the main difference for me between this match and a borderline MOTYC-type cibernetico is my personal preference is for more dives and less indie-inspired high impact offense. For a promotion so predicated on quickness and athletic spots, I almost always find myself disappointed by the quality of the spots in Dragon Gate matches.  There were some good ones here (as mentioned, I love the arm dragon out of the chokeslam) but on the whole still not the kind of stuff I personally enjoy.

The match is easy to watch and worth giving a shot.  It was never boring and the environment helped to reduce or nullify some of the more contentious elements of the Dragon Gate style.