Category Archives: New 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.

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.

Virus vs. Jushin Liger (NJPW – 01/24/2016)

Virus vs. Jushin Liger
January 24, 2016
Korakuen Hall
*** ¾

Sometimes a match is announced that seems just a little too perfect on paper.

New Japan booking Virus versus the inimitable Jushin Liger on the final night of the 2016 NJPW/CMLL FantasticaMania tour was one of those instances.  The match did not need much more promotion beyond simply being booked, but New Japan also billed the bout as a “lucha de maestros” which only added to the anticipation. Lucha libre fans likely saw that description as a veritable promise that the match would be worked on the mat in the lucha “maestro match” style, which just so happens to be the style best fitted for these two at the respective stages of their careers.  It was one of those dream matches that I did not know was a dream match for me until it was booked.  It does not necessarily take a cynic, however, to start wondering what might go wrong to turn a match that seems to perfect on paper into something less than ideal.  Liger and Virus could simply not mesh well together, the promotional tag line could not line up with how the match was actually worked, the match could be given very little time, or the fifty year old Liger might simply not be up for working a high quality mat-based match.  Matches rarely ever play out exactly as hoped.

This one was not one of those rare exceptions.  I do not have to squint very hard to envision a scenario where Liger and Virus have a better match than the one they had in front of the Korakuen hardcores.  It would also be doing this match a great disservice to label it as anything close to a disappointment.

Liger and Virus worked the exact style of match that most hoped they would.  The action was almost exclusively hold/counter hold based and must of it took place with the wrestlers down on the mat.  It is one thing to work the desired type of match it is another thing to execute.  Liger and Virus executed very, very well.  Liger exceeded my expectations with his performance.  Liger always was a proficient submission wrestler but in the New Japan junior heavyweight way he helped cultivate where mat work was largely an obligatory early match exercise.  In a match entirely built on submissions, counters and escapes, he looked right at home fluidly trading holds with Virus.  Liger pulled out more than his fair share of interesting submissions and counters.  He was good enough to immediately make my mind race with visions of Liger working similar matches with Negro Navarro, Dr. Cerebro, Trauma II, Caifan, Black Terry, and Solar in Mexico.

Speaking of Navarro, one of this match’s greatest strengths was that it avoided falling into a pattern or taking on the look and feel of an exhibition.  Some Navarro matches – particularly his most recent matches with Solar – have felt that way to me.  They wrestle around on the mat, do a standoff, quickly trade more holds, stand off again, and repeat that throughout the match.  Virus and Liger did stale mate spots but not ad nauseam and not in a robotic manner.  The teased striking spot was well placed and an example of a lighthearted moment being well weaved into a match without distracting from the overall tone.  This was a match that built and escalated, which is a trait that all great “maestro” matches all have in common.

If one of those pre-match anxieties became a reality, it was that Virus and Liger were given a short amount of time with which to work.  The match clocked in at a shade under eight minutes.  There is no doubt that Liger and Virus could have an even better match if afforded a lengthier slot.  There is little doubt that this match would have been better with a few additional minutes, so the match length was a restricting element.

At the same time, eight minutes is not an obscenely short run time for a match worked in this style.  The style is predicated on fluid attempts for and counters of submissions and pinning combinations. It is a style that succeeds by selling the idea that a match can end at any time with one quick move or one misstep.  By the time Liger caught Virus in a submission to earn the victory, the match had already progressed to the point where it felt natural that one of the two veteran wrestlers might be prone to getting caught in a move they could not escape.  It is a testament to the match Virus and Liger had that they could have added more time without diminishing the quality, but I am not sold on the idea that the match suffered because it was “too short.”  The run time might have kept the match from reaching its considerable ceiling but I do not think it actively detracted from the quality.

Relative to other recent matches wrestled in a similar style, I would have this below Virus and Dr. Cerebro’s match of the year candidate from last August but in the same realm as Virus/Avisman and Virus/Black Terry (there is a theme somewhere in there). My rating might be a tick high based on the fact that Liger was the opponent and the uniqueness of the match up added to the overall excitement, but this was a quality match by any standard.

Juice Robinson vs. Jay Lethal (NJPW – 01/05/16)

Juice Robinson vs. Jay Lethal
New Japan Pro Wrestling
January 5, 2016
Korakuen Hall

This was a Ring of Honor match held in a New Japan ring. From the structure to the offense to the pacing, it was the exact type of undistinguished match you would expect to see on any random episode of ROH television. That is, with a couple of exceptions.

The first exception is that on the whole, the offense was a tiny bit more interesting and better executed than in a run-of-the-mill Jay Lethal ROH match. Robinson worked in a cool lucha arm drag. Lethal executed his best looking tope in a long while. Although not physically possible, somehow his topes usually look like he is able to slow himself down right before impact. Lethal also usually does the weak “hands in front of face” thing (as opposed to stretching the arms out when understandably not wanting to make headfirst contact) that so many U.S. guys do. This one had significant oomph behind it. Lethal crushed Robinson it.

The second notable difference was that Lethal and Truth Martini’s act drew significantly more heat in Korakuen Hall than it does in the US. Lethal drew more heat for small taunts than he usually does while Martini got a rather massive reaction for his first interference bit. The airplane spin comedy spot was also generally well received. The act drew significantly more heat than Bruce Tharpe and charges generally did during the NWA invasion matches in New Japan, although to be fair, those guys rarely worked Korakuen where it is far easier for a standard heel act to get heat.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW – 01/04/16)

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
New Japan Pro Wrestling
January 4, 2016
Tokyo Dome
**** ½
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