New Japan Pro Wrestling
Korakuen Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
NEVER Open Weight Championship
Wrestler of the Year candidate Tomohiro Ishii gets the chance to main event a Korakuen card, defending his NEVER Open Weight championship versus former CHAOS compadre Yujiro.
For those that are already sick of the Bullet Club – the interference, general cheating, and championship dominance– avert your eyes. Anderson, Gallows and Tonga get involved. Yujiro knocked over the referee. When the match was over, the NEVER championship was around Yujiro’s waist, adding yet another championship to the Bullet Club’s impressive collection.
However, the match is also a perfectly fine Korakuen Hall main event. Although Korakuen crowds can sometimes react against the grain, they boo Yujiro unmercifully when he stalls at the start of the match. Ishii does an admirable job working with a lesser wrestler. If you already thought of him as a strong Wrestler of the Year contender, this match likely only strengthened that opinion. If not, there’s a chance this match would improve your opinion given how Ishii smartly switched up his usual formula to work to Yujiro’s strengths (being a big, goofy chicken of a heel). When Nakamura and Okada run off the Bullet Club and help their CHAOS teammate, it gets one of the loudest reactions of the entire show.
In other words, this match was a near perfect representation of the ongoing divisiveness over the Bullet Club and current New Japan booking. For those that don’t like what NJPW is doing, there was plenty to dislike. For those looking at the positives, there were plenty of those as well.
With Yujiro’s victory, the Bullet Club is now the proud owners of every non-Junior specific championship in the promotion. The payoff is likely coming before the end of the year with the Japanese wrestlers restoring order to the promotion’s hierarchy – just have patience.
Japan Singles | Worthwhile | Booking, Title Switch & Quality
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Korakuen Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
El Desperado’s on-again, off-again attitude problems flare up once again in this mixed junior and heavy trios match.
If there is a quintessential NJPW Korakuen Hall semi-main event, this it is. It builds to a couple of near-future matches and puts guys together that normally do not get much of a chance to work with each other. None of these six are likely to mail in a performance even on a mid-level show and they don’t here. The action is fast paced and fun. We get glimpses into fun but rare pairings such as Naito-Tanahashi, KUSHIDA-Naito, and Ibushi-Tanahashi.
They pack a lot of action into the 11-minute bout. In a year where they has been more fun trios matches than can be counted, this one will get forgotten in the mix but it was nonetheless a good TV-style bout. It set up both Shelley vs. Desperado and the junior title match of Ibushi vs. Kushuda on July 4th, as well as allowing Tanahashi and Naito to mix it up just several days before they are set to team in a straight tag on that same card.
The match is also noteworthy for El Desperado’s late-match and post-match actions.
Towards the end, Depserado – who has straddled the fence between good guy and rule breaker since his first day in the promotion – pushed Shelley towards the referee. Shelley put on the breaks in order to save the official, but the distraction allowed Desperado to land a foul and get a cradle for the 3-count. Just as was the case after his debut match back on January 5th, neither Desperado’s partners nor his opposition were happy with him after this one. Desperado walked off, again teasing a full-fledged heel turn, while Ibushi and Kushida stared off prior to their big title confrontation.
Trios | Common | Angle & Quality
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Korakuen Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
Triple Crown Championship (Decision Match)
Whatever All-Japan’s best laid plans were for the Triple Crown this year, things have almost certainly not unfolded accordingly. Unless of course, they were counting on Triple Crown Champion Akebono to come down with a bad case of pneumonia, be hospitalized and ultimately stripped of the Triple Crown. As evidenced by the Champion Carnival, however, sometimes Plan B’s are not all that bad. In this case, All-Japan was able to cap off the story of Omori’s unexpected career year in a way that is maybe more fitting than if he had faced Akebono for the title as seemingly planned.
As seen back at the Champion Carnival, Omori earning his first major tournament victory by defeating Akiyama was poetic in several ways. So it goes without saying that those same two guys wrestling for the Triple Crown in the match where Omori finally captures it is significant as well. Akiyama – particularly now that he is at least publically in charge of the promotion – is the face of All-Japan and has a long shared history with Omori. It is right that that Omori should knock yet a second item off of his pro wrestling bucket list this calendar year by beating Akiyama for a second straight time.
As a match, this was perhaps a small step below their Champion Carnival final. The layout and story of the two matches were relatively similar. In both cases (as it should have been) the story was Omori hanging tough and overcoming to get the pivotal victory. The timing in this match was spot on. These guys have some fun sequences and spots that they could execute in their sleep versus one another. The match built appropriately to a climax where Akiyama could not put Omori away nor could he keep him from continuing to fight forward. The match was a solidly worked, fitting conclusion to the story being told.
Where I think it suffered a bit was in the drama department. The Carnival victory had a greater sense of drama in the presentation which was echoed by the reaction of the fans. The Korakuen crowd was into the stretch run but not at the level one might think. There was a sense of urgency to Omori’s Carnival win. His Triple Crown win felt somewhat inevitable in the way the match was laid out. It is perhaps a small thing, but a noticeable one.
This might be one of those matches where fans are torn as to which was better as people have expressed opinions both ways thus far. There is not necessarily a correct answer. Both matches were well-executed matches from solid veteran wrestlers. In either case, they are far from the best that 2014 has produced thus far, but certainly worthwhile viewing for their historical importance to Omori’s career (if nothing else).
Japan Singles | Worthwhile | Historical Significance & Quality
Osaka Bodymaker Colosseum (Osaka, Japan)
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Somewhat quietly, Nakamura is building up a solid resume for 2014’s most outstanding wrestler. If one subscribes to the notion that the main event of a show should be credited for drawing a house, than Nakamura might also be building his case for overall Wrestler of the Year. Nakamura as fared well as a headliner in 2014, including this show which was an advanced sell out in Osaka despite a less than marquee main event opponent in Bad Luke Fale.
When these two squared off in the finals of March’s New Japan Cup tournament, they were blessed with a bit of serendipity in the form of a deep cut on Nakamura’s forehead. The blood gave the match an extra sense of drama and made for a good visual effect, as the veteran Nakamura fought from underneath against the monster foreigner under dire conditions. There was no such divine intervention here – just a very solid title match where both guys made valuable contributions.
Fale has a really fun set of big man moves that he is starting to roll out in an effective manner. His power bomb and thumb spike choke slam are both over as signature moves. While it was touch-and-go there for a minute when he climbed the top rope late in the match, the top rope splash he eventually delivered looked crushing and made for a strong near fall. Fale lumbers around the ring while carrying his considerable weight but he doesn’t get blown up easily. He feels like an injury waiting to happen given his size but for the time being at least he is developing into a fun monster.
Nakamura – as he did during the NJ Cup finals – eats all of Fale’s offense in an effective way. Nakamura was not afraid to lay the knees in stiffly to the 300-pounder as well. He tailored his offense to get across the relative disadvantages he was at and the crowd got firmly behind him as the underdog as a result.
Fale is fortunate to be working with Nakamura because Nakamura has put him so over strongly and effectively. He is also fortunate to have one of the most protected finishers – the Bad Luck Toss (Border Toss). Nobody kicks out of it and once he hit it on Nakamura, you could sense the crowd tensing up at the realization that the match was over. Sure enough, Nakamura did not kick out and Fale became the 9th Generation IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Although Fale has received a strong push this year, his title reign might be less of a permanent elevation and more of a mechanism for New Japan to get to where they truly want to go booking wise. With Nakamura versus Okada as the likely Tokyo Dome main event, one would expect that to be for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. To get there, Nakamura had to lose the Intercontinental title at some point. Given the current storyline of Bullet Club dominance, dropping the belt now to Bad Luke Fale was as fine of a way as any of accomplishing that. Fale is likely to pick up several losses in Block A of the upcoming G1 Climax and will probably emerge from the tournament with more than one potential challenger to his new championship.
Japan Singles | Worthwhile | Quality & Title Switch
Osaka Bodymaker Colosseum (Osaka, Japan)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
As one of the few true junior heavyweight dream matches that exist in the year 2014, there was quite a bit of anticipation for the first ever meeting between Kota Ibushi and Ricochet. It was anticipated to the point of there being internet chatter on how this match was a significant drawing factor for the Dominion event and that it should have been the main event. Both talking points might be a bit of a stretch but they are indicative of the anticipation and dream match feeling that the match announcement created.
Both guys are amongst the most athletic and acrobatic wrestlers going today. The match featured several truly jaw dropping spots. With Ricochet standing on the top rope, Ibushi did a springboard from the apron and caught Ricochet in a top rope springboard hurricanrana which he executed perfectly on his end. Ricochet flipped over as usual but managed to land on his feet. Words don’t do justice to just how very difficult of a move that was pulled off, nonetheless to pull of flawlessly.
To compliment his impressive defensive maneuver, Ricochet hit a ridiculous top con hilo over the corner turnbuckle without using his hands as a springboard. It took about a 6 foot vertical leap and significant hang time to clear the ring which he did with more than enough room to spare. Ibushi – not to be totally outdone – pulled out his signature running springboard moonsault to the outside.
The visually stunning moves set Ricochet apart, but that has always been the case. What has moved him forward this year has been the ability to effective bridge the gap between the high spots. His kicks on Ibushi looked as good as they have all year and have become a nice transitional offensive weapon in his arsenal. His suplexes have also added a lot to his game, allowing him to space out the high flying for maximum effect. While I thought that overall the BOSJ final versus KUSHIDA was the stronger of these two matches, I thought Ricochet’s better individual performance was versus Ibushi.
It might not read this way exactly, but these two were clearly holding a bit back for a future match. The near fall section was mundane by their standards. Rather than a series of kick outs on big moves, they focused on avoiding each other’s respective finishers. At about 13 ½ minutes, the match wasn’t short but it certainly wasn’t main event length either. They wrestled the match like the appetizer to something bigger – perhaps a title switch – somewhere down the line. Epic does not always equal better but so there is no guarantee future rematches will top the initial meeting. They certainly left the audience wanting more if nothing else, which is almost always a good thing.
Ricochet is still a Dragon Gate wrestler. He has a contract with Dragon Gate USA (which essentially only bars him from Ring of Honor) but is not under contract with the DG Japan office. It is clear he is loyal to them, however. New Japan wants to use Ricochet as their top foreign junior heavyweight – a role which Prince Devitt used to fill. It would stand to reason that Ricochet will end up in New Japan on a more regular basis sooner rather than later but that will all have to be sorted out. If he does, he seems like a strong candidate to take the title from Ibushi (whose future is in the heavyweight division) and serve as the ace of the NJPW junior division for as long as he wants to.
Junior Singles | Watch It | Quality & Hype