Current Watch List:
- Sho Tanaka vs. Yohei Komatsu (NJPW)
- Tiger Mask IV & Mascara Dorada vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Captain New Japan (NJPW)
- Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Rob Conway & Chase Owens (NJPW)
- Tomoaki Honma vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW)
- Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish (c) vs. KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley vs. Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team championship (NJPW)
- Kenny Omega (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship (NJPW)
- Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Tama Tonga (NJPW)
- Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Tetsuya Naito vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI (NJPW)
- Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows for the IWGP Tag Team championship (NJPW)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. AJ Styles for the IWGP Heavyweight championship (NJPW)
- Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze (WWE NXT)
- Sin Cara & Kalisto vs. Buddy Murphy & Wesley Blake (WWE NXT)
- Finn Balor vs. Adrian Neville (WWE NXT)
- Sami Zayn (c) vs. Kevin Owens for the WWE NXT championship (WWE NXT)
- Fenix vs. Argenis (Lucha Underground)
- Johnny Mundo vs. Son of Havoc (Lucha Underground)
- Pentagon Jr. vs. Ricky Mandell (Lucha Underground)
- TAKA Michinoku vs. Naomichi Marafuji (NOAH)
- TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) (c) vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer (NOAH)
- Minoru Suzuki vs. Daisuke Harada (NOAH)
Sho Tanaka vs. Yohei Komatsu
Another solid one between these young lions. Not much to say that hasn’t been said many times before. Komatsu’s facial expressions and selling are great in almost a young Otani sort of way. His flying forearm is also an excellent move. Tanaka was totally solid as usual. Love the basic slams as counters. Shame that they likely won’t always wrestle in this basic but effective manner.
Tiger Mask IV & Mascara Dorada vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Captain
Thought this was fun. Nakanishi played it smart – or perhaps he played it the only way he could – but simply standing still as Dorada ran around or just side stepping Dorada’s offense. He wouldn’t have been able to keep up and it wouldn’t have looked good if he tried. Dorada running up the ropes and Nananishi not chasing him (rather than chasing him and avoiding the move) worked. It could obviously look goofy if you have a fast high flyer running around while his opponent just stands there, but they timed it all in such a way that it worked. Dorada looked good again, even against two guys who he doesn’t not match up great against.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Rob Conway & Chase Owens
A match designed to showcase the NWA guys before the two title bouts on Saturday. Conway did a lot and moved well for someone just weeks removed from an appendectomy. Owens has never impressed me much either in the US or in New Japan. He did nothing here to change that. Liger sold a lot which is fine because Liger is a good seller, but Conway and Chase (especially Chase) didn’t have the offense to match. Probably the most forgettable on the show.
Tomoaki Honma vs. Kota Ibushi
Fun as expected. Not the high end match these two are capable of, but it wasn’t supposed to be. As a throw away mid card singles match on a big show, the match was exactly what it should have been. Neither guy did too much and both came out looking good. Ibushi never looked like he was in real trouble which is how it should have been, but at the same time Honma was given a chance to shine by getting in 75% of the offense. Ibushi bumped on his neck and flipped over on occasion but did so in good spots that underscored Honma’s offense rather than making the match all about Ibushi’s impressive bumping. Above average.
Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish (c) vs. KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley vs. Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson
IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team championship
I enjoyed this just fine, but the match ups between these teams have almost run their course. The timing and athleticism keeps the matches entertaining but there is not a whole lot to them that feels fresh and exciting anymore. The last few minutes were the best with some very well timed sequences that involved all three teams trading offense. The Young Bucks won, seemingly to play into the Bullet Club story line more than anything else. There does not seem to be many babyface challengers out there for them. Dorada & Partner (Taguchi?)? Liger & Tiger Mask, too, I guess. Then again, there aren’t many challengers on the heel side either. Fun, but nothing special.
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship
Definitely a step up from their really poor Tokyo Dome match but still not great. I liked the comedy stuff and thought it saved the match from being a generic indie style junior match. Omega’s offense just has no punch to it. In every match he runs through his mundane offense and doesn’t string it together in anyway to make it more compelling. The comedy (which is hit and miss in its own right) is the only potentially saving grace to his matches because at least it is something that gets my attention. I can’t say the same for his offense or bumping. Taguchi has performed much better as of late and I thought he was fine in this match. Like Generico, though, he doesn’t have much that makes him stand out with the exception of the Koshinaka-inspired flying hip attacks. Sort of a replacement level match and maybe a tick below.
Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Tama Tonga
We all want our favorites to be featured and pushed heavily all the time, but that is not a sustainable way to book a pro wrestling promotion. So at the very least, take solace in the fact that New Japan’s recent history of shuffling the deck is pretty good. They have a good sense of how to shutter someone down the card, how to show progression, and how to get him back up at the right time. They did so last year with Tanahashi. They did the opposite with Styles winning the title, putting him in a position to get over, then paying off the story line after he was over. Okada is currently out of the spotlight some, but he’ll be fine.
Already in this match there were signs of significant progression from where the story started. Okada fought out of the Bad Luke Fall, generally seemed to get in more offense than he has been and picked up the win. It is small progression, but you can see the finish line coming at (the latest) Invasion Attach in April when he beats Fale. They are far enough along that I could see Okada beating Fale in the New Japan Cup as well. It is good for Okada and the promotion to back off of Okada for a while so he feels fresh when he reappears in the main event scene. So far, this angle has been an inoffensive way of accomplishing that.
Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Tetsuya Naito vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
They never got it together. Part of that was Kojima replacing Makabe which took out one of the major conflicts, but just in general the match was aimless. The match got my most hyped to see Nakamura/Nagata out of the three upcoming matches (well, 2 1/2 depending on what happens with Makabe on Saturday) but then again, I was hyped for that match the most to begin with. This was less a hype match for the big ones and more a time killing match until the big ones.
Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows
IWGP Tag Team championship
Shibata is good in the role of fired up, selling babyface. It took him a while to get there. When he and Goto first began teaming, their matches were generally better when they (specifically Shibata) were on offense. Shibata did not have the whole heat segment, fiery comeback thing down quite yet so the matches suffered when he was on defense. He’s done almost a 180 in that regard to the point where it is his best role in tags. If someone has a move set I dislike more than Omega’s move set, it is Karl Anderson. It looks so low rent to me. This was an okay match with a decent ending. Anderson and Gallows probably have more potential challengers than Goto/Shibata so the switch makes sense from that end. New Japan could probably run a mid-level card with the dream team of Tanahashi/Okada taking on Anderson/Gallows in the main event and do just fine.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. AJ Styles
IWGP Heavyweight championship
Good match – the best on the show – but not I didn’t think it was great. They worked a slower pace which I am all about. You can work a slower paced match without sacrificing intensity but Styles as always struggled in that regard. When Styles attempts to work methodically, it often comes off as lackadaisical or at least lacking intensity. I felt that way about his work versus Tanahashi. High level, the pace, the offense, and the story were all fine. However, Styles never conveyed a sense of urgency or importance in the way he wrestled the match. If not for for the serendipitous blood, the match would felt far more like a mid-card match than a major world title bout from an intensity and aesthetic standpoint.
That criticism aside, I liked a lot of the match. The focus on the back and the pacing were a welcomed change up. The ending was legit good and the one time in the match where they were able to accurately convey how high the stakes were. Tanahashi’s dive to the Bullet Club looked great and as mentioned, the accidental blood that resulted added something to it. I felt this was roughly on the same level as the second Okada match from May have last year. Good match that was well short of MOTYC territory.
Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze
I have liked Breeze at times but thought he came off totally ineffectual in this match. That would have been fine since obviously one way to work a pretty boy gimmick is to be ineffectual on offense. However, Breeze wrestled the match like a series contender and he generally doesn’t have the offense for that. He leaned into Itami’s kicks and bumped well, which reinforces my opinion that he is better off as the bumping member of a pretty good tag team rather than a serious singles wrestler.
Itami looked good here. I’ve seen some people mention that he looked like the KENTA of old, but I am not sure I totally saw that. NOAH KENTA was all about standing toe to toe with guys bigger than him and not giving much. The Itami in this match was more about fiery babyface comebacks and working from behind. I don’t think it was a case of him going back to his NOAH style in this match as some have suggested, but rather finding the happy medium between the two. He has had little trouble in tailoring his selling and offense to WWE style. It was the charisma and intensity that was missing. He found that in this match and hopefully he can build on it.
Overall an average-ish match. Itami had a nice showing and Breeze did well eating his offense. Breeze just doesn’t have enough effective offense to control a match as long as he was booked to control this one.
Sin Cara & Kalisto vs. Buddy Murphy & Wesley Blake
Sin Cara looked good, but I don’t get Murphy and Blake at all. I haven’t seen one glimpse of a standout tool in either of them in any of their matches thus far, this one included. They also looked totally out of their league when taking Sin Cara and Kalisto’s offense. Not much of a match overall.
Finn Balor vs. Adrian Neville
A very solid match. I particularly enjoyed the first few minutes with the fast paced, flawlessly executed rope running and shadow spots. They didn’t try to get too cute. The work during that opening part was very impressive athletically without feeling too showy and fake. Neville has a real knack for pulling back without slowing down. His roll ups on the mat kept everything moving at the fast pace they established, while not going overboard on offense early on. Balor carries himself well and gets a lot of pats on the back for that (as he should) but Neville also deserves that same praise. He doesn’t have a great look but still presents himself like a big time wrestler which is hard to pull off. Maybe he won’t look so good when he moves from the small pond to the big one, but he does well in NXT at least.
Good execution throughout and just a good TV match overall.
Sami Zayn (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Zayn’s bumping, the drama created near the end, and the unique finish were the standout elements. The story was good too, but I am not sure it was extraordinary either as a concept or in execution. Friend turns on friend is nothing earth shattering and Zayn’s refusal to quit is not anything totally out of the norm (specifically for him) either. In terms of execution, I thought it was a bit uneven. Owens brutally turned on his friend and has stated that he wants the NXT title more than anything. Non-creative use of chin locks and continually power bombing his opponent without pinning him don’t necessarily get that same story across. I am in no ways anti-chin lock but what they were going for called for a more creative use of holds and submissions or at least a better placement of the chin locks. I knew the story they were trying to get across because we were beaten over the head with it. I am not sure the way the match itself was laid out did as effective of a job getting across what they were going for as it could have.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that WWE’s tendency to tone down indie wrestlers is a always the best policy, but if anyone was in the need of toning down it was Steen. He still did a lot in this match and I never felt he was restricted in anyway, but the restraint he did show was much needed. I am interested in seeing how he looks in a longer match working someone other than Zayn. Zayn ate Owens’ offense in a very effective manner and bumped big for him. It will be interesting to see what Owens does with Balor, who brings a totally different set of skills to the table.
Good match and I thought was leaps and bounds better than their indie work. I am sold on Zayn in the right main roster babyface role. Owens I am still in “wait and see” mode on, though I thought the “WWE transition: adjustments he made in this match were largely positive.
Fenix vs. Argenis
Okay, buy Fenix has had far better showings in Lucha Underground. They tried a lot of different stuff, some of which hit and some which didn’t. The super rana looked great.
Johnny Mundo vs. Son of Havoc
A long match. Both Mundo and Havoc are about flashy flying and agility spots, so there was a lot of that to be found. Given those stylistic preferences, the match could have gotten disjointed and out of control easily, but they kept it together. Havoc does a good job in the role of the guy who is good, but hasn’t been able to get it to translate into wins let. He doesn’t come across helpless, but more like someone who is just a hair away from putting it together. It sort of has a real sports feel to it. Wrestler has a tendency to group everyone into winners and losers, but there is a big middle round. Nice to see an angle like this done right.
Pretty fun overall. Well executed.
Pentagon Jr. vs. Ricky Mandell
Just an extended squash really to set up Pentagon breaking another arm. Big fan of the arm breaking angle. Not enough angles like that in modern wrestling.
TAKA Michinoku vs. Naomichi Marafuji
Not bad but clearly below the TAKA/Ogawa and Taichi/Sabre matches. Everyone is rightfully so pointing to the Suzuki-gun invasion of NOAH providing Minoru Suzuki with a much needed push that he was not getting with New Japan, but on a small level, this feud has been a welcomed site for TAKA. He is no way the TAKA of old, but he still has something to offer. He held together the opening minutes of this match all by himself. He’s hit on the right balance of cheating and wrestling; in New Japan, he was too much of an ineffectual heel. These guys had little interest in seemed who having more than a satisfactory match (it was pretty much a throw away after all) but TAKA was solid enough to hold things together, Okay match.
TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) (c) vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer
GHC Tag Team Championship
The first major match of the Suzuki-gun/NOAH feud also featured the first title change. There was some good stuff in here and they did all the right things from a structural standpoint, but their downfall was the 30 minute allotment they were given. These teams were really stretched thin having to having to fill a half an hour of show time. The one bright spot was Davey Boy Smith showed off a lot of more his mat & suplex game with all the time that needed to be filled, but he still went to his big bag of standard US heel tricks (flexing taunts, nerve holds, ect.) more often that ideal. The match also had little heat as I think everyone knew the title change was coming and aren’t into Smith/Archer all that much to begin with. From a structure and execution standpoint, there was little to complain about. At 18 minutes, this would have a solid match right in the middle of the grading curve. Stretched out to 30 minutes just stretched it too think. Not bad, but replacement level rather than the average or above match it could have been had it been more condensed.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Daisuke Harada
Another strong performance from the resurgent Suzuki but the match was only so-so. I don’t see what Harada brings to the table. God love him though, he is going to get in his early match apron/outside spots that don’t really lead anywhere and nobody is going to stop him. The overhead belly to belly suplex in the first minute did not fit in the rest of the match at all and was totally unnecessary. Suzuki ran around like a mad man in this and his facial expressions were top notch. The slap exchange was my favorite segment of the match. I will say that this was better than I expected because of Suzuki, which gives me hope for the Marufuji match since Marufjui is at least a step above Harada in the ring.