Current Watch List:
- Seth Rollins vs. John Cena in a lumberjack match (WWE)
- Roman Reigns vs. Erick Rowan (WWE)
- El Desperado vs. Hitoshi Kumano (NOAH)
- Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NOAH)
- No Mercy (Akitoshi Saito, Daisuke Harada & Takashi Sugiura) vs. Cho Kibou-Gun (Maybach Taniguchi, Mitsuhiro Kitamiya & Takeshi Morishima) (NOAH)
- Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer & Takashi Iizuka) vs. TMDK (Jonah Rock, Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste) (NOAH)
- Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Shelton Benjamin, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) vs. BRAVE (Atsushi Kotoge, Mohammed Yone, Naomichi Marufuji & Taiji Ishimori) (NOAH)
- Eita vs. Jimmy Kagetora (Dragon Gate)
- Smile Squash (HARASHIMA & Yasu Urano) vs. Golden Storm Riders (Daisuke Sasaki & Kota Ibushi) (DDT)
- Mitsuya Nagai & Noboyuki Kurashima vs. Alexander Otuska & Super Tiger (Legend)
- Masakatsu Funaki & Kaz Hayashi vs. Hiro Saito & AKIRA (Legend)
- Tomohiro Ishii & Akitoshi Saito vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (Legend)
Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
United States & Canada
Lumberjack matches aren’t any good. This match wasn’t any good. The rushed and underwhelming set up where the Authority gave Cena the chance to win back the jobs of Rowan, Ziggler and Ryback if he won made this feel messy and Russo-esque. Nothing technically wrong with the match, but it didn’t exactly gel. As is this case with many WWE endings these days, the end to this match didn’t help anyone. Cena lost so he not only lost the jobs of his “friends” but he also failed to get them back. Rollins meanwhile didn’t exactly win – he needed a lot of help to get the pin – and has now been booked weekly in back to back shows when he has to headline a major event in two weeks.
Roman Reigns vs. Luke Harper
United States & Canada
This was decent enough. Reigns is in a weird place where there is potential that fans will reject a superman push but he also certainly will not get over by selling all match to guys he shouldn’t be selling for. For that reason, Harper was a good opponent for him. He’s been booked well enough and is big enough that Reigns can sell for him. He is also held in high enough regard that Reigns beating him would cause any sort of negative reaction. Again, Reigns has a few signature moves that are over and he hits well. There is something to work with, they just need to handle it carefully.
El Desperado vs. Hitoshi Kumano
I didn’t catch a whole lot of Desperado’s work as Namajague in CMLL (just the tail end of it) so I don’t know if he has always that is great inner rudo in him or not, but he’s been great in that role ever since joining Suzuki-gun. I love his body language. He always comes off put out and annoyed. He’s able to convey that while behind a mask which is even more impressive. There are a lot of junior heels in NOAH and NJPW currently and a lot of them (including Desperado’s own stablemates) go a bit overboard with the cheating in attempt to solidify themselves as bad guys. Desperado as quickly found a nice balance. You watch this match and from before the opening bell through to the finish, it is as clear as day what side Desperado is on but he doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Everyone knew Dick Togo was a bad dude. He didn’t need to choke Yakushiji with a rope to get that across. Desperado has that same sort of natural rudo charisma which he conveyed nicely here.
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
A good 8-minute television-type match that stretched out to 12 minutes. Zack Sabre Jr. controlled the first few minutes with a lot of his fun mat-based offense in a way that – while not as quite varied and high level – was reminiscent of Daniel Bryan in terms of how effortlessly entertaining he made the opening minutes. He also threw some nice kicks in this match rather than his European uppercuts which I am not a huge fan of. I already think he is the better of the current “technical wrestler” crop (for lack of a better term) in that is mat work is more smooth and high-end than his peers. If his striking game becomes a little more consistent, that will really rocket him above the rest. They worked the match even with Nakajima getting a lot of the offense down the stretch. The flash pin finish was executed well and kept both guys strong for a re-match.
No Mercy (Akitoshi Saito, Daisuke Harada & Takashi Sugiura) vs. Cho Kibou-Gun (Maybach Taniguchi, Mitsuhiro Kitamiya & Takeshi Morishima)
I like Cho Kibou-Gun a lot better in this semi-main role. Morishima never fulfilled his great potential, but I sill think he has been fun over the past year as an upper mid-card monster heel. He was maybe only second to Saito in this match in terms of individual performances. Morishima has a good sense (he always has) of when to pull out some of his bigger spots. In a trios like this, his lack of other offense is less exposed. A nothing match, but not terrible and better heat than I would have expected.
Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer & Takashi Iizuka) vs. TMDK (Jonah Rock, Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste)
Archer gave an inspired heel performance in this one. He was constantly interacting with the crowd and took their reactions from indifferent to legitimately strong heat by the end of the match. It wasn’t that he did anything special; he was just so relentless in his pursuit to get over as the invading heel that he eventually got the desired reaction. DBS Jr. held the ring work together while Shane Haste had a good heat segment. The last few minutes was all-out and got legitimately strong heat, which isn’t easy in NOAH these days. A very good start to the NOAH/Suzuki-gun feud.
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Shelton Benjamin, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) vs. BRAVE (Atsushi Kotoge, Mohammed Yone, Naomichi Marufuji & Taiji Ishimori)
I described Archer’s heel performance as inspired in the prior match, but Suzuki was on another level in the main event. He came off both wild and cunning at the same time, which is a dangerous combination. He ran around non-stop during the match whether working the ref on the apron, charging across the ring to knock guys off the apron, or mixing it up with basically every member of the face team. He came off like a conquerer out for blood, which is exactly what he is. Everyone else in the match was fine but this was Suzuki’s match. I do love Taichi falling down on the apron whenever a teammate lands a big move, like he was taken off his feet by an earthquake. Its such an annoying great spot for an underling heel. Back to Suzuki, he single handily gave a ton to his opponents while also coming out look strong on his own. That is not easy to do. Fun match, great performance from Suzuki.
Eita vs. Jimmy Kagetora
These two met in the semi-finals of a one night tournament. Kagetora had his arm worked over in his previous match so Eita targets it here. That sounds good, but it was less exciting in reality. Kagetora is solid and Eita has his moments – both in general and in this match – but the arm work uninspired and nothing else stood out. Like most Dragon Gate matches, I enjoyed the opening minutes more than the final minutes. The body as not good enough to tilt move this to the right side of the ledger.
Smile Squash (HARASHIMA & Yasu Urano) defeat Golden Storm Riders (Daisuke Sasaki & Kota Ibushi)
DDT ran four prelude matches in January for the big HARASHIMA vs. Ibushi Super Saitama Arena match on February. This is the second of those matches, with the first (a trios) happening the day before. I liked this slightly more than the trios as match. It stepped up the hype for the big KO-D Open Weight title match by featuring HARASHIMA and Ibushi in more head-to-head situations.
Of course, before we get to those head-to-head meetings, the match rolled out the other three possible combos for the first six or so minutes of the match. This was booked smartly in that you got Ibushi handling Urano, Harashima handling Sasaki, and then Sasaki and Urano going at it more evenly. DDT is a bit of a dichotomy these days with their unique blend of classic Japaense hierarchical based match layouts, blow up dolls, and sodomy.
The match built to Ibushi and HARASHIMA getting in the ring with each other finally, but only for a moment. Ibushi leaves the ring and heads to the hard camera scaffolding (that he has been known to jump off of on occasion). He invited HARAHSIMA to come with him and he hesitantly does. Perched on the scaffolding, they partake in some “let’s see who can hit harder”. I thought this was a neat and effective idea. The visual of these two on the platform hitting and kicking each other with their best shots obviously had a lot of symbolism for their upcoming match, which is arguably the biggest match in DDT history given the venue they are running. Contextually, it worked. Ibushi eventually tires of the back-and-forth. He tries a power bomb that HARASHIMA wiggles out of and Ibushi wiggles out of a fireman’s carry. Ibushi is able to knock him off the scaffolding and then dives onto him and the other two guys in the match. Again, I thought this was a neat and different way to put focus on their upcoming singles match.
Back in the ring it was usual fare with the two guys in the title match going it at much more, before HARASHIMA pins Sasaki to win it. Good prelude tag with one fun, unique segment tucked in the middle.
Mitsuya Nagai & Noboyuki Kurashima vs. Alexander Otuska & Super Tiger
The sad but true reality of both shoot style and what I’ll refer to as BattlArts style is that almost nobody in their primes were trained in those styles. Those that were are now older and are unable to produce high end matches in those more realistic styles. This would be an example of the latter. The ideas are there and some of the moves are there, but it is not fast enough, not stiff enough, and not engaging enough to amount to much. Ostuka still delivers a nice throw, but as big as he is now and has slow as he has become, its not the same. Tiger throws nice kicks, but his opponents can’t dodge them quick enough. The truth is even if these guys were able to fund the fountain of youth, those styles are almost certainly dead and buried. Too much has changed with mixed martial arts and pro wrestling for those styles to really captivate a large audience again barring something un-forseen.
Masakatsu Funaki & Kaz Hayashi vs. Hiro Saito & AKIRA
Speaking of wrestlers with shoot style backgrounds, here’s Funaki. He and AKIRA worked a fun, long-ish introductory matwork segment. Not shoot style mat work by any means, yet still fundamentally sound work that laid a nice foundation for the match. Saito moved around relatively well in this one and still threw as mean of a senton as ever. I thought this was decent enough and would have been a better-than-normal Wrestle-1 match.
Tomohiro Ishii & Akitoshi Saito vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Tatsuhito Takaiwa
Ishii and Sekimoto should be kept as far apart from each other as possible. If this match was any indication, they bring out the worst in one another. Ishii is at his best when he is playing the tough, injured guy who sells but won’t give up. “Little big man” Ishii that wrestles like a super heavyweight, gets involved in endless strike exchanges, and doesn’t sell a lick is the bad Ishii. The same could be said for Sekimoto although perhaps not to the same (good and bad) extremes. Their bad versions were on display in this match which was a bit of a mess. A match like Ishii vs. Goto from last fall isn’t exactly my preferred style of wrestling, but I was at least entertained by those two hitting each other with crowbars in a really physical manner. This didn’t even have the spectacle element to it. It was just bad.