In the aftermath of Wrestle Kingdom 11, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega were showered with praise for having, what some called, the greatest match in professional wrestling history. I had to see what all the fuss was about so I watched it and I loved it. I gave the rest of the show a watch and decided it was probably time for me to take the plunge into New Japan Pro Wrestling.
It’s proven to be a good decision.
I’m now armed with a subscription to NJPW World and to commemorate my first Best of the Super Juniors, I keeping a diary throughout the tournament.
Day 1, May 17
The opening day, then. I’ve been looking forward to this because, simply put, I love tournaments, every match has meaning and they’re much harder to predict. Speaking of predictions, my pick is Hiromu Takahashi, mainly because he’s my favourite thing about NJPW.
Him and Mr. Belt make such a nice couple. He’s also looked pretty much unstoppable in recent months and I feel like any defeat would be a surprise. Block A is absolutely stacked though, whoever progresses is going to have take some big scalps. Block B seems a bit more straightforward though, I’d be surprised if Kushida didn’t make the final.
All 16 contenders are in action today. See you on the other side.
First things first, I’ve got to say I love Korakuen Hall. It’s so intimate and there’s something funny about the Japanese crowd politely sitting down as someone lands a tope four inches away from them.
Opening the tournament, it’s Jushin Thunder Liger v. Taka Michinoku. To an NJPW rookie like myself, this is a battle between a former NXT Takeover curtain-jerker and a comedy jobber from the Attitude Era. I’m joking, please put down the tomatoes. Taka seems to have gotten a bit darker, anyway.
It’s fun start to proceedings from the two veterans, with Taka winning after he ties up Liger in a pin combination, which Wiki informs me is called Heavy Killer #1, which is an intense name for a clever little move. I have two main takeaways, firstly I have no understanding of what constitues a DQ in New Japan. Liger straight up whacks Taka with a chair during the match and gets away with it. Meanwhile, other guys make sure the ref is distracted when they use a foreign object. Perks of being Jushin Liger, I guess. Secondly, is mad hair a prerequisite for Suzuki-gun membership? Taka’s bad dye-job and pointy fringe fits in nicely with Minoru Susuki’s crazy patterns and whatever Taichi’s do is.
Next up is Volador Jr. v. Tiger Mask. It’s my first time ever seeing Volador so I’m curious to see what he’s got. Surprisingly, at least to me, Volador spends most of the match getting his arse kicked so we don’t really see how good he is. However, he does get the win with a crazy Spanish Fly off the top, hopefully a sign of what’s still to come.
Man, people seem to really hate Taichi. It’s obviously a cheesy act, but it’s so naff that I’m sort of into it. He’s taking about two minutes longer than anyone else to get to the ring in a tiny venue, parading the beautiful Miho Abe around, all while he’s dressed up like an Orlesian on his way to a ball at Halamshiral. Besides, as naff as Taichi is, nothing he does is as bad as that crown Ricochet wears. Seriously mate, can you not get a better one than that school play prop? That’s my only sleight on Ricochet, though, guy is absolutely bananas in the ring. Taichi knows it too and spends most of the match running away and using Miho as a distraction. Rico finally gets his hands on Taichi and ends him with a Benadryller and a Shooting Star Press to die for.
Haven’t seen much of ACH (or Aceyaitchy as the Japanese seem to call him) but I was surprised to see him as a junior heavyweight. Watching him come to the ring, I’m still surprised he’s a junior. I’m assuming he’s the Cedric Alexander of the piece, and makes the weight simply by having 0% body fat. Wonder who will be his Kota Ibushi? It won’t be Bushi, though, as Aceyaitchy takes him out with a decaptitating lariato and the Midnight Driver. I can’t help but think if ACH was in WWE, the commentators would be in overdrive telling us how he just loves to have fun.
El Desperado is a big cheating bastard but as plans go, wrecking Kushida in his first match to blow Block B wide open ain’t a bad one. He attacks before the bell, chucks him through five rows of chairs and grinds his head with a piece of metal. Kushida’s response is smart as he targets Despy’s arm, working it with a brutal armbar off the top and the Hoverboard Lock, actually making Despy tap, but only after a ref bump. With a bit of assisstance from Kushida’s ROH TV Championsip belt, Desperado gets an opening and gets the win with Guitarra de Angel. That’s what I get for saying Kushida is favourite for Block B.
Great to see Marty Scurll in NJPW. He’s here to break fingers and cure plagues. A Battle of Britain is the perfect way to debut him, and while I should get behind my countrymen for the tourney, I struggle to warm to Will Ospreay. I can’t quite put my finger on it, he’s got bucketloads of talent but he rubs me the wrong way. Is it because he’s an Essex boy? Is it his face? It didn’t help that he was going on about how he had to spend 10 grand on ring gear last year. No one’s forcing you to soend money on another set of gaudy Assassin’s Creed-themed gear, chief. Ass Creed went off a cliff after Revelations anyway, with Black Flag being the only exception, and that was only because it was a pirate game. See, Ospreay’s made me go off topic. No wonder I don’t like him.
I really enjoyed how the crowd instantly took to The Villain. They loved doing the woop woops, and Marty’s always good for a creative way to poke an eye and yank a nose. Moment of the match went to young William, though, with his superb topical take on Randy Orton’s snek taunt …..trolling. The finish was a thing of beauty as Marty turned an Oscutter attempt into the Chickenwing and made him submit. Great match, as you’d expect from two of Britain’s finest.
I’m a big fan of football manager Ryusuke Taguchi, he’s even got the inflated sense of “the world is against me” that all the best managers exude in interviews. Observe:
Taguchi matches feature so many close-ups of his arse, it’s like that video WWE put out to discredit CM Punk. Taguchi hasn’t reported a staph infection recently, has he? His match with Yoshinobi Kanemaru is the comic relief for the day. Low blows are always funny, but Taguchi manages to breathe new life into the classic man gets in the groin genre. He takes one in the balls from Kanemaru but as he falls in pain, he inadvertently plants a boot between Kanemaru’s legs and small packages him for the win. The lulz don’t stop though as we’re treated to the wonderful visual of a Young Lion icing Taguchi’s junk.
And we’ve still got a Dragon Lee v. Hiromu Takahashi to come. Hiromu seems to be proper mad, he’s got this insane fighting spirit mixed with the mind of a child. He strolls out with a comically large scrapbook he’s put together on his opponents and jumps straight into an exchange of about 20 open-hand chops with Dragon. Makes me wonder how they portray crazy in Japan, all I can think of is a Japanese JBL undermining everything but shouting: “He’s a lunatic, Maggle-san! I love it!”
Hiromu and Dragon beat each other stupid in a match reminiscent of their previous at New Beginning. Dragon seizes the initiative by using Hiromu’s madness against him, namely murdering him with Hiromu’s own fireman carry bucklebomb and Dragon wraps it up with a Phoenixplex. Good God, I’m never predicting anything again.
That’s the first night done, then. I think we witnessed about four deaths. No idea how anyone makes it to the end.
Day 2, May 18
The only way to start is by paying tribute to that mesmerising classic. What a show from two world-class athletes. But that’s enough about Taichi and Taka.
Ricochet and Will Ospreay just laid down a challenge to the other 14 wrestlers in this tournament, as well as the entire wrestling world. After all the feelings stirred up by the ….dive debate, this was the perfect response. These two men put on a bombastic display of barious styles of pro wrestling. They started out grappling, reverted to their usual flippy stuff until they had little choice but to fight. The longer it went, the better it got and as the minutes ticked by, I thought we were heading for a time limit draw. It was Ospreay who took it though as he finally caught his rival with the Oscutter. Oh Christ, what about that Dragonrana? I just had to laugh at how extraordinary that was.
Last year, Ricochet and Ospreay’s BOSJ match caused a bunch of old pros to get their knickers in a twist ’cause things ain’t like they used to be. This year, they went and topped it. To me, this was pro wrestling at its best, but it doesn’t matter if it’s Ospreay, Ricochet, The Revival, Shibata, John Cena… it’s all wrestling at the end of the day. Let’s stop arguing over bullshit and enjoy the show.
Elsewhere, the aforementioned Taichi v. Taka classic actually saw them touch each other once in over five minutes. I was wondering how match between stablemates would go down and it turns out they piss about like mates. It was almost heartwarming to see the members of Suzuki-gun share a laugh at the end, you know, if they weren’t part of a group of bastards led by a genuine maniac.
Dragon Lee made it two from two with a win over Marty Scurll. Despite Marty tying Dragon’s mask to the ropes and snapping his fingers twice, Dragon won with the Alberto Del Rio memorial protracted double stomp.
Poor Hiromu had a battle with Dragon Lee yesterday and today he was getting brainbustered on the floor by Jushin Liger. He survived another brainbuster and a Liger Bomb before taking his chance to hit the Timebooooomb to get some points on the board. Do any Hiromu matches not end in carnage? Every one seems to end with bodies strewn across the ring. I’m convinced he doesn’t feel pain. Enjoy some rest, Hiromu. *Checks schedule* bloody hell, he’s got Ricochet on Sunday.
By the way, I’m mostly skipping the undercard tag matches because I don’t want to go blind. I did see Kushida lose again, though. Knew I should have backed Taguchi for Block B. Oh, and Naito broke the Intercontinental Championship. It’s just as well Mr. Intercontinental likes it rough.