The story so far…
B Block – Round Five
May 27th, Tsukuba Capio, Ibaraki
ACH vs. El Desperado
ACH gave Desperado a groin flick to begin, then an inverted atomic drop, but Desperado delivered his own low blow variation via the ropes and sent ACH outside where he tossed him into Row F (I counted). Back in, the rope-trapped dropkick to ACH’s leg led to a period of limbwork, with a blocked shinbreaker eventually allowing ACH to make his strike combo comeback and follow with a corkscrew plancha. He tweaked his leg on a missed springboard, managing a shotgun dropkick that gave him a two-count, but Desperado soon countered and transitioned into an Indian Deathlock. Next, Desperado cinched in the Stretch Muffler and ACH just made the ropes, then Guitarra de Angel went wrong and Desperado ran right into a lariat. ACH picked him up, Midnight Driver, one, two, three.
Decent match, with a solid story and mostly consistent selling. The ending seemed a bit iffy, but it’s easily overlooked. Desperado, despite consecutive losses, demonstrates that it’s possible to be a cheating heel without that being the dominant factor in a match. ***
Volador Jr. vs. BUSHI
A quick lucha exchange preceded Volador removing his extraneous mask, then Bushi sent him outside with a ‘rana and followed with a slingshot hurricanrana to the floor! A chairshot meant that Volador stumbled back in, whereupon Bushi choked him with a t-shirt and nailed him with a missile dropkick. Neckbreaker for two and the STF was locked on. Volador reached the ropes, connected with a ‘rana off a charge, and flattened Bushi with a tope con hilo to complete the comeback, rolling him back in before the count. A springboard dropkick and tilt-a-whirl facebuster got two, then a rope-hung springboard leg drop earned the same, before Bushi used the Rolling Yoshi Tonic to get a two-count of his own. A superkick from Volador put him back in charge, but Bushi blocked the Spanish Fly up top with a hurricanrana! Reverse neckbreaker from Bushi for two, lungblower from Volador for two. Volador’s moonsault missed, but he headed back up where Bushi caught him with his own Spanish Fly! Two-count only! Bushi delivered the diving Codebreaker and that was that.
Good stuff! Volador’s picked up his game significantly in the last two B Block shows, while Bushi continues his strong run. Both men busted out moves we haven’t seen from them thus far and the result was a very enjoyable back-and-forth match. ***1/2
Tiger Mask IV vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
After a very respectful start in which instead of a handshake they touched “claws”, we got Taguchi antics (basically rolling around the ring), armdrags, a stand off, and then a very funny rope-running sequence which exhausted Taguchi and led to a backslide for two. Tiger maintained control for a couple of minutes by going after his opponent’s arm until Taguchi springboarded out of the corner with a hip attack and followed with a succession of ass offence for two. Tope Asstomico for two. The BomAss Ye was avoided, but Taguchi was briefly able to apply the ankle lock before being rolled-up with a crucifix for two. Tiger once again went after the arm, hit a Tiger Driver for a near-fall, the applied the scissored armbar. Taguchi made the ropes, however, and an exchange of roll-ups led to him hitting Dodon for two! The ankle lock was applied and, unable to escape, Tiger was forced to tap.
Two pros eliciting the intended response from the crowd is always a fun thing to watch and this was another enjoyable match. I don’t deny that Taguchi is one of my personal favourites, but he’s been on such a roll lately that I find myself smiling at every bit of his act. Tiger Mask has also had a great few weeks, performing way above my expectations and delivering the goods every time out. ***
KUSHIDA vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Kanemaru attacked before the bell and countered Kushida’s handspring to a back suplex before dumping him with a DDT on the apron. Outside, Taka Michinoku was on hand to do some dirty work, and Kanemaru returned to whip Kushida into the ringpost then cutoff the attempted comeback with a dropkick. An apron-hung dropkick put Kushida on the floor and, back in the ring, Kanemaru applied the headscissors before spiking a DDT for a two-count. Finally, Kushida found respite with a reverse STO into the turnbuckle and fired kicks to the arm, sending Kanemaru outside with a handspring heel kick before launching himself with a tope con hilo!
Back in, the handspring elbow connected, as did a beautiful diving moonsault! Two-count only. The Hoverboard Lock unfortunately knocked the referee down, allowing Taka to attack, though he was soon dealt with. Now Taichi appeared and he cracked Kushida with the mic stand. Deep Impact diving DDT from Kanemaru – one, two, no! They fought over a suplex and it was Kushida who nailed the brainbuster, putting both men down. Main Event Elbow Battle time, with Kushida resorting to a straight punch to take the advantage! Another punch got rid of Taichi, but Kanemaru nailed a lariat for a near-fall! Kushida caught the attempted second Deep Impact and countered to an Air Raid Crash. The Hoverboard Lock was applied, then Kushida opted to crunch Kanemaru with Back To The Future (small package driver) and the three-count followed.
Tremendous main event here, with Kushida overcoming ALL the odds in a very satisfying manner. I really liked Kanemaru’s early heat segment in which he countered everything Kushida threw at him. Easily his best performance of the tournament. This was a shade better than their Super J-Cup final match last year, I felt, and Kushida’s new finisher is already seeing benefits. ****
A Block – Round Six
May 28th, New Sunpia Takasaki, Gunma
TAKA Michinoku vs. Ricochet
Some tidy matwork and countering from Ricochet led to him dropkicking Taka from the ring, but Taka moved out of the way, so Ricochet settled for a dive feint and a pose. Eye rakes from Taka turned the tide, and a high knee in the corner and running knee strike earned two, before he brushed of Ricochet’s elbows to briefly apply the Just Facelock. Ricochet eventually hit a neckbreaker to stop the rot, and the rolling dropkick and standing SSP got a two-count, but a go-behind allowed Taka to grab the Just Facelock again. Ricochet made the ropes, kicked out of a thrust kick, and hit back with the corkscrew kick. The kick combo set up the Benadryller and that was good for the three-count.
Basic and inoffensive. I was thankful for the lack of interference if nothing else. **
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Dragon Lee
Liger came out on top of the opening exchanges, but was unable to apply the Romero Special, and was promptly dropkicked to the floor where Dragon landed a tope con hilo. Liger broke the count at 19 after being kicked from the apron and nailed a Shotei to put Dragon on the apron. A monkey flip sent Dragon to the floor and Liger followed with a rolling senton! Another Shotei and the Liger Bomb connected for a two-count. Dragon fired back with strikes, but a third Shotei turned him inside-out for a near-fall. Liger set Dragon up top, but was caught in the tree-of-woe and double stomped, then Dragon followed with another double stomp from the top-rope for the win.
Liger’s been getting great reactions all tour and crowds have been increasingly desperate to see him get a win on the board. Sadly that wasn’t the case here, but it made for a heated sprint and puts Dragon Lee in a great position going into the final block show. ***
Will Ospreay vs. Taichi
Taichi choked Ospreay and used nefarious means to stay on top, with El Desperado helping to block a dive and Kanemaru continuing the beatdown outside. Ospreay leapt into the ring to break the count at 19 and eventually broke the monotony of Taichi’s offence with a handspring kick and corner dropkick. Suicide dives to the Suzuki-gun seconds allowed Ospreay to flatten Taichi with the Sasuke Special, and he followed-up in the ring with a springboard elbow and standing SSP for two. Enzuigiri and a head kick from Taichi, the stripper pants came off, but the Last Ride was blocked. Enzuigiri from Ospreay now, and the Shooting Star Press connected! One, two, Suzuki-gun interference. Ospreay attacked the seconds, ducked Taichi’s mic stand shot, and the corkscrew kick connected. The OsCutter was countered, however, and Taichi’s Gedo Clutch almost got the win. Mic stand shot with the referee distracted and this time the Last Ride dumped Ospreay and got the three-count.
Apart from the Hiromu match, which was hardly universally liked, Taichi’s matches have been a chore. Please God let Liger beat him. This was fine, but was basically endless shenanigans, some of which were thankfully broken up by Ospreay explosive offence. **1/4
Marty Scurll vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Early on we got a pleasing variation on You Can’t Sunset Flip Marty Scurll, which we now know extends to Hiromu’s off-the-apron version. From there, Scurll took control of Hiromu, punishing his arm in a variety of sadistic ways, until a ‘rana sent the former outside and the latter launched himself with a running dropkick from the apron. Scurll avoided a low dropkick, then ran straight into the pop-up powerbomb for a two-count, but was able to counter the Time Bomb. He fired back with elbow strikes, brushed off some of Hiromu’s, and connected with the Last Shot for two. Apron superkick, not once, not twice, but thrice, then both men charged at the other with clotheslines in the ring. Just Kidding superkick and a piledriver from Scurll for the near-fall, then Hiromu reversed a charge into a turnbuckle belly-to-belly, and the modified Death Valley Driver earned another two-count. Hiromu fired up after Scurll nailed a pair of knee strikes and landed the turnbuckle DVD, but Scurll again blocked the Time Bomb, this time with a finger snap! A second finger snap after a back-and-forth set up the chickenwing, but Hiromu powered up, lifted Scurll onto his shoulders, and finally the Time Bomb connected to give Hiromu the hard-fought win.
Once again, Hiromu delivers and he made Scurll look a real threat to his tournament chances. The loss puts Scurll out of the running, but he’s made a strong impression over the course of the tour and will, I hope, be a fixture in New Japan for the foreseeable future. While neither’s best match, this was a well-worked and unpredictable main event. A strong effort. ***1/2
B Block standing after Round Five
- ACH – 6
- El Desperado – 6
- Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 6
- Ryusuke Taguchi – 6
- BUSHI – 4
- KUSHIDA – 4
- Tiger Mask IV – 4
- Volador Jr. – 4
A Block standings after Round Six
- Dragon Lee – 8
- Will Ospreay – 8
- Ricochet – 8
- Taichi – 8
- Hiromu Takahashi – 8
- Marty Scurll – 6
- TAKA Michinoku – 2
- Jushin Thunder Liger – 0
Final thoughts: On paper it looked like B Block would pale next to the star names of A Block, but that hasn’t happened at all, and if anything they’ve delivered the more consistently entertaining shows. The booking, too, has been intriguing, and sets up Monday’s live show brilliantly. A Block’s penultimate block show was 50/50 in terms of decent matches, but going into the deciding round we have five guys still in the running!
Back on Monday for the live B Block show, which features Volador Jr. vs. ACH and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. KUSHIDA. See you then.