June 11th, 16:00 from Osaka-Jo Hall
The biggest New Japan show since January 4th sees four rematches from Wrestle Kingdom take place and features every title on the line. Omega vs. Okada, Tanahashi vs. Naito and KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi top the bill. Let’s get to it.
Here we go…
Tiger Mask IV, Tiger Mask W, Yuji Nagata & Togi Makabe vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Nakanishi got a bit of a run-out early on, before Liger was in to a strong reaction, only to be cut-off by Tiger Mask W. The mysterious young Tiger found himself on the receiving end of Kojima’s machine gun chops, but a flurry of strikes and a standing moonsault earned him a two-count. Tenzan and Nagata were tagged, and went back-and-forth with signature offence, before Makabe and Nakanishi came in. A parade of strikes all round left the ring empty and Makabe’s King Kong Knee Drop got the win. A fun opener to warm up the crowd. **1/2
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match
- Bullet Club (Yuriro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale & Hangman Page) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) Fale went on the warpath after Ishii knocked him from the apron, leaving Yoshi-Hashi imperilled, and a nice bridging pumphandle fallaway slam got two for Page. Yoshi survived the beating to tag in Yano, but his turnbuckle-exposing antics were short-lived and he suffered a splash from Fale. Thankfully for CHAOS he had a couple of low-blows left to give, and delivered one to Yujiro with the ref distracted for the three-count.
- CHAOS vs. Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) Suzuki-gun cleared the ring and Zack Sabre Jr. prevented a double low-blow to his teammates, rolling Yano up with the European Clutch for the quick win! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Suzuki-gun vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson) Taguchi Japan’s initial flurry was well orchestrated by Coach Taguchi, but he was soon isolated, whereupon his derrière was targeted. Ricochet and Juice rescued him with some well-oiled double team moves, but Juice was whipped into the still-exposed turnbuckle and almost bought the pin. He ducked the whiskey mist, however, and Pulp Friction got him the three-count on Taichi. Sabre Jr. punished him with an Octopus Hold as LIJ entered, leaving him prone.
- Taguchi Japan vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI) (c) Evil used his chair routine on Taguchi and the beatdown to Juice continued, but he made the comeback and the tag to Ricochet led to several feats of agility. A tower of doom spot left Ricochet and Sanada alone, then both men made the tag, with Bushi’s lungblower to Taguchi earning two. Thanks to a little help, Taguchi hit Dodon for the near-fall, then cinched in the ankle lock. LIJ found their groove in time, though, with Sanada’s Dragon Sleeper setting up the MX (Diving Codebreaker) from Bushi to retain the titles.
The gauntlet match format isn’t easy to rate, but this was a good piece of business, with most participants getting a moment in the spotlight. Call it: ***1/2
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Baretta) (c) vs. The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson)
The Bucks took control early, but Baretta’s double clothesline set up a tope con hilo. The advantage was brief, with the Bucks twice powerbombing Romero on the apron and running him into the ringpost, leaving Baretta alone. Back in, a series of smooth double-team moves kept Baretta under the kosh, and though he fought back, Romero was nowhere to be seen. Baretta tornado DDT’d himself free a second time, but just when it looked like the tag would be made, Matt pulled Rocky from the apron and powerbombed him onto the ramp! An apron-hung swanton and rope-hung 450 got a near-fall, but again Baretta survived to belly-to-belly Nick into Matt and landed a super German suplex! Piledriver – two-count only! Romero returned, finally, and Strong Zero connected only for Nick to swanton in to break the count! Tag made to Romero, and he was rolling with Forever clotheslines and a double ‘rana, but the Shiranui was countered to a backbreaker, Nick German suplexed Baretta onto the apron, and Matt locked in the sharpshooter on Rocky! Somehow Romero survived to reach the ropes, then he twice got a near-fall with a roll-up, but the Indytaker from the Bucks connected and this time it was Nick utilising the sharpshooter, with Romero at last forced to tap.
I liked the story they told here and the psychology was sound. The dives were well-placed and was there even one superkick the whole match? Most enjoyable. ****
IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
War Machine beat TenKoji for the titles at Sakura Genesis, the Guerrillas – though part of the three-way match at Wrestling Dontaku – finally get a two-on-two opportunity for the belts they lost at Wrestle Kingdom.
The Guerrillas attacked before the bell, but their beatdown on Rowe was short-lived, with Hanson soon tagged. The big man pummelled both opponents in the corner, before Tama and Tanga used their speed to get back on top, then a huge clothesline brought Rowe back into it, and he and Loa had a suplex-heavy exchange which led to the return of their partners. Hanson initially had the advantage, but was soon sent out to the floor. The hard-headed Rowe leant into Tonga’s elbows, but Loa snuck up behind him with a spin-out powerbomb which enabled a diving headbutt and diving splash for a near-fall. Hanson was back, and his involvement led to a crazy wheelbarrow suplex double team, but Loa blocked Fallout with a superplex and Tonga’s Headshrinker DDT earned two. After blocking GOD’s attempted finisher, Rowe floored Tonga and Hanson was back again to crunch him with huge splash from the top-rope! Tonga countered the pop-up slam to a Gun Stun, however, and the ref was bumped, allowing Loa to clock Rowe with a chairshot, and Guerrilla Warfare connected to give the GOD the titles!
I’m disappointed to see War Machine lose the belts, but I suspect they’ll be regulars for a while and will hold the belts a few times. Plenty of fun stuff in here, but too little structure to make it count in a meaningful way. With more groundwork and more attention paid to the format it could’ve been something very good. As it was, I’d still say: ***1/2
Michael Elgin vs. Cody
Elgin suffered a disappointing first round loss in the New Japan Cup in March and has been absent since that tour. Cody was last seen beating David Finlay at Wrestling Dontaku and demanding an opponent from higher up the card. He gets his wish.
Duelling cartwheels to begin and Elgin smacked Cody with an elbow, but Cody replied with a vertical suplex. Elgin then showed him how it’s done, holding him up for a good ten seconds before dumping him to the mat. Outside, Elgin dropped Cody over the apron, then returned to the ring to deliver a series of hard chops and elbows, but Cody slipped out of an attempted superplex and the Alabama Slam brought some respite. Cody failed to make an impact with chops, so went for Elgin’s tree trunk legs instead. He neglected to capitalise on a springboard dropkick, and Elgin hit back with a Uranage to kick-start a comeback. Slingshot splash, and Elgin mocked Cody’s pose, then landed a trio of German suplexes. Falcon Arrow – two-count only. Cody freed himself to nail a moonsault press, but Elgin ducked Beautiful Disaster for a Blue Thunder Bomb for two. Cody again slipped the net to briefly lock in the American Nightmare submission, then a rope-hung reverse STO got two. Elgin’s discus clothesline looked to set up the Falcon Arrow superplex, but Cody flipped out and Cross Rhodes connected for the win.
Solid match, certainly the best of Cody’s three singles bouts so far, but it rankles that Elgin was put in this position. Still, it did the job and was well-placed on the card before we get into the singles title matches. ***
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Having been beaten for the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, then demolished in under two minutes at Sakura Genesis, KUSHIDA earned one more shot at Hiromu by winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament last weekend, beating Will Ospreay in a fantastic final.
Both men immediately tried their finishers then threw a barrage of elbows, with the vocal crowd heavily pro-Hiromu. They pulled each other’s hair and the elbows continued out of the ring then back in again, then they switched to slaps to the chest, back-and-forth, over-and-over, until a belly-to-belly sent Kushida into the turnbuckle. Snapmare and seated dropkick for two, and Hiromu cinched in a chinlock. Kushida freed himself, but the pop-up powerbomb and Falcon Arrow in quick succession got a two-count for Hiromu. Kushida was sent to the apron, but he blocked the sunset flip powerbomb, turning it into an armbar. Nicely done. He whipped Hiromu over the barrier, then sat him on a chair and used another chair to aid a dropkick over the guardrail and into Hiromu’s chest! Back in, the left arm was targeted, but the handspring elbow was countered to a German suplex and both men were down.
Dynamite Plunger (Fireman’s Carry Emerald Flowsion) from Hiromu – two-count only. Up top, Kushida got free, cinched in the double-wristlock, then flipped Hiromu down to the mat onto his arm! Ouch. Back to the Future was avoided, and Hiromu desperately tried to stopped Kushida grabbing the double-wristlock, freeing himself to nail a lariat and both men were down again. Out on the apron, Kushida almost landed a sunset flip powerbomb of his own, but Hiromu blocked it and then did land his own, crunching Kushida to the floor. He dragged Kushida back in, the turnbuckle DVD landed, but the Time Bomb was countered into a pin for a near-fall. Up top once more, and Kushida blocked whatever Hiromu was attempting to hit the super Back to the Future! Both men made it to their knees to end the count, and it was time for more elbows. Straight punch from Hiromu and two in reply from Kushida! He followed with arm-trapped head stomps to significant boos from the crowd and grabbed the double-wristlock, twisting Hiromu’s arm until he was forced to tap! New champion!
Kushida’s post-match promo was interrupted by Bushi, who misted him and looks to be the next challenger (again). I really got a sense of Kushida and Hiromu’s hatred for one another here and the significant crowd reaction added a whole lot. Kushida’s redemption is complete, ahead of many people’s predictions, though he has had to compromise some of his ideals to get there. I’m sad to see Hiromu’s excellent run as champion end, but I get the feeling this feud is going to be years long, so I’ll consider this another chapter rather than the definitive ending. ****1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship Lumberjack Match
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Suzuki beat Goto for the title at the end of April with a little help from his friends. Why the stipulation? Well, every match involving a Suzuki-gun member is effectively a one-sided lumberjack match, so it’s only fair that the odds are evened. Minoru was back by Zack Sabre Jr., TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru; Goto by his CHAOS stablemates YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Jado and Toru Yano.
After an even opening, there was an exchange of knockdowns, and a handy demonstration of the lumberjacks’ obligations. Slaps to the chest from Suzuki, who then caught Goto in the rope-aided armbar, and a brawl broke out on the floor, with Suzuki-gun helping their leader nail a big boot. Goto was dragged into the crowd and another brawl between the factions ensued. Back in, Suzuki targeted Goto’s arm with some nasty-looking submission work, forcing Goto back out into the fray. Suzuki upset co-commentator Liger, which led to the sight of fellow co-commentator Masahiro Chono holding him back!
Back in, Goto fought back with a clothesline, spinning heel kick and backdrop. The diving elbow connected despite Desperado’s efforts, then Goto caught Suzuki’s attempted Penalty Kick and nailed a lariat. Suzuki hit back with some huge elbow strikes, flooring Goto, but the brawling on the outside meant the lumberjacks were of no help and Goto used the opportunity to hit the Ushigoroshi. The ref was bumped, and Suzuki-gun attacked, but Yoshi-Hashi came to the rescue, getting rid of all of them before landing a tope con hilo! Goto twice powered out of Suzuki’s Sleeper and hit the inverted GTR. GTR! One, two, ref-pulled-from-the ring-by-Taichi. Taichi broke a chair over Goto’s head, Suzuki spiked him with the Gotch-style Piledriver, and the three-count was academic.
More brawling post-match, and Yoshi-Hashi went after Suzuki! Yes please! Ridiculous as this was, I really enjoyed it, and so did the crowd who added hugely to the atmosphere of unruliness. ***1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Since beating Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, Naito has defended the title against Michael Elgin and Juice Robinson, while taking every opportunity destroy the belt itself. Believing it to be worthless given the upcoming introduction IWGP US title, Naito has said he will retire the belt if wins today. Tanahashi, meanwhile, had largely faded into the background before a recent bicep injury put this match into doubt. He returns on schedule to try and claim the title and give it some much-needed TLC.
Tanahashi attacked before the bell(!) before a still fully suited Naito fought back with elbows. Tanahashi dropkicked him off the apron into the barrier and, despite his aggression, it sound like the crowd was in the former Ace’s favour. Back in the ring, Naito wisely went for Tanahashi’s taped right arm and dropkicked him to the floor before finally removing his suit. The reclining pose drew plenty of boos, but no matter, as Naito stayed on top with an apron-aided tornado DDT. Tanahashi was back in at 19, but the punishment to the arm went on, with a modified short-arm scissors forcing him to the ropes and Naito hanging on as long as the referee would allow.
Naito smiled to himself as he slapped Tanahashi’s head, so Tanahashi responded with a German suplex, straight punches and a spitwad! Boos for everyone. Naito won an elbow battle, but Tanahashi hit back with a Dragon Screw. The follow-up was countered to an armbreaker and Naito landed a missile dropkick before again returning to the arm. Tanahashi avoided the super frankensteiner, then blocked the slingshot dropkick, countering to a Dragon Screw. Another one over the apron gave him the time to head up top and hit the High Fly Flow crossbody to Naito on the floor! Back in, the Cloverleaf was blocked, Naito yanked the right arm get himself back in the match, and the slighshot dropkick connected.
Naito applied the hammerlock armbar, wrenching Tanahashi’s arm until the rope-break, then dumped him with Gloria for a two-count. Tanahashi caught the leaping elbow and turned it into a swinging side slam! With both men up top, Naito hammered at Tanahashi’s arm and hit the super frankensteiner, but it was reversed to a pin for two. Tanahashi hit two spinning neckbreakers, headed up top, but the High Fly Flow missed the mark! Destino failed, and so they took to slapping each other hard in the face. Arm-trap German from Tanahashi – two-count only! Dragon Suplex blocked, then an awkward exchange led to the tornado DDT and a German suplex from Naito. Reverse swinging DDT – two-count only. Destino reversed to a Dragon Suplex! Sling Blade! And another! High Fly Flow! One, two, NO! Tanahashi cinched in the Cloverleaf, sat deep, and dragged Naito to the middle of the ring! Naito desperately tried to hold on, but was eventually forced to tap (just barely, mind, with his fingers)! Tanahashi is the new Intercontinental Champion!
Pleasing to see a major heavyweight match end in a submission – it happens so rarely. This was another great match, though not without its flaws, primarily Tanahashi brushing off the armwork. He was visibly ring rusty at points here, which is not a surprise given the recent injuries and his age, but the intensity was consistent throughout and both men brought it. Worth noting this is Tanahashi’s first singles title in nearly two and half years and now that Naito is rid of the Intercontinental title he seemed to hate I hope the IWGP title is in his sights. A hair below their January 4th match, but still tremendous. ****1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Okada has had a phenomenal title reign since winning the belt at this show last year. Arguably the man who pushed him furthest was today’s opponent, Kenny Omega, with whom he had a rather well-regarded match at Wrestle Kingdom in January. In truth, since then, Omega has under performed. He failed to earn a title shot through the New Japan Cup and has instead been given one by Okada. Hubris on the part of the champion, true, but that’s what the Rainmaker’s all about.
They started slow, trading tie-ups and side headlocks, then an extended back-and-forth of missed and avoided moves eventually saw Okada hit a neckbreaker and gain a measure of control, though he tweaked his knee on a failed dropkick. Omega’s ‘rana sent Okada outside, but the tope con hilo was avoided and Okada hit one of his own! Again, though, he tweaked his knee and Omega was quick to spot it, hitting a shinbreaker and springboard low dropkick before locking in a figure-four. Okada made the ropes and rolled outside, where Omega landed a pair of shinbreakers, one on the apron, one on the announce table, and the champ struggled back in at 14.
Omega continued to target the leg, but Okada fired back with seated dropkick after a quick back-and-forth, and the flapjack followed. Back elbows and a victory roll transitioned beautifully into Red Ink which had Omega scrambling to the ropes. Outside, Okada pushed Omega into the crowd and capitalised with a running crossbody over the barrier. Back in, a tombstone reversal sequence led to the reverse neckbreaker from Okada, but the diving elbow missed the mark, and Omega’s pumphandle backbreaker and baseball slide allowed him to nail a top-rope asai moonsault!
Missile dropkick to the back of Okada’s head! Two-count only. Deadlift Doctor Bomb, another two-count. One-Winged Angle blocked, and the middle-rope moonsault hit the knees. A huge elbow from Okada shook Omega, who fired back with a hard chop, then, with both men up top, Omega looked for a powerbomb(!), then the Dragon superplex(!), but Okada landed Heavy Rain on the apron instead. Outside, a shotgun dropkick fired Omega hard into the guardrail, and Okada set up a table at ringside. Both men blocked the other’s attempt to use the table, and Okada landed the diving elbow before calling for the Rainmaker. Omega blocked it, and hit a cross-legged superplex from the top for a two-count. Cross-legged Ushigoroshi and a knee strike, but Okada caught a second and dumped Omega on his head with two Germans and the Rainmaker! Two-count only!
Okada went for The Dropkick it was countered mid-air to a jumping powerbomb! Beautifully done. Huge chop from Omega, Snapdragon suplex, but Okada landed a dropkick to send the challenger to the floor. He laid Omega on the table, headed up top, and launched himself with a diving elbow, half-breaking the table! Ouch. After recovering, Okada threw Omega back in, and landed a diving shotgun dropkick for two. Three more seated dropkicks landed, and Okada brushed off Omega’s attempts at a comeback. Rainmaker! And another! But Okada didn’t go for the pin and instead Cody ran out to try and throw in the towel! The Bucks prevented him, and in the ring, Omega blocked another Rainmaker and hit the reverse frankensteiner. The Dropkick from Okada, Rainmaker knee strike from Omega! Okada flipped out of the One-Winged Angel, but Omega hit another knee strike and this time the One-Winged Angel connected! One, two, foot on the ropes!!!
A lariat from Okada put both men down, then it was time was the Main Event Elbow Battle. Snapdragon suplex from Omega, The Dropkick from Okada! Two huge knee strikes floored Okada! 2.9! Omega crunched Okada in the corner, One-Winged Angel countered to a tombstone, both men down. Okada screamed to psych himself up and Omega collapsed to the mat to duck the Rainmaker! After fighting over a gutwrench, Omega cracked Okada in the neck with three brutal knee strikes, but didn’t have the strength to follow-up. Spinning tombstone from Okada! German suplex hold for two! Small package from Omega for two then Okada dropkicked him away. Snapdragon suplex from Omega, Rainmaker from Okada! He collapsed to the mat and as he was crawling for the cover the bell rang – a one-hour draw!
Eventually Okada got it together enough to give a promo and promised to make it rain over the whole world. The confetti falls and we’re out.
Only the fifth one-hour draw in IWGP history, so where do I start? First thing I’ll say is that whereas Omega was the superior performer on January 4th, Okada was the clear stand-out here. I found myself willing him to retain the title as the match wore on, and he deservedly gets to continue this monumental title reign. So seldom does one see a match of this length that it’s hard to compare with much else. Though I was aware of the slow pace, I was invested throughout, and despite it seeming odd initially, the Bullet Club’s role in the match kick-started the excellent final twenty minutes of this war of attrition. I can’t go five-stars (let alone six) simply because I didn’t feel it, but nevertheless this was Okada’s latest extraordinary title defence. ****3/4
One last thing. In the press conference after the match, Cody challenged Okada for the title at Long Beach.
Final thoughts: Superb. While I’m not overly keen on KUSHIDA or Tanahashi winning their titles, I have no complaints about the quality of the matches, and hope that in Naito’s case it’ll mean he’s heading for Okada’s title. The overall standard was excellent, perhaps even better than Wrestle Kingdom, though I would probably recommend watching the whole thing in chunks rather than in one sitting. Highly recommended.
I’ll be back in three weeks for G1 US Specials. See you then.