Every January since 2011, NJPW and CMLL have co-promoted a series of shows in Japan. These are set apart from ongoing New Japan storylines for the most part, although there are typically several matches for CMLL titles. The last three shows of this year’s tour are being broadcast on NJPW World, two of which I’m covering here, with the final show happening tomorrow.
January 20th, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
We get two charro-suited ring announcers for these shows, one NJPW (Ozaki) and one CMLL (Ivan). They run down the card in Japanese and Spanish then alternately introduce the matches. The 20-count and ‘minutes passed’ announcements are also in Spanish.
Blue Panther Jr. & Henare vs. Ephesto & Will Ospreay
Even in the opener, Ospreay loves a dive, and he also engaged in plenty of trash talk. Henare continues to grow into his role as Nakanishi Jr. and Panther and Ephesto largely kept to themselves. Panther locked in the crazy submission on Ephesto for the win. A good, fast paced opener. **3/4
Jushin Thunder Liger, Soberano Jr. & Tiger Mask IV vs. Gedo, Jado & Raziel
Lots of comedy spots and lots of swearing from Gedo. The man would make a sailor blush. Tiger Mask in particular displayed quite a bit more than we usually see from him, and in the end Soberano Jr. pinned Raziel after a guillotine lionsault. **1/4
Máximo Sexy & Stuka Jr. vs. Hechicero & Okumura
Máximo Sexy tried to get referee Tiger Hattori to kiss him in exchange for his Heavyweight belt. Funny stuff. Crazy spot of the match came when Stuka Jr. stood on the top-rope then jumped backwards onto Okumura below(!), but Okumura replied by going after Stuka’s knee and pinned him with a reverse DDT. This was to set up the two singles matches on Saturday, which it did well, and post-match, rudos Hechicero & Okumura continued the attack. ***
Atlantis, David Finlay, Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito, Rush & SANADA)
Pre-match, the wife of Black Cat received flowers and said a few words. Black Cat died of a heart attack 11 years ago.
Taguchi was dressed like an Egyptian pharaoh, naturally. Rush targeted Atlantis ahead of Saturday’s singles match, ripping most of his mask off, then Kushida was singled out via nefarious means. Hot tag made, and Tanahashi, then Atlantis, then Finlay ran wild, before the match broke down. Finlay was left alone and succumbed to Evil’s STO for the three-count. Post-match, Rush snatched Atlantis’ replacement mask! Awful behaviour. Typically fun LIJ multi-man tag. ***1/4
Juice Robinson, Mistico, Volador Jr. vs. Euforia, Kazuchika Okada, Último Guerrero
Okada was rumored to be wearing a ‘King from Tekken’ inspired outfit, including mask, but that didn’t happen here. He did, appropriately given his teammates, heel it up quite a bit more than usual. Pairings of Último and Volador, Euforia and Mistico, and Okada and Juice, before the rudos took control. Juice eventually reversed a triple-team maneuver, which allowed the técnicos to hit dives. Back in, Okada interrupted a fantastic Último/Volador sequence to boos, then Euforia and Mistico showed more of what they’re capable of. Último caught Volador from a tope con hilo and powerbombed him on the floor, and in the ring Euforia trapped Mistico in the La Tapatía surfboard for the submission win. A tremendously enjoyable match and I can’t wait for the singles matches. Okada was great here too, feigning innocence at his own bad behavior. ***1/2
Titán vs. Hiromu Takahashi
After a sequence of avoided moves, Titán scored first with a suicide dive and ‘rana on the floor. He appeared to tweak his knee out of a tilt-a-whirl, and Hiromu took full advantage, locking in a modified figure-four before a rope-break. Titán succeeded in pulling Hiromu to the floor and followed with a top-rope asai moonsault and tope con hilo – still managing to sell the bad knee. Hip attack, reverse Death Valley Driver and a springboard splash for two. Up top, and a ‘rana to the outside didn’t exactly go as planned, then an exchange of pinning combinations led to Hiromu hitting the top-rope Victory Roll Driver for two. DVD into the buckle and the Time Bomb connected for the win. The effort was there, and there was a lot to like, but it didn’t quite click for me. Hard to put my finger on it. Lack of chemistry perhaps? ***1/4
CMLL World Lightweight Championship
Dragón Lee (c) vs. Bárbaro Cavernario
After an even first few minutes, Dragón Lee landed a suicide dive that wiped out a few audience members! Back in, Bárbaro replied with a powerslam, then hit a dive of his own (almost catching his feet in the ropes) followed by an apron powerbomb. A splash and wheelbarrow German connected for two, but Dragón Lee hit the always-impressive jumping apron ‘rana to regain control. Suplex from Dragón, then a hammerlock suplex from Bárbaro, who followed with a powerbomb into the exposed turnbuckle. Ouch. With Dragón Lee prone outside, Bárbaro climbed up top and hit a diving splash to the floor! Shotgun dropkick from Bárbaro, but he failed to capitalise and Dragón Lee connected with a double stomp while Bárbaro was hanging out over the apron! The same move attempted inside the ring was countered, then we got successive rope-breaks from submission attempts. They fought up top, where several headbutts allowed Dragón Lee to land the hanging double stomp for a two-count only! Bárbaro with a big clothesline, but Dragón Lee managed to hit a cradle Orange Crush for a near-fall! A messy reverse ‘rana from Bárbaro led to a strike exchange, won by Dragón Lee, who followed it a deadlift back suplex for the three-count. Seemed like Bárbaro legitimately hurt his arm somewhere near the end, hence a slightly flat finish, but still, an impressive effort by both men, and a strong main event. Bárbaro is sloppy, but it kinda works for the lucha caveman gimmick, so I may have enjoyed this more than most. ***3/4
Post-match, Hiromu Takahashi tried to blindside Dragón Lee, who had none of it and dumped him on his head. They meet at The New Beginning in Osaka on February 11th.
January 21st, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
Blue Panther Jr., Henare, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask vs. Ephesto, Gedo, Jado, Raziel
Plenty of comedy spots early on as the heels tried to avoid getting hit, but eventually Henare was caught out and beaten down. He made the hot tag, but the comeback was curtailed when Ephesto rolled-up Blue Panther Jr. for the three-count, getting his win back from yesterday. 50/50, baby! This was short but sweet, and Henare’s charisma, even in opening tags, become more pronounced by the show. **3/4
Stuka Jr. vs. Okumura
The crowd were way into this. They wrestled a solid and pacey match, with Stuka Jr. landing a very nice asai moonsault at the midpoint. Then Okumura’s ladyfriend (and former wrestler) Mima Shimoda interfered, and Stuka – the supposed babyface – attacked her on a couple of occasions, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. Stuka repeated Friday’s backwards dive to the outside then won the match with a splash to both “opponents”. **3/4
KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi & Soberano Jr. vs. Bárbaro Cavernario, Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay
I’ve decided that Okada doing comedy is the best thing in wrestling. Taguchi continued his pharaoh/mummy thing, and Okada drew some ironic heat by ripping off his eye mask. We got brief reminder of the excellent chemistry between KUSHIDA and Ospreay, then a meta moment where Okada and Bárbaro discussed how they would collide in-ring. Eventually, Bárbaro caught Soberano Jr. in a surfboard for the submission win, and the victors danced with Bárbaro’s toy monkey. Yes, that actually happened. Lots of genuinely funny work here. ***1/4
David Finlay, Dragón Lee, Juice Robinson, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Titán vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Hiromu Takahashi)
The early minutes saw the juniors of the match interacting, before LIJ made the numbers count. Hot tag made to Juice, after Tanahashi had spent a few minutes on the wrong end of Naito and Hiromu, then a short but high quality preview of the latter vs. Dragón Lee. A parade of one-on-ones culminated in Finlay receiving a sneaky chairshot from Evil and Sanada making him tap with the Dragon Sleeper. It’s interesting to see Juice, who’s challenging Goto for the NEVER title in a few weeks, get the shine over Tanahashi, who was barely featured. I love watching full-strength Los Ingobernables de Japón do their thing, and they outsmarted Tana & Co. for the second night running. ***1/4
Mistico & Volador Jr. vs. Euforia & Último Guerrero
More build for tomorrow’s Mistico/Euforia and Volador Jr./Último Guerrero singles matches. After Guerrero and Euforia threatened a walkout they were flattened by stereo dives, and after the rudos briely regained control, Mistico and Volador nailed a couple of incredible ‘ranas, leaping over the top-rope rope and catching their opponents on the floor outside. Euforia soon had Volador at his mercy, however, then Guerrero landed a second-rope gourdbuster for two. A second-rope powerbomb got the same result before Volador hit back with a super hurricanrana. A deadlift superplex from Guerrero ended the comeback, and after a brief interruption, a reverse superplex put Volador down for the three-count. I kept expecting the hot tag, but it never came. An annihilation. Tomorrow’s matches should be very good. ***1/2
Atlantis vs. Rush
Rush attacked before the bell, naturally, and collapsed the announce table by slamming Atlantis’ head into it. The Naito-style dive fake-out came next, but then Atlantis did land a suicide dive and both men threw a chair at the other’s head. Back in, a ‘rana from Atlantis got two, then belly-to-belly and northern light suplexes from Rush got the same. Rush stayed on top as Atlantis bled heavily from his head and through his mask, then Atlantis scored with a top-rope dive to the outside and again used a chair. A trio of tilt-a-whirl backbreakers earned two, but then, with the referee distracted, Naito and Bushi interfered. Superkick, double underhook pildriver, one, two three. Rush is a great brawler, but I didn’t expect Atlantis to match him, especially at the age of 54! Great intensity throughout. ***1/2
Los Ingobernables continued the attack post-match before Atlantis was piggybacked out of Korakuen.
CMLL Heavyweight Championship
Máximo Sexy (c) vs. Hechicero
Máximo is camp, overly handsy and pink of hair. So, yes, it’s not a subtle gimmick, but he’s definitely over. He’s also a tubby guy who can kip up like Will Ospreay. After Hechicero worked over him for a while, Máximo struck back with a head-first suicide dive and then a rope-climbing armdrag in the ring, but a second-rope dropkick earned Hechicero a two-count. After some back-and-forth, Máximo landed an impressive rope-walk flipping senton to the floor, but Hechicero replied immediately with a muscle buster out of the corner. In a funny moment, Máximo twice “accidentally” kissed the referee, then nailed a ‘rana with both men stood on the middle-rope and retained his belt moments later. I didn’t get much out of this beyond Máximo’s antics and if there’s something title challenger-worthy about Hechicero, I didn’t see it here. Too much tit-for-tat with very little in the way of rhythm. A bit disappointing. **3/4
Final thoughts: Lots to enjoy here. Nothing extraordinary from a match quality point of view, but these shows are a blast, and with a running time of two hours each (minus the intermission) they’re an easy watch.