NJPW 45th Anniversary Review

March 6th, 19:00 from Ota City General Gymnasium, Tokyo

In this venue exactly 45 years ago, NJPW ran its debut show headlined by Antonio Inoki vs. Karl Gotch. Today’s anniversary memorial show is topped by Kazuchika Okada vs. the mysterious Tiger Mask W, and elsewhere features Hiromu Takahashi defending his Junior title against Taguchi, both tag titles on the line, and the debut of Zack Sabre Jr. in a Rev Pro title match against Shibata.

Unfortunately, Tomoaki Honma sustained a cervical vertebrae injury on March 3rd, after a rope-hung DDT went wrong and required him to be rushed to hospital. As of this review, per Nikkan Sports, Honma is able to lift his arms and grip objects. He can also move his lower extremities and has vowed to return to the ring. Since Togi Makabe declined to find a new partner, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima will now compete for the IWGP tag titles.

Here we go…

Pre-show match: Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tomoyuki Oka

Oka survived Nakanishi’s barrage of stiff chops to launch a comeback, impressing the crowd with a belly-to-belly suplex for a two-count, but Nakanishi soon put the young lion in his place with a lariat. The torture rack got the submission win moments later. Nothing to see here. *1/2

Excellent video package to start, running through some of the most significant moments in the promotion’s history. Really cool to see.

CHAOS (Jado, Gedo, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) vs. Suzuki-gun (TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Minoru Suzuki)

CHAOS claimed a brief early advantage despite a sneak attack, but Suzuki initiated the turning of the tide and Gedo was soon isolated. A low dropkick to Suzuki enabled the tag to Goto, but he too found himself at the mercy of the sadistic Suzuki, eventually blocking the piledriver attempt to land an ushigoroshi and bring Yoshi-Hashi into the match. Again the numbers overwhelmed CHAOS, but this time Yoshi-Hashi was able to take out Suzuki and applied the Butterfly Lock to legal man Taka for the tap out win. Solid opener and Yoshi-Hashi’s submission finisher is further established heading into the New Japan Cup. **1/2

David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Yuji Nagata & Togi Makabe vs. Bullet Club (Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga, Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale & Kenny Omega)

Tiger initally deterred Yujiro and Tama, but age-old cheating techniques allowed Bullet Club to take control and the whole team got a turn beating him down. A nice run-up super armdrag led to the hot tag, and Togi Makabe ran wild. The momentum was halted, but then Nagata came in for a back-and-forth with Tama and cinched in the Shirome armbar much to the crowd’s delight. Finlay was in, but had no luck with Fale, and a procession of corner splashes was followed by Kenny slamming all his teammates onto Finlay – that is until he tried it with Fale and got flattened. With the ring cleared, Fale nailed Finlay with the Grenade for the three-count. Hot crowd for this one and Bullet Club looked good, fresher and more motivated than has been the case in a while. ***

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship

Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Baretta) (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi)

Taichi’s entrance is ridiculous, but this is pro wrestling so why fight it? Roppongi Vice were attacked during their entrance, and despite a short respite, Romero found himself on the wrong end of a beating and a ringbell hammer. Baretta was in after a mix-up and landed the tornado DDT, then he and Romero nailed stereo suicide dives and kick combo for a two-count. Tags made, and Kanemaru and Romero faced-off with elbow strikes, with the latter looking good on offence before the double-team Contract Killer connected for a near-fall. The attempted Strong Zero was blocked and countered, and with the referee taken out Taichi hit both opponents with a title belt, and a powerbomb followed by Kanemaru’s Deep Impact diving DDT was more than enough to give Suzuki-gun the win and the titles. This wasn’t anything special, but we do get the first all-Japanese team to hold the junior tag belts in some years. **1/2

Post-match, Jado & Gedo – CHAOS brethren of Roppongi Vice – were out to chase off Suzuki-gun.

Revolution Pro Wrestling British Heavyweight Championship

Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Shibata’s father, Katsuhisa, wrestled on NJPW’s first-ever show in 1972, which adds some pleasing historical significance to this match.

They grappled for an advantage which neither was able to claim, both transitioning in and out of holds before separating. Shibata’s straitjacket hold was the first real success, but Sabre wriggled out to counter, then Shibata’s attempt at a kick missed the mark. Shibata decided to switch to strikes then, but Sabre matched him then got to work on the champ’s taped-up shoulder, wrenching it almost out of joint. Sabre flicked dismissive kicks, which didn’t impress Shibata and he fought back with elbows and the corner dropkick. Hatch suplex for two, and the Octopus Hold was briefly applied before Sabre grabbed the triangle hold and transitioned into the Jim Breaks Special, yanking at Shibata’s arm until he just made the ropes. Boots back-and-forth, German suplex from Shibata for two. Leg roll clutch twice from Sabre for a pair of near-falls. Leg-trap German from Shibata for two, and the Sleeper was cinched in. Sleeper suplex! Back into the Sleeper, but Minoru Suzuki was out for the distraction. Uh oh. Shibata kicked him (and the referee) from the apron, but Davey Boy interjected and Sabre Jr. gladly accepted the help to nail the Penalty Kick, win the Rev Pro title and join Suzuki-gun! Wow. Great match. Obviously a clean finish would’ve been nice and all, but Sabre actually joining Suzuki-gun sold me on it and added a good deal of heat to what had already been a fun encounter. ****

Post-match promo from Suzuki and Sabre puts on the Suzuki-gun t-shirt to confirm his allegiance and cement the heel turn.

IWGP Tag Team Championship

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (c) vs. TenKoji (Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan)

Tenzan didn’t get far with Yano’s antics, so in came Kojima and Ishii for an infinite elbow battle. A powerslam gave Ishii the advantage and an irish whip into the padless turnbuckle kept the champions in control. A huge chop from Ishii floored Kojima and Yano delivered several more whips to the corner to stay on top. Eventually, Kojima got the better of Ishii and spiked him with a DDT to bring Tenzan into the match. Mongolian chops, a suplex and a mountain bomb earned a two-count, but Ishii’s headbutts proved more effective. Kojima was tagged back in for machine gun chops and delivered a Kokeshi in tribute to the injured Honma. Koji Cutter to Yano and suddenly all hell broke loose. A couple of roll-ups nearly gave Yano the win, but Tenkoji survived to hit the 3D, then, with Ishii tied up in the Anaconda Vice, Kojima delivered the Western Lariat for the three-count! New champs! The match was decent enough, with the last few minutes being particularly good. Three for three with title changes so far and I don’t mind this one at all. Clearly plans changed and this was as happy an ending as could be delivered at present, especially considering the circumstances. ***1/4

TenKoji were joined by Manabu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata to celebrate in a nice moment.

KUSHIDA, Juice Robinson, Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)

Tanahashi was the object of LIJ’s attention in the opening minutes, and EVIL – his opponent in the New Japan Cup – got the better of him for the most part. Elgin came in to ragdoll Sanada, with a Falcon Arrow earning two, but the attempted bucklebomb was countered to a ‘rana, then Kushida and Sanada made me hope for a singles match in the near-future. Juice got the better of Bushi and our heroes targeted the little guy until he hit back with a Codebreaker and Naito was tagged in. Juice levelled him with a clothesline, but LIJ were on top after a parade of signature moves and Naito put Juice down for the three-count with a definitive Destino. Not one of the better LIJ tags, but still a fun and easy watch. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi

Hiromu scrambled away from attempted ankle holds before mocking Taguchi with a hip attack and ass-based dive fake-out. The sunset flip powerbomb to the outside was blocked though, and Taguchi struck with a hip attack from the apron. Hiromu replied with a cloverleaf catapult to wrench Taguchi’s back, then sent Taguchi to the outside where he connected with an apron dropkick. A hard running knee and single leg crab continued to work the back, and a series of hip attacks landed before Taguchi hit back with a springboard version. Blue Thunder Bomb from Taguchi, but Hiromu nailed a pop-up powerbomb off a charge to put both men down. Up top, and the Victory Roll Driver connected to earn Hiromu a two-count, then he laid in slaps and Taguchi angrily replied in kind, getting the better of the exchange before nailing a dropkick. Dodon! Two-count only. The ankle hold didn’t keep Hiromu down and the follow-up Dodon’s Curse was blocked, but a gordbuster earned Taguchi another two-count. His frog splash attempt hit the knees and a belly-to-belly into the turnbuckle stopped the rot for Hiromu, but the modified Time Bomb was only good for a two-count. DVD into the buckle, Time Bomb… countered into the ankle lock by Taguchi! Nicely done. Taguchi hammered away at the ankle, and cranked the hold, but Hiromu was just able to make the ropes. Tiger suplex from Taguchi, who then shrugged off a German to land a huge lariat for 2.9! The argentine backbreaker was countered to a roll-through and Hiromu landed side kicks and a lariat for a near-fall. DVD into the buckle once more and this time the Time Bomb connected to give Hiromu the win. It took a while to get going, but the crowd were into it the whole time, and the slow build paid off handsomely. I enjoyed the story of Hiromu insolently mocking Taguchi only to anger him to the point where he only just escaped with the title. A very good match. ****

Post-match, Kushida was out to challenge for a rematch. It’s on.

45th Anniversary Memorial Day Match

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tiger Mask W

An even opening exchange culminated in stereo missed dropkicks and a stand off, with big support for Tiger. A standing twisting press landed for Tiger, but Okada dropkicked him to the outside before kicking him over the barrier and following with a crossbody. Back in, a neckbreaker got two and the straitjacket hold forced Tiger to the ropes, then Okada delivered a senton atomic and cinched in a chinlock. A flying cross chop and a trio of high kicks from Tiger got him back into it, and a frankensteiner sent Okada outside. Top-rope triangle moonsault! Beautiful springboard dropkick for two. A DDT and leaping elbow turned the match back in Okada’s favour, but Tiger hit a very nice dropkick before Okada countered into the reverse neckbreaker to put both men down. The Dropkick missed, but Tiger’s standing moonsault hit the knees, and Okada transitioned into Red Ink before Tiger inched his way to a rope break. The diving elbow connected and the Rainmaker was signalled, but it was countered into a gorgeous German suplex for two. Strike combo, powerslam and springboard moonsault from Tiger for a near-fall. Okada blocked the Tiger suplex, then Tiger blocked the tombstone and levelled Okada with a head kick!

They fought up from the knees with elbows until Okada floored his opponent, then disrespectfully stomped and slapped him. Tiger Mask replied with a huge slap and palm strikes, pushing referee Red Shoes aside to nail a series of close fists! Won’t somebody think of the children? Okada retaliated with The Dropkick, but Tiger ducked the Rainmaker to hit a pair of Rainmaker-style kicks! Sit-out Last Ride! One, two… no! Okada desperately avoided the Tiger Driver, so Tiger lifted him up top. Okada blocked the springboard ‘rana and looked to hit a super tombstone(!) but Tiger wriggled free for a Pele Kick. Back up, both men on top, SUPER TIGER DRIVER! 2.999! Oh my word. Okada flipped out of the follow-up Tiger Driver to nail the Rainmaker and held onto the wrist to hit a second! The unnecessary third was ducked, but Tiger’s crossbody out of the corner was caught and turned into a German suplex. A final Rainmaker smashed Tiger Mask to the mat and the three-count was academic. Fantastic match. I loved the straightforwardness of the build and the steady increase in intensity towards a hell of a closing stretch. Okada’s delivering monthly MOTY candidates and long may it continue. ****1/2

Post-match, Okada offered a handshake but Tiger collapsed before accepting. Promo from Gedo and Okada and we’re out!

Final thoughts: Three great matches and a bunch of good ones make this an easy thumbs up. Zack Sabre Jr.’s debut was a big success and joining Suzuki-gun was a nice twist that came as a total surprise to me. Coupled with the junior tag title win, the group has regained some shine. The main event could’ve easily fallen flat – despite the quality of the man under the mask, Tiger Mask W has so far only appeared in a couple of opening matches – but they absolutely nailed it. Good, good stuff.

The New Japan Cup begins on Saturday and I’ll be back on Sunday for a review of the whole of Round One. See you then.