July 2nd, 17:00 from Long Beach Convention Center, California
The second of two shows in Long Beach sees the junior tag titles defended, the semi-finals and final of a tournament to determine the first-ever IWGP US champion, and Billy Gunn’s attempt to take the Intercontinental title from Hiroshi Tanahashi. Let’s get to it.
Here we go…
Jushin Thunder Liger, David Finlay & KUSHIDA vs. Yoshi Tatsu, Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka
Komatsu and Tanaka were given an ample share of the spotlight here and used it to isolate first Liger and then Kushida with their tag team continuity. After that, Tatsu and Finlay went at it, with special disdain from the crowd reserved for the former. Tatsu attempted the Pedigree, but it was blocked, and with his teammates also tied up in submission moves, Finlay forced him to tap with the Stretch Muffler. Solid, energetic opener. **1/2
IWGP US Championship tournament semi-final
Kenny Omega vs. Jay Lethal
Omega went straight at Lethal’s taped ribs with kicks, then drove him onto the apron with a front suplex. A crossbody was missed and Lethal rolled-through the One-Winged Angel, hit the Lethal Injection, and followed with three suicide dives! A diving elbow earned two and the figure-four was briefly applied before Lethal continued to work the leg. A second Lethal Injection was countered to a lungblower and that allowed Omega to refocus his attention on the ribs, driving knee shots into them for two. The leapfrog bulldog was nicely countered into a Blue Thunder Bomb, but Omega bounced back with a Snapdragon Suplex, Cross-legged Ushigoroshi and series of jumping knee strikes for a near-fall. Deadlift Doctor Bomb – two-count only. Another brutal knee allowed Omega to lift Lethal to his shoulders, and despite a reversal attempt, the One-Winged Angel connected to put Omega through to the final. Strong match here, with straightforward and consistent psychology, good intensity and likely Lethal’s best singles performance in a New Japan ring. ***3/4
IWGP US Championship tournament semi-final
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Sabre Jr. was twice floored by an elbow after attempting some uppercuts of his own, then he foolishly tried to headbutt Ishii, who punished him with chops. Sabre Jr. found an opening to work Ishii’s left arm, however, and a coil lock wrenched the shoulder, forcing Ishii to resort to a spitwad and nasty headbutt to take the advantage back. Up top, Ishii fought hard to land a delayed superplex for two, but Sabre Jr. landed a Northern Lights suplex into a double-wristlock which had the Stone Pitbull scrambling to the ropes. A nasty wristlock was met with a backdrop, but Sabre Jr. countered into the European Clutch for two. Despite receiving a headbutt to the chest, Sabre Jr.’s countered the sliding lariat into a brutal looking grapevined submission, from which Ishii just (just) made the ropes. Ishii replied to kicks with a brutal elbow, but Sabre Jr. jumped back on with a deep double-wristlock. He followed with a Penalty Kick, but Ishii immediately popped up and hit back with a huge lariat! Brainbuster! One, two, three and Ishii’s in the final. Loved this. Both men are standouts in their styles and what might’ve been a clash actually meshed brilliantly. Can’t wait to see it again in the G1. ****1/4
Juice Robinson, Jay White, Volador Jr., Dragon Lee & Titan vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & Tetsuya Naito)
Naito teased Volador to start, but the CMLL man got the better of Hiromu and Bushi who were next to enter, then Titan found himself outnumbered and LIJ initiated a big brawl around the ring. Sanada tied both Titan and Juice in the Paradise Lock, then Naito landed a low dropkick for two. Titan eventually fired back to make the tag to Juice, who ran wild on offence, nailing a pair of cannonballs before being crotched on the top-rope. Dragon Lee and Hiromu were in next for a fantastic sequence, culminating in Hiromu’s belly-to-belly to the buckle, then White and Evil faced-off. White was missile dropkicked by Bushi and LIJ rushed the ring to isolate the New Zealander, then a parade of signatures allowed Titan to land a top-rope asai moonsault, while White nailed Bushi with a Rock Bottom and twisting flatliner for the win. ***
Michael Elgin, Hanson & Raymond Rowe vs. Bullet Club (Hangman Page, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
Bullet Club were accompanied by Chase Owens and walked to ring by none other than Haku! The big men got by far the better of the opening minutes, with several displays of power and teamwork keeping them in control, but it was Tama Tonga’s speed which turned the tide, with Hanson’s beard proving a useful leash by which to control him. A mistake allowed Elgin to squash Page with a slingshot splash and, after dispatching GOD, a Falcon Arrow earned two. Page was then saved by his teammates after a double-team, War Machine’s Fallout was blocked, and GOD dealt with Elgin, but Hanson flattened them with a rolling senton from the top. After Rowe rallied, Page flipped in with a lariat then spiked him with the Rite of Passage piledriver for the win. Standard fare. **3/4
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Baretta & Rocky Romero)
Matt quickly went for the sharpshooter on Romero, the move which brought them the titles at Dominion, then missed sentons and dropkicks all round eventually led to a brief run from Roppongi Vice. Nick was assisted in a very nice springboard moonsault to both opponents on the outside and from there the Bucks took control of Romero. A swanton hit the knees, but the tag was prevented when Matt pulled Baretta from the apron and powerbombed him on the ramp! Romero was hit with an apron-hung swanton for a two-count then the beatdown continued until Romero freed himself from the Indytaker only to find there was no-one in his corner. A double clothesline ensured that the hot tag was finally made, but Baretta’s run was cut short by a buckle bomb and Romero was powerbombed onto his partner’s back, then the Bucks smartly nailed a 450 and moonsault to Baretta’s back, but somehow only got two.
The sharpshooter was cinched in, and things looked bad, but Romero saved his partner with a springboard dropkick, then a jumping knee Doomsday Device from the apron got rid of Matt and Baretta spiked Nick on the apron with a piledriver! Back in, Baretta nailed a Gotch-style Piledriver – two-count only! Romero got rid of Matt and then Nick was crunched with Strong Zero but he kicked out again! Romero went for a suicide dive, but was caught by Matt and Nick came flying off the ropes for a Meltzer Driver to the floor! Back in, Baretta took superkicks to the back, then Romero suffered another Meltzer Driver and a final sharpshooter forced him to tap! The Bucks retain.
Post-match, Ricochet appeared and took out the Bucks with a tope con hilo before challenging for the titles with his coach, Ryusuke Taguchi! After that, Romero got on the mic and listed Roppongi Vice’s accomplishments before saying he thinks it’s time they call it a day and giving Baretta his blessing to compete as a heavyweight on his own. A fantastic end to their story over the past year.
As for the match, well, they weren’t helped by the camerawork/direction, which was awful throughout and missed several key moments. The call-backs were nicely done and it felt suitably definitive as a closing chapter, but while I enjoyed it, I felt it was the lesser of their three encounters this year. ***1/2
Bullet Club (Cody, Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale) vs. Mark Briscoe, Jay Briscoe, Will Ospreay & Kazuchika Okada
Mark and Marty had an amusing opening sequence, then Cody’s indecision led to a “We Want Fale!” chant (which is a first), then a Yujiro chant(!), then it all got very silly – not that I minded. Eventually, Jay and Cody faced-off and the match began in earnest. Ospreay got a moment to shine then, but Cody did his best luchador impression with a hop-up armdrag and Bullet Club rushed the ring. After some hip-swivelling antics, Scurll and Ospreay went at it, then Jay got the better of Yujiro. Okada and Fale were next, with Okada able to use the big man’s momentum to land a scoop slam! Ospreay nailed a counter-stunner to Cody, but Scurll’s sickening finger break set off a chain of offence all-round, culminating in Scurll using his umbrella to counter Okada’s Rainmaker and Cody nailing the champ with the Beautiful Disaster. Ospreay scored a Sasuke Special, but upon re-entering the ring was caught by Cody’s Cross Rhodes to give Bullet Club the win. A bit of fun to pick the crowd up and it did the job. ***
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Billy Gunn
Gunn used his height and strength advantage initially before Tanahashi was able to work a side headlock to ground his opponent. A back suplex from Gunn broke the hold and he proceeded to target Tanahashi’s injured arm, wrapping it around the ringpost and over the guardrail. Back in, Gunn’s Jackhammer earned two and a side kick floored the former Ace, but Tanahashi reclaimed the advantage by pulling down Gunn’s trunks. That didn’t last long, though, and Gunn returned the ass-exposing favour, following-up with a cobra clutch slam for a two-count. Tanahashi hit back with a neckbreaker, but the High Fly Flow missed the mark and Gunn nailed the Fameasser! One, two, no! Gunn demanded Tanahashi “Suck It!” but instead got a slap and a Sling Blade for his arrogance. High Fly Flow for the win and Tanahashi retains!
Both men seemed to be moving through treacle, but it wasn’t the disaster I feared it might be. It was basic, certainly, but effective. Has to be said, Tanahashi really isn’t looking so good at the moment and I hope he’s somewhat protected during the G1. **1/2
IWGP US Championship tournament final
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
After both men dodged the other’s moves, Omega decided to slap Ishii’s head and pepper him with kicks, but Ishii soon tired of that and dumped Omega with a suplex. Outside, Ishii chopped his opponent out into the crowd, but when they made it back to ringside he was suplexed onto the floor by Omega. Back in, Ishii took control again with strikes. Omega did his best to hang on, returning in kind when able, but got caught with a powerslam. Omega spiked Ishii with a DDT to turn the tide and the Finlay Roll/moonsault combo earned two before he sent Ishii to the floor with a leapfrog bulldog and followed with a tope con hilo!
Omega feigned injury to allow the Bucks to set-up a table, then, fully fit, nailed Ishii on the back of the head with a missile dropkick. He pummelled Ishii in the corner and landed a ‘rana to quell a comeback, then they fought on the apron, perilously close to the table, with Ishii biting the top-rope to block the Dragon Suplex. Omega persisted, however, and found the strength to dump Ishii on his head and through the table! Somehow Ishii broke the count, but was brutalised with several knee strikes from Omega for a near-fall. He managed to counter the One-Winged Angel to a DDT, then nailed a lariat and both men were down. Up top, Ishii scored a top-rope superplex and dragged himself over for the cover, but it only got two, and then it was Main Event Chop Battle time. V-Trigger from Omega! Lariat from Ishii – two-count only! Brainbuster from Omega for two. Ishii brushed off a German and the sliding lariat landed for another two-count. One-Winged Angel from Ishii! 2.9! Wow. And another brutal knee floored Ishii.
Both men staggered into strikes, with Omega’s palm thrust setting up the Cross-legged Ushigoroshi. Snapdragon Suplex, V-Trigger, one-count only! Ishii wouldn’t stay down, even after a reverse frankensteiner, so Omega lifted him, clasped the wrist and spiked him to the mat with the One-Winged Angel. One, two, three! Kenny Omega is the inaugural IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion!
Post-match, Cody snatched the title from Omega… then hugged him and put the belt around his waist. All of Bullet Club came out and they lifted Kenny onto their shoulders to celebrate. Omega gave a babyface promo to close the show and promised New Japan would be back with an even bigger show next year. The match was very good indeed – at least on par with their previous bouts this year, which is really something after the weekend they’ve had. Would’ve been nice to see the armwork from earlier in the evening paid off, but it’s not like that impeded my enjoyment. ****1/2
Final thoughts: First off, this was a looong show and it felt like it. The card didn’t build in as purposeful a manner as most Japanese shows and that meant the multi-man tags in particular were a slog. Seven matches on each night would’ve been plenty and I’d have focused more on the native talent of New Japan than guys who are regular faces in the US. That said, the junior tag title match delivered a satisfying end to one of my favourite pieces of character booking over the last year and the tournament matches were all good to great, with Ishii and Omega delivering amazing performances over the two nights – the final was an especially impressive feat given what had come before.
I’ll be back with a G1 Climax Primer soon ahead of the mammoth tournament to come. See you then.