Arnold Furious: June 11, 2017. We’re in Osaka at Osaka-Jo Hall. The English language commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis. I’m reasonably happy with this team. It’s panning out better than any other combination they’ve used to date. Got to be better than Matt Striker right? Perhaps Steve Corino was a little better than Callis but Don makes this feel like a unique team, not just ‘let’s get ROH guys to do it’. Highlights today should include KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Goto vs. Mi-Su in a lumberjack death match, Naito-Tanahashi and Okada-Omega II.
Jushin Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tiger Mask W, Yuji Nagata, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask IV
The Dads division is in full force here. Plus several wild animals. It’s pretty wild that NJPW are still treating Tiger Mask W like he’s some new wrestler that belongs in opening matches, after battling Okada at the Anniversary show. These guys wrestle each other all the time so it’s an easy match to put together, apart from Makabe failing to get in position for a Nakanishi spear and the big man having to run the ropes again. It causes a chuckle amongst the crowd who know exactly what happened but it’s fairly embarrassing. Togi hits the King Kong Kneedrop on the big man to get the W. Not Tiger Mask, but the Win. This was fine. It always is.
Final Rating: **1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship Gauntlet
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI)
The New Japan cameraman is virtually gynaecological in trying to get a shot of Yujiro’s lady. The camera can barely find Fale for his introduction because it’s too busy gawking. “Don’t be such a perve” sayeth Kelly when Callis attempts the same. The match is ok, like the opener, with everything ticking over nicely at a decent speed. There are a lot of different characters and styles involved and it being the first match in a gauntlet series it has to be fast-paced. Yano pulls out the win by cheating. The Sublime Master Thief!
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi)
Sabre pins Yano with superior grappling and SKG advance in a matter of seconds.
Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi) vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson)
Taguchi Japan do a lot of goofy sports stuff to pop the Japanese commentary team. Sabre organises similar abuse and the crowd refuse to pop the heels. Quite right too. I’m proud of you, Osaka. I’m quite happy to see Sabre wrestle any of these guys and whenever he’s in there it’s a solid match. He wrestles most of it, which is fine by me. He should never tag out. They work in a really, really obvious ‘grab the ref’ spot but SKG f*ck up and Juice hits Pulp Friction for the pin. Sabre punishes Juice for this infraction, softening him up for LIJ.
Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
LIJ are the incumbent champions so this should be the last match. Ricochet does some very cool stuff with kicks in the early going. Young Rico then gets f*ck*d up attempting to add a powerbomb to a Tower of Doom spot. Sometimes you get what you deserve, Mr Fancypants. The match continues at a fantastic pace with BUSHI isolated as the weak link in the LIJ team. This backfires because LIJ are a far superior team. Taguchi is triple teamed and the MX finishes.
Final Rating: ***1/2
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (c) vs. The Young Bucks
The Bucks are going for their sixth IWGP junior championships. The Bucks look to eliminate Romero, with an assortment of abuse on the apron (it’s the hardest part of the ring) before relying on double teams to dismantle Trent. The Bucks continually destroy Rocky on the outside so Beretta has no one to tag. The match is a procession of Bucks offence, leaving Beretta with a series of desperation kick-outs. It’s bizarre to see the Bucks have an old school tag match, based entirely around heat and storyline. With a few less flips it’s the structure of a match from the 1980s. Romero finally returns for Strong Zero only for Nick to kill Beretta in the pin with a Swanton Bomb. It’s one the best ‘break up a pin’ spots you’ll ever see. The work on Romero’s back helps to set up some lovely near finishes. It’s a well-planned match and Romero’s crowd support allows them to tell this story. His heroic comebacks are interspersed with the Bucks killing him again. Eventually Romero, trapped in the Sharpshooter, taps out. This was one of the most logical, smartly worked Young Bucks matches you’ll ever see. It was tremendous work throughout.
Final Rating: ***3/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
I’ve been somewhat critical of how companies book War Machine. It’s a simple process; they dominate and the other team makes them look good. Then when they eventually do lose it means something. You get over on them by cheating. This is so simple. It doesn’t happen here. GOD work heat and it’s all badly planned. Tanga especially as he tries to no sell. Tanga wants to be more important than he is. He’s not a star. He never will be. There are moments where they get the match right, with War Machine looking dominant but it’s almost immediately followed by Tanga doing something awful and nonsensical. Tama on the other hand is all sneaky in how he attacks and his stuff makes sense. I’m fine with it. He also knows when to take a thrashing off the champs. Tanga looks confused at times, lost at others and can’t match the standard set by everyone else. It ends up being a match where Tama Tonga has to carry everything and cover for his brothers ineptitude. As a team they are nowhere near as good as War Machine but Tama has some awesome ideas, like catching a Gun Stun in the middle of a double team. Most of the action is fine but the booking sucks. Guerrilla Warfare finishes after a bullshit referee bump and a chair shot. That might have been a forced change if New Japan aren’t using War Machine again but Gedo’s style of booking a tag division is to continually switch the belts.
Final Rating: **3/4
Michael Elgin vs. Cody Rhodes
Cody does a lot of posing and basic heel stuff while Elgin meets him with raw power. My main issue with this match is that Cody has so many fresh matches in Japan and they keep booking him against other gaijin. I don’t know if that’s just an issue with Cody not being able to communicate with the Japanese talent or wanting to ease himself into the promotion or what. Cody is particularly good at giving stuff room to breathe, which comes from working in WWE. He knows when to stop and pose. He perhaps does this too often, although he is working heel so it’s his job to control the pace. Is lack of drive in that department hurts the reactions though and Elgin doesn’t get those same massive pops that he usually receives. Elgin throws Cody around with his effortless power. Pound for pound he’s probably the strongest man in NJPW. Elgin’s dead lift superplex from off the apron is unreal. Cody picks up the big shock win with Crossroads. Looks like New Japan are very serious about pushing Rhodes as a top talent in their promotion, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Gedo likes Western wrestling. “Okada…let him know” says Cody to the English commentary.
Final Rating: ***
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Hiromu beat KUSHIDA in less than two minutes the last time they wrestled but KUSHIDA has gone through Best of the Super Juniors to claim another title shot and gained a new finisher. But then Hiromu has a new entrance, inspired by Rey Mysterio. The intensity of this battle is there from the opening bell and KUSHIDA outdoes his previous performance. Hiromu has a delightfully violent and dangerous style, which results in KUSHIDA getting thrown around. Hiromu’s ‘antics’ over the course of the week have got in KUSHIDA’s head! KUSHIDA’s response is a Sabu-esque chair assisted dropkick that puts Hiromu through a rail. It’s a vicious spot and it helps KUSHIDA on his path of chasing Hiromu’s arm to get the submission. KUSHIDA once again does something completely sick with the Hoverboard Lock off the top takedown. However Hiromu refuses to give up and instead murders KUSHIDA with a sunset bomb to the floor. This match is insane. Hiromu has been on a tear this year and KUSHIDA’s BOSJ performance was fantastic. Now they’re having this sick match. Which features the Back to the Future off the top, Hiromu not killing himself with the bump as much as Ospreay did but it still causing a lengthy double knock down. KUSHIDA gets a lot of heat for a) punching and b) stomping on Hiromu’s face. Hey, he’s been met with dangerous and he has to respond with violence. That’s all there is to it. KUSHIDA brutalises Hiromu’s arm, bending the wrist back, and Takahashi has no choice but to tap out. This was amazing. The crazy high spots, the psychology, the revenge, the catharsis, the potential for another match! The Junior division has been solid ever since KUSHIDA rose to the top of it and Hiromu has taken the standard even higher. This was all kinds of great.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post-match: KUSHIDA gets a Mexican wave going and BUSHI jumps him from behind.
Lumberjack Death Match
NEVER Openweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Having a lumberjack match means that CHAOS can actually offset the standard SKG interference. I normally don’t care for lumberjack matches, because they’re meaningless unless a guy keeps getting counted out during a feud, but at least it keeps the interference as part of the match. The match struggles along until Suzuki goes after Liger, who’s on commentary, and they almost get into a fight. Suzuki matches are generally great, because of his intensity, but Goto is a flat, bland character so this one falls flat. It’s not a bad match but it lacks the passion and excitement of the previous match. Goto very rarely gets the crowd fired up. In a match designed to eliminate SKG interference they still manage to insert a ref bump and have Suzuki-gun run in. Only to get single-handedly beaten down by YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI! That’s how shit SKG are. Goto has it won clean with GTR but Taichi pulls the ref out. Suzuki then hits the Gotch Piledriver to retain. Typical ‘big match’ failure from Goto. Horrible match choice, bad structure, two pointless ref bumps and Taichi is the finish. At least YOSHI-HASHI looked like a total badass during this. So while this was a poor match at least it gets us to Suzuki vs. YOSHI-HASHI.
Final Rating: **1/4
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Osaka hated Naito as a babyface. Now he’s a heel the crowd are cheering for him. Such is life. Nice guys finish last. With Naito in his plum suit and Tanahashi in his robes, it’s like a battle of a supervillain and hero. As Naito starts to get some heat he comes to life. Naito is fun as a heel who people cheer but when he gets heat and gets angry about it, that’s peak Ingobernable. Tana comes in with a torn bicep, the latest in a string of injuries for the former ace. Naito, predictably, works the arm and illicits a very strong response from Osaka. It’s the best building for Naito because they always react strongly toward him. Tanahashi, when triggered, can become a total dick and Naito has a habit of triggering people. Naito’s latest way to irritate people is his treatment of the IC title but it has a specific purpose. Naito thinks there are too many belts and want New Japan to ditch it so he’s literally destroying the title belt to make it worthless. Naito comes in with a sneakily taped up knee, which Tana goes after when Naito is so relentless at working his injured arm. Thus is becomes a battle of injured limbs and Tanahashi is hurt worse.
It’s tough to watch because there’s a fine line between Tanahashi rolling around selling and Tanahashi being legitimately hurt. Tana’s injury means his bumps are a little awkward at times, which is a concern. The tornado DDT looks downright dangerous. The match starts to get really heated when they just f*ck off the injury angles and start popping off the big spots, leaving the crowd in a constantly unsettled state (like a lucha crowd). The finish is really weird as Tanahashi fails to score three of the High Fly Flow and switches to a high Cloverleaf until Naito simply taps out.
It’s a curious finish as it felt like a rest hold prior to the actual finishing stretch. But it does make logical sense as Tana spent the whole match working the leg. There was a nice tip of the hat to Nakamura right before the High Fly Flow. He promised Shinsuke he’d become the IC ace and here he is.
Final Rating: ****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
This is a much hyped re-match to Wrestle Kingdom’s *****(*) contest. That match went north of 45 minutes and there is a possibility of a 60 minute draw. This looks like a possibility from the opening exchanges, which are slow and deliberate. Commentary chooses to make this about match quality and how Omega was responsible for the six star match, not Okada, causing Kevin Kelly to read out Dave Meltzer’s star ratings history for both men, suggesting Okada has had more high calibre matches. What is happening?
The storyline kicks in with Okada “tweaking the knee”. Commentary bashes me over the head with that by telling us about it before the spot even happens. Omega works it over and that’s the focus of the match. I’d rather they didn’t do that, seeing as almost every Tanahashi main event has had that leg story. At least Omega is vicious about it and throws Okada onto the announce table knee first. Tonight has seen a lot of submissions so it’s interesting that Okada, in his defensive moveset, busts out Red Ink to wear Kenny down. There’s just a slight inkling that he might tap, given the other results. Okada does a decent job of paying tribute to that leg work, without letting it dominate the match. He’s hesitant to put weight on it and is slow to follow up on moves as he gingerly recovers from spots. The legwork is slowly forgotten as they move into bigger and bigger spots, and it’s clear that Okada is landing more successfully than during the first match; hitting Heavy Rain on the apron and his savage Shotgun dropkick into the rail. Also he busts out a table, clearly wanting to avenge the table spot from WK. As we get about thirty minutes into the match it becomes apparent this is a long-haul contest. Even more so than WK. Each big bump is greeted by a substantial period of selling. Although the spots are worth selling. For example; Omega countering Okada’s magnificent dropkick into a sit-out powerbomb in mid-move. That’s sensational work. The table comes into play for Okada dropping the elbow through it, leaving Omega a mess at ringside. I like how big spots genuinely turn the tide of the match for large periods of the action. It makes big spots mean something. Plus the storytelling ties in to Okada’s big match tropes. Omega becomes scared as soon as Okada gets wrist control because he knows what that means. The Bullet Club arrive in full force and Cody Rhodes tries to throw the towel in as Omega is finished. The Bullet Club then becomes Kenny’s cheering squad as he mounts his comeback. The match then becomes about the One Winged Angel. The only thing Kenny didn’t do to Okada at WK and the one move nobody kicks out of, ever. He hits it and Okada, showing incredible ring positioning, gets his foot on the rope.
The match is loaded with these little moments like Omega doing his gun taunt and Okada grabbing him for a Rainmaker out of it. At this point both guys look tired and it’s entirely believable that either of them could be pinned at any moment. They both throw out quite sensational last gasp counters to prevent this. At one point Omega collapses in mid-Rainmaker, thus saving himself by passing out. It’s utterly sensational. I’ve never seen anything like it.
It gets to the point where neither guy can lift the other so they wearily strike at each other. This is where Kenny can win because he has those heavy knees. The V-Trigger cannot set up One-Winged Angel because Kenny has no strength left. It’s such an exhausting match, both mentally for the viewer and physically for the wrestlers. Going 60 minutes is exceptionally hard and telling a story throughout that hour is even harder. This has been masterful. Inside a minute left and Okada hits the Rainmaker but can’t get a pin because he’s too tired. The time limit expires. It’s a 60 minute draw. Holy shit.
I preferred the Wrestle Kingdom match but that is in no way a criticism of this match. Just that I preferred that match to this one. This was phenomenal. They told a great story and battled through the hour switching gears and telling that long story. I love these boys. The second half of this was fantastic.
Final Rating: *****
Summary: With the streak of awesome main events they’re having this year, if you’re not watching New Japan you’re not watching the best professional wrestling on the planet.