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Figure Four Weekly 7/3/2017: Looking at NJPW's weekend in the US

Looking at NJPW's weekend in the US and what's next

 

by Joseph Currier (@josephcurrier)

When New Japan Pro Wrestling's weekend in Long Beach was over, Kenny Omega had been crowned as the inaugural IWGP US Heavyweight Champion and the most pressing question was what's next for the company in the United States.

Omega was, as expected, the star of the two G1 Specials. He had the best match on both nights, beating Michael Elgin on Saturday and defeating Tomohiro Ishii in the tournament finals on Sunday after getting by Jay Lethal earlier in the evening.

The match with Elgin almost saved the show on night one. Things were fine up to that point (and not entirely different from most of NJPW's mid-tier events), with Tetsuya Naito vs. Ishii even being close to representative of the effort they would have put in if it were a tournament match in Japan. But Omega and Elgin worked at a level above everyone else and succeeded in stealing the show.

What followed that match was enjoyable as well, with Kazuchika Okada having an IWGP Heavyweight Championship defense against Cody Rhodes that was worthy of the main event spot it received. Okada is such a total superstar. Crowds in the US have always reacted to him positively, but he's now taken over as the Japanese NJPW wrestler that fans in the US treat like a god now that Shinsuke Nakamura is in WWE.

Okada vs. Cody wasn't at the level of Omega vs. Elgin, but Okada title matches are rare and it helped make the show seem important. And despite probably being his worst defense of the year, it was far from a comparative embarrassment.

Night one was unfortunately marred by issues with AXS TV's commentary and production. Those will need to be addressed before any other live broadcasts in the future. Jim Ross can still add to a match when he's at his best, but he struggled during multi-man tags and when he wasn't as familiar with who was in the ring.

But night two was a joy to watch. Three great US title tournament matches anchored it, and almost all of the other matches were fun. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Billy Gunn wasn't even the disaster that was expected after their interactions on the first night.

Omega and Ishii had the best match of the weekend in the main event. When the show was over, NJPW had announced a return to the US in 2018 and Omega was cutting a promo about how the crowd made the weekend and saying that next year will be bigger and better than ever.

Plans for NJPW's initial solo shows in the US were calculated at best and relatively unambitious at worst. With tickets selling out within hours, there was little intrigue on that front. How the first night fared on AXS should provide some information on what their ceiling on the station is. The first live show should be the highest rated NJPW broadcast on the network to date, but others have had matches that people already knew were great and wanted to see going in. How much separation there is between the live episode and those should be telling.

Given that they've been so cautious so far, NJPW probably won't take too much of a risk with their next move in the US. It may take some time to find out what their ceiling is in the country.

It will also be interesting to see when and where Omega will defend his title. NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi told ESPN that they would want the IWGP US title defended on future US-based NJPW shows and in Ring of Honor. But NJPW has been protective of sharing their top talent and Omega hasn't worked stateside much recently.

Whatever happens, NJPW has the perfect wrestler to lead their expansion into the United States. The shows in Long Beach were a good starting point. Now it's time for them to decide what's next.

 

Mexico Notes

 

by Dr. Lucha Steve Sims (@DrLuchaJr)

Last Friday night, June 30th, CMLL closed out the first half of a generally very successful 2017 by running the first of two 8-man blocks of its annual Campeon Universal Tournament. El Volador junior advanced; on July 14th, he will face the winner of Block B. Thoughts form this particular tournament and show:

· There were seven matches in the tournament. The wrestling times of these seven matches added up to ~33:19. This means each tournament match averaged ~4:45 in length. That's how long it took for last year's winner El Valiente, Hechicero, El Angel de Oro, Luciferno, Shocker, Dragon Lee, and Negro Casas – each a current World Champion or a current National Champion – to lose cleanly (ok, Valiente didn't lose cleanly, the rest did). Add this to the rush job on the tournaments to fill the titles left by La Mascara and Maximo, and how are fans expected to take these men as the elite, tops in class, champions, etc.

· The undercard featured a confrontation between new Pierroth (Rush's father) and Vangellys. During the shenanigans, someone appeared in the ring, at the side of Los Ingobernables Pierroth and Rush, dressed as La Sombra. Could it have really been the same man who was under that hood the past few years? Al that matters promotionally is that they raise that possibility. CMLL has showed that it is determined to ensure that the Los Ingobernables gimmick not die. CMLL has showed that it is determined to ensure that Pierroth remain one of the members of Los Ingobernables. Strikes me that CMLL is believing two impossible concepts at the same time. The Electric Monk may be able to do this; me, no.

· I sense someone's running up the flag pole for salutes a possible hair match-level feud between Sam Adonis and Blue Panther. References abound to the 1992 feud between Panther and Love Machine, which is an insult to the earlier feud in several ways. Nonetheless, played right, this could be a huge money match this fall. As noted in earlier issues, I have faulted CMLL for not running full blast with the Adonis/Trump evil American bit. They may be doing it now and it will be interesting to see what sort of cathartic tidal wave this does or does not release among CMLL fans.

Also, last Friday, AAA had a TV taping. It won't air on their TV for a month, and they have another taping scheduled for July 16th that will take them up to one week before Triplemania. Thought about this show and, even more interestingly, AAA's week in review:

· In the top three matches, Johnny Mundo won due to outside interference, Dr. Wagner Jr. won due to outside interference, and Psycho Clown drew (no decision) Pagano due to outside interference. In the two prior matches, there was an outside interference finish and a run-in immediately after a clean finish. That's a lot if wins and losses are to mean anything, I would think. As a fan, I was groaning by the fourth one and non-plussed by the final one.

· No announcement was made at the show about any changes to the date or start time of TripleMania, even though a "no change" might well mean that their main event would go off at roughly the same time as Mayweather/McGregor. That's a gamble, but it's not at all a certainty that it's a bad one. In a metro area of 20,000,000, they may legitimately have 15,000-20,000 wrestling fans who really do want to see this main event more than what is viewed as simply a non-competitive boxing match or basically a farce of one. I for one have no interest at all in this boxing match and massive interest in this wrestling match and I highly doubt I'm alone in that thought.

· On July 1, AAA stripped Taya of the Reina de Reinas title. Why? Storyline explanations aside, why not wait until she returns from her injuries suffered in an auto accident about a fortnight ago. She had arguably the best match n the company in 2017 so far in winning the title fair and square, a match in which the belt and both participants were made to look like they mattered.

· Finally, The Sexy Star … oh, forget it, the column has been almost all rants and no raves, even though it wasn't really even a bad week in the ring around Mexico as a whole, and I almost "saved the worst for last." It's going to be a hot next 10-12 weeks in lucha, can't wait!

 

Europe Notes

 

by Oliver Court (@AnotherOli)

July is a big month for BJs in BritWres. In a few weeks we get a Strong BJ with Daisuke Sekimoto appearing for XWA, but this week is RevPro's British J Cup show, featuring several New Japan wrestlers. Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, Jushin Thunder Liger and KUSHIDA are involved in the 8-man tournament itself, along with Josh Bodom, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll and Kyle O'Reilly, with the big first round match being the likely final encounter between KUSHIDA and O'Reilly. Every match they've had in the past has been awesome, and the three continent-spanning feud is set to end in Britain. In non-tournament matches, Matt Riddle takes on Tomohiro Ishii in a salivating clash, while RevPro Tag Champions CCK wrestle Hiromu Takahashi (will Darryl the cat be making his British debut?) and BUSHI.

The day before the BJC, WCPW also have an 8-man tournament featuring New Japan wrestlers; the Japan leg of their Pro Wrestling World Cup. The World Cup tournament has lost a lot of its original hype because it's taken so long to complete, in which time some of the regional winners, like Drew Galloway, have gone to NXT and become unavailable for the later rounds. The Japanese round has definitely suffered as the less interesting of two similar tournaments on the same weekend, though it does include excursionees Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu taking on KUSHIDA and Hiromu respectfully.

This week I was able to watch OTT's Stranger Things Have Happened show from a couple of weeks ago, which featured a surprisingly great match between Jordan Devlin and Moose. You wouldn't expect those guys to have any chemistry, but the power moves of Moose really clicked with a babyface-leaning Devlin and the crowd got really hyped up after some crazy spots, particularly Moose chucking Devlin out of the ring and onto the raised seating of the Tivoli, only for Devlin to dive back into the ring onto Moose seconds later. It was a wonderfully unique sequence that could only work in the Tivoli. Also highlighting the show was a match where Tyler Bate's allegiances with British Strong Style and Angel Cruz were tested to the limit. Bate wrestled for both teams as BSS, Cruz, B. Cool and Team Prick had a magnificent and thoroughly well-planned out comedy match, which felt almost Dragon Gate-y in its execution. OTT are probably using BSS better than any other indie promotion in the world, with tongue firmly in cheek, and this match needs to be seen to be believed.

 

Japan Notes

 

by Alan Counihan (@Alan4L)

The key matches for Dragon Gate's biggest show of the year have been announced and it's a lineup that has raised many eyebrows.

Kobe World on July 23rd feels like it will be a show that could either kick-start DG into an exciting next phase or it could be one that leaves fans sour on what's to come from the unique promotion. More than any Kobe World ever, it also feels like a show that's extremely difficult to read in terms of match quality.

The headliner pits Open The Dream Gate champion YAMATO against surprise King Of Gate winner T-Hawk. This is not a case of a right choice and a wrong choice in terms of who wins. Either could emerge a great champion going forward and either could wind up a flop. T-Hawk was pegged to be anointed the champion and top star two years ago at this event but DG second guessed the decision when it was obvious that he just wasn't over at that level. He lost on that occasion to Masato Yoshino in a great match. This clearly looks like they are ready now to give him the ball, but the same questions have to be asked regarding his connection to the audience and his charisma.

YAMATO was someone who always showed great charisma in the earlier part of his career, particularly as a heel. But during this title reign, that charisma has been locked away in a vault and his matches more often than not have lacked the juice needed to compensate for that. But a huge performance here from him to usher in year two of his reign could be just the thing to get him on track. Likewise if T-Hawk has a great match and can capture the crowd, it could be just what's needed to legitimise him.

The semi-main event for the Open The Twin Gate certainly has star quality with four of the companies most tenured & prolific stars. However CIMA & Dragon Kid's defence against the reunited Speed Muscle has a lot of question marks. Like YAMATO, CK-1 had a fantastic match when they won the title last year but many of their defences have been lacklustre. Speed Muscle are arguably the greatest team in DG history but this is Masato Yoshino's first time being tested with a really big match since his return from his broken back. On the big stage, if you're a betting man you should probably bet on these four to deliver but it's not a sure thing.

The most unusual thing about the card is the one night tournament being held to determine who will challenge the Verserk Triangle Gate team later in the show. The four teams vying for that slot will compete in a 2 Count Rules single elimination tourney so the matches should be quick. It's a break from Kobe World tradition as the card usually follows a fairly standard format. The most exciting team of the bunch is Young MaxiMuM of Kotoka, Big R Shimizu and Ben-K. If they emerge to challenge Shingo Takagi, El Lindaman and Takashi Ishida then it will be a real sign that the company want to elevate them.

The Open The Brave Gate title match is probably the safest bet on the show with the model of consistency Jimmy Kagetora taking on one of the world's best high flyers Flamita. These two should kill it whether they get 8 minutes or 20. They're both so good and one would expect them to have great chemistry. Kobe World is usually one of the best wrestling shows of the year but it'll be very interesting to see if it can live up to its high standard on the 23rd.

 

TV Reviews

 

by Bryan's Friend Vince (@FO_VVerhei)

NJPW G1 Special: Night 2 (7/2/17)

Jushin Liger & Kushida & David Finlay vs. Tempura Boyz & Yoshitatsu. Between the stage and presentation, the building size, the lighting, the crowd, and everything else, this immediately looked better than almost any North American show you'll ever see outside of WWE. They had at least two cameras on the floor, the hard cam for wide shots, and a crane shot for crowd reactions. Basic six-man with heat on Liger and a comeback by Kushida. Crowd loved to boo the heels. I mean, BOO. No cool heels here, that's for sure. Tempuras cut Kushida off with some suplexes. Yoshi and Finlay tagged in. Crowd REALLY hated Yoshi. He egged them on with HHH mannerisms. How did they miss booking Yoshi vs. Billy Gunn on these shows? We got a triple submission spot by the babyfaces, and Finlay tapped out Yoshi with a stretch muffler. Nothing to complain about here. Kushida held both his belts in the Tempuras' faces afterwards, apparently challenging them. (**3/4).

They went to a wide shot, and I guess this wasn't bigger than most ROH shows, but they sure knew how to mic it and get the most out of them.

Kenny Omega vs. Jay Lethal. They had ring introductions in Japanese and English. Immediately, Omega teased a clean break, then kicked Lethal right in the bad ribs and punted him out of the ring. Crowd was not thrilled with that. Omega worked him over around ringside for a while. Lethal escaped a one-winged angel and hit a lethal injection, but Omega rolled out of the ring to avoid a pin. We're three minutes in, not thirty. Lethal hit his triple topes and the Macho elbow for a two-count, then hooked a figure-four. The winner here will have to wrestle again, so obviously they're not going an hour, but they're wrestling like they're getting basic TV time on Raw. Dueling chants as Lethal worked the leg. He tried the lethal injection again, but Omega turned it into a backcracker. He tore the tape off Lethal's ribs and laid in the MMA-style knees to the body. Dueling chants again as Kenny hooked a bow and arrow. They went back and forth a bit and then Omega dropped Lethal on his head with a dragon suplex out of nowhere. He got a bunch of two-counts, including one on a doctor bomb. He tried a one-winged angel. Lethal tried to turn that into a rana, but Omega muscled him back up (OK, that's impressive) and hit the one-winged angel for the decisive win. So the story is that Lethal came in hurt and needed a miracle to win, and almost got it early with the lethal injection, but missed his big shot and came up short as a result. (***1/4).

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. Boos for Sabre, because he's in Suzuki-Gun. So this is the skinniest wrestler in the world against a big thick guy. They traded strikes early. This was a huge strategic error on Sabre's part. So he went to Plan B, which was to get Ishii on the mat and tie him in knots, specifically targeting the arm. Ishii hit a headbutt and made a comeback. They battled up top, and Ishii eventually hit a middle rope superplex for two. Sabre kicked out and made a comeback of his own, using a variety of armlocks, finally hooking the leg on one as well. Crowd thought Ishii was fucked, but he finally got the ropes after a mighty struggle. He was in a bad way, though, and Zack kept kicking him in the arm. Then Ishii fired up and no-sold these kicks, and hit one big elbow and Zack went down like a rock. OK, that was great. They had an exchange of strikes, then Ishii hit a brainbuster for the win. So it's Ishii-Omega in the tournament finals. The last minute of this was the best thing on the show so far, but it was nothing special before that. (***).

Juice Robinson & Jay White & Dragon Lee & Volador Jr. & Titan vs. Hiromu Takahashi & EVIL & Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI & Sanada. Takahashi clapping his cat's paws to Naito's music was quite great. I'm only familiar with about half these guys so bear with me if I get some names wrong. They did a few flips, then Ingobernables ran wild, brawling everywhere, choking and pulling everyone's hair. Sanada began to tie everyone in nudos, leaving them helpless and tied down in the corner, then dropkicked them in the ass. Juice got a hot tag and ran wild and everyone chanted his name. He did a funny spot with Takahashi where they kept making faces at each other. Then Takahashi and Lee just stood there and slapped the ever-loving piss out of each other. The actual wrestling they did was some of the best stuff on the show too. Eventually all ten dudes were brawling everywhere again. And then White pinned BUSHI with something like Sister Abigail. Meaningless and random but fun enough. (**1/2).

Guerillas of Destiny & Hangman Page vs. War Machine & Michael Elgin. GOD had two men in their corner. One I did not know and the other was HAKU. I thoroughly enjoyed Page being an annoying geek and Elgin slamming him around early. Heat on Hanson for a while. Elgin made a comeback. Lots of guys throwing themselves into the corner to bounce out and hit moves on this show. Big white dudes did some power stuff. GOD dared Elgin to hit them, then no-sold everything and ran wild. Everyone hit a move, then Page pinned Rowe with an over-the-back piledriver. Not much going on here. (*3/4).

NJPW chairman Naoki Sugabayashi came out for a promo. In Japanese, obviously. The English ring announcer than translated, and announced a return to the US in 2018.

They went to intermission, which was just a shot of the empty ring. Then we got a bunch of Halloween sound effects. Electric shock noises, creaking doors, the lot. At last that stopped and they played music instead.

Rappongi Vice vs. Young Bucks. They did a wacky spot where everyone missed a move and then there was a quadruple dropkick. Designed to make everyone look like geeks but the crowd loved it. They teased superkick after superkick and when they finally hit one the timing was off. Nick hit a big dive to the floor and said it was badass. They teased a powerbomb off the apron, then Matt carried Baretta up the aisle and hit a throwing powerbomb on the ramp. Good lord. They set up the Meltzer driver (called as such by the Japanese announcers) and were SO excited, but Romero broke it up. They hit a double superkick, but Romero no-sold it and hit a double lariat and tagged in Baretta, who was still alive. Bucks did a great job of bumping and selling for his comeback. They powerbombed Romero onto Baretta, and Romero fell recklessly near Baretta's feet. That could have been bad news for both dudes. Bucks then couldn't decide what moved to do, settling on a variant of More Bang For Your Buck, but Baretta kicked out. We got a long sharpshooter spot, including Nick hitting a senton to the back. Romero finally broke that up. They tried the Meltzer driver again, but Romero escaped. Then they tried one on the apron, but thankfully that got broken up too. Everyone brawled on the apron for a while, and finally Baretta hit a piledriver out there. Then he hit a cradle piledriver in the ring for a nearfall. Roppongi hit an assisted over-the-back piledriver for not-the-finish. Cute spot where each team had one guy dragging his partner to the corner to make a tag, which would have been a lot more meaningful if we hadn't seen all four dudes running wild without tags for the last several minutes. Bucks finally hit the Meltzer driver on the floor. The only thing funnier than Japanese announcers saying "Meltzer driver" is Japanese announcers saying "holy shit." Crowd chanted Meltzer's name. Romero was dead, and Baretta was on his last legs going against the Bucks on his own. They finished him off with a double superkick, hit another Meltzer driver on Romero for absolutely no reason, and hooked double sharpshooters for the submission win. As usual, everyone else likes the Young Bucks more than I do. I thought this went like 10 minutes longer than it needed to and was just chock full of stuff that could have been cut out. (**1/4).

Ricochet hit the ring and wiped out the Bucks with the coolest dive ever by a guy in glasses and a baseball cap. He cut a promo ripping off the Rock, then talked about how great the Bucks are and congratulated them on their Hot Topic deal, then challenged them to face himself and Taguchi for the titles. They accepted and that was that. Ricochet said that "a certain underground fighting company were being pricks right now," but it was a pleasure being here. Promo wasn't that great.

Oh wait, there's more. Romero cut a promo saying he and Trent had put together a five-year plan, and they had won the IWGP junior tag team titles and the Super Junior tag team tournament. But their last goal was that when it was time, Trent would move up to the heavyweight division with his blessing. He said coming into the night, he had decided that if they failed to win the junior tag belts, it was time for Baretta to move up. Crowd applauded and chanted Trent's name, and Roppongis hugged and high-fived.

Marty Scurll & Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi & Cody vs. Kazuchika Okada & Briscoes & Will Ospreay. Fale was wearing a "MAKE JOBBERS GREAT AGAIN" t-shirt. I don't know where to begin with that. What a wacky collection of babyfaces. Marty and Mark did some fun comedy. Crowd sure hated Cody. He just tagged in and out a few times to get them to boo. They demanded Fale, so he obliged, but then tagged right back in. Then the same thing happened with Yujiro. Jay was just standing in the ring waiting for somebody to come fight. Finally he gave the crowd Okada, but Cody ran away. Ospreay was sitting in the crowd drinking beer until people sang his song. This was five minutes easy with literally zero actual wrestling of any kind. Finally Cody tagged in with Jay and did some stuff. More bouncing out of the corner. Ospreay hit about as great a hesitation dropkick you'll ever see. There was more comedy, then they started taking Ospreay apart. The heels all took turns doing Rick Rude hip swivels. It peaked with Fale, of course. But he refused and just sat on Ospreay for a pin attempt, then tagged out. Jay tagged in and ran wild, then Okada tagged in and ran wild. Fale actually got a nearfall on him with a silly standing splash. Cody and Okada went at it and announcers pointed out this was champion vs. champion. Didn't last long. Scurll broke Ospreay's fingers and then everyone hit a big move. Ospreay sold his broken fingers by doing back handsprings all over the place. Cody pinned Ospreay with cross Rhodes. Fun enough for what it was. I love that the Bullet Club were all celebrating in the ring while the losers just hung their heads and slinked away. (**1/2).

Billy Gunn vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Ah, Billy and Yohsitatsu are tag partners. That also works. Grab a headlock, get it again, repeat. Billy worked the arm over in a slow, plodding, sleep-inducing manner. He did a jackhammer. Wristlocks ensued. This would have been a bad match at any point on any show, but we are fucking three-plus hours into this and it is torture. Billy did some spots with his trunks pulled down and his bright green underwear exposed. Like, for several minutes. Then Tanahashi's bare ass was briefly exposed. He pulled his tights up, then Billy finally pulled his up as well. This is what we have been reduced to, wristlocks and underwear. Billy dodged a high fly flow as this horrible match just refused to end. He hit a fame asser for a nearfall. He did some crotch chops, explicitly telling Tanahashi to suck his dick. Then Tanahashi hit the high fly flow for the win. Atrocious. Like, not just the worst Tanahashi match I've ever seen, but one of the worst Billy Gunn matches too. (1/2*).

Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii. This was for the IWGP US championship. So does that mean the belt won't be defended until next year? They brawled in the ring, then they brawled out of the ring, then they brawled through the crowd. Crowd was chanting they couldn't see shit. They teased assorted throws into the people. Ishii tried a belly-to-back suplex out there, but Omega thankfully landed on his feet and hit a vertical suplex. Eventually Ishii took over in the ring. He was kicking the hell out of Kenny, but Kenny just laughed and asked for more. That led to a mighty chopfest. They went back and forth, and Ishii took the best DDT bump of all of 2017, spiking his head in the mat, then slowly arching his back to touch his feet to the ground. Omega tried a one-man version of More Bang For Your Buck, almost fucking it up. He followed with a big dive up the aisle. Bucks set up a table on the floor. Omega had been selling an injury to distract the ref, then popped up and started doing jumping jacks. He hit a missile dropkick to the back of the head, which looked lethal, but Ishii somehow survived. Omega started laying in strikes in the corner until Ishii fought to his feet and stopped selling. Omega cut him off with a frankensteiner. They started teasing stuff through the table. Omega tried a dragon suplex, but Ishii blocked it by biting the top rope. THAT RULED. Sadly Ishii's teeth gave out, and Omega hit the move. It was safer than it sounds—they got about zero air and basically both just fell backwards—but I still don't recommend doing that. Ishii barely beat the count back into the ring. They traded strikes in the ring again, and Ishii wasn't no-selling anything anymore. Omega tried the one-winged angel, but Ishii turned it into a DDT. They went back and forth, and Ishii hit a mammoth top rope superplex for a nearfall. The two exhausted warriors had a mighty chopfest, then started headbutting and kneestriking and lariating the holy shit out of each other. "STAN DEENG OH VAY SHUN AH!" Ishii kicked out of a brainbuster. Omega kicked out of a sliding lariat. Omega tried a jumping fame asser, which he had hit earlier, but this time Ishii caught him and hit his own one-winged angel for a nearfall. Dueling chants as they traded elbows. Omega hit a dragon suplex and sliding knee, but Ishii kicked out at 1. So Omega hit a reverse frankensteiner, but Ishii popped up to his feet. So Omega hit one more jumping knee, and finally the one-winged angel to win the match and the title. Great, great, GREAT pro wrestling match. Just awesome stuff. (****3/4).

Bucks and Marty Scurll were out there celebrating with Kenny and his new belt, but Cody appeared in a suit and yanked it out of his hands. Then he hugged Omega and wrapped the belt around his waist himself. The rest of Bullet Club came out to celebrate. Omega cut a promo saying it had been a difficult year full of struggles and hardships and failures, like any other human. But what separated Bullet Club from everyone else was that they never gave up, and never did the fans. He promised that next year they would draw 20,000, not 2,000. Well good luck with that young man.