* New Japan’s latest major show was a success with 6,800 fans packing the Fukuoka International Center, many watching on PPV in Japan, and many on iPPV across the world. New Japan rarely puts on a disappointing show these days and while this one didn’t really accelerate until the second half, it was another US$25 well spent on a top quality wrestling product that continues to deliver.
* After the dark match, which was shown on the iPPV, Forever Hooligans returned to New Japan and captured the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title from Time Splitters in a good match but one you’ve probably seen before, this pairing having happened in 4 of the last 6 matches over these belts. These teams always put on a good fast-paced match and this was a suitable opener that ended when the Hooligans hit KUSHIDA with their Contract Killer, Romero pinning him to ensure a second IWGP Jr. Tag Title reign for the CHAOS team. While these matches are good, the junior tag division really needs some new challengers – how about Jado & Gedo get involved again?
* Bad Luck Fale, previously known as King Fale, made his in-ring return after aligning with Devitt last month when the Irishman turned heel. They faced Taguchi & Captain and as you’d expect Taguchi was angry at Devitt and there were some heated exchanges between these. I missed the last few minutes of this match but Fale unsurprisingly picked up the win. Seeing Fale carry Devitt out on his shoulders gave me flashbacks to Shawn Michaels and Diesel and made me wonder just what the plans are for Devitt. He is one of the most talented wrestlers in the world and the undisputed leader of New Japan’s junior division but with all that talent and an entertaining new character is the time near for him to step into the heavyweight division where he just might be able to reach main event level?
* New Japan’s most famous team of the modern age, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima, are still going strong in the year 2013 and today began their fifth reign as IWGP Tag Team Champions in a 4WAY Match against IWGP & NWA Tag double champions Killer Elite Squad, GHC Tag champions Yano & Iizuka, and Muscle Orchestra. This was basically a 10 minute sprint with each team getting their shots in and was entertaining but was never going to be great because of the format. The finish saw Kojima lariat Strong Man for the win which meant the previously dominant KES lost the belts without even being pinned, surely grounds for a rematch. It also created a scenario where three of these teams hold tag titles – TenKoji the IWGP Tag Team Title, KES the NWA World Tag Team Title, and CHAOS the GHC Tag Team Title. So the tag division could get very interesting. TenKoji’s fifth reign equals Chono & Tenzan’s five reigns as the most ever. It’s probably safe to say that Tenzan is New Japan’s most decorated tag wrestler of all time now.
* Masato Tanaka made a successful V3 defense of his NEVER Openweight Title against the recently returned Tomoaki Honma. This match had the most heat yet on the show from the always tough Fukuoka crowd, who tend to sit in quiet appreciation of matches. It was a decent match but these two can do and have done better before. Honma was always unlikely to win but the crowd got behind him and for a while believed he could do it before a Sliding D put an end to that.
* The Makabe vs. Yujiro feud continued and perhaps ended with a Makabe victory today. Yujiro entered with a banana sticking out of his tights and erotic entrance music as he brings his “Tokyo Pimps” character to life. This was an instantly forgetable match wrestled at a slow pace that Makabe won in routine fashion with his King Kong kneedrop. Makabe, once one of New Japan’s top few stars, has been kept strong for a long time now while not actually doing much but later in the show we’d find out he is about to step into the spotlight again.
* Best of the Super Jr. XX participants were announced after intermission with another fun-looking cast: Prince Devitt, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA, Alex Shelley, BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Rocky Romero, Alex Koslov, Jado, Brian Kendrick, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, Kenny Omega (DDT), Titan (CMLL), Ricoche (DRAGON GATE), Trent Beretta (former WWE). So it will be BOSJ debuts for young lion Hiromu Takahashi, Titan from CMLL, Ricoche from DRAGON GATE, and Trent Beretta (listed as just Beretta) best known for his WWE stint. Plus returns for the exciting Kenny Omega and CHAOS’ Brian “Spanky” Kendrick.
* Tetsuya Naito also appeared after intermission to a nice crowd response, wearing a suit and announcing that he will return at DOMINION 6.22 in June! Naito has been out of action for a long time and his return will be a welcome boost to the heavyweight division. He has potential to be one of New Japan’s top stars and I’d be surprised if he isn’t before too long.
* Former university friends Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata collided in their long anticipated singles match. Photographs of the two at school and in the New Japan dojo were shown, emphasizing the special significance of this match. This was a really good match in which Shibata impressed me again. It’s like he has never been away and he really belongs in the New Japan ring after wasting years embarking on a mediocre MMA career. As you would expect this was a stiff fight with plenty of strikes and was a very even contest. So even that after knocking each other silly they both hit the mat and couldn’t respond to the referee’s 10 count, meaning a double KO. Looks like this situation isn’t over yet and I can’t wait to see more between them…
* Hiroshi Tanahashi found himself in the strange position of being third from top after dominating the IWGP Heavyweight Title for so long. He and Karl Anderson had another entertaining match in their series, although shorter and faster paced than some of their others. Anderson was seconded by Tama Tonga but he didn’t interfere and it was a clean fight which Tanahashi won with the High Fly Flow. Moments later Devitt and Fale hit the ring and took out Tanahashi then faced Anderson and Tonga. Anderson looked slightly puzzled but it was all a ruse as he and Tonga joined Devitt on the dark side by attacking Tanahashi! The four foreigners destroyed Tanahashi and a new force announced its arrival in New Japan!
* Shinsuke Nakamura made a successful V8 defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Title against Shelton “X” Benjamin, Suzuki Gun’s mystery opponent for Shinsuke who was revealed recently. This match was much better than I expected with Benjamin doing a good job of taking his chance to shine in the spotlight and having a good performance – especially towards the end when he did some very impressive stuff. Unfortunately two spots were messed up at the end including a swan dive knee kick by Nakamura who slipped on the ropes, but it didn’t take too much away from an enjoyable match that the charismatic champion won with his Boma Ye.
* And so came the main event between new IWGP Heavyweight Champion, “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, and “Invader” Minoru Suzuki, in Okada’s V1 defense of the belt he won from Tanahashi in an unforgetable match last month. Suzuki beat Okada at “THE NEW BEGINNING” in February and New Japan reminded us in the pre-match video package. When Suzuki graduated New Japan’s dojo and debuted against Iizuka in the 80s, Okada was just half a year old and now they’re main eventing against each other! We’ve come to expect a very high standard from New Japan main events now and both of these have had world class matches against Tanahashi in recent times, so how could they do against each other? The answer was another outstanding main event, although perhaps a level below their matches with Tanahashi. Suzuki was again inspired and outstanding while Okada continues to show why he is the most impressive new star Japanese pro wrestling has seen in many years. The creative Okada modified his tombstone into a Gotch-style tombstone (Suzuki’s finisher is the Gotch-style piledriver) before hitting his Rainmaker to win in another 30+ minute title match. Okada really is something special and you have to wonder just how good he will be when he reaches his prime as long as he remains in this environment and isn’t lured away by money to America. It has to be noted that Suzuki Gun lost both main events and also the IWGP Tag Team Title, maybe casting some doubts on their future especially with Devitt’s group now vying for the spotlight.
* Okada gave his post-match interview before Gedo took the microphone and bigged up his friend. Everyone was waiting for the next challenger to show himself – surely not Tanahashi again? It wasn’t Tanahashi but rather Makabe who challenged Okada to a match at DOMINION 6.22, almost a year since his last attempt to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Tanahashi. These two have not really had a high profile match since Okada returned, just a 9 1/2 minute undercard match on the final day of the 2012 G1 Climax where Okada won with his Rainmaker. So this will be a fresh main event and hopefully Makabe can motivate himself and perform at the level he was a few years ago.