G1 Climax update

The G1 is well underway, and we’ve gotten some great matches from it so far. Through 6 nights, I’ve ranked 13 matches at 4 stars or better. Everyone should check these out when they can:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Zack Sabre Jr – A great showcase on how dangerous ZSJ can be. ****1/4
Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito – Ibushi’s return to the New Japan ring ****1/2
Hirooki Goto vs Tomohiro Ishii – Really good hard hitting, no quarter given brutality. ****1/4
Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr – The Cruiserweight Classic final that finally happens. ****1/4
Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin – The best match of the tournament so far. ****1/2
Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii – If you like hard hits, watch this match. ****1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Yugi Nagata – An aging Nagata makes every effort to hang with the Ace. ****1/4

I’ve also written a few new things. Check out my piece on Michael Elgin and my review of the G1 Climax Night 5

Michael Elgin

G1 Climax Night 5

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The Underdog Underboss

The G1 Climax has started, and if you’re not watching you’re missing out. This is one of the best times of the year to get into New Japan if you’re not already. Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi killed it on Night 1, and it’s just going to get better. In anticipation, I wrote a bit about Bad Luck Fale, the Bullet Club’s Underboss, and what it would take for him to finally advance in the G1.

Bad Luck Fale

The Billy Gunn Problem

If you haven’t heard, New Japan is having two shows in Long Beach this month. Both the IWGP title and the IC title will be defended, and a new US champion will be crowned. It should be pretty cool. Except, well… except Hiroshi Tanahashi is defending the IC title against… Billy Gunn. Yeah, that Billy Gunn. If that bewilders you as much as it does me, check out my article for Voices of Wrestling.

The Billy Gunn Problem

WrestleMania 33 Preview

I can’t think of a more perfect representation of what WrestleMania has become than this years card. A bunch of cluttered matches, title matches with terrible builds, and part-time old guys galore! It’s going to be great.

I’ve come around on Mania. There’s a thing that goes around every year that WrestleMania isn’t for the “hardcore” fans. That may be true, but  a 6 hour show filled with c-list celebrities and stars from the 90’s is not for casual fans either. Then who is it for? Well, the WWE tells us who it’s for in every promo. It’s for the “moments.” A decade ago, a WrestleMania moment was a storyline prop for Mick Foley vs Edge. Now, it’s a brand. The quality of the show doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except the WrestleMania Moments that can be put in a video package to make people think something important happened.

With that in mind, this preview will be about what moments the WWE is going to be telling us are important after the show. Winners and losers won’t be predicted unless part of the “moment,” because wins and losses don’t matter. This is proven over and over again. So here are my predictions for your upcoming WrestleMania moments.

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New Japan Factions

At New Year’s Dash, the faction Suzuki-gun returned to New Japan after spending the last two years in Pro Wrestling NOAH. The sudden influx of an entire faction has inflated the New Japan roster, so I thought I would write up a bit about the different factions currently in NJPW, both for my benefit and that of anyone reading.

Plus, what else am I going to write about, the Royal Rumble? The Rumble could be interesting, but most likely the most boring wrestler with the most boring story is going to win, so I’m not going to waste time predicting interesting scenarios. So New Japan factions it is. I’ll be listing them in order of current power and strength, based on recent major wins and losses and titles held.

CHAOS
Leader: Kazuchika Okada
Key Members: Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano

CHAOS is the largest and most powerful faction at the moment. They hold the IWGP Heavyweight title, the NEVER Openweight title, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles, and the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Titles. They have several auxiliary members they can call in time of need such as Will Ospreay and Roppongi Vice to raise their numbers. They won four matches at WrestleKingdom, including the main event, putting them firmly as the most powerful faction in New Japan. (more…)

International Expansion

2017 is shaping up to be an unprecedented year for professional wrestling. Streaming services have made any wrestling we want available with the click of a mouse. The rise of such services has expanded the potential audience for any wrestling promotion, and the two biggest wrestling companies in the world are poised to take advantage of that.

New Japan is firing some serious shots at the WWE. Their management has made no secret that they see the WWE as competition. No doubt some of this comes from the events of early last year, which saw the WWE sign away four of their biggest stars. One way NJPW has countered this is by signing their talent to longer contracts. They have also announced their intentions to bring New Japan wrestling to the United States. (more…)

NJPW WrestleKingdom 11 Review

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year, WrestleKingdom, took place on January 4th, and it’s making news all around the world. Not only was it a great show, but it was a shot across the bow to other wrestling companies. New Japan wants to expand more internationally in 2017, and WrestleKingdom 11 was a showcase for the best wrestling in the world. Not only will I be talking about WK11, but also New Year’s Dash, the traditional post-WrestleKingdom show that sets direction into the new year. For the record, I watched both shows with English commentary. Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino are easily the best English commentary team New Japan has used. With rumors that Corino is leaving ROH to do other things, I hope they find a worthy replacement.

New Japan Rumble

This was a fun way to open the show. All the New Japan dad’s were there, along with several legends and ROH’s Cheeseburger. There was however only one real threat in the Rumble, and that was Unbreakable Michael Elgin, returning from having his orbital bone broken by Tetsuya Naito. Elgin won pretty handily, entering first and running the gauntlet. There were a lot of fun bits here, and with only 14 entrants, it didn’t overstay its welcome. Rating: *** Winner: Michael Elgin

Tiger Mask W vs Tiger the Dark

This was a fine opener, but nothing special. Tiger Mask Ibushi hit all his normal spots, which mostly defeats the purpose of wearing the mask. At this point, Tiger Mask W’s identity is about as secret as Mr. America’s was. Tiger the Dark was ACH, and it will be interesting to see if he keeps working for New Japan or if this was just a one time deal. This was as good as any match involving two cartoon tigers could be. Rating: *** Winner: Tiger Mask W (more…)

WrestleKingdom 11 Preview

*blows the dust off this blog*

Well, November and December were… interesting months. Not in wrestling, of course, but a lot of things kept me away for a while. Two things have brought me back. The first was being bored last weekend, and finding the Match of the Year 2016 collection on the WWE Network. It was great because it reminded me that hey, wrestling doesn’t always suck, even on the most boring company in the world. The second is the upcoming show on January 4th, WrestleKingdom 11. So let’s preview the first major show of the new year, and take a look back at the year that was in New Japan.

New Japan Rumble

This is just the hodgepodge, preshow match to get everyone on the card. Last year it was won by Jado of all people, and featuring surprise entrants like King Haku and Cheeseburger. So who the hell knows what’s going to happen here. But it will be a fun, harmless outing. Prediction: This is pretty much impossible to guess, so, uh, Jushin Thunder Liger. Why not?

Tiger Mask W vs Tiger the Dark

This one is going to take a bit of explaining. So there’s a new Tiger Mask anime this year, featuring characters from New Japan. Tiger Mask W, the anime version of Tiger Mask, had a match at an earlier New Japan show, which was then incorporated into the anime. Tiger Mask W was portrayed by Kota Ibushi in that match. Yes, the MVP of the Cruiserweight Classic would rather pretend to be a cartoon character then work for WWE full time. Can’t say I blame him. Anyways, it will presumably be Ibushi under the mask again, though the identity of his opponent is mostly still a mystery. Prediction: Tiger Mask W.

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta)

This is a rare 2v2 Jr Tag match. Most of the time, these titles are defended against multiple teams, and it shows. Champions rarely defend the titles successfully. Though out of all Jr teams, it’s hard to argue against the Young Bucks being the most successful. Earlier this year they even challenged the Heavyweight Tag champions, which is mostly unheard of in New Japan. Meanwhile, RPG Vice has been on the ropes for months, teasing a break up for a while now. But they managed to pull together and win the Jr Tag Team Tournament, earning themselves a title match. Predicting this one is hard as it could easily go either way, but betting on a title change is always a safe bet when it comes to these titles. Prediction: Roppongi Vice.

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet, & David Finlay (c) vs Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay, & Jado) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, & BUSHI)

Forget the New Japan Rumble, this is the match where we are just cramming people onto the card. Normally, I would say that there’s no way a team with Jado or Hangman Page were winning a title match, but the NEVER 6-Man titles are completely unpredictable. Just looking at the teams though, LIJ have to be the favorites. They’ve been teaming in trio’s matches all year, and LIJ needs a win on the biggest show of the year. Plus, if they’re the last team in the gauntlet and can prey on a weaker team, it keeps up with their theme of winning only when they have the advantage. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon.

Cody vs Juice Robinson

After having four of their top stars leave New Japan for WWE, this match is New Japan flipping the finger across the Pacific. This match is showing that there is an alternative for unhappy WWE wrestlers, and it shows more then one way to get there. Cody Rhodes is easily the biggest name WWE name New Japan has snagged. Leaving WWE earlier this year, Cody has been a master of self-promotion, and has in front of him one of the biggest matches of his career. Juice shows us the other way to get there. Lounging in NXT which little hope of upward mobility, Juice came to the New Japan dojo and put in the work. And boy has it paid off. Juice is easily one of the most improved wrestlers at a major company, and proves that an under-utilized wrestler can come to Japan and make it happen. This match is just as much a reward for him as it is a debut for Cody. But it’s going to be Cody getting the big push in 2017, so New Japan can point to him and say, “See? This could be you.” Prediction: Cody

Ring of Honor World Championship: Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs Adam Cole

The ROH title doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation in New Japan. Former champion Jay Lethal never connected with the Japanese crowd, and that hurt the matches a lot. This match should not have that problem. O’Reilly has been in New Japan for years as part of ReDragon, and while Cole doesn’t have the Japanese resume that O’Reilly does, he quickly got over with the crowd with his charisma. This could very well be the best ROH title match New Japan has ever seen, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but still. Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match: Guerilla’s of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa) (c) vs G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) vs CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)

This is a very eclectic match. Makabe and Honma won the Tag Team tournament for the second year in a row. Last year, they took the titles at WrestleKingdom from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, and held them until Tama Tonga brought in his brother, newcomer Tanga Roa. The two teams then proceeded to stink up the summer in a series of boring match, mostly due to Roa looking completely out of place. However, something seemed to click with him in the later months of the year, and their team really took off. GoD and GBH had a great match in the finals of the Tag Team tourney, and this looked to be a rematch until Toru Yano inserted himself into the picture by sheer annoyance upon his return from Pro Wrestling NOAH. Yano was a tag champion in NOAH, so perhaps he thinks he will have the same luck in New Japan. It’s hard to say he picked a wrong partner, but Ishii and Yano make one of the odder pairings CHAOS could give us. Prediction: Ishii and Yano.

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi

Hiromu is the former Kaimaitachi, who had several amazing matches in Mexico during his excursion. Since his return as the “Time Bomb,” he has targeted KUSHIDA and the Jr title, and joined Los Ingobernables in the process. KUSHIDA has been fighting LIJ all year it seems. KUSHIDA works best when he has a strong heel to go against, and Hiromu should be just the opponent to prove himself against. This is another hard one to prediction, because while KUSHIDA is positioned as the Ace of the Jr Division, he loses quite a bit. Another loss might be too much. But on the other hand, we don’t want Hiromu to lose his first major match either. Either way, this should be a crazy good match. Prediction: KUSHIDA.

NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto

Out of all the title matches on the card, this one interests me the least, because Goto interests me the least. I just don’t find him a compelling character. His story should resonate with me, it just doesn’t. Earlier this year he hit rock bottom, falling short in his IWGP title match against Okada (again). Then he joined CHAOS after failing to win the New Japan Cup, and rejuvenated his year, reaching the finals of the G1 Climax before losing another big match. Meanwhile, Shibata has been NEVER Champion for almost the whole year, baring a month or two. His story has been much more entertaining for me, as he had to earn the respect of the New Japan older generation by kicking it into them, and they made him respect them too. Anyways, Goto needs a win, so he probably wins, but man, I just do not care about Goto. Prediction: Hirooki Goto.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

This is easily my most anticipated match on the card. It has the best story of any match on the card, and really one of the best stories of the year, in any promotion. Naito is the arrogant champion who doesn’t even care that he is champion. Naito’s goals have nothing to do with holding a title, but he has the belt anyways, because he’s that damn good. Tanahashi meanwhile, sees the disrespect Naito has for the title and the whole company, and has promised to bring honor back to the IC championship. This of course, feeds right into Naito, who is really just trolling people at this point. Naito is getting under Tanahashi’s skin. He knows it bugs Tanahashi that he’s not in the main event this year, and has gone out of his way to rub it in his face, even refusing to allow a fan vote that might give them the main event spot. That’s championship level trolling right there, for so many reasons.

It’s been an incredible year for Tetsuya Naito. His faction, Los Ingobernables de Japon, really took off. He won his first IWGP Heavyweight title after years of trying as a good guy. He had one of the best matches of the year against Kenny Omega in the G1 Climax. The IC title for so long was tied to Nakamura. Despite the belt being around the waists of Tanahashi, Kenny Omega, and Michael Elgin this year, Naito is really the first one to hold that belt and make it his own. Looking ahead to 2017, his stock is only going to keep rising. But while his star is rising and Tanahashi’s is falling, it’s tough to pick against the Ace of New Japan at the biggest show of the year. I think Tanahashi wins, and Naito gets put back in the main event scene sooner rather then later. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega

No one has benefited more from the exodus of talent at the beginning of 2016 more then Kenny Omega. Stuck as the Jr. member of the Bullet Club, the departure of AJ Styles left some big boots to fill, but Omega has filled them and more. He won the IC title and brought the ladder match to New Japan before accomplishing something no one else has managed to do: become the first Westerner to win the G1 Climax. Omega annoys me sometimes. I don’t always get him and his goofiness. But there’s no doubt he’s set up to succeed in New Japan in a way that no Westerner has been in a long time.

Okada meanwhile, has been champion almost the entire year, with Naito derailing him slightly, but only slightly. He’s had a great year which has gone somewhat under the radar with the rise of Naito and Omega. How someone can be under the radar after having so many great matches and one of the best feuds of the year with Naito, I’m not sure, but people continuously underestimate Okada. Okada is the man in New Japan, and everything revolves around him. But New Japan has a chance here to make something really special happen. New Japan has made a lot of noise recently about competing with the WWE and reaching a Western audience. A win for Omega here could go a long way to making inroads in the United States. It’s a really tough match to pick, but I think New Japan is looking long term in 2017. Prediction: Kenny Omega.

 

 

NJPW Power Struggle Review

Power Struggle is the last major New Japan show of the year, leading up the WrestleKingdom on January 4th. After this it’s just the Tag League, a tag team tournament through November and December. After Power Struggle, the card for WrestleKingdom should be mostly clear, and since I don’t have anything else to write about, a review it is. On the card is the finals of the Jr Heavyweight Tag Tournament, and four title matches. And even better, the real selling point of the card is four Los Ingobernables singles matches.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & Juice Robinson vs Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, & Teruaki Kanemitsu

Kanemitsu is one of the newest crop of Young Lions in New Japan. This past year has seen the graduation of four Lions, and so far, no one has risen up to take their place. Kanemitsu is the best of the new crop so far. Meanwhile,  Juice Robinson has improved so much working in Japan this year. He’s gone from very awkward and not fitting in at all to right at home in the New Japan ring. His little mini-feud with Nakanishi has made the big Japanese man more interesting by proxy, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Anyways, Juice gets the pinfall on Kanemitsu fairly quickly with a Killswitch/Unprettier. Very interesting that Juice gets the pin and not one of his more experienced partners. Could be there are some things in store for Juice in 2017? **1/2 (more…)