Match #1 - Shota Umino & Ren Narita def. Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
Young Lions opened the night, with a tag team encounter giving us another chance to wax lyrical about how good both Shota Umino and Ren Narita are, and how ready they are for excursion. The narrative of the match however was centred more around the rivalry and enforced partnership of Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura and how they would coexist after their aforementioned rivalry spawned 1 win each and an incredible 24 straight time-limit draws. Sure enough, despite Tsuji’s brief bursts of power, Narita and Umino went over with Narita hitting Uemura with his beautiful Bridging Front Suplex.
PodMania Star Rating: 5 stars
Match #2 - Suzuki-gun [Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and TAKA Michinoku] def. Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Tomoaki Honma, Jushin Thunder Liger and Toa Henare
The blissfully undubbed version of Kaze Ni Nare filled the arena in Nagoya as Suzuki-gun (minus the main eventing Zack Sabre Jr.) filed to the ring to take on the team of Jushin Thunder Liger, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Toa Henare and the Kokeshi doll-clad Tomoaki Honma. A riveting stare down between Suzuki and Liger punctuated an otherwise throwaway tag team match which Suzuki-gun won after Taichi tapped out Toa Henare with Seitei Jujiro; this sending a message to Jeff Cobb before his challenge for the NEVER Openweight Championship at Wrestling Dontaku. Liger was treated to an ovation post-match as he continues on his retirement tour, but not before he comically attempted to raise the arm of the dispirited Toa Henare; the bad arm he was nursing after submitting!
PodMania Star Rating: 4 stars
Match #3 - Toru Yano, Togi Makabe and Dragon Lee def. Bullet Club [Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Taiji Ishimori]
We were robbed of Good Guy Tama Tonga crushingly early. As he makes his way to the ring accompanied by fellow ROH and IWGP Tag Team Champion Tonga Loa and former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori, that’s unfortunately all I can think about. A match to set up title matches on the Road To and Wrestling Dontaku cards, their opponents are the MVP (Toru Yano and Togi Makabe) two thirds of the current NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions, and Dragon Lee, the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Aside from a quick-paced opening interchange between Dragon Lee and his challenger at Wrestling Dontaku – Ishimori – this was standard fare with Yano providing entertainment I’ve learned to love over the past 2 years, and The Guerrillas of Destiny being…the Guerrillas of Destiny. A Schoolboy from Yano on Tonga Loa wrapped this match up in short order.
PodMania Star Rating: 5 stars
Match #4 - Chase Owens def. Mikey Nicholls
Mikey Nicholls was never really given a chance in the WWE; stuck in a ‘doomed-from-the-start’ tag team with former TMDK tag partner Shane Thorne, but his recent resurgence as a singles competitor in New Japan is an interesting one. Chase Owens is another who New Japan seem quite hot on at the moment, which makes this match (an apparently unofficial number 1 contendership match to Juice’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship) a far more compelling prospect than it could have been.
Unfortunately, for me at least, the match felt quite slow; nothing offensively bad as such, but even the spots that needed to be quick, like Nicholls’s Sliding Lariats and the transitions into Chase’s Final Cut seemed laborious, meaning that, ultimately, the match dragged, feeling far longer than the match run time of 8 minutes and 56 seconds.
Nicholls went over in the end with the abhorrently named ‘Mikey Bomb,’ presumably to set up some manner of United States Championship program in his home country of Australia during Southern Showdown.
PodMania Star Rating: 4 stars
Match #5 - Los Ingobernables de Japon [SANADA, BUSHI, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi] def. CHAOS [Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, SHO, YOH & YOSHI-HASHI]
The final multi-man tag match of the night saw more matches for Wrestling Dontaku hyped further, with a 10-Man Tag Team Match between members of CHAOS and Los Ingobernobles de Japon, with only Naito and YOSHI-HASHI left out of high stakes matches later in the tour.
EVIL and Tomohiro Ishii are the focal point early on, building to their special singles match at Dontaku by leathering each other for almost a full minute before YOSHI-HASHI enters the ring to immediately dull the excitement.
It’s matches like this that highlight how laughable it is that Shingo Tagaki is considered a junior, dwarfing the likes of YOH, while further teasing his feud with SHO (bring on BOSJ!)
We get a brief interaction between Okada and SANADA which the champion seems to dominate handily in his hometown, before the encounter descends into a battle of the beautiful Dropkicks.
Certainly a trailer that hinted at but didn’t showcase fully what can be expected from the matches later on during the Dontaku tour, the match ended with Serial Pin-Eater YOSHI-HASHI taking a Destino. While this match did little to whet my appetite for SANADA’s inevitable loss in the IWGP Championship match at Dontaku, it heightened my excitement greatly for the EVIL and Tomohiro Ishii slugfest!
PodMania Star Rating: 6 stars
Match #6 - Juice Robinson (c) def. Bad Luck Fale
[IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Match]
The prospect of Bad Luck Fale in a singles match at any time is hardly an inviting one, but one for a championship? With the right opponent (an Okada for example) Fale can be carried to a serviceable, even good match, but Juice is not that person. No disrespect to Juice, but he is not at the level to carry a Fale to a match worth watching.
Of course, this match played out in predictable fashion, Fale working over the back of Juice, with the champion selling with commendable aplomb. The match spewed to the outside with Fale Bodyslamming Juice onto the chairs before the action made its way back to the ring. More Fale dominance before the inevitable Juice comeback and eventual victory via Pulp Friction.
The match did what it needed to do, it gave Juice a creditable title defence against a monster heel while keeping Fale in a prevalent place on the card; far from spectacular but a serviceable match nonetheless.
PodMania Star Ratings: 4 stars
Match #7 - Kota Ibushi (c) def. Zack Sabre Jr.
[IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match]
The storyline surrounding Kota Ibushi’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship – a prize that his heroes Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi made so prestigious – is a refreshing change of pace from the title reigns of Tetsuya Naito and Chris Jericho – both these past champions treated the belt with indifference at best and utter contempt at worst. We have the chance to see a reign here that will re-establish the Intercontinental Championship to its prior prestige with a champion who values it so highly.
Whenever we get Zack Sabre Jr and Kota Ibushi in a ring together, magic happens. Look no further for example than their stellar encounter in the New Japan Cup in which Zack gained a pinfall victory over Ibushi, earning him this title match in Nagoya.
Once again, we witnessed a beautiful juxtaposition between the incredible counters and submission style of Zack, and the frightening pace and hand speed in striking of Ibushi, culminating in some outstanding wrestling.
Zack targeted the neck of Ibushi throughout the match and dominated large portions of the early fight, with Ibushi having to find the ropes on more than one occasion. Even a tired ‘into the crowd spot’ was innovated by the pair, with Sabre attempting to drape Ibushi over the guardrail in a modified Armbar. Yes, Ibushi slid off to the obvious annoyance of Zack, but still.
The match progressed and Ibushi grew into it, taking a flurry of kicks from Zack in the process. Zack’s selling however should never be understated as here, it was phenomenal. Especially during a striking exchange which Zack attempted to keep pace with, but simply couldn’t. We even saw a petulant side of Ibushi, offering a series of sly kicks to a grounded ZSJ when the referee turned his back, once again playing into the storyline of how much this belt means to him; he’s willing to change his entire style of fighting to keep it!
Sure enough, Ibushi gained the upper hand and finished off Zack with a Kamigoye for the victory in his first successful title defence.
PodMania Star Rating: 9 stars
The celebrations were cut short when previous champion Tetsuya Naito came to the ring, insisting that he become the next challenger for the title, a proposition which Ibushi quickly, and enthusiastically, agreed to.
Absolutely, we have seen this match quite a lot in recent times, and a part of me would have loved to have seen EVIL in this position, but if it’s good then why the hell not?! I’m sure there won’t be many people who only see Endgame once, am I right?
All in all, this was a card of surprising depth, a real hidden gem in some respects, and one with a stellar main event that I urge you to check out!
Matches You Need to See: Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Matches You Need to Avoid: Chase Owens vs. Mikey Nicholls