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Kevin’s Random Reviews: NJPW Back to Yokohama Arena

January 11, 2018 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
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Kevin’s Random Reviews: NJPW Back to Yokohama Arena  

NJPW Beck to Yokohama Arena
May 25th, 2014 | Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan | Attendance: 7,800

In 2014, NJPW attempted several expansion moves. One of them was returning to Yokohama Arena, a 17,000 seat building, for the first time in over a decade. The risky moves paid off for most of the year, but this show struggled with sales. Part of the reason could be that NJPW put the top title on newcomer AJ Styles, in odd fashion as the match was riddled with shenanigans. This show is headlined by the rematch between Styles and Kazuchika Okada, while featuring several other intriguing bouts. They fell about 10,000 short of selling out.

Alex Shelley, BUSHI, KUSHIDA and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. El Desperado, Jushin Thunder Liger, Mascara Dorada and Tiger Mask IV
This was put on the show as a preview of the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. It’s strange seeing a pre-Suzuki Gun El Desperado. The division hasn’t changed much in the past few years, huh? NJPW is known for the multi-man tags on the undercard, but I’m glad this one served an extra purpose. As expected, the pace was very fast and everyone got a moment or two of shine. Liger getting tagged got the biggest pop of the match. I loved seeing Shelley do his thing. His offense was so crisp and the tandem moves with KUSHIDA were outstanding. After a barrage of dives, it came down to BUSHI and Desperado. BUSHI surprised many by scoring the win with his diving Codebreaker in 8:25. This was fun and did what it needed to. People got shine, the crowd was hot and it showed that almost anyone could win the tournament. [***]

Captain New Japan, Manabu Nakanishi, Tomoaki Honma and Yuji Nagata vs. IWGP Tag Team Champions Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi
Yujiro was fresh off turning on CHAOS and joining the Bullet Club, which he did by helping AJ Styles win the IWGP Heavyweight Title. We got the early ringside brawling, showing that some things never change in NJPW. Honma played face in peril thanks to his sympathetic popularity. He’d reach God-like levels after the G1 Climax a few months after this. Nagata eventually got the hot tag, earning the legend pop like Liger in the opener. Anderson was a total dick to him, stealing his pose and shouting “BRAINBUSTER” before attempting one. Since CNJ was in this match, he obviously had to eat the pin. Yujiro beat him with Miami Shine at 9:03. Basic tag. Other than some of Honma’s fire and the Anderson/Nagata interactions, it’s an easy skip. It was mostly here to establish Yujiro in his new stable. [**]

NWA Tag Team Championship: TenKoji [c] vs. The Killer Elite Squad vs. Rob Conway and Wes Brisco
TenKoji also entered as IWGP Tag Team Champions. This was contested under tornado rules, allowing for things to continually move. That helped guys who traditionally tend to move rather slow. Brisco surprised me, looking better than I’ve ever seen. I didn’t expect from him and Conway. Brisco kept going for the figure four on Tenzan, but couldn’t make him tap. KES got to look like beasts whenever possible. Brisco ate the TenKoji double team cutter, but the pin was broken up. Tenzan wrapped him in the Anaconda Vice, but Bruce Tharpe (NWA guy) got on the apron. He took a wacky bump that almost led to Brisco winning via rollup. The figure four failed again and Kojima waffled him with a lariat after taking out KES. Tenzan hit the moonsault on Wes to retain in 11:38. Honestly, that was better than I thought it would be. It followed typical tropes you expect from this match, including a team resting outside from time to time, but had a fair amount of action. [**¾]

Minoru Suzuki and Shelton X Benjamin w/ Suzuki-Gun vs. Takashi Iizuka and Toru Yano
As soon as they hit the ring, Iizuka turned on Yano and hit him with a chair. Benjamin delivered Paydirt and Iizuka added a shot with the IRON GLOVE OF DEATH. The bell rang, Suzuki hit the Gotch Piledriver and won in 0:08. [NR]

That match was purely there to put over the angle of Iizuka turning on CHAOS to join Suzuki-Gun. Between Yujiro and Iizuka, other stables have poached some of CHAOS’ low men on the totem pole. Jado and Gedo also got attacked after the match and Iizuka was handed a Suzuki-Gun shirt.

Bad Luck Fale vs. Tetsuya Naito
I’ve seen this match twice, but with heel Naito. That never clicked. Naito started with lots of fire, nailing a sweet missile dropkick off the apron that sent Fale into the guardrail. That’s the kind of thing that works when facing someone of Fale’s size. Fale took over, using his size to keep Naito grounded and cut off his speed advantage. Naito bumped and sold like Fale was legitimately murdering him. Naito began the comeback, but Fale continued to cut him off. Naito kept countering Fale’s best stuff, avoiding the Grenade on several occasions. He missed the Stardust Press and Fale finally hit the Grenade, but Naito kicked out to a big pop. Fale finished him with the Bad Luck Fall in 12:05. That was one of the better Fale singles matches from his early run. Naito brought his “A” game with lots of hope spots and great facial expressions throughout. It was one of his best underdog babyface performances. [***¼]

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Rolles Gracie
From what I’ve seen of them, I don’t get the appeal with the Gracie brothers. Sakuraba having a bunch of laser lights in his entrance seemed strange for him. They did a ton of rolling around and grappling, with Gracie grabbing some submissions that forced Sakuraba to get to the ropes. Sakuraba fired up and removed his gi. Oh, he must mean business. He rolled Gracie into a Kimura and the referee stopped the match after about a half minute in there at the 5:33 mark. This was basically what I expected. They did what they’re known for and kept it short. [**]

NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Kota Ibushi
These are two of my favorite NJPW wrestlers. Though Ibushi was a junior, he more than held his own with Ishii’s hard strikes, winning out an early forearm exchange. Ishii started no selling them and firing back even harder, showing Ibushi who was in control. Ishii had Ibushi scouted, being ready for the triangle moonsault and hitting a staling superplex. Ibushi hit the moonsault on his next attempt, adding a standing SSP and springboard moonsault inside for two. He went to the well too much and Ishii got his knees up on the next aerial move. That led to some scary moments, including Ibushi landing on the back of his head on a powerbomb and again when Ishii tried countering a super rana. Both could’ve been bad. Ishii busted himself open with a headbutt and the match got kicked into next gear. They began trading slaps and palm strikes that looked absolutely brutal. Ishii kicked out at one from Ibushi offense and they went back to exchanging blows. Their closing stretch was out of this world and led to a wild finish. Ibushi went for a super rana, but Ishii murdered him with a lariat. Ibushi nearly landed on his head. Another lariat and Brainbuster finally kept Ibushi down at 19:19. An incredible match. Two of the best in the world going all out for a title. They even made their one botch work seamlessly into the match, which is hard to do. The fans bought Ibushi as a winner, even with him being a Jr. Champion. Ishii’s busted eye added to the drama of each strike he took. Up there with Ishii/Naito (New Beginning) and Styles/Suzuki (G1 Climax) as the best NJPW matches of 2014.[****¾]

After the match, Yujiro Takahashi attacked Tomohiro Ishii, setting himself up as the next challenger.

Number One Contender’s Match: Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe
A shot at the Tag Titles were on the line, but that was secondary to the Tanahashi/Shibata storyline. Tanahashi noted in his autobiography that he was unhappy with how Shibata (a “New Musketeer” along with Nakamura and Tanahashi) left NJPW in flux to go do MMA. Their tensions boiled over for a while, and every interaction between them in this was met with an electric response. Tanahashi stood up to Shibata and his strikes, even no selling some kicks. However, Shibata was just too tough and it frustrated the ace. The match was less interesting when Goto and Makabe were in, but it wasn’t bad at all. Their exchange eventually led to more Tanahashi/Shibata, which the crowd ate up. Shibata got his knees up on High Fly Flow and applied a sleeper. Tanahashi countered that and turned a PK into a dragon screw. In the end, it came down to Goto and Makabe. Shibata accidentally hit Goto with a big boot and was taken out himself. That left Goto alone to fall to High Fly Flow and the King Kong Knee Drop in 17:22. Very good tag match. They gave the fans just enough of Tana/Shibata to leave them clamoring for the singles match, while Goto and Makabe did their part. A lot of people expected Shibata/Tana to be saved for the Dome, but instead we got it at the G1 and it ruled. [***½]

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura [c] vs. Daniel Gracie
Unlike Sakuraba earlier, Nakamura decided against wearing a gi against a Gracie. Nakamura attempted kicks early, but Gracie blocked most of them. Gracie took it to the ground and worked various submission attempts and chokes. He trapped Nakamura and delivered more than 10 elbows to the face. In MMA, that probably would’ve been it, but this is fake MMA, so it kept going. Nakamura managed to get his rally going and he hit the Boma Ye. Gracie pulled him into a choke at the count of one, in one of the cooler moments of the match. Nakamura reached the ropes and hit a second Boma Ye to retain in 10:24. I think your mileage will vary on this depending on your feelings on the Gracie brothers. I’m not a big fan, so I couldn’t really get into this. It wasn’t awful, just a bit too long for what they did and one of the Nakamura’s worst title defenses. [**¼]

Bad Luck Fale came out after the match to set himself up as Nakamura’s next challenger.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: AJ Styles [c] w/ The Bullet Club vs. Kazuchika Okada w/ Gedo
I’ve never seen it, but I didn’t hear great things about their Wrestling Dontaku match. I do know that I was underwhelmed by their third match (***½ at the G1 24)s, before they had two great outings in 2015 (****½ at Dominion and **** at KOPW. Okada won the early exchanges, frustrating the champion. Karl Anderson got involved, leading Red Shoes to eject the entire Bullet Club from ringside. Even without his buddies, AJ managed control, hitting his gorgeous dropkick and a release suplex on the apron. Okada’s comeback attempts were consistently cut off by Styles, who wrestled a veteran game. He was smart and only took risks when needed. Okada applied Red Ink and AJ nearly tapped, but Gallows and Anderson returned. Okada broke the hold and ended up dumped outside by Yujiro, who cost him the title at the last show. Ishii arrived and destroyed Yujiro with a lariat that got a huge pop. With that over, it was just Okada and AJ once again. That’s where things really got going, with them having a strong finishing run, which is Okada’s best quality. He always finishes great. Just when Styles felt like he had things going his way, Okada delivered a dropkick and Tombstone. AJ used the referee as a distraction and hit the Pele. Bloody Sunday followed and he called for the Styles Clash. Okada countered, but AJ rolled through and hit it anyway, retaining in 26:03. I’d say this was their best match in 2014, but not on the level of the 2015 stuff. It felt like they hadn’t figured out what their best could be. Still, this had a lot of action and an invested crowd. A bit too many shenanigans, though it was at least done in a strategic fashion. [***¾]

6.5
The final score: review Average
The 411
A solid show from top to bottom. Obviously, Ibushi/Ishii stands out as the only must-see thing from this event. I though Styles/Okada was very good, though they’ve had better. The Shibata/Tanahashi tag was a lot of fun, while the juniors tag and Naito/Fale were good matches. The two Gracie matches underwhelmed and did nothing for me. The Suzuki-Gun angle and other earlier tags were kind of just there.
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