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Puroresu Love: NJPW: Circuit 2008 NEW JAPAN ISM – February 23, 2008

January 22, 2009 | Posted by Mike Campbell
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Puroresu Love: NJPW: Circuit 2008 NEW JAPAN ISM – February 23, 2008  

February 17, 2008

What better way to start off 2009 than by reviewing the big shows of 2008? Starting off with a PPV from good old, sometimes reliable, New Japan. The NJPW/TNA stuff has been fun and I’m expecting no less now. Well, actually, I expect a little bit less because the main event is the most overrated wrestler in the U.S. against (at one time) the most overrated wrestler in Japan to unify the IWGP Titles (don’t ask . . .).

Jyushin Lyger . . . gets some gold around his waist by knocking Prince Devitt off of his throne.
Hiroshi Tanahashi . . . and not AJ Styles deserves to be called “The Phenomenal One.”
Shinsuke Nakamura . . . not only gives NJ the victory over TNA on this night, but also finally ends this IWGP Title mess.

The best word to describe this is ‘interchangeable’ there’s nothing here that makes this stand out from any run of the mill multi man match pitting young lions against established wrestlers. There’s a few surprising moments, such as Taguchi escaping Iizuka’s sleeper, and a couple of nice double, triple, and quadruple team moves from the young lions team, especially their quadruple dropkick to Nakanishi, and Taguchi and Ishikari doing the dropkick to German suplex spot, but those are exceptions rather than rules. The bulk of the match is the veterans laying the beating onto the young boys, Nakanishi with the chops and Koji with the kicks, just like any other match where the young boys take a beating. There’s no real meaningful offense from the young boys team to suggest that they could pull off the upset, and as soon as Nakanishi gets the Argentine Backbreaker on Ishikari you know it’s over (which it is).

The first half of this is as intense and hate-filled as you’d expect the NJPW/TNA matches to be, but then it winds up crashing back to earth as your run of the mill match featuring NJPW juniors. They start off trading strikes with neither man backing down, and Daniels gets a little dirty and gets the ref distracted so that he can hammer on Wataru’s leg with a chair. Daniels keeps the fun stuff coming by sharking on the knee with stomps and submissions, including a very nice crab hold in the ropes, and a cool moment where Daniels countered the Triangle Lancer into a Horse Collar. The odd thing was that the only thing that the fans really thought would end the match was Daniels’ regular crab hold, it got the most heat of anything Daniels did.

The crab hold is where this starts to go downhill. Wataru’s Hulk-Up to get to the ropes and break the hold was out of place, especially since he’d already had the leg worked over. It looked more like something one would expect from Kobashi. After the hold is broken, the leg is quickly forgotten about. Wataru sends Daniels to the floor and dives onto him without any effects, and a bit later catches Daniels with a backbreaker and, again, no ill effects at all. In fact, the only thing that Daniels wrenching on Wataru’s leg accomplished was being the reason that Wataru couldn’t give Daniels the Staggerin’ Blow. They just take turns throwing moves at each other, culminating in Daniels getting a close near fall from Angels Wings, and hitting the BME for the win. With Inoue’s IWGP Jr. Title not at stake, and given that Wataru had already beaten Daniels in a singles match, it makes sense for Daniels to win, but it’d have been nice to have the win come on the heels of Daniels either sharking at the knee or doing something to show that he’d learned from his previous loss.

Honestly, there isn’t all that much here that sets this aside from the opening eight-man tag, it’s about the same length and features very little in the way of engrossing work. The only difference here is that they have an ‘excuse’ in the form of the match being little else than a backdrop for GBH to kick Tenzan out of the group. So the match itself is mostly just the eight of them plodding along and killing time until its time for the finish and the big angle. There are a few cute spots to be found, such as Gedo mocking Koshinaka’s hip attacks, and the heels all charging Chosyu with lariats in the corner, but when Ishii charges, Chosyu flattens him with Riki Lariat, but that’s about it. Tenzan’s attempt to save Ishii backfires and Tenzan winds up headbutting Ishii, Chono pins Ishii with a Yakuza kick. And GBH beats down Tenzan, that’s all that really matters.

Considering that the RISE duo had won the titles not long before this, the title change is surprising, but the match itself is pretty rough in places. The wrestlers just didn’t seem to be on the same page as far as the layout of the match or any underlying themes. The only real theme seemed to be Devitt’s inability to avoid the shotei, he winds up running directly into the strike several times, and it’s eventually what leads to the loss. But other than that, they seem to be all over the place. Tanaka’s rib area is taped up, but that’s never made into a real target, and he seems to tweak his knee a bit, leading to Lyger and AKIRA working it over, but that only lasts about a minute and then it’s never seen again, and in fact he gets knees up to block the Musasabi Splash . The heat for Devitt’s hot tag to Tanaka isn’t bad, although it’s not as good as it could have been, since Lyger and AKIRA weren’t especially nasty or heelish while working him over, and there wasn’t any outstanding sell from Devitt to get over the beating. Also, there’s a few sloppy moments, such as AKIRA more or less giving himself the Minoru Special, and Devitt gives AKIRA an airplane spin and gets lost for a second before remembering to put AKIRA on the top rope (so that Lyger can attack him from behind).

Despite its flaws, the match does have a few good spots and nice moments. One of the best was fairly early on, when Devitt was gearing up for a big dive onto AKIRA and ran smack into a charging Lyger shotei (a trend which he’d do a couple more times during the match). AKIRA also does a nice (and almost seamless) counter of the Minoru Special into a modified STF. The Lyger/Devitt home stretch is also nice, because of how much punishment Devitt is able to withstand. Lyger doesn’t throw the whole arsenal at him, but he busts out enough that it’s impressive to see Devitt survive. He takes the Brainbuster and Musasabi Splash combo, and the Control Thunder Bomb, and Lyger puts the spunky Irishman away with an Avalanche Brainbuster. So it’s not like the match is horrible and devoid of anything good, but they aren’t good enough to carry the match above its weaker parts.

Although this winds up being more fun than the previous match, it’s got the same issue, they don’t seem to want to pick a direction for the match and stick with it. For all his other faults, AJ has got the loudmouthed jerk routine down, he never hesitates to tell Tanahashi that he’s nothing, and to play to the fans. He pulls off a few cool spots, but, for the most part AJ’s contribution to the match is character based rather than wrestling based, although, to his credit, he’s mostly good about with his selling. He’s not perfect though, as evidenced by an exposing moment when he was selling some strikes, stopped as though he was waiting for more, and then went back to selling when Tanahashi didn’t do anything else.

As for Tanahashi, between this and the Champions Carnival, 2008 looks like its Tanahashi’s year. He doesn’t get much to do while AJ is riling up the fans early on, but when he finally gets something do in the form of wearing down AJ’s knee, he doesn’t disappoint. What does disappoint, however, is when the knee idea is just dropped. Tanahashi moves on to try some of his trademark moves, and they just forget about it. They seem to come back to it a bit later, with Tanahashi doing a Dragon screw and then locking in the Texas Cloverleaf, but they could have done the exact same sequence without AJ’s knee being worked over, so it wasn’t like it added anything to it. And the Cloverleaf isn’t even really that effective because AJ gets to ropes for a break pretty quickly

Other than the knee stuff, neither of them seem to have any ideas on taking the match in any other direction. The ref bump is typical of TNA, but all it led to was a low blow from AJ and then Tanahashi returning the favor, so it wasn’t too bad. They also have a fairly well done finish, with Tanahashi seeming to have AJ scouted pretty well, he managed to counter the Styles Clash, and AJ’s quebrada to reverse DDT winds up getting countered to a Dragon sleeper, which then it turned into a sort of reverse brainbuster which sets up the High Fly Flow for the win. It’d have been more fitting to see Tanahashi go back to the Cloverleaf and pay off his earlier knee work, and Styles wouldn’t have lost anything by tapping out, but instead this just ends up as yet another case where nothing that was done before the home stretch had truly mattered.

If nothing else, one can use this match as evidence that Bernard and Tomko can work. They’re not especially mind-blowing (unless one is a big fan of power wrestlers), but they show more here than they did during their respective WWE stints. Tomko and Bernard handle Makabe and Yano with relative ease, but that’s the problem, Makabe and Yano are taking the titles so they shouldn’t be handled with relative ease, they should be giving the gaijin team trouble. It never happens though, GBH only gets the upper hand after something dirty, like Honma pulling down the top rope and Tomko spilling to the floor, Yano pulling an Eddie Guerrero and making the ref think that Bernard punched him in the face instead of breaking clean, and the chair shot to Tomko from the floor which leads to Makabe’s chain assisted lariat and the King Kong Knee Drop to win them the titles. But any time the match is a fair fight, the champions have things firmly in control, and the few times that the GBH team gets the advantage it’s not for very long.

Again, while Bernard and Tomko look good, they’re not really that impressive, they stick with moves to show off their size and power, like bodyslams and elbow drops and the like. But they’ve also got their own problems, Tomko’s selling is the most glaring, his midsection had been singled out, after taking a couple of shots into an exposed turnbuckle, but as soon as he tagged out, any hint of selling stopped. What’s even worse is that Tomko was the one taking fall, after Makabe’s knee hit him in the ribs. Bernard’s Bicycle kick also looked awful, you’d think he was just learning how to do it, not doing something he’d been doing for years. The idea of Bernard being rendered unable to save Tomko and the titles thanks to the splash through the table makes sense in theory, but why was Yano the one to get splashed? I’ve said numerous times before than non clean finish doesn’t ruin a match, but this is one of those times that it definitely hurts it. The whole match was based on GBH needing to cheat, and with Bernard being taken out the idea was there to single out Tomko as a weak link to the team, not to mention that a cleaner finish would give a little credibility to the new champions. The match doesn’t do much to make the new champions look very good, but hopefully they can grow into their roles and become credible champions, but if that’s to happen, it won’t be in matches that are very much like this one.

SHINSUKE NAKAMURA © vs. KURT ANGLE © (Unification match for the IWGP 2nd and 3rd Generation Titles)
On paper, it seems like these two were made for each other, the Japanese Supernova and the American Olympian, two amateur standouts going at it for the IWGP Title, once again proving that NJPW is the King of Sports. But in execution, this isn’t vastly different from most of Angle’s matches, it’s not bad, but there is plenty of room for improvement. First and foremost, their matwork together just isn’t that interesting. It’s understandable to a certain extent, Angle’s only pro style experience is stateside, and the wrestling to be found in WWE and TNA is a far cry from UWFI, BattlArts, etc. However, Angle and Benoit have been able to take things to the mat and make a show of it, and Nakamura could do the same thing when paired up with Kendo Ka Shin, so it’s not like either of them doesn’t know what to do as far as making the matwork interesting. But you don’t see that here.

There are also issues with the way submissions are treated, which is very poorly on the average. Nakamura, more than just about anyone, should understand the importance of a flash submission and how it’s used. That’s more or less how Shinsuke built his early career, but their use of Shinsuke’s juji-gatame is pretty bad. He literally gets the move out of nowhere and watching Angle clasp his hands to prevent it is just fine, it’d have been more fitting for the quick tap out given Nakamura’s track record, but it’s not so bad here since he’s pitted against someone who’s supposed to be able to match, and maybe even exceed, his skills on the mat. But then Shinsuke breaks the grip and applies pressure, and Angle does his own version of a Hulk-Up and re-clasps his hands. Shinsuke winds up having to break the grip yet again, and Angle still languishes a bit in it before tapping out. With how easy Angle broke the hold the first time, and that he wasn’t tapping when Shinsuke was almost bending it straight back, one wonders why Kurt even tapped at all, it couldn’t have been all that painful.

The poor submission treatment isn’t only limited to the armbar though, Kurt’s Ankle lock once again looks like a joke. Although Kurt’s never gone down that path, it can also be used as a flash submission (Kanemoto proved that against Bas Rutten), but aside from a couple of clever counters from Kurt to get the hold on, it’s give about as much respect here as normal. Kurt will put the hold on, and it gets either countered or escaped far too easily for what’s supposed to be Kurt’s finisher. The absolute worst is when Nakamura crawls to the ropes, Kurt pulls him back, he crawls again, and Kurt pulls him back, and then Nakamura flips over and kicks him off. If the hold is that easy to break, why bother with the ropes at all? To Angle’s credit, he did add one smart touch with the hold, one of the most popular counters is when the victim rolls through and pitches Kurt across the ring, Nakamura tries that but Kurt actually grabs his other leg to stop him. Nakamura winds up countering to a victory roll, but Kurt still made his point.

The dull matwork and the bad submission use takes up most of the match, but Kurt and Nakamura also throw in a few fun moments to keep the match from being a total wash. Nakamura’s counter to the Angle Slam is a great moment, Shinsuke does a sunset flip counter rather than the same hopping counter that most others do. Also Nakamura tries to go for a moonsault, and Kurt plays possum on him and winds up hitting an Angle Slam off the top. Given Kurt’s tendency to go crazy and let the bombs fly, it’s impressive that the Angle Slam off the top was the only big spot of the match. It’s just too bad that Angle and Nakamura couldn’t find a happy medium between Kurt’s usual overdone spotfest, and this display of dull matwork and frustrating submission treatment.

The 411: Even with the lower expectations that I was going in with, this still comes off disappointing to me. None of the matches seemed to click for me this time around. I really wanted to like this show, but I give this one a recommendation to avoid
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend

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