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Puroresu Love: NJPW: The New Beginning – 2/12/12

May 17, 2013 | Posted by Mike Campbell
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Puroresu Love: NJPW: The New Beginning – 2/12/12  

February 12, 2012

Rocky Romero . . . does the swankiest dive ever seen this side of Mexico, en route to winning tag team gold.
Shinsuke Nakamura . . . loses to Tetsuya Naito, but does a really lackluster job of putting him over.
Kazuchika Okada . . . makes the most out of his first opportunity at a major title.

As far as opening matches go, this is rather uninspired, although looking at the participants, it’s easy to see why. Honma has always been little more than a jobber, Fale was still in the young lion role, and the heels are the CHAOS B-team. YOSHI-HASHI looks to be all attitude and little else, and there’s not enough of Takahashi to possibly make this worthwhile. The finish sees Takahashi pin Fale, but rather than doing something impressive to finish him off. like the Intercollegiate slam, the German suplex, or the Tokyo Pimps, he just nut shots him and jackknife cradles him. This could have been a fun opener, but nobody seemed to be able to get out of first gear.

Thanks to Lyger and the heel team, this winds up better than the opener, and it’s not very complex. Lyger holds his own for the first few minutes, but then the heels take and work Lyger over, including some cheating from Yano with the bell hammer. After Lyger hot tags out, this goes downhill. This Capt. NJ gimmick is impossible to take seriously, and Tonga is just a Jimmy Snuka ripoff, although he’s got everything down pat (aside from blowing the blind leap frog spot). The babyfaces have the match won, but then Cap goofs up, and the heels take over leading to Yano pinning Tama after the Oni Koroshi. Lyger and the heels were game enough to make this better than the opener, so I’ll take what I can get. But, I could go the rest of my life without seeing the Capt. NJ gimmick again.

The booking is surprising, with Apollo 55 pretty much having a monopoly on the titles since 2009, it’s surprising to see them dropping them so quickly (they just won them back on the 1/4 Tokyo Dome show). But, the actual match itself isn’t anything special. Davey and Rocky don’t bring the heelish attitude that you’d expect from combining the Havana Pitbulls and the American Wolves, in fact, the better moments of the match involve the champions making them look silly. A lot of their sequences look rehearsed and choreographed, not unlike Toryumon/DG matches. And, the selling is all but nonexistent. Just watch Rocky get spiked with the Black Sunday, only for him to bounce back and counter Devitt into a backslide for a near fall. That’s the worst of it, but there’s plenty to be found, like Davey blowing off the enzuigiri and hitting a lariat, only to sell afterwards. The finish is lame, with Davey pinning Taguchi after a powerbomb (it’d probably work if it was coming from Fale), after putting him through the ringer, but at least Rocky busts out the mother of all dives onto Devitt to set up the finish.

This winds up being, realistically, as good as it could be, between the limitations of the format, and the way that it’s structured. It’d have been nice to see Makabe eliminate Archer and/or Takayama before he got finished off by Suzuki, just to give that sliver of hope that he could pull it out, but it’s not a big deal at all. The first seven minutes, before the eliminations start coming, are fun to watch, everyone gets a chance to show off what they can do. Then, Archer starts clearing out the dead weight (re: the little guys), leaving Nagata and Makabe 5-on-2, until Makabe starts evening the odds by getting rid of Suzuki Gun’s little guys. TAKA and Taichi are gone, but not forgotten with some interference to get Makabe into trouble. This leads to the next portion of the match, building to a Nagata hot tag, which finally happens, but Nagata charges into his own elimination, leaving Makabe all by his lonesome. Makabe puts up a good fight, but the three of them are just too much, and after eating all three of their finishers, Makabe is gone too. Again, the only thing really lacking was something to give the idea that Makabe could at least attempt to make the improbable comeback, but between the way it was structured, and some fun booking, it stands on its own just fine.

It’s easy to see that this isn’t horrible, but things never seem to pick up the way you’d expect. With only a couple of exceptions, Anderson and Bernard don’t show the anger that you’d expect from longtime champions fresh off back to back title losses. Bad Intentions single out both Kojima’s arm and later his knee, but they’re not all that interesting with it, and it only serves to be filler. The only time that it seems to matter is when Kojima holds Anderson at bay while Tenzan has Bernard in the Anaconda Vice, and Anderson finally makes the save after dropping elbows onto Kojima’s arm. The best moments of match wind up being comedic things, such as Kojima aping Kobashi’s chop flurry in the corner and watching Anderson flop like a fish out of water. There’s another funny bit earlier with Bernard and Tenzan, with Bernard and Tenzan’s hard head. Any sense of structure is out the window for the last ten minutes, one guy will be taken out, so the other team can double team, and then he makes the save, someone else gets taken out, etc. At least finishers are somewhat protected, with Tenzan being taken out completely with the Gun Stun, and then a minute later Kojima takes out Anderson with the Koji Cutter to leave the match down to Kojima and Bernard, and it only takes one lariat, instead of four, like in the worst days of Kojima’s All Japan run, to finish him off. So yes, there are some positives here, but, all things considered, it seems like there should be a higher compliment than “It was better than the match Bad Intentions had the month before in NOAH.”

MASATO TANAKA © vs. HIROOKI GOTO (IWGP Intercontinental Title)
With how often these two have worked together, it seems like they should be capable of putting together a better match than this. There’s no real sense of storytelling, to give the idea that they’re building up to any sort of climax. The first half is marred by constant interference from Yujiro, and why is Homna the one dispatching him with King Fale standing right there? From Goto’s counter of the Sliding D and leading up to the finish with Goto hitting the Shouten Kai, their work is fine, but before that it’s pretty rough. Tanaka gives Goto a superplex, and Goto jumps right up and a lariat keeps him down for longer. Tanaka even plays along, by blowing of a release German, and having the lariat keep him down too. The only time one of them puts over a big spot in an appropriate manner is Tanaka’s awesome sell job of the Fireman’s carry neckbreaker off the top, and that even winds up not mattering later when Goto does the regular version of the spot simply to set up the Shouten.

If this was being judged solely on Naito’s performance, it wouldn’t come off as a bad match at all. This is the biggest match of his young career, and Naito comes to win, he busts out some good counters and smart moments, such as suckering Nakamura into attempting the Boma Ye, and then countering it. When Nakamura hits Naito with something big, like the running knee shots, he puts them over in an appropriate matter, rather than blowing it off, like Goto. Naito really turns up the heat in the last few minutes, busting out several bigger spots to try to finish off Nakamura, including a variation of his former partner’s Intercollegiate slam, a bridging German, the Gloria, and finally the Stardust press to score the biggest win of his career.

Nakamura drags this down a few notches. He just doesn’t bring the goods to the match the way that Naito does. His mind set seems to be that since Naito is getting the big win, he should do the heavy lifting. Nakamura brings the cocky heelish attitude, and some of his bigger bombs, but that’s about all there is. Nakamura’s control segments feature him either toying around with Naito or sitting rest holds to kill time. Nakamura should be able to take Naito to the mat and twist him like a pretzel. But, aside from the various knee strikes, the best of which is the Boma Ye to the back of the head after Naito’s missed splash, it never feels like Nakamura is really trying to beat Naito. It might have something to do with Nakamura possibly hurting himself during the match (he went for his triangle counter to the whip into the ropes, and started holding his mouth after he hit the mat), but Nakamura wasn’t exactly bringing the goods before the injury. I’ve probably written enough to fill a novel about how bad it was watching Misawa try to work with the next generation, but, at least when Misawa was giving them the big win, he went the extra step to try and make it special.

The phrase “coming into his own” doesn’t even do justice to Okada’s performance here. He basically came out of nowhere, after a forgettable excursion to the states, had a rather pedestrian match in the Tokyo Dome with YOSHI-HASHI, and got this title match. Okada is a bit like Naito in that he makes the most out of this opportunity, but he winds up being able to show a lot more than Naito. Okada taking Tanahashi to the mat and softening up his neck with some tricked out submissions was exactly what the Nakamur/Naito match needed to have. The early Tombstone attempt seems like a mandatory spot at first, Okada tries a big move early but the champion is too fresh for it work, but once the neck gets fleshed out as the focal point, it shows a new meaning. When he can’t hit the Rainmaker right away, Okada responds by dropping some big bombs, that keep Tanahashi’s neck hurting, and gets some good near falls as a result. And, when Okada finally does outsmart him to hit the move, and score the upset of the decade, Tanahashi’s takes a huge bump.

Considering Okada’s place on the pecking order going into the match, the neck stuff alone would be enough to consider him putting on a good performance, but Okada is just as great at putting over his knee after Tanahashi singles it out. It’s not really anything from Tanahashi that hasn’t been seen before, the dropkick, Dragon screws, and Cloverleaf, but Okada puts it over awesomely. He even remembers to sell when he’s the one getting in something big, like the diving elbow drop. One of Tanahashi’s last big spots was the High Fly Flow that hits knees, but Okada doesn’t just jump to his feet to hit his finisher, the way that Nagata, Kojima, or any number of other workers would, he sells for an appropriate amount of time. Okada also realizes that, by getting some time to recuperate, Tanahashi also had that same time, so he goes back to trying to wear down the neck instead of going right to the big spot and having it fail.

While this is obviously Okada’s coming out party, Tanahashi puts on a good performance in his own right. Again, the leg work really isn’t anything that we haven’t seen him use against any number of other opponents, but it works. And, with Okada’s great sell job, the Cloverleaf actually seems like a plausible finish for the first time in a good long while. The only real selling gaff is from Tanahashi, and it’s not even that much of an issue, relatively late in the match Tanahashi counters the Rainmaker into the Dragon suplex for a near fall. With how well Okada was selling the knee, including while doing his own stuff, it’d have been nice to see Tanahashi reciprocate that by selling his neck after the move, or even going all out and losing the bridge. The really great thing about Okada’s big win is that there isn’t some underlying cause, such as the champion getting complacent and not taking the match seriously. Tanahashi works as hard as he never had, but, on this night, Okada was the better man. ***½

The 411: This almost feels like a NOAH show: The undercard is fun at times, but there’s plenty of skippable stuff interspersed, and the main event saves the show. Download the main event, but you can safely skip the rest of the show and miss anything major.
Final Score:  7.5   [ Good ]  legend

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