Thursday, May 11, 2017

New Japan Pro Wrestling: A Sight-Seeing Tour

Graphics Credit: NJPW
I'm having a public meeting with our editor TH to tell him that once a month (give or take) I'd like to do an overview of recent happenings in New Japan Pro Wrestling. With it supposedly being the second most popular wrestling company in the world (if we don't count NXT) (Ed. Note: Don't count NXT, it's just the Pei Wei to WWE's PF Chang's. - TH), it's time we give the people what they want (and by "people," I mean the comparatively small number of wrestling fans who take the time to seek out NJPW's content on Daily Motion, or hopefully as a paid subscriber on NJPW World. It's 999 yen a month, people! That's not very much yen!).

Last week was Wrestling Dontaku, sort of like their Money In the Bank before SummerSlam, only no one does anything with ladders. The show was headlined by Kazuchika Okada defending the IWGP Championship against Bad Luck Fale, the only guy in NJPW who could credibly stand up to Braun Strowman. The match didn't come in with a lot of hype, as those two guys have wrestled in the recent past, but they did a good job of building up Fale with convincing post-match beatdowns of Okada in the weeks leading up to the title match.

You know what they didn't do leading up to that? Have the guys stand in the ring for twenty minutes making sassy insults at each other. Granted, Fale doesn't speak Japanese so that would be a non-starter over there, but they wouldn't do it even if they could. Stories in NJPW are built in multi-man tag matches, the occasional post-match "press conference," and excellent video packages that allow the wrestlers to explain their motivations and desires.

Okada and Fale had a pretty good showing, but the clear highlight of the night was the battle between Kenny Omega and Tomohiro Ishii. You all know about Mr. Omega and his six-star self, but here's hoping you've gotten hip to Ishii. Ishii is a human oil drum who takes no shit from anyone and has almost never had a bum match. He always rules.

Ishii walked to the ring with an unusual intensity, and that carried right into the opening of the match, in which he took it to Omega with alarming force. Even though the end of this storyline seemed obvious, with Omega likely getting his win back from Ishii after losing to him in March during the New Japan Cup tournament, it honestly felt like Ishii was going to beat him within the first few minutes, which would go against NJPW's usual formula of "kickass 20-minute marquee match." That's how good Ishii is; you believe that he can defeat anyone, simply by force of will.

Omega did ultimately get his sea legs back and stand up to the Stone Pitbull, but it took 24 minutes of exhaustive battle to do it. This was the kind of pro wrestling match you dream about: two guys who take no breaks, never seem like they're playing characters, and make every second count with dramatic effect and bruising offense. Omega throws a knee to the face like no one else in wrestling, and though they look painful as can be, somehow it's not as disturbing when he's doing them to Ishii and you assume that his iron face will be mostly intact afterwards.

Anyway, seek that one out as soon as you can. It's a corker.

The very last image of the night saw Okada call out Omega as he helped the fallen Fale to the back. Okada told him that if Omega still wanted a rematch, and another shot at the IWGP Championship, he could have it at Dominion on June 11. It took just two minutes, and there we have it: the rematch to what has been heralded as the greatest match of all time, and also just an okay match. Either way, the eyes of the pro wrestling world will be on this. My bold prediction is that it will be VERY GOOD.

And in other news for y'all to get hyped about, they announced the lineup for this year's Best of the Super Juniors, the light heavyweight version of their G1 Tournament. It goes from May 17 to June 3, and all of the matches should be uploaded to NJPW World the same day, though sometimes it's just a single-camera shot that doesn't really move, causing you to feel like you're sitting in the venue but just very far away. It's weird, but it's fine.

Many of the usual suspects are there: Ricochet, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi and Jushin Thunder Liger (making his last BOSJ appearance ever). IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi (fka Kamataichi) is new this year, and you need to get hip to him like, yesterday. You've got four guys from Suzuki-Gun, and pretty much none of them are good, but sometimes you have to have sucky things in order to appreciate what is cool.

The two big additions this year are ACH and Marty Scurll. ACH has already competed for NJPW at various times in the last couple years, but this will be Scurll's full-on NJPW debut. Look for ACH to be charismatic and incredible, and for Scurll to be a perfectly obnoxious jerk in a setting where being a jerk is still solemnly respected.