Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Godfather II of Wrestling Shows: NJPW G1 USA Special Night Two Review

The Bullet Club DOESN'T implode
Screen Grab via 411Mania
In the TH Style you've all come to know and love.

  • Jushin "Thunder" Liger, KUSHIDA, and David Finlay defeated Yoshitatsu and the Tempura Boyz (Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka) when Finlay tapped Yoshitatsu with a stretch muffler.
  • In the first US Championship semifinal, Kenny Omega beat Jay Lethal with the One Winged Angel.
  • In the second semifinal, Tomohiro Ishii took out Zack Sabre, Jr. with the vertical drop brainbuster.
  • Juice Robinson, Dragon Lee, Titan, Volador, Jr. and Jay White went over the Los Ingobernables de Japon team of Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, EVIL, SANADA, and BUSHI when White pinned BUSHI after a Flatliner.
  • Hangman Page and the Guerrillas of Destiny defeated War Machine and Michael Elgin as Page pinned Raymond Rowe with a Beach Break.
  • The Young Bucks retained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships over Roppongi Vice, hitting Romero with the Meltzer Driver and then Matt Jackson finishing the job with the Scorpion Death Lock.
  • After the match, Baretta moved up to the heavyweight division with the blessing of Romero.
  • The Bullet Club team of Cody, Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi, and Bad Luck Fale bested the CHAOS squad of Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, and the Briscoes after Cody pinned Ospreay with a Cross Rhodes.
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi retained the IWGP Intercontinental Championship over Billy Gunn with the High Fly Flow.
  • In the main event, Kenny Omega became the first ever IWGP United States Championship with a wrist-clutch One Winged Angel on Tomohiro Ishii.

General Observations:
  • Josh Barnett saying before the show that Jay Lethal would be at a disadvantage because he had a tough road in his first round match while blatantly ignoring Kenny Omega needing a billion V-Trigger knees and the kitchen sink to beat Michael Elgin was peak "making me have to give a shit about Ring of Honor to enjoy this show" which no way, buddy. Not a chance.
  • I'm still dumbfounded by how badly everyone hated Yoshitatsu. Sure, he's bad at his job, but it's not like he's Alex Riley stepping into a ROH show in Chicago. Does his story have more to it?
  • Man, between the marathon before the live show last week and both the G1 specials, if you drank every time Barnett or Jim Ross said "wrist control," you might be dead.
  • Yohei Komatsu was out there taking a hard-ass bump on his knees and Barnett and Ross were too busy rehashing the old "Who's on First?" Abbott and Costello bit as if the target audience's average age was 70-fucking-three.
  • The Tempura Boyz hit a really nice assisted version of the Omega Driver towards the end of the match. Stuff like that is why I was bummed they didn't get more of a spotlight on the live card and glad that they were in a smaller tag match and got more reps than Yoshitatsu on this one.
  • Watching David Finlay work as a hyper-junior heavyweight was jarring compared to his Belfast Bruising father, but it was also great to see him finding his own way and not doing exactly what daddy did.
  • Maybe the fans hated Yoshitatsu so much because they knew he was going to tease a Pedigree and thought it was trite and played out? Eh, probably not cuz they probably would've popped if Cody or Juice Robinson or someone they liked tried it.
  • Omega/Lethal started with a clean break in the ropes and Omega acting like he was gonna be good and sportsmanlike until he booted Lethal in the goddamn ribs, an all-time great low-key prick move.
  • Watching Omega bump here reminded me of the way Shawn Michaels used to flail and bump around the ring, only it indescribably looked better in some way. I always liked Michaels, but never really bought into him as a GOAT candidate (I know, I know, I'm insane, whatever), but Omega in many ways felt like both an evolution and an improvement at least over the three matches of that particular weekend.
  • The Lethal Injection-countered-into-a-lungblower spot was ambitious and good in theory, but it was probably the least-best part of this particular match.
  • Yeah, this match was the best Jay Lethal singles match I've seen. I guess this whole "Kenny Omega is a good wrestler" thing is more than just a meme, eh.
  • Ross and Barnett really liked making jabs about Tomohiro Ishii's body type as if the former wasn't some doughy commentator.
  • People who want to be able to fold comic relief into a serious match need to watch the opening sequence of Ishii/Zack Sabre, Jr. where Sabre just rips into Ishii with strikes with no effect while being countered with being knocked on his ass in one go. Comedy in wrestling isn't just exaggerated and overt Chikara/DDT matches or shitty Vince McMahon cruelty vignettes.
  • Ishii grunting and groaning while in Sabre's submission manipulation did more to sell them than anyone clutching a joint in any prior match.
  • Anyone who says that submission/technical/British grappling needs to see Sabre's counter of the sliding lariat into an armbar, and if they're still not convinced, they will never be.
  • Barnett: "Ishii is built like Ram-Man from Masters of the Universe." Well, he's not wrong.
  • Ross made an offhand comment coming back from commercial into match number four that AXS was the "Sammy Hagar Network," which maybe if he was good at his job would be an insightful jab. It takes a lot for me to side with a corporation or a network over a singular dude, but in Ross' case...
  • Volador, Jr. looked like a powered up speedster dodging dudes to get to the ropes to Asai moonsault BUSHI on the outside. I really need to watch CMLL, don't I?
  • Comic relief in serious wrestling part II: Titan walking on his hands to do an assumed cool-ass spot and SANADA just booting him in the chest like it was nothing.
  • After the second night in a row of Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee going at it in a tag match, I'm officially mad at Gedo for not booking them in a singles match.
  • Dude, Titan's Asai moonsault was a goddamn rainbow in arc. These CMLL dudes are so, so good.
  • Haku came out with his kids, the Guerrillas of Destiny, and Hangman Page, and I immediately got angry that he wasn't getting the shot against Hiroshi Tanahashi instead of William "Mr. Ass" Gunn. He was also rocking the hell out of some dad jeans, which gave me at least one thing in common with a legit wrestling murder machine.
  • Put Michael Elgin against Kenny Omega, and the crowd hates him. Put him with War Machine against the Bullet Club B-Team, and the crowd loves him. Makes sense.
  • War Machine lawn-darting the Guerrillas into each other gave my HOSS sense a mighty tingle, it did.
  • Hanson used his beard to work over Tama Tonga, but then right after, Page started yanking him around by those whiskers. When you live by the beard, you die by the beard, I guess.
  • Honestly, in a night full of great wrestling and big feats of athleticism, Hanson moving around and showing off the agility of a CMLL luchador was and will always be the most impressive.
  • The Guerrillas calling Elgin "fatboy" will never not be funny. Of course, them doing it is alright because they're prick heels and not the goddamn voices of the fucking broadcast.
  • Page said in post-match promos that he was coming for the Tag Titles, which, okay, but who's going to be your partner, dude?
  • Matt Jackson spent a good portion of his match staring daggers and yelling at the announce booth. Apparently, it wasn't exactly worked. Of course, Barnett wasn't the only one with the shitty announcing though; Ross at one point wondered aloud if they were tired of being compared to the Hardy Boys or the Rock 'n Roll Express which was like dude, they're the most over act not in WWE right now, and not everything needs to fucking be couched in a pre-2003 mainstream wrestling promotion reference.
  • The Bucks/RPG Vice match didn't really start to pick up until Matt took Baretta all the way up the entry way and powerbombed him on the ramp, which was sublime for its utter ridiculousness.
  • If I ever see a Young Bucks match where I'm not impressed by their tandem offense, they've officially lost it. Exhibit A here saw Matt draping Rocky Romero from the apron over the floor and Nick hitting him with a senton atomico.
  • The Bucks worked over Romero with headlocks, which caused this exchange from the announcers. ROSS: "It's not often you see the Young Bucks use a wrestling hold." BARNETT: "They know 'em!" Oh go fuck off, dweebs.
  • I could, however, go without ever seeing someone trying to rana two guys at the same time again, and I rarely ever bristle at how "fake" looking moves are. Romero doing it to both the Bucks wasn't a good look.
  • I loved the inverted More Bang for Your Buck and I loved Baretta selling it hard even more. Who says the juniors don't have any psychology? My only complaint was that it didn't finish the match, but then again, I've been so woefully out of practice on Young Bucks matches since like 2013/'14 that maybe they've transitioned away from it? I don't know.
  • Among all the cool spots, the other big thing from this match was the amount of finisher-level kickouts that didn't require tag saves. I guess with the aftermath of the match rolling out the way it did, I can understand, but it was still a tad dismaying.
  • Okay, so truth be told, Nick didn't get everything on the Herbert Meltzer Driver (the traditional Meltzer Driver, only done to the outside from the top rope in honor of Dave Meltzer's late father). But man, the fact that Barnett stressed on that part and otherwise went about his day like it was a headlock, y'know, I'd be fucking pissed off at him too.
  • Roppongi Vice breaking up amicably was great and more teams should do it that way. Given that the market leaders like to treat tag teams like Twix bars, I'm not holding my breath.
  • Ross taking a shot at the Bullet Club for "originality" was rich especially since Eric Bischoff got the idea for an invasion angle watching a New Japan show, or as if 99 percent of the shit in wrestling is a rip off of something else.
  • The opening sequence of the eight-man CHAOS/Bullet Club match with tag after tag from the Club side got a little old in short order, but it got the crowd to chant for both Bad Luck Fale AND Yujiro Takahashi. Small miracles, y'know?
  • Will Ospreay taking taking a pint during that whole thing was a nice touch too, especially since I imagined certain Twitter personalities furiously drafting tweets blasting him for imbibing during a match.
  • I've had Fale all wrong. I realized this after he just plain ol' sat on Ospreay. He owns.
  • One angle of Takahashi gnawing on Jay Briscoe's thumb was that it was a tremendous dick heel move and part of an overall oeuvre from the Club to highlight their delicious prickdom during a fun match. Another angle was me wondering how many times Mark has shoot done that to Jay back on the chicken farm.
  • Even as a vicious heel, Sabre's digit manipulation only tops out at uncomfortable. Marty Scurll's easily crosses into sickening, and yes, that's a compliment.
  • Scurll blocking the Rainmaker with his umbrella was the spot of the year, even if it was extremely, uncannily on the nose.
  • Cody was mostly inoffensive in this match, which makes sense since his best matches are often tag matches. However, I had to laugh when he went stride for stride countering Ospreay on a springboard move to lead into the finish.
  • Ross waxing nostalgic about Lou Thesz while Billy Gunn hit a spinning Complete Shot on Hiroshi Tanahashi made me feel like I was in some kind of cruel time warp.
  • Gunn did all the "working over the limb" stuff the right way, but it came off so dull. It's almost like he was built to be a decent tag worker and was not made to go super long in singles matches where he had to do too much...
  • Tanahashi pulled down Gunn's pants to reveal a neon-green undergarment, which was less obscene than when Gunn reciprocated and showed The Ace's butthole to the Long Beach crowd. I'm sure many in the crowd ended up appreciating it, but still.
  • Still, Tanahashi's bare ass wasn't the most ribald thing to make itself known in this match, as Gunn told him to "Eat shit, bitch" and "Suck my dick, motherfucker" in succession towards the end of the match. I guess Gunn wasn't a fan of WWE's PG rating ever?
  • The Ishii/Omega main event started with the former angrily charging his shoulder into the latter's chest and the latter just wiping it off just nonchalant-like. I think I knew from that point this match was going to be special.
  • Ishii and Omega battled into the crowd, thus fulfilling the great "big match where brawling spills out into the fans" quotient for the NJPW weekend.
  • I think the big reason why Omega works for me on a transcendent level is that he seems to enjoy getting his ass kicked, not in the self-deprecating Mankind way or the macho, I WANNA SHOW I'M SO TOUGH WHEN I NO SELL IT Davey Richards way but in a legitimate, normalized, sadomasochistic way. When Ishii penalty kicked him in the back, he went from wincing in pain to looking like he just found the strong water jet in the hot tub. It's refreshing.
  • Honestly, one should never say never, but I'm not sure anyone is going to have a spot sequence in a wrestling match as thrilling and visually stunning as everything leading up to the suplex from the apron through the table. Ishii was fucking biting the top rope to stay balanced. That's fuckin' dedication.
  • Unlike Elgin, Ishii can time a 19-count correctly though.
  • I'm glad that the end coda saw Cody fake out the dissension and strap Omega with the United States Championship. I'm so conditioned by WWE to expect continuation with no respite for resolution, no matter how fleeting it is that I thought New Japan was going to pull the trigger on the Bullet Club fracture, but I'm glad it didn't.

Match of the Night: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii - All the stories I've heard about epic New Japan main events that were overblown from night one rang true here. Between Omega's theatrics and wonderful facial expressiveness and Ishii's literal personification of anger, this match was both a fitting close to the show and to the weekend itself. Both wrestlers left everything in the ring, and put on a show that put not only themselves and the new title over, but New Japan itself to a new audience, from the moment that Omega just blithely wiped Ishii's shoulder block from his chest like it was ketchup someone spilled on him at a restaurant all the way through the finishing sequence.

Omega put on his guttiest performance of the weekend here against an opponent whose periodic no-selling of shit actually makes sense. In fact, The Cleaner reminded me of classic Shawn Michaels on more than one occasion in this match, only with more likability and panache. Against a monstrous golem of a man in Ishii, this motif played absolutely perfectly, especially with Ishii regularly coming close to destroying the Hansen Scale on earth-shattering lariats.

But the best part of the match, nay the weekend, was an encapsulation of everything that made the greater contest incredible. Omega trying to suplex Ishii off the apron onto a table represented a microcosm of the greater struggle. Omega struggled and struggled to wrest the Stone Pitbull off the apron, but he kept fighting and fighting, even down to biting the top rope to stay safe, to stay alive. It was a perfect foreshadow to the ending of the match, where it took however many knees and a wrist-clutch variant on the One Winged Angel to lift Omega to the match and the title. Masterful storytelling from two incredible wrestlers.

Overall Thoughts: Night one of this G1 USA special was a fascinating and impressive show, but while night two didn't have the sheen or the live broadcast on AXS (many people took advantage of the live telecast on New Japan World though), it actually, all-in-all, was a better show. The worst match on the card by far, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Billy Gunn, was better than at least three matches on the first show, and no match was really bad, not even the infamous Intercontinental Championship match. I don't wanna call it the "platonic ideal" of a New Japan show since this was only the third full show of the company's I'd seen, but it felt like what someone like Dave Meltzer would liberally throw snowflakes at while telling everyone that this was the best wrestling in the world by far as if he were a paid spokesperson.

Where this show was elevated compared to the prior night most drastically was the main event. Night one had Kazuchika Okada trying to do his 30 minutes or bust shtick with someone who has never, ever been asked to go that long on a main stage, and whose performance showed how limited he was. Night two showcased two of NJPW's elite (no pun intended, I swear) who have had a lot of practice going long, and who are familiar with what its fans, current or prospective, like and want to see. And both their semifinal matches were incredible as well, especially Ishii/Zack Sabre, Jr. Watching Ishii work within Sabre's innovative grappling and seeing Sabre actually play up some comedic rudo underdog shtick played off incredibly well on camera, and it showed that ZSJ in the G1 itself is going to be a goddamn treat.

Sure, the show had another spate of multi-wrestler matches, but in all honesty, what kind of talking point is "multi-man matches are bad" anyway? When done well, they highlight wrestlers' strengths and keep them short so that they don't get overexposed while allowing for long stretches with big action. All of them were at least fun, especially CHAOS vs. the Bullet Club, which was able to highlight everything that makes wrestling great, from comedy to big spots to pathos and everything in between.

The show actually dipped most with the non-tournament showcase matches. Tanahashi and Gunn wasn't so much a bad match as it was a boring one. Gunn had the same problem that Cody had on night one, hell, the same problem he had in 1999 when WWE split up the New Age Outlaws for solo runs. He's not built for long, showcase singles matches, and thus he came off as utterly dull. I also don't think Tanahashi handled him as well, but the match was helped by a shorter run-time and with a lot of character antics. The Bucks and Roppongi Vice match may have been, as the Bucks have accused, brought down by the announcing, but it still felt they were moving in pudding for the first five-ten minutes. Still, the match picked up big at the end, and it felt like a classic Bucks Pro Wrestling Guerrilla match with all the big spots and bombast fans have come to know and love.

Speaking of the announcing, if I had to dock this telecast for anything, it'd be for presentation. Jim Ross and Josh Barnett are not a good announce team. They have good chemistry, but it's to the detriment of the broadcast. Ross has lost not only his fastball, but his changeup, curveball, and splitter. The flubs and mix-ups are one thing, and he could still have salvaged his weekend if he only had even the most general preparedness, but it felt like he just wanted to get his shit in and didn't care if it helped or hurt the broadcast, which is funny since he loves yelling at wrestlers for being like that in the ring. Barnett lost me when he totally no-sold the Herbert Meltzer Driver and talked over a fuckin' Young Bucks match like it was Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon doing National Public Radio hosts on a Saturday Night Live skit, and that he was doing so on purpose because he doesn't like them. At what point does New Japan or AXS TV cut bait for unprofessionalism? Fortunately, Ross' WWE contract means his time is short, but Barnett is still going to be a problem.

Additionally, the camera work both nights was lacking, especially during multi-man matches, where they would train themselves on cold areas and miss some big bumps. Those mistakes were egregious flubs Kevin Dunn's team wouldn't even make. When you're trying to make it big in a new market, the content may not be guaranteed to speak for itself if the presentation is bad. Going forward, NJPW needs better English announcers and improved camera work in order to allow the wrestling to reach its best efficacy. The product in the ring is golden; even through the muck and mire, that's apparent. However, when WWE dominates the market, you can't settle for garbled transmissions and expect even to compete with NXT. It would be a damn shame if the New Japan invasion failed because the the product, as superior as it might be, was presented like shit.