Whilst the Western Wrestling World is focussed on next weekend’s WrestleMania, New Japan is building up to their own spring special, with April’s Invasion Attack event. As with pretty much every New Japan show, they have a road to get there… and Sunday March 27 was no different, as they returned to Korakuen Hall.

Featuring some names who haven’t been around much since WrestleKingdom, New Japan rejigged the card somewhat… and that meant we finally got David Finlay and Jay White on the card and in matches not against each other! The main thread for Sunday’s show was a five-match series between New Japan and the Bullet Club – sans the Young Bucks – with a series of matches that didn’t look too one-sided.

Before I start on this recap… it’s worth saying that there was an awful lot of Los Ingobernables de Japon merchandise being worn in the crowd. ProWrestlingTees.com – get the newer stuff online, stat!

Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Beretta & Rocky Romero vs. KUSHIDA, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & David Finlay

One of the downsides of New Japan multi-man matches is that everyone comes out to one team member’s song. That leads to some awkward entrances, such as this one when all of the CHAOS faction came out to Ishii’s music… let’s just say that the Roppongi Vice act doesn’t suit Ishii’s theme!

A decent match, with a lot of the early going seeing the CHAOS quartet focussing on Liger, at least until Ishii found out that Liger’s mask withstood headbutts. The crowd went stone dead quiet (no pun intended) when Ishii and KUSHIDA had a lengthy encounter with each other. The arrival of RPG Vice against David Finlay awoke the crowd, and somewhere in here, Toru Yano ripped off a turnbuckle padding and used it to bat down the non-CHAOS quartet… but of course he ended up taking the exposed turnbuckle himself.

Romero wiped out KUSHIDA with a tope suicida, and then returned to help Beretta hit the Strong Double Zero on Finlay (belly to back piledriver/foot stomp combo) to get CHAOS the win. A good opening match, even if there was little spectacular here. KUSHIDA’s in the awkward holding pattern until his Invasion Attack match with Will Ospreay, but at least they used the post-match to set up RPG Vice vs. Sydal/Ricochet next month.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi & Captain New Japan

Captain New Japan and Juice Robinson on the same team? This’ll make the “who’s taking the fall?” game trickier…Juice got rid of his hideous red and black tartan-esque trunks, but Taguchi is still doing the Nakamura tribute (that has worked so well for others in the past!).

Tenzan peppers Shibata with headbutts at the bell, but the NEVER Openweight champion gets the better of him before knocking the rest of his older opponents off the apron. Of course, this enrages them, so Messrs Tenzan, Nagata and Nakanishi (combined age: 141 years old) take shots at Shibata as Kojima restrains him. There’s a funny sequence as Taguchi’s hip strikes didn’t work on any of the veterans, who then took turns to literally kick his ass.

In a jarring moment, Captain New Japan and Juice Robinson set up Manabu Nakanishi for a distraction that allowed Taguchi to successfully use a hip attack, but New Japan quickly reverted to his useless ways as he got blasted by an errant Shibata boot. The veterans took the win when Nakanishi hit Captain New Japan with a chop off the top rope at the same time as Nagata hit a kick to the head, before Nagata got the win with his Backdrop Hold suplex. A fun match, but only when it was Shibata vs. the World.

Cody Hall vs. Michael Elgin

This is the first match of the Bullet Club vs. New Japan series… and oh God, it’s going to mean the return of Cody’s loud selling! Cody towers over Elgin, and seems to be equally unmovable, as the two smash into each other in the early going. Elgin busts out a stalling suplex that evokes memories of the British Bulldog (there’s my Matt Striker moment for the report!), but Hall quickly grabs the advantage on the floor by giving Elgin a chokeslam onto the apron.

Another sojourn outside sees Elgin give Hall a snap bodyslam – something which perhaps wasn’t so wise given a) Hall’s height and b) the closeness of the guardrail to the ring. Back inside, Elgin gets a near fall from an Oklahoma Stampede, whilst Hall comes close when he caught Elgin on the second rope, and delivered a Sky High powerbomb. Elgin blocks an Outsider’s edge and responds with a Roaring Elbow, before the two collide with stiff clotheslines into each other.

Hall tries for the Outsider’s Edge again, but gets back body dropped by Elgin, who follows up with a deadlift German suplex for a count of two, before securing the win with a pinning powerbomb. Not Big Mike’s best, I’m afraid – slow and plodding, more than likely as a result of idiot proofing this match. There was nothing wrong, but these two clearly aren’t on the same level, but there’s potential in young Cody.

New Japan 1, Bullet Club 0

Jay White vs. Kenny Omega

I thought that this one had squash” written all over it, but by the end, I was proven wrong. Kenny Omega and his branded broom seem to have stopped baiting the New Day. Brandishing his IWGP Intercontinental title, Omega’s NEVER six-man belt seems like an afterthought… but nevertheless, neither of these were on the line here.

White slaps Omega, who spits back, and we have a war going here, and White more than holds his own in the early going. Omega gets whipped into the guard rails a few times, but then sees his head superkicked off by the IC champ. Omega then wraps the New Zealander in the ringside mats, almost as if he were in a sleeping bag, and hits a running double stomp off the apron into the mound of White.

Back inside, White punches his way free out of a powerbomb, then takes down Omega with a dropkick, but his period of dominance looked to have ended when Omega catches him climbing the ropes, only for White to fight free and connect with a missile dropkick. Omega lunges for the ropes when White went for a pumphandle slam, and launches a chop into White’s chest as the New Zealander came running off the ropes.

White successfully connects at the second attempt with a fallaway pumphandle slam that got him a two-count, but an effort to follow up with a Boston crab saw Omega kick his way free before getting a near fall of his own with a superkick. White counters a One Winged Angel with a sunset flip, which transitioned into a Boston crab, then a STF and crossface, but Omega fought free in a roll-through and quickly dumped White with a snap Dragon suplex. After rolling down his kickpad, and one Shining Wizard later, Kenny Omega levels up the one-night series.

New Japan 1, Bullet Club 1

Yujiro Takahashi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

This match has to be a rib on Western writers, right? Takahashi comes out to the old Bullet Club theme rather than his nifty “All Night Long” jazz solo, and of course, this being the Bullet Club, we get a jump start, as Takahashi floors Tanahashi with a clothesline as he entered the ring, then waffles him with steel chair shots outside the ring. This show came without commentary on New Japan World, which makes the camera shot of (special commentator) Satoshi Kojima even more odd.

Back in the ring, Tanahashi grounds Takahashi with a crossface, which the Bullet Club youngster bit his way out of. Well, that’s innovative, at least. Takahashi routinely resorts to heelish tactics here, which will be the only way he (should) have a chance of getting a win. Tanahashi skinned the cat after being thrown out of the ring, but found himself on the receiving end of a slingshot into the ropes and a double arm DDT after all that.

Tanahashi blocks a German suplex but still can’t remain on top, as Takahashi delivers a forearm before trapping his foe in a backbreaker. Takahashi shoves Tanahashi into the referee, giving an opening for a low blow and a roll-up that only gets the BC-er a two count. Tanahashi repeats the same spot, but follows up with a Cross Rhodes instead of a roll-up, and a Slingblade before getting the win with the High Fly Flow.

It was what it was – Tanahashi was the only one who should have won, but Takahashi still needs more time before anyone will be able to accept him at this level.

New Japan 2, Bullet Club 1

Bad Luck Fale vs. Tomoaki Honma

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t expecting a good match from this, and whilst they didn’t let me down, it wasn’t horrible. Maybe Fale is growing on me?

Honma did the usual “can Fale be slammed?” spot, failing at the first time, then falling on his own back at the second go, before they spilled outside. Honma teased a count-out loss, selling until the count of 18 before springing up and making it back in at 19.999, but like Hall/Elgin earlier, this match dragged badly.

Fale dominated Honma as you’d expect a guy of his size to; slams, big splashes and nerve holds were the order of the day, and whenever Honma did fire back with forearms and his Kokeshi headbutts, you got the sense that it wasn’t going to be too long before Fale was back in the driving seat, even after Honma sent him crashing with a clothesline. Fale got out of the way of a diving headbutt, but could only get a two-count after hitting the Grenade, and the crowd woke up when he teased the Bad Luck Fall (Outsider’s Edge), only for Honma to roll him up for a count of two. Fale responded with a clothesline that dumped Honma on his head, and then hit the Bad Luck Fall to get the win and tie the series.

New Japan 2, Bullet Club 2

Tama Tonga vs. Togi Makabe

With the series tied at two apiece, and a ten-man Survivor Series-esque elimination match between the Bullet Club/New Japan guys on next Friday’s follow-up show at Korakuen Hall, this match really was only to see who won the battle… and progress another storyline involving these two.

Of course, Invasion Attack sees Tama Tonga challenge for the IWGP tag team titles (currently held by Makabe and Honma), so it was a no brainer that this match was the “finale” of the series. A lot of the early going revolved around Makabe and Tonga taking chest-first bumps into the security rails, before it returned to the ring where things went more in Makabe’s favour, as the champion scored a near fall with a Northern Lights suplex on Tonga.

Tonga got the advantage back when he pulled the referee in front of a charging Makabe – creating the opening for him to hit the Stun Gun. I’m never going to be a big fan of guys taking on moves from their peers after they’ve left a company, particularly when they were so closely linked… however, Tonga’s call to lock in a guillotine went sour, as Makabe turned it into a suplex, followed by a belly to back superplex. Makabe then went to follow up from the top, only for him to be shoved down by the debuting Tonga Roa (formerly Myca/Camacho in TNA/WWE respectively).

Roa’s involvement caused a rare disqualification in New Japan, handing Makabe the win (and New Japan the series win), but this was all just a set-up to debut Roa and showcase his power, as Roa blasted New Japan young boys with fallaway slams, before Roa and Tonga delivered what will likely be their tag team finisher – a lifted-up/aided DDT. Roa’s introduction got a response from the Korakuen crowd at least, but it’ll be interesting to see how viable a threat they’re seen as in a big match setting.

Series Result: New Japan 3, Bullet Club 2

Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & BUSHI vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI

Given that Los Ingobernables de Japon are supposed to be heels, there’s an awful lot of fans wearing merchandise and cosplay of this trio. Hint: capitalise on this! Unfortunately, BUSHI gets the short straw and doesn’t get a solo entrance… maybe he needs to add lasers or something to his entrance? Meanwhile, Naito is eyeing up Milano Collection AT (who’s giving commentary for Japanese TV), as they continue to play up to the climax of this storyline that’ll likely come at Invasion Attack.

Speaking of, we start off with Naito and Okada – or at least, so we thought, as EVIL gets tagged in before they could even lock up. Then once Okada’s back is turned, Naito comes in and attacks him from behind, before cowering away as EVIL becomes the whipping boy to open it off. The heels take charge again when BUSHI uses his t-shirt to choke out YOSHI-HASHI, and of course, that means that he wears the steel chair and gets rammed into the post. I say that… we don’t actually see YOSHI-HASHI take the bump, but we did see the set-up, as the camera focussed on Naito chasing Gedo out of the building.

The subtleties in the heels’ work here was amazing – from the obvious of EVIL pulling the ropes away as YOSHI-HASHI tried to reach for a break in a crossface, to EVIL raking his hands with his boot after finally making it. Hirooki Goto was a house of fire when he got the hot tag, clearing out BUSHI before having a crack at EVIL (literally, in the case of a headbutt or two!), however, EVIL caught a kick then took down Goto with a capture suplex.

We finally had a taste of Naito vs. Okada, and the IWGP champion got the better of their first exchanges before an exchange of forearms ended with Naito spitting in Okada’s face. Naito caught Okada in a Koji clutch, only for YOSHI-HASHI to break the hold as Okada looked to be well on the way to fading. Naito almost got the win with Gloria on YOSHI-HASHI, only for the pin to be broken up.

EVIL and Naito combined to lay out YOSHI-HASHI with a double gorilla press slam, but Goto broke up the pin-fall. The ensuing melee saw Okada take BUSHI’s green mist, followed by a low blow by Naito, as a Destino on YOSHI-HASHI secured a win for Naito and the rest of Los Ingobernables de Japon.

A really fun main event, but the booker in me wasn’t so keen to have seen Okada and Naito actually face off against each other, particularly just two weeks out from their title match, but at least their encounter was kept short. Post-match, as Okada continued to sell the mist, Naito wiped out the referee with a low dropkick, before Gedo was thrown into the ring and took a beating, as Naito wiped out Okada with a Destino.

With two weeks to go to Invasion Attack, this was what it needed to be – a solid show, but one that you could do with missing just about everything but the main event. Next Friday’s show at Korakuen Hall – featuring the 10-man New Japan vs. Bullet Club elimination match – is live on New Japan World as the “go home” to the following weekend’s Invasion Attack.