Barely a week after CHAOS looked to implode, New Japan took the trip back to the States as the road to King of Pro Wrestling took a few turns.
We’re watching this on-delay from Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California. Kevin Kelly’s joined by Jim Ross on commentary. Photos from the arena made it look like Walter Pyramid was a little more sparse than usual, coming barely six months since the Strong Style Evolved show in the same venue.
Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH & Rocky Romero) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi
Liger was the undeniable favourite in this match, and he was on top early as he pulled YOH into a Romero special as his tag partners had the rest of Roppongi 3K at bay. That led to Taguchi doing his thing, crashing into YOH with a hip attack, before YOH reverses an Irish whip and sends Liger into Taguchi’s Funky Weapon.
Liger began to fire back against Rocky… who goes low and takes out the leg, only for some attempted triple-teaming to backfire as Liger outsmarted them. ACH picks up the mantel as he blasted through SHO and YOH with ease, before taking down SHO with chops and a deadlift German for a near-fall. SHO tries to return the favour, and eventually hauls up ACH.
That led to Taguchi coming in… and whiffing on a hip attack as Rocky unleashes some Forever clotheslines, at least until he runs into a hip attack as Taguchi finally finds his mark. Poor Roppongi 3K, taking that arse, but they reply with a low dropkick… which misses. Another hip attacks lands in an atomic drop, as Roppongi 3K turn it around with some knees for a near-fall, before ACH gets back in with a tope to the former junior tag champions as back in the ring, we just about catch the impact from Dodon as Taguchi gets the win. Yay for iffy production, but this was a solid opener. **¾
For some reason JR tries to slide in a plug for the Liger/Pillman match from Nitro back in the day here. I wonder where you can watch that. Hint: not on the place you’re likely watching this!
Bullet Club Elite (Hangman Page & Chase Owens) vs. SCU (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian)
Can you say “World Tag League warm-up”? I’m making that quip a lot, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see both of these teams in the mix.
Some good early exchanges saw Kazarian and Page trade clotheslines with each other, before Chase Owens tagged in to score a neckbreaker on Christopher Daniels… who replied with one of his own. The Bullet Club pair worked together, going big on those neckbreakers before Page pulled off a dropsault, taking down Daniels before getting a near-fall on Kazarian. Owens keeps up with some shots to Kazarian’s back, before a backbreaker drew a near-fall. A bridging pumphandle fallaway slam from Page nearly gets the win on Kazarian, before grounding Kazarian with a front facelock. Kazarian eventually escapes and gets the tag out to a fired-up Daniels, who scored with a STO on Page. There’s a nice uranage onto a reverse DDT as the Bullet Club were taken out single-handedly, before another uranage on Owens looked to set up for the Best Moonsault Ever.
Owens rolls up Daniels for a near-fall, then gets out of the way as Page’s Buckshot Lariat set up Daniels for a slingshot backbreaker for a near-fall. On the outside, there’s a shooting star headbutt attempted by Page, but he lands in a lungblower by Kaz on the floor, before returning to help his partner with the Best Meltzer Ever (moonsault-assisted tombstone) for the win. A heck of a finishing sequence, but otherwise your usual undercard match. ***
The visibly-empty seats scattered throughout the business are not exactly making this show look “must-see” in the early stages.
Hirooki Goto & Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta) vs. Jeff Cobb, Chris Sabin & Flip Gordon
Jeff Cobb came out with some ROH spoilers right around his waist.
Chuckie and Sabin start us off with some quick-paced stuff, culminating in a lucha roll-up from Chuckie for a near-fall. Things go sour as Chuckie’s isolated in the corner and squashed by Cobb, ahead of a running shooting star from Gordon and a La Magistral from Sabin for a near-fall. Things switch around as Sabin gets cornered… not helped by Flip Gordon coming in to take an assisted cutter, but Jeff Cobb restores order. Well, at least until Hirooki Goto went after him, to renew their brief rivalry, but this latest skirmish ends with a PK off the apron by Chris Sabin before Beretta… runs into a hug.
The dives come off anyay as the Best Friends try to focus on Sabin again, working towards a stomp on the head before Goto tagged in and exerted himself on the former Motor City Machine Gun. I just realised that this match is three heavyweights against a real big guy and two juniors, so it shouldn’t have been a shock that they were selling! Sabin eventually fought back, sending the Best Friends into each other with a drop toe hold, before scoring with a tornado DDT… A tag’s made to Gordon, who lives up to his name with some explosive offence, then a step-up tope con giro to Chuckie T on the outside. A froggy crossbody’s good for a near-fall to Beretta back inside, before Flip runs into a diving boot out of nowhere. Tags bring in the big guys, with Cobb chopping through Goto with ease… only for him to miss a Stinger splash as Goto fought back into things.
Goto keeps up with a spinning heel kick and a Saito suplex for a near-fall, before Cobb counters a GTR into a suplex. A missed standing moonsault costs Cobb, who’s hauled up by the Best Friends for a Best Suplex… only for him to return the favour with a double back suplex with ease! Chuckie thought he’d won it with a piledriver, but hauling up Cobb like that only got him a two-count, before he misses a moonsault and gets thrown into a Tour of the Islands for the win. Really good stuff, and with Jeff Cobb taking the fall, it’s clear they’ve plans for him… against Goto?! ***¼
Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.)) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & SANADA)
When this was announced, you can imagine how thrilled folks were that “Zack got pulled from PROGRESS for this”, but it’s more build for the Sabre/EVIL feud, so it’s all good.
Guess what? Jump start… and it shocked the cameraman so much he downed tools! EVIL and Sabre start off, with the latter getting bulldozed through with a shoulder charge, but things changed when SANADA tagged in, as a hiptoss was blocked… meaning the pair swapped abdominal stretches until SANADA ended up in the Suzuki-gun corner. A low dropkick from SANADA takes down Smith, who’s quickly tied into a Paradise Lock… that he powered out of with ease!
Lance Archer’s in next as Naito’s laid out on the floor, before Smith returns to trap SANADA in a bridging leg grapevine. That segued into a Trailer Hitch, then a STF, before some rolling Germans eventually were flipped out of by SANADA, who hit back with a missile dropkick. A ‘rana stops Archer’s interference as Naito finally tagged in, and he instantly lit up the Suzuki-gun trio. A slingshot dropkick traps Sabre in the corner, while a neckbreaker dumps Smith… but the KES rebounded and took down Naito with a splash/sidewalk slam combo for a near-fall. Naito tags back out to EVIL, but Sabre’s back too to trade uppercuts, only to get taken down and squashed with a back senton. EVIL doesn’t go for the cover, and instead gets caught in a mounted Kimura as Sabre turns it around… but a suplex gets him free.
SANADA rushes back in as they try to double-team Sabre… but it’s low dropkicks from Naito and SANADA that clock Sabre as the KES and Naito and SANADA end up fighting on the outside. Back in the ring, Sabre ends up taking a wonky-looking Darkness Falls for a near-fall out of an Octopus attempt, before he slips out of Everything is EVIL and scores the pin with a Euro clutch… flipping off the crowd while doing so. A fun finish, but man, this felt a little too pedestrian for my tastes. **¾
Post-match, Davey Boy Smith Jr. dishes out a running powerslam to Naito in the aisle as Suzuki-gun stood tall.
Jay White & Gedo vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA
The first appearance of White and Gedo since the events in Kobe, Gedo’s switched up his gear, wrestling in tracksuit bottoms. I guess those “RAIN TAKER” trunks are no longer in season…
Tanahashi went straight for Jay White at the bell, picking up where White left things off in Kobe a week earlier, and it’s all Tanahashi early on… at least until he’s shoved over the top rope and to the floor as that nasty spill had White in control. Away from the camera’s gaze, Gedo’s going to town on KUSHIDA, while White was inching ever closer to the English commentary desk, as they feared a repeat of the G1 special. Returning to the ring there’s a Saito suplex from White for a near-fall, before Gedo tagged in and continued to wear him down with what Gedo claimed was “just a sleeperhold”.
White continues on Tanahashi, dropping an elbow for a two-count as KUSHIDA was a non-entity in this. At least Tanahashi was able to fight back, eventually crashing into Gedo with a crossbody out of the corner before bringing KUSHIDA into play. A springboard chop takes down Gedo, while White ate a handspring kick… KUSHIDA keeps up with a gamengiri before landing the hiptoss and a cartwheel dropkick for good measure. A leaping DDT from KUSHIDA gets chained into a cross armbreaker, then a Hoverboard lock on Gedo, but White breaks it up. Tanahashi’s brought back in, knocking down White with a leaping forearm, before a Slingblade’s countered… and back out into the Twist and Shout. A High Fly Flow’s teased… but Gedo punches Tanahashi with some brasss knuckles, sending the G1 Climax winner down to the mat before a simple Blade Runner got the win. On paper, this was all storyline, but the match itself felt rather pedestrian. **¾
After the match, White took the mic and demanded that Tanahashi put his briefcase on the line – if only to scare New Japan as they “didn’t like the thought of two foreigners in the main event of WrestleKingdom”. He again uttered the line “New Era”, which makes me think that CHAOS Is going away and being superceded by a new faction with that name.
Interval time! It’s so odd to say that on a New Japan show these days… and with this being the live stream it’s left in too. Time to fast-forward…
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Semi-Final: Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay
With a new robe, inspired by Martina (probably)… Leopard-print Scurll doesn’t look good. Just like the production choice to dub in the entrance videos…
This was a feud that’s been going since forever, and this nearly ended right at the gate when Ospreay ran into Scurll with a Spanish Fly, before following him outside for a Sasuke special and a shooting star press for a bunch of early near-falls. Scurll scurries outside to avoid an OsCutter, but he ends up taking a tope as Ospreay SHOT out of the gates. When that first flurry didn’t work though, Ospreay decided to change tactics, throwing a series of kicks to Scurll, who fired back with a slap and an uppercut that sends Will outside for a superkick. God, that head and neck of Will whiplashed so fast right there… with matters not helped with Scurll stomping on Ospreay’s head as the Villain started to chain together offence.
Chops come next from Scurll, as do boots to the head, before he chokes on Ospreay in the ropes – much to the referee’s chagrin. Somehow, Ospreay fires back with a handspring overhead kick, before clocking Scurll with the over-the-top 619… but Scurll cuts him off again and takes the match to the outside, with Ospreay getting thrown into the crowd barriers. They fight onto the apron as we get flashbacks to the Spanish Fly that messed up Ospreay’s neck earlier in the year, but Scurll blocks it and lifts him into the ring… only for Ospreay to shout out Hiromu with a sunset bomb to the floor instead.
Ospreay looks for an OsCutter, but it’s countered with a backslide and a superkick. Scurll can’t quite capitalise quickly enough, as he has to flip out of a Storm Breaker, only to get bounced into the ropes for a lariat. They head up top, but Ospreay’s bid at a super cutter’s stopped when Ospreay crotches him in the ropes ahead of a top rope ‘rana and a lariat that saw Ospreay land on his head for a near-fall. Another flurry of offence from Ospreay ends with him getting suplexed into a Chicken Wing, before Scurll goes for some roll ups and an eventual powerbomb for another two-count. A hook kick snuffs out Scurll as Ospreay was still in it, following back with a Cheeky Nando’s kick… only to get caught on the top rope as he prepared for something Marty joins him up top for a chicken wing, then counters it into OHMYGOD avalanche Tiger Suplex! HOLY GOD THAT WAS A HARD IMPACT. Somehow it’s only enough for a near-fall, so Scurll follows up with a package Air Raid Crash, then the Graduation for the win. This easily eclipsed the entire card thus far, and a hell of a sprint to boot. Who had these two down for a cracker of a match? Oh… everyone? Nevermind! ****½
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c)
At the G1 Climax finals, the Guerrillas of Destiny unseated the Bucks from their NEVER six man tag titles… can the Bullet Club OG continue their humiliation of the Elite?
The challengers had Haku back in their corner, which evoked memories of the G1 Special when the OG split apart from the Bullet Club… and as the second team to challenge the (heavyweight) Bucks. That all led to a white-hot atmosphere at the bell, and we start with both teams laying into each other, but it’s the Bucks who slow it down, with a popped-up dropkick helping settle things down, all while JR tried to talk about the Bucks without ever identifying them. I feel your pain, Jim.
The Bucks stay ahead as they focused on Tama Tonga, but Matt Jackson’s back problem flared up again, which meant that his pace quickly went from 100 right down to about 10. Matt tags out, but that puts him right in the belly of the beast as Tanga Loa takes him off the apron and lands a running powerslam on the outside. Matt’s thrown into the guard rails, while Tanga grabs a table from under the ring… and I’ve suddenly gotten a bad feeling on this.
The camera misses Nick Jackson throwing Tama into the guard rails – but manages to spot Matt being saved from being suplex through the table as Nick returned… and instead leaps into Tanga with a huge tope! Matt ends up taking the table though, with Tanga Loa pushing him off the top rope… which just made things worse as Nick eats a swandive headbutt and a frog splash as the Guerrillas’ bid to divide and conquer was coming up trumps. Nick takes a bunch of crossface punches from Tama, then gets cornered as Tanga Loa tags in… and charges him right back into that corner. There’s a stalling suplex for a near-fall from Tanga, as Matt slowly drags himself back onto the apron… just as Nick began a one-man comeback onto both of the challengers. It worked to some degree, with a moonsault breezing past Tanga Loa on the floor, but Tama’s right back with a Tongan Twist for a near-fall.
Tanga’s back in though as the Guerrillas always seemed to have a fresh man… but another Tongan Twist is blocked as Nick Jackson cartwheels out and lands a superkick to Tama. Matt finally gets the tag, but the huge question mark about his condition is brought into play as he hits a double clothesline… and reaches for his back. That’s kept up as he goes for a Sharpshooter on Tama, but his back gives out as Tanga Loa broke it up. A spear from Matt stems the tide, as Nick’s brought back to mount another comeback, getting some success with a double stomp and a lungblower to the challengers. Matt returns, but his back’s still shot… and despite playing his part in a superkick party for a near-fall, he ends up pushing himself too far as his part of More Bang For Your Buck needs a helping hand… only for him to take longer to pull off a moonsault, which connects for a near-fall anyway.
There’s more assistance from Nick as Matt helps him scoop up Tanga Loa… Tama Tonga stops the Meltzer Driver with a flying Gun Stun to Nick, and we’re back to business as Matt’s bad back leaves him prone. Matt superkicks out of an assisted Tongan Twist, but he ends up running into an elevated Gun Stun… and we’ve got new champions! Away from the crap we had during the G1, the Bullet Club OG have been rather efficient… and ruthless to boot, which led to this match which was a bit of a throwback for them. Hunt this one down! ****
IWGP United States Championship: Cody vs. Juice Robinson (c)
Even though he won the title only months ago, Juice is still perceived as a distant second to Cody here – thanks to an injury-plagued, dismal G1 run.
Cody perhaps isn’t taking this seriously as he should, as he starts by teasing throwing his t-shirt to the crowd… only for Brandi to take it instead. There’s stalling too, before Cody takes Juice into the ropes for… not a clean break. A chop barely fazes Juice, who asks for (and gets) more, before Cody dishes out a basement uppercut and ducks away from a crossbody as Juice sent himself to the outside.
Cody keeps up with a leaping body press, but Juice looks to get back in… only to get met with a reverse DDT as he shoved away Brandi, who overblew the impact of her brief brush with Juice. Back in the ring, Cody whiffs on a back senton, allowing Juice to try and make a comeback, but Brandi gets involved again, grabbing onto Juice’s ankles as he went to charge in with a cannonball. That distraction costs Juice as he’s met with a reverse STO in the ropes – or the Product Recall – for a near-fall, but Robinson rebounds with a leg lariat as he takes down Cody. A cannonball follows as the champion crashes into Cody in the corner, before a falling powerbomb just ends with Cody headscissoring his way free. Yep, more interference from Brandi, and I’m starting to tire of this.
Juice ducks a Disaster Kick on the apron, and tries to head up top… this time there’s no interference as he crashes down with a crossbody for a near-fall, but Cody’s right back in as he slips out of Pulp Friction and trips Juice for a Figure Four leglock… which Juice fights to try and roll through, finally reversing it as we pass the ten minute mark in the match. After taking a swig of water, Cody sprays Juice before another Disaster Kick gets a near-fall, and it sure does seem that Cody is “heel American Nightmare” rather than anything to do with Bullet Club here as he heels on the crowd. Juice avoids another basement uppercut, but they switch between Cross Rhodes and Pulp Friction… with the latter coming off, only for Brandi to pull Cody to the outside to safety. I AM SO OVER THIS.
Juice doesn’t want to take the count-out loss… and instead he heads out after Cody, and after hauling him up… he gets planted with Cross Rhodes. That’s Juice’s inexperience coming up once again as the champion’s naivety cost him. A count-out tease ends with both men returning to the ring at the count of 19, before they started to light up each other with back-and-forth strikes, bringing us duelling chants of “Juice!” and “Cody!”, before a Cody superkick brought an end to that.
Cody follows up with a Vertebreaker – dubbed Din’s Fire – for a near-fall… before he headed up top and got himself crotched in the ropes. Juice eventually goes up with Cody for a superplex… but Cody cradles him on impact and gets the win with a roll-up. Ehhh. Ehhh. Ehhh. I know Arnold Furious isn’t a fan of that spot, and it seemed fitting that it ended this match here. Cody’s collecting belts, adding the IWGP US title to his NWA title… but this match just felt “there”. I’m not a fan of Juice’s first title run being over so quick, even if he got “outwitted by a relative veteran”, but hey, if they’re making the US title a hot potato like many American straps are, then I guess this is meta. ***
Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Golden☆Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi)
With CHAOS seemingly in pieces, Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii pair up as the former IWGP champion looked to restore some sense of normalcy.
Okada and Ibushi get us going, starting off slowly as Okada works on Ibushi’s wrist, looking for an early Rainmaker, but Kota’s able to duck it. Tags out bring us back to Omega and Ishii, and yes, it’s back to their match from Hiroshima a few weeks ago as those to locked horns. They start with back-and-forth shoulder tackles, but Ishii sends Omega flying into the ropes before Kenny responds with some forearms.
Yeah, Ishii’s not registering those, as he throws a forearm of his own and drops Kenny, who sees Ibushi in to do his best impression of Big Tom, ignoring forearms before the Golden☆Lovers combine with kicks as a Kotaro Krusher gets Omega an early near-fall. Kicks from Kota catch Ishii off guard, taking him into the ropes… but he responds with another shoulder block as the “refrigerator with legs” put down the Golden Star.
Okada tags in next, and stares a hole through Omega, but rather than have Kota tag him in, the Rainmaker just antagonises the champion… as there still seems to be unfinished business there. A neckbreaker gets Okada a near-fall, before Ishii’s brought back in to help charge through Ibushi as the CHAOS tandem looked to have decided who they were focusing on. Except Kenny Omega wanted to stop it… and he’s quickly met with a flurry as Ishii took him to the outside and into the guard railings. With Omega licking his proverbial wounds, Ibushi remained up against it, with a running low dropkick from Okada not really helping matters. There’s more trolling on Ibushi, with Ishii throwing headbutts, only to get taken down with a dropkick as Ibushi finally tags in Omega, who nails a High Fly Flow-like crossbody to the Stone Pitbull. Those two resume their exchange of strikes, with chops going a little high before a leaping DDT from Omega went awry, looking more like a flying facebuster for a near-fall.
Keeping it in the ring, Ishii catches Omega with a scoop slam off the ropes… and guess what? Okada wants in now, as we get the callback to that series… only for Ibushi to land a flying dropkick to take Okada back outside, as the Golden☆Lovers set up for the Cross Slash pair of Orihara moonsaults, which connected flush! The double-teams continue inside as the Golden☆Lovers blasted Okada with a Finlay roll and a pair of moonsaults for a near-fall. Ishii makes the save, but he’s met with a suplex by Ibushi… who in turn ate a monstrous shotgun dropkick that sent him hurtling into the corner, which left us with… Okada and Omega on their feet. The crowd inside Walter Pyramid were on their feet for this, and they were rewarded with another flurry of offence.
Okada avoids a V-Trigger but can’t quite hit the Rainmaker, and has to escape as Omega eventually lands the snap Dragon suplex. Ishii derails a V-Trigger, but ends up taking a death valley driver as Okada hits a dropkick for good measure, before another Rainmaker is saved, this time by Ibushi, whose flurry of kicks set up Okada for a V-Trigger. Complete with sickening thud.
Ibushi keeps up the tempo with a plancha to Ishii on the outside as the V-Triggers continued to rack up on Okada, who was then forced to counter out of a One Winged Angel, only for his tombstone attempt to be reversed as Okada ate the inverted piledriver, then an Ishii sliding lariat for a near-fall as we were still nowhere near a finish. Despite Okada’s call for a Rainmaker, as Omega ducks and hits a huge uranage side slam to put an end to that exchange. Ibushi and Ishii are back to exchange elbows to the head, and it’s surprisingly Ibushi who edged ahead before he kicked Ishii to the mat. The moonsault knees drive the air out of Ishii for another near-fall, before an assisted German suplex to the Stone Pitbull needed Okada to break up the cover. Okada breaks up a Golden Trigger and DDTs Ibushi with some force, only for his attempt at a dropkick on Omega to get countered into a powerbomb as we broke out into a brief Parade of Moves, ending with a corkscrew-like Pele from Ibushi to Ishii!
Those two again trade palm strikes to the head as a slap battle breaks out, keeping Long Island hot, before another Ibushi clothesline drops Ishii for a two-count. A Kamigoye’s avoided as Ishii goes for a German suplex… Ibushi flips out but takes a clothesline for a near-fall, then a high powerbomb as Ishii looked to score the win. Ibushi retaliates with another head kick, then a bridging German for a near-fall. Ibushi looks for another Kamigoye, but while Ishii avoids it, he only delays his own fate as Okada’s attempted save is swatted away, allowing the Golden☆Lovers to finish Ishii off with the Golden Trigger for the win. Holy crap that was good – exactly what you’d expect from these four men, and the loss means that the problems within CHAOS (or what’s left of it) continue to mount. ****½
On paper, Fighting Spirit Unleashed was a show that perhaps felt like an afterthought – falling between the Destruction tour and the King of Pro Wrestling show, this was a show whose card wasn’t fully fleshed out until the week of the show. What that meant was we ended up with a show that very heavily mirrored those “Road to…” shows that had a lot of matches that on the surface seemed inconsequential, but with some marquee matches that (mostly) delivered.
If you’re cherry picking, catch the junior match, the tag title match and the main event… then sit tight as next up for New Japan is the King of Pro Wrestling show on Monday – another show we’ll be catching on-demand since we’ll be flying back from Germany as it happens. Which is a shame, as we’ll be finding out the new member of LIJ there… and the next junior heavyweight champion…