New Japan crowned their first US Heavyweight Champion as their sojourn into the States came to a head!
This show’ll be airing on AXS TV in the States on Friday, but was available live worldwide for all. The same video package from Saturday night opened the show, with a sneaky Captain New Japan cameo for those with an eagle eye, and we’re straight into the action!
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, KUSHIDA & David Finlay vs. Yoshitatsu & Tempura Boyz (Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu)
Well, it’s safe to say that Long Beach weren’t fans of Yoshitatsu’s Triple H tribute! Even the referee got cheered more than Yoshi… poor ‘hunter!
Finlay and Yoshitatsu start off, with the crowd being pro-Finlay here as the pair exchange headlock takedowns and escapes. Liger and Sho tag in after that for a series that sees Liger pull Tanaka into a seated surfboard, before he was backdropped to the outside ahead of a baseball slide dropkick that saw Liger plant Komatsu into the guard railings.
A Romero special follows for poor Sho, but his partners hit the ring to make the save as Liger takes a spot of triple-team offence for a near-fall. Eventually Liger escapes and plants a Shotei before bringing in KUSHIDA to clear the ring, but of course, Yoshitatsu’s gotta spoil the party. The Tempura Boyz take a handspring double back elbow, then a tope con hilo as KUSHIDA flew around.
Sho Tanaka avoids a punt to the left arm, but KUSHIDA still flips over into a Hoverboard Lock attempt, before Sho powered out into a Dominator/Cutter combo for a near-fall. KUSHIDA rebounds with an overhead kick to Tanaka, then takes a German suplex after his handspring off the ropes was caught. Finlay gets tagged in as Yoshitatsu gets booed some more, but Finlay’s shotgun dropkick and European uppercuts in the corner left him prone for a diving European uppercut for a two-count.
Finlay eats a hiptoss/knee strike for a two-count, but he counters out of a Pedigree into a uranage backbreaker as he came close to a win… with a Stretch Muffler instead doing the job as Liger and KUSHIDA had the Tempura Boyz tied up too. Decent opener, although I’d be tempted to swap out David Finlay for Jay White in terms of excursions, given where both guys are in their New Japan careers. **¾
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Semi-Final: Kenny Omega vs. Jay Lethal
Lethal’s got more of his ribs taped up, and Omega instantly heads for those with a shot (that the camera missed) to knock Lethal to the outside. It was only on the replay that we saw a big boot to the chest that knocked Jay through the bottom ropes to the outside as Omega then charged him between the apron and guard railings to wear those injured ribs down some more.
Back in the ring, Kenny avoids a bicycle knee and teased a One Winged Angel, but Lethal rolled through into a Victory Roll before hitting some superkicks as a set-up for the Lethal Injection… but Kenny rolled to the outside and into the path of some topes from Jay. Those crowd barriers broke again, but that doesn’t matter as Jay threw himself outside again before heading up top for a Macho Man elbow for a near-fall.
From the kick-out, Lethal switched into a Figure Four, before targeting Omega with a knee breaker as he started to wear down last year’s G1 winner. More counters lead to Kenny taking a Dragon screw, before he recovered to counter a Lethal Injection into a back cracker as Omega sacrificed his knee it seemed. That left Omega free to target Lethal’s ribs with forearms to the back, then some knees as Lethal eventually came back into it with some chops.
A bow and arrow hold saw Omega target Lethal some more, before the former ROH champ hit back with some vicious chops, only to fall to a basement dropkick and some more knees to the midsection. Lethal somehow countered a Kotaro Krusher into a Blue Thunder Bomb, but a snap Dragon suplex and the over-the-knee brainbuster left Lethal down once again. Eventually Omega cracked Lethal with a V-trigger after absorbing some forearms, before holding up Jay in a deadlift Doctor Wily Bomb for another near-fall.
Another V-trigger follows, before Lethal tried to ‘rana out of a One Winged Angel. It didn’t work as Kenny blocked it and hit the move anyway to book his place in the final. Thankfully it wasn’t all about Lethal’s ribs, but the usual issue of one-night tournaments hit here as this could have been a little better had neither man had to wrestle again later. ***½
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Semi-Final: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Sabre came out wanting to add a fourth belt to his collection… yet again, none of his other three were on display tonight. This is one encounter where you’d perhaps hope that Sabre avoids engaging with Ishii in strikes… yet that’s exactly what he did, laying into the Stone Pitbull with uppercuts. WHY!?
Ishii responds with headbutts, and Sabre just invites more of the same… and he gets it too, with chops and forearms eventually triggering Zack into an overhead kick to the arm as he started to go to his regular wheelhouse of submission wrestling. The crowd boos as Sabre wrenched away on Ishii with a modified Tequila Sunrise as the crowd were ever-so-slightly pro-Ishii… and it kinda worked as a headbutt knocked Sabre down to the mat.
A running shoulder tackle sends Sabre flying, but again the submissions get Sabre back into it, catching Ishii with a double wristlock on the top rope, but Ishii headbutts free and hits a superplex for a near-fall on Zack. Just like that though, Sabre bounces back with a Northern Lights suplex and grabs a cross armbreaker on Ishii… who manages to roll into the ropes for a clean break.
Zack goes back to the joint manipulation, but a backdrop suplex from Ishii gets himself free again. Some back and forth sees Sabre get a near-fall out of the Prawn hold, but yet again an Ishii headbutt gets him ahead for a sliding clothesline… which Sabre catches and turned into an armbar. Ishii fights, but Sabre grabs every limb he can to avoid a rope break… and eventually Ishii frees his legs and rolls into the ropes as the crowd roared.
My word, THAT is how you tease a rope break folks!
Again, Ishii fires up, leaning into a barrage of kicks from Sabre before blasting him with a simple forearm. Sabre replies by leaping into Ishii, scissoring the body as he applied another wristlock, but that’s countered out of… before Sabre ducks an enziguiri and delivered a PK. No matter, Ishii comes back with a brainbuster, and that’s all! Very reminiscent of Ishii’s hard-hitting sprints with Katsuyori Shibata… this was glorious… and I want to see more between these two! ****½
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii will be our finals – a rematch from Wrestling Dontaku, and yes, this’ll be a tasty main event!
Juice Robinson, Jay White, Titan, Dragon Lee & Volador Jr. vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, BUSHI & SANADA)
“They’re a little bit nWo-ish”, says JR of the Ingobernables. As opposed to the Bullet Club who have the same colour scheme and hand signal…
Naito outfoxes Volador early by swerving a lock-up as Hiromu then came in to put the boots to the luchador as Naito went all tranquilo on us. Volador connects with an Asai moonsault to Takahashi and BUSHI on the floor after some switches, before it was Titan’s turn to go airborne with a crossbody to BUSHI… only for the Ingobernables to work together as SANADA took him out with a dropkick as everyone brawled all over the place.
Naito dragged Juice by his dreadlocks to the stage, but nothing much happens as we return to the ring as SANADA ties up Titan in a ball. Juice gets the same treatment, as a basement dropkick from SANADA freed up the pair of them… and caused some literal butt hurt. This is the kind of flowing offence that makes these Ingobernables tags fun to watch, with things like the seesaw sunset flip into a low dropkick, and rapid-fire exchanges that don’t quite come off as the conveyor belt “parade of moves”.
Juice takes down SANADA and Naito with clotheslines and cannonballs, but he’s quickly cut-off by Hiromu as Robinson crashed and burned off the top rope. Outside-in dropkick by Naito takes Juice down, but Robinson gets payback for the earlier interference by decking Hiromu with a leg lariat… and we’re back to Dragon Lee and Hiromu to rekindle their rivalry for a moment!
That rekindling ended up being endless slaps and chops back and forth, which got the entire crowd on their feet before a ‘rana attempt from Takahashi ended up being cartwheeled out of, only for Hiromu and Dragon Lee to swap German suplexes, but that overhead belly-to-belly left Lee down as we cycled back to EVIL and Jay White. Those two trade forearms and knees in the ropes until a sidewalk slam from EVIL left the Kiwi down. BUSHI keeps up the pressure, but he misses an MX as the ring fills up as we start to enter the Parade of Moves territory, ending with a double clothesline from Juice, who cleared the way for another Asai moonsault from Titan.
Back inside, BUSHI goes after White again, only to take a Volador superkick and back cracker, as White’s uranage gets a near-fall, only for White’s version of the Sister Abigail to get him his second win of the weekend. A real fun Ingobernables tag, which is all you can ask for when none of them had anything meaningful to do today. ***¾
After JR throws to commercial, you can hear someone asking “is that right?”… did someone read the script for the next set of entrances… because Haku is in town!
Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Hangman Page) vs. War Machine (Raymond Rowe & Hanson) & Michael Elgin
Chase Owens was out with Haku – who got a huge pop. Needless to say, Chase did not even get a name check, although the Guerrilla’s nameplates listed them as tag team champions. Whoops! I guess you can sum this one up as a hoss fight, well, for five of them anyway!
We start with Page cheapshotting Elgin as they went into the corner… an immediate forearm gives a receipt as the pair tease shoulder tackles, but it’s not until Elgin hits a uranage that we actually get some action after a load of blocks. From there, War Machine and the Guerrillas come in, with the former champs getting thrown into each other as the big lads showed off their strength… and Elgin was happy to oblige with a one-handed stalling suplex to Page.
The Guerrillas get blasted with a Hanson Bronco Buster, before Tama gets acquainted with Hanson’s beard. Perhaps a little too much! A cartwheel from Hanson sees him land into the path of Tonga rolling the dice, before Tanga Loa made an Oklahoma Stampede to Hanson look really easy. Of course, things slowed down when Page came in, as he needed to use underhanded tactics, which just allowed Tama to come in with headbutts as he mocked the guys who beat him for the tag titles not 24 hours earlier.
Loa rushes in with a lariat to Hanson as they look to keep wearing down the big guy, but Hanson eventually gets back into it with a whoopee cushion as Big Mike got the tag in to obliterate Page with some avalanche clotheslines. There’s an impressive spot as Page gets hiptossed onto Tanga Loa in the ropes, before a Falcon Arrow got Mike another near-fall. Page thought he’d done well to flip out of a German suplex, but he flipped into Rowe who held him up for a clothesline-assisted German as War Machine came closer to victory.
War Machine headed up for Fall Out on Page, but things switch around as Rowe takes an assisted Roll The Dice. The camera misses something outside as they focus on the Guerrillas trying to superplex Hanson, but Elgin makes a save… at least momentarily as Hanson takes a double team fireman’s carry neckbreaker before rolling to the outside. Rowe returns to headbutt away a Tonga clothesline, then deck him with a kneelift as Page rushes in with the Rites of Passage… and shockingly the Hangman gets the win over one half of the tag champs! This never felt like it clicked for me, but these “multi man tags after they’ve had a big match” always drag. Not bad, but not something you’ll want to revisit in a hurry. **¾
Before the interval, Naoki Sugabayashi (New Japan’s chairman) announced (in Japanese) that New Japan will run further shows in the US next year. No dates were announced, but that’s certainly interesting given their relationship with ROH!
Once we fast-forward through interval, it’s time for another title match…
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) vs. Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c)
The junior tag titles have been something of a hot potato in recent times, with three title changes so far in 2017. Needless to say, the Bucks were the massive favourites here, and they started off slowly, being taken down by a shoulder tackle from Rocky before bringing in all the flips and kicks.
Matt shocks Rocky with a Sharpshooter, but it’s way too early as Romero crawled to the ropes. More superkicks and misses lead to the multi-way dropkick and if you’re feeling that this is going to be Randy Orton’s favourite match, then I don’t know what to tell you. There’s a sense of weirdness in the arena as the crowd – although pro-Bucks at the start – were rather muted here coming out of intermission, Beretta suplexes the Bucks into each other in the corner as the challengers then went for a battering ram… only to get superkicked to the mat.
Matt lifts up Nick for a springboard moonsault off the top rope to the challengers, but his next aerial assault ended rudely when Romero got his knees up to a senton bomb. Beretta gets superkicked into a powerbomb… with Matt running down the aisle to drop the former Trent onto the ramp. That leaves Rocky on the outside to take a PK off the apron, then a flip senton as he was draping off the apron for a near-fall before the Bucks slowed down things back inside the ring.
Romero escapes a Meltzer Driver by way of a ‘rana… but Beretta’s still down as Rocky’s left on his lonesome… just in time to shrug off a pair of superkicks and land a pair of lariats. Finally Beretta tags back in, but he’s grabbing his back after every chop he throws, before scoring with a tornado DDT to Matt. That back stings some more as Matt pulls Beretta off the top rope, and it’s time for more superkicks as Matt returns to the Sharpshooter for a matter of seconds.
The challengers get powerbombed onto each other, as it’s time for more superkicks before we get a modified version of More Bang for Your Buck, with a rolling Torture Rack starting it off as the Bucks ended up with a near-fall. Yet again Matt locks Beretta in a Sharpshooter… he makes the ropes, but a senton from Nick crushes him as he’s then dragged back into the middle of the ring instead.
Rocky escapes another Meltzer Driver as the Bucks seem hell bent on that, which leads to a Doomsday Knee-strike off the apron as Matt flips to the floor. Nick then takes a piledriver onto the apron for the fun of it, before a diving knee and a Gotch piledriver earned Beretta a near-fall back in the ring. Matt fights free of a Dudebuster attempt as Beretta’s back gave way, but a pair of leaping knees put paid to the Buck as Matt takes the Strong Zero for a near-fall.
We sail past the 20-minute mark as Rocky and Matt trade right hands, before a running Sliced Bread takes down Matt to the outside… but a tope’s caught and met with a Springboard Meltzer Driver to the floor. I don’t think they got all of that, but that was a tribute for Herbert Meltzer (Dave’s dad, who passed away earlier that day).
With Romero down and out, Beretta tried his best to fight back into it, but he’s dropped with some superkicks as a regular Meltzer Driver to Rocky led to a pair of Sharpshooters and the challengers had no choice but to tap. This was typical Young Bucks – a pretty good array of moves, but I don’t know why the crowd were dead for the first 10-15 minutes. Perhaps more ammo for those doubting the Bucks, in that they have their match and stick to it… crowds be damned? ***½
After the match, Ricochet hit the ring… yes, the camera missed it, but at least they caught his tope con hilo. The significance of this was somewhat underplayed, given that Ricochet’s not meant to be able to appear for some promotions in the States because of his deal with “an Underground Fighting Company”. No, not the UFC… anyway, Ricochet issues a challenge for the next tag title shot, and he’ll be teaming up with Ryusuke Taguchi. Erm… there’s a reason Matt rolled his eyes!
They cut to commercial as Ricochet heads to the back… and we return as Romero takes the microphone and tells us about his “five year plan”. The first part they did by winning the junior tag team titles, then the Super Juniors tag team tournament… and apparently their loss tonight signals the end of Roppongi Vice, as Romero “gives his blessing” for Beretta to move up to the heavyweights. Aw, just too late to be considered for the G1 too!
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Cody, Marty Scurll & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay & Briscoe Brothers (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe)
Fale came out with a t-shirt that read “Make Jobbers Great Again”, whilst chasing away the ring announcer… I love that continuity. Interestingly, Cody got his own entrance, along with Brandi doing the cigar gimmick again.
Scurll opens up with Mark Briscoe, avoiding and swapping wristlocks before they squared off with some poses to pop the crowd. A simple chop sent Scurll scooching away to the corner as he and Cody swap tags to rile up the crowd. The crowd get bored of it and chant for Fale, who plays along before Yujiro got his own chant… I guess the crowd didn’t want to leave him out.
Anyway, Cody tags in… then does a runner when Okada tagged in, and this is perhaps mind games that we could do without in an undercard tag! We get Ospreay and Cody for a second or two, and finally we get something resembling wrestling as Cody and Jay collide… with a Cody powerslam earning him a ‘rana in return.
Ospreay comes back in to catch Cody with the Shibata-esque corner dropkick, before staring a hole through Marty Scurll’s chicken pose… which just distracts Will for a top rope armdrag instead. The Bullet Club work over Ospreay with stomps and hip swivels, and yes, Fale teases it… before just sitting on Will for a near-fall.
Things pick up when Scurll blasts Ospreay with a “Just Kidding” superkick, before he’s met with an enzguiri to avoid a chicken wing. Jay lands a dropkick to Yujiro, then a neckbreaker as we resumed the graps… at least until Yujiro started to snack on Jay’s fingers.
Okada tags in and tries to slam Fale, to little success before a back elbow knocked the big guy into the ropes… and that helped him get the slam off! Fale responds with a big splash for a two-count, before Okada countered a Grenade… but was taken down as Cody tried to finish off what he started the prior night. Some boo/yay punches lead to a Disaster Kick attempt, then a Rainmaker attempt, before Cody’s dropped with a Flapjack. He recovers to drill Ospreay with a basement uppercut, before Will got his fingers snapped as things broke down a little.
We go back to Okada dropping Fale with a dropkick, before a Rainmaker’s blocked by an umbrella, allowing Cody to hit a DIsaster kick. A handspring double overhead kick from Ospreay gets rid of Cody and Marty, as does a Revolution kick, but an OsCutter’s intercepted by another Disaster kick as the Cross Rhodes gets the pin. I really enjoyed that final flurry, but the road to it felt really drawn out. Still, it gave you the New Japan undercard feel! ***
After a commercial, we come back to a promo package for our semi-final match – Hiroshi Tanahashi defending the Intercontinental title against a former WWE Intercontinental champion and King of the Ring winner…
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Billy Gunn vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)
Yes, this is a real match! Apparently Billy impressed Tanahashi during his World Tag League run last year that we ended up with this. Gunn wasn’t appreciated much here, and to be fair, this match was way too high up on the card considering who was in it.
Gunn towered over Tanahashi, but that didn’t stop the “Ace” from mocking him with a bit of air guitar, only for a really nonchalant shoulder tackle to knock him down. Eventually, a headlock gets Gunn down to a knee as Tanahashi keeps scoring with those takedowns, angering the former Ass-Man.
A back suplex gets Gunn free, who started to stomp away on Tanahashi’s injured arm, before taking the match to the outside so he could wrap that arm around the ringpost. Back in the ring, Gunn lands a Jackhammer for a near-fall, before going to a wristlock to wrench away on that bicep some more. The pace of this match is very WWE-like, in terms of punctuating the match between big moves as Gunn kept playing to the crowd before going back to Tanahashi with another double wristlock.
Tanahashi tries to pull his way back into it by pulling down Gunn’s trunks… to reveal a luminous yellow second pair, and that sparks a comeback with forearms and a hiptoss as Tanahashi gets a flip senton for a near-fall. Gunn responds to the trunk pull by revealing Tanahashi’s rear end, before busting out the One and Only (a Cobra Clutch slam) for a near-fall.
A Famouser follows, but Tanahashi avoids it and counters a tiltawhirl into a neckbreaker… a High Fly Flow is attempted next, but Gunn rolls away, and manages to hit that Famouser for the nearest of near-falls. Instead of following up though, Gunn just trash talked some more and earned himself a Slingblade, before Tanahashi told him to “suck it” ahead of a High Fly Flow for the win. This wasn’t bad, but not a patch on what we know Tanahashi’s capable of… still, now we know what a Tanahashi WWE TV match would look like! ***
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Final: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Barely two months earlier, these two had a legitimate match of the year contender at Wrestling Dontaku in Fukuoka… and they did it again!
They started out at a rather measured pace, with Ishii grabbing a headlock before the pair exchanged shoulder tackles and right hands… with Ishii’s right arm noticeably weaker after all those armbars from Zack Sabre Jr earlier in the night. A series of kicks to Ishii’s back just seem to bring him enjoyment… something he furthered when he chopped Omega over the guard railing before heading through the crowd.
Eventually Omega is thrown back into the ringside area, then into the ring post, before his attempt at leaping off the guard rails ends when Ishii pulled him down and into a release German suplex. Somehow, Omega popped back up and replied with a suplex, before his set-up for a Terminator dive ended by way of a clothesline.
Ishii dishes out receipts for those kicks to the back from earlier, along with those chops as hold and moves gave way to simple strikes that eventually sent Kenny out to the apron again. A snap powerslam gets Ishii a near-fall as Omega tries to fight back… and a DDT from Kenny spikes Ishii on his head as both men are left flat on the mat for a spell. The Finlay roll and a springboard moonsault gets Kenny a near-fall before he targeted Ishii’s legs to soften him up for a Kotaro Krusher.
Now it’s Terminator Time as Ishii rolled to the outside, with that tope con hilo crushing Ishii on impact… Omega sells his knee to the point where the referee’s distracted enough so that the Bucks can set up a table at ringside, and of course, it was a sham! A missile dropkick off the top rope snaps Ishii’s neck, much like Okada took at WrestleKingdom, and it’s all Omega from here as Kenny mocks Ishii with slaps in the corner… But Ishii just rises like a zombie out of the corner, walking into Omega’s barrage of forearms… except it wasn’t long before a ‘rana took Ishii back onto the apron, right by where that table had been left. Omega tries to boot Ishii through it, but the Stone Pitbull clings on and delivers a headbutt as Omega almost got suplexed through it. Instead, Tomohiro Ishii bit the rope to avoid something much more nasty… a snap Dragon suplex through it! My GOD.
Ishii narrowly beat the count-out back into the ring, but was instantly covered for a near-fall. A series of V-triggers follow, at least until Ishii catches one and lays in with some forearms that another knee strike rudely ends. Another V-trigger almost does it, but an attempt at a One Winged Angel gets countered into a DDT as Ishii tries to stay alive in this.
Ishii follows up with some clotheslines, then a superplex that almost became a top rope brainbuster, but Kenny’s able to kick out! More back-and-forth chops ensue, giving way to a V-trigger that Ishii replied to with another vicious lariat… but Omega quickly cuts him off with a brainbuster for another two-count as the tension escalated even more. A sliding lariat gets Ishii a two-count, but Ishii takes another V-trigger before countering a Kotaro Krusher… into a One Winged Angel?!
Somehow Kenny kicks out just in time, and ends up delivering yet another V-trigger after a backslide was rolled out of. Yet more forearms leave both men running on fumes, until a palm strike from Omega knocked Ishii down, ready for an over-the-knee brainbuster as we passed that half-hour mark… and no, it didn’t feel like it! One more V-trigger gets Ishii in the ropes, but somehow he fights back yet again… into a snap Dragon suplex, another V-trigger for… a one-count?!
Omega popped up for a reverse ‘rana that Ishii popped up from, but that V-trigger works again as the One Winged Angel is calling… and that’s all folks! Kenny Omega gets the win and becomes the inaugural United States champion! Superb stuff as you’ve come to expect from Kenny in 2017 – and yes, those V-triggers were getting spammy again, but this was a hell of a main event. ****¾
After the match, Omega was presented with the title… with a little help from the Young Bucks as Kenny was out on his feet! Cody heads in though, and takes the belt away from Omega… but just so he could present him with the belt himself. Yeah, they’re building to a Bullet Club explosion, but it’d be nice if they could have had “a moment” rather than this. In the end, the entirety of the Bullet Club hit the ring, including Haku, and that’s our show!
All of the wrongs from night one, at least in terms of production, were somehow righted here. JR was nowhere near as botchy as he was on night one, which could raise several questions, and once I’d gotten used to it, the “real sports” feel of the AXS production just about settled with me. That’s not to say that I liked it – I prefer the usual Japanese format of these broadcasts, but this was a show for more casual fans, as opposed to the hardcores who watch anything that’s live and on New Japan World.
As for the wrestling, night two was a better show from top-to-bottom, but still felt like they were padding it out for time, particularly with some of the undercard matches.
Still, this was Kenny Omega’s weekend – and in a year where he’s gone a Broadway, he added another hour of in-ring time over these two shows, proving that the line on his t-shirt, “Best Bout Machine” is more than a catchy phrase… it’s just a shame that there’s someone a little bit ahead of him, otherwise all eyes really would be on him right now. Folks, we’ve got our generation’s Shawn vs. Bret in front of our very eyes, but unlike them, there’s no personal dissension (yet) between the two Ks!