New Japan’s annual collaboration with Ring of Honor started with a stacked show, with three title defences on the card.

It’s our annual dip into ROH – which leads to some “I never knew they were still around” moments… but there’s a few familiar faces here, as Jonathan Gresham appears in Japan for the first time in five and a half years. Commentary from Korakuen Hall is provided by Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton.

Ren Narita vs. Marty Scurll
This was Marty’s first singles match in Japan since he lost in the junior title tournament final in October – and Marty’s been retconned from the Bullet Club and the Elite, since he wasn’t really around for the dying days of that feud.

We’ve got a ROH ring here, pretty much, with individual turnbuckles as opposed to the corner pads New Japan usually use, and it’s Scurll who starts us out by going for a wristlock as my feed stutters. Yay. For some reason I can’t rewind, so we eventually get back as they’re still swapping knuckle locks, with Scurll booting Narita away into a neck bridge that he failed to break.

Looking for a different route, Scurll tries to strike Narita, before he eventually took him down with a back elbow off the ropes. Narita’s taken outside for a superkick off the apron, before a slingshot took Narita’s throat into the bottom rope. Scurll continued to work over Narita’s legs, pulling him into a version of Eddie Guerreros’ Lasso from el Paso, before some face raking led to some chops from the Villain.

Narita hits back with a dropkick, then with a shoulder tackle and a suplex for a near-fall, before he looked for that overhead belly-to-belly. Scurll breaks the grip and rolls him into a low enziguiri before a powerbomb led to a Boston crab for some added irony. Of course, Narita gets to the ropes, but can’t avoid Scurll’s attempt at a chicken wing, which just gets turned into a half-and-half suplex, before a superplex dumped Narita off the top rope.

One last fight back from Narita comes to nought though, as Scurll quickly kicks out of a roll-up and taps out the Young Lion with a chicken wing. Enjoyable fare, with Narita coming somewhat close before falling to a familiar loss. ***

Shota Umino vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
This is either going to be really great or really murderous, I feel. “Zack Sabre Junior versus Young Boy”, as TAKA says, as he’s doing his pre-match shtick in English. UK tour incoming, perhaps?

Umino cheapshots TAKA, perhaps fed up with his t-shirt that seemed to have TAKA wearing a monocle… and that just angers Sabre some more. It’s Shota who tries to draw first blood early, taking Sabre down for a toe hold, only for Zack to come right back with a double armbar stretch… except Umino reverses it, so Sabre slips into a full nelson as they continued to go tit-for-tat.

This was really good, fluid stuff, with Umino outsmarting Sabre at times, before he tried to slip out of the full nelson and quickly had to fight out of a wristlock as Sabre changed his tactics too. Sabre takes Umino to the mat as he begins to focus on the left arm, but he’s still not having it all his own way as Umino counters and clings on to Sabre’s wrist, only for Sabre to start to take the Young Lion to school.

A modified STF from Sabre gave way to a version of the Octopus hold, before he relented as Umino almost got to the ropes. Umino tries to respond with chops, but he ends up missing a dropkick and fell back into the clutches of Sabre, who forced him into the ropes from a single leg crab. Second time was the charm for that Umino dropkick, as he added to it with a suplex for a near-fall.

Sabre goes for another death lock, grapevining the legs as Umino was left tantalisingly close to the ropes… and he eventually gets them too to force a break. From there, Sabre twists the toe of Umino, who tries to fight back with a backslide, only for Sabre to roll out and go for a PK… then an uppercut before Shota shocked him with a bridging German suplex for a near-fall.

After the kick-out though, Sabre grabs an arm and looks for a submission, pulling Shota into a grounded version of the Young Boy Killer, except Umino survived by getting a foot to the ropes. A missile dropkick from Umino proves he’s not quite done yet, before a second one misses… but somehow he turned it into a roll-up for a near-fall as Sabre gets dropped with a series of uppercuts.

A bridging backslide from Sabre nearly ends it, but Umino comes close with a La Magistral cradle as he then rolled Sabre into a cross armbreaker… but Zack was too close to the ropes, and almost got the win by countering an Umino suplex into a guillotine. Except Umino stands back up out of it and counters into a brainbuster out of nowhere! Jesus Shota, where’s this coming from?!

Problem was, Shota goes back to the well with a missile dropkick, this time finding its mark for another near-fall, before his Fisherman’s suplex is slipped out of as Sabre worked his way into a modified version of Orienteering with Napalm Death for the win. Holy crap this was GOOD – not the one-sided beating we expected, with Shota proving here why he’s so hotly-tipped to be a star in the future. ***¾

Jushin Thunder Liger & Jonathan Gresham vs. Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles)
In another universe, Gresham and Liger had been on opposite sides of a mini TV feud, but in ROH-world they’re teaming together against the Bullet Club here, as the build to Liger/Ishimori in two weeks’ time continued.

Gresham and Eagles start us off, going through a series of wristlocks, then headlock takedown and headscissors as Eagles just couldn’t escape Gresham’s clutches. After a rope break, Gresham goes into a hammerlock that Eagles elbows out of, only to get suckered back into the hammerlock as Gresham was schooling him.

A delayed dropkick a la Nagata ended a series from Gresham with a kick to the shin… and yes, he’s got Korakuen eating out of the palm of his hands. Gresham tags out to Liger, who sends Ishimori into the ropes before a flash roll-up gets Liger the win! Well then, Liger’s rolling crucifix scores what you have to call an upset on current form, as this was really the Gresham show. Excellent stuff and a cracking finish to boot. ***¼

Juice Robinson, David Finlay, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Briscoe Brothers (Mark Briscoe & Jay Briscoe)
We’ve a weird mixture of teams here: Juice and Finlay form part of Lifeblood in ROH, but in New Japan the team they’re a part of is pretty run of the mill for them.

Hikuleo made his return here, appearing with the Guerrillas of Destiny having been out for almost a year with a torn ACL. We start with a side headlock as Finlay had to push Mark Briscoe off, before responding with a dropkick as a quick tag brings in Juice to score with a bulldog.

More tags are made as everyone batters Briscoe, leading to a Kokeshi attempt that Mark of course avoids. That leads to the match heading outside for some brawling, while the Briscoes isolated Honma back in the ring, as Tama Tonga eventually tagged in and nailed a dropkick to keep the momentum going.

Tanga Loa comes in to help with an assisted Roll the Dice for a near-fall as that move was pretty much ignored on commentary given it used to be the Guerrillas’ old finish for a while. Jay Briscoe comes in next with a dropkick, before Mark returned to keep putting a beating to Honma… which ended with some misdirection as Jay accidentally booted Tama out of the ring.

Jado gets involved as he tripped Honma as he was looking for a Kokeshi on Tama Tonga… and you can guess where this goes as Honma finally gets free to tag in Henare. Forearms send Tama Tonga flying, as does a leaping shoulder tackle as Tanga Loa interferes, only to get clocked as a Samoan drop from Henare nearly puts Tama away.

A headbutt from Henare stopped Tama’s attempted fightback as we’re back to Juice and Mark Briscoe, trading right hands on each other, before a Juice spinebuster left Mark in the corner… only for Jay to come back in with a diving boot as the match turned on a dime. Finlay helps to turn it back around for the Lifeblood pair, but the Briscoes are right back in with a Razor’s Edge neckbreaker combo for a near-fall.

Honma and Henare make a save, but get tossed outside as Juice has to wriggle out of a Doomsday device as some left hands led to a Pulp Friction attempt… Mark wriggles free, but gets thrown into a Jado Kendo stick shot before a roll-up gets Juice the win – and the momentum ahead of Lifeblood’s title shot tomorrow. This was decent, but the Guerrillas were a real odd fit to this match… something that was rectified when they beat down the Briscoes after the match. ***

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: Cheeseburger, Colt Cabana & Delirious vs. Taguchi Japan (Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi) (c)
Is it me, or does it seem that Delirious gets this spot every year? I know there’s reasons… Also, how on earth is this Colt Cabana’s New Japan debut?!

Sadly, no streamers are allowed in New Japan…

The bell ringing triggers Delirious, who just scares Toru Yano before he leapt to tag in Colt Cabana. Fair enough. Unfortunately for Colt, his first taste of New Japan action was against Togi Makabe, but he started well with some shoulder tackles before he got a little too exhuberant… and got charged down by Makabe.

Cheeseburger tags in, but his leap’s caught by Makabe, as Taguchi then comes in to suplex the burger for an early near-fall. Yano’s back in as he suckers in Colt Cabana to distract as Yano puts some boots to Cheeseburger, before Makabe tagged back in and seemingly took pity… only to blast Cheeseburger into the corner.

Taguchi’s back with rolling suplexes, but Cheeseburger blocks the Third Amigo before he rolled through to tag in Cabana, who just chops the tar out of Taguchi. Dusty punches ensue, then a Bionic elbow as he followed up with a Quebrada body press for a near-fall. Delirious and Cheeseburger come in next as Colt slammed Taguchi ahead of a double stomp from Cheeseburger and a Shadows Over Hell from Delirious. Colt’s double-jump splash is next as he keeps on top of Taguchi, countering a hip attack before he fell to a second one as Taguchi finally gets the tag out.

In comes Yano, who… goes to the turnbuckle pad, and somehow he manages to undo it. Eventually. Colt nearly runs into the opposite corner, so Yano undoes another pad, as he and Colt prepared to duel with turnbuckle pads. Colt nails his shot to the gut before Delirious comes in to help with a duelling shot.

Delirious gets thrown into an exposed corner, but he’s back with a cross chop as he almost shocked Yano, only for Yano to come back with some misdirection, using a low blow and a roll-up after some help from Taguchi for the win. A curious finish, but this was a pretty fun trios match. One that ended with Delirious icing his balls and low blowing Colt for… reasons. ***

NEVER Openweight Championship: Dalton Castle vs. Will Ospreay (c)
This time last year, Dalton was ROH champion – but also heavily banged up… and despite taking a few weeks off, he’s still carrying those knocks.

Meanwhile, Yota Tsuji looks THRILLED.

We start with Ospreay getting taken into the corner by Castle, only to return the favour as we get the Okada-like mock clean break. They swing and missed as they each tried clotheslines in the corner, before Castle stopped him in his tracks with a peacock pose… which awfully resembled a lower back stretch.

Ospreay rebounds with a ‘rana after he hit the ropes, taking Castle outside for a faked-out dive and a back stretch of his own. Cue some trolling before Castle reached into his trunks and slapped Ospreay, before Ospreay had to escape a Bangarang attempt out of the corner as he then looked for a Storm Breaker.

Castle sends Ospreay outside, before he whipped him into the barricades as the challenger looked to get the upper hand. A waistlock takedown led to a bridging waistlock pin for a near-fall as Castle switched his tactics, looking to club away at Ospreay’s lower back – but that didn’t stop Ospreay from rebounding off the guard rails with a springboard forearm before hitting the ring for a Sasuke Special that caught Castle… and saw Ospreay follow through as he crashed into the ring barriers hip first. Ow.

Back inside, Ospreay regains the upper hand with another springboard forearm – this time without sailing into the crowd barriers afterwards – before Castle properly spiked Ospreay with a DDT. Some knees in the corner keep Ospreay down, before another Bangarang attempt is slipped out of as Ospreay nails an enziguiri in response.

Ospreay flips out of a German suplex and comes right back in with a Robinson special, before an OsCutter’s countered into a German suplex that almost saw him land square on his head. Oof. Castle tries to keep up with a knee strike, but Ospreay sidesteps as Castle sailed to the outside, only to return to block a Sasuke special and tease a German suplex to the floor.

Luckily for Will, that’s blocked as he pulls Castle onto the top rope, only for Castle to catch Will up top before a dropkick knocked Ospreay off the top rope and to the floor. From there, a Slingblade-like facebuster gets a two-count and another bad landing for Ospreay, who hit back with a Spanish Fly for a two-count. A deadlift gutwrench powerbomb from Castle nearly nicks it, before a reverse ‘rana spikes Castle ahead of the hook kick, as Ospreay’s decapitation elbow flattened Dalton… and left him prone for the Storm Breaker for the win. Excellent stuff this, considering I came in with low expectations given Castle’s injuries. Ospreay gets on the board with a defence, so he’s one better than Taichi in that regard! ***¾

ROH World Television Championship: Hirooki Goto vs. Jeff Cobb (c)
These two have been feuding on and off for a while in New Japan – and was meant to have led to a match on the New Beginning in USA tour… except visas put paid to that.

Goto and Cobb start by trading wristlocks early on, before they begin to swap elbow strikes as they tried to assert themselves. A shoulder tackle from Cobb finds the mark, as does a headbutt as Goto was suddenly having to fight from the bottom, running into a dropkick as Cobb nearly ended it right there.

Goto manages to respond with a clothesline to send Cobb onto the apron, before a second takes him to the floor as Goto followed up by suplexing a Young Lion onto Cobb. Back inside, Goto uses a chinlock to keep Cobb grounded, following up with a grounded Octopus stretch as Goto seemed to struggle to get his legs around Cobb’s neck.

Back to his feet, Goto heads up top next as he misses an elbow drop, allowing Cobb to fire back with forearms and a leaping uppercut into the corner. Goto tries to charge back, but he’s caught and tossed with an Exploder suplex before a standing moonsault squashed Goto for a near-fall.

Goto’s back to his feet to try and chop down Cobb, picking him up for an ushigoroshi as the crowd changed their tune once again. Clotheslines follow as Goto edged further ahead, nearly picking up the win with a kick to the chest. From there, Goto tries for a GTR, instead landing a GYR for a near-fall after Cobb slipped free, before another GTR is slipped out of as Cobb comes closer with a roll-up, as a Tour of the Islands quickly follows for the win. A bit of an out-of-nothing finish, but this was an enjoyable match all things told – with Cobb racking up yet another title defence too. ***½

The Kingdom (Matt Taven, TK O’Ryan & Vinny Marseglia) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Jay Lethal
So with Jay Lethal facing TK O’Ryan and Matt Taven for the ROH title in the next few weeks, he’s joining the New Japan dream team for this main event trios match.

After teasing us, Taven tagged out to Marseglia at the start to face Jay Lethal, but it’s not long before the ring filled up as Lethal, Okada and Tanahashi triple-teamed Marseglia with a bunch of back sentons for a near-fall. Taven and Okada come in, with the latter having to duck a rainmaker as Okada jarred his knee in the midst of a sequence.

Tanahashi’s in next to cling onto TK with a headlock, before they began to pull on each other’s hair in a comedy spot that ended with a body blow from Tanahashi, then a crossbody out of the corner as the home team were beginning to feel it. Tanahashi slides to the outside to avoid some triple-teaming from the Kingdom… but he can only delay it as the referee gets distracted by Lethal and Okada protesting to him.

Back in the ring, Marseglia worked on the grounded Tanahashi before Taven came in and… twisted his nipples. Fair enough. A chinlock keeps Tanahashi down as Marseglia sinks his fingers into the eyes… all behind the ref’s back, as Jay Lethal was proving to be more hindrance than help. Eventually Tanahashi got free and made the tag to Okada, who went straight after Taven with back elbows off the ropes.

A DDT followed for a two-count before Lethal got involved with a tope to Taven. Okada’s back in with a neckbreaker slam for a near-fall, but the Kingdom again team up as they take the upper hand, working into a tiltawhirl side Russian leg sweep and a knee strike to Lethal for a near-fall. From there, triple powerbomb to Lethal’s stopped as Tanahashi and Okada make the save, allowing Lethal to drop Marseglia with a Lethal Injection for the win. Thanks for coming, Kingdom. I think New Japan fans preferred the old version… ***¼

Post-match, the Kingdom attack Lethal briefly as they set-up for tomorrow’s card, which sees Lethal defend against TK O’Ryan as we have a reshuffled line-up from the New Japan side of things.

The problem with these co-promoted shows is that if you don’t follow or aren’t invested in one of the promotions, their offerings can tend to come off rather flat. ROH is perhaps one of the promotions I don’t see as much of as I should, but still I was able to get into this show – albeit mostly through some “ROH names” that have made themselves rather more at home in Europe. Even if you’re “eh” on ROH, make a point to check out Sabre vs. Umino and Castle vs. Ospreay – two matches that really surprised me, in a good way!