New Japan’s UK debut was a momentous affair, with title changes and a no-vacancy crowd at London’s Copper Box Arena.
The first show since the G1 Climax finals, over 6,000 fans packed the Copper Box to see KENTA’s first match since he joined Bullet Club… along with whether Hiroshi Tanahashi could shock Zack Sabre Jr for the Rev Pro title. Commentary – when it arrives after a myriad of issues – was from Kevin Kelly and Gino Gambino.
Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO & YOH) vs. Ren Narita, Ryusuke Taguchi & Shota Umino
We’re without commentary for the opener – and those watching live had a torrid time actually getting an image it seemed.
Umino and YOH start us off, swapping wristlocks until they reached a stalemate, before Shooter hit the mark with a low dropkick. SHO comes in to help out as the referee displayed Chris Roberts levels of tag team management, but his job was sorta done for him as Rocky Romero sidestepped a hip attack from Taguchi.
Rocky’s in for reals as he kicks away at Shota, before he went for a brainbuster… and took one of his own. D’oh! Taguchi tags in and goes wild with hip attacks, before Ren Narita came in to help double-team SHO. Narita lands his overhead belly-to-belly, but can’t bridge it as he gets a near-fall, following it up with the leg lace in the middle of the ring.
SHO easily gets to the ropes though, before a quick turnaround led to Taguchi eating the 3K… but he rolls outside to save himself. Narita saved himself from a 3K before he tried to shock SHO with pinning attempts, before he ultimately succumbed to a lariat, a German suplex and the Power Breaker (Last Ride/lumbar check). A fun opener, and exactly what you’d expect from a New Japan card. ***
One thing I will say – the Fite production of this so far has been a little unfortunate. Some dodgy shot choices, while the audio’s been off in terms of quality, although the lack of commentary until the final straight did show how hot the crowd was.
Bullet Club (Hikuleo & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Juice Robinson & Kota Ibushi
Unlike the Strong Style Evolved tour last year, Yujiro was on his lonesome in London. My God, the pop for Ibushi, despite being in match number two…
There’s a slow start as the crowd showed their love for Ibushi, but Hikuleo jumps him and adds to the swear jar. Juice comes in to help out as they double-team Hikuleo, leading to a cannonball in the corner, only for Hikuleo to fight back as he looked to use his size to dominate Ibushi. A slam and a leg drop’s good for a near-fall, before he got trapped in the Bullet Club corner for a chop.
Yujiro comes in to land a quick legdrop for another two-count, but a whip to Ibushi just ends up knocking down Hikuleo as Juice got the hot tag. Cue Dusty punches and a clothesline to Yujiro, before a pescado wiped out Hikuleo on the outside. Back inside, there’s a spinebuster for Yujiro, who was able to mount a comeback with a Fisherman buster, only to get caught with a Juice Box gutbuster in return.
Tags get us back to Hikuleo and Ibushi, with the former instantly hitting a big powerslam. Ibushi peppers Hikuleo with strikes on the way to a standing moonsault for a near-fall, before Kamigoye got countered into a sit-out Samoan driver for a near-fall. Cue a double Pele kick from Ibushi to clear the way, as he steamed ahead with a Bomaye knee then the Kamigoye to lay out Hikuleo for the win. A decent, by-the-numbers undercard tag. **¾
Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Robbie Eagles & Will Ospreay
ELP’s out with his golden jacket, proudly spreading those Super J Cup spoilers… and yes, Will Ospreay’s still overdubbed.
We’ve a jump start, but the new CHAOS pairing of Ospreay and Eagles overcame it, sending ELP and Ishimori outside so Eagles could do a tope con giro to them. Back in the ring, Ishimori’s battered with some double-team strikes, before ELP returned to try and even the odds… only to get monkey flipped into a kick from Ospreay for the hell of it.
A superkick from Phantasmo helps turn it around for a near-fall, following up with a spitty chop to Eagles in the corner, before the Aussie fought back with some dry chops of his own. ELP fought in with a springboard crossbody and a Quebrada for a near-fall, before Ishimori came in to try his luck with chops, before he went all wacky in the ropes ahead of the seated senton for a near-fall. The double-team gas pedal leaves Robbie’s Eagles in pain, but he’s able to get free and make the hot tag to Ospreay, who, became a one-man wrecking ball. Seriously, the camera crew struggled to keep up with his flips!
Ospreay handsprings into a whirlibird neckbreaker, but he escapes that before he had to Stundog Millionaire his way free again. Eagles returns to throw forearms with Ishimori, following up with a missile dropkick to the knee before he got caught with a handspring enziguiri from Ishimori.
The baseball slide German suplex was next from Ishimori, as Eagles was left open for double-teaming, which included some variations on some sick effing tag moves that ELP may or may not have picked up on in his time in England… Eagles saves himself from a Bloody Cross, retaliating with a Turbo Backpack for a near-fall, before ospreay came in for some hook kicks. An OsCutter takes care of Phantasmo, before they focused on Ishimori with a double Spanish Fly off the top for the win! A hell of a sprint here, with all four guys here making the most of the time they got. Don’t skip this part of the undercard! ****
After the match, Ospreay commandeered the IWGP junior tag titles and challenged Phantasmo and Ishimori to a title match in the not-too-distant future.
Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Jay White) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
They’re building to Naito defending the Intercontinental title against Jay White in Kobe later this month, so that’s where the juice is here.
Of course, Naito takes an absolute age disrobing, complete with the cheap pop that was showing off his UK LIJ tee… when we did get going, Naito offers a LIJ fist-bump as he frustrated White… who just decided to tag out to Chase Owens instead. SANADA’s in too, catching a cheapshot from Chase before an early Paradise Lock attempt was thwarted. Chase tries to do it himself, but it’s a piss poor knock-off that SANADA easily escaped, prompting Chase to scare himself silly.
All four men end up on the outside, with White using a t-shirt to choke Naito with before SANADA took a pendulum backbreaker as the Bullet Club took control. White’s in to stop SANADA from making the tag out… while offering a mocking LIJ fist-bump to Naito on the apron, only for SANADA to reverse a suplex as that tag finally came.
Naito sends White packing, before he spat in his face ahead of a neckbreaker in the ropes. A second neckbreaker followed for a two-count, before White fought out of Gloria. He couldn’t avoid a tornado DDT though, as both men proceeded to tag out. Chase still can’t get going against SANADA, who rolls out of a sunset flip and traps him in a Paradise Lock, which had the arena shaking ahead of a low dropkick that freed him.
Chase somehow finds a second wind, snapmaring SANADA off the top rope for a two-count before a running knee almost put SANADA down. The package piledriver looked to be next, but SANADA backs out and flipped into a Skull End, swinging Owens around before the eventual submission. This was fine, but save for the Naito/White exchanges, was pretty much throwaway. ***
After the match, Jay White ran in with a chair, laying out SANADA with it only for Naito to hit back with a Destino as he took the chair… and sat in it.
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) vs. Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
Aussie Open won this shot with victory in the Rev Pro Road to Royal Quest tournament that culminated at York Hall not even 24 hours earlier….
At least Jado couldn’t smuggle an air horn into the UK, but he didn’t need to make noise as the heat for this one was off the charts, with the duelling chants from York Hall carrying over into the Copper Box.
The Guerrillas attack from behind to get the match going, with Tama Tonga mocking the crowd by stomping on Kyle Fletcher in time to the “oi oi oi” chants. Mark Davis comes in to help chop Tanga Loa, but it’s barely enough for a one-count, so they keep up with a double-team flapjack for a near-fall as the Aussies looked to grab control.
That control ends when Jado cracked Fletcher in the back with his Kendo stick, as the Guerrillas took over. Elbows from above have Tama on top, as some brief double-teaming champs led to neckbreakers and leg drops for a near-fall on Fletcher. A spear from Tanga Loa stops a brief spell of offence from Kyle, following up with a big stalling suplex a la Davey Boy Smith for another two-count.
The Guerrillas play into the usual Aussie Open pattern, beating down Fletcher until Kyle landed a nice back body drop and made the tag out, with Davis charging in for chops and clotheslines. A cartwheel away into a double clothesline keeps Davis ahead, before both of the champions tried to scarper… only for Kyle to dive into the pair of them.
From there, the double-team G2S followed, then an assisted Aussie Arrow for a near-fall, as a double-team powerbomb almost led to the upset. Jado’s back with his stick as Davis went for a sliding D… but Dunkzilla gives chase, only to be attacked from behind as Fletcher was left vulnerable for a swandive headbutt and frog splash combo for a near-fall.
An attempt at the super powerbomb’s thwarted when Kyle reverses a suplex before Davis busted out his Lykos tribute (?!), giving the challengers a second wind. Davis finally lands that sliding D as the Copper Box sensed a title change… but the Fidget Spinner’s countered into a Gun Stun by Tama, before Davis took an Apeshit from Tanga Loa. That left Kyle vulnerable again, this time with the champions able to finish him off with a super powerbomb for the win. A hell of an effort from Aussie Open, and I have a feeling this is absolutely not the last time you’ll see them under the New Japan banner. ****
NEVER Openweight Championship: KENTA vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c)
This was KENTA’s first match since joining Bullet Club during the G1 finals, and my word, London were not happy to see him.
KENTA heads into the ropes at the bell as he slapped Ishii following a clean break… then rolled outside to get under his skin. A quick chase around led to the match descending into what we all wanted: back-and-forth forearms before Ishii charged through KENTA with ease. KENTA responds with some Shibata-ish forearms in the corner, before a tornado hot shot hung Ishii across the top rope.
Ishii mounted a comeback with some headbutts to the midsection, but KENTA kicked him away before the mocking backheel just drew the crowd’s ire. More kicks just rile up Ishii, who dumps KENTA with a powerslam before a series of chops and forearms kept KENTA trapped in the corner. We’re back to the forearms as the crowd roared behind Ishii, only for KENTA to run through him with a clothesline.
KENTA keeps up the momentum with a big boot and a stalling dropkick that drew boos, before he headed up top for a stomp that he had to abort. Ishii’s enziguiri’s blocked as KENTA kicks back, stomping him onto the apron, before he dragged him back in for the Jado special draping DDT. The Go 2 Sleep looks to follow, but Ishii blocks it, so KENTA just kicks again before he bust out a German suplex… then got his bell seemingly run with a receipt.
A slow discus lariat was perhaps the first sign of trouble here, as Ishii replied to KENTA with a headbutt, which left KENTA down and out. Still, the match continues with more headutts before a lariat decked a dazed KENTA. A clothesline got KENTA back in it as he heads up top for a double stomp that crushed Ishii for a near-fall, before anopther try at the Go 2 Sleep was again blocked.
Ishii goes for a brainbuster, which landed badly as KENTA tried to flip out but instead everyone crashed to the mat as KENTA was clearly in bad shape. The pair exchange slaps on the mat, with KENTA reeling but still throwing his shots before he tried to pull up Ishii into a rear naked choke. Instead, he looked for a PK, which got blocked as Ishii decks him with another clothesline for a two-count.
That’s apparently the cue for the Guerrillas of Destiny to hit the ring, and with the ref down they try to influence things… but Ishii’s even to things, clearing the ring before a brainbuster should have ended things… but the referee’s pulled out! The Guerrillas hit the ring again, this time with Tanga Loa hitting a running slam before a Magic Killer left Ishii laying, with KENTA picking up the pieces to score a near-fall out of it all.
From there, KENTA goes in for a rear naked choke, which Ishii fought out of, only to get slapped down by KENTA before a Go 2 Sleep led to the win. This was fine – clearly hampered by KENTA getting his bell rung halfway through, as the match was looking good… then almost fell to pieces. KENTA slipping on the ropes afterwards celebrating didn’t help the optics of this either. ***½
RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (c)
Having lost in his last shot at this belt – in Madison Square Garden, of all places – can Hiroshi Tanahashi claim an unlikely championship in London? Andy Simmonz replaced Gino on commentary for this one, while ZSJ got pyro for his latest homecoming.
Sabre offered Tanahashi his leg as the Copper Box was providing a cacophony of noise, including chants towards referee Red Shoes Unno (which he deflected masterfully) and some anti-Brexit, anti-Boris Johnson stuff. Good.
Meanwhile, there was a match going on as Sabre easily escaped a stranglehold from Tanahashi, before the Ace looked to work over Zack’s leg on the mat, bridging back to try and torque on a Figure Four as we crossed the five minute mark. Sabre looked to work on Tanahashi’s previously-injured left arm, wrenching back on it before Tanahashi looked to respond with some forearms.
A wonky Irish whip takes Tanahashi into the corner, but he’s back with a low dropkick to take down Sabre, only to run into a back-and-forth that ended with Sabre locking in a Cobra twist. Tanahashi manages to counter out with one of his own though, before he rolled up Sabre for a two-count as a series of sunset flip reversals stacked up those pinning attempts until Sabre twisted Tanahashi’s neck.
Tanahashi rebounds with a Dragon screw though, before he looked to turn Sabre into a Cloverleaf… but Zack blocks it and ends up working his way into an Octopus stretch instead. Again though, Sabre ends up rolling into the ropes as he looked to switch the holds.
Sabre looks for a Zack Driver, but it’s countered into a Twist and Shout as Tanahashi finds a second wind. A Slingblade gets a two-count, before he went up top for a High Fly Flow… but Sabre gets his knees up and switches into a triangle armbar. Tanahashi looked to have escaped, but Sabre goes back to the armbar a la MSG, before Tanahashi got free with another Dragon screw.
Both men looked for a finish, with Sabre countering a Dragon suplex into a roll-up, but the Dragon suplex lands at the second attempt for a near-fall… before Tana heads up, and lands the High Fly Flow! That pop for the finish was ear-shattering, as nobody expected a title change – with Tanahashi now becoming the latest New Japan star to hold the Rev Pro title.
Now… when’s he coming to the Cockpit?! ****¼
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
If you thought the roar for Tanahashi winning in the semi-main was loud… Kaze Ni Nare for Suzuki raised the roof off the Copper Box!
We start out slowly, with Suzuki having his wrist worked over by Okada, giving the crowd plenty of time to roar behind both guys. Suzuki returns the favour, but gets tripped to the mat as Okada looked to work over the leg instead. Like most recent Okada matches, this was starting slow and steady, like the proverbial game of human chess…
Back-and-forth forearms follow, with the pair swinging for the fences, but it’s Okada who edged ahead with a snapmare and a low dropkick. Suzuki struck back, suckering Okada into the ropes for a hanging armbar, before the match spilled outside, with Okada getting taken into the guard rails. That’s followed up when Suzuki hunts for a chair, but the referee gets in his way as Okada made a save.
The pair brawl up the ramp, where Suzuki teases a Gotch piledriver, before he instead went for a running PK down the aisle instead. Suzuki regains the chair, just to sit in as Okada took his time returning to the ring… where he was instantly met with some more stomps. A single leg crab followed from Suzuki, as did a STF, before Okada managed to make it to the ropes, prompting Suzuki to simply let go.
Okada mounts a fightback though, working up into a DDT for a near-fall that sent Suzuki outside for some respite. It wasn’t exactly forthcoming though, as Okada stayed on top of him, only for Suzuki to swing right back around with a snapmare and a PK for a near-fall. Suzuki goes to the arm, using a Fujiwara armbar on Okada to try and force a submission, as Suzuki resumed the beatdown.
Instead of a PK, we get a diving boot from Suzuki that nearly led to the title change, before another Gotch piledriver attempt was blocked, with Okada countering free with a back body drop. A shotgun dropkick followed from Okada, along with a death valley driver for a near-fall, before a missile dropkick led to… Rainmaker pose! Suzuki’s up and snarling though, slapping Okada away as another strike battle broke out, which took us to the goddamned clonking elbows of doom.
So. Many. Elbows.
Eventually Suzuki staggers back into the ropes, as Okada then offered himself up for more free shots, which wasn’t exactly smart as Suzuki forced him to crumple to his knees with more strikes. Another Gotch piledriver’s countered into a neckbreaker slam, as we seemingly reset at the 25 minute mark, going back to strikes. Headbutts, too, before Okada caught Suzuki out of nowhere with a dropkick.
A rear naked choke’s applied, with some of the crowd booing Okada for move theft. The payback comes in the form of a running dropkick from Suzuki, who again goes for a choke as a prelude to the Gotch piledriver, instead switching it as he took Okada down to the mat to sink the hold in deeper. Red Shoes does the arm drop gimmick, but on the third drop Okada spins out and lands a Rainmaker instead, clinging onto the wrist so he could work into a second Rainmaker… before Suzuki elbowed away to avoid a third!
Another barrage of strikes had Okada rocked again, with Suzuki leaving Okada down on the mat after an extended, unanswered flurry. It’s back to the rear naked choke as a prelude to the Gotch piledriver… but Okada grabs the leg to save himself, hitting back with a dropkick to the back of Suzuki. Another dropkick to the front of Suzuki followed, before the crowd showered down some boos that turned to cheers when a Rainmaker was cut-off.
A scoop tombstone followed though, as Okada was intent on crossing the finishing line, landing a Rainmaker for the win. Wow. The cacophony of noise throughout – Suzuki, who many didn’t give any sort of realistic chance of winning, was strongly backed by the Copper Box crowd throughout, but in the end it was not to be for the King. ****½
For a “proper” debut in the UK, Royal Quest was virtually the authentic New Japan experience – with the pickiest of picky buggers calling out that we didn’t get the usual Japanese ring announcer. Still, if that’s the only negative, then it’s a heck of a showing… especially as we got a taste fo Britwres too, with the video screen on the entrance being partially broken for most of the show!
Make no mistake, after years of New Japan guys appearing on Rev Pro supershows, this was a fully in-canon New Japan show in the UK, and was everything you expected and then some. Here’s to many more of them – as long as Fite sort out the issues they encountered here.