New Japan’s double-header in Australia started with a stop in Melbourne as a trio of title matches highlighted a solid show.
We’re going to try and speed through this one since we’re late to the show. This one’s coming from Festival Hall in Melbourne, Australia. On commentary… well, well, well… it’s Don Marnell! Long time no hear! He’s alongside Chris Charlton as we’ve got a real British and Irish feel to proceedings down under.
Andrew Villalobos, Mark Tui & Michael Richards vs. Nick Bury, Shota Umino & Toa Henare
Tui, Villalobos and Richards represent the Fale Dojo, so got the “sprint to the ring” treatment. Nick Bury’s filling in for Ren Narita due to travel issues.
Don tells us that Nick Bury flew over to the LA Dojo to train with New Japan… except it was closed because everyone was over in New York. D’oh! Meanwhile, Chris Charlton takes a few digs at how dojos “aren’t just warehouses where you learn to take a bump”. Touche.
Bury gets a huge roar when he tagged in in front of his home crowd, but he’s quickly charged down with a shoulder tackle… and things don’t get better when Michael “Don’t Call Me Stevie” Richards came in either as the Fale Dojo isolated him in the wrong corner. Eventually an enziguiri saves Bury, as he finally got the tag out to Umino, who nearly took the win with a Boston crab on Richards.
Henare almost won with a spear tackle on Villalobos, but the finish came seconds later with a uranage as the Kiwi won in Australia. Decent enough as an opener, with Bury doing well in peril early on. **¾
Aaron Solow vs. Slex
The former (?) Dojo Pro champion has been around the block a lot, but from going by the entrances he wasn’t exactly going to be spotlit in this one.
Don Marnell was caught off guard by how Solow’s red hair was a tribute to Tatanka (buffalo), but Solow’s early offence was stopped with a slingshot backbreaker. A quick tope followed as Slex turned it up in a hurry, but Solow was able to find a way back in by slowing the pace back down.
Slex switches it back around with a tornado DDT, nearly earning him the win, before a spinning rack bomb got him another near-fall. The pressure keeps coming from Slex, but Solow kicked out of a superplex, before he nearly upset the local lad with a roll-up. A double stomp off the top nearly does it for Solow too, but Slex hit back with a spinning roundhouse… and that’s it. This was a perfectly fine match to establish Slex with those who’d never seen him before (cough), as Solow did a damn good job of making him look good. ***
Bullet Club (Gino Gambino & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Toru Yano & YOH
If you forgot Gino Gambino was in Bullet Club, well, I don’t blame you. If you just watch NJPW World, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s just a really good colour commentator.
Travel issues mean that SHO missed the event, so we’ve a slight tweak on the line-up as Gedo dropped off the card too. Gino played right into Yano’s games from the off, but he’s able to overpower him as Ishimori kept up the pressure on the grounded Yano. After outlasting the Bullet Club pair, Yano got free and brought in YOH… who’s quickly forced to escape some double-teaming before his bridging headlock suplex almost ended things.
Ishimori’s back with a handspring enziguiri, before we’re back to Yano and Gambino. Of course the turnbuckle pad comes off. As does another. Both men put them to good use, ahead of a big splash from Gambino, but in the end Yano’s trickery gets his team the win as he unsights the ref, then scored a low blow and a roll-up for the win as YOH had Ishimori down in a crucifix for the hell of it. **½
Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
Hey, this really is an authentic New Japan card – we’re getting rando undercard Bullet Club tags with Chase and Yujiro!
We’ve a jump start as the Bullet Club made the wise call to isolate YOSHI-HASHI from the off. This came just days after YOSHI-HASHI lost to Zack Sabre Jr., so you’d expect him to be stinging a little… and it got worse when Chase just rakes his back. Chase gets a little ahead of himself when he spat at Ishii, and yeah, he gets his comeuppance pretty quickly.
Ishii’s in to absorb some forearms and fire back with some of his own, before he had to fight away some double-teaming from Yujiro. German suplexes wait for Owens, along with more forearms before YOSHI-HASHI was suddenly forced to make a save as the Bullet Club double-team Ishii. The pair keep going back and forth as Chase lands a knee strike, then a Dragon suplex and a V-Trigger. Erm… Chase. You trying to pay tribute to someone?
A Jewel Heist clothesline nearly wins it, as Chase has to deal with YOSHI-HASHI again… the package piledriver’s escaped with a back body drop as Ishii found a second wind, finishing off Chase with a brainbuster. This was fine for what it was, with Chase getting a lot of offence, but so far this has been very “road to” show-y. **¾
RevPro Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship: Rocky Romero vs. El Phantasmo (c)
Romero’s upset win over ELP during Best of the Super Juniors earned him this shot, and he’s caught with a jump start as Phantasmo didn’t bother with his backflip-off-the-top entrance.
Rocky managed to shrug it off though, taking Phantasmo out for a tope as he controlled the proceedings early on. Some pokes to the eye keep ELP down, only for him to avoid some Forever lariats and turn it into the Gas Pedal as he repeatedly stepped on Rocky’s groin. The pace in this one’s pretty deliberate, but it means that everything at least registered with the crowd, like Rocky’s kicks after he hung up ELP in the ropes… before the champion freed himself to avoid a flying knee.
Phantasmo follows Rocky to the outside with an Orihara moonsault, before he took time out to spray Chris and Don with some water. Back in the ring, it’s rope-walk time, but Romero shoves him into the corner and crotches the champion, then scored with a coast-to-coast dropkick as ELP was still on the top rope.
Phantasmo recovers with a whirlibird neckbreaker, almost getting the win, before some more back and forth led to Rocky scoring with a Falcon arrow/cross armbar. Somehow, ELP rolls free into an ankle lock, as more pinning attempts ensured, but Phantasmo settled back into things, twisting at Rocky’s nipples for the hell of it.
A leaping knee and a lariat gets Rocky back in, as a running Shiranui almost led to the title change… Rocky then pulled a Kurtis Chapman with a Sega Mega Driver as another Shiranui almost got countered into a tombstone, before we got a ref bump as Phantasmo pushed another Shiranui away into the path of Marty Asami. Live, the stream died as Phantasmo tapped out to an armbar… but Rocky lets go then realises it didn’t count.
Rocky ducks a belt shot but only gets a near-fall from a roll-up, before Phantasmo scores with a belt shot and the CR2 to retain. Not in the same league as their Korakuen outing, but this was a fun match that had the crowd going, but in the end it’s Phantasmo who squeaked by with the win. ***½
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Juice Robinson & Mikey Nicholls vs. Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
Juice and Mikey’s win over the champions in Sendai led to this becoming a title match.
Juice tries to be a little distracting at the start, playing to the crowd as the challengers took their opponents outside for some quick planchas. Shame the cameras barely caught it as the four men paired off and fought around Festival Hall. Juice teases a piledriver to Tama Tonga on the ramp, but a back body drop got him free as the Guerrillas began to work over Nicholls.
Yeah, even being an Aussie in Australia isn’t making Nicholls a babyface here.
Eventually Nicholls got himself free as Juice got the tag in. Dusty punches break out to both Tama and Tanga, before Jado’s Kendo stick shot stopped Juice in his tracks. There’s more of those from Jado as Tama decided to troll us all with some flossing. Juice replied by trolling him by getting to the ropes, but the champions slow the pace down again, going for back suplexes only for Juice to get free and make the tag.
That got the challengers back on top as a cannonball from Juice and a Big Ending from Nicholls had them back on top, ahead of a double-team falling DDT that almost led to the finish. Again Jado threatens with the Kendo stick, but Juice punches him away before Tama Tonga snuck in with Gun Stuns… ahead of a roll-up and a big handful of tights for the win. That finish felt a little rushed in terms of things registering with the crowd, but this was one of the better GOD tag title matches. ***
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Robbie Eagles vs. Will Ospreay (c)
Right, this hasn’t been a bad show so far, but this is the match that everyone’s flocked to this show to see.
This was the fourth time Eagles and Ospreay had met, with their first two outings for PWA in Australia getting rave reviews. ELP was out with Eagles, despite the pair’s rather strained relationship as of late. Much like New Japan World’s relationship with certain music, as Will Ospreay’s “Elevated” was overdubbed here, much like in the G1…
Unlike with Mikey Nicholls, Eagles was massively loved here, with even the lighting tech flashing the stage lights to get the crowd behind the challenger… who sent ELP to the back before we got going.
Yeah, these guys weren’t dogging it, as they shot out of the gates. Dives and chops feature heavily, with Ospreay chopping Eagles off the top rope early on, before he joined him outside with a springboard forearm off the guard rails as Ospreay began to bask in the crowd’s hatred of him. Back in the ring, Ospreay took a tornado DDT before he gets bloody ridiculous with a series of kicks, only to get caught with a stomp on the apron. Eagles keeps the pressure up with some forearms before he went to work over Ospreay’s knee… only for Ospreay to get thrown into the ropes as he rebounded with a handspring enziguiri. That signified another flourish from Ospreay, but his Storm Breaker’s countered out of… only for Ospreay to hit a handspring overhead kick to knock Eagles off the top rope as the Aussie tried to fight back.
A Dragon superplex goes awry, so Ospreay just dropkicks Eagles to the floor, looking for the count-out… but Eagles broke the count and ate a reverse DDT as we crossed the 20-minute mark. Ospreay’s forced to flip out of the Turo Backpack before he flipped Eagles into a facebuster, then a powerbomb for a near-fall.
Phantasmo got involved to provide a distraction as Eagles hit a top rope ‘rana… he couldn’t follow up though, missing a 450 splash as the crowd finally woke up. Unlike Eagles, who was out on his feet as Ospreay lifted him up for an avalanche Iconoclasm. ELP tries to get involved again, but Ospreay stopped him – and got out of the way as Eagles dove onto his man by mistake. In the midst of that, Ospreay had his knee trapped in the ropes, allowing Eagles to come back with a Ron Miller Special, which nearly forced the submission… aided by trapping Ospreay’s free arm, only for the champion to get the other one to the ropes.
Eagles gets a little ahead of himself and ends up getting caught with a pair of OsCutters, only for Phantasmo to pull out the referee. A beating awaited Ospreay from the Canadian, but Eagles stops ELP from a belt shot, as Ospreay cleared him out of the ring. Eagles gets rid of the belt as we cross the 30-minute mark with back-and-forth elbows, before Ospreay countered a Turbo Backpack and got himself back in front.
An Essex Destroyer’s next, before a Storm Breaker’s countered into a spiking ‘rana as Eagles came close. Don Marnell has to save himself from a swear as a wacky tornado DDT from Eagles shocked everyone as the pace again went up, with a Spanish Fly from Ospreay giving him and Eagles a nasty landing. A shooting star press is cleaner, but Eagles kicked out at one only to get clocked with a Hidden Blade and a Storm Breaker as Ospreay retained. An excellent match, but with Ospreay in the G1 a week later, the cynical part of me never bought a title change… not that that hampered the match, as the crowd were loud for the first time all evening for this. I think I may need to see their first two if those were meant to be better than this… ****½
After the match, El Phantasmo tries to console Eagles, but the Aussie’s finally had enough decks ELP with a forearm before he shook Ospreay’s hand. Symbolic.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Jay White) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
I think these guys may have a struggle to follow that… especially since the story going in was “is Tanahashi really starting to break down?”
Oh, and “how good IS Chris Charlton able to impersonate JR?”
Those early exchanges saw Tanahashi on top, but White rudely dumps him to the floor as the Bullet Club took control. A cheapshot from Fale on the floor somehow helped Tanahashi get back in – albeit into the path of some offence from Fale, who just sits down on Tana’s sunset flip attempt.
Jay White comes in to try and capitalise, but Tanahashi catches a kick, teasing a Dragon screw, only for White to get free and land it instead. Okada was needed to break up a hold as White looked to be in control… only for Fale to send him to the outside as the Ace of New Japan ended up getting double-teamed.
Tanahashi manages to sidestep Fale’s charge as he mounts a comeback with a low dropkick, and then tags in Okada to do the heavy lifting. A running back elbow staggers Fale ahead of a DDT, before Okada tried to slam the big man. First time didn’t work, as Fale tried to scoop him up instead, only for Okada to escape and hit his slam in the end.
Fale manages to overwhelm Okada, allowing White to come in and hit a snap Saito suplex as the tide turned again for a brief moment. A neckbreaker slam stops that though, as Tanahashi returned to work over White… finally landing his Dragon screw in the process. Tanahashi rolls White in with a Cloverleaf, but it’s instantly broken up in the ropes as White came back with a cracking chop.
Another Saito suplex drops Tanahashi as Fale was doing his best to neutralise Okada on the floor. Tanahashi slips out of a Blade Runner twice, before countering a third one into Twist and Shout, as tags took us back to Okada and Fale. Okada’s attempt at a tombstone were easily stopped, allowing Fale to go for a Grenade… but it’s stopped as the ring filled, and quickly cleared too.
Fale tries to end it with a Bad Luck Fall to Okada, but it’s slipped out of as a dropkick awaited the big man. White’s back in hunt of a Blade Runner, but Okada eventually slipped out as Tanahashi hits his Slingblade, before the pair worked to suplex Fale… and when Tanahashi pescados to the outside, all that’s left was for Okada to hit a top rope elbow and a spinning Rainmaker. One regular Rainmaker later, and Okada picked up the win. This was fine, but nowhere near what you’d tag as the quality of New Japan’s regular main events – a match for the stars to run through their hits more than anything else. **¾
After the match, Tanahashi and Okada had a brief staredown to prepare for their G1 match the following week, as the show came to a head. In all fairness, this may as well have been another stop on the preceding Kizuna Road tour, as a lot of the undercard felt like throwaway matches rather than anything show-stealing. If you’re pushed for time, carve out 45 minutes for Ospreay/Eagles, and you’re good!
Credit where it’s due though, the three title matches all delivered to some extent, while for me, the sneaky highlight came on commentary as Don Marnell knocked it out of the park on his play-by-play debut. While we’ve been critical in the distant past of some of his colour work for OTT (particularly the early days of the Joel Gertner tribute act), Marnell was a revelation doing play-by-play – playing the straight man while retaining enough of the “old” character to stand out from the pack.