New Japan returned to Meiji Jingu Stadium for a show with four title defences and the crowning of the first holder of whatever-the-KOPW-2020 statue is.
We’ve finally got English commentary back via Zoom! It’s a fairly clear day in Tokyo, with a couple of scattered clouds in the sky… fortunately, there’s a low chance of rain. Unfortunately, it’s over 30-degrees Celsius outside, so we’re not talking anything near olden-day WWF outdoor stadium weather here.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru pinned Master Wato in 7:30 (**¼)
KOPW 2020 Final – Toru Yano pinned Kazuchika Okada, SANADA & El Desperado in 7:00 to win the KOPW 2020 statue (**¾)
Minoru Suzuki pinned Shingo Takagi in 15:00 to win the NEVER Openweight Championship (****¼)
Taiji Ishimori submitted Hiromu Takahashi in 13:30 to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (****¼)
Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi in 16:00 to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (****)
Tetsuya Naito pinned EVIL in 26:20 to win the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships (***½)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Master Wato
We start off a little aggressive, with Kanemaru coming in with a side headlock, before he’s shot into the ropes, as Wato lands some strikes.
Kanemaru lifts Wato onto the apron, then dropkicks the Grandmaster as he tried to springboard back in. Wato’s tossed outside as we get the obligatory guard rail visit, including Kanemaru’s neat step-up slicing leg drop. Back inside, Kanemaru ties up Wato in a Tree of Woe, following up with a baseball slide dropkick as the referee needed to untie Wato. A camel clutch follows, but Wato got to the ropes to force a break… but he’s quickly met with an eye rake and an uppercut as Kanemaru built up a head of steam. An eye rake ensures he stayed ahead a little longer, but a dropkick from Wato knocks Kanemaru down, before a second dropkick took Kanemaru outside for the corkscrew plancha.
Back inside, Wato scores a monkey flip as he built up his offence, but Kanemaru edged back in with a slam before he had to abort a moonsault. Wato is back with kicks, before Kanemaru used the referee as a human shield. The official stays down a little longer than usual as Kanemaru lands a scooping reverse DDT, before he went for the whisky mist… but instead Wato ducks a bottle shot and hits an enziguiri in response. A Magistral Driver almost gets Wato the win, and after something a little wonky, Kanemaru snatched the win with a roll-up out of nowhere. That felt so, so flat unfortunately, even though it played into Kanemaru’s “heel master” act, it just didn’t get going. **¼
KOPW 2020 Final: El Desperado vs. SANADA vs. Toru Yano vs. Kazuchika Okada
The steam cannons are scaring Yano on his way to the ring, and yes, it’s so weird seeing Okada this low down the card on a big show.
We get a jump start as Desperado and SANADA attacked Yano before the bell. Okada makes a save, but we get a stand-off as Yano then convinced them he wanted to attack Okada… just so he could go for a quick pin. Of course, it’s broken up, as Yano then does his thing, hanging onto the rope to draw in SANADA, before Yano called for a dive… but Desperado trips him instead. In the ring, Okada offers a LIJ fist bump to SANADA as someone’s Create-a-Wrestler’s gone wrong. It led to Okada grabbing SANADA in a chin lock, before Yano took SANADA into the corner for some double-teaming, leading to a slingshot into an exposed corner before Okada’s neckbreaker slam led to some broken up pins.
Yup, we’re getting Okada and Yano arguing over pins. They start fighting, but Yano nearly shocks Okada with a small package as Desperado took over. A roll-up from Yano nearly does it, but SANADA breaks it up and proceeds to trap Yano in the corner with a Paradise Lock. Of course, Okada doesn’t help Yano, as he instead trades strikes with SANADA, before he avoided a springboard attempt and instead looked for a tombstone. SANADA slips out for a Skull End, but that ends up going into a rope-assisted Magic Killer for a two-count. Yano’s still hunched over in a Paradise Lock, as SANADA slams Okada and goes for a moonsault… it misses… but Okada’s shotgun dropkick knocks SANADA into Yano and magically frees him. SANADA goes for a back flip into a Skull End, which comes off, dragging Okada to the mat as Desperado returns to frog splash onto the pile.
Despy kicks SANADA to the outside before he went for a Guitarra de la Angel that almost put away Okada. After avoiding Pinche Loco, Okada’s back with a dropkick before the modified Cobra clutch was put on… Desperado grabs the referee, but can’t break the hold… and in among the melee Toru Yano came in with a low blow and a roll-up (that we needed to see on a replay) as Toru Yano leaves with the KOPW 2020 Statue after pinning the record-breaking IWGP champion. This was fine, but very brief. Not that I’m complaining… **¾
OF COURSE YANO DISINFECTS THE STATUE.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki vs. Shingo Takagi (c)
Time to get serious here, as we find out how well two big lads knocking seven shades of you-know-what out of each other sounds in an open air stadium.
We’ve got some scuffling before the bell, and we start with a running kick from Suzuki as the pair trade elbows and chops to get us going.They head outside, with Suzuki taking the Bret Hart bump into the guard rails, before he’s posted and taken back inside… where he surprises Shingo with a hanging armbar in the ropes.
A kick takes Shingo back to the outside, where he’s acquainted with the guard rails, forced to take them the same way Suzuki did as the referee finally started a count-out. Suzuki breaks that to throw Shingo back in, as more right hands keep the champion on the back foot. A snapmare and a PK to the back is next, but Shingo fires up as the pair begin to trade chops. Those sound nice here, before Suzuki caught a chop only to end up running into an elbow, a jab and a clothesline. Suzuki laughs it off, as he’s taken into the corner for a clothesline as Shingo snapped him out with a Saito suplex for a near-fall. Suzuki recovers as he finds his way in with a PK, and then we go to the elbows! Rapid-fire, back-and-forth elbows barely faze both men, before Suzuki threw a little more mustard behind his shots, which just about get picked up on the microphones.
Shingo tries to fight back with lariats, but Suzuki ducks one and grabs a rear naked choke before Shingo back body dropped out of a Gotch piledriver. An attempt to fight back ends with Shingo back in the choke, holding it on for a while… but the Gotch piledriver’s again countered, with Shingo this time turning it into a death valley driver. A Pumping Bomber from Shingo drops Suzuki for a near-fall, but Shingo can’t quickly follow up as he has to fight to get Made in Japan off for a near-fall… Last of the Dragon’s escaped as Suzuki slips out and headbutts the back of the head of Shingo. A second headbutt dumps Shingo, who ends up defenceless amid a barrage of palm strikes… and it’s back to the rear naked choke.
This time, Shingo spins out to clothesline his way free of a Gotch piledriver, eventually taking Suzuki into the ropes, only to get caught with a dropkick! The pair trade JYD-ish headbutts on all fours, as they fight their way back to their feet, continuing to slug it out. It’s back to a rear naked choke as Suzuki tried to make Shingo go to sleep, before he swivelled him back into a Gotch piledriver… and it finally lands as we leave Jingu with a new NEVER champion. That was absolutely not the result I was expecting, but the match… hit every spot I was expecting. Two lads knocking the crap out of each other? In a big match setting? In a big venue? I’m never going to say no to that, but it is curious that Shingo lost the title relatively quickly. ****¼
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu Takahashi (c)
Hiromu’s shoulder was the big question mark coming into this, after the events at Korakuen Hall earlier this week.
They shoot out of the gates, with Ishimori aiming for the shoulder with his strikes as the pair traded elbows… before the pace quickened with Ishimori looking for a Mistica. He lands it at the second try, forcing Hiromu outside as he grabbed his shoulder ahead of an Orihara moonsault that followed on the floor.
Back inside, a 450 splash to the shoulder leads to a Yes Lock as I was having flashbacks to when Hiromu squashed KUSHIDA three years ago. Hiromu got to the ropes and pulled himself outside, but he’s brought back in as Ishimori began to chop him in the corner… but Hiromu got free and looked to set up for a sunset bomb on the floor, only for the challenger to break the move and throw Hiromu shoulder-first into the ring post. Hiromu tries to fight back from his knees, finding luck with a tijeras, before a low dropkick took Ishimori outside as Hiromu proceeded to rip off his shoulder tape ahead of a shotgun dropkick off the apron. Returning to the ring, Hiromu did the deal with a Falcon arrow for a near-fall, but Ishimori’s right back in with a dropkick in the corner before he blocked an overhead belly-to-belly there… and returned fire with a poison ‘rana to the champ.
Despite being on the proverbial jelly legs, Hiromu’s able to retaliate with the belly-to-belly into the buckles, before a Dynamite Plunger landed for a near-fall. Ishimori tries to respond, dumping Hiromu on his neck with a German suplex, but Hiromu has an instant receipt before he lariats Ishimori back to the mat. A Victory Royal – the elevated Flatliner – drops Ishimori for another near-fall, as Hiromu looked to finish him off… a wheelbarrow facebuster follows, before Ishimori countered out and into a Cipher Utaki. Ishimori’s right back in with a Mistica as he goes for the Yes Lock once more, but Hiromu refuses to tap and instead crawled towards the ropes for a break.
Hiromu goes for more headscissors, but Ishimori counters it into a nasty buckle bomb… Hiromu monsters up with a superkick, but gets dumped with a lariat off the ropes. A death valley driver into the corner from Hiromu forces a way back in, before a Time Bomb attempt lands in the middle of the ring for a near-fall. All that’s left is Time Bomb 2, but Ishimori wriggles free and instead dumps Hiromu with a reverse Bloody Cross, landing high on the neck before a Yes Lock caught Hiromu too far away from the ropes. Ishimori rolls them back into the middle of the ring, and that’s too much for Takahashi to bear as he ends up tapping. We’ve another new champion – and it’s a title going to the Bullet Club. This was a little scary towards the end with those neck drops, but this was a smart match with Ishimori focusing on Hiromu’s shoulder from the off – and the tour-long storyline paid off as you’d expect. So, the sun sets on Hiromu’s title reign – and Jingu stadium – as we wonder what’s next for him, amid something of a losing run in singles matches right now. ****¼
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) (c)
Tanahashi and Ibushi have a mash-up of their singles themes, and my word, Tanahashi looks thrilled to be in front of a big crowd like this.
Tanahashi wanted to start, but Ibushi calmed him down and made him start on the apron as Taichi ends up taking the Suzuki-gun-ish double-teaming from the challengers. Double back elbows and elbow drops have Taichi down in the opening minutes, but Taichi’s right back in with a Dangerous backdrop driver that folded Tanahashi in half. Taichi kicks Tanahashi to the outside, where Ibushi and Sabre were already scrapping. Some Snake Eyes dropped Tanahashi right in front of Milano Collection AT on commentary, as Taichi pretty much said “to hell with your social distancing.” Some choking with the camera cable follows, before Sabre dragged Ibushi away from a save in a simple chokehold as the champions put themselves in control.
Back in the ring, Sabre drags down Tanahashi in a cravat, before a strait-jacket hold keeps Tanahashi down. Tanahashi powers up and reverses the hold, but Sabre rolls it back in before twisting the neck between his legs. Elbows from Tanahashi to Taichi just earn him an eye rake as he’s taken into the corner, from where Tanahashi flew back out with a crossbody that bought him time. A tag brings Ibushi in, and he charges into knock Sabre off the apron before going for Taichi with a scoop slam… stopping to hit a plancha onto Sabre for good measure. Back inside, a standing shooting star press gets a near-fall, before Taichi went for another Dangerous backdrop driver. Ibushi avoids that, and begins to trade kicks with Taichi instead, one of which looked to rock the wannabe singer.
A leaping enziguiri knocks Ibushi down, and was the cue for Sabre to storm the ring to take Tanahashi off the apron. Head kicks back and forth eventually leave both men down, as tags get us to Sabre and Tanahashi… and the Ace has a LOT of Dragon Screws to get his own back for. One of them traps Sabre in the ropes ahead of a Cloverleaf, but there’s an instant rope break as Tanahashi looked to follow up with a Slingblade, but noth men had to struggle over a backslide before Taichi came in for some double-teaming. Restrained Dragon screws are teased, but broken up by Ibushi as Taichi and Sabre get a taste of that medicine, before Sabre countered a Slingblade and turned it into a double armbar. I swear commentary called it the Clarky Cat, but maybe that’s just me mishearing and having Brass Eye on the mind. Anyway, Sabre continues to stretch Tanahashi as Ibushi wanders back into the ring to break the hold up… but he takes too long going for a Kamigoye.
In comes Taichi with the Iron Fingers, but Ibushi kicks it away before Taichi ate the Golden Blade. Sabre gets one too, before an Aces High lands on Sabre… only for a High Fly Flow to miss as the champions rush in with Zack Memphisto to retain. This was pretty good, building off the story that had been told since New Japan resumed in June… and you’d have to say that while this wasn’t dominant, this should be the end of this feud, especially given the G1 starts in three weeks. ****
After the match, you got the sense of Ibushi beginning to look frustrated again – I got some early day Owen Hart vibes from Ibushi, as the build to a suspected turn continues.
IWGP Heavyweight x IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. EVIL (c)
I mean, putting EVIL in the main event, outdoors, at this time of night certainly gives him a shot to be the real King of Darkness.
Before the bell, Naito throws Togo outside… then gets clocked with a title belt by EVIL as the match officially starts on the outside, with EVIL choking away on Naito. An Irish whip takes Naito into the barriers as EVIL went under the ring for some chairs. Hey, he gets to do his baseball thing in a baseball stadium! As Naito recovers, EVIL undoes a turnbuckle pad, and proceeds to bounce Naito off the exposed corner when he made it back inside. We finally hear bits of the artificial crowd noise as Naito continued to take the exposed corner, before a chinlock was used to wear down Naito in the middle of the ring.
Naito fights free, but gets tripped in the ropes by Togo, as a neckbreaker from EVIL drew a near-fall. A struggle over a suplex ends with Naito slipping free, before a swinging DDT’s blocked… so Naito comes in with a dropkick instead. They hit the ropes, with Naito’s baseball slide taking Togo down before tijeras takes EVIL into the corner ahead of Combinacion Cabron. A neckbreaker from Naito led to a two-count from the lackadaisical cover, but another neckbreaker takes him into Pluma Blanca as Dick Togo looked to interfere with a chair. Referee Red Shoes Unno stops him, as Naito then swung for the Spoiler… EVIL’s back up, using the referee for help with a thrust kick, before an eye rake takes the pair onto the apron as a death valley driver’s avoided.
Instead, Naito sweeps the leg and lands a draping neckbreaker off the apron to the floor, before he rolled him back inside. They head up to the top rope as Naito’s search for a top rope ‘rana comes off, as he proceeded to bully EVIL with some rather nonchalant kicks to the head. Just like that though, EVIL turned it back around with an Irish whip into that still-exposed corner, before a running clothesline splatted Naito in the corner. EVIL looks to follow up with a superplex, bouncing Naito into the middle of the ring for a two-count. Naito’s picked up next as the end looked to be near, but he slips out of Everything is EVIL, only to get backed into that corner. The swinging DDT follows from Naito, who tries to build anew with a running Koppo kick into the corner and a Gloria, before taking EVIL to the corner for a swinging reverse DDT off the top… for another two-count.
Dick Togo swings a chair behind the ref’s back as Naito’s momentum evaporated away, but he’s able to stop EVIL from building up as he elbowed free of Everything is EVIL. Togo gets involved again, but EVIL’s thrown into him before EVIL used the referee to stop Naito, who got caught in the ropes. That ref bump didn’t come off as planned, so EVIL just hurls Red Shoes into the exposed corner, and here comes the shenanigans. Togo’s in to stomp away on Naito, before he helped EVIL with a Magic Killer. Out runs BUSHI – the real one, that is – as he looked to level things up for Naito… but the runaway train of run ins continues. Gedo’s out to rake BUSHI’s eyes (which is always impressive through the mask), before EVIL looked to put a chair through Naito… only for Togo to come in with the garotting wire. Sigh.
SANADA’s out next to make a save, clearing house with dropkicks as he TKO’d Togo… SANADA and BUSHI frogmarch Gedo and Togo to the back, as we pass 22 minute into the match and we “finally get to see EVIL and Naito one-on-one.” Better late than never, I guess.
As the referee gets his senses back, Naito lands an enziguiri and a leaping forearm, before a running Destino almost got the win. A second Destino’s blocked as EVIL grabs the referee to mask a low blow, before a lariat dropped Naito for a near-fall. Everything is EVIL is teased, but Naito counters out into his flipping stunner – called Valiente – that has never quite come off. EVIL looks for a low blow, but it’s blocked as Naito instead goes for a Snow Plow, before he folded EVIL in half with Destino… and Naito regains the double gold! Thankfully they kept this shorter than their Dominion match, but there were some unusual slips in unfortunate places as I suspect we’ll now get the chatter about whether the “EVIL experiment” is over. Naito regains the gold, and I guess that means his G1 isn’t quite as make-or-break as it would have been. ***½
The show ends with Naito getting his moment and his fireworks – as we don’t have an obligatory run-in to ruin things.
Next up for New Japan are some stops on a mini New Japan Road tour – with the live streams starting next Saturday with a weekender in Chiba. After the Saturday and Sunday shows there, it’s off to the Sendai Sunplaza Hall on September 9, before they return to Korakuen Hall for the last stop ahead of the G1 Climax. You’d have to think those four shows will be where they drop names, blocks and matches for the G1…
Open-air shows tend to be a bit weird in terms of atmosphere, and while this one was no exception, the action more than made up for the restrictions we’ve had to get used to with New Japan. Still, opening match aside, this was a really enjoyable show – you had your curtailed nonsense for the KOPW statue, and then a run of excellent matches that snapped the perceived “bad” run of big New Japan shows, even if there were some unusually sloppy moments in terms of action and camera work throughout.