The Rev Pro & New Japan Strong Style Evolved UK weekender wrapped up with a stormer of a card – conveniently enough at the home of the Manchester Storm ice hockey team!
After a good but not out-of-this-world show in Milton Keynes, the crew travelled up the M6 towards Altrincham for a show that saw Tomohiro Ishii defending his Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship against Minoru Suzuki. We start with the match line-up – this time properly imposed onto the screen and not the mobile camera filming it. There’s a change that’s announced later on, as Chris Brookes’ shoulder injury means he’s off the card, as we’re taken to the ring where James Daniels is still our announcer. Kevin Kelly and the remains of Andy Simmonz’s voice are on commentary.
Danny Duggan vs. Great O-Kharn
Duggan gets the full-on Contender treatment, while the Great O-Kharn again has to negotiate the raised walkway and a bunch of steps. O-Kharn’s apparently on a three-month excursion to the UK…
For some reason we get chants of “USA”, presumably from someone who thinks Danny’s related to Jim, but the early stages saw O-Kharn get taken to the outside, where he posts Duggan. At least the crowd barriers look sturdier today, but they have added the infernal Rev Pro lighting rig… Still on the outside, O-kharn gives Duggan the Snake Eyes onto the crowd barrier, before some rope choking led to a Khali chop as O-kharn thumbed his nose at the crowd.
O-Kharn keeps up on Duggan, who barely had a shot in before he scored with a missile dropkick and some running uppercuts into the corner, before an enziguiri dropped O-Kharn. Duggan didn’t go for the pin though, as he instead went for a bridging German suplex for a near-fall, only to get caught with some Mongolian chops. Tenzan… are you watching this kid?! Duggan rebounds with something akin to a Superman punch, but he’s still not going for covers as he instead climbed the ropes, scoring with a crossbody only for O-Kharn to come back with an eye rake and a pump kick.
Next, O-Kharn goes back to his head claw/backbreaker stretch submission, which is a neat little hold, before flipping it into a swinging neckbreaker for another near-fall, before a Mongolian chop off the middle rope finally put away Duggan. A decent opener, but this felt more like a slow-paced TV squash rather than a spirited Young Lion match. There’s a LOT of establishing and tweaking to be done with this O-Kharn act… and likely a few shows of folks wearing question mark tea towels to support/mock him… **¾
Kevin Kelly dropped in a reference to Matt Cappotelli’s passing here, which brought a tear.
Shota Umino vs. Yuji Nagata
This was their third singles meeting, but it’d be a rather seismic shock if the Young Lion were to get the win here.
Nagata started out on offence, taking down Umino early, but the Young Lion’s right back up and actually starts to take the fight to Nagata, throwing some forearms… only to get pulled down into an armbar as he went for a suplex. The arm work continued from Nagata, as he grounds the Young Lion with a hammerlock, before decking Umino with a boot as he tried to fight back.
A cross armbreaker’s quickly broken in the ropes, so Nagata just leathers him in the head and shoulder with a kick as we’re back to the status quo. Nagata seemed to take a moment to register the crowd singing his name, but Umino begins another fight back with a missile dropkick, then a spinebuster as we almost had the upset… but after a kick-out, Umino heads up top and connects with another missile dropkick as Nagata was seemingly clinging on.
The Standard Issue Submission is next, with Nagata easily powering out of the Boston crab, before taking down Umino with a knee to the midsection. More kicks follow for a near-fall, before Umino fought out of an Exploder suplex and threw some more shots, leaving Naghata dazed. Of course, Nagata hits back harder en route to the Exploder, before the Nagata Lock crossface forced the submission. Really enjoyable stuff for what it was, with the Greatest Hits of Nagata playing out well here among Shota Umino’s fire. ***
After the match, Kevin Kelly dropped a hint that Umino may be coming to Rev Pro for excursion. Don’t tease us…
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Iizuka) vs. YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano & Gedo
We’ve got the Suzuki-gun “gang” theme again here, and there’s a decent roar for El Desperado… while Takashi Iizuka ripped apart the crowd barrier on his way to the ring.
Guess what? Suzuki-gun jumped their opponents as the match went to the outside, with Iizuka instantly taking Toru Yano into the crowd. Things settle down a little as Desperado and Gedo hit the ring, before Yano saved Gedo from double-teaming as the “Raintaker” instead tried to unmask Desperado. Kanemaru makes the save, and begins to work over Gedo, as Iizuka came in and tried to bite Gedo… but the Lecter mask was in the way. Desperado removes it, and now it’s time to bite forever.
The rodent-like gnawing even extended to the referee, with Chris Sharpe being forced to scarper, before Iizuka bit away on Gedo’s hand. Gedo’s foot is next as Kevin Kelly namedrops Tony Atlas (oh, if only you knew what was about to drop, Kevin…), as Suzuki-gun’s reign over Gedo finally came to an end thanks to some interference from Yano. YOSHI-HASHI gets the tag in, and after clearing the apron he nails Desperado with a running Blockbuster, before draping Desperado… and Kanemaru in the ropes for the dropkick! A spinebuster from Desperado stops things as we build to the Toru Yano tag, and you know what’s next… off come the turnbuckle pads, but in comes the biting from Iizuka. Iizuka gets whacked with the pads, before he bites at Yano’s hand again, and now it’s time to break!
Iizuka ignores the request, biting away at Yano’s boot, as both men end up tagging out. We’re back to Kanemaru and Gedo, with some interference from Desperado, as a chinbreaker from Gedo looked to put him ahead, but Kanemaru replies with a scooping reverse DDT for a near-fall. A leap off the top’s countered by Gedo’s knees, but Suzuki-gun resume brawling on the apron as Gedo’s left without any backup… and after Desperado stops a Gedo clutch, we have a referee distraction as Iizuka’s funky oven glove comes into play. Gedo avoids that, but not the Kanemaru whiskey spray as the Deep Impact DDT gets the win. Your usual Suzuki-gun match, but at least the shenanigans aren’t overplayed in the UK. Yet. **¾
Yujiro Takahashi vs. WALTER
Oh poor Takahashi… this has every prospect of being one-sided. Still, at least Yujiro had his ladies with him, which popped Andy. Meanwhile, WALTER’s out in his RINGKAMPF jacket, which must have been sweltering in the Manchester heat…
Yujiro heads outside at the bell, but when we get going he bites his way out of a headlock as he tried to stop WALTER’s chops at the source. After taking a shoulder charge, Yujiro tries to chop WALTER but gets one of the authentic Austrian chops in response as he’s then taken between the ropes for some clubbering forearms, sending Yujiro to the outside… for some thunderous chops!
A backdrop suplex onto the apron’s next as WALTER was cruising, but Yujiro throws WALTER’s leg into the ring post in his latest bid to stall the Austrian. That’s followed up with a chop block as Yujiro attempts to keep WALTER grounded… and Takahashi actually gets a near-fall over der Ringgeneral with a big boot in the corner. Problem was, WALTER’s able to throw forearms, but his knee’s a problem area… one that Yujiro gets suckered into with a low dropkick that misses as WALTER crushes him with a back senton.
WALTER swings and misses with another chop as Yujiro goes to the eyes, but there goes the chop! Then the German suplex, the butterfly suplex and a near-fall! Yujiro avoids a powerbomb and instead goes back to the leg, only to get caught out of nowhere with a lariat for a near-fall… a shotgun dropkick sent Yujiro careering into the corner, before a folding powerbomb put away the Tokyo Pimp. Not quite a squash, but an ultra-dominating performance for WALTER, who may have much bigger goals in the promotion. ***¼
Taichi vs. Will Ospreay
Ah man, Manchester got the Taichi performance, complete with the abrupt ending!
It’s a heavyweight vs. junior match, which usually only goes one way in New Japan booking. We start with Taichi stalling for time, powdering outside before offering a handshake to Ospreay… which is accepted as Will avoids the cheapshot by sidestepping. Again, Taichi heads outside, and this time he’s caught with a tope as Ospreay decided to follow him out. Ospreay tries to follow up on Taichi, but again we’re back outside as Taichi suckered Ospreay into a chairshot, with Will going two-for-two in “nights he gets beaned in the head with a chair”, which almost led to the count-out. Will makes it back into the ring but gets choked by Taichi, who uses his heavyweight status to ground Ospreay. Literally. By standing on his back. Eventually Will gets in with a handspring enziguiri, then an over-the-top 619 for a near-fall, before Taichi grabbed the referee and threatened to make him collateral damage in a German suplex attempt.
Taichi’s back to the kicks, as Ospreay throws forearms, but those kicks have a little more mustard on them as Ospreay’s taken to a knee briefly… Will fires back, only to get clocked with a gamengiri in the corner, then a buzzsaw kick for a near-fall… and now the trousers are off! The Spanish fly’s blocked by Taichi, but Ospreay’s back in with a corkscrew enziguiri as he was having to pick his shots, following in with a Robinson special…
But the OsCutter’s stopped as Taichi pulls the referee into harm’s way, allowing Yoshinobu Kanemaru to come out as he tries to interfere with the whiskey. Again, Ospreay blocks it and takes him outside with a Sasuke special… back inside, Taichi swings and misses with the mic stand, before connecting with a low blow as the referee regains his senses, just in time for the Last Ride powerbomb to get the win. This felt very sluggish in parts, but per New Japan booking, it went very much to form. Had Taichi not stepped up a division, the match – and outcome – would have been very different. **½
Rev Pro British Cruiserweight Championship: David Starr (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori vs. El Phantasmo vs. Tiger Mask
Once again, this was announced as a cruiserweight title match, and once again David Starr was out to complain about it. He begrudgingly agreed that Tiger Mask earned a shot, but he wasn’t so sure about El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori.
We start with Tiger Mask quickly getting thrown outside by Ishimori, but Tiger doesn’t seem to mind, as the Bone Soldier and David Starr worked over El Phantasmo. They quickly turn on each other as Ishimori’s rope work led to the springboard seated senton as we swiftly entered the revolving door territory, featuring Starr countering a dive attempt from Phantasmo into a Cherry Mint DDT.
Starr goes back into the ring as he tried again to unmask Tiger Mask, staying on him like a dog with a bone, but eventually a legsweep gives Tiger a breather… and bring Phantasmo in as a Quebrada almost gave us a new champion. Ishimori breaks up the cover though, and built up to a sliding German suplex on Phantasmo for a near-fall as the ring filled up… leading to some teased three-on-one on Phantasmo, led by Tiger Mask… who just suckered everyone in. A Tiger Driver nearly gives us a new champion, but ELP kicks out, as Ishimori and Starr go at it with back-and-forth forearms, leading to Starr shoving out of a wheelbarrow bulldog. ELP comes back with a forearm and a superkick to Starr, before Phantasmo goes ropewalking ahead of a top rope moonsault to Starr and Tiger on the floor! Phantasmo returned inside with a Coast to Coast dropkick to Starr, but it’s still not enough, so Starr wallops Phantasmo with lariats only to get caught in a whirlibird neckbreaker.
Another kick-out for Starr followed, as he’s caught up top by ELP, then Tiger Mask with an avalanche butterfly suplex… but this time it’s Ishimori who makes the save. Ishimori keeps on with a death valley driver that went straight into a cover for a near-fall, but Taiji’s caught up top by Phantasmo and sent crashing to the floor as ELP instead takes the initiative, hitting a senton bomb and a top rope moonsault to Tiger Mask… only for Starr to rush in and steal the pin for a near-fall!
Some double-teaming from Tiger and ELP backfires as Starr low blows Ishimori… before proceeding to rip off the mask and roll up Tiger for the win. Sneaky. Underhanded… but still champion. A decent enough four-way, even if it did go a little too cliched at times… but it’s clear that they’re still going towards Phantasmo/Starr down the line. ***½
Kyle Fletcher vs. Jay White
An injury to Chris Brookes led to a change in the card, and we’ve an Antipodean encounter!
The crowd chants were pretty split between the two, as we start with Fletcher lighting up White in the corner with shots, before taking him outside for a nice tope as the pair brawled for a while in the crowd… which acted as a bit of a turning point as White knocked Fletcher down as he tried to springboard back into the ring. From there, White hangs the Aussie Arrow in the ropes for a neckbreaker, before they went back outside as the New Zealander wore down Kyle with chops. A back suplex followed for a near-fall, as the Switchblade continued to dominate… at least until Kyle snuck in a forearm and an elbow shot, that is.
A snap back suplex from White restores order, as Fletcher’s turned around into an eventual Muta Lock, wrenching away on Fletcher with little remorse before the Aussie made it to the ropes. Out of nowhere, Fletcher surprises Jay with a Michinoku driver, then with a Quebrada as he came within a split-second of a win, but White turns it back around as he wriggled out of a lawn-dart attempt. Another swinging suplex took Fletcher into the corner, but White still can’t get it sorted, so he traps Fletcher between the ropes for some chops instead… chops that the Aussie just egged on. That wasn’t a smart thing to do, as White actually drew blood from those chops, but Fletcher rebounds to take White outside for a step-up cannonball off the top, following up with the lawn-dart and a diving knee for a near-fall.
Fletcher thought he’d won it with a flying X-Factor, but it’s not enough, and it just makes White more defiant as he spits in Kyle’s face. Another superkick puts down White, but Fletcher slips badly on a moonsault attempt… and Switchblade capitalises on that with the Blade Runner for the instant win. A nice little match, with Fletcher putting on a spirited showing before slipping at the worst possible moment. Could this impromptu outing have boosted Kyle’s stock in some powerful places? Time will tell… ***½
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada
A rematch from Sakura Genesis’ stellar encounter, although this time it’s with no gold on the line…
My God, the roar for Okada! Sabre started by grabbing Okada’s neck in a cravat, rolling the former IWGP champion down to the mat before escaping a headlock attempt as Okada tried to play Zack at his own game as they went back-and-forth with holds… until Sabre blocked a hiptoss and crabbed a Cobra twist, which gets countered into a Cobra clutch.
These transitions are buttery smooth, as were the variations from Sabre, who monkeyed onto Okada’s back with a rear naked choke, only for Okada to fall into the ropes for a break. From there, Sabre toys at Okada with kicks, but Zack takes too much time and ends up running into an Okada boot… before switching gears right back into a mounted guillotine with a keylock to boot. After escaping, Okada manages to get some offence going, drilling Sabre with a DDT for a near-fall, before catching Zack on the outside with a plancha.
Back inside, Okada’s top rope elbow’s caught and met with an armbar… but he’s able to roll into the ropes as the Rainmaker setup went awry. A flapjack’s next as both men were fighting to scrap ahead, with Okada trying to counter a guillotine into a tombstone… only for Sabre to counter the counter into a Euro clutch before a PK left Okada laying. A neckbreaker slam attempt from Okada’s delayed as Sabre goes back to the Octopus hold, but Okada switches out and nails the slam anyway for a near-fall, before Okada headed up top and connected with an elbow drop ahead of… Rainmaker zoom-out! The tease of the same move followed, but Sabre avoids it and drops Okada into a STF, then a variety of other holds as they invariably rolled into the ropes as the smaller ring offered a little less room for maneuver.
Sabre keeps up on Okada with a series of PKs, before running into an Okada dropkick and a tombstone. The Rainmaker followed, but Zack countered by floating over into a cross armbreaker as the Altrincham crowd booed the lack of a Rainmaker… the move’s turned into an arm triangle, but Okada slips out and keeps hold of the wrist because it’s time… RAINMAKER! Okada keeps hold of the wrist, only for a second Rainmaker to be countered into an Octopus hold, with the Young Boy Killer double armbar for effect.
Okada somehow escapes and scored a jumping, spinning tombstone to get free, before one more Rainmaker’s countered into the Euro Clutch, and Zack Sabre Jr shocks the world! Perhaps not quite on the same level as Sakura Genesis, but this was a joy to behold. Another massive win under the (sort-of) New Japan banner gives Sabre a nice boost going into the G1 later this month… and it’s another monumental defeat for Kazuchika Okada, who’s hit the skids lately. ****¾
Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c)
Commentary called out James Daniels’ brush with death the prior night, when he almost talked over Suzuki’s song… tonight, he didn’t breathe a word until everyone’d Kaze Ni Nare’d.
This was (surprisingly) only the second singles meeting between Suzuki and Ishii – the prior one was five years ago on a Kizuna Road show in Akita. Suzuki took away the win that day… can he make it two-for-two? The opening skirmishes were a little tentative between Suzuki and Ishii, but they quickly eschew that as they turned to overhand and knife-edge chops, before a trade-off of shoulder charges led to a quick stand-off. We’re right back to the chops, with Ishii aiming towards the throat as Altrincham were given a rather acoustic – and visual – treat, before Suzuki suckered him into the ropes for a hanging armbar.
They head outside, with Suzuki taking Ishii into the crowd, and it’s just like Korakuen Hall… except with a brave as hell Chris Roberts trying to stop Suzuki from using a chair. He gets shoved on his backside before a chair’s thrown his way… and we may be one referee lighter soon! More chairshots follow as the pair headed towards the ring, where Suzuki draped Ishii on the apron so he could run in with a knee. It continues for Ishii as he ran into a knee strike, which kept him down as Suzuki wrenched away on an armbar… with the Rev Pro champion looking in big trouble. Almost as much as Chris Roberts, who was strangely fearless – to a point – in this match!
Ishii tried to snap back in with a Saito suplex, but instead made do with a vertical suplex as he took Suzuki into the corner for some chops and forearms. A veritable violence party, you may say, before taking Suzuki up for a superplex… but the challenger escaped and grabbed an Octopus hold while sitting in the ropes. Back on the mat, a PK levelled Ishii for a near-fall, before the champion countered a rear naked choke into a backdrop suplex. Suzuki again catches Ishii in the ropes with a hanging armbar, but the champion fires back with some elbows… and Suzuki returns the favour. Oh, I know how this goes… thunderous strikes, a la Milton Keynes! Ishii brushes Suzuki’s head with his boot, which draws some murderous death stares, and more clonking elbows, which commentary fell silent for.
Those elbows eventually knock both men to the mat… but they’re still teeing off as they fought back up, and if anything the rate of those elbows quickened, before a missed lariat from Ishii led to a rear naked choke as Suzuki dragged Ishii down to the mat again. Pulling Ishii back up to the Gotch piledriver may have been a mistake as the champion resists, then backdrops free, before clonking into Suzuki with a headbutt for good measure. Another lariat connects from Ishii, but Suzuki kicks out at two, and again after a sliding lariat… and you perhaps sensed that Ishii may not be able to finish it off…
Suzuki slips in with a Gotch piledriver attempt, but that too is blocked as the challenger just punched Ishii down to the mat, and all that’s left is one more Gotch attempt, holding Ishii upside down before finally planting him… and we’ve a new champion! ****½
So, after 86 days, Tomohiro Ishii’s reign as Rev Pro British Heavyweight Champion is at an end – the shortest reign in the company’s history (about a month shorter than the prior record of Katsuyori Shibata’s 116 days over 2016/2017). It also means that Minoru Suzuki is now a double champion – a far cry from what happened at the end of Epic Encounter when some thought that Suzuki-gun would ditch the titles. Yeah, there’s a case to be made for perhaps having too much stock in New Japan guys, but while the rest of the Rev Pro roster goes a refresh, you could do worse than having a major name at the helm… all the question is, who’s next?
August 17th 👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/6XMemeZOyy
— WALTER (@WalterAUT) July 3, 2018
On his walk to the back, Ishii was stopped – and promptly booted – by WALTER… who stood over his conquered prey with some degree of pride before heading to the back as Minoru Suzuki – and the rest of his charges – celebrated the monumental win.
In the past, we’ve chided New Japan tour for perhaps being “one card spread across many shows”, but while you could perhaps point to “Milton Keynes only got a tag title match, but Manchester got two big singles matches”, I refer you to some of our prior arguments. With the sizeable roster that was over, Rev Pro had the choice of two things: either putting on two supercards with maybe one match that was in canon, or what they did here, where things bled between the two shows. I preferred what we got, to be honest, as not only did you have the title change, but also a note-worthly loss for Okada, which added a little bit more juice going into the G1.
Sure, there’s issues over the “authenticity” of New Japan shows in a Rev Pro ring, but as a first crack, this was fine. Whether these shows are repeated remains to be seen. While there have been rumblings of discontent over these really being Rev Pro shows, I believe there is a market for a New Japan expansion in the UK, it needs to be an either/or deal: either have an annual supershow/weekender and tone down the New Japan stuff on the rest of the Rev Pro shows, or this is a one-and-done experience.
Either way, these two Strong Style Evolved shows were a blast and as good a way to experience New Japan without making the trip overseas. Until they find a way to get a 20×20 ring with the “right” ringposts in the UK, that is… Both these shows are up on Rev Pro’s VOD now, and will soon be on NJPWWorld.com. The top two matches from Sunday’s show are must-see, while Fletcher/White and the four-way are surprisingly good considering the scenarios.