Just to get this out of the way at the top: the junior heavyweights aren’t *really* my thing. I can appreciate the skill and the athleticism but it often plays way too much as “wrestling as gymnastics” for me and I’m the kind of wrestling fan who is big on storytelling and wants every move to matter. It’s something I’ve more or less made peace with as a fan of NJPW that I’m probably not going to get those things all the time but they do a very good job with them when they do them. I’m going to do my best to be positive about all this while also acknowledging when it lacks the things that I believe make wrestling good. Let’s give it a whirl…
(Just checked the results and I’m already angry that the first match, which saw JYUSHIN THUNDER LIGER team with Karl Fredericks to take on Shota Umino and Ren Narita, wasn’t even included in the video of this show on NJPW World. Anyway…)
Soberano Jr. def. Rocky Romero via pinfall @ 11:04 with a Tornillo
I’m trying desperately to be positive here but I just didn’t enjoy any of this. It’s like how WWE booked the cruiserweights before giving them their own show. I’m not the biggest Rocky Romero fan anyway and this match did nothing to dissuade me. Not only was it boring but it looked very phoned in and nothing really happened in eleven minutes of wrestling. I honestly don’t know what else to say about this. The piped in music and commentary definitely doesn’t help matters.
TJP def. Clark Connors via submission @ 11:56 with a Pinoy Stretch
In the interest of being positive I’m going to be very kind about this: I am not a fan of TJP. The person, the wrestler, the character, you name it. I am a fan of Clark Connors, though. Lucky for me TJP is apparently the heel here (why I don’t know but I assume it’s because TJP is the dirt wor—uh…easy to boo? I mean his trunks say Cruiser-Great for crying out loud). I loved seeing him floor TJP with a shoulder block (as he should) and reverse all of TJP’s flippy stuff at the top of the match like a boss. TJP takes control and wrestles a very heel style for a while. There’s a nice spot where the two chain some moves out of a test-of-strength lock-up leading to TJP putting Connors in a Scorpion Deathlock with the hands still locked which, I have to admit, was pretty dope, especially when he bridged into a Muta Lock.
Clark Connors fires up for a fiery comeback with the crowd behind him but TJP turns things around by dodging his spear and hitting a sweet double foot stomp to his back. Not sure why Connors blocks several superplex attempts just to succumb to the final one but he kicks out and the crowd loves it. Connors hits the spear and locks in the Boston Crab but the more experienced TJP eventually is able to reverse it and lock in the Pinoy Stretch for the win.
That was clearly a MUCH better match than the first. Not a huge fan of TJP—clearly a heel with this crowd—shaking hands with Connors after the match but I suppose it is an acknowledgement of TJP’s history in the L.A. Dojo, which Connors is the captain of, so I guess I’ll allow it.
Carístico def. BUSHI via pinfall at 10:08 with a top rope Spanish Fly
Pretty standard junior heavyweight match here. Flippy sh*t, low stakes, no real attention to pacing or timing or building drama. Carístico’s tope suicida is…awkward. I couldn’t even tell if he actually hit it or BUSHI blocked it. I also was confused when both men stayed down for a 9 count followed by an angry head-to-head stare-down a few minutes into the match when not much had really happened yet. Pretty much the whole match they seem to be selling damage that wasn’t really earned and it took me out of the whole thing. There are also some awkward moments and just weak-looking moves that kinda seem to kill the crowd. The finish comes pretty much out of nowhere but it looked pretty dope so that’s something. I dunno. I know I’m not the biggest fan of the junior heavyweights in NJPW but even by my low standards, this and the opening match felt really lackluster.
Ryusuke Taguchi def. Jonathan Gresham via pinfall @ 12:59 with an Inside Cradle
Well, this is a different type of junior heavyweight match at least, which I appreciate, but it’s also a bit of a mixed bag. Not sure how I feel about Gresham twisting out of the standard wrist lock—it’s clever and everything but it also kinda kills the suspension of disbelief for that move which is so ubiquitous and important in wrestling. The running back and forth spot is clever and everything but, again, kinda takes me out of the moment, especially when Taguchi pops right back up—I might feel differently if he at least stayed down for a two-count. Still, it was entertaining and the crowd ate it up so who am I to judge? The match overall seems to be built on subverting expectations in ways that are entertaining and clever but also don’t do a lot for suspension of disbelief and kinda bury a lot of very common moves which I’m not wild about.
I do enjoy Gresham’s grappling and mat wrestling skills and his creativity and willingness to take risks, even if I don’t feel like they always pay off. Also, as much as I enjoy when people attack Taguchi’s butt, if I’m splitting hairs, I’m starting to feel like maybe he should be no-selling those attacks. I did really like the portion of the match where they pick up the pace a bit and really start unloading on each other. The pace is good and they both get in some good spots—Taguchi selling being dizzy off the rolly polly spot is great. The ending left a bit to be desired—the back-and-forth reversal comedy spots are a little heavy-handed in this match and there are a lot of them and that’s also the finish. Also the fact that these two reverse a million roll-ups only for one where Taguchi accidentally lets go of the right leg to be the finish wasn’t my favorite.
El Phantasmo def. Robbie Eagles via pinfall @ 12:17 with a Nut Punch
This one not only starts off with a bang but actually sees Robbie Eagles *anticipate* El-P’s sneak attack—which is a little odd considering he hasn’t anticipated a *single* one on the Destruction tour (almost as if being in close proximity to Will Ospreay is making him [kayfabe] dumber, which, yeah, makes sense to me). The two open the match with a lot of fire and vitriol which I love, especially since this is their first time facing each other since Eagles turned his back on Bullet Club. Also El-P, as I’ve mentioned, is a SUPREME douchebag and as much as I loathe him, I have to appreciate a guy who makes me want to see him get his head kicked in THIS badly. I don’t even mind Eagles no-selling his chops because of course this guy’s chops would be trash. (I also refuse to call him E.L.P. because that makes zero sense; he’s not E.L. Phantasmo, he’s El Phantasmo, hence, El-P, which sounds just as cool)
Kiiinda felt like the swanton/moonsault should have been the finish but I also think there’s enough vitriol justify it. Kinda felt the same way about the 2xDDT spot by Eagles (although it’s slightly less justifiable, honestly, because those DDTs looked like DEATH). Both were smoking hot but it also does stick in my craw that the most surefire way to get most wrestling crowds to pop off is to have someone kick out of increasingly more devastating moves, regardless of whether or not any human being should ever kick out of such moves. I’m willing to forgive a lot but if you’re kicking out of, say, a Canadian Destroyer off of a ladder (just, y’know, as a theoretical example), you’re going too far. That move should, by all rights, kayfabe murder you. To kick out of it is just way too unrealistic to justify in any way. That being said, it’s definitely justifiable in this match but only because of the story being told between the two. That’s the key.
The finish makes total sense from a character standpoint and sometimes that’s all I need from wrestling: for it to make sense and be consistent. Tell a story and give your characters consistent motivations (as well as consistent development) and I can forgive a lot for the sake of that. Because that’s the thing that sets wrestling apart from every other sport—the whole reason it’s predetermined is to tell stories both inside and outside the ring. That’s all I ask for.
Dragon Lee def. YOH via pinfall @ 18:51 with a Desnucadora
This is a very good junior heavyweight style match. Fast-paced, visually impressive, and very precise. It may not particularly be my thing but I’m not so jaded about this style that I can’t appreciate and enjoy when it’s done really well. The thing I really loved about this match is YOH going after Dragon Lee’s legs because this is easily the best possible strategy against a guy who will literally jump at you until you’re both paralyzed or dead. I also feel like YOH’s psychology is a big part of what makes this match great. There’s no-selling but it’s measured and used judiciously for maximum effect. And YOH’s selling is fantastic and one of the main reasons he’s one of the best pure babyfaces on the planet. The big submission spots are really well-done here too which I feel is really important to break up the fast-paced stuff in junior heavyweight matches so they’re not just workrate wankfests.
(I’m still mad at Dragon Lee for breaking Takahashi’s neck, though. I will die mad about it.)
SHO def. Taiji Ishimori via pinfall @ 17:06 with a Shock Arrow
As if I wasn’t having a hard enough time finding things to be positive about, my favorite junior heavyweight wrestler gets eliminated in the first round by a tag team wrestler. Come on! I love SHO and YOH as much as anyone but you’re really going to have the two most recent junior heavyweight champions (and one half of the current junior tag champs, for that matter) get bounced in the first round by Roppongi 3k? I know it’s nitpicking to criticize booking like that but it does bug me.
I will say that SHO attacking Ishimori’s arm is every bit the sound strategy as YOH going after Dragon Lee’s legs and I definitely appreciate that. SHO also sells the spot where Ishimori gets him in a cravat and mashes the top of his head into the corner pad so beautifully that I start wondering if he was really selling and Ishimori capitalizes perfectly with the backflip into the head scissors into the neck vice and continues to target the neck throughout the match. SHO doesn’t let up on the arm either. Great stuff by both guys in that department. Ishimori pulls out a very impressive triangle moonsault a la Kota Ibushi which is an interesting choice. He also damn near kicked some fans in the head (which both YOH and Dragon Lee also did earlier). The forearm battle feels earned and they sell their exhaustion and pain well instead of shrugging it off for workrate. Great submission rope break spot, too, though a little more selling of the arm would have been really cool. All in all, I can complain all I want about the result, but the match definitely did not disappoint.
Will Ospreay def. Amazing Red via pinfall @ 28:19 with a Stormbreaker
My feelings about Ospreay aside, it is pretty cool to see him face off with a true legend and one of the most unsung heroes of the business—and to see the crowd losing their minds over the opportunity to witness this live. It’s also fun to see Ospreay switch roles a little bit and wrestle as more of a heel than you usually see and I can definitely appreciate him showing some versatility in that way. I laughed pretty hard at Red Shoes not counting Ospreay’s pin after Ospreay hit a BEAST dropkick on Red on the outside and then Ospreay seemingly accusing him of being biased because Amazing Red *also* has red shoes.
In general, these two work beautifully together. It’s fast-paced but never for the sake of being fast-paced and the pace throughout the match rises and falls very smoothly and dynamically which I really, really appreciate because it can always go either way in Ospreay matches when it comes to pacing. The match seemed to be at a fever pitch somewhere in the middle, culminating with Red’s sick tilt-a-whirl DDT but then the battle on the apron was excellent. I was unsure what I thought of Red kicking out of the Oscutter, especially after eating one on the apron, but he’s a legend and has shown so much fighting spirit in this match so I’m okay with it. And hot damn the rest of the match was definitely worth it. Amazing Red basically tries to shoot murder Ospreay and Ospreay BARELY survives long enough to hit a *corner* Oscutter followed by Stormbreaker for the win. The ultimate form of respect for Ospreay to basically say a corner Oscutter isn’t enough to put Red away because that’s his trump card. (I will say, though, that Hidden Blade definitely hit nothing but air.)
After the match, Ospreay talks about how when he was 14 years old he watched Red and Low Ki change the industry and that this match made that 14-year-old’s dream come true. He also says that if there were royalties for wrestling moves, Red would be a billionaire because *everybody* copies his moves. He lists the names on the junior heavyweight title and says that it’s a crime Red’s name isn’t on that belt and that this match proved that he can still go and if this is it, he wants him to know that he is the reason for Will Ospreay. Very cool, emotional moment. Props to Will Ospreay for showing the utmost respect for a legend AND giving us some character development in the process.
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