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Imp’s NJPW US Adventure – Super Strong Style Evolved
July 2017, New Japan hosted a landmark event live from the United States. Two sold out shows held in a 2,000 seat venue in Long Beach, broadcast live on AXS in the US and NJPW World around the… well, world. The events were extremely successful, however I couldn’t help but have the feeling that New Japan were selling themselves a tad short. The company is in a white hot period at the moment, they’ve never had such a strong worldwide appeal and although it’s nice, 2,000 felt way below their potential.
In steps 2018, and with it we are brought not one, but TWO State side shows over the course of the year! With a second event officially being announced for July last night at Strong Style Evolved, oh we lucky wrasslin’ fans. Both shows taking place in gradually increasing venue capacities, with last night’s show taking place in the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. Around 5,000 fans sold out the venue in under 10 minutes without a single match announced. And boy were those lucky few with a ticket treated to something special, so let’s get to it!
First off, as usual I won’t go into detail about the tag matches from earlier in the card. Sure they can be entertaining, but there’s never really much to talk about from them. Chuckie T & Yano vs Killer Elite Squad was so much fun, with Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer looking amazing in the process. Whilst Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr vs Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii did an amazing job at getting me hyped for two big matches that are right round the corner. But there were three matches that were always ultimately going to define this card, the first of which came about due to unfortunate circumstances.
A legend of the Junior division versus its current King. A mouth-watering encounter on paper, however it was meant to be even more so. The original match was legend versus legend, with Liger initially booked to face none other than Rey Mysterio. Unfortunately Senior 619 tore his bicep two weeks ago and was unable to compete, long term this may end up being a blessing, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck the match didn’t happen last night. I’ll get to that later though, for now let’s talk about the brilliant bout we did get.
Ospreay summed the match up perfectly with his post-match promo, “If I wrestle like that when I’m 50 I’ll be damn happy.” Jesus Christ how is Liger still so agile and athletic? Pulling out Topes and standing Spanish Flies as if it’s nothing. How?! The man kept up with Will Ospreay, one of the quickest and most athletically gifted wrestlers in the world today. Incredible. I couldn’t keep up with Ospreay and I’m more than half Liger’s age.
In the end Ospreay was victorious (as he should be, he is the IWGP Junior champion after all), but Liger showed he is still a Beast God. Using his experience to counter Ospreay multiple times, but in the end the young, fit, flippy fella was able to hit his Springboard Cutter for the win. However that wasn’t the end, after the match Ospreay had a few words to say. A few words specifically for the man who made a surprise appearance and sat ringside, Rey Mysterio. Ospreay stated that to carve his own path he needs to beat legends, see what I mean by blessing in disguise? We’ll never know if this was the original plan, but instead of just Liger vs Mysterio, we’re also getting Mysterio vs Ospreay! My, how generous of New Japan.
So a great match, followed by some intriguing match set ups. Oh yeah, don’t forget Marty Scurll the mask thief! The Villain inserted himself into this whole scenario, maybe there’s a chance of Scurll vs Mysterio whilst we’re at it. Why not just have the man wrestle all the top Juniors in a 619 tour of awesome match ups.
“Switchblade” Jay White (C) vs Hangman Page
The match I cared very little about. That was until NJPW World posted a video of the press conference between the two, where both White and Page cut fantastic promos. With Hangman bringing up that his opponent never really wanted to become United States Champion, sure he wanted to beat Omega, but he initially went for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestle Kingdom. Saying that he’d carry the US title with pride, defend it all over America whilst the “Switchblade” stays in Japan. Jay White then took apart Bullet Club, brought up how Hangman Page has been in the shadow of his fellow Bullet Club stablemates and joked about the challenger’s rivalry with Joey Ryan over penis envy.
Suddenly I cared a lot more about this match, both men actually had a lot to prove. The challenger desperate to step out of the shadow and a champion wanting to make his mark, prove he really is worthy of the title he holds. Did they succeed? Kind of. I really got the impression that Hangman was pulling out all of his tricks to make a mark and step up, he really took it to Jay White. This was the challenger’s moment and I really felt like he successfully stepped out of the shadow, even in defeat. Whilst Jay White made his stamp on the growing legacy of the IWGP United States Championship, he’ll need a lot more defences, but this reign could really define him. Even at such an early stage of his career.
Overall the match was alright, slowly upping the ante until Switchblade countered into the Blade Runner for the three. Page looked great, White hit the odd devastating move and eventually said move was his finisher. The match never really felt more than that to me, a good match but I feel like there’s a reason this wasn’t the main event. Both men are really early on in their New Japan careers, they’re both still establishing themselves and growing. But in terms of Jay White, this never really felt like a big defence for him, more of a filler whilst waiting for a big show like Dominion. Giving Hangman a much needed spotlight, a chance in the sun, whilst also letting Jay White defend his title. Win, win really, even if the match wasn’t an instant classic like our next bout.
Wow. Just… amazing. A much that was fantastic if this was the first New Japan show you’ve ever seen, but something that was next level if you know the stories they were telling. The mental struggle for Omega, the Young Bucks gambling on themselves to be able to compete with the best of the Heavyweight tag teams. The conflict caused by Cody’s attack on Omega, which then lead to reformation of the Golden Lovers and the Young Bucks questioning where Ibushi had been all this time.
Through all the struggles of the past few years, when Matt & Nick Jackson were there by Kenny’s side, where was Ibushi? Are they meant to just forgive him because Ibushi & Omega’s relationship was complicated? What about Cody’s actions? With Omega v Cody taking place in two weeks, whose side do they chose? What does that mean for the Bullet Club? What does it mean for The ELITE? So many things creating such a mix of emotions and New Japan were kind enough to give them 35 minutes to work their way through it all.
Starting with Omega unwilling to go full out in wrestling his best friends from the past few years, with the Young Bucks wanting to prove they can go toe- to-toe with the best and Ibushi caught in the middle of it all but motivated to make the Golden Lovers to be the best tag team in the world. Ibushi kept pushing Omega to compete, whilst the Young Bucks were trying to goad the main event machine out of him. It took time, but eventually the Canadian went into top gear and that’s when the match truly got started.
However Omega still hesitated whenever delivering a move to Matt Jackson’s injured back, a hesitation the Young Bucks did not hold in return. But even they were unsure about driving Omega through a table, a hesitation of their own which cost them dearly via an absolutely incredible German Suplex off of Kenny’s shoulders from Ibushi. Omega on the apron, teasing putting his opponent through a table with a One Winged Angle, when Ibushi leapt onto the top rope and launches the poor Buck back onto the mat via his head. An absolutely insane sequence!
Which built to the next time, where Matt Jackson jumped with zero pause elbow first to the outside through a table prone Omega. And Ibushi returned the favour with a Last Ride to Nick Jackson through the Time Keeper’s table, constantly escalating, building to that next emotional line they’ll have to cross. A line which came in the form of Omega lifting a battered and bruised Matt Jackson up for a One Winged Angel, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He shook his head, refused to hit the move on one of his best friends. When Matt Jackson himself screamed in Omega’s face to “JUST DO IT!” Only then did the former Cleaner reluctantly hit the move, which brought more pain when Nick Jackson stops the pin.
Crossing that line was so difficult for Omega, yet it wasn’t enough, he needed to push even further. Which he did with the help of Ibushi, his partner constantly pushing him through the next difficult phase. Eventually the two managed to hit their finisher, the Golden Trigger, for the win. But Jesus Christ, the emotional journey it took to get there. With all of it written across their faces after the match, it was awkward and Omega didn’t know if he should stay or if leaving would make things worse. This entire situation is so complicated, but it set the upcoming events for the next month into motion perfectly.
Cody came out, berated the Young Bucks, Golden Lovers make the save and suddenly we have a situation very similar to a couple months ago with Ibushi saving Omega. Do the Bucks forgive like Kenny did? Just to make this complicated relationship even more complex, Nick Jackson accepted a hug from Omega, but Matt couldn’t bring himself to do it and he and his brother left. Drawing on the Omega/Ibushi story, but reminding us that this situation isn’t the same. Both relationships are complicated as hell, but not everything can be fixed by running down to the ring to help them out.
An amazing match, an instant classic that I can’t recommend enough. Aided by incredible storytelling and taking their time to build a situation so unbearably complex. It’s like a really sucky break up, where you both still love each other but you understand why they also have to stand with ‘dickhead’ Cody. Even if he is a ‘dickhead’. It pains Omega, but you can see his understanding. Which makes things even more complicated for the Bucks, who don’t want to see the two fight, yet understand that they must. Cody and Omega’s conflict can only be solved one way, but it could tear apart the Bullet Club in the process.
More personally, it could end their friendship.
And that’s it! Right round the corner we have Sakura Genesis next bloody weekend. That’s right, WrestleMania week starts early with Kazuchika Okada defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Zack Sabre Jr. What a time to be a wrestling fan. Followed the week after that by the hardest wrestling decision you’ll have to make all year, NXT TakeOver: New Orleans with Cien Almas vs Aleister Black, or ROH Supercard of Honor XII with Kenny Omega vs Cody. It’s not just WWE bringing the fire this WrestleMania season!
QUESTION: Which one are you going to choose on the night? ROH or NXT?
Could not be more excited for these coming weeks.
Final note: it was officially announced at Strong Style Evolved that in July New Japan will return to the US live from the Cow Palace in San Francisco. A 10,000 + arena, as I said, gradually increasing. 2018 truly is shaping to be one hell of a big year for NJPW, but really it’s just an amazing time to be a wrestling fan right now. So much incredible wrestling, so much competition making everyone work harder to become better in the process.
Right, that’s enough soppy stuff. I’ll be back next week to cover NJPW Sakura Genesis!
Follow Imp on Twitter: @TheDamnImplicat