[Please note: there are potential spoilers for Ring of Honour’s upcoming TV Tapings, believe it or not.]
For only the fourth time, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to The USA, where it presents Fighting Spirit Unleashed from the Walter Pyramid, in Long Beach, California. A massive tag team match headlines the show, as The Golden Lovers, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, team up to face former champion Kazuchika Okada and the Stone Pitbull, Tomohiro Ishii in a match which could tear the Pyramid down. Two title matches are also on the card, as Juice Robinson seeks to defend the IWGP United States Championship against Cody, and the Young Bucks defend their IWGP Tag Team Championships again the Guerillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa, whilst Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay do battle one more time in the second semi-final of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship tournament. All of this and appearances from Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto, Jeff Cobb and Switchblade Jay White at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed.
+ Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) vs CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii): every combination of face-to-face in this match was great, all built off past moment: Omega/Okada obviously have their entire championship calibre history to work with; Ishii had phenomenal matches in the recent G1 against both Omega and Ibushi; and Ibushi and Okada are two of the best wrestlers on the planet right now, and could work a classic in their sleep. I’ll admit, it wasn’t quite the affair a one-on-one IWGP Championship match it could have been, but it was such a damn good match who really cares?
+ Juice Robinson (c) vs Cody (w/ Brandi Rhodes) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): whilst I’ll admit the very final moments of this match did seem a little bit sloppy, or at least mistimed, the rest of this was a really well done good-vs-bad title match. Even with all the good will Cody bought with his role at ALL IN, the fans still seem to get some joy from booing him, but that only made Juice come across as an even bigger underdog
+ The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Guerillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): I still dont’ really buy the Bucks as heavyweights, expecially when Tanga Loa towers over both the bucks without even trying. Tama is so fast, and one of his particular moments will take your breath away, and the Bucks are so good together that this was a good match, but perhaps following that G1 Climax Final 6-Man title switch this was too soon, or at least not “big” enough, if that makes sense
+ Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay (Junior Heavyweight Championship Tournament Semi Final): these two are always great, and this was no exception. I’d call this my match of the night, and for once it is not beacuse Ospreay nearly killed himself – inf act, I think that may have been safest “big Ospreay match” I’ve seen in quite some time. Scurll looked great, especially coming off his mini-Okada feud for ALL IN, and overall this was a high stakes match that lived up to the expectations
+ CHAOS (Switchblade Jay White & Gedo) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA: this was really, really good. Switchblade was perhaps the most hated man on the show, and on a show where almost everyone was a beloved hero to the fans, that is something to say. KUSHIDA looks great, as always, and every interaction between Tanahashi/Switchbalde was explosive, which complimented well the post match segment. Gedo deserves some credit, too, for being perhaps the second most hated guy on the show
+ Zack Sabre Jr & Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith, Jr.) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito): the ongoing rivalry between Sabre and EVIL was the focus here, even thought it was Naito that got the best entrance pop of the show. I was surprised how little reaction SANADA and the KES got from the crowd, for the most part, but once again, with all the talent in this match, it was always going to be good, and it was
+ Hirooki Goto & The Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta) vs Jeff Cobb, Chris Sabin & Flip Gordon: I like Goto, but damn if he didn’t stand out in this match as being out of place. Goto was the only “real” NJPW star in this match, and not just because he was the only Japanese guy, but despite both the Best Friends and even Cobb having some good runs with the company, this felt like a US indy showcase more than anything. I still liked it, because all the guys are great, but this was perhaps the lest good of all the good matches
+ The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) vs The Bullet Club Elite (Chase Owens & Hangman Page): despite the huge number of Bullet Club shirts in the crowd, it was the SCU boys (sans Scorpio Sky) that got the love, finally being in their home town. Kazarian still had the butterfly strips on his head form the beating he took at Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor event a few nights earlier (which I’ll review here by saying ‘it was alright’). Chase Owens getting to play the bad guy is one of my favourite things lately, and it’s a testament to both teh BCE guys that they each have got me to go from uninterested ot big fans in a relatively short time span. This was another good match
+ Jushin Thunder Liger, ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO & YOH): the crowd was bonkers for Liger, but certainly weren’t again anybody in this match. Part of me does wich ACH was replaced by somebody like Tiger Mask, but I understand why the American show would feature ACH instead. This was fun, if not entirely groundbreaking
+ the crowd was loud and interactive for the whole show, and it made everything feel that mush more important
– I do have to say, those five tag matches, as good as they were, probably weren’t all necessary. Removing one of them (probably the Goto/Friends/USA guys) would have given the rest a bit more time, especially considering there was an expected NJPW intermission
– there was a surprisingly large number of camera mishaps on this show. I won’t speculate as to it being a different camera crew from the regular NJPW shows, but a lot of big moments (ie dives or match finishes) were missed
Should you watch this event: Overall, this was a good to great show, and every match delivered, and the new matches stemming from the results all have the potential to be huge. As usual, the opening tag matches were not particularly special, but the talent of those involved made them more than “just there”, and once the more important matches begun this turned into an significantly better than expected event.