Wrestling Review: NJPW 49th Anniversary (2021)

After being forced to miss last year’s event, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to the Nippon Budokan for its 49th Anniversary event. In the main event, Kota Ibushi will defend the double IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships against the new double champion of the junior heavyweight division, El Desperado. El Deperado, the currently reigning IWGP Junir Heavyweight singles and Tag Team Champion (with Yoshinobu Kanemaru) has only faced Ibushi once before, over seven years ago, in a match he lost when Ibushi was the Junior Heavyweight Champion, so the double gold is almost secondary to redemption, and retaliation. The New Japan Cup 2021 also begins on this show, as Tetsuya Naito faces the powerhouse newcomer of the United Empire, Great-O-Khan; while in the other match, the veteran, Satoshi Kojima faces the former Olympian, also a of the United Empire, Jeff Cobb. These three matches plus three huge tag team matches to set up future New Japan Cup 2021 matches tonight, as we celebrate NJPW’s 49th Anniversary.

+ Kota Ibushi (c) vs El Desperado (IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships): this was a banger of a match between two guys that are nobody’s favourites “ironically” (you all know how much I love Despy). Ibushi’s speed and precisions was at its best, and Despy’s trickiness against his heavyweight opponent added something that you just don’t get in regular heavyweight versus heavyweight or junior versus junior matches. The COVID protocol on live crowds in Japan has been a downer for a lot of matches, but I think most of all this match here, as it was vyer clear they wanted Despy to win, and there are a few points (wink wink) where that would have been the biggest cheer of the year. This was a more than worthy main event
+ Tetsuya Naito vs Great-O-Khan (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): after O-Khan’s great match against Tanahashi, this was even more proof he is not to be overlooked. Nobody expects O-Khan to be the next Okada, but he is better than some people think, and against someone like Naito this was almost certainly going to be another good match. O-Khan had some really good offense against the notoriously injured knees of Naito, but it was the speed at which Naito was able to hit his signature moves that made this even better. This was really good
+ Jeff Cobb vs Satoshi Kojima (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): god damn this was fantastic. This was the intense, hard hitting slogfest we all knew it was going to be, with perhaps the best lariat you’ll ever see. Cobb is so ridiculously strong that he was able to throw Kojima around with ease, but Kojima is a veteran and know how this game is played. I really liked this match
+ CHAOS (SHO, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & SANADA): I can’t believe SHO isn’t even in the New Japan Cup, as this match built up the impending Ishii/SANADA and Okada/Shingo matches. This was another relatively short match that still had a lot going for it, and y’all know I’m always down for any meeting of Ishii/Shingo
+ Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Toa Henare & FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) vs BULLET CLUB (Jay White, Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens KENTA & EVIL): this was short, but I really liked the numerous moving parts that all came into play. Henare/White, Finlay/Owens and Juice/KENTA are all scheduled for the upcoming tournament, and at least two of those should be really good. Tana and EVIL have the seeded spots, but they still had some good stuff here

Master Wato, Gabriel Kidd, Tomoaki Honma & Hirooki Goto vs Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr., Minoru Suzuki & Taichi): this was a standard opening tag, mostly built around Kidd/ZSJ, Goto/Taichi and Honma/Suzuki in the upcoming New Japan Cup matches, as well as DOUKI having some time to shine. This was nothing special

Should you watch this event: Despite only having four days after the Castle Attack shows to build for Desperado/Ibushi, this was a really good show. The New Japan Cup is underway, we got a phenomenal main event, and even the prelim tags were just appetising enough to hype up the remaining tournament matches. This was a good show.

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