Wrestling Review: NJPW Battle in the Valley (2021)

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to the USA as it presents Battle in the Valley, live from the San Jose Civic in San Jose, California. In the main event, Tomohiro Ishii challenges the NEVER Openweight Champion, Jay White, to a one-on-one contest with more than just the title on the line. White has vowed, after recurring issues with Ishii in venues from Tokyo to Los Angeles, that if Tomohiro Ishii is not able to defeat White and capture the gold, then Ishii will never (pun deviously intended) be allowed to challenge for the NEVER Openweight Championship again. Also on the show, three special singles exhibition matches: the “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, fresh of winning the G1 Climax 31, faces the debuting Buddy Matthews (fka Buddy Murphy in WWE) in a match many have been clamouring since Matthews’ shackles came off; the new Impact World Champion, Moose, faces off with NJPW mainstay, Juice Robinson. Though their names rhyme, these two could not be more different in terms of their wrestling style, which always makes for a thrilling contest, and; still claiming to be the real IWGP World Champion, Will Ospreay will battle LA Dojo trainee and protégé of Katsuyori Shibata, Ren Narita, in the biggest match of Narita’s life. Three tag team contests will also take place, including Jeff Cobb teaming with the newest member of the United Empire, TJP, to battle the LA Dojo trainees of Clark Connors and Alex Coughlin; Team Filthy, led by the reigning NJPW Strong Openweight Champion, “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, battles Lawlor’s number one contender, Fred Rosser and four of Rosser’s allies, while Bateman and Misterioso, two thirds of the Stray Dog Army, battle Chris Dickinson and Brody King, collectively known as VIOLENCE UNLIMITED. Kicking off the show, young lion Yuya Uemura battles Impact Wrestling’s “Walking Weapon” Josh Alexander.

+ Jay White (c) vs Tomohiro Ishii (NEVER Openweight Championship): this was a very different kind of NJPW main event, but it was still fantastic. Tomohiro Ishii is just the best, isn’t he? Whatever point in the match that flip gets switched, and he takes the chop or the forearm and just stands there and stares at his opponent, that’s when the fun begins for me as a viewer. White is just at the absolute top of his game, to the point where it’s a shame that he wasn’t in the G1 just so he could have won. This was a lot of fun
+ Kazuchika Okada vs Buddy Matthews: this was good, but seemed to fall just short of being great, though absolutely overall a positive for the show. It’s not a criticism to say that Okada was not at his Tokyo Dome main event best, because he is still wildly popular and incredibly good at what he does. Buddy Matthews (the former Buddy Murphy in NXT/WWE) had the significantly harder job, as he had to go against the legendary Okada in a NJPW ring, especially after his “best of New Japan” tribute moveset in WWE, which thankfully was not all he did here. As mentioned by the commentary, Matthew is by no means a cruiserweight anymore, but he was still significantly smaller than Okada which did add some intrigue, but simultaneously take away from the match
+ Juice Robinson vs Moose: this was a really good NJPW style match, though I admit I did fear for Moose’s safety at one point. He’s a big guy, and maybe shouldn’t be flying as much as he often does (especially considering how fantastic his match against Ishii at Resurgence was). Juice has admittedly lost a bit of momentum since his run in Japan against Moxley and the like, but I’m still a fan. I wonder what the future holds for Juice, especially considering this interesting result against the reigning Impact World Champ. I didn’t much care for the aftermath, but maybe others will get more out of it
+ Ren Narita vs Will Ospreay: damn Ospreay looking thicc, and Narita starting to look more like Shibata every day. This started off relatively slowly, but soon turned into something really good. It’s an interesting meta story that Ospreay is adding more power moves to his offense, but always falls back on the speed when the going gets tough, and Narita certainly made it look tough for Ospreay (which is a clunky sentence, but I mean as a compliment). The crowd was really into this match, primarily because of how much of a douchebag Ospreay is, but the match was better for it
+ Fred Rosser, David Finlay, Rocky Romero, Alex Coughlin & Alex Zayne vs Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs): Danny Limelight is a megastar in the making, and I think as soon as he gets a bigger stage to show himself on, the world will see. Filthy Tom is great in his role, as is JR Kratos for the Team Filthy side of the match, but everybody was given a chance to shine on the other side of the ledger, which made for a visually incredible match. Rosser had a new look to tie into recent events from NJPW Strong, and frankly I really think it suits him. Coughlin’s recurring power stuff is such a fantastic moment to have in his back pocket, and Zayne’s flippy stuff will always get a good reaction from the crowd. Overall, this was significantly better than it should have been, and a testament to everyone involved
+ Violence Unlimited (Brody King & Chris Dickinson) vs Stray Dog Army (Bateman & Misterioso): I was really enjoying this, but it ended on a really sour note due to what has been confirmed after the fact as a real life injury. This Bateman fellow has something very alluring about him, and I have the feeling that I have said something similar in the past but I can’t for the life of me think where. I like Brody King’s ‘high flying big guy’ stuff, and Dickinson has a really big upside with the way he looks. Misterioso was fun, but really didn’t fit with the rest of the guys. This was fine until the understandably awkward ending
+ Yuya Uemura vs Josh Alexander: this was fantastic, an equal effort from Alexander, who is one of the best in the world right now, and Uemura, who has come so far in his relative short run. The fact that Alexander is getting the props he deserves after so long is great, including the reaction on this show from the crowd who (arguably) were here for the more NJPW style wrestlers

LA Dojo (Clark Connors & Karl Fredericks) vs United Empire (Jeff Cobb & TJP): I really couldn’t get into this, especially after Cobb’s monster run through the G1 against two relative newcomers out of Young Lion status. I’m indifferent on TJP at the moment, but Cobb is coming off such a phenomenal run that I can’t help but feel that this was a demotion from that much higher status

> it’s kind of weird that Tom Lawlor has not had to/been given the chance to defend the New Japan Strong Openweight Championship on either of the Resurgence show or this one (but I understand he did on the next set of Strong tapings, which has now already happened, though I don’t know the results)

Should you watch this event: Leaving aside the injury to Dickinson, this was a fantastic show overall. Only one match could be considered not worth seeing, but it was surrounded by some really good stuff. The 10-Man Tag was probably the highlight, with Moose/Juice, Okada/Matthews and White/Ishii close seconds. It’s a shame this was on at the same time as AEW Full Gear, because I’d have probably enjoyed this even more live, and that show more on delay.

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