Wrestling Review: NJPW Battle in the Valley (2023)

It’s a weekend of championships in San Jose, California, as the titans of NJPW clash for a night of epic battles. An historic double main event is set to headline 2023’s Battle in the Valley, when both the IWGP WOrld Heavyweight and IWGP Women’s Championships are on the line. In the main event, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi renew their epic rivalry with the top gold, the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship; in the semi-main, the Pirate Princess KAIRI defends her IWGP Women’s Championship against the debuting Mercedes Moné (fka Sasha Banks in WWE). The NJPW World Television Championship will also be on the line when Zack Sabre Jr. defends his gold in a customary 15 minute match against the fast-rising Clark Connors. Both of NJPW Strong’s titles are the line, as firstly Fred Rosser defends the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship against KENTA, while the Motor City Machine Guns defend the NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team titles against the West Coast Wrecking Crew, Royce Isaacs and Jorel Nelson. Also on the card, two huge grudge matches will settle old scores when “Filthy” Tom Lawlor will fight Homicide in a Filthy Rules Match, and Eddie Kingston and Jay White battle in a match where the loser must leave NJPW. A huge eight man tag team match will kick off the show, as Impact World Champion Josh Alexander and NWA World Historic Welterweight Champion Rocky Romero are joined by Adrian Quest and Mascara Dorada to battle the team of KUSHIDA, VOlador Jr., Kevin Knight and The DKC.

+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship): of course this was good, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say this was far from their best match together. They did all the highights that you might expect, but I got the feeling these two were just going through the motions. That said, these two going through the motions is still a great match. I think the spectacle of Okada/Tanahashi in the US was also enough to bump this up even higher
+ KAIRI (c) vs Mercedes Moné (IWGP Women’s Championship): this was easily the match that most people (myself included) were looking forward to. Mercedes didn’t look like she had missed a step, and while I have been harsh on her in the past, she looked good here. KAIRI is on another level, and for my money one of the absolute best in the world right now. There was a lot going on in this match, with a few surprising moments rom each woman in terms of their heroic/villainous nature. This was good, and probably should have been the main event, but of course we all know why it wasn’t
+ Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs Clark Connors (NJPW World TV Championship): this was really good. I was hella impressed by Connors in the BOSJ last year, and Sabre is of course fantastic. The 15 minute time limit added some real excitement to this match, and it meant that both men were working at a blistering pace to ensure they did as much cool stuff in the relatively short limit they had. I liked this match a lot
+ “Mad King” Eddie Kingston vs “Switchblade” Jay White (Loser Leaves New Japan): I am a fan of both guys, Switchblade in particular, but I can admit this was an awkward match for the sole reason that I think this was really hampered by White already losing to HIKULEO. Kingston was the clear crowd favourite, but as a big fan of White I was more behind him, and White certainly looked incredible. This was probably the best match on the show
+ Fred Rosser (c) vs KENTA (STRONG Openweight Championship): this was really good. Rosser has been one of the absolute highlights of NJPW Strong, and it is matches like this one that prove that some people flourish when they leave WWE. KENTA of course is great as well, and despite the crowd being solidly behind both guys, KENTA played the bad guy to perfection. This was a great showing for the NJPW Strong title

“Filthy” Tom Lawlor vs Homicide (Filthy Rules Fight): this was good, but I really didn’t like how the comentary tried to play this up as ‘one of the most violent matches we’ve ever seen’ when it was frankly not even close. I’m a big fan of Filthy Tom, and I respect all that Homicide has done, but this was a dud for my money
Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin) (c) vs West Coast Wrecking Crew (Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs) (STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championships): this was good, but frankly by the time the show was over I had forgotten it completely. I make notes contemporaneously as I watch, and then type it into something readable afterwards, and I didn’t remember much of what I wrote about. Royce Isaacs is a big star in the making, and obviously the MCMG are already all time tag team greats, but there’s not much point of recommending it if I don’t remember it
Volador Jr., Kevin Knight, KUSHIDA & The DKC vs Rocky Romero, Josh Alexander, Adrian Quest & Mascara Dorada: there was a lot going on in this match, and frankly I’d almost have just preferred a straight tag of Rocky/Alexander vs Volador/KUSHIDA since they are easily the big four of the match (no offence Mascara Dorada, who I really like). I love Josh Alexander, and I am disappointed he was relegated to this opening tag match, but I understand why that was the case. This was nothing special overall

> I couldn’t help but notice that Ian Riccaboni and Matt Rehwoldt just didn’t know the names of finishers for most of the NJPW talent. Throw in the audio issues with their mic levels, and frankly this might have been a better show with no commentary
> Gosh this was a long show. I watched this in two sitting, and I was still feeling drained at the end

Should you watch this event: This entire show was built around the debut of Mercedes Moné against KAIRI, and in that regard it paid off. I think it’s clear that a lot of the crowd was not familiar with the likes of Fred Rosser, Clark Connors or even Filthy Tom as a wrestler and that did hurt, but overall this was a good show.


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