Views from the Hawke's Nest: NJPW 2014 Part 1
Posted by TJ Hawke on 07.04.2014
Well, technically I start looking at matches from after The New Beginning because I reviewed those whole shows...
After November through February proved to be a very creatively disappointing time for NJPW, I decided not to drive myself crazy watching every match on every show. Instead, I will just watch and write about matches that I’m actually interested in and patiently wait for NJPW to regain their form from 2012 and 2013. I will also be looking at certain matches from NJPW’s brief tour of the United States. Each installment of this series should contain reviews of seven matches. The next installment will be out soon.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi
This is a champion vs. champion, non-title match. They had a stellar match in DDT last year for the title. I have high expectations for this.
After not much happened in the beginning, Okada cut him off with a dropkick to the floor and a DDT to the floor. Okada worked over the neck after that. Ibushi came back and hit the Kota Ibushi moonsault to the floor. Ibushi made a comeback. Okada got his knees up on the double jump moonsault and then applied Red Ink. Okada hit the diving elbow and called for the Rainmaker. Ibushi avoided it, and they started going back and forth. Okada hit the tombstone and went for the Rainmaker, but Ibushi rebounded with a pair of dramatic lariats! Ibushi hit some impressive movez. They only got him nearfalls though. Okada avoided the Phoenix Splash! Ibushi essentially no-sold an Air Raid Crash but then ate a massive dropkick. Ibushi avoided another Rainmaker attempt and then got dropped on his head with a German: 1…2….NO! RAINMAKER: 1…2…3!!!
My favorite Okada matches against not-Tanahashi people usually involved him controlling the match and an opponent who the crowd is very much into. That is what happened here, and the results were predictably awesome. With neither title on the line, the crowd seemed to believe that Ibushi had a perfectly good shot of winning this thing. Thus, they were pretty much red hot from the start, and that made this a blast to watch. Okada very wisely did not bother working over Ibushi’s leg like many other wrestlers insist on doing. That allowed Kota to concentrate on being exciting without having to half-heartedly sell his leg while he did amazing movez. Instead, Okada worked over the neck as usual, and the match flowed more logically than a lot of Kota’s big matches. Match Rating: ****1/4
New Japan Cup Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bad Luck Fale
This was the finals of the 2014 New Japan Cup. Pretty much everyone expected Shibata to win this tournament, but he did not even make the finals.
Fale dominated the early stages of the match with his size and help from the Bullet Club. Nakamura started to come back, and he managed to avoid another Bullet Club defense. Nakamura delivered a number a knee strikes, hit a backstabber, and then applied a sleeper. Fale managed to escape, and then the Bullet Club attacked Nakamura. The Bullet Club got kicked out, but Fale maintained control of the match. Nakamura avoided a big splash and connected on a Boma Ye to the back of the head. Nakamura reversed a Samoan Spike into a cross armbreaker attempt. He somehow busted himself open hardway on that spot. Fale reversed that into the Rampage Powerbomb and then got a nearfall with a lariat. Suddenly, the crowd really cares about this. Samoan Spike: 1…2…NO! Nakamura reversed a Razor’s Edge into a very tight hurricanrana and then immediately hit the Boma Ye before collapsing. Diving Boma Ye! Another diving Boma Ye! BOMA YE: 1…2…3!!!!
To say that Nakamura carried Fale in this match is an insult to the work he did here. Fale is so bad, but he managed to do his part here well enough. While it’s never good for someone’s health to get busted open hardway, Nakamura bleeding really seemed to get the crowd going. The Bullet Club were also used effectively here, as their interference was limited to the early stages of the match and then the wrestlers were allowed close out the match on their own. Match Rating: ***1/2
We come to one of my least favorite situations as a wrestling reviewer: the crowd loved this match, and I did not care about it at all. Objectively, the wrestlers did their job very well, as they got the crowd completely invested. However, they could not get me to care one bit with the work they did. It’s a style that works best in compact matches and limits the number of big movez and strikes. It’s not a style that lends itself to long-ish matches. It just becomes diminishing returns for me, even as the crowd continues to go nuts for it. The rating is a compromise between the crowd reaction and my lack of enthusiasm for it. Match Rating: ***1/2
Nothing of real note happened in the beginning. Tanahashi started going after Nakamura’s left knee. This lasted for a while. Nakamura came back with kicks, cocaine overdose shakes, and knee strikes to the gut. Tanahashi cut him off with a dragon screw. Tanahashi hit a mini High Fly Flow onto the injured leg. Tanahashi followed that with High Fly Flow to the floor. Nakamura came back with the backstabber, but Tanahashi avoided the funplex and then cut down the injured leg. Nakamura managed to catch him with a short-range Boma Ye for a nearfall. Tanahashi came back with another High Fly Flow on the injured knee. Tanahashi then got the Cloverleaf. Tanahashi went for the proper High Fly Flow, but Nakamura got his knees up (which obviously made his injured knee even worse). Tana managed to get a nearfall with a bridging dragon suplex. Nakamura randomly came back with a cross armbreaker attempt. Tanahashi escaped, but Nakamura nailed him with Boma Ye. Nakamura then hit two diving Boma Ye. Tanahashi blocked a regular one, but Nakamura fired right back with one: 1…2…NO! BOMA YE: 1…2…3.
I can’t remember exactly what I wrote about the last two matches these two had, but I feel like I left this match with similar feelings. I enjoyed this match, but I was not overwhelmed by it, and I cannot muster much enthusiasm to praise it to the high heavens. The biggest weakness of the match is that 50% of the match was work on Nakamura’s left leg and his big closing stretch of movez involved two diving attacks. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s just one of those situations where I wish they never even bothered putting in the work to highlight the damage done to the knee if the finish was not really affected much. Match Rating: ***1/2
I thought this was a fine defense for Ishii. I greatly prefer Ishii when he is controlling a match, and that is not really what happened here. Instead, both men traded a lot of big movez over the course of the match until Ishii hit his finisher. While both men are good at selling the exhaustion of that, it did not make for the most exciting match here. Match Rating: ***1/4
AJ could not get much going until he suplexed Okada into a turnbuckle. AJ then worked him over. The Bullet Club were out for a while until the referee tried to kick them out. Okada took them and AJ out with a tope con hello. He almost nailed his head on the apron with that dive. AJ managed to get back control though by going after Okada’s left leg. Okada eventually fought back with uppercut strikes. They started going back and forth. Okada started to build some momentum, but AJ got the calf slicer on the injured leg out of nowhere. Okada struggled and struggled, but he eventually got to the ropes. They traded forearm strikes. AJ avoided the Rainmaker and hit the Pele in the one cool sequence of the match. More back and forth stuff. They pretty much botched AJ’s moonsault into the Scorpion Death Drop. Okada avoided the Spiral Tap and hit a tombstone. He called for the Rainmaker, but the Bullet Club interfered. A hooded man attacked Okada. It was Yujiro Takahashi. He hit Okada with a Dominator. AJ then hit Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash: 1…2…3
While the last few minutes were fun, I cannot get too enthusiastic about this match. AJ’s heat segment was very dull. While the leg work somewhat paid off with the Calf Slicer near-submission, very little of the work done in the match felt meaningful in any way. The Bullet Club interference towards the end was awful and not what I want from NJPW main events. I was not a fan of this match. Match Rating: **1/2
War of the Worlds Kevin Steen vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, but this is a non-title match.
Nakamura did the cocaine shakes early, and Steen was very concerned for him. He tried to get him to do some breathing exercises. Steen had a very early advantage. He went for a senton off the apron, but Nakamura let him crash onto the floor. Nakamura briefly got control, but Steen came back with the apron powerbomb. They traded strikes in the ring until Steen hit an elevated DDT and then a senton. Nakamura avoided the cannonball splash and Steen avoided a corner knee strike. Steen then did the cocaine shakes and connected on the cannonball splash. Nakamura got a couple of sleepers. Steen hit a brainbuster, but Nakamura came back with a backstabber and a Funplex. Steen countered the Boma Ye into a pop-up Liger Bomb: 1…2…NO! Steen connected on the diving Perfect Driver: 1…2…NO! Nakamura avoided the package piledriver and then hit a diving Boma Ye! Another Boma Ye: 1…NO!?!?!? Steen was punch drunk though, and Nakamura hit a third Boma Ye: 1…2…3!
The crowd seems to recognize that there is a good chance this is the last time they see him and chant, “Thank you, Kevin!”
They put together a really fun match with limited (to no) downtime. When you are as over as these two are, you don’t really need a lot of time to make fans care about the outcome. I expected this match to feature a lot more of Steen going after Nakamura’s right knee, but them just running through their shit was perfectly fun. Match Rating: ***1/2
The 411: Obviously, this is a pretty consistent set of matches since I ignored the matches that looked the least interesting. NJPW is going through a period that I do not find interesting overall, but I expect to continue looking for the gems that they are producing. If there are any matches from The New Beginning through Dontaku that you think I should check out but did not do so here, feel free to suggest them in the comments (I will be looking at more War of the Worlds matches in the next installment of this series).