New Japan Pro Wrestling – Strong Style Evolved: A Live Perspective Part 2
Today I’ll be continuing into the latter half of Strong Style Evolved. As I said yesterday, it was a jam-packed show! Anyone that’s ever watched NJPW knows that for big shows they have an intermission halfway through. Well, not this time. NJPW is pretty much bell to bell matches (unlike their Western counterparts), so I had to create my own halftime. With that being said, let’s continue.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Will Ospreay
Today starts off on more of a somber note. The next act was supposed to be Rey Mysterio Jr. taking on Jushin Thunder Liger. An absolute dream match consisting of the 2 most revered competitors of the cruiserweight/Jr division on the east and west hemispheres. But that couldn’t happen as injured his bicep a few weeks prior.
To our surprise, he still made it to the show despite being scheduled elsewhere that day. A small part of me had hoped he made a speedy recovery and the match would happen, but he came out to apologize instead for being unable to compete. He didn’t leave us without hope though.
“Just because this match isn’t happening today, doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen! In fact, I give you my word that I will compete in a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring again.”
He welcomed out Ospreay and Liger and took a front-row seat. Liger got the biggest reaction of the show thus far (as a legend like him should). Ospreay, understandably, couldn’t get the cheers Liger did. The match started off with a respectful handshake between the two. Liger got him in some signature submissions early on. Ospreay slipped around the ring as he always does like a cat. Doing what people like to call “the flippy shit.” At one point he had Liger set up for Rey’s signature 619, but Liger dodged it before it connected and hit him with a somersault kick to the head.
The match ended with Ospreay taking the pin. It didn’t go on for as long as I’d expected, but they probably didn’t have much time to rehearse as the switch from Mysterio to Ospreay was fairly last minute. He then grabbed a mic and began to praise Liger for wrestling and flipping around as he did at the astounding age of 53. But then flipped the switch on his appraisal:
“I am NO ONE’S REPLACEMENT! I am the “Aerial Assassin, I am the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champion and I want to elevate this championship to a new level, so how about Ospreay versus Mysterio?!”
The crowd erupted in those beloved Daniel Bryan “Yes!” chants. Before he could even finish his promo, Marty Scurll ran out and laid him out with an umbrella to the back. Rey ran in, and Marty grabbed him and peeled his mask off. He put it on his face and held up the Jr Heavyweight belt and flipped off the crowd. A true villain indeed. Liger ran in, and Marty ran out. The 3 said their farewells to Long Beach. Though this wasn’t my favorite match thus far, the segment at the end really elevated it for me.
My score – 3*
Zack Sabre Jr. and Minoru Suzuki vs Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada
Next was another faction battle, Suzuki-gun vs Chaos. Sabre Jr. entered first alone (although the announcer said Minoru Suzuki was leading them out, good job guy). Sabre was showered with boos as he flipped us all off. Minoru, on the other hand, was loved despite being a chaotic neutral villain. His infectious theme song garnered immediate claps. And that part where he gets in the ring and we all sing “Kaze ni nare!” was huge. I even saw that the Japanese commentators were blown away by how loud it was coming from a US audience. I noticed that even he couldn’t help but smirk.
The Rainmaker led out himself and New Japan’s Stone Pitbull. Surprisingly a lot of people were not in favor of Okada. Me, thinking he’s the greatest wrestler in the east, I gave him all the cheers I could.
A lot of back and forth chanting between Sabre and Okada, as they have their match coming up next month. I think more were just not in favor of Okada rather than being fans of Sabre. The two started the match off with Sabre wrapping around him like a snake wraps its prey. The two tagged out to Ishii and Suzuki.
I never knew how badly I wanted a feud and main-event-worthy singles match between these two until now. These two were the stars of the match.They struck each other so hard, it echoed throughout the entire arena. “SSSSHHHH” followed by another loud punch to the face that would leave one of the 2 looking dazed. This was true strong style. It went on for a couple minutes.
Sabre managed to get Ishii in one of his submissions, and Suzuki did the same to Okada. As both members of CHAOS lay there helpless, Ishii had no choice but to give up. Suzuki-gun celebrated their win by grabbing the ref and wrenching his ankle. Sabre grabbed his titles in preparation for leaving and threw Okada’s prestigious IWGP Heavyweight title on the feet at his floor. One of the most despicable acts of the night.
This was easily one of my favorite matches of the night. It told two good stories between Okada and Sabre as well as foreshadowing what I think will be an incredible match between Ishii and the IWGP Intercontinental champion Suzuki.
My score – 4.5*
IWGP US Championship match – Hangman Page vs Jay White(c)
This was the only title match on the card. To my surprise, there wasn’t much a reaction for either of the men. In fact, the crowd around me were yelling “Boring,” or “just end it!” numerous times. As much as I wanted to give them a shot, I couldn’t help but relate. It was really hard for these two guys in their early 20’s to follow 4 of the absolute best in the world and keep eyes on them. It honestly felt paced like a WWE match compared to the bout before it, which isn’t what the people came for. We wanted fast-paced, hard-hitting action. We wanted strong style!
It did pick up eventually. Page delivered a dazzling moonsault off the top rope to the lower mat outside the ring.
In the end, Jay successfully defended his title against Hangman. While it didn’t bore me, it was nearly impossible for us to be insanely impressed at this point in the show.
My score – 2.75*
Oh yeah, and David Finlay came out and speared Jay White, laying out a challenge for his title at the upcoming event: Sakura Genesis. I’m not a huge fan of Finlay so I almost forgot about this entirely.
A representative for the chairman of New Japan came out to announce that they will be returning July 7th to the Cow Palace in San Francisco. So naturally, I started booking my return trip to California mid-show.
Young Bucks vs the Golden Lovers
This was the match we were all waiting for. The match everyone was (and still are) talking about. 8 years in the making, since Matt Jackson tweeted out that he and his brother wanted to take on the Golden Lovers together.
The build to this match was huge. The Bullet Club had been divided, manipulated by Cody. Is Kenny really their leader? Is Kota worthy of keeping around having been absent all these years? Most importantly, which of these teams is the greatest tag team in the world? All of that would be answered.
I couldn’t believe I was about to see 4 of my favorite wrestlers for the first time, in their biggest match yet. I’d wanted to see live performances from each of them for years, but never did I expect to see them fight each other.
Kenny is my absolute favorite wrestler in the world, and I lost it when he came out. My buddy that I went with got us both Golden Lovers shirts, and I screamed my heart out for both of them. As much as I love the Bucks, that’s who I was there for.
Matt started it off, baiting Kenny out into hitting him first. He had to prove that he and Nick were the best and that Kenny was wrong for knocking him down the night he lost the US IWGP title.
The in-ring psychology was incredible. From everything down to the facial expressions to what they were yelling at each other. So many times Kenny would hesitate to hurt his brothers in The Elite. He had Matt up on his shoulders ready to hit the “One Winged Angel,” and yet couldn’t do it. He let his arms down and sighed. But Matt once again baited him by grabbing his hand and placing it on the back of his own neck. Thus, down he came. Easily my favorite part of the show, because it made me feel such strong emotions. I damn near wanted to cry seeing best friends duke it out like this.
Drama like this was a constant. I never want to hear anyone ever criticize the Young Bucks on psychology and for being “spot monkeys” ever again. For 40 minutes they went on to put on the greatest tag match I’ve ever seen. Matt elbow-dropped Kenny through a table, Kota power-bombed Nick through a table, Nick would beg them not to do any further damage to Matt’s already injured back. Kota and Kenny delivered the final blow, a Golden Trigger to Matt, and cover him in the saddest pinfall since Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 24.
Finally, the hellacious fight was over. Kenny and Kota hugged each other, but they did not celebrate. Kenny, fighting tears, looked down at the damage done to his best friend. He and Kenny left the ring.
Out of nowhere, Cody came out furious at the Bucks that they couldn’t get it done against Kenny. He then shoved Nick to the ground as Kenny did to Matt, but showed no instant remorse. In fact, he removed his jacket ready to punish them. Kenny and Kota ran in to protect them, and Cody got the hell out of dodge. Matt wasn’t ready to forgive him, and refused his apologetic helping hand, and walked off.
My score – 5*
It was an emotional end to the show, but it was a fulfilling one. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little disappointed that the majority of the show was tag matches. But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised, and it very easily surpassed my expectations. Kenny closed by saying they will have to up the ante next time they are back. Come July, I will definitely be there to see it.