Last week, I made my first trip out west for a vacation in California. I’m an east coast boy that’s never seen the Pacific, so I had plenty to be excited about. More than that, my friend scored us tickets to the much sought after New Japan Pro Wrestling event: Strong Style Evolved. So I imagined I could die happy after living out this fantasy.
This was New Japan Pro Wrestling’s second coming to the United States (the previous time being July 1st and 2nd of last year) and the hype for this show was off the rails. Despite them choosing a bigger arena to host the show, it sold out in UNDER 20 minutes time. I had never been to a wrestling event other than a WWE or NXT show, so with me being the NJPW mark that I am, this was a long time coming. This was my experience this past Sunday.
When we got to Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, I was pretty shocked to see how long the line was, since we got there about an hour and 40 min before the show started. We walked for about 10 min just to reach the tail end. It wrapped all the way around the entire venue and about halfway around the parking garage next to it. It took us about an hour and 20 minutes to get inside, to which we realized that lines were going to be a constant at this show. There was only 2 concession stands for us, 5,000 attendees. 3 people at each were taking food orders, and 1 person doing beers. Before you could even stand in line to get a drink, you needed to get a wristband. Which of course, was also a long line. I waited in that line about 25 minutes alone, but I decided to get to my seat immediately after. We ended up with great seats, on the lower hard camera side, right above the floor seats. 5 min after I sat, the show began.
SoCal Uncensored vs Roppongi 3k
The first match was the Ring of Honor based team of Frankie Kazarian, Scorpio Sky, led by Christopher Daniels taking on Roppongi 3K, consisting of Sho and Yoh, led by Rocky Romero. I was surprised at how over Roppongi was with the crowd since we were in Southern California, and Christopher Daniels is a legend on the indies. But heelish acts such as rakes to the eyes convinced me to cheer for Roppongi. This ended up being a decent match to start the show with. Good action, clear heel vs face in-ring storytelling, just enough to get the engines revving.
My score – 2 1/2*
David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs Gedo and Horoki Goto
Juice is one of my favorite pure babyfaces in wrestling right now. The outfit he wore was dazzling and colorful with purple fur and shiny sunglasses. Unfortunately, after his music stopped, I went up to get a drink and missed the entire match. Sorry, Juice… I did hear David Finlay’s music at the end, meaning he picked up the win which honestly really surprised me. Although I did see that Juice had a fan pour beer into his mouth, so the fact that he got a beer and I didn’t really stung.
My score – No beer = 0* (really, sorry Juice)
Killer Elite Squad vs Toru Yano and Chuck Taylor
I also wasn’t in my seat for any of this match (I told you the lines were crazy) but I was able to at least catch a view of most of the match. KES ran out with Lance Archer throwing and spitting water at the immediate front of the crowd. Yano and Chuck Taylor had quite the cheers during their entrance too. I expected Chuckie T to get a good reaction, but Yano was honestly the real star. Fans were all about his stooge-like antics. He did all his trademark win-stealing tricks. Going for the padding in the corner, going for low blows on his opponents, hiding behind the ropes yelling ‘BREAK! BREAK! BREAK! BREAK!” Chuckie T almost picked up a legit pin more than once too, even giving Davey Boy Smith Jr. a pile driver and just only getting a 2 count on the cover. In the end, KES came out on top. But both Yano and Chuckie T won in entertaining the crowd with more laughs than we could have asked for.
My score – No beer but many laughs 3*
G.O.D. vs Marty Scurll and Cody
I finally gave up on drinks and returned to my seat. There was no way in Hell I’d miss some Bullet Club civil war for a 9$ cup of beer. Cody and Marty came out first and Cody was universally hated, whilst Marty was universally cheered. They both played on that with the crowd ad traded off boos and cheers for a good 30 seconds. Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa then made their way out and Cody grabbed a microphone. He proceeded to reassure us that “Bullet Club is fine,” but was not pleased with the booking of the match. He said the Bullet Club are friends, and the match would not be happening. To which Tama took the mic and reassured that they’d not rob Long Beach of a great match taking place. Cody didn’t like that, so he took a cheap shot on Tama from behind. Tama and Tonga then knocked him out and Marty tried to act as if he was on their side, overacting and gesturing to Cody that he’s outta here. He turns around and awkwardly put up his hands hoping for a couple of “too sweets,” but they knocked him out. He grabbed Cody and hugged him like a little boy in need of his big brother.
Throughout this Bullet Club civil war going on, Marty has undoubtedly been like the kid in a divorce who just wants his parents to get along. He’s never shown any animosity toward any of his fellow stablemates since the fighting began. But Cody always ends up manipulating him into going through with it.
WHEN WILL IT END? I JUST WANT TO HEAR MARTY SING MORE BRITNEY SPEARS.
Alas, the match went on as scheduled. Cody would land a lot of cheap shots and get caught cheating against his own boys. Tama is a sneaky snake though and can easily slither past all that. He got in some solid offense. Cody’s wife Brandi, grabbing feet and interfering snuck in some of her own offense. Eventually, Cody landed the Cross-Rhodes after a miscommunication between G.O.D. and got the winning pinfall and was showered in universal boos. Even as far as “FUCK YOU CODY, *clap, clap, clap clap clap*.” Overall, a good progression to the inner troubles of the Bullet Club, and an opportunity to inflate Cody’s ego even more than it already is.
My score – 3*
Taguchi Japan vs Los Ingobernables de Japón
Stable Warfare is where NJPW really stands out from other promotions in their tag matches. Here we had a big 8 man classic tag team match where Taguchi Japan would take on 4 out of the 5 members of LIJ. Bushi and the ticking time bomb Hiromu Takahashi entered first, sadly without Takahashi’s sidekick Daryl (but don’t worry, we chanted for him anyway). Followed by 1 half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champs, Sanada. Then finally the man who I believe is the true Shuyaku of the New Japan Pro Wrestling, Tetsuya Naito. Donning a slick white tux with a cape hovering above the floor. Tranquillo as always, the group leader was undoubtedly praised.
Ryusuke Taguchi, clearly having dressed for the occasion, wearing an In-N-Out Burger hat led out Dragon Lee and KUSHIDA. Hiroshi Tanahashi led himself out, with his glorious glow and perfect hair.
Tanahashi and Naito started out the match. Even against the Ace of New Japan, Naito was clearly the favorable competitor with the crowd. Chants of “LIJ!” and “Naito!” Roared through Walter Pyramid. Naito, not one to be coerced, led a distraction to which Sanada acted on and attacked Tanahashi from behind. Tana tried fighting them off, but he was overpowered. Sanada then held him back and Naito spat on him and smirked. All the members of each team then stormed in and went after one another.
After some order was restored, Dragon Lee tagged in for Tanahashi. The crowd started chanting for Takahashi, so Naito tagged him in. Lee and Takahashi then engaged in a solid 60-second chest smacking fest that left each of them as purple as a plum. Takahashi is known as “the ticking time bomb,” and he reflects that in the ring with his explosiveness and sporadic move set. He runs the ropes like a cheetah.
In time, Ryusuke became the legal man. He hit each member of LIJ with his buns of steel, and eventually led the Taguchi train of strikes from corner to corner, but got hit with a Destino by Naito, who picked up the victory for his team. With the group gathered in the ring, Naito ran the ropes and somersaulted into his tranquillo pose, where the rest of the group would follow with their own addition to it. They ended their showing by simultaneously bumping fists together, once again proving they’re the most cohesive in New Japan. I was very pleased and happy to see Naito pick up some momentum once again after falling back from losing to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom.
My score – 3.75*
That was about the halfway point through the show. There was so much packed into the 5 or 6 hours I spent there, so the latter half will be continued in part 2 tomorrow. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.