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New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to the United States after a successful two-show tour last year. This show was already a success before a single match had been announced; as it sold all 5,000 seats within 20 minutes of tickets going on sale. As a matter of fact, NJPW announced that they will be returning in three months with a show this July at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The Cow Palace holds 12,000, so this marks the most ambitious American expansion project NJPW has taken on yet.
While I think the show tonight was east to watch and had some good moments; I think NJPW didn't really go as hard as they could have when it came to the matches they chose. There was only one title match, and outside of the main event, there were not a ton of big, high-drama matches. The G1 specials last year had the US title tournament which made a bunch of matches on the show feel important. Especially on the undercard, that wasn't really the case tonight. I think if they want to do a big crowd in San Francisco, they need a bigger card with a world title match and other key matches lined up. It should be as big as Dominion or King of Pro Wrestling. This show as a solid B+, but NJPW is easily capable of giving out A-level events; they need to do that on their American shows.
The one other major talking point is probably going to be Jim Ross' commentary, which wasn't particularly sharp and he did butcher some names. I get why the talent would be upset and why fans expect their play-by-play man to know how to pronounce names; but I still think Ross adds a lot to NJPW. If you are a WWE fan who hasn't watched much of NJPW, but tuned in tonight to see the show, and you hear the voice of JR, I think that is still a big deal because warts and all, he is still the most trusted voice in wrestling.
The Young Bucks vs The Golden Lovers: ****3/4
Excellent main event; one of the best matches of the year for sure. An excellent story and selling from both teams, especially The Young Bucks; as well as the crazy highspots that you would expect when it comes to these two teams. I thought they would give The Young Bucks the win considering this was their first match since moving up to the heavyweight division, but the story that unfolded made it so that Omega and Ibushi were the logical winners.
It's funny; the main knocks you will hear the ignorant make against these guys is that they don't sell and they don't understand psychology. This match had better selling and better psychology than any match this year. This was an unbelievable performance, and it was the perfect main event for a show if you are trying to sell people on watching NJPW regularly. Overall I thought the show was slightly above average, but the main event was of the highest quality.
Hangman Page vs Jay White: ***1/2
NJPW is really high on Jay White, who has a ton of talent but doesn't feel like a major star right now. This match was good; with Page taking a series of brutal bumps and nearly disastrous german suplex on the apron. I think the crowd just wasn't into either guy as a main event level performer, and the match went on for too long towards the end of a four-hour show and right in front of a main event the crowd is pining to see. They got put in a tough spot, but the work was solid and the crowd did pop for the well-designed finish. Finlay is a good talent who hasn't done much in NJPW, so getting a US title shot is a big upgrade for him.
Kazuhika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii vs Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.: ***1/2
Very good match, as Sabre continues his roll picking up the stoppage victory over Ishii. The crowd was vocally split between Sabre, which is more unusual in NJPW and on the American indies than it is in WWE. While some may dislike Sabre and his wrestling style; I think it is perfect for his current role as the challenger for Okada's IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. If you hate him and don't want to see him become the champion; we'll he is really just doing his job very well.
The most memorable spot in this match was the forearm war between Suzuki and Ishii. Suzuki was over as hell in Long Beach, just like he is everywhere he goes, and the crowd really buys him as a legit badass who enjoys inflicting punishment. The very first forearm strike, with Ishii selling like he had been hit with a sledgehammer, was fantastic and the ensuing slugfest was strong style in a nutshell.
Will Ospreay vs Jushin Thunder Liger: ***1/2
I thought it was cool that Rey Mysterio came out and was still a part of the show even though he was injured; a lot of guys in his position wouldn't have made the trip to Long Beach. The match was strong; Liger mainly just does the same spots in all of his matches and doesn't take a lot of bumps, but he did a lot in this match and really showed that he can still go, even at 53 with a billion bumps on his odometer. Ospreay is just one of the best wrestlers in the world; every single show he is on he brings it and works as hard as anyone in wrestling.
Hiroshi Tanhashi, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA and Dragon Lee vs Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, BUSHI and Hiromu Takahashi: ***
All action highlighted by Dragon Lee and Takahashi playing their greatest hits. Lee is so physically gifted and Takahashi just doesn't give a f--k; when they get together it is balls to the wall action. Everything else was each guy getting their key moves in and Naito picking up the comfortable victory.
Cody and Marty Scurll vs The Guerrillas of Destiny: **1/2
I really liked the pre-match work that Cody did. The crowd loved Scurll but hated Cody, and he played it perfectly. The segment peaked when Cody was holding the mic and the crowd booed; Marty then taking it and the crowd cheering, Cody snatching it back and the crowd booing; and so forth. The match itself was pretty fast and Cody picked up the win; but the real quality here was done before the bell was rung as Cody perfects his heel persona.
SoCal Uncensored vs Roppongi 3K: **3/4
As an opener this was pretty good. A lot of action and fast-paced match; the crowd was quiet at first, possibly because they were still filing into the building, but they perked up later in the match, particularly when Romero was in. Daniels and Kazarian are still excellent workers; and Daniels really doesn't get enough credit for how good he has been for so long. The dude has had a really good career even if he never got a "major" run in the business.
David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs Gedo and Hirooki Goto: **
Not much to this one; the most notable thing that happened was Robinson stiffing Goto early and busting him open so he was bleeding throughout the match. Gedo is the driving force behind putting the show together, so he is going to work the show but he isn't much a wrestler anymore. Finlay picking up the win obviously would be important for later in the show.
Killer Elite Squad vs Toru Yano and Chuck Taylor: **
Simple match; the big thing here was Yano was really over with the crowd, perhaps even more over than he is in Japan. If that shows us anything, it is that comedy translates cultures better than almost anything else. They wisely built the match around Yano's big spots and took it from there. There wasn't a ton of action but the crowd liked this more than the rest of the undercard.