Unlike I previously do I’m not going to go match-by-match on these shows, as I’m combining them together and I really don’t have much to say about these shows outside of the main events and big angles moving forward.
With the departure of two of the four main draws from the company in Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles to WWE, it was clear immediately that some new blood needed to be injected in the main event picture, especially since the remaining two of those four, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, had just finished a lengthy program (and years at that if you want to go that far.). Enter Kenny Omega, the loony second string Bullet Club member who has been enjoying the last year contending for and defending the Light Heavyweight championship to excellent measures. With AJ’s departure from NJPW and the Bullet Club Omega was earmarked to not only establish himself as a singles star, but be the one at the top of the company with the likes of Japanese favourites Tanahashi and Okada.
While we were robbed of Omega going after Nakamura and his Intercontinental belt (they just made things easiest with Nakamura’s swift depature and just had him give it up), we got the next best thing with Tanahashi stepping into Nakamura’s place to defend the honour of the belt against the vociferous Omega. Tanahashi himself is in an interesting spot because of this, long the golden child of NJPW and the Japanese fan and while he still is, at the age of 39 he’s not getting any younger and he’s just coming off passing the torch unofficially to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, failing to capture the title and thus taking himself out of that main event spot, that we’ve so used to seeing him compete in. Not only that, but Tanahashi suffered a shoulder injury about a month back, about the worst thing the company would want to see when they’re already hemorrhaging from top star losses, but Tanahashi being Tanahashi he’s worked through the injury and hasn’t missed any time (though, one could argue how foolish that could be in the long run.
So, The New Beginning In Niigata spurned by needing to establish another top singles star without damaging what few they already had did what New Japan seemingly always does when the boot is to their throat, they came through looking better than ever. Of course the talents of Tanahashi and Omega are going to put on a great match no matter what, the real jewel of this match was the storytelling authored by both men, telling a believable and well-rounded story that elevated Omega to a spot worthy of being up there with Tanahashi and Okada. Omega won about as cleanly as you possibly could with the likes of the Young Bucks interfering and doing all they could to weaken Tanahashi. The whole match saw Omega work over the injured shoulder of Tanahashi, targeting it with every move and making sure he suffered as much as possible. Tanahashi would get his own measure of revenge working over the leg of Omega, with boys guys doing terrific job of selling their injuries and showing the worsening of their condition as the match went on. Eventually after all his outside help and hitting Tanahashi with the Bomaye (Nakamura’s move) and the Styles Clash (Styles’ move) Omega hit the Angel Wings and got the win, the Intercontinental championship and NJPW got a top guy to help push the company forward.
What makes Omega so great is that he perfectly fills a role in NJPW that is an easy gimmick to fill, but his skill and dedication take everything so far beyond that. While NJPW is obviously filled with tons of great talent, including Tanahashi and Okada who are your prototypical Japanese wrestlers wrestling under honour, class and dedication to those who came before them, Omega is a perfect yang to their yin (yes, I realize that is Chinese). Omega is the stereotypical boisterous foreigner who often talks a lot more than he backs it up (although, he’s been backing it up lately) and the rude guy who could care less about Japanese customs and culture in the wrestling ring and just wants to perform a mass takeover however he can get it. With the stoic Tanahashi Omega proves a nice foil and one going forward that hopefully can maintain his position that he attained. Sure, Omega is goofy and doesn’t present the immediate qualities of a serious consistent main eventer, but sometimes in dire needs the thing you constantly glaze over may just be the perfect antidote that you’ve had under your nose this whole time.
After finally dispatching of Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, Okada needed a new opponent, at least one for the time being, and Hirooki Goto proved to be the perfect stop gap. No question Goto had no chance of winning, and of course he didn’t, they had a pretty good match all things considered, but after this defeat in Osaka and pinning him the next night I don’t see this feud lasting much longer. I’d love to see Tetsuya Naito get a run at the belt and at least a decent program against the champ, especially since they’ve been building up Los Ingobernables de Japón.
Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii had another classic match, which you could argue was just as great as their Wrestle Kingdom match. You could literally only show me Shibata/Ishii matches for the rest of my life and I would die happy. I’m so glad Shibata is finally getting a run with a belt and don’t see any reason to take it off him for a long while, and only doing so to build someone up or elevate a blood feud with Shibata. Whoever it may be, the bar has been set and you’d expect nothing less than a war to pry the belt out of Shibata’s hands.
I still have no clue why they introduced the NEVER Openweight 6-Man tag team belts as they flopped around in these two events and seemingly get won each match they’re in. It doesn’t do to well for the status of your belt when it’s constantly being flip-flopped from team to team and has no staying power or relevance, deeming it useless.
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows continued finishng their last few dates in the company, as they, too, are off to WWE leaving the NJPW tag division further damaged as I don’t know who Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma’s next opponents are, especially since they got that dumb 6-man belt floating around, ugh.
So, all in all it was a solid group of shows and one that did a good job reshuffling the deck and starting to put some pieces into play for how the rest of the year is shaping up given all the departures and turmoil put upon the company over the last month and a bit. This is NJPW, though, and any other company I’d be nervous if they were put in this booking position *cough*WWE*cough*, but they have the track record to show that it’s nothing to worry about and these two events that clearly show the ship is headed in the right direction and the stormy conditions don’t look as bad as they previously thought.