The following is a live account of NJPW’S Strong Style Evolve special from The Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California. I heard the live AXS broadcast had several direction problems and some commentary mishaps. Sorry for that.
– Roppongi 3k (Sho & Yoh) & Rocky Romero vs. SoCal Uncensored – 3/5 This was a pretty hot, fun opener. The LB crowd was ready for this one once they found their seats; but.. I knew they’d blow too much steam too soon and wouldn’t be as lively until the main event. Ah, well; why use up all your energy on what is, basically, an ROH TV match? Still, the early reactions and Rocky Romero’s signature spots were enough to call this one “good”. Scorpio Sky was the breakout.
– David Finlay & Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto & Gedo – 2.5/5 There was a reason why Finlay got the pin instead of Juice over the NEVER champ Goto. A lot of these matches felt like they ended so abruptly, but that’s the usual Korakuen Hall house show style.. We didn’t really see any of these guys at their best; Goto was cheered big, but did very little. Juice wasn’t as great as usual. Amazing crowd saved this one.
– KES vs. Toru Yano & Chuckie T – 3.25/5 Expected all gaga, received all gaga. Of course Chuckie/Chucky T is a huge star in LA (ala PWG), so no question he was over big here and everyone loved witnessing Yano’s infamous antics in person for the first time. He was over huge! The entertainment level was high, and the last few minutes were surprisingly pretty damn good.
– Marty Scurll & Cody vs. The Guerrillas of Destiny – 2.75/5 G.O.D. marks were definitely not pleased with this finish, as a burial against a non-tag team (that doesn’t get along, mind you) is sort of a waste. The O.G.’s of Bullet Club are already way behind the ELITE bullet train, too, so why not give them the win? What good is a future would-be dream match w/ the Bucks if the Guerillas can’t beat Cody & Marty? Besides the opening promo from Cody (another heel homerun for, really, the only heel on the show), this was the one disappointment of the night.
– LIJ vs. Taguchi Japan – 3.5/5 Don’t kill me, but this was like a “WWE” 8-man tag with everyone just in there to “get their shit in”; but it was not a bad, thing certainly! Tanahashi looked like the last 2 weeks at the NJ Cup aged him 7-years; this poor guy already needs another break; he was hobbling out there. Otherwise, it was just awesome to see all these guys work. Takahashi v Lee was lit AF again (slap slap slap)! And damn if Naito isn’t a god in LA!
– Will Ospreay vs. Jushin Liger – 3.75/5 Great seeing Rey come out and “apologize” to the LBC for his recent bicep injury, which definitely — and unexpectedly — jolted the crowd to new heights (and it was even cooler seeing him involved post-match); I wasn’t thrilled with the obvious finish (I loved the match nearly as much if not more than Friday’s great Ospreay/Brooks contest–especially seeing Liger in a singles IN PERSON!), but it made more sense once Will gave his post-match speech. Looks like a rematch with Scurll at Sakura Genesis and Liger/Mysterio for Dominion (or even later on at Wrestle Kingdom). Hopefully we can get Rey/Scurll at the Cow Palace on July 7th (G1 Special: Fighting Spirit Unleashed)
– Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii – 4/5 This was awesome. Suzuki wasn’t here last year, so seeing him in person was a real treat. Ishii got a good reaction, and Okada showed a vulnerability with Suzuki-Gun (esp Zack) he hasn’t in a while; nice to see that in Year 2, the faction is no longer a joke. They look pretty threatening right now, as if Minoru wasn’t savage enough… Zack is RUTHLESS! He countered every one of Okada’s big moves. Great booking too; no obvious “here comes the Rainmaker finish because Okada’s in the USA” type stuff.
– IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Match: Champion Jay White vs. Hangman Page – 4/5 I thought this was great, maybe just out of place… seeing 2 ROH guys in the only title match on New Japan show just minutes before 4 of the most over guys in wrestling today were about to come out and have a dream tag match… It was the dead zone and these guys busted their ass, literally. The crowd that was, at least first, sitting on their hands had no choice but to erupt after some of the apron brutality that Page took. The crowd was dead split on this one and we never once questioned whether Switchblade could lose or not. It had a tremendous counter finish, and post-match helped some of the earlier event booking look genius. Bravo.
– The Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks – 4.75-5/5 I made jokes about Ibushi for a bad mistake he had running agains the turnbuckle for the double flip dive attempt that almost killed him and Nick Jackson (#GoldenBotchers. Shhhh… *wink wink*). Throw that away and this is possibly the best match all year! These guys are so good that a couple early on miscues were QUICKLY forgotten with the extreme level of excellence showcased throughout the next 30 minutes. The Young Bucks really are the perfect tag team amalgamation of Bret Hart and HBK and that notion showed no more than in this heavyweight contest. Kenny hasn’t changed his gimmick or style at all, either; just his approach. Ibushi is just so damn gifted. What I loved beyond all of the match’s superb storytelling, pychology, spot danger and blowaway crowd reactions, was the resilient chemistry these guys all had despite the circumstances. Expectations were through the roof, and they somehow (despite being friends who had to battle, suffer through playing mind games, have nagging injuries, botching a couple spots) met or even surpassed them. Blessed to have been there live –with some pretty great seats– for this once in a lifetime main event. I’d rather watch the next “Being The Elite” than WrestleMania.
Overall = 3.5/5 Bibles show. The electricity in the building, the deep storytelling and Young Bucks’ spot execution was enough to make this, arguably, the 2nd best match of the year (many will say the best) and an instant tag team classic. That, and Ibushi hit the most insane tandem german suplex spot ever– there was just so much to love here. The main event really did have a big time “Attitude Era” WrestleMania energy/aura to it. The last couple matches leading up to it surpassed expectations as well. Despite PWG’s event on Friday being more consistent throughout, this was still a very solid and fulfilling night of NJPW action. Everything surrounding the matches at this year’s Long Beach show was better except the fact there was only ONE concession stand, which had an insane line all the way up until the main event. Dumb. At least they had 2 merch sections and plenty of product. All in all, a fun night of wrestling that further opens the doors to New Japan’s plans for global expansion.
Looking forward to hitting up the Bay on 7/7 for G1 Special: Fighting Spirit Unleashed!