Written by: Colin Rinehart
February 20th, 2011
Sendai Sun Plaza, Sendai, Japan
So I realize I took just an obscenely long time to get some new puro reviews written, but I’ve just been super busy catching up with all of the indy stuff I watch. Never fear, many more New Japan, All Japan, and NOAH reviews coming up in the future. This show here was NJPW’s major show for February, highlighted by an IWGP Heavyweight title match between Hiroshi Tanahashi and the former champ Satoshi Kojima and an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match pitting Prince Devitt against TAKA Michinoku. The tag titles are also on the line tonight, and Tiger Mask IV takes on rival Tomohiro Ishii in a mask vs. mask match. Let’s jump right into it.
Tama Tonga vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Two of the better young talents in the company will start us off tonight it seems. Tonga quickly slaps a headlock onto Takahashi before eating a flurry of forearms and dropkicks. Tonga replies with a dropkick of his own and hits a jumping kneedrop for a two count. Tonga applies a deep Boston crab but Takahashi gets the ropes. He hits a missile dropkick off the top on Tonga and a Fisherman’s suplex gets him a two count. Tonga hits a sweet corkscrew moonsault and then finishes Takahashi off with a twisting reverse DDT at 5:20. Just your basic quick opening filler match here, but the crowd was really into it and both guys looked fired up for the brief time they got. **¼
Jushin Liger/Ryusuke Taguchi/KUSHIDA vs. Jado/Gedo/Killer Rabbit
For those unaware Killer Rabbit is a character from an online game in Japan called Ameba PIGG and is basically some sort of cross-promotional deal between the two entities. No clue who’s actually playing him under the mask. KUSHIDA quickly fights off Jado before Liger and Killer Rabbit tag in. Liger sends Rabbit to the floor and nails him with a baseball slide. He’s tossed right back in and the veteran Liger just goes to work on the debuting Rabbit. Springboard dropkick from Rabbit and he’s able to work him over in his corner with help from Jado and Gedo. Rabbit does a really silly “bunny hop dropkick”, which is exactly what it sounds like. He delivers the ridiculous move a second time and then lets the Jado/Gedo combo work him over. Liger fights them both off and tags in Taguchi. Taguchi hits a blistering trio of brainbusters in a Three Amigoes-like sequence and KUSHIDA jumps back in. Rabbit botches a springboard DDT attempt for a two count and applies a weak version of the Muta Lock briefly. Rabbit misses a senton off the top and KUSHIDA pins him with the Midnight Express at 8:45. Energetic and fun little six man tag here. Rabbit didn’t look too good in his debut, but his bunny hop dropkick spot was kind of cute. **¼
Mask vs. Mask Match
Tiger Mask IV vs. Tomohiro Ishii
These two have been feuding intensely for several months by this match, and the stakes have been raised once again by making this a mask vs. mask match. Ishii doesn’t traditionally wear a mask, but over the course of the last month and a half he’s begun wearing a black version of the Tiger Mask during his feud with TM IV. Tiger is quick to start, laying in kicks before the bell even rings. Ishii is taken off guard at first but then quickly gains control on the outside, tossing Tiger into the steel barricade and nailing him with a chair. Tiger escapes his grasp briefly and tries a tope suicida, but Ishii slams a chair into his face as he dives to the floor! Tiger barely makes it back into the ring at the count of 19 and eats a palm strike from Ishii. Ishii tries ripping at his opponents mask briefly to no avail. Headbutts and a lariat in the corner set up a superplex for Ishii, but Tiger gets his shoulder up at two. Both of them lay in some stiff forearms and then Tiger sends Ishii crashing to the mat with a nasty high kick. Tiger Driver gets TMIV a two count. Ishii blocks a crucifix attempt and then gives him a lariat/brainbuster combo for another close near fall. TMIV blocks a second brainbuster attempt and delivers a Tiger Suplex, but Ishii again kicks out. Tiger lays in a series of kicks to Ishii’s head and then delivers a second Tiger Suplex to get the win at 8:45. This feud with Ishii was exactly what Tiger needed, as he’s been having much better matches with him than he was having this time last year with anyone else. This one actually surprised me with how much action they managed to fit into such a short period of time. ***
After the match Tiger Mask IV removes the black mask from Ishii’s head and celebrates his victory.
Eight Man Elimination Match
Shinsuke Nakamura/Toru Yano/Takashi Iizuka/Yujiro Takahashi vs. Yuji Nagata/Hiroyoshi Tenzan/Wataru Inoue/King Fale
Iizuka makes sure to scare the ever loving shit out of one of the commentators before the match as is his tradition. Tenzan starts with Iizuka in the ring, choking him with his shirt. Nagata tags in next and destroys Takahashi with stiff kicks to pop the crowd huge. Fale hops in the ring next and delivers a brainbuster and diving headbutt on Takahashi for two. Takahashi delivers a dominator powerbomb to Fale and that’s enough to eliminate the King at 4:43. Takahashi grabs Tenzan and slams him for two. Tenzan responds with a spinning heel kick and delivers the Tenzan Tombstone Driver to Takahashi to eliminate him at 6:18. Tenzan tags out to Inoue, who sends Iizuka and Yano to the floor before following them out with a tope suicida. Total chaos reigns supreme yet again as half of the men begin brawling into the crowd and around ringside. Once they settle down again Iizuka, Nakamura, and Yano are trading tags and isolating Inoue in their corner. Eventually Inoue is able to tag Tenzan back in, and the veteran goes chop-crazy on Iizuka’s chest. Brainbuster gets Tenzan a two count. Tenzan tries locking on the anaconda vice, but it’s quickly broken up. Iizuka pulls out his trademark loaded glove and then nails Tenzan in the face with it, sending him crashing to the guardrails and apparently eliminating him at around 13:58. Inoue sneaks up right behind Iizuka though and rolls him up to eliminate him at 14:56. Inoue lays in some chops on Yano but gives him a low blow and then pins him at 15:30. Nagata jumps in and fights off both Yano and Nakamura. Nagata manages to fend off Nakamura long enough to counter a roll-up into one of his own to eliminate Yano at 18:10. That brings us down to our final two, Nagata and Nakamura. Nakamura lays in stiff kicks and knees with fervor. Nakamura puts Nagata into a guillotine choke for a bit and then transitions into a rear naked choke. Nagata breaks it up and hits a brainbuster, but Nakamura kicks out. Nagata tries a huge Saito suplex, but Nakamura gets right back up and delivers a knee-strike right to the back of Nagata’s head. Nakamura hits a stiff spin-kick and then finally is able to finish Nagata off with the Boma Ye knee at 21:41! This was another well-worked and fun match up here, the eliminations were fast and frequent so as not to lose the fan’s attention, and it worked wonderfully in that capacity. Just a wild match. ***
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard/Karl Anderson) © vs. Muscle Orchestra (Manabu Nakanishi/Strong Man)
If you saw those two tag team names on a promotional poster you might think it was a battle of cheesy 80s hair metal bands. Nakanishi and Strong Man somehow were voted 2010 tag team of the year by Tokyo Sports, so naturally they’d be next in line for a title shot. Jim Ross would have a field day calling this match with all of these muscular “hosses” in the ring. Anderson quickly pisses Strong Man off with a friendly “Fuck you!” to start the match, so he pummels him into the corner and tosses him off the top rope. Nakanishi and Bernard tag in now and trade waistlocks and a Greco-Roman knuckle-lock. Bad Intentions begin to focus on Nakanishi’s leg, slamming it against the steel post outside. Bernard tries to grab a chair to slam into his leg, but it’s attached to about a row of chairs so Bernard just brings the whole row over to slam into his leg! That was awkward, but amusing. The champs continue to isolate Nakanishi in their corner, working over his leg until Strong Man gets fed up and delivers an impressive gorilla press slam on Bernard. Nakanishi fights his opponents off and makes the hot tag to Strong Man, who cleans house legally this time. He and Bernard try to take each-other down with shoulder-blocks but their mutual power negates one another’s moves. Strong Man sends Bernard to the floor with a clothesline and then caches Anderson off the top rope with a fallaway slam. Who the fuck is this guy and what has he done withthe sloppy, green and disinterested Strong Man we’ve come to know and hate? Nak tags back in and again gets met with incessant double-teaming from the champs. Things again break down quickly though with all four men in the ring for the finishing stretch. Strong Man gets sent to the floor by Anderson, who follows him out with a pescado. Meanwhile in the ring Nakanishi lifts Bernard up into a torture rack briefly before eating a pair of stereo boots from the champions. Two sloppy German suplexes from Nakanishi, but Bernard kicks out both times. A missile dropkick and a Vader bomb from Muscle Orchestra, but Bernard is in the ropes. Bernard fights off another torture rack attempt while Anderson takes out Nakanishi with an ace crusher, and Bernard finishes it with the Bernard Driver on Strong Man to retain at 18:28. That totally exceeded my expectations for this match, which weren’t very high. These teams have weird chemistry together and it just works for some reason, even Strong Man looked good out there tonight. Way more fun than you would think from seeing this match-up on paper. ***¼
After the match Bernard grabs a mic and says that Tokyo Sports got it wrong when they chose Nakanishi and Strong Man as tag team of the year. It just so happens that the man who chose them for the award is sitting at ringside, and Anderson hops the guard rail to get in his face a bit.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match
Prince Devitt © vs. TAKA Michinoku
TAKA is coming off of a shoulder injury here to take on the champ, but ironically enough Devitt is the one with a bandaged up shoulder here. Devitt grabs a wristlock almost immediately and they begin trading holds. From the little Japanese I understand, the commentators are talking about TAKA’s stint in the WWF when he won the first tournament for a Light Heavyweight champion in 1997. They go into a swank counter-hold sequence and then kip up to their feet and a round of applause. A dropkick sends TAKA to the floor, but Devitt just tosses him right back in. An eye-poke and a Muay Thai knee give TAKA the upper hand briefly as he chokes Devitt under the bottom rope. TAKA’s doing his whole dastardly M-Pro heel shtick tonight quite well. A big dropkick sends TAKA to the floor again, but this time Devitt takes him out with a beautiful somersault plancha over the top rope. Back inside Devitt misses a double-stomp and TAKA takes him down with a crossface submission. Devitt gets the rope break and both men trade jumping kicks. Devitt gets sent to the floor with a kick and TAKA takes him out with a big Asai moonsault. He wastes no time, immediately throwing Devitt back in the ring for a pin but Devitt still kicks out. Back into the crossface on Devitt, and TAKA is really synching in the hold now. Devitt again gets the rope break though and he nearly pins TAKA with a victory roll. Double-stomp off the top to TAKA’s back, followed by a double-stomp to TAKA’s chest nearly puts the veteran away, but somehow TAKA kicks out. They trade another sick sequence of spin kicks and enziguris, and then Devitt delivers Bloody Sunday on TAKA to retain at 13:17. Another great title defense from Devitt here against the always game TAKA Michinoku. I was a bit shocked by the brevity of the match, but the action through-out was excellent with both men supplying some great counters and pacing. ***½
After the match KUSHIDA comes down to the ring to shake Prince Devitt’s hand and congratulate him on the win, as he is next in line for a title shot against the champ now.
MVP/Taichi vs. Togi Makabe/Tomoaki Honma
This is one MVP’s first initial appearances for New Japan before he became pretty much full-time up until now. Taichi and Honma start us off with your basic lock-up. It’s not long before Makabe is tagged in and Taichi is begging off, tagging MVP in. Both men try to out-power one another with running shoulder-blocks, a battle that Makabe wins. Taichi tags in once MVP has beaten Makabe down for a bit, but he winds up tied up in Makabe’s corner anyways with Honma. Taichi lays some kicks into Honma’s chest and tags MVP back in. MVP sends Honma to the floor and then takes him out with a pescado. Some fan says something about MVP sucking and MVP responds with a friendly “Your mother sucks!” right back at him. This is kind of an awesome heel duo they’ve randomly come up with here in Taichi and MVP. MVP hits his “Ballin’ Elbow” to no reaction and allows Taichi to try for the (unsuccessful) pin. Honma counters a brainbuster with one of his own and tags Makabe in, who powerslams Taichi and delivers a Northern Lights suplex for a two count. MVP tags in and hits a big Yakuza kick on Makabe in the corner. He tries for the Play of the Day but Makabe counters. Honma tags in and misses a diving headbutt of the top. MVP gives the Play of the Day to both men and then locks in the “Take it to the Bank” crossface submission, which forces Honma to tap out at 11:29. Solid tag match here and an impressive outing from the thrown together team of MVP and Taichi. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing those two tag again in the future. **½
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito
Two of the better upper midcard/semi-main event level players are pitted against each other here. Goto wastes no time as he enters the ring, feeding Naito immediate forearms and kicks as they brawl to the floor and into the crowd in seconds. Goto kicks him a few more times in some empty seats before the ref convinces him to return to the ring. It’s not long before they’re back out of the ring again though with Naito tossing Goto into the steel guardrail and then dropkicking him over it. Naito sets up a table but one half of it’s legs collapse under their weight before he can get the move off. Never worry though because he just gives a neckbreaker to Goto anyways, and with the way the table is positioned awkwardly now it looks even more painful than if the table had been upright in the first place. Goto nearly gets counted out and eats a swanton from Naito for a two count. Goto hits a huge lariat after some criss-crossing of the ropes and then just goes to town on Naito’s chest with blistering kicks and forearms. An elbow-drop gets him two. Naito flips out of a German suplex attempt and delivers a neckbreaker. Naito hits a towering German suplex anyways that drops Goto right on his neck in as nasty of a manner as possible before locking on an armbar variation. Goto nails him with a spin wheel kick on the top rope and then superplexes him off afterwards for good measure. They battle right back to the top rope again, and this time Goto delivers an impressive sunset-flip powerbomb for a very close near fall. Goto follows up with a nasty death valley driver, but again Naito gets his shoulder up. Naito fires back with a flying forearm and the crowd pops huge for him, chanting his name. This guy is just too over to not be a future world champ at this point. Top rope frankensteiner from Naito and it’s Goto’s turn to kick out at the last possible second. Naito misses a phoenix splash off the top and both men start trading forearms and stiff slaps. Naito gets a series of near-falls and then gets suplexed nearly out of his boots and this crowd is absolutely red hot right now for everything these guys are doing. Finally Goto delivers the Shouten (a vertical suplex/side slam) and that’s enough to put Naito away at 17:36. This was outstanding and had the feeling of a big match atmosphere similar to a G1 Finals or title match. They had the crowd in the palms of their hands the whole way through, popping huge for every great counter, hold, and move delivered. If the NJPW brass were skeptical about making these two legit main eventers before, I’m sure that skepticism is gone now as these two put on a possible contender for New Japan match of the year. ****¼
After the match both men shake hands.
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi © vs. Satoshi Kojima
Tanahashi won the belt from Kojima back at the annual 1/4 Tokyo Dome show, and Kojima had to win a contender’s match against Togi Makabe a few weeks back in order to get a rematch here. Before the match starts Taichi gets barred from ringside and “escorted” to the back by Togi Makabe for being the divine heel bastard he is. Kojima gets the better of Tanahashi early with a persistent front facelock. Tanahashi counters with a dropkick and starts going into a groove of his own, working on Kojima’s arm. Kojima absolutely plants him with a huge DDT though and Tanahashi sells it so well that they bring doctor’s out to check on his neck’s condition. He’s okay to go, but then Kojima plants him again with another implant DDT, this time on the thinly padded concrete floor! Back inside Tanahashi keeps trying to mount a comeback, nailing Kojima with a swanton off the top for a two count. Kojima goes to the floor for a breather and Tanahashi wipes him out with a running tope con hilo off the apron! Back in the ring Kojima misses a lariat and takes a flying cross-body from Tanahashi instead. Kojima counters with a big sitout spinebuster and an ace crusher, but he can’t keep the champ down. Kojima tries a top rope ace crusher, but again Tanahashi kicks out. Michinoku Driver gets Tanahashi a two count, and he follows it with the frog splash, but Kojima gets his knees up at the last second. They battle to the top rope and Kojima hits a running lariat that sends Tanahashi crashing over the top and to the floor in a nasty manner. Kojima, realizing he can’t wint he title on a count-out, grabs Tanahashi and DDTs him onto the entrance ramp before dragging him back into the ring. Kojima suplexes him back in from the apron for another close near fall. Arm-tuck German suplex from Tanahashi and both men are just exhausted by this point, as is the rabid crowd. Tanahashi goes back yet again to working on Kojima’s arm, but he turns around right into a lariat that practically takes his head off from Kojima! This is just getting wild. Stiff forearm shots from Kojima and Tanahashi fires back with his own lariat this time. Kojima kicks out of a Dragon Suplex, but then eats two High Fly Flow’s from Tanahashi that’s enough to finally put him away at 22:22. They had a hell of a task following up the previous match, but they did hit another home run here with the second match on this card that I could genuinely pick as New Japan match of the year so far. I liked this a lot more than their match at Wrestle Kingdom, and it firmly establishes Tanahashi’s place once again atop the New Japan mountain as the unquestioned ace of the company. ****¼
After the match Tanahashi is presented with his title and a trophy as the Japanese press take some post-match pictures of the champion to close out the show.
Bottom Line: New Japan returns in February with a simply fabulous show here, one that’s rock solid from top to bottom and features not one, but two potential New Japan match of the year candidates. Nothing here is actively bad, and there’s a ton of good stuff on the undercard before you get to the amazing pair of main events, so this is an incredibly easy recommendation and a resounding Thumbs Up.