It’s time for my favorite part of the month!! The part where I write about good professional wrestling and not the crap I usually watch! Evolve! Beyond Wrestling! New Japan Pro Wrestling! WWE? One thing is for sure, this will be a heck of a lot shorter this month than last month. It turns out that January was a historically great month for pro wrestling and was probably not indicative of the rest of the year. However, February had a match that actually might be better than Omega vs. Okada and it had the match that might save Evolve. Let’s get going around the world of positive pro wrestling!!
We should start where we usually start when discussing top flight pro wrestling in 2017: New Japan Pro Wrestling. New Japan had a series of shows this month, but only two really big ones in the New Beginning shows and two medium size ones in the Honor Rising shows. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t watched the complete Honor Rising shows yet, but I did watch the INSANE main event of night two. Chaos of Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay and The Briscoes vs. The Bullet Club of Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks and the weak link Cody. To be fair, Cody was fine here, and he didn’t get in the way of the other 7 guys having a kick ass match. This was as if a crazy PWG match just ended up in New Japan. This match won’t be for everyone, as there was a lot of spots and not a lot of old school thinking involved, but you have to respect the effort of all four guys, even Cody. My only complaint is that Cody got the win, but not because it’s Cody. I think Omega should have gotten the win here because he is the guy you are building with, but that’s really a minor complaint. Hard to rate, but I’d go around ****1/4 for the effort and insanity of it all.
The first New Beginning show, in Sapporo on February 5th, was a good show main evented by a very polarizing match. You either really like Minoru Suzuki and his style or you don’t. I usually do, but I thought that the main event against Okada was long and plodding and too heavy on story and too light on action to really make an impact. I’ve seen ratings on this match as low as **1/2 and as high as ****3/4. I thought that it was somewhere in the middle, the ***1/2 or so range. The work was solid and the effort was there, but they did slow things down a little too much at times and Suzuki took too much. Also, I watched the show with the English commentary and I think Callis was awful. No enthusiasm, they missed key elements (more on this during the next show) and just really added nothing to the show.
The best match of the show was the NEVER title match with Hirooki Goto defending against Juice Robinson. Juice is a real success story in NJPW. He was CJ Parker in NXT and never really showed anything there. He left because he knew that there was nothing for him in WWE and Matt Bloom was able to set him up with a spot in the New Japan Dojo. When he started, a lot of people scoffed at him and his matches were sometimes brutal. Over the last two years, he has become a completely solid and very good pro wrestler. He gets the crowd into his matches and he’s capable of having some really impressive performances. This match was among them. The outcome was never really in doubt during this match, as no one thought Goto would lose his new title to Juice, but this was about showing Juice’s progress and build to a future story where Juice could win the title down the road. I had this at a solid **** and have watched it three times now, which in this age of over saturation says a lot about the quality of a wrestling match.
New Beginnings in Osaka, on the other hand, was the traditional super New Japan show. The undercard was the usual good to very good matches. All in the **1/2 to *** range, this show did have the moment that forced me to swear off the English commentary for the time being. After LIJ won the NEVER Trios title, Sanada took Taguchi outside and put him in Milano Collection AT’s own Paradise Lock. The feud between LIJ and Milano has been going on for months, but Callis and Kelly didn’t even pick up on any of this, just stating that Sanada was showing off for Milano. Add the general indifference that Callis showed to the mix and I was done with that feud.
Thankfully, three of the last four matches were all spectacular. Shibata defended his RPW British Heavyweight title against Will Ospreay. The match started with Shibata doing a lot of the British style wrestling, and mixing that with his shoot style wrestling creates an amazingly smooth and entertaining style. Of course, Ospreay was right there with him the whole time and added his own unique blend of strong style and high flying to the mix to create a really easy to watch, entertaining title match. There was a moment outside where Ospreay did a roll off the apron and a kick followed by a huge dive. Shibata won and goes on to defend against the amazing Zack Sabre Jr in March. This was a really fun to watch **** match.
After a completely missable three way for the tag team titles, the show kicked into overdrive for the last two matches. Hiromu Takahashi defended his title against his longtime rival Dragon Lee. These two have had some of the most amazing, breath taking matches of the last 4 years, and this was no exception. Just insane move after insane move and when you thought they couldn’t do anymore, they found a way to top what you have just seen. There’s no way that I can accurately describe this, so I can only order you to watch it right away. It’s a match that transcends styles and definitions within pro wrestling. I had it at ****1/2 and can’t recommend it enough. I’ve watched a good 80% of the matches these two have had in CMLL and NJPW previously, and this was the most amazing match they have had yet.
In most cases, you would be insane to try to follow this match. However, NJPW had an ace (well, maybe not yet) in the hole. Osaka is Naito’s city, and that was clear on this night. Naito and Elgin went out and had a match for the ages. This was the classic title match, big show main event where they went out and beat the hell out of each other. The story here was Elgin’s eye. Naito broke Big Mike’s orbital bone last year, and this was his big chance for revenge. Because they know how to have a great wrestling match, every time Elgin would get some control, Naito would go to the eye area and regain control. Both guys got tremendous reactions, which was really impressive for Big Mike considering this was Osaka. This was a ***** match to me, and I liked it more than the Omega vs Okada match from the Dome. I think that this was a once in a lifetime performance by both guys and wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being the best match of both guys careers. You can tell that both guys love pro wrestling and love going out there and putting on the best match possible in the main event spot. I hope that these two continue to have matches over the next couple of years.
Up Next: WWE in February 2017!