This week’s collection of matches, particularly decidedly vanilla. This isn’t to say that the selection isn’t diverse, or that some of the matches aren’t worth seeking out, but whether it was the Nakamura departure multi-man match, Michinoku versus Yoshino on a peculiar Japanese indie, or Ciampa and Gargano teaming up in Georgia, most every entry below could act as a standard example of a match in its style. Similarly, every match on the list involves some kind of rising star, rookie, or departure – a purely unintentional theme.
As I would later learn, this match was the finals of the ‘Rookie of Stardom’ early December tournament featuring newly debuted Stardom talent. Both finalists, Hiromi Mimura (debut October 11th 2015) and Jungle Kyouna (debut November 15th 2015), looked just as impressive as anyone of their experience level I have seen over the past few years. The final wasn’t the joshi equivalent of a young lions match, nor was it a bare-bones NXT bout between two green talents. No, this wasn’t even a competent seven minute match, which would have been itself impressive. Instead, the final was a very good, if not great, semi-main between two of the most promising 2016 ‘Rookie of the Year’ candidates thus far.
Jungle Kyouna, with less than a month in the business, was understandably green, but was in some respects Stardom’s answer to an Antonio Cesaro. The analogy quickly falls apart when considering psychology and timing, but holds true when analysing the power moves executed on the admittedly much lighter, Hiromi Mimura. A swinging sleeper hold, a spin-out powerbomb, and dead-lift gut wrenches were but some of her impressive feats, executed at the right times, in the right places – astounding for someone of her experience level.
Kevin Wilson, Joshi expert and owner of both Puroresu Central and Joshi City, said on Twitter “She’s the highest rank in the current crop so I think she’s the one they see the most in.” . This encounter wasn’t the smoothest or best technical match in this week’s Bag, but was the most exciting by a comfortable margin.
NJPW, 2016/01/30, David Finlay vs. Hirai Kawato
New Japan’s 01/30 Korakuen Hall show, whilst centred around the end of a major NJPW career, saw the beginning of another, with the debut of 18 year-old “young boy”, Hirai Kawato, against fellow young lion, David Finlay. Even in comparison to the light – by NJPW roster standards – Yohei Komatsu, Kawato is small, with lesser comparative muscle mass than any young lion in recent memory. But, he is younger than Watanabe, Sho Tanaka, Hiromu Takahashi, or Yohei Komatsu were upon their respective debuts, and is likely to put on a substantial amount of weight in the coming years.
As frivolous as analysis of career debut matches may almost always be, it should be stated that Kawato was technically proficient, as is always expected of New Japan Dojo trainees. Whilst prone to overselling, this is a trend amongst the smaller young lions of this generation, such as Komatsu and Takahashi in their early matches, and is one that he will almost certainly outgrow.
Finlay carried Kawato in the most basic of young lions matches, sans Kawada stomps in a single leg Boston Crab – this was a pure showcase for David Finlay.
NJPW, 2016/01/30, Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata
Watching the pre-match video brought to bare the extent of Nakamura’s contributions for both the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and New Japan card depth in recent years. Clips aired of Marufuji, Suzuki, Fale, the ill-fated Gracies, Tanahashi and Sakuraba, all of whom challenged Nakamura for the IC title over the span of the last four or so years.
But a few decades ago, Nakamura wouldn’t have gotten a happy send-off. He would have been roughed up a bit, perhaps left on bad terms with some of the locker-room. But, wrestling has changed, and where Nakamura would have been stiffed by Maeda in the past, he was given a heart-felt and emotional send-off. His stablemates entered in “Best in the World” Nakamura shirts, Okada visibly shaken, and later breaking down in tears. Nakamura didn’t take the fall, and rather Ishii pinned Shibata, leaving fans to sendoff one of their own to further his career narrative
The match itself was forgettable. Perhaps Korakuen reacted a little louder, perhaps they cared a slight bit more, but the crowd on 01/30 was effectively the same that attends every ‘Road to’ show in Tokyo. Interestingly, Goto was reacted to more harshly than anyone else in the match, and perhaps on the entire card, coming off of his attack on Okada at a press conference. An intriguing Goto/Okada dynamic at New Beginning, has emerged from these reactions – as the current booking points towards an eminent heel turn. If NJPW pulls the trigger, he will be the first lone-wolf heel the company has had in years.
Nakamura in his final in-ring NJPW moments of 2016, slapped Ishii in the face, giving him enough fire to finish Shibata. Afterwards the entire CHAOS stable, including Sakuraba, entered wearing “Best in the World” Nakamura shirts as a sobbing Okada, and Nakamura embraced. Okada proceeded to carry Shinsuke out on his shoulders. Regardless, of his current role as New Japan ace, with a good friend now effectively in the WWE system, I suspect that Nakamura’s success or failure will lend some influence to Okada’s long term career decisions.
As a standard, well executed, albeit entirely forgettable, NJPW main-event multi-man match, Nakamura’s final bout with the company is by no means must see – but, the post match definitely was. It was the non-scripted post match moments that rewarded long term viewers of the product, acknowledged, and honoured emotional commitment in Shinsuke Nakamura.
After watching Yoshino for the first time last week in his stellar title challenge opposite Daisuke in Guts, a match against TAKA Michinoku, one of the most underutilized NOAH and NJPW talents for years, appeared irresistible – evidently, I didn’t quite understand the level of indie sleeve contained within Mr. Gannosuke Produce.
Mr. Gannosuke’s show aesthetics were perfectly reasonable, as was the surprisingly large crowd of 240. The audio quality and mixing, however, made CMLL seem world class in comparison. I may have garnered better phonic perception of the show from the bottom of a swimming pool across the road from the Shin-Kiba arena.
TAKA and Yoshino only had eight or so minutes with which to work, and whilst the resultant match was above par, albeit quite basic, it was on many levels disappointing, especially considering the calibre of the workers involved. Michinoku bested Yoshino with the Just Face Lock.
UIW, 2016/01/09, Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano vs. Murder One & Chip Day
I am not the largest of Ciampa or Gargano fans (although I respect their work), but the star aura of the duo in comparison to local Georgia stars, Murder One and Chip Day, could not be ignored. This isn’t to say that Day and Murder One aren’t star performers, as both, even from a single viewing, possess star potential, but Gargano and Ciampa, shone expectedly brighter from the frequent polishing that comes from years of regular national touring.
Murder One towered over the three others, and was made to look even larger with the fixed camera on his side of the ring. Ciampa and Gargano were the babyface side, and consequently Murder One and Day got a lot of offence in during what was, in many respects, a traditional Southern tag-team match. Of course, with Gargano and Ciampa involved, it wasn’t a match worked exclusively in that style, with big flurries of Ring of Honor style offence bursting forth off of a hot tag every so often, and toward the finish.
Unfortunately, the bout’s early moments featured a personally loathed spot – Ciampa’s thumb in the backside. Still, it fit with the crowd’s expectations, with scattered chants of “ch-eeeh-mpah” during the early goings. I was happy to see the local team get the victory, with Day stealing a pin with his feet on the middle rope.
Ryan’s Star Ratings
Titan vs. El Barbaro Cavernario *** 1/2
Mascara Dorada vs. BUSHI ***
Ryusuke Taguchi, Dragon Lee & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Virus, Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura *** 1/4
Volador Jr. & Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero & Mephisto ***
Jay White vs. YOSHI-HASHI ** ½