It’s the final night of the Destruction tour at the Kobe World Hall. The IWGP Intercontinental title and the Young Lion Cup are on the line and pride is also on the line between Hirooki Goto and Shingo Takagi.
Yuji Nagata, Yota Tsuji, & Yuya Uemura def. Manabu Nakanishi, Michael Richards, & Alex Coughlin via submission @ 10:05 with a Tsuji Giant Swing/Boston Crab on Coughlin
This is one of those matches that inevitably loses all of its luster in a round robin tournament because none of the Young Lions in this match can win but of course they’re all still fighting for pride and hoping to impress their elders. Nagata and Nakanishi start the match and again I can’t help thinking that both men are *really* showing their age here. This becomes especially apparent when the Lions take the spotlight with the utmost intensity and athleticism. It’s really cool to see Richards and Uemura going hard as hell on each other as the two with the lowest point totals, though I honestly don’t really see much of anything in Richards’s future—he’s fine but hasn’t really looked like anything special at any point on this tour.
Uemura gets an awesome (and well-deserved) spot where he gets to hit a big body slam on Nakanishi which is a great moment for him. I love the sequence between Tsuji and Coughlin (pronounced COG-lin) off the hot tags. These are the two guys I’ve been most impressed with in the YLC and they shine once again. Coughlin’s knife-edge chops continue to blow my mind and Tsuji’s giant swing into the Boston Crab is just SO cool, I love that he seems to be making that his finisher at least for the time being. I also really love the back-and-forth on the Boston Crab—which is a pretty common spot in the YLC and is always very compelling. I really can’t wait for some of these Young Lions to get some opportunities to be in the ring with some of the higher tiers of talent in NJPW because they will definitely make a strong impact very quickly.
Young Lion Cup League Match
Clark Connors def. Ren Narita via submission @ 7:25 with a Boston Crab
A bit of a tentative start here which makes sense considering this match is do or die for Narita. Of course, round robin wrestling tournaments being what they are, the result of this match is sort of telegraphed since a Narita loss would make the Umino/Fredericks match winner-take-all. Still another very good match from both guys. Both have been excellent throughout the YLC and this match is no different. Both show some *drastically* improved knife-edge chops and a lot of impressive grappling and chain wrestling. I definitely enjoyed the body slam battle, which is something you don’t see every day. The chop battle is pretty impressive as well. The pace quickens toward the end which gives both men some time to shine but ultimately, of course, Narita falls to the Boston Crab. Backstage, Narita simply says “That’s it. I’ve made up my mind.” Wonder what that means…
Young Lion Cup League Match
Karl Fredericks def. Shota Umino via submission @ 7:17 with a modified half crab to win the Young Lion Cup
Definitely a fast start to this match although I feel like this match could have used more fire at the start—like I really expected these two to just attack each other relentlessly as soon as they got in the ring rather than trading wrestling moves. There’s still plenty of intensity but this match is for all the marbles, this should be the most intense they can get. Still a great opening sequence with plenty of fire and workrate. Fredericks’s chops are excellent and Shota’s urgency running the ropes and throwing shoulder tackles is amazing. Both men are incredible athletes and this match really showcases that perhaps more than any other YLC match so far. Shota’s bloody nose also adds a lot and his tenacity is so impressive, always staying on top of Fredericks. His top rope shotgun dropkick and his *very* high angle German suplex are killer as well.
The finish sees Fredericks hit a brutal Saito suplex and a very nice spinebuster which leads straight into the half crab—which Kevin Kelly aptly points out might be because of the injured shoulder so that he can use both arms to hold one leg—and when Shota tries to get to the ropes, he drags him back to the middle, kicks him in the freaking head, and leans back on a lion tamer style variation of the half crab for the submission win to take the Young Lions Cup. I did feel like it was a bit of an odd choice having this match be so short—I was definitely expecting this one to go almost 15 minutes.
Backstage, Ren Narita appears during Shibata and Fredericks’s interview to SHOCKINGLY declare that he wants to join LA Dojo and learn wrestling from Shibata. WOW. Should be *very* interesting to see what his Noge Dojo mates will have to say about that. Especially Shota.
Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, & Chase Owens def. Togi Makabe, Toa Henare, & Tomoaki Honma via pinfall @ 8:22 with an Owens package piledriver on Henare
This is kinda one of those NJPW multi-person tag matches that, well, just isn’t really much of anything. There isn’t really anyone in the match who’s particularly interesting or good—though, to be fair, the Japanese fans do appreciate some of these guys more than, perhaps, someone like myself does—and there are definitely no discernible stories happening (unless you count Toa Henare trying—and failing—to avoid getting caught in yet another Chase Owens package piledriver) so it’s just kinda…there.
The wrestling is fine and there are even a few fun moments like Makabe facing off with Fale and the whole team working together to get Fale out of the ring but ultimately…yet again…Henare eats the package piledriver and the pin. After the match, Owens gets on commentary and challenges the Rock n’ Roll Express to a match on the Fighting Spirit Unleashed tour. Should be interesting to see who his tag team partner will be. Nothing particularly consequential happens in the backstage comments but Fale does rant about both rugby and Area 51 for some reason which is hilarious.
Also of interest: between matches, Kevin Kelly again brings up the possibility of EVIL vs. SANADA for the IWGP title. That’s gotta be a match that’s gonna be happening in some capacity pretty soon. Or perhaps this could result in a split—or at least some tension—sometime during World Tag League.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jyushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, & Rocky Romero vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre, Jr., Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & Douki ends in a no contest via ATTEMPTED MURDER
Oh, you just KNOW this thing turned my eyes into giant cartoon hearts and made exclamation points shoot out of my ears. It’s taking all the strength in my body not to type this entire paragraph in capital letters but here goes: Liger (uncharacteristically) attacks Suzuki from behind during his entrance and that provokes a violent, brutal brawl between both teams, centering on Suzuki and Liger. Suzuki is about to unmask Liger again when Liger low blows Suzuki and JUST as you’re thinking “wow wasn’t Liger just talking about honor and attacking people from behind?” he REMOVES HIS MASK to reveal KISHIN LIGER, spits black mist in Suzuki’s face, grabs a damn SPIKE and nearly STABS IT THROUGH SUZUKI’S WHOLE HEAD. Suzuki moves and the spike just gets STABBED THROUGH THE TABLE WHERE HIS HEAD WAS.
Suzuki retreats and Liger follows and I pee my pants a little bit. Backstage, Suzuki just crawls to the press area and starts laughing maniacally. Liger knees him in the face and walks away with Suzuki still cackling. Suzuki kicks the shutters and runs after Liger. This feud is officially now the best thing that has happened in professional wrestling in 2019. I really, *reeeally* hope they have the sense to save this match for Wrestle Kingdom because what better way to go out for Liger? Wow.
Tomohiro Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi, Will Ospreay, SHO, & YOH def. KENTA, El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa via pinfall @ 9:40 with a YOH roll-up on Tonga
After what just happened, I might need a minute to get back into the right headspace to care about normal wrestling stuff again. This match is a good choice to put in this total death spot—it’s low stakes but it features a lot of the guys the crowd either loves or hates the most and a lot of exciting wrestlers that can get the crowd back into the right frame of mind to enjoy the rest of the show without having to accomplish too much else. We also get a delightful preview of both Ospreay/El-P and GoD/Roppongi 3k followed by an absolutely bonkers multi-person breakdown sequence that culminates with YOH getting *another* roll-up pinfall on Tanga Loa.
After the match, YOH makes the mistake of taunting GoD and the two beat him and SHO down as Ospreay and El-P brawl all the way backstage and Yoshi-Hashi gets mixed up with KENTA. Really hope Yoshi-Hashi isn’t KENTA’s next opponent—which, judging by Yoshi’s backstage comments, he probably is (though at least he acknowledges what a lopsided match-up that is by accusing KENTA of wanting an easy defense). Yoshi is a poor choice, in my opinion. KENTA (quite oddly, in my opinion) hasn’t generated a ton of good will in his time in NJPW and right now he really needs exciting opponents and Yoshi-Hashi is…not that. No one is excited about a KENTA/Yoshi-Hashi match. Not even me, a KENTA fan.
Backstage, El-P talks a lot of smack but also claims that his match with Ospreay will be a straight up wrestling match with “no shenanigans.” He’s probably full of it but we’ll just have to wait and see.
SANADA, EVIL, & BUSHI def. Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, & Robbie Eagles via submission @ 13:50 with a SANADA Skull End on Eagles
Kinda weird that a week after KENTA destroyed the briefcase that the Wrestle Kingdom contract comes in, the IWGP still hasn’t given Ibushi a new one, so he comes to the ring holding…a folder. Which is a hilarious visual and not in a good way. There are a lot of really compelling pairings in this match, though. Not only are Okada/SANADA and EVIL/Ibushi set to face each other but teammates EVIL and SANADA as well as Okada and Ibushi also seem likely to face each other down the line. Quite a few interesting dynamics going on here, which is great.
Okada/SANADA do a lot of the same stuff they’ve been doing the whole tour which is effective but still more of the same. I think a couple weeks away from each other will be good for both guys. We also get some really nice exchanges between Ibushi and EVIL and I loved the post-match stuff with Okada getting frustrated about missing SANADA with the dropkick and trying and failing several times to hit it again after the match. This is followed by EVIL walking up to Ibushi and straight up slapping him in the face leading to a forearm battle between those two. Decent job of generating some heat for EVIL/Ibushi but they’re going to have to do a lot more than that to make this matchup interesting.
Special Singles Match
Hirooki Goto def. Shingo Takagi via pinfall @ 20:27 with a GTR (★★★★★)
The announcers do an excellent job at the top of this match of laying out exactly what’s on the line in this match where nothing *tangible* is actually on the line and putting over the idea of this being a battle between perhaps the two proudest men in NJPW where ALL of their pride is on the line. Very interesting that they start this match much, MUCH more tentatively but it doesn’t take long for them to start throwing the heavy wood followed by a masterful sequence of reversals ending in a stalemate. I really like Gino putting over the “anything you can do, I can do better” story that’s playing out here, particularly from Shingo’s perspective but this match is really about fighting spirit at its core. Two guys just hitting each other as hard as they can and seeing who breaks first—and it is glorious!
Shingo is in control for a lot of this match which feels like a good and very natural dynamic for both guys. Shingo’s methodical heel offense is very effective and he plays the cocky attitude really well. Goto’s hope spots are dramatic in their desperation as well as their intensity. Shingo feels the momentum shifting and hits Noshigami early on and Goto just barely kicks out. Shingo goes for Made in Japan but Goto wisely fights out of it and just *snaps* Shingo’s head back against his knee which looks gnarly as hell. Goto takes the opening and tries to get the advantage but Shingo turns it around and hits a nasty snap superplex…and Goto gets straight up and hits a monster German, goes for a lariat but gets caught in a beautiful saito suplex. The two trade some HEAVY lariats and Goto goes for an ushigoroshi but Takagi flips out of it and pulls him into a Made in Japan for a VERY long two. Another back and forth sequence that results in Shingo hitting Pumping Bomber but Goto barely kicks out again!
Goto finally catches Shingo in the ushigoroshi and then hits a reverse GTR for a nearfall. Goto hits some *nasty* kicks and winds up for one final one but Shingo catches it, hits a rope-assisted GTR (perhaps this was the final twist of making it “his” that he mentioned last week) followed by a BRUTAL Pumping Bomber and Goto STILL kicks out!!! Another insane chain of reversals and Goto pulls out a freaking Shouten Kai (which I believe is how Goto beat Shingo years ago—at least it seemed that way from the pre-match VTR) followed by a monster PK and some absolutely gnarly simultaneous headbutts. Goto hits a combination GTR ushigoroshi and Shingo kicks out but finally Goto catches him in GTR for the win. Good LORD what a war. I certainly would not mind seeing these two go at it one more time because this was another legit Match of the Year candidate. The announce team was talking rubber match seconds after it was over so maybe I’ll get my wish.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Jay White def. Tetsuya Naito (c) via pinfall @ 29:47 with a Bladerunner to become the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion (★★★★★)
The match, predictably (in a good way), starts with dueling mind games which transitions smoothly into a brilliant sequence of reversals into a delightful tranquilo pose. Naito takes control for a while (and tries to pry open White’s eye which is a nice callback) but Gedo, of course, turns the match in White’s favor and White quickly takes it to the outside for some brutal whips into the barricade before rolling back in the ring and mocking the “tranquilo” pose, adding a Bullet Club salute.
White controls the match for a while with some typically excellent character work—forcing Naito’s eye open and saying “can you see!?” and then fish-hooking both corners of Naito’s mouth and saying “show them the smile!”—some of which, ironically (but appropriately) gives Naito an opportunity to take the momentum back (it almost seems like Jay lets him do it because he’s yelling “Come on, Naito! Where’s that life, Naito?” which not only once again invokes Heath Ledger’s Joker (“HIT ME!”) but also supports my continuing theory that Jay White is a pain slut…but I digress).
There’s a nice bit of back and forth and then Jay White takes control again, using his patience and shrewdness to find an opening. Some more back and forth as Naito tries to turn the match but White kills his momentum beautifully with a snap flatliner and a gorgeous German suplex. So much beautiful character work here, especially by Jay White—like helping Naito up just to snap Saito suplex him. Finally Naito fires up for a furious comeback—hits a top rope rana, hits Gloria for a two-count, hits Combinación Cabrón on the apron but then gets caught in a snap flatliner on the apron; the two trade an *intense* series of reversals on the “hardest part of the ring”™ and White gets the best of the exchange with an apron powerbomb. White goes for the Kiwi Crusher but Naito turns it into a snap DDT.
The two crawl on the mat throwing full-body forearms before rising to their feet for a proper forearm battle which Naito dominates and now White is prone but he pulls the ref in and Gedo hits Naito with a chair. White hits the Kiwi Crusher but Naito kicks out. White goes for Bladerunner but Naito blocks and powers up. Naito goes for Destino but White drops to block it. Naito appears to be distracted again by Gedo but catches White as he tries to attack and uses the tilt-a-whirl DDT to both kick Gedo in the face and plant Jay White. Naito goes for Destino but Jay White reverses it, goes for Bladerunner, Naito reverses it into Destino which White reverses into a sleeper suplex. The chemistry between these two is absolutely off the charts!
White goes for Blade Runner but Naito reverses into a dragon suplex. Naito goes for Destino and Jay White almost blocks it but Naito shifts his weight and gets him over which I absolutely loved. Another *insane* sequence of reversals and Jay White, with incredible quickness, catches Naito in the Bladerunner: 1…2…THREE?! Your winner AND NEW IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Jay White! As much as I hate this result as a Naito mark who has been endlessly frustrated with NJPW’s refusal to push one of the best wrestlers on the planet to the moon, it’s also kinda difficult to argue the decision from a booking standpoint. Jay White is the future of NJPW and I’m really interested to see how all this plays out on the journey to Wrestle Kingdom.
Not sure I agree with the decision to make Goto the next challenger for the IC belt which gets into some issues with the other title pictures as well: Ibushi should probably be the next challenger for the IC belt but he’s in a program with EVIL, which is fine but EVIL is just not a main event guy and has effectively zero chance of winning the contract; Goto should probably be challenging KENTA for the NEVER title but it looks like they’re (inexplicably) going with Yoshi-Hashi for that spot—though maybe (hopefully) he’s just facilitating another Ishii/KENTA program; not really sure where Shingo goes from here because it seemed like they were teasing a rematch with Goto (perhaps with a title shot on the line) but now it seems like Goto is being rushed into a program with Jay White that has really no basis other than he just won a match against a guy who was a junior heavyweight a few months ago and who beat him in the G1.
It all feels a little odd, especially with King of Pro Wrestling in a few weeks being the last real major singles show before Wrestle Kingdom (only Jr. Tag League and World Tag League after that) but I am interested enough to wait and see where it goes. And NJPW has built up enough good will, in my opinion, for me to give them *some* benefit of the doubt. Just how much remains to be seen…