Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Happy New Japan In Philly Day, Everybody!

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
The huge week of wrestling in the Philadelphia area kicks off tonight with the first of two joint Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling shows at the ECW Arena. The cards have been announced, the tickets are all purchased except for a few. Both shows, tonight and tomorrow, have bell times of 7:30 PM, but you'll probably want to be there an hour beforehand. The line can get pretty long, and since this might be the most marquee event in the city all year (it's not every day Shinsuke Nakamura comes to America), the line is gonna snake around Swanson Street onto Wolf like an anaconda.

So, I'm not the biggest scion about NJPW right now, but I do know that the wrestlers coming over, even Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito, are big friggin' deals, and they will have mass appeal to at least part of the audience. If tonight is your first exposure to NJPW, then you'll be in for a treat, especially seeing them up close in an intimate setting like the Arena. Just as a rundown, the following is a complete list of NJPW guys who will be in Philly tonight and tomorrow:
  • Tetsuya  Naito - He's the guy I'm least familiar with, but he won the 2013 G1 Climax and is reputed to be a solid if unspectacular worker. Tonight, he gets Michael Elgin, which I admit is suboptimal. Tomorrow, he'll tackle Kyle O'Reilly. He's the only one of the big four singles guys coming over to get two one-on-one matches in two shows, so you should get a good idea of what he's all about.
  • Jushin "Thunder" Liger - He may be the most legendary junior heavyweight wrestler of all-time, and he's the guy you probably are most likely to have seen before this week. He's appeared in WCW, ROH, and other promotions, and even at 50 years young, he can still go. He's teaming with Tanahashi tonight against Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish. Tomorrow, he'll be in a four-corner match with Nakamura, Jay Lethal, and Mark Briscoe for the Television Championship.
  • Gedo - Best known for his tag team run with Jado, Gedo works as  a special attraction guy as part of the CHAOS stable, usually as a second for Kazuchika Okada. He's also the head booker for NJPW (along with Jado), which is what makes his match tonight with Delirious so cheeky. Tomorrow, he'll team with Okada to battle Kazarian and Christopher Daniels, better known as 4Tun... no, wait, it's Bad Infl... no, it's The Addiction. Yep. The Addiction.
  • Takaaki Watanabe - He's NJPW's "young boy" making the trip, although "making the trip" is a bit of a misnomer. He's been on excursion in America for nearly two years now, and you may know him best from his work in SMASH Wrestling and Inspire Pro Wrestling. He's actually quite good in the indie setting, which may make him the most comfortable of the visiting party. He takes on Lethal tonight, and tomorrow, he'll battle Biscuit himself, Adam Page.
  • KUSHIDA - He's a junior heavyweight on the rise, most famous for his team with Alex Shelley, which again, makes his match against Chris Sabin at Global Wars Friday in Toronto so cheeky. I wonder if Shelley will be in the building to act all conflicted. Anyway, KUSHIDA is arguably the most exciting wrestler making the trip over, and he may be the most popular among ROH hardcore fans. He'll get Roderick Strong tonight and Michael Elgin night two, so hopefully, he'll be able to pull something decent out of "Mr. ROH" (lol) and the ol' lug on consecutive nights.
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi - Tanahashi has been the ace of NJPW for nearly a decade, and he's drawn comparisons, both favorably and unfavorably to John Cena in that time. Much like Cena, he's a huge dork, only instead of pretending to be a rapper, he loves to play air guitar like he's a member of Wyld Stallyns. His offense straddles the line between junior heavyweight and heavyweight deftly, however, and he's got a pretty decent frogsplash, which he calls the High Fly Flow. He also utilizes the Sling Blade, which is familiar if you've remotely watched a Finn B├ílor match in NXT. That's where ol' Devitt got the move, since he's absorbed a lot of old staples from his former peers as staples. Anyway, as noted above, he'll be teaming with Liger against reDRagon tonight. Tomorrow night, he'll wrestle Strong in singles action.
  • Kazuchika Okada - Okada is arguably the ace of NJPW right now, depending on how you think of his CHAOS stablemate Nakamura. While he's without the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship right now, his destiny is probably to hold it a few more times before he's ready to pass the torch. He may only have two facial expressions - disapproving and VERY disapproving - but the guy is a workhorse in the ring with a ton of swag. Seriously, he comes to the ring surrounded by comely lasses with dollar bills raining from the ceiling. As noted above, he'll be teaming with his hype man Gedo tomorrow night against Kaz and Daniels, but tonight could very well see him in the match of the entire run of shows. He will be teaming up with Nakamura to take on the Briscoe Bros. Hash-tag Dem Boys may not have a whole lot of dream matches left as a team on the indies, but the needle moves significantly for a battle against these two. Speaking of which...
  • Shinsuke Nakamura - Swagsuke is perhaps the best overall wrestler in the world right now, depending on how one feels about, say, Sasha Banks or a select few others roaming the lands. He's taken a Michael Jackson tribute act, made it all his own, and coupled it with the strongest of Strong Styles in the ring, so much that he has been named its KING. He exudes charisma. His sweat contains more personality than half the ROH roster. While he won't get his spotlight singles match until Friday in Toronto (vs. ACH, SO JEALOUS OF YOU CANUCKLEHEADS), you can't argue with him and Okada going against the Briscoes tonight. And yeah, while I wouldn't have put him in a four-way tomorrow night, he'll be in the ring with Mark Briscoe, Liger, and Lethal. That's a threesome of guys who know how to throw down.
The other two New Japan branded guys coming over are AJ Styles and the Young Bucks, but they're so familiar to wrestling fans who would come to a show like this thanks to their appearances in ROH, TNA, and other companies in the past. Of course, that doesn't mean the matches not containing NJPW guys aren't going to be awesome. For example, Styles will be fielding a challenge from a mystery opponent tonight, and while all signs pointed to that guy being a returning Adam Cole, his health is in jeopardy of making him miss the show. So now the possibilities are cracked open even wider. Could tonight's opponent be, say, Samoa Joe, whose stay on the indies before presumably  heading to NXT keeps getting longer and longer? It's a match that's happened a bunch of times before, but one that would be oddly appealing from a match quality and nostalgia standpoint.

Tomorrow night features an even more intriguing match between ROH regulars. Jay Briscoe has been one of the most protected wrestlers in the last couple of years with his last pinfall defeat coming at the hands of Bobby Fish in a tag match about 18 months ago or so. Fish has been campaigning for a title match, and tomorrow night, he'll get it. A lot of people are high on Fish for his tag work in reDRagon, but before getting to ROH, he had some pretty spiffy singles matches in EVOLVE, including one against Bryan Danielson, and he also had a decent run in the 2012 ECWA Super 8 Tournament. I have extremely high hopes for that match.

But either way, it should be a fine two nights of wrestling for those familiar with both companies or those getting their first taste of one or the other. And hey, if you're going to the show tomorrow night, keep a lookout for Ya Boy TH. I will be at the Arena for the second night of action, the first of two consecutive nights of wrestling shows on a weeknight. Say hello, buy me a water, get yourself a mark photo with the 27th most famous wrestling blogger in the world, and shoot the shit. It'll be fun!