Wednesday, June 28, 2017

TH And Elliot Preview NJPW Long Beach!

Can Okada get a great match out of Cody Rhodes?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
TH: So, the day is finally here. New Japan Pro Wrestling, on US soil, no co-promotion, and broadcast live on television. It feels like a landmark moment.

Elliot: It has all the makings of a very big deal. They're making a go of it, trying to show that they are a legitimate competitor in the American pro wrestling market, and I think that's reflected in the devotion of the thousands of people who will be flying in from all over the country to support them.

Oh wait, I'm one of those people who will be doing that!

TH: Goddammit, stop rubbing it in! I'm only going to be able to watch in my finished basement with the 1080p big screen television and surround sound system while my kids will be down the shore unable to bother me. Wait, did I just out myself as bougie? Fuck. Anyway, I'm happy to be able to see both shows even if night two will be a week after taping. But Elliot, I have to say, I'm scared to death of watching Cody Rhodes winning a major title in real time. Please tell me that win or lose, Kazuchika Okada can get a good match out of his milquetoast ass, right?

Elliot: We're both bougie, but we're one with the proletariat. No worries.

I'm aware that many folks out there are worried that Cody is going to take the title from Okada. They see his momentum and title win in Ring of Honor, combined with NJPW's apparent love for the guy, along with the company's probable vision that Cody will be their ticket to breaking into North America, and that all builds up to a whole world of doubt for us NJPW fans who don't feel the same about Cody. I like him just fine, but how the hell am I supposed to believe that Kenny Omega, one of the best wrestlers in the world, couldn't beat Kazuchika Okada in two tries, but that Cody, the very definition of "pretty good," will do the impossible?

That said, as to any question about the potential quality of this match, I point to the fall of 2015 when Okada wrestled Genichiro Tenryu in his retirement match. Tenryu was in his 60s and literally had to hang onto the ropes to comfortably stand. And Okada still found a way to make the fight look presentable and decent. If he can do that with a senior citizen, then he and Cody will get along just fine.

TH: To be fair, Tenryu could probably sit in a chair and make lewd gestures at women in the audience and be a better worker than Cody at this point. Wait, all the Rhodes family cheerleaders on Twitter are getting mad at me. Trying to remove, trying to remove. Anyway, so the match will be good at least, which is fine. Bad confession time, I've only seen Okada in like three matches, and only one was in a New Japan setting. Can you imagine why we're doing this preview in this format? I can't. Anyway, so the match will be good, gotcha, but what odds do you place on Okada actually dropping the strap here? Should I be worried?

Elliot: You've only seen THREE Okada matches?? Is this what happens when you have children, you just lose contact with the things you love?? (j/k, my 13-month old girl is amazing and she's totally better than any six-star match ever could be.)

I just don't see them ending Okada's year-long title reign for Cody. He has only had like, three singles matches in NJPW. He's a big star, but he doesn't have the cache to get such a huge spot quite yet. And I also think these Long Beach shows, as big as they're supposed to be, are not intended to be a place where company-altering stuff happens. I say Okada keeps the belt until WrestleKingdom 12 in January, and loses to Tetsuya Naito. But, I digress.

TH: Oh, phew, I got scared for a second. I heard someone talk on Twitter that Cody would win the title, then Kenny Omega would beat him and then drop it back to Okada at the Dome, because who loves a story of a one-sided rivalry? But since you've assured me and your job here at TWB is contingent on Okada retaining, I'll cease asking my questions and move on, because hey, Omega and Naito are going to be in a tournament for the United States Championship along with Tomohiro Ishii, Zack Sabre, Jr., Michael Elgin, Juice Robinson, Jay Lethal, and Hangman Page. TOURNAMENTS, BAYBAY. All the first round matches happen live, and once again, even with limited exposure to the New Japan guys, I'm most psyched for Ishii/Naito. What about you?

Elliot: Of the first round matches, Naito/Ishii is Number One, no doubt. They had a war in the New Japan Cup last year, and anytime you give Tomohiro Ishii the spotlight, he takes it by the collar and tosses it out the building. Omega/Elgin should also be a barnburner. Just thinking of the reception Kenny Omega is going to get from that American crowd (including me, because I'm going!) gets me tingly. I'm intrigued by Juice Robinson/Zack Sabre, Jr., as both of those guys are hungry to prove themselves within NJPW. And Lethal/Page, ehhh, those are ROH guys and I don't really watch ROH. But they both seem like nice gentlemen!

I truly have no idea who will win the tournament, because the role of this new US Title is unclear. Is it supposed to be a lower-tier belt, only defended occasionally? If so, I don't see Omega or Naito winning it. They're too big. That would be a role more fit for Michael Elgin or Ishii - upper mid-card guys who could use a neat little status symbol. And don't be surprised if Juice Robinson pulls it out. I think they have a lot of faith in him, certainly more than Uncle Paul and Grandpa Vince ever did.

TH: Y'know, it's not nice to rub it in that you'll be there live every other sentence. Regardless, I don't see why they wouldn't put it on Omega anyway, just because he's the biggest gaijin right now, and this is the designated gaijin belt. But then again, I guess we have to find out what exactly the role of this belt is going to be before knowing who's going to take it home.

Elliot: Let's move on to the co-main event of Night 2: IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi against... Billy Gunn. Yes, in 2017, the 53-year old former Smoking Gunn is going to challenge for NJPW's second-biggest title. This is so goddamn weird. Anyone who tries to defend the reasoning behind this is simply trying too hard. It's not like they're booking a former WWE star on the level of Shawn Michaels here. Gunn was last relevant about 15 years ago. I don't see how he's going to draw eyes to the show or add any legitimacy. And it's not like he's terrible. I saw him live last month, and he can still move decently, and he is a natural showman. But this just feels so out of place and strange.

TH: Honestly, I'm more shocked Billy Gunn is in a NJPW Intercontinental Championship match and not a WWE one. I mean, don't you have to be 50 or older to contend for a title in WWE nowadays anyway? But I can't believe you're skipping over all those multi-man matches from night one to jump right to Mr. Ass. Don't you wanna talk about Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee sharing a ring once again even if they may be in it against each other for like two minutes?

Elliot: You just HAD to bring up NJPW's Achilles heel, the multi-man tag. Yes, there is a troubling amount of multi-man tags on Night 1, and I'm assuming Night 2 will see the losers in the US Title tournament thrown into some multi-man matches as well. NJPW always does these matches about as well as one can hope for. They have lots of back-and-forth action, and they often contain seeds of future stories. But for the most part, they're not essential viewing. I skim through most of them on the big shows, and during G1 Climax season, I skip them entirely.

For me, the live experience of these multi-man tags will hopefully be much different. The novelty of seeing these guys will make up for any lack of a big match feel. The match you mentioned has as much of that as possible with Los Ingobernables de Japon (minus Naito) taking on the CMLL guys and Jushin Thunder Liger. How will that not be a blast? Everyone will be on their A-game, especially Hiromu. And again, I get to see Jushin damn Liger. That's nothing to Complain Online about.

TH: Well, I'm a Chikara fan, so I have no problem with the big multi-man matches. In fact, some of the best action happens in those relevos atomicos and trios matches. Granted, on the one full NJPW show I did watch, WrestleKingdom 9, the multi-man matches were all... questionable, but the caliber of worker seems to be better here. I don't know. I guess the only match left to talk about is the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match. Young Bucks! Roppongi Vice! DIVE!

Elliot: Hand gestures! Bad rapping! Requests to Suck It! DIIIIIVES! Yeah, I'm pumped for this one. I've never seen the Young Bucks, or Rocky Romero. I saw Trent at an AAW show in March, and also happened to be in his general presence backstage. He is as funny and odd as you would assume. The Bucks and Roppongi Vice did have this match at WrestleKingdom in January, and two weeks ago at Dominion. It's not exactly fresh, but the Young Bucks will be damned if they don't make a splash everywhere they go, especially when they're quite motivated to be seen as the top tag team draw in NJPW. Rocky is somewhat of a business partner in NJPW too, so he'll also be trying to give the people their money's worth. And Trent will probably do something stupid that will pop the roof off.

TH: You've never seen the Bucks live? You're in for a treat. The stuff they do on tape comes off so much better live, and they're actually cool guys on top of it. They even let me too sweet them at King of Trios in 2015. But I digress. As the New Japan rookie, I'm sufficiently hyped for these two shows. What about you as the New Japan veteran?

Elliot: I've been actively watching NJPW for just over two years. I'm no rookie, but maybe not yet a veteran. An example of a veteran would be Damon McDonald of the New Japan Purocast. He has watched NJPW since the early 90's. He has seen everything. He will be in Long Beach for these shows, and though he has undying love for NJPW, he admits that he's not too jazzed about these shows, probably because he has been to many of the ROH/NJPW events, and he has flown to Japan for WrestleKingdoms and G1 Climax Finals.

I haven't done any of those things. I'm a wide-eyed little boy when it comes to New Japan, so the very idea of something as simple as Kazuchika Okada doing the Rainmaker pose IN FRONT OF MY FACE is still highly thrilling. I will get a thousand of those thrills on both nights.

Also, I know the feeling that arises out of a group of misunderstood people getting together in the same room. I've gone to punk and hardcore shows for most of my life, and when I've been with people to pay tribute to bands like Bad Religion or Converge, I have felt more at home in my own skin than ever. Pro wrestling has taken on the same significance as music for me, and when I go by myself this weekend to a tiny arena with a few thousand other people who understand me and understand the things I love, it's going to be fulfilling beyond belief. Even if I have to see Mr. Ass.