|The Bullet Club still rules the world|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
I took the plunge on this trip because I knew there was no way these shows wouldn't be momentous. I suspect that many of the people who did the same as me came for the same reason: this was a big deal, and it was only right that we put our love and support behind the Little Wrestling Engine That Could, as it launched a mostly symbolic shot across the bow at WWE.
Walking around and then into the Long Beach Convention Center, one thing was clear; to many of these NJPW fans, the Bullet Club is over like crazy. I saw too many Bullet Club-related shirts to even count: Kenny Omega, Cody, Young Bucks, Marty Scurll... for all the talking they do about how they run the wrestling world, one could believe it just by taking an informal straw poll.
I had planned on buying at least one or two shirts, but to my dismay I found that the merch line was comically long. I imagine it's what the bathroom line at the original Woodstock looked like. With just one merch table to accommodate 3,000 people, it created a huge headache for people wanting to actually watch the show. On Night One, the guys in front of me didn't get to their seats until the fifth match because they had been waiting in line. But on the other hand, if buying souvenirs is more important to you than having an actual experience, then maybe you get what you deserve.
I went to these shows alone, so I depended on the kindness of strangers. The two guys seated next to me on Night One pretended I didn't exist but didn't say a word during the whole show, which is better than being dicks.. Night Two had me seated next to a very nice guy from Portland who was super positive about everything. He helped me deal with the unbearable chud seated behind us. This guy was wearing a luchador mask and zubaz. He loudly analyzed everything like Dave Meltzer with a third-grade education. He also HATED Zack Sabre Jr., and spent the entirety of his match with Tomohiro Ishii bemoaning Sabre's body type, his "bendy" offense and the fact that Ishii was selling for him. He quietly called Sabre a queer, and when I yelled "Do it for Jeremy Corbyn," this guy quietly said, "Yeah, and fail like him." So there you go - a probable alt-right Pepe smark who thinks he knows everything. And he wears a mask to a wrestling show. I found the literal worst person in the world.
Our fearless editor TH has already written an analysis of Night One and will have a Night Two piece coming soon (Ed. Note - I guess I have to now, don't I? - TH), so I don't need to run down all of the matches here. But I can talk about what it felt like to be there.
I was proud to be among the majority of fans who rooted for Kazuchika Okada and tried to boo Cody out of the building. This is not because I resent Cody as a person, but merely because he was the clear-cut villain, and Okada is our shining hero. Anyone who didn't react appropriately is a monster and should be arrested by the police.
The true highlight of Night One was Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin. In a situation in which nearly every person in the room was fawning over Omega and wanted him to win, Elgin managed to put on a performance that garnered more support than expected. These two guys were allowed to turn the drama of the match up to ten, and we responded with exuberance. I left that match thinking it was the best wrestling match I'd ever seen live.
And then the main event of Night Two happened. Omega faced off against Ishii, and time stood still.
As much as I love Omega, I have perhaps too much love for Ishii. Maybe it's that he's the perennial underdog: never featured as a main event player, but 100% deserving of the status. Even more so than Elgin, Ishii was able to turn an Omega-favoring crowd into an evenly split room that would have been happy had either guy won.
The highlight most people will be talking about was Omega giving Ishii a dragon suplex through a table on the outside of the ring. Before he successfully did this, Ishii fought tooth and nail, literally, as he used his teeth to thwart Omega's grip. I was one of the first people in my section to notice this, and I announced it by yelling,"AAAHHH HE'S BITING THE ROPES AHHHHH." I have never been a part of a crowd that collectively lost its mind in such a way, and that losing of the mind happpened at least another four times before the match ended. Omega and Ishii just would not stop killing each other, until Omega finally finished the job.
I didn't think it would happen, but in retrospect, it makes total sense. At the last moment of the weekend, NJPW's biggest star in America ended up on top. They sent us home happy, or in my case, emotionally exhausted and spiritually cleansed. The only problem is where I go from here. I've just seen the best pro wrestling show I'll likely ever see. How do I top this now?