Wednesday, April 13, 2016

NJPW Invasion Attack: The Surprise Hit of the Spring!

I said in my Preview & Predictions column (I got 8 for 9 baby!) for Invasion Attack that today's NJPW feels a lot like the WWF circa 1998.  In both cases the company had lost several top talents and was forced to shake things up and make the most of what they had left.  And that mentality came through big at this past Sunday's PPV, as New Japan put the focus on several new or reinvigorated stars, creating a renewed sense of excitement out of a difficult situation.

After the usual warm-up tag matches, one a squash (Fale & Takahashi vs. Taguchi & Robinson), the other designed to return some older stars to roles of prominence (Liger, Nagata & Kojima vs. Sakuraba, Yano & Yoshi-Hashi), the show settled into a nearly unbroken string of top-notch bouts.

New Chaos partners Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii had a nice little match against Los Ingobernables members Evil and Bushi that helped further establish this faction rivalry (more on that later).  I like the move of adding Goto to the Chaos group, as he'd become pretty stagnant in 2015 despite a short run with the IC belt.

The show really took off with matches 4-7, starting with Matt Sydal & Ricochet against Roppongi Vice.  This was an excellent Jr. Tag bout that reframed Rocky Romero and Trent Barretta as a major force in that division.  Sadly Ricochet's loss here telegraphed what I feared - that a jump to WWE is imminent.  That puts yet another hole in New Japan's roster.

Ricochet, don't go!!

The fifth match for me stole the show, as Jr. Heavyweight Champ Kushida defended against the debuting Will Ospreay.  If you haven't seen the 22-year-old Brit Ospreay, stop reading this column and go watch this match (Come back though as soon as you're done).  Ospreay is really something special, particularly for someone with only four years' experience.  His agility is off the charts, plus he can grapple like nobody's business.  The reversals and aerial moves in this match were unbelievable and I found myself repeatedly saying out loud, "Come on!"  There are rumors that Ospreay is also headed to WWE soon and I really hope New Japan was shrewd enough to lock him in for at least a year.  This guy could be a top-tier player in NJPW (and probably anywhere else, but I'd rather he stuck around).

Unreal match

The hits continued with a wild, extremely satisfying Six-Man Tag Title match, as Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks faced Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, and the returing Yoshitatsu.  Omega repeatedly teased hitting Yoshi with the Styles Clash, the move that injured him in late 2014, which immediately built sympathy for the returning babyface.  The near-falls and tandem moves in this match were lightning-fast and plentiful, and team Tanahashi won the straps in the end to create a feelgood moment.  Also Michael Elgin made a challenge for Omega's Intercontinental Title, which should be an amazing bout.  Love where this is headed.

Side note: I hope The Elite, as Omega and the Bucks are calling themselves, split off to form their own group.  The Bullet Club thing has kinda run its course and with all the top core members gone they're more or less reduced to a midcard act, minus the three Elite members.  Fale, Takahashi and the Guerrillas of Destiny should come up with a new name perhaps and just do their own thing.

Oh it's fuckin' ON.

The surprise hit of the night was Shibata's NEVER Openweight Title defense against Tenzan, in a fairly short but brutally hard-hitting fight.  Tenzan looked as good as I've ever seen him, clearly trying to prove he still has it.  Shibata has seemingly been shifted back into a heelish role, as after turning back Tenzan's challenge he sucker-kicked Yuji Nagata, setting up a future match.  Shibata seems to be running through the New Japan legends and I'm very excited for what should be a real slugfest.  Nigata is my favorite of the "New Japan Dads" as they're being called.

The one real miss of this show was the Tag Team Title match, in which Great Bash Heel defended against Tama Tonga and his brother Tanga Roa.  The Guerrillas of Destiny won the straps but failed to prove to me that they belong in this spot.  Their offense was very generic and the crowd wasn't interested at all.  This tag division continues to be the weak spot on the roster and it's really time to merge the two sets of belts into a NEVER Openweight Tag Championship.  Imagine for example a GBH vs. Young Bucks feud.

Naito should tweet a pic of the belt in his fridge.

The main event was one of those matches that, while it wasn't a five-star classic, had potentially huge historical significance.  Tetsuya Naito over the past year has gone from a bland, unloved babyface to an edgy, hugely popular heel, and created a very compelling character.  I said in my predictions column that the Los Ingobernables angle had worn thin for me, as the gimmick felt fresh at first but none of the members was really presented as much of a threat after the first month or so.  Well that's been addressed; New Japan listened to the crowd reactions these anti-heroes have been getting and pulled the trigger on a hostile takeover.  Naito, thanks in large part to his associates' interference and the debut of Sanada as the fourth member of the group, is now the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.  The match itself was probably a three-star affair or so, but told a very engaging story and resulted in a much-needed shakeup.  Post-match Okada's pal Ishii got in Naito's face, all but announcing himself as the next challenger.  Naito then assaulted the referee and tossed the Championship to the mat, leaving the ring without it.  This gimmick sorta feels like a cross between the nWo and CM Punk.  They're a group of rogues with that "cool heel" vibe but also Naito is an outlaw who places no stock in the established tropes of the business.  It's made for a very intriguing main event scene and I eagerly await the Naito-Ishii match next month.

All in all, Invasion Attack was a very strong night of wrestling that served as the beginning of a new chapter.  New Japan may have lost some key talent this year but they proved with this show that they'll make the absolute best of a tough situation and still present a great wrestling product.  I'd call this their second-best PPV so far this year and I can't wait to see what they do at Wrestling Dontaku.

Best Match: Kushida vs. Will Ospreay
Worst Match: GBH vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
What I'd Change: The two tag belts need to be merged into one set.
Most Disappointing Match: The Tag Team Title match
Most Pleasant Surprise: Shibata vs. Tenzan
Overall Rating: 8/10

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