Part of what makes writing for AniFest so enjoyable for me is that I’m given the opportunity to view things that I may not normally watch. I also have the chance to look at things on a much wider, geeky spectrum without being confined to only writing about this or that specific topic. It’s part of what makes it fun to be ‘The Other Guy’ for this blog.
With this in mind, I decided to strike out a little bit and review something that I’m a big fan of: professional wrestling. However, I decided to go about it a bit differently and tie it in with the Asian oriented focus of the blog. May not happen all the time, but I was excited to try something new, and so I sat down to watch my first ever Japanese wrestling event: NJPW Invasion Attack.
Now, to preface it ever so slightly. Yes, this is my first ever Japanese event that I’ve watched from beginning to end. My pro wrestling love has stemmed, like most long term watchers, from an early fandom of WWF (now WWE) and so the majority of my experience comes from a spectacle, American and, yes, ‘sports entertainment’ style. I’ve frequented a lot of UK Indy shows, mostly done by IPW:UK, and am a big fan of Indy wrestling (such as Ring of Honor) but had yet to experience a top to bottom Puro strong style, as exemplified by this card.
Now, this being my first foray into NJPW, it goes without saying that I am unaware of any feuds that are currently underway, etc. I have no idea why one person has issues with another and figured that what will allow this card to be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for me would be the strength of the wrestling, and their ability to tell a story within that squared circle, despite my lack of prior knowledge to story lines or, integrally, the language barrier.
Good God, I wish I could understand those commentators.
Now, with that in mind: let’s talk about wrestling!
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA) (c) vs. Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi)
Nice to see Alex Shelley again. I was a big fan of his during his TNA tenure, especially as one half of the Motor City Machine Guns. I thought I’d read a rumor that he had been signed to some sort of developmental deal with the WWE, I guess that was unfounded as here he is in Japan.
This was a great match to kick off the card. Fast paced action with some amazing tag team spots between the Time Splitters (video game reference?) and Apollo 55. High flying action, great pacing and some nasty double stomps, much to the chagrin of Alex Shelley (though at one point I’m pretty sure he got a dropkick to his “personal area”, shall we say) has me already engrossed in the potential of this card and NJPW as a promotion.
What a shame they choose to to follow it up with an 8 man tag match of, apparently, epic proportions.
Winners: Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA)
Eight Man Tag Team Match
Akebono, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Super Strong Machine vs. CHAOS (Takashi Iizuka, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) & Bob Sapp
This match pitted a hell of a lot of big men against each other, including part time MMA fighter Bob Sapp and Wrestlemania 21 combatant Akebono.
One of the saving graces for this match was, given the wrestlers involved, you knew that it would be a hard hitting, strong style match. It was. There were a lot of big chops, and a lot of big hits but, conversely, there was also a lot of messy grappling and simply bumping into one another, giving it an almost comical edge. This was especially true for Akebono, who I haven’t seen since his dire sumo gimmick match with The Big Show at Wrestlemania 21. When a highlight of the match comes between a stand off between Akebono and Bob Sapp, one that is as bad as you think it will be, then the match has inherent problems. A shame, as I would have enjoyed to see a lot more from the NJPW guys in this one.
Winner: Akebono, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Super Strong Machine
CMLL World Tag Team Title Match
El Terrible & Tama Tonga (c) vs. La Mascara & Valiente
Okay lucha match with a single great highspot, courtesy of a springboard moonsault to the outside. Outside of that, there’s really not too much to say about this all Mexican, CMLL match up. Not great, not bad, just...okay.
Winner: El Terrible & Tama Tonga
Tag Team Match
Complete Players (Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)
The Japanese seem to be a big fan of tag team wrestling, which is no bad thing. For those missing the lacking tag division in modern WWE, check out NJPW!
Also, I love how the Japanese choose to name things. Great Bash Heel as a team name, really? Okay. How about the wrestler Super Strong Machine from the 8 man tag? Now that’s awesome. There’s a wonderful madcap nonsense to the way they’ve named certain things, and I love it.
Language barriers aside, throughout this match it sounded like the crowd were chanting “toga” over and over again. I’m getting the feeling though that it may not derive from their being massive Animal House fans. In fact, they may have been chanting “Togi”...
This match was pretty standard for me for the most part, but the action picked up by end with a plethora of “lariotto’s”. The faster pacing near the end of the match really helped elevate what would have otherwise been a pretty lack luster affair.
One thing I can take away from this experience is that I now know how to say Lariat with a Japanese inflection, and that whenever someone hits it, the commentator is guaranteed to go ape shit crazy.
Winner: Complete Players (Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi)
Minoru Suzuki vs. Toru Yano
The first singles match up of the evening, and it’s a pretty good match up with a little bit of back and forth. I liked the usage of the Sleeper Hold as a potentially finishing move, much in the same way that Dolph Ziggler utilises it in the WWE. Or at least did, for a while. Heavy heel work helps to make this more memorable than it otherwise would have been.
Winner: Minoru Suzuki
Tag Team Match
Hirooki Goto & Yuji Nagata vs. Laughter7 (Katsuyori Shibata & Kazushi Sakuraba)
Remember what I said about the Japanese love of tag matches? Well, here’s another. Also: Laughter7. That’s a name for a team. Laughter7.
I really enjoyed this match actually. There was a young gun/older mentor element to the match up that added a really nice dynamic to it, additionally the interesting fusion of pro wrestling an MMA helped this match stand out. This was a heavy hitting match, with a spot dedicated to simply beating the shit out of each other with massive forearm smashes. Strong style is no joke!
There was a great arm bar/reversal into an arm bar spot that has to be seen to fully appreciate how awesome it really was, but this also heralded the end of the match up. The match was stopped after it looked like Sakuraba suffered a legit arm, or wrist, injury which, as a WWE watcher, was totally surreal. It blurred the lines of real and worked fiction wonderfully. Couple this with the way that the medics roll into the ring straight away after each match in order to apply ice packs, etc and it all accumulates into a product that toes this wonderful line of bringing a sense of realism into this fake sport.
Winner: Hirooki Goto & Yuji Nagata
NWA World Heavyweight Title Match
Rob Conway (c) vs. Satoshi Kojima
It’s insane to me to see Rob Conway, once upon a time one half of the nothing tag team La Resistance in the WWE, competing not only in a singles match, but as a reigning champion, no less!
I love the cross promotion element that seems to exist in every other wrestling promotion, bar the WWE. The existing partnership between ROH and NOAH, for example, means that we’ll be getting some pretty awesome match ups in the future and it’s something that will be nothing but lucrative for the business. Send the best US talent to Japan, and the Japanese will have a knowledge of the American scene and vice versa. It’s nice to see a working partnership be so beneficial to both parties, and it’s such a shame that the WWE has such a monopoly of the business in the West as they do. It shows what could be possible to freshen up the match ups and storylines.
Anyway, back on to the match up. I honestly found the match to be, ultimately, forgettable. Rob Conway simply doesn’t stand out to me much as a performer. It’s a personal thing, I just find him boring, but there are obviously enough out there who disagree. The fact he’s the NWA champion and getting the pin fall over NJPW’s guy proves that.
Winner: Rob Conway
IWGP Intercontinental Title Match
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr.
This was the match up that made me want to watch this event. I saw some really, exceptionally positive things about Davey Boy Smith Jr. that I wanted to verify for myself that it was for real.
I couldn’t believe what I initially read. The praise that was being lavished upon the ex-DH Smith, just didn’t seem to match up to the performer I saw in the WWE as one half of The Hart Foundation. Since that time he has obviously been honing his craft, as the wrestler in this match is miles away from that which was signed to the WWE. Given the chance to go, and wrestle a specific style (brawler, strong) Davey Boy Smith Jr. excelled against Nakamura in an awesome match of back and forth. It’s the first time I’ve seen Davey Boy wrestle to this kind of capacity, and I hope it won’t be the last. He played the Gaijin heel to perfection, flipping off the crowd and getting some genuine heat, which elevated an already good contest into being great.
Nakamura was an interesting wrestler to watch as well, with an agitated, eccentric, style in the ring leading to a wonderfully unorthodox encounter. Great stuff.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
The main event. They played a great video package that, I’m sure, would have had a lot more pathos had I understood the damn thing. Context is a fantastic concept, don’t let anyone tell you any different.
This match had amazing back and forth between the two; as soon as one had the advantage, it was only a move or two away from being taken away. This match was filled with fantastic technical wrestling and, importantly, pretty clear story telling within the ring. Good psychology; such as working Okada’s right arm throughout in order to neutralise his finisher, the Lariet (surprise, surprise) led a dramatic flair to the proceedings. This and the Davey Boy matches were by far the easiest to get into from an outsiders perspective, as they managed to convey such a clear story throughout.
By far the best match on the card, closely followed by the Davey Boy Smith Jr/Nakamura outing.
As a wrestling fan, branching out into another promotion, let alone another country’s promotion, can be a daunting task. You’re usually stepping into a storyline half way through, or at the apex of one, and so confusion can naturally occur. I did suffer this with my experience of NJPW’s Invasion Attack, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time with the PPV.
From a wrestling standpoint, you’re going to see things you just wouldn’t witness anymore in the WWE, which for any true wrestling fan makes it at least worthy of checking out. It’s not a short show, being around 3 1/2 hours long with an interesting post show breakdown (something the WWE have also recently adopted) but if you wanted to dip your toe into foreign waters, you could do worse. Scope out the main event and the Davey Boy Smith Jr fights if you’re curious, and if they grab you be sure to watch the rest. Except for maybe the 8 man snooze fest.
Will I continue watching NJPW? Possibly. The lack of commentary to explain their backstory really did have an impact on my viewing, but the quality of the wrestling and the ability to tell a story within the ring usually superseded it. I’m not the kind of guy to proclaim: “No substitles?! Fuck that!”, but some sort of history lesson or ability to find out why people or stables are feuding would be beneficial for anyone looking to jump in and commit to future shows. Myself included.