Friday 17 April 2015

NJPW Invasion Attack 2015 review

The night before WrestleMania 31 New Japan presented their third annual Invasion Attack show. Unlike the offerings from Ring of Honor and the WWN this show wasn't held in the state of California. It wasn't even held in the US. That's what kept me from reviewing it at the time: it was happening on WrestleMania weekend but it was so detached that it didn't feel like a part of it. Not that it was intended to be, of course. New Japan is big enough that it doesn't need to tie itself into WWE's schedule.

The opener pitted the Time Splitters, Captain New Japan, Yohei Komatsu and Yuji Nagata against Ryusuke Taguchi, Manabu Nakanishi, Sho Tanaka, Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger. It was a fun but instantly fogettable ten man tag. Shelley pinned Nakanishi with a belly-to-back piledriver for the win.

Tomoaki Honma and the Tencozy lads, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima, versus Bullet Club representatives Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall was second. Takahashi was accompanied by a girl in a bikini because he's been corrupted by The West. Cody Hall was sporting a slightly altered look channelled Brock Lesnar, while his mannerisms channelled his father. Sadly this didn't translate to a super-hot match or even anything memorable from him. Hall ate the pinfall after a Tencozy 3D and a top rope headbutt from Honma. The thing that most sticks with me is that Hall looked incredibly uncertain a lot of the time. That and the gratuitous shots of Takahashi's gal pal.

Rocky Romero and Trent Baretta had their first two-on-two NJPW tag match as Roppongi Vice after that. They'd wrestled six matches in the company before this but all had featured additional partners. In a slightly surprising move the match was for the junior tag straps. In an even more surprising move the new team defeated the Young Bucks for the titles. This evelopment seemed like something that could have been built to a bit more but it did get a pop and provide a nice surprise.

The match was really good fun. Baretta was sharp and gelled well with Romero. The finish saw Romero tagged by Baretta as Romero was being hoisted up for More Bang for Your Buck. Romero then got his knees up as Nick hit him with the 450 and Baretta, the legal man, dashed in to hit Matt with a top rope German suplex. Romero took out Nick with a suicide dive before the Vice boys hit an inverted Tombstone-springboard combo on Matt, Baretta pinning him to win. That pin sequence was notable: Baretta is the junior member of his team and Matt is the senior member of his. You'd usually expect Nick to be the one laying down in this situation. Clearly the intention was to make Baretta look good by not only having him get the winning fall but doing it against the more impressive member of the opposing team.

The junior heavyweight singles gold was up for grabs in match four. Máscara Dorada challenged Kenny Omega. Dorada had various junior heavyweight babyfaces (among them the Time Splitters, Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask) with him at ringside to ensure there was no Bullet Club-related foul play. Even being unable to utilise his teammates Omega got the win, pinning Dorada with the electric chair driver. After the match Omega challenged Alex Shelley to a title match. Shelley accepted. That should be a highlight of Wrestling Dontaku in May.

The non-Japanese action continued with Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson defending the IWGP tag straps against Matt Taven and Michael Bennett. It was below the standard of the usual Anderson 'n' Gallows match but it was better than anything else I've seen The Kingdom pairing do so far. There were a bunch of spots involving Maria interfering, all of which seemed to really excite the commentary team. Maria ended up distracting Anderson after grinding on the apron, leading to him being hit with a double spike piledriver (prompting cries of "Massacre! Massacre!" from an excited commentator) for the surprising loss. Gallows screamed at Anderson after the match. I'm assuming this title change was done to set up a return match on the ROH-New Japan co-promoted shows in May. Bullet Club, faces in ROH, can take the gold back from the hated Kingdom there.

Two tag matches preceded the show's closing singles bouts, each featuring one of the promotion's top acts. The first saw Shinsuke Nakamura team with Chaos teammates Yoshi-Hashi and Tomohiro Ishii against Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito and Togi Makabe. The second saw Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katauyori Shibata face Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano. The six man was the more enjoyable of the two. It was nice to see Ishii and Makabe's rivalry flaring up again after it had stalled following Makabe's illness in February. Plus I never fail to enjoy a Nak match. The Tana match was fine but I find it hard to get passed my feeling that he's a little overrated, an opinion I've developed because I've yet to see him in a great match that doesn't involve a lesser worker. Anyone can shine against Okada and Styles. His average match against Michael Bennett last year spoke volumes.

The teams with the big stars lost in both instances. Nak was pinned by Goto after a mad lariat and what I believe was a Shouten Kai. That set up an Intercontinental title match between the Goto and Nakamura for Wrestling Dontaku. In the tag match Shibata submitted to a Sakuraba armbar. I'm less clear on the intention there. Perhaps a singles match between Tanahashi and Yano? I'd enjoy it even if no one else would.

The semi-main event was Bad Luck Fale versus Kazuchika Okada, a match-up with a nice story going into it. Okada had been overconfident ahead of his Wrestle Kingdom 9 title challenge against Tanahashi and that overconfidence had led to him being beaten. The following night, confidence shattered, he'd been beaten by Fale in a tag match. Which isn't a soul-crushing embarrassment in itself because Fale is kept strong by New Japan, but it was a further blow to the former two time world champ and company golden boy.

Since that match Fale and Okada and met in a variety of tag and six man matches, with 'The Underboss' being on the winning side more often than not. This singles match was Okada's chance at retribution, his opportunity to change his fortunes, show that he was above the likes of Fale and get his career back on track. Naturally he did so. Just as naturally the match was very good. Not that I'm especially well-versed in Fale matches (nor do I want to be) but this was certainly the best work I've seen from him. Fale managed to make Okada look strong without making himself look weak, a useful skill to have for someone who's clearly meant to be a big ol' monster.

Highlights of the match included a lovely Rainmaker reversal into a choke slam attempt and a sequence that saw Okada escape the Bad Luck Fall, counter a choke slam in mid-air with a drop kick, and avoid a Fale Rainmaker before hitting a Tombstone (something he'd attempted several times during the match). There was also a very nice top rope splash from Fale.

The main event featured IWGP champion AJ Styles defending against Kota Ibushi, who'd earned a title shot by merit of his victory in the New Japan Cup tournament. It seemed designed to reinforce the standing of both guys as bona fide headline stars by having them close out the show without Nak, Tana or Okada around. You can't fault New Japan's star-building process. Nor can you fault their storytelling: Kenny Omega was the lone Bullet Club member at ringside. This was notable as the two men have (or possibly have, at this point) tagged together as Golden Lovers since the beginning of 2009. They primarily teamed in DDT but did make a couple of appearances together in New Japan, capturing the junior tag straps when they did so. Both transferred over to New Japan from DDT and took up new singles roles unaffiliated with one another until this point, and stationing Omega at ringside was a superb move. It allowed for a genuinely interesting "what will he do?" scenario to play out throughout the match, something that's tried fairly often and usually fails.

The match started with Ibushi and Styles locking up a few times. Styles got the better of them and loudly proclaimed Ibushi wasn't ready for him. Ibushi responded with a hurricanrana that sent the champion rolling out of the ring. They ran through a nippy exchange of near falls, as well as a Styles Slash attempt, with Ibushi getting the final word with a very close two count. The champion was then sent out of the ring again, this time with a drop kick.

Ibushi tried a moonsault to the outside. First AJ blocked it. Then, after Ibushi had fought him off, he sidestepped it and tossed Ibushi with a wild German suplex. Ibushi just made it back into the ring before the twenty count was reached but he was left at the mercy of 'The Phenomenal One'. The challenger absorbed punishment for several minutes, including a guardrail to the face and an Indian deathlock.

Styles targeted Iushi's leg when he started throwing out kicks. Ibushi fought overcame that and managed a desperation double stomp as Styles went for a low drop kick. Styles rolled outside, allowing 'Golden Star' to finally hit the springboard moonsault he'd tried for earlier. Ibushi stayed on the champion with a springboard drop kick, a power slam, and a Lionsault, all which scored him a two count. A German suplex got him the same result. Styles reversed a suplex and dropped Ibushi into a turnbuckle then hit his moonsault into a reverse DDT.

Ibushi kicked out so Styles signalled for the Styles Clash. Ibushi fought out with a series of strikes. AJ responded with strikes of his own then hit a Pele kick. Ibushi stayed on his feet long enough to hit a Pele kick of his own. After a brief pause Ibushi pulled Styles to his feet and tried to dragon suplex him off the apron into the ring. Styles elbowed out, hit a springboard elbow, then dropped Ibushi on his head with a "Styles buster" (as named by the commentators) for two.

Frustrated, the champion gave the challenger a high Bloody Sunday. Without going for the cover he tried for the Clash again. Ibushi escaped but immediately found himself locked in a Calf Killer. It took him a while but Ibushi made it to the ropes. Back on his feet he kneed Styles in the face but hurt himself doing so and so couldn't capitalise. Styles floored him with a lariat and hauled him to a corner to take another stab at the Styles Clash. Ibushi fought out and tried a hurricanrana. Styles fought out of that and tried for the Clash again. Ibushi escaped that and rolled onto the ring apron, where he leapt up to the top rope to finally catch AJ with the hurricanrana.

Styles kicked out. Ibushi botched a power bomb. Styles escaped on the correction attempt and got walloped with a lariat for his efforts. Ibushi tried for the power bomb a third time and finally got it. But Styles kicked out in a great near fall.

Ibushi went to the top rope. Omega finally made his move, scrambling to the apron to stare at Ibushi. The two men paused before Omega shook his head and returned to the floor. But that brief pause was enough: Ibushi went for the phoenix splash but Styles was on his feet to catch him, turning the move into a Styles Clash to win the match at the twenty-seven minute mark.

This lad's on... another level.
Takahashi and Tama Tonga hit the ring to proudly celebrate with AJ as Ibushi was helped backstage. Omega joined them in the ring but looked distraught. Clearly he had mixed feelings on the plight of his former teammate and felt that his momentary distraction and cost him a win and the title. But we weren't allowed to dwell on an evil Bullet Club member having feelings for long: Okada hit the ring to destroy everyone and lamp Styles with a Rainmaker. The final major shot of the show was Okada standing over the champion as Gedo said words and smirked.

Invasion Attack was a great show. There were matches that weren't all they could have been but there were no flat-out stinkers and we got a couple of title changes. More importantly it got Okada back on track as a title challenger, solidified the standing of both Styles and Ibushi, and set up something for the future involving Kenny Omega. Not bad for what was not intended to be a A-list show.


Results summary:
Yuji Nagata, Time Splitters, Captain New Japan and Yohei Komatsu defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi and Sho Tanaka
TenCozy and Tomoaki Honma defeated Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall
Roppongi Vice defeated The Young Bucks to win the junior heavyweight tag team championship
Kenny Omega defeated Máscara Dorada to retain the junior heavyweight championship
The Kingdom defeated Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson to win the tag tea championship
Hirooki Goto, Togi Makabe and Tetsuya Naito defeated Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi
Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata
Kazuchika Okada defeated Bad Luck Fale
AJ Styles defeated Kota Ibushi to retain the IWGP heavyweight championship

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