Tonight, New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California with “Fighting Spirit Unleashed”. The card will air live at 8 pm Eastern on New Japan World with a tape-delayed airing on AXS this Friday night as Kevin Kelly and Jim Ross call the show.
The card is lacking the buzz of previous New Japan cards in the United States and follows a busy September that saw three Destruction cards with Long Beach sandwiched between the September tour in Japan and the forthcoming “King of Pro Wrestling” event next week from Sumo Hall.
Tickets sales have struggled in the weeks leading into the show with only three matches announced until this past Monday night. Despite the lack of attention that the show has received, on paper, it looks like a strong show with match quality but also a show designed to build up future cards.
We will have a POST Show late tonight with Mike Murray joining me for a complete rundown of the event and looking ahead to the programs coming out of the show. Below is a full preview of the event:
KENNY OMEGA & KOTA IBUSHI VS KAZUCHIKA OKADA & TOMOHIRO ISHII
This is the first time that Omega and Okada will share a ring in the United States and should be electric for their first meeting since Dominion in June.
While some anticipated an IWGP title match on this card, it was not in the cards as the only options were Toru Yano and Kota Ibushi. Yano did defeat Omega in the G1 and if ever Yano was to receive a title match, this may be the market to do it in as the audience would buy into it. Ibushi is too big a match for a show of this caliber and I never anticipated that happening on this show.
Ibushi is teasing a future program with Will Ospreay that will likely merge Ospreay between the junior heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, although Ospreay could be tied up for the near future. The pairing of these four should be outstanding coming off Omega and Ishii’s series of matches the past two months, his rivalry with Okada and injecting Ibushi into the mix with Okada and Ishii as well. It would make sense that Ibushi could be set up for a match with either Okada or Ishii if the plan is to hold off on his rematch with Omega for a later date.
The major focus of this event is to set up next weekend’s King of Pro Wrestling card at Sumo Hall, which is one of the big shows of the year. New Japan has not released the card, so tonight’s show should be heavy on angles to set up matches for next Monday.
Ibushi scoring the fall on Ishii or vice versa seems most logical for where they are heading.
JUICE ROBINSON VS CODY FOR THE IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE
Robinson is coming off arguably the best of his career with Jay White in July at the last card in California and Cody is riding a wave of momentum off “All In”. This is a unique match given Cody is the NWA champion and has stated he will be wearing the title for all his matches moving forward.
It would be newsworthy if Cody wins the title as it would suggest New Japan is confident that Cody is sticking around once the calendar changes to 2019. The remaining months of the year are going to be intriguing to match for Cody as he balances commitments with New Japan, Ring of Honor, and the NWA.
The atmosphere created by the audience is going to be a big factor in this match. Cody has the “big match feel” down solid and his matches feel important because of the aura he’s created. Robinson is one of the best babyfaces in New Japan and the fans see him as someone important now. Given Juice Robinson’s affinity for Dusty Rhodes from his time at NXT, I’m sure this match means a lot to both and is an underlying element to the story of this match.
Robinson had the story throughout the G1 of the battling with the injured and cut some terrific promos after losing so many matches and threatening to quit and go home if he’s not at the level of his contemporaries. This should be a solid match and they are in a big position to deliver on this card as they will be following a huge junior heavyweight match.
WILL OSPREAY VS MARTY SCURLL IN THE IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE TOURNAMENT
This one should be off-the-charts involving two rivals that go back years. For the longest time, the story had been that Scurll would have Ospreay’s number in most of their meetings across the world from Progress, Revolution Pro, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Ring of Honor, and then New Japan when Scurll defeated Ospreay for the IWGP junior heavyweight title last November at Power Struggle. Ospreay exorcised the demon by defeating Scurll in a four-way at Wrestle Kingdom in January and successfully defending the title at Sakura Genesis in their last singles match in April.
The winner of this match will face KUSHIDA in the finals for the vacant title at next week’s King of Pro Wrestling card at Sumo Hall.
Their last match in April featured the scary spot of Ospreay delivering a Spanish Fly off the apron and injuring his neck the week before WrestleMania Weekend, where Ospreay still tore it up at his shows in New Orleans.
I would expect this to go no less than 20 minutes and should one of the top matches of the show. I would assume Ospreay is the favorite to advance to the final to rekindle the rivalry with KUSHIDA for the title. Ospreay is a candidate for Wrestler of the Year and I’m curious how much he will dabble into the heavyweight mix in 2019 because that seems like the natural progression in his career.
THE YOUNG BUCKS VS THE GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY FOR THE IWGP TAG TITLES
The reaction to the Guerrillas is going to be interesting. Despite all the negativity against the group throughout the G1, I feel they will be treated as a big deal by the Long Beach crowd.
The Bullet Club and Firing Squad feud would seem like it will extend beyond this show and for that reason, I’d say the Guerrillas probably take the titles in this match. If they don’t, what was the point of booking their G1 in such fashion without a payoff at the end to get the group over? For the Guerrillas to lose this match, it stops any momentum they would have and would be relegated to the six-man titles that mean nothing.
It’s not a match on paper that feels like it will be a high-end Bucks’ type of match, but much Juice and Cody, I feel the audience will make or break this one and with the Bucks involved, it’s a near guarantee this will be one of the more heated matches on the show.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI & KUSHIDA VS JAY WHITE & GEDO
This will be Jay White and Gedo’s first match since last Sunday’s angle at Destruction in Kobe.
The direction seems clear for Tanahashi and Jay White to meet prior to Wrestle Kingdom with White being the only one to hold a victory over Tanahashi in this past summer’s G1 Climax.
With such a major push on White and Tanahashi scheduled to headline Wrestle Kingdom, the argument can be made that neither should be losing at this time and wait until after the Tokyo Dome card for a big showdown.
This one seems obvious for Gedo to take the fall and that’s his role here with Tanahashi untouchable until the Dome and KUSHIDA in an important match at Sumo Hall next week. The question is whether Tanahashi and White face off at King of Pro Wrestling or Power Struggle in November as the two likely destinations for the match.
TETSUYA NAITO, EVIL & SANADA VS ZACK SABRE JR. & KILLER ELITE SQUAD
I was surprised they didn’t book the singles match between EVIL and Zack Sabre Jr. on this card after the teases throughout the Destruction tour. That match seems a lock for Sumo Hall coming out of this match.
Unlike most LIJ matches, I feel Naito will be the background player for EVIL to take the spotlight and build up the match with Zack. Zack defeated Naito and Sanada in March during the New Japan Cup tournament, which Zack won so LIJ has an outstanding issue with him and EVIL attempting to avenge his stable is a strong story.
If there was a surprise appearance for Chris Jericho on this show, this would be the match to do it in. Most expect Jericho to have singles match with EVIL, possibly next month in Osaka at Power Struggle and then the rematch with Naito.
Thus far, the interactions between EVIL and Zack Sabre Jr. have been great and I think they will have a tremendous match when they execute it.
HIROOKI GOTO & BEST FRIENDS VS JEFF COBB, FLIP GORDON & CHRIS SABIN
I’m curious how the audience reacts to this as it’s not the most authentic New Japan match, but features some great talent. Cobb would seem like the one designed to stand out most in this match and perhaps be on the radar for the Tag League tournament this December.
Chuckie T. and Beretta just split matches with Killer Elite Squad, so they seem poised for a tag title program with the champions after this card in a three-way feud.
Goto has drifted throughout the year and hasn’t had much focus on him. Goto just dropped the NEVER Openweight title to Taichi and it’s a question as to where he goes for the duration of 2018. It could be an entry for Cobb if they isolate Goto and Cobb during this match that could lead to a program.
This match should have a fair amount of focus on Gordon with his high flying and will likely be a very fast-paced match that will depend on how invested the audience is regarding it being a success or not. The focus is on Cobb as this feel like a big test for him to try and stand out.
CHRISTOPHER DANIELS & FRANKIE KAZARIAN VS HANGMAN PAGE & CHASE OWENS
Hangman Page had a great summer with his performances in the G1 Climax and the match with Joey Janela at “All In”. He hasn’t been featured much within New Japan since the G1 concluded, and this isn’t going to be a big match on the show.
Page and Kazarian had a big feud in Ring of Honor that featured one of the grossest sequences in recent memory where they continually spit in each other’s face. Hopefully, they don’t feel nostalgic tonight for that spot.
I expect a solid match from the four, although probably short in the 8 or 9-minute range. Page getting the winning fall seems the likely outcome.
ROPPONGI 3K & ROCKY ROMERO VS RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER & ACH
Having Liger in the opening match is a smart move as he will probably be among the most popular performers on the show tonight.
This should feature a hot crowd, some comedy from Taguchi, a few breathtaking spots from ACH and then Liger pinning Romero to kick off the show on the right foot and everyone is happy.