By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome Day 2. On paper, this card looked much better than day 1 from the pre-show match to the main event, a show where everything except the opener and the main event were given too much time. The attendance was 2,780, much higher than day 1.
- Stardom offer match: Syuri & Giulia vs Saya Kamitani & Momo Watanabe – A fast-paced, action-packed introduction to these wrestlers. A good advertisement for Stardom.
- Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada vs Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb – A good tag match with some nice Cobb vs Ishii segments.
- IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori (c) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado – A good mix of action, high spots, and a story-driven finishing stretch.
- IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi (c) vs Tetsuya Naito & SANADA vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto – A great, frantic match that used the 3-team structure to subvert many of the tropes. Full of action with a satisfying finish. – RECOMMENDED
- IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: Robbie Eagles (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi – A good match based around counters and Takahashi throwing bombs, slightly below Takahashi’s usual standards.
- IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs EVIL – IMO, the best EVIL main event post turn. The same old formula but with a hot crowd that loves Takagi. – BORDERLINE RECOMMENDED (Use the Japanese audio if you do)
Stardom offer match: Syuri & Giulia vs Saya Kamitani & Momo Watanabe
On the previous show, the Queens Quest duo of Momo Watanabe & Saya Kamitani defeated Maika & Lady C. On this show, they faced Maika’s Donna Del Mundo stable mates Giulia & Syuri.
Donna Del Mundo tried to isolate Kamitani early on, but Watanabe got involved to stop her opponents from gaining control. The crowd got into the strike exchange between Watanabe and Giulia, which led to a good counter sequence. Giulia and Syuri then locked in submissions in the ropes. Syuri and Kamitani clashed, with Kamitani gaining control despite double teams from Donna Del Mundo. Kamitani used a springboard Plancha and a Northern Lights Suplex for a near fall. A Star Crusher looked to set up a Phoenix Splash, but Giulia made the save. Syuri hit a top rope arm takedown into the Byakko and Kamitani close to tapping until it was broken up by Watanabe.
Giulia took out Watanabe with a Northern Lights Bomb. Kamitani fought back with a passionate flurry of strikes, but Syuri hit a big high kick to cut her off. Donna Del Mundo hit a double team slam and Syuri defeated Kamitani with her Byakko submission (modified Stretch Muffler).
Syuri submitted Saya Kamitani via Byakko (11:31)
This was a very good match. The crowd was very appreciative, and it was a good action-packed way to start things off. The match was fast-paced, with constant saves shortening the traditional “work over” part of the match. All four wrestlers looked good, and each had some time to shine. I loved that they again gave more time to Kamitani, and her fiery flurry to try and fight off Syuri did a great job of getting over her fighting spirit. This was worth a watch, especially if you are unfamiliar with Stardom.
Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada vs Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb
The match started with Ishii and O-Khan. They teased big strikes early on before Ishii tagged in Okada. The Rainmaker immediately charged Cobb and things went to the outside, where Cobb turned the tide with a belly-to-belly suplex. The Undisputed Empire isolated Okada. An early attempt at the Tour of the Islands was blocked and Okada used his reverse neckbreaker to tag in Ishii. We got a nice bit of beefy lads charging at each other, with Ishii taking out O-Khan and Cobb. Multiple suplex attempts were blocked until Ishii hit a vertical suplex and Cobb hit a Belly to Belly. The suplex-off was ended with a Cobb dropkick and he tagged in O-Khan.
After O-Khan worked over Ishii, Okada interfered and helped Ishii get back into the match. Ishii and O-Khan traded forearms, with Ishii winning the exchange. Cobb reappeared, helping O-Khan with a suplex-big boot double team. Okada came in and dropkicked both of his opponents, firing up the crowd. After a brave struggle from Ishii, O-Khan hit the Eliminator and pinned Ishii.
Great O-Khan pinned Tomohiro Ishii via Eliminator (12:45)
This was a good main card opener, with a nice mix of action without doing too much. Ishii was his usual self, adding heart and substance to the match. His segment with Cobb was the highlight. Cobb has looked good recently and Okada added fire, so O-Khan looked like the weakest link. That said, even he looked settled and assured here. All in all, it was a simple match, but it felt fun and reminded you of what Ishii brings to the table.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori (c) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado
This was the 4th time that these 2 teams have faced each other in 2 years, and I’m honestly surprised it didn’t happen more often.
This started with all 4 men fighting in the ring before Phantasmo teased a springboard Moonsault to the outside. Back in the ring, he used a lot of springboard moves on Kanemaru, before Kanemaru took him out with dropkicks to the knee. The challengers isolated Phantasmo, working over the leg. Phantasmo eventually drove Desperado back into his corner and the Champions started to work over Desperado using “ironic” heel work and back rakes. They paid tribute to the venue being a baseball stadium with multiple baseball slide dropkicks. They then paid more attention to a different type of “ball”, standing on some questionable parts of their opponents’ anatomy.
A Spinebuster by Desperado gave him hope but Ishimori pulled Kanemaru off the Apron. Ishimori used a sliding German Suplex for a 2 count before going back to Desperado’s arm with shoulder breakers. Desperado tagged in Kanemaru after a backdrop and the veteran fought off both Champions. Around the World DDT by Kanemaru earns him a 2 count. There was a great near fall where Kanemaru countered a modified gutbuster into a pin attempt. The Champions fought back with some double teams, including a sandwich senton to Kanemaru’s back ala DDT’s Chris Brookes. Kanemaru quickly fought back with the Figure Four. Desperado then tagged in and locked in the Numero Dos, but Phantasmo crawled to the ropes.
El Phantasmo fought back using kick-based attacks to take advantage of his “loaded boot”, getting a near fall after using Desperado’s Pinche Loco. Kanemaru made the save after Phantasmo hit a top rope splash. Phantasmo removed his boot and tried to use it as a weapon. Desperado and Ishimori fought over the boot before Kanemaru used it. Desperado used the boot as a boxing glove and punched Phantasmo in the face before hitting a Pinche Loco to win the match and the titles. The Suzuki-gun duo is now 4-time IWGP Jr Tag Team Champions.
El Desperado pinned El Phantasmo via Pinche Loco (20:28)
This was a good tag match that focused more on storytelling than action in the final stretch. The closing minutes were all centered around the “worked boot” story that Phantasmo has been telling for a long time. I did love how it seemed to pay off, with Desperado delivering a loaded boot to the face by punching Phantasmo with it. It was a little goofy, but Desperado’s selling helped a lot. This wasn’t the best match, and it went a little long, but it felt like a fitting way to write out the Bullet Club team as they travel to the US.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi (c) vs Tetsuya Naito & SANADA vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto
The Heavyweight Tag Team title match at the last Tokyo Dome show was disliked by a lot of fans, myself included, due to its excessive length. I have more hope that this match will be better. Part of that is the place on the card, which suggests a shorter run time. The other factor is that YOSHI-HASHI is here to save the day. I admit that I am higher on him than most people, but the different dynamic with YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto being added to the mix should help this one. That said, these titles haven’t really meant anything for at least a decade if not two. That said, Naito brought out his best burgundy suit for this.
Things started with the teams throwing each other out of the ring and attacking the remaining team with double teams. Eventually, things calmed down with Taichi choking Goto. Yoshi-Hashi made the save and then everyone got involved in choking Taichi. Sabre Jr got beaten down and it looked like we were getting an LIJ and Chaos fist bump for a second.
CHAOS and LIJ isolated Taichi, although each team broke up pinfalls or submissions. Taichi fell victim to the Paradise Lock, and both sets of challengers continued to work together to wear Taichi down until he hit a hook kick and tagged in Sabre Jr. The Brit was fired up, using European uppercuts on Goto. He tried to steal a quick win with a cradle, but LIJ broke that up. Sabre used his technical trickery to fight off the numbers, impressively countering a Goto spin kick into an STA (Stepover Toehold Armbar). The Champions were on top of things until YOSHI-HASHI made the save and the CHAOS team got a near fall with a flipping neckbreaker-Russian leg sweep combination. Naito then tagged in and targeted Sabre Jr.
SANADA and Naito used a series of double teams, but Goto broke up the pin. A Naito Frankensteiner seemed to set up a Destino, but Taichi broke it up and the match broke down as everyone attacked everyone else. Yoshi-Hashi focused on Naito, putting up a good showing. Goto took out both Champions and the CHAOS team hit the GYW, but Sabre Jr broke up the pin. The CHAOS and Dangerous Tekkers took themselves out and SANADA nearly stole the win with a cradle on Yoshi-Hashi. SANADA hit a Plancha on Yoshi-Hashi and the crowd was loving this match. Yoshi-Hashi dodged a dropkick and Goto helped him hit a double team Ushi-Goroshi before Goto hit a Plancha on the others on the outside.
SANADA and Yoshi-Hashi went at it one on one, with Yoshi-Hashi coming close with a Lariat. SANADA hit the TKO thanks to Naito’s help. Sabre Jr and Taichi interfered to try and remove Naito. Yoshi-Hashi nearly had it won with a pair of roll-ups before SANADA locked in the Skull End. The crowd was behind Yoshi-Hashi as he tried to fight back. SANADA released the hold and SANADA hit the Moonsault. Suzuki-gun took out SANADA with a backdrop-Chokeslam straight out of the Holy Demon Army playbook and they won the match after a Black Mephisto on Yoshi-Hashi.
Taichi pinned Yoshi-Hashi via Black Mephisto (26:43)
This completely surpassed my expectations. I usually hate 3-way matches but this was a perfect use of the stipulation. The match felt frantic, energetic and the presence of 3 teams helped avoid bad habits. The match went over 25 minutes, but it didn’t feel like it. While the structure included segments like working over SANADA and the match settling on a final 2, they still managed to make it feel fresh. The presence of Goto and Yoshi-Hashi helped elevate the match, with both the variation and Yoshi-Hashi as an underdog in the final stretch. This might be my favorite New Japan Heavyweight Tag Team Title match for years. It wasn’t perfect but it was my favorite match on the show.
G1 Climax announcement
After this match the G1 Climax blocks were announced:
Zack Sabre Jr
So, the new entrants this year are Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Chase Owens & Great O-Khan. I expected the replacement names to be uninspiring, and that is exactly what we got.
The presence of Tanahashi, Okada, and Cobb will help B block this year, but A block once again looks like the better block. Lots of people see the B block as one of the worst G1 Climax blocks, and even though I am often the high man on Yoshi-Hashi I can see their point.
The man problem is that this feels dull and like more of the same, with each addition except for Great O-Khan feeling like a downgrade. POST Wrestling will be covering each show of the G1. I will be handling A block and at least those reviews will have the usual spoiler-free recommendations.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: Robbie Eagles (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu Takahashi may have won the only singles match between these two, but Eagles came into the match as the new champion after a much-loved match against El Desperado.
The match started at a fast pace, with Eagles seeming to have the speed advantage. They teased big moves early on with a flurry of counters before Eagles anticipated a drop-down and hit a knee drop to the leg. That was followed by a Tope con Hilo. Eagles worked over the leg in the ring with a series of stomps. Takahashi fought back with chops, so Eagles replied with kicks to the leg. Eventually, Takahashi hit a flying head scissors to buy himself some time. Takahashi then hit a running dropkick off the apron, but his leg was still bothering him. Eagles escaped a DVD into the corner, but Takahashi managed to throw him into the corner with a belly-to-belly suplex. Eagles used a 619 to the leg and a springboard dropkick to the knee before locking in the Ron Miller Special. This time Takahashi managed to reach the ropes.
Eagles followed that up with an Asai DDT for a 2 count. A flurry of kicks saw Eagles go for the Shiranui, but Takahashi finally hit the DVD into the corner. Takahashi followed that with a sunset flip powerbomb to the outside, which led to a count-out tease. When Eagles got back in the ring, he was flattened with a Lariat for a 2 count. Eagles escaped a Time Bomb, but he ate two superkicks instead. After being dominated by Takahashi’s big bombs, Eagles tried to win with some roll-ups before Takahashi hit the Time Bomb for a near fall. Takahashi hit a Lariat and a sickening reverse DDT, but Eagles escaped the Time Bomb 2. Eagles was too beaten down to rely on his athleticism, so he went back to the leg.
A backpack stunner off the 2nd rope only earned Eagles a near fall due to a slow cover. Eagles hit the 450 splash to the leg and locked in the Ron Miller special. Takahashi nearly reached the ropes, but Eagles dragged him back to the center of the ring. Eagles released the hold, stomped the leg, and reapplied the hold which forced Takahashi to tap out.
After the match El Desperado challenged for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title, putting the IWGP Jr Heavyweight tag team titles on the line to get the match. Desperado was selling his hand from the loaded book punch. Eagles got an ovation after the match.
Robbie Eagles submitted Hiromu Takahashi via Ron Miller special (24:07)
This was a good match, but I also found it a little disappointing. Takahashi’s leg selling was almost nonexistent between the 2 Ron Miller specials, and the pacing felt a little slow at times. There was a lot of action, but it didn’t really click for me for some reason. It might be that I found the counter sequences a little too stale or maybe I didn’t appreciate Takahashi’s bomb-based approach.
I’m sure that other people will enjoy this action-packed match more than I did. The finishing sequence around the Ron Miller special was good and the crowd seemed to enjoy the match, but I preferred Eagles’ match against Desperado.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs EVIL
Shingo Takagi has been New Japan’s MVP in 2021. He has brought an aura of stability to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, and he will feature a lot in the discussion for the 2021 match of the year. EVIL is very much the opposite of Takagi: His title reign and partnership with Dick Togo was probably a not insignificant factor in turning away Western fans. The announcement of EVIL as the next challenger after Takagi’s excellent match against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the Tokyo Dome badly eroded the optimism that match had managed to generate.
EVIL was escorted to the ring by the House of Torture: Yujiro Takahashi, Dick Togo & Sho. The crowd was hot as the bell rang, so of course EVIL left the ring immediately. Then Sho got on the apron with a chair. When Takagi approached him, the chair was so scared that it lost its seat, but EVIL took advantage and applied a headlock. When Takagi applied a headlock of his own the crowd got excited. They were clearly fully invested in Takagi. EVIL used a series of chops, but Takagi floored his opponent with a double chop. On the outside, Takagi threw EVIL around the guardrails. Dick Togo interfered but Takagi anticipated EVIL’s ambush. Sadly, he didn’t anticipate Sho’s, and the House of Torture turned the tide for EVIL.
Yet again EVIL threw Takagi into the ring announcer’s table. When the announcer got back to his seat EVIL did it again. EVIL followed that with his usual chair spot on the outside. When Takagi returned to the ring he was thrown into an exposed turnbuckle before being thrown outside where he was attacked by the House of Torture. EVIL’s buddies again came into play during an abdominal stretch. A Fisherman Buster earned EVIL a 2 count. Takagi was again thrown into the exposed turnbuckle, but he fought back with a DDT.
Unsurprisingly the House of Torture got involved once more, but Takagi fought them off and threw EVIL into the ring announcer’s table. Takagi seated both EVIL and Togo at the table and rammed Takahashi and Sho into them in a great, cathartic spot. Referee Red Shoes Unno then forced the House of Torture to leave, threatening to end the match by DQ. Takagi then fist-bumped the ring announcer to applause.
Back in the ring, Takagi hit EVIL with the Noshigami and a Wheelbarrow German Suplex. A sliding Lariat followed for a 2 count. EVIL fought back with his referee-assisted Magic Killer, but the crowd got behind Takagi yet again. This was followed by a Superplex and a Scorpion Deathlock from EVIL. Takagi reached the ropes and the Darkness Falls only earned a 2 count for EVIL. They teased their finishers and Takagi got thrown into the exposed turnbuckle. The Champion fought through the pain and nailed EVIL with a Pumping Bomber. Takagi hit EVIL with a flurry of elbows before he went for the Made in Japan. Dick Togo tried to interfere, but Takagi still hit the move. Sadly, Togo pulled the referee out of the ring and tried to garotte Takagi. The Champion was too strong but then Takahashi hit him in the face with his cane and hit the Pimp Juice DDT. Luckily for everyone, Takagi kicked out.
Dick Togo came back in with his garotte, but BUSHI made the save by taking out EVIL, Togo & Takahashi. He missed Sho, who hit him with a German Suplex. Sho then hit Takagi with a Chair shot to the head and went for the Shock Arrow. Tetsuya Naito & SANADA finally came out and cleaned house, although Naito was hit with a low blow. Takagi avoided a belt shot from EVIL and avoided the following low blow and EVIL STO attempt. The crowd was firmly behind Takagi, and he smashed through EVIL with a Pumping Bomber. Takagi then hit the Last of the Dragon and pinned EVIL to retain.
Shingo Takagi pinned EVIL via Last of the Dragon (30:20)
Listening to this on the Japanese commentary track, this was the hottest New Japan crowd that I can remember for ages. They were behind Takagi 110%, clapping for every bit of offense from the Champion. If you are going to watch this, I recommend that you use the Japanese commentary version to get the full experience. The English dub had a much quieter crowd due to the English commentators being in another location.
Yes, this was a 30-minute EVIL match. Yes, it was full of interference and EVIL’s frustrating tropes. Yes, the finish had a ref bump which felt like it was 5 minutes. But this was easily my favorite EVIL main event match since his turn last year. I put that firmly on the shoulders of Takagi and a ridiculously hot clap crowd. The crowd wanted Takagi to overcome the odds, and that is what he did. He just oozed a Champion’s aura out of his pores. They did a good job of having big spots to lift the crowd, like the Takagi ring announcers table spot and LIJ making the save.
This was still full of the many flaws of EVILs matches. It was still too long and had too much interference, but I was honestly buzzing after this match because it made me realize that Takagi has become the man in New Japan. Usually, I wouldn’t recommend this, but I think it has some value just to get a feel for how over Takagi is.
The last show was a good example of New Japan’s current situation. You can easily say the same here. New Japan’s biggest bright spot in 2021 has been Shingo Takagi, and this match showed just how over he is as I watched it with Japanese commentary. The main event was more of EVIL’s usual bullshit, but it gave a little hope that Takagi will be the man if the company trusts him by the time that clap crowds become a thing of the past.
In-ring, my highlight was the Heavyweight Tag Team title match, which surprised me. It felt like a fantastically frantic and entertaining match and a good way to use the 3-way stipulation to freshen things up. Aside from that, there were no bad matches, but the Jr Heavyweight title match was not as good as Robbie Eagles vs Desperado. Yet again, you could call Stardom one of the highlights of the show.
While I gained some hope thanks to the Takagi match, a lot of that hope and goodwill was lost by the G1 Climax lineup feeling stale and unexciting. Interest in the tournament seems to be at its lowest since 2013 when it first became possible to stream the tournament. Although COVID was a significant factor, I feel that history will not look kindly on the business and booking decisions of New Japan in 2021.