The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
Harder, Better, Cleaner, Stronger
Honor Rising, Japan 2017: Night 1 (New Japan Pro Wrestling/Ring of Honor)
February 26th, 2017, Tokyo, Japan
Several times a year, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor act on their ongoing partnership to put on big, cross-promotional shows in Japan and the US. Since 2016, Honor Rising has been the only one of these shows to actually take place in Japan. This year’s event was mostly made up of traditional, six-, and eight-man tag matches, but it did still feature title matches for the ROH World Championship, NEVER Openweight Championship, and NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship.
Honor Rising is largely used to showcase ROH’s talent to the Japanese audience, and as an opportunity to have their roster face off against opponents they wouldn’t usually get to work with in the States, which makes it kind of a filler show between The New Beginning and the New Japan Cup events. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a fun show, but it didn’t really have stakes, and there were some questionable booking choices (Dalton Castle deserves so much more than ROH gives him).
The highlight of the first night was easily the return of Kenny Omega, who teamed up with Bullet Clubmate Adam Cole (BAYBAY!) against ROH staples The Briscoe Brothers. While there were rumors that Kenny was going to move on to another promotion after his contract expired, it was pretty clear that his feud with Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship was far from over.
Even before his music hit, the crowd was roaring with chants for Kenny, who acted more like a face than he normally would, and greeted several fans with a “too sweet.” The crowd was super excited to see him return, and he clearly played to them in the same way that Naito does despite also being a heel. NJPW has gotten very interesting recently with how they portray their characters in shades of grey rather than by having them shout “love me/hate me” at the audience.
The match itself started with Adam Cole also playing to the crowd by shouting his catchphrase, “Adam Cole, Baby!” several times which frustrated both Mark Briscoe and Kenny, who tagged himself in once he realized Cole was stalling. Kenny played the hits throughout the match while adding some fun twists to his standard formula. At one point both Briscoes ended up tossed over the barricade into the crowd, and Kenny used this opportunity to set up a lighting quick moonsault off of the railing like it was nothing. Kenny came off as dangerous as he has been in recent months but was actually hampered by Cole, who was more interested in firing up the crowd, causing him to miss several spots and leaving Kenny open for counterattacks.
This led to several close calls for the Bullet Club duo, due to the impeccable teamwork and ferocity of The Briscoes. I may not be a huge fan of their “rough and tumble redneck” gimmick, but The Briscoes can work a good, fluid tag match when the heat is on. Despite being caught out of position a few times, Kenny proved too determined to eat a pin and helped set Cole up for the three-count on Mark Briscoe with The Last Shot.
This wasn’t even close to on par with that incredible Wrestle Kingdom main event, but it was still a fun match. The funny part is that there wasn’t much tension between the two teams, but rather between Kenny and Cole. Not only was this apparent in Cole’s ego-stroking, but after the match Kenny cut a promo about how 2017 would be his year, only to get his mic snatched by Cole who proclaimed that umm, actually it’s his year. Kenny laughed this off by saying the crowd doesn’t understand what he’s saying (which got a huge laugh) and bid the crowd goodnight to universal cheers. As he left, Cole huffed and puffed after accepting a reluctant handshake. I’m not sure if there was more to this or not, but I’m wondering if we’re going to see some Bullet Club infighting in the future.
Extra High Spots: Dalton Castle entering with Tanahashi and Taguchi dressed up as The Boys was an amazing moment (pictured above), and showed what NJPW’s former Ace is willing to do to help put over young talent. He did look like he was having a lot of fun, though.
– Kyle Herr
Peacockin’ and Crowd-Poppin’
Honor Rising, Japan 2017: Night 2 (New Japan Pro Wrestling/Ring of Honor)
February 27th, 2017, Tokyo, Japan
As Kyle mentioned in his write-up of Night 1, Honor Rising often struggles to establish stakes, largely because it’s a show that’s home to a lot of one-off matchups from across promotions. Ideally, strong ring work will win out, as was the case in the ten-man tag match that pitted Los Ingobernables de Japón against Dalton Castle, Delirious, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi and Tiger Mask.
LIJ and Dalton Castle are two (six?) of the hottest acts in wrestling right now, and that was clearly on display with every interaction between Castle and the fast-rising heel stable. With no disrespect meant to Jushin Thunder Liger, Taguchi or Tiger Mask (and mostly just confusion directed at Delirious), my focus definitely got a lot stronger every time Castle was in the middle of the action. His flamboyant, ridiculous antics (such as eating Okada Bucks, like he did at last year’s Death Before Dishonor) pair well with fantastic athleticism to pretty consistently generate good, fun wrestling. In addition to some silly spots with Taguchi (best known for bashing opponents with his butt, or his “Funky Weapon,” as his gear titles it), Castle had some great back-and-forth with several members of LIJ. The match opened with strong grappling with SANADA, who is arguably the perfect straight man, culminating in Castle wriggling free and assuming his signature peacock pose. SANADA leaned into the fun without breaking character, putting Castle in a pretzel and stomping him. I wish SANADA/Castle had gotten a singles match slot, to be honest—or really, any LIJ member vs. Castle, though Takahashi vs. Castle may be too sensual for any of us to handle.
Elsewhere in the card, we had Ring of Honor’s Punishment Martinez squaring off against Hirooki Goto in one of the night’s two singles matches. Unfortunately, Martinez is perhaps a little green for this big of a stage, despite ROH’s apparent dedication to pushing him. The lumbering, grim-faced, growling rookie seems to want to be a cross between SANADA and WWE’s Braun Strowman, but he just doesn’t have the chops—yet. Braun took some time to get where he is, too, though, so there may still be hope. However, I can’t for the life of me figure out why this guy’s getting any sort of push over Castle at this stage in his development. (That is, unless Vince McMahon is secretly pulling the strings; Martinez is 6’7” and has a mean look.) Martinez does pull off a nice over-the-top-rope dive, but other than that, there’s not much to write home about in that matchup despite the spotlight it gets.
The other major story from Honor Rising: Night 2 is Bullet Club’s ongoing evolution. Adam Cole was in the only other singles match of the night, defending his ROH title against Yoshi-Hashi, who’s been otherwise kept as a largely mid-card performer. Cole struggled against Yoshi-Hashi (though ultimately retained), much to his frustration, preventing the narrative from becoming a clear-cut case of a strong Cole wresting the Bullet Club reins from a weakened Kenny Omega. Cole was noticeably absent in the post-match celebration when Omega, The Young Bucks and Cody (né Rhodes) won over CHAOS, and he was also missing in the club’s post-show promo.
Extra High Spots: Other than every single Dalton Castle moment, there was the Bullet Club’s post-show promo, in which Kenny seemed to be directly addressing Kyle’s comments about The Cleaner’s face-like behavior: “We are The Elite. We are the best on the planet. There is no good guy; there is no bad guy.” Kenny claims to have transcended the face/heel dynamic, because he—and his club—are just that good. I’ve been so high on LIJ for the past months, but now I’m actually invested in where the Bullet Club goes beyond a deep appreciation for Kenny Omega.
– Cameron DeOrdio
Heels’ Night Out
205 Live (WWE)
February 28th, 2017, St. Paul, MN
We’re now 14 weeks into WWE’s latest ongoing experiment, which gives the company’s new cruiserweight division (male performers weighing in at 205lbs or lower) an hour of live internet TV to show off their stuff. The division still gets ten or fifteen minutes to themselves on Monday Night Raw, but that’s mostly an advertisement for 205 Live—and by extension, the WWE Network—and a way to justify including Cruiserweight Championship matches in the red brand’s PPVs. For all intents and purposes, 205 is its own, fourth WWE brand, and is booked in total isolation from the rest of the company.
The permanent cruiserweight roster is just over a dozen men, which means it’s been very difficult to keep everyone in the division looking credible. Neville is an absolute monster and The Brian Kendrick remains over despite dropping the title months ago, but the heels who arrived without previous main roster glory have mostly been sacrificed in order to build up babyfaces like Jack Gallagher, Mustafa Ali, and Cedric Alexander. And it’s worked—Gallagher is a popular novelty babyface, Alexander has been built into an obvious future contender for the belt, and Mustafa Ali is a rising star—but the drawback has been that the division’s heels are starting to lose their menace. Ariya Daivari was Jack Gallagher’s punching bag for a month. Drew Gulak’s been jobbed out to pretty much the entire division. It’s time to turn the tables.
Luckily, the bookers of 205 Live have recognized the issue, and chose to give Daivari, Gulak, and Tony Nese a moment to shine in a low-stakes six-man tag with Ali, Alexander, and inaugural champion T.J. Perkins. Six-man tags in WWE are often messy and don’t accomplish much but chew up TV time, but this match used each of the participants very well. Drew Gulak comes across as the seasoned submission specialist that he is, locking TJP in a modified Canadian Backbreaker that looks absolutely excruciating. Daivari works the match like a veteran heel, slow and methodical. And Nese ends the fight by hitting TJP with his Running Nese, the most established finishing move in his team’s arsenal. All of this is accomplished while allowing Mustafa Ali (who’s being built up) to get all of his signature spots in, and for TJP to absorb most of the damage (he’s a former champ and he can take it) so that Cedric Alexander continues to look strong (his turn in the title picture should be coming right up).
This was an admittedly weak episode of 205 Live on the whole, but this match demonstrates the roster’s ability to tell compelling, forward-thinking stories even under less than ideal circumstances.
Extra High Spots: The first match of the night was between Noam Dar and Lince Dorado, memorable mostly for Alicia Fox (currently Dar’s kayfabe girlfriend) receiving a bouquet of roses at ringside, one of which she proceeds to eat. Fox has continued to make the most of her new, more limited role in the company by leaning into her character’s instability, consistently stealing the spotlight with her willingness to contrast her outer beauty with inner “what the fuck?”
– Dylan Roth
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