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!
Eye of the Tiger (Mask)
NJPW 45th Anniversary Show (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
March 6th, 2017, Tokyo, Japan
With forty-five years as the King of Sports under their belt and a new American territory on the way, NJPW is at the top of its game and not showing any signs of slowing down. To celebrate this, Japan’s biggest promotion put together an exciting card featuring several title matches and some of their biggest stars.
While this show was booked a lot like the Honor Rising shows, in that it wasn’t tied too deeply into any storylines and was largely made up of one-off matches, there were still a few potentially lasting changes that arose from this event. The most notable shake up involved Zack Sabre Jr. taking Katsuyori Shibata’s RPW British Heavyweight Championship and aligning himself with Suzuki-Gun in the process. If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of ZSJ, but I won’t deny that the guy is undeniably talented and the perfect shot in the arm that a middling stable like Suzuki-Gun could use right now after their explosive return and subsequent crushing defeats.
We also had an amazing match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship between Los Ingobernables de Japon’s new golden boy, the always impressive and very horny Hiromu Takahasi and the less horny, veteran star Ryusuke Taguchi and his Funky Weapon (his ass). These two really brought it in a way that I didn’t fully expect. I assumed that this wasn’t going to be a match that resulted in a title change because Takahashi is a rising star and Taguchi is one of those wrestlers that serves as placeholder challenger, but I’d be lying if I said he can’t still go. Taguchi worked Takahashi’s ankle like crazy throughout the whole match, which even led to a near-tap moment in the final stretch. I actually thought that this may have been a real deal turnover with how convincingly Takahashi sold the submission. I enjoyed this match so much that it’s actually tied for my match of the show. I know, unprecedented for this column but I couldn’t choose just one.
What is this tied with, you ask? Well, if you follow me on Twitter, you know I have been excited about the main event of this show for weeks, in which IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada faces Tiger Mask W, a real-life anime superhero portrayed under the mask by former Junior Heavyweight Champion Kota Ibushi in a non-title match. If you happened to see any of the previous Tiger Mask W matches, you’re probably aware that they have mostly been a promotional tool for the ongoing anime series, but have still been fun to watch. What made this one special was that it was a straight-up match with no clear cut outcome, as it was both non-title and Tiger Mask was also wearing a modified version of his mask so that he could wrestle at 100%, something his more show-accurate mask inhibited.
As the match began, there was a huge “Tiger! Tiger!” chant from the crowd, and these chants continued to pop up throughout the match, which I loved. Okada may be the face of the company, but Tiger Mask is a superhero brought to life. Okada did a great job of maintaining a cocky attitude and even played the part of a heel in this match by viciously stomping on his opponent several times and sneering at the ref and crowd as he did it. He wore an expression of anger and frustration rather than one of endurance and heart in the final moments of the match, which really cemented the crowd behind Tiger Mask.
Those final moments really sold the match, too. After more than twenty minutes, Okada was clearly fed up with this opponent that shouldn’t have been able to push him to his limits, and goes for a top rope Tombstone to put him away, but this plan is countered only to leave him open to take a Super Tiger Driver which nearly cost him the match. After recovering, he hits Tiger Mask with two Rainmakers. But as he goes for a third, Tiger Mask counters out, giving a great “can he do it?” moment before taking a suplex followed by a third Rainmaker for the pin. I had high hopes for a fun match and this one delivered. While I can’t say that I expect Tiger Mask W to return for another big match like this in the future, I’m hoping that it’s not his last time in NJPW.
Extra High Spots: To be honest I kind of worked all the big moments into the above. Roppongi Vice did a good job of helping Taichi & Kanemaru look a little less terrible, I guess, but they’re still the worst possible team that they could have lost their tag titles too. That alone could be considered an achievement.
– Kyle Herr
Life in the SlowLane
March 5th, 2017, Milwaukee, WI
Whereas Smackdown Live used their designated PPV Elimination Chamber as a means to establish its particular brand’s slate of matches for WrestleMania, RAW took a bizarre path where most of its matches were already established following the Royal Rumble, which makes this PPV seem…superfluous. Not to say that FastLane didn’t have any high points, but the PPV was mostly a dull, padded out affair that didn’t really do anything new even as it appeared to be making off-the-wall choices.
Let’s start with the good. The match of the night was clearly the Cruiserweight Title match between champion Neville and (Gentleman) Jack Gallagher. The often criticized Cruiserweight Division obviously has something to prove, as both competitors gave us a high-flying match that showcased the best of their abilities. Neville did his flippy-doos and Gallagher broke out his best submission moves as well as his brawler fighting style. Neville won with his signature Red Arrow and retained the title in an incredibly satisfying match that stood out from the rest of the card.
The rest of the show is a bit of a chore. The opener of Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe wasn’t a bad match per se, but it also wasn’t anything too exciting with the predictable end result of Sami losing. The tag team championship match was absolutely pointless, and I really need The Revival to come take down those clowns from the Bullet Club or whomever wins the titles at WrestleMania because the tag team division on RAW right now is dire. The much-hyped Reigns vs. Strowman match, while fun, left me a bit cold. The controversy around Reigns’ build-up has been talked to death elsewhere, but it’s hard to not feel a wave of 2006-2008 John Cena vibes. It’s just disappointing when Reigns yet again wins against someone who maybe deserved it more. I know he needs to look strong to face Undertaker, but I feel as if Reigns has more than earned that shot and this decision just ends up hurting Strowman in the long run. In a vacuum, this match is awesome, but in 2017 it just doesn’t cut it for me.
You could make the same argument for the Women’s Championship match, which was also good but just didn’t stick the landing. Bayley and Charlotte just don’t have the chemistry that Sasha and Charlotte did and that’s totally fine, but this is a frequent case of WWE trying to make lightning strike twice. Both are incredible wrestlers but much like Becky, I think Bayley is more compelling on the title hunt and I definitely don’t understand breaking Charlotte’s PPV win streak especially before WrestleMania. And that’s the last real match of the show, because as we all predicted, Goldberg came out and squashed Kevin Owens to win the Universal Title. Look, I love Goldberg and it’s fun watching him take out Brock Lesnar in a matter of seconds. I didn’t expect a match here, but this is just insulting to fans of Kevin Owens and fans of wrestling in general. It’s not fair and it’s all in service of setting up a singles match for a lesser title for Owens and to give more legitimacy to a main event at WrestleMania I don’t care about. This is a WCW PPV ending and it’s dumb and I hate it.
Extra High Spots: One shockingly good match later in the evening involved Big Show, of all people. The New and Improved Big Show 2017 has returned with a newfound determination to be loved again, and it’s working like a charm. His match against Braun Strowman a few RAWs back was actually amazing to watch, and at FastLane he had an extremely solid match against Rusev. It’s nice to see the big guy back at it again in the ring with a new fire in his belly (and abs!) and it’s equally as refreshing to see Rusev have a real challenge again. Oh, and (Handsome) Rusev has a fresh new haircut to boot!
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