CIRCUIT 2009 NEW JAPAN ISM on 2/15/09
review by Mike Campbell

Hey, I finally got some wrestling reviewing done. Fifty-hour work weeks aren’t going to keep me down (right away)! NJPW and TNA are still working together (which has to be a record for TNA) and that means Beer! Money!

Jyushin “Thunder” Lyger.... joins Jerry Lynn and Ricky Steamboat as legends who’ve still ‘got it’ in the year 2009
Yuji Nagata.... is now the one who’s reigning in goofy opponents instead of the one being reigned in
Hiroshi Tanahashi.... proves his worth as the young ace by continuing to bring the smart work to his matches


Yujiro’s new bleached blonde look reaffirms my position that Takayama is the only wrestler in Japan who looks good with that hair color. There’s really nothing to say about this match. It’s a ten minute choreographed spotfest, full of ‘surprise’ attacks when someone seems to be in position to hit a big move. There’s nothing as far as any discernable story to tell or theme that gets developed. The only one who stands out as a weak link is Ishikari, because he’s always been a jobber, no matter what group he was working for. Indeed, Ishikari drops the fall to Naito after the Stardust press, and Naito was the only one who looked to be in serious trouble when Jado and Gedo isolated him and Jado stretched him out with the crossface. They’ve at least got their timing all down, and it’s got some good dives and train wreck spots to keep the crowd hot, so this does its primary job as an opener, but that’s the only praise to give this. I know NJ and TNA are buddies, but NJ really doesn’t need to be aping TNA’s multi-man X-Division spotfests.


Well, this has slightly more structure than the previous match, it at least looks like a match, with people on the apron and tagging and stuff. But the work is dull and meandering for the most part, it’s a lot of brawling, which is to be expected from GBH, but there’s nothing other than the fact that it’s GBH beating on Inoue to make anyone get behind him. GBH doesn’t really bring anything either, they don’t do anything during the match that’s especially heelish, like cheap shots or working over a body part, their content just to haphazardly throw punches. The finish is a bit fun, with Honma having the tables turned on him, and being stuck in a 4-on-1 situation, after Inoue was just in that predicament. The pop for Chosyu’s lariat is huge, much more than Wataru’s Oracion Flame that he uses to win. The GBH chair attack on Wataru afterwards is the best thing about the match.


New Japan gets a taste of Beer! Money! And yes, Storm and Roode do their shout out, and then the play by play guy does it too! Honestly, that was the best thing about the match. Chono is too broken down to be of much use, so he just makes a couple of quick appearances to throw some Yakuza kicks and then take a bump and gets out of there. Beer Money is always entertaining, but they weren’t in any place to do too much. They’re a bit like GBH was in the eight-man tag, with them favoring punches, but they also manages to throw in some variety to break up the monotony. The only big negative was Storm’s poor application of the crossface, when Jado can do a submission hold better, then you probably shouldn’t be doing that hold. That leaves AKIRA as the standout. Granted, that’s due to process of elimination than AKIRA being the best, but AKIRA does bring some good stuff, his bumping and selling for Beer Money is good, and he’s smart about using his quickness and taking to the air in order to keep them on their toes. Like Ishikari, he was the obvious one to be laying down, which happens after the DWI, but at least he got to look good before doing so.


This is the most interesting match involving Tiger Mask that I’ve seen in forever. Of course, Tiger Mask doesn’t have anything to do with it. Lyger’s twentieth anniversary seems to have reignited his grumpiness. Lyger looks positively SUWA-like the way he stands over the prone champion and pelts him with repeated slaps to the face. Lyger is also good at keeping the match moving. He’s always got a good transition ready, such as reversing the whip into the corner and then hitting the charging shotei. I’m not sure which is more astounding, that late 40's Lyger is still capable of such watchable work, or that Lyger in his late 40's is spanking Tiger Mask. The only mark against Lyger is his treatment of the brainbuster. He does one on the floor only to allow himself a change to pull off a plancha. He hits another one much later in the ring, and then promptly does another one before deciding to attempt a pin.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, who’s arguably the junior ace of the promotion (as unfortunate as that may be) shouldn’t be outclassed like this. He’s perfectly adequate at putting over the beating from Lyger, but that shouldn’t be the biggest compliment to be giving him. He doesn’t seem to understand how to transition when he wants to take over, it doesn’t matter what Lyger has just done, he’ll just pop up, hook Lyger’s arms and get a near fall with the Tiger suplex. The only time Tiger Mask goes on offense in a somewhat believable manner is Lyger’s missed splash, thanks to how Lyger put it over. Aside from the Tiger Mask gimmick’s marketability, I’m at a loss for why exactly he’s the top junior dog, the only time the crowd really seems to care about him is when he hits the Destroy suplex and pins Lyger, and Lyger got a bigger pop than that just for a small package.


What happened to Nagata? Instead of being the guy dragging down matches with goofy stuff, he’s trying to save the match by keeping Goto’s goofy stuff to a minimum. This has a very welcome level of hate and intensity to it, but it almost feels like it’s a bit too hateful. This sort of intensity is usually reserved for pairings like Tenzan/Iizuka, not something as simple as a Top Guy vs. Tippy Top Guy match. As nice as the intensity is, their work isn’t always up to snuff, their best work lies in their limb work, Goto working the arm, and Nagata working the knee. The limbs don’t play a central role in the match though, so they’re not much more than early and mid match filler. Nagata’s is clearly the better of the two limb-work periods, due to his ability to heel things up. The only remarkable thing from Goto was the hurricanrana into armbar, which was creative, but the execution was mediocre at best, nowhere nearly as clean as the Nagata Sliding D counter.

Watching Nagata try to reign in Goto is a sight to behold indeed, it’s nowhere near as impressive as it was in 2003 when Taue was dragging Nagata to one of the best matches in NOAH history, but it’s still quite a feat. Goto tries, several times, to make a comeback via Hulk-Up, but Nagata never lets him get to that point. Nagata will be firing off kicks to the midsection that Goto ignores, and Nagata will go back to his leg and Goto will go right back down. Goto also tries a superhuman comeback, whilst in the Nagata Lock, and tries to break the hold by slapping Yuji. Nagata returns the slaps to no avail, so he just grabs Goto’s leg and cranks back on the hold. Nagata can’t control everything though, he’s powerless to stop Goto from doing things like his trademark fireman’s carry drop onto his knee (the one Nagata had been working over, of course, and not selling it. Nagata even tried to set an example by selling his arm while he had on the Nagata Lock, despite there really not being a reason to.

Between this and the Lyger match, it appears that it’s piss on the brainbuster night in Tokyo, Nagata whips it out several times as nothing more than a piece of mid-level offense. That’s not nearly as bad a Goto trying to blow off an Exploder from the second rope, and Nagata punts him for trying to do that. Nagata does show some good respect to his backdrop, when Goto kicks out of the regular one, he hits a big kick to the head to daze him, and then the backdrop hold keeps him down. I shudder to imagine what 2003 or 2004 Nagata might have done. Between this and the Tanaka matches, I’m starting to look forward to watching Yuji Nagata again.

MISTICO © vs. MEPHISTO (CMLL World Welterweight Title)

I’m already thankful that Mistico only works NJ once in a blue moon. Aside from a few sloppy spots, this isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly remarkable, other than the novelty of having two luchadores having a one fall title match in New Japan. At first, it seems like this is going to be a less-frustrating version of the opening 4-way, with their prime goal being to show off Mistico’s flying, and seeing how many times he can catch Mephisto with a head scissors. Mistico seems to hurt his knee on a plancha, which slows him down a bit. That allows Mephisto to get in some offense, including a sweet quebrada, with Mistico’s bump on the ramp and subsequent selling to be great, but that’s the highlight of the match. Mephisto attempts the Splash Mountain off the second rope and that, shockingly, gets countered into a hurricanrana. Mistico quickly finishes him off with two attempts a La Mistica after their first attempt went sour.


The best compliment to give this match is that Angle doesn’t go crazy with his penchant for throwing out big spots and suplexes that mean nothing. He wins by simply outwrestling Bernard. That said, this still suffers from Bernard’s uninspired work carrying the bulk of things, and from the unnecessary overbooking that TNA is known for. It seems like this is going to be hot and heavy, with Bernard having attacked Angle on 1/4, and it’s rather intense the first few minutes, and then Bernard gets his control segment and this starts sinking fast. The idea of Bernard working over Angle’s back to soften him up for the Bernard Buster (Baldo Bomb) isn’t bad in theory, but it’s painfully boring in execution because he doesn’t do anything very interesting, he can only hit Angle in the back so many times with a forearm. It sure didn’t help that Angle’s comeback started after he got his knees up on Bernard’s Vader bomb, which would have been a great offensive weapon. It says a lot when the most interesting thing that came out of Bernard working him over was the doubt of Angle’s ability to do the Angle slam and German suplex. Angle doesn’t get a whole lot of offense, but he makes it count, which is the key thing, he’s got a couple of nice counters to get the ankle lock, the Angle slam, German suplex, and moonsault.

Karl Anderson’s interference by itself isn’t entirely bad and neither is the idea of Chono coming out to even the odds, but it doesn’t stop there. Angle gets Bernard in the ankle lock after a nice counter to the Bernard driver and gets the tap out, but the ref misses it because Anderson and Chono are brawling on the floor. While the ref deals with Chono, Anderson and Bernard try to double team and it backfires on Bernard, the ref turns his attention to dealing with Anderson and it allows Chono to sneak in and give a Shining Yakuza kick to Bernard, which leads to the Angle slam and ankle lock for the win. Yes, it can be fun to watch a heel gets his comeuppance, and it’s not out of character for Chono to do that, but a decorated wrestler like Angle, which is how NJ is presenting him, shouldn’t need that kind of help. Going strictly by Angle’s performance, this was good, but factoring in Bernard and some of the booking, and it takes a nosedive.


It’s too bad that this didn’t happen on a TNA PPV, if it had then so many people (myself included) wouldn’t have had to watch this horror. There are three positive things I can say about this match: Devon doesn’t attempt the diving headbutt this time. It’s got a sick spot where Yano goes ballistic and takes a chair to a ladder in the corner, which Devon is on the other side of. Team 3D is cool enough to bring out a table with “GBH” spray painted on it. Other than those three things, this is the same sort of match that they had in the Tokyo Dome, only with Bubba hogging most of the match so Devon can’t do anything to try to make the challengers look good. After the overly-long in-crowd brawl the champions bring in the plunder and this turns into something out of ECW with a multitude of weapon shots, most of which mean nothing. Team 3D manage to work in their ususal spots, like the headbutt to the groin, and the predictable powerbomb counter to the ten-count punches, and, of course, the 3D to Makabe takes this home. This loss led to the Makabe/Yano breakup, and the formation of CHAOS, so at least one good thing came from it’s existence.


Given Tanahashi’s back-to-back losses to Nakamura in January and March of 2008, this was the obvious first title defense for Tanahashi. The IWGP Title isn’t the only thing at stake here, the winner is also the undisputed young ace of New Japan, which both men (as well as Kenzo Suzuki, Blue Wolf, Katsuyori Shibata, and Hirooki Goto) had been hyped as for five long years, and they’re finally ready to become just that. This has all the makings to be a classic, but they don’t quite hit the mark. The lack of a story is really evident early on, the first ten or so minutes are completely self contained, it feels a lot like the early portions of a 2/3 falls match, where they’re just feeling each other out. It seems like they’re going somewhere when Tanahashi works the leg over, especially when he gets a bit aggressive with the knee buster on the floor and the Dragon screw into the ropes, but it’s a false start. The knee is never a real focal point, although there are a few spots that recognize that Tanahashi had been targeting it, and Nakamura’s selling of it is inconsistent at best.

The lack of story hurts, but it’s by no means crippling, Tanahashi and Nakamura come through huge in delivering smart moments, and exchanges that give off the epic match vibe that they’re going for. The elbow and forearm exchanges lose their appeal after a while, but it’s their facials and reactions that tell the story. There’s also a great segment where Nakamura shows his mat expertise by countering Tanahashi’s Dragon sleeper into an armbar, and then when Tanahashi goes for the escape, Nakamura turns that into the Triangle choke. But Tanahashi gets to show his own skills on the mat with a counter to an ugly Texas Cloverleaf, which works back to the knee, and he also ‘wins’ the exchange by countering Nakamura’s armbar counter to a cradle. It’s also nice to see them both protecting their offense to some degree, the Landslide counters from Tanahashi are a very welcome sight, and when Nakamura does finally connect and Tanahashi has it in him to kick out, Nakamura doesn’t risk devaluing the move by simply doing it again. The same goes for the Sling Blade. This is the first Tanahashi match in what seems like forever that he doesn’t do it so many times that the near falls have no heat. Tanahashi works in a great throwback to his win on 1/4 and Nakamura’s loss on 10/13 when he surprises Nakamura with the jumping Frankensteiner, but he couldn’t get the legs hooked, which allowed Nakamura to kick out.

The finishing stretch is a bit on the short side, but even that is free of overkill and goofiness. Tanahashi dodges a kick and does the Dragon suplex/German suplex combo for a near fall, and when Nakamura starts to show signs of life, Tanahashi takes him out at the knees, and hits his two splashes to put him away. Honestly, as disappointing as it is for me to say, this is a bit like Mutoh/Tanahashi from the Dome, both matches had Tanahashi’s smart spots and work as its main positives, but while the Dome match was dragged down by their storytelling being too repetitive and drawn out, this was dragged down by a lack of a story. There’s enough good, and smart, work to make this match of the night, but that should be a given, and it should be the best match of the show by a greater margin than it is. ***1/4

Conclusion: Aside from the tag titles match, there’s nothing that’s outright ‘bad.’ However, there’s quite a bit that is disappointing and doesn’t meet expectations, the main event included, but its plain to see that there is an honest effort being made by some of the workers (Lyger, Nagata, Angle) and that’s what makes the difference to me, I’ll give this a mild recommendation.

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