By Anish Vishwakoti, ProWrestling.net Staffer, (@AVX_9001)
Dot Net staffer Anish Vishwakoti attended NJPW’s Fighting Spirit Unleashed in Long Beach, California at the Walter Pyramid on Sunday as a credentialed media member and wrote the following report on the in-person experience.
The show started off with a dark match between two of the NJPW LA Dojo’s trainees. Before the match itself, NJPW Dojo head coach, Katsuyori Shibata came out to the ring with a kendo stick and announced his arrival by smacking the ring apron. He received a standing ovation from the crowd that was in attendance and then rang the bell to get the show started.
Clark Conors defeated Alex Coughlin via referee stoppage in a dark match: This was a fun, short match. The crowd showed the two trainees the proper respect, it probably helped that Shibata was out there watching the whole time. Conors and Coughlin both demonstrated real flexibility at times. I remember the crowd emitting a gut wrenching “Oooh” when Conors caught Coughlin in a figure four and did a bridge like Charlotte Flair, but completely using his neck as a base. NJPW didn’t do them any favors however, as the ring announcer called each man by the wrong name at the wrong corner, which wasn’t helpful at all.
ACH, Jushin Thunder Liger and Rysuske Taguchi defeated Roppongi 3K and Rocky Romero: After a booming pre-show video package announcing each match, the first televised appearance by any wrestlers were Roppongi 3K, who received a warm welcome. This was nothing compared to the thunderous applause that Liger got as soon as his music hit. Everyone in Long Beach seemed excited to be able to see the legend live and the crowd clapped along with his music. Taguchi and ACH also got a nice welcome. It was a light hearted match that focused on highlighting ACH’s athleticism and Taguchi’s hip attacks.
NXT play-by-play voice Mauro Ranallo, and former UFC Middleweight Champion Frank Shamrock. After talking to both at the end of the night, it was clear the enjoyed the show, and Shamrock especially seemed to be enjoying Taguchi’s act.
Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels defeated Chase Owens and Hangman Page. Predictably, one of the biggest pops of the night was for SoCal Uncensored’s Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian. I was backstage as their music hit and they entered, but I could still here a very clear and loud “SCU” chant, showing just how much this Southern California crowd were looking forward to the two. The match itself was pretty good, and all four men knew how to get the most out of it with this crowd.
Flip Gordon, Chris Sabin and Jeff Cobb defeated Chuckie T, Beretta and Hirooki Goto: This match was just a sheer display of athleticism from all six men. Goto and Cobb’s physicality was the focal point of the match, and the crowd certainly appreciated everyone. There was also a rather funny spot between Chuckie T and Beretta where the crowd popped huge as they stopped the action in the ring to hug. Apart from that, the match didn’t feature anything unbelievable, but it was a solid entry on the show.
Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr., and Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Sanada, Evil and Tetsuya Naito: The most apparent thing about this match in particular was the contrast in how the crowds view someone like Naito compared to the rest of the wrestlers. This wasn’t to say that people like ZSJ, the Killer Elite Squad, Evil and Sanada weren’t appreciated, but because of how much is put into Naito as a character there was tremendous respect and anticipation for the leader of LIJ. Sanada and Evil came out first for LIJ’s entrance and while they got a nice welcome, it was nothing compared to the pop that Naito got. In the match itself, KES and ZSJ did a fantastic job of building anticipation for Naito’s hot tags, and the way the match folded out, they really did a good job of keeping the crowd at a good place for the rest of the show.
Backstage, ZSJ, KES and Evil all cut promos although none took questions. Evil was irate about Suzuki-Gun pulling one over on him again, and Archer and Smith cut a very strong and almost scary promo about how ‘Everyone will die.’ Pretty compelling stuff and I like that they are all making the Tag League seem important, as sometimes Tag League doesn’t have the same hype as NJPW’s other tournaments.
Gedo and Jay White defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kushida: Jay White was one of the stand out performances of the night, simply due to the fact hat me really and truly managed to get the crowd to boo him. Kushida and Tanahashi came out to huge cheers as the Long Beach crowd appreciated having them here, and White and Gedo proved at Fighting Spirit Unleashed that their partnership does have great potential in the future. White and Gedo used a lot of typical heel tactics to garner heat, and it worked a treat, I was honestly rather surprised that the crowd ate it up so much, but it just showed how effective both men were. White’s post-match promo was also strong, and although I was backstage for it, I could definitely still hear the boos coming through the arena. I’m excited to see what White and Gedo can do next, especially if they’re going straight after Hiroshi Tanahashi rather than lingering on a feud with Okada, which they can always come back to.
Marty Scurll defeated Will Ospreay to qualify for a spot in the match for the vacant IWGP Jr. Hvt. Championship: From a pure wrestling standpoint, this was my match of the night. Both men worked a tremendous pace and kept the crowd at a high for the entirety of their battle. I loved the beginning of their match especially, as Ospreay looked like he was going to put Scurll away early with a quick series of moves. They really reeled the crowd in with that and I think a lot of people were on their seats thinking that we would see almost a squash match by Ospreay.
Although Scurll is a heel, he certainly played to the crowd with his ‘Villain’ Persona and built towards executing his chicken wing. The reversal of the OsCutter into the Chicken Wing was probably the biggest pop for a single move throughout the night, and it was certainly deserved for how much work they put into building that move.
There was also a sick looking dragon suplex off the top rope by Scurll that prompted a few cringes from the audience because of how nasty the bump looked. Overall, it was a good spot to have the heel win and the way the match went, both men looked pretty good either way. Scurll cut a quick promo backstage hyping up his upcoming match with Kushida, although I did find it strange that he talked about how good his entrance will be, didn’t seem like it fit with the rest of his persona.
Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa defeated The Young Bucks to win the IWGP Tag Titles: I don’t think people actually expected the Guerrillas of Destiny to win the titles here, and the shock from their victory lingered for a second in the arena before the crowd started cheering for the title change. Even though they did get cheered upon winning, the Guerrillas of Destiny definitely built animosity towards them during the match. They blocked the Bucks’ attempts for big moves a lot of the time, and worked Matt Jackson’s back the whole match, leading to an effective dynamic.
One spot that was really fantastic during the match was the GOD stopping the Meltzer Driver. Tama Tonga positioned himself in a way that made it hard for most of the crowd to see what he was doing. That way, when he jumped in and hit Nick Jackson with the cutter to stop the move, it really caught the live crowd by surprise and got one of the biggest pops of the night. I think people were expecting a wholesome, Superkick party here in SoCal, but GOD winning definitely put a stop to that. It also broke up the crowd’s momentum in a good way, and allowed them to reset before the IWGP U.S. Title match.
Cody Rhodes defeated Juice Robinson to win the IWGP U.S. Championship: This match was the one that most surprised me when considering the crowd reactions, as I definitely thought they would be wholeheartedly behind Robinson, who has been on fire lately in NJPW. It was also interesting to note that Robinson has been called an imitation Kairi Sane by some in the past, considering Sane was in the crowd at Long Beach, along with Io Shirai. Cody and Brandi turned the crowd on their side over the course of the match, although it may have been unintentional. Brandi feigned an injury when Juice touched her by accident, prompting the crowd to boo Juice heavily. Although this was a heel ploy, I don’t think the live crowd ever really came around, and throughout the rest of the match, Cody had at least as many cheers as Juice did, if not more.
When the time finally came for Cody to lock in a roll-up after Juice hit a Superplex I don’t think anyone was ready for it, which made the elation of the crowd even higher upon Cody’s victory. I don’t think most people expected him to be walking out with both belts, and it was certainly a sight to behold in Long Beach. Cody smartly absorbed the cheers that he was getting at the post fight interviews where he talked about his titles with reverence and rather happily talked about putting on more great shows for the fans, hinting at a sequel to All In as well. Robinson gave an interesting backstage interview as well, talking about how he didn’t expect to lose the title so quickly and how he is disappointed in himself.
From the way the match went and how he was talking, I don’t think NJPW really know what to do with Robinson in the near future, as I don’t think he will be getting the U.S. Title back after such a short run. He did talk about tag league, so maybe they’ll pair him with somebody for that in the near future, but right now I certainly can’t tell what they have planned for Juice.
Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi defeated Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii: I was originally skeptical as to why this was the main event as opposed to the U.S. Title match, but because of the way the title match ended with a roll-up, which isn’t the most conclusive of finishes, I can see why this match main evented. Okada and Omega especially got a great response from the crowd here and both men were treated with the respect of megastars. This match was a good way to end the show, as all four men just went ham on each other and kept the pace frenetic for as long as the match went on. In the end it was a standard NJPW tag match, although that in itself is a huge compliment. Essentially, without resorting to any big gimmicks or anything, these guys all told a great story, which I think the crowd appreciated.
After the match, Omega cut a promo in the ring talking about the event, and Cody came in and challenged he and Ibushi to a Triple Threat match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This was certainly interesting, and the way the post-match press conference went, it seemed like this is where the title picture is heading. Ibushi and Omega also expressed interest in the Tag League and challenging the GOD however, so maybe we will see something like that in the near future as well.
Final Thoughts: This was a really solid show, and while that may seem like it’s the normal thing for NJPW shows now, this was even more impressive as the card in Long Beach seemed more like a regular NJPW card rather than a card that has been adapted for America. The crowd reactions showed that NJPW could indeed run big shows here in their typical style and that they could be successful, and it showed that their English language content has been paying off at least a little bit as fans ate up not only the Bullet Club and NJPW legends like Liger, but almost every wrestler on the card, Japanese or otherwise.