By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
NJPW All Star Junior Festival 2023
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 2300 Arena
Streamed on New Japan World pay-per-view
Death, taxes and me making the trip whenever New Japan runs Philadelphia. The All Star Jr. USA festival was the first of two nights the company was involved in Saturday evening. I was there if only because something called the Pat’s King of Steaks Philly Cheesesteak Cup was going down. And to think: Cheeseburger was on the card, too. Anyway, here’s the way it went down live and in person.
Pre-Show: Goldy defeated Vinny Pacifico. Well, thank heavens I decided to finally dive into “Monster Factory” on Apple TV or Apple Plus or Apple Records or whatever the hell they call it. That said, Goldy, a main character in that series looked really good here. Actually, this was an unexpectedly very good pre-show match (I say that with no shade intended either; this is the pre-show, remember). Goldy had his Monster Factory fans in the crowd (so it made less sense to me that he’d work as a heel here, but I digress), but the crowd was into it and this was worth getting to the building early. Pacifico has a gimmick made for a bigger stage so here’s hoping he gets more looks sooner than later.
1. Matt Sydal and YOH defeated BUSHI and Shun Skywalker in 9:01. After the match, BUSHI took out Skywalker, much to the delight of the crowd. A very fun main show opener that the crowd, which filled in nicely by this point, was up for. Skywalker is taller than I expected him to be in person and while he might not be as popular to the American crowd as the other three were here, he more than held his own. This worked all the way around.
2. Kevin Knight defeated Clark Connors in 10:04 in a first-round tournament match. After the match, Connors attacked Knight and suplexed him onto Connors’s Strong tag title. I saw these two work for years on NJPW Strong both in person and while covering the show weekly, when it was a weekly show, and they’ve never looked better. This exceeded my lofty expectations. Connors is so, so much better as a heel than he is as a babyface. He works slower and he feels more real. Knight still has the best dropkick in all of pro wrestling, as far as I’m concerned. This was a mild upset for me because I sort of thought we’d get a Speedball/Connors final. It was not to be.
3. “Speedball” Mike Bailey defeated Francesco Akira in 13:32 in a first-round tournament match. What. A. Match. Bailey has become an undeniable force on the indies (and Impact) and this match was living proof that he can step in the ring with anyone at this point and have an incredible match. The crowd loved him and he loved the crowd. Akira, for his part, was fantastic, too. He has no problem keeping up with the quick, hard-hitting Bailey. I can’t imagine there will be a better match this weekend, but we’ll see.
4. The DKC, Rich Swann, and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated Starboy Charlie, Jack Cartwheel, and Real1 in 15:09. Real1 had nuclear heat and he cut a pre-match promo talking about his dick, which didn’t help. Zo gonna Zo. Swan pinned Charlie after a 450 from the second rope to end the match. This was a blast. Philadelphia loves them some Ryusuke Taguchi and Philadelphia hates them some Real1. There was so much dancing and hip-swiveling and nonsense that you couldn’t help but smile. If Bailey/Akira might be the best match of the weekend, this one might be the most entertaining. I mean, the winning team did the worm repeatedly after the match was over. What’s your problem?
5. Kosei Fujita, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Alex Shelley, and Robbie Eagles defeated Ace Austin, Chris Bey, TJP, and Cheeseburger in a Lucky Dip match 17:03. The teams were chosen by a random draw. Fujita pinned Cheeseburger after a beautiful German Suplex. I’m still not quite sure what the gimmick behind this match was supposed to be, but Cheeseburger sure does know his audience, so that made up for at least some confusion. I was hoping for a little more Kanemaru, but so it goes.
6. Soberano Jr. defeated KC Navarro, Lio Rush, Fugaz, and Dragon Kid in a five-way in 6:52. That was an odd one. The finish felt like it came out of nowhere. Scrambles are a mixed bag on, say, GCW shows, but I thought we’d at least get 10 minutes out of this. I’ve become a fan of Navarro through covering him at shows here and I thought he looked very good for what they asked him to do. He also looked more polished than he has in the past. It was the Lio Rush show, which was expected, but it was surprising that he want figured into the finish. I had low-key high hopes for this and it was just too short.
7. Mao and El Desperado defeated Jordan Oliver and Nick Wayne in 19:14. Two questions. One. How’s Nick Wayne gonna get a contract but Jordan Oliver doesn’t? Two. How great is Mao? The teams embraced after the match, which made everyone happy, but man. This thing had “GCW” and “DDT” chants, which was a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. I’m not sure there was a bigger pop all night than the one that Oliver and Wayne received. It’s GCW country, really, but even so, those kids have the world behind them.
8. DOUKI & Low Rider defeated Master Wato & Blake Christian and Hiromu Takahashi & Rocky Romero in a three-way ladder match to win the Pat’s King of Steaks Philly Cheesesteak Cup in 19:26. Only if you’re from the Philly area can you appreciate an “It’s not worth it!” chant when someone is climbing a ladder for a cheesesteak. Then, of course, there was “Cheesesteak Blake.” Anyway. I was wrong about that pop thing because Takahashi eclipsed everyone in spades. Then he ate half a cheesesteak which was more impressive than any bump he took. Speaking of that, do you know how many times I’ve been in the 2300 Arena and thought “No way someone could do a Destroyer off a ladder here because the ceiling is too damn low?” Just me being wrong again.
9. “Speedball” Mike Bailey defeated Kevin Knight to win the All Star Jr. U.S. Festival Tournament in 19:54. A fantastic pro wrestling match. Basic stuff. Knight was hurt from earlier in the night. Bailey capitalized. When you have two very good wrestlers telling that story, it’s magic. And this was magic. Bailey almost tried to work as a heel but the crowd just wasn’t going to let him. Bailey cut a hell of a promo after the match and rightly put Knight over. My goodness how Kevin Knight has grown over these last three years. This was better than great.
All told, I can’t imagine Sunday being better than Saturday. This was everything anyone who has ever enjoyed NJPW could want. In person, it was a blast, though I am curious to see how this came off on TV. Either way, a hell of a night of wrestling.