By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
NJPW All Star Junior Festival 2023
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 2300 Arena
Streamed on New Japan World pay-per-view
Ian Riccaboni, Matt Rehwoldt, and Veda Scott provided commentary. They told us the 37 wrestlers on the show represent 22 different promotions, which is just an astounding statistic.
NJPW ASJF 2023 Pre-Show
1. Goldy defeated Vinny Pacifico at 8:17. This is the NJPW debut for both men. Goldy was featured in the Apple+ documentary series. Vinny hit a dive to the floor at 2:00. In the ring, Goldy took control. Vinny crawled to the corner and opened an energy drink and he took a few big chugs. Vinny hit a German Suplex and a shotgun dropkick for a nearfall at 6:30. Goldy hit a pop-up kneestrike and an enzuigiri for a nearfall. Vinny hit an Angle Slam for a nearfall, and he switched to a crossface. Goldy hit a flying knee to the side of the head for the pin.
NJPW ASJF 2023 Main Show
1. Matt Sydal and Yoh defeated Shun Skywalker and Bushi at 8:55. Yoh is in his awful jean shorts, and Veda talked about him undergoing a transformation. (His teen slacker gimmick isn’t working for me at al.) I’ve seen Dragon Gate’s Shun just a handful of times, and he’s dressed like Bushi. Bushi and Sydal started. Yoh and Shun entered at 1:30, and Shun’s team took control of the action. Yoh hit a Falcon Arrow at 4:30 and he made the hot tag. Sydal hit some Yes Kicks on Shun,, a sliding dropkick in the corner, and a Meteora double kneedrop.
Yoh and Bushi entered with Yoh hitting a flying forearm and he was fired up. Bushi hit a missile dropkick and a DDT for a nearfall at 7:30. Shun hit a Helluva Kick on Yoh. Shun accidentally sprayed mist in Bushi’s eyes. Sydal hit a top-rope dive to the floor. In the ring, Yoh blocked Bushi’s Lungblower, got a rollup, and scored the pin! Good match. After the match, Bushi sprayed black mist in Shun’s eyes for revenge!
2. Kevin Knight defeated Clark Connors in a semifinal tournament match at 9:58. Knight is back in his usual orange warmup pants. These two were both in the B Block of the NJPW “Best of Super Juniors,” with Connors winning. Knight hit a leaping splash for a nearfall. Connors hit his Pounce at 1:30. On the floor, Connors hit a snap suplex onto the thin mat at ringside; Knight barely made it back in before being counted out. Connors immediately hit a release German Suplex and was in charge. Connors applied a Full Nelson, then he hit another German Suplex at 6:00.
Connors hit a hard slap to the face that popped the crowd. Knight hit his stellar dropkick, then a Stinger Splash, then a second-rope flying clothesline and a D’Lo Sky High slam for a nearfall at 8:00. Knight leapt off the ropes, but Connors caught him and turned it into a powerbomb. Nice move. Knight hit some superkicks. Connors went for a spear but Knight did a leapfrog to avoid it! Connors hit a spear off the second rope. Knight got a Crucifix Driver for a nearfall. Knight then got a rollup for the clean pin. A really good match between two guys who know each other well.
* Connors got a title belt and he struck Knight in the head with it, earning some massive boos. He then nailed his No Chaser spike DDT on Knight before leaving.
3. Mike Bailey defeated Francesco Akira in a semifinal tournament match at 13:31. These two were in different Blocks during NJPW’s “Best of Super Juniors” tournament earlier this year. I am unfamiliar with Bailey’s entrance music here; he’s not using “Brass Monkey.” Akira just had a stellar must-see match in Texas against Bryan Keith; the Italy native has just had his first few matches in the U.S. Veda said Akira beat Bailey in Rev Pro. Standing switches and a standoff to open. They began having audio issues with the sound cutting out. They sped it up with quicker reversals, ending with Bailey hitting a basement dropkick at 2:30. Akira hit a plancha to the floor, and they fought on the floor.
Bailey hit a baseball slide dropkick to the floor, then a double kneedrop on the floor. In the ring, Bailey hit another double kneedrop for a nearfall at 5:00. Bailey hit his Speedball Kicks to the ribs and a variety of kicks. Akira avoided a Shooting Star Press, and he hit a doublestomp to Mike’s gut at 6:30. Akira hit a flip dive to the floor on Bailey. In the ring, Akira hit a top-rope crossbody block for a nearfall at 8:00. Bailey nailed the Triangle Moonsault to the floor. Bailey hit a top-rope missile dropkick in the ring, but his Tornado Kick was blocked. Bailey went for a handspring-back-move but Akira caught him and hit a German Suplex, and they were both down at 10:00.
They got up and traded forearm shots and chops. Bailey missed his moonsault kneedrop. Akira hit a kneestrike to the side of the head, then a DDT at 12:00, then a swinging neckbreaker for a nearfall. Bailey hit his Green Tea Plunge (mid-ring Spanish Fly) for a nearfall. He nailed the Tornado Kick in the corner, then the Flamingo Driver/modified One-Winged Angel for the clean pin. A tremendous match, but with the tournament finale in the main event, I never doubted Bailey was winning here.
4. Ryusuke Taguchi, Rich Swann, and The DKC defeated Real1, Starboy Charlie, and Jack Cartwheel at 15:07. Real1 is Enzo Amore and he drew a mixed reaction, and he took the mic and declared he’s the best of all time. (Riccaboni incorrectly said Starboy Charlie won four matches in one night to win the West Coast Cup a week ago. He won four matches but it was one on Thursday and three on Friday.) Real1 and Swann opened. Cartwheel entered at 1:30 and Veda noted this is his NJPW debut, and he traded much quicker offense with Swann. Cartwheel hit his slingshot senton for a nearfall. Taguchi tagged in to battle Jack, and they did some comedy with Taguchi running the ropes repeatedly. Charlie tagged in at 4:00 and he hit a running Shooting Star Press on Taguchi.
DKC entered for the first time and he hit a huracanrana on Charlie; DKC dove through the ropes onto Real1, drawing a pop. (Everyone wants to see Enzo beat up, right?) Jack hit his Sasake Special to the floor at 6:00. Swann hit a flip dive to the floor. However, Real1 picked Swann up, set up for a Razor’s Edge, and he tossed Swann into the ring post! OUCH! Real1’s team immediately began working over Swann in their corner. Real1 hit a top-rope DDT on Rich at 8:30. Swann and Real1 fought on the floor, with Swann pushing him head-first into the ring post. Swann finally made the hot tag to Taguchi, who hit his flying buttbumps on all his opponents.
Cartwheel hit a fisherman’s suplex on Taguchi for a nearfall at 11:00. DKC hit a summersault dive off the ring apron to the floor. In the ring, Charlie hit a Sliced Bread on DKC, and Jack hit a rolling Death Valley Driver. Real1 hit a frogsplash (drawing Dominik-like boos) for a nearfall. DKC hit a top-rope legdrop on Charlie for a nearfall at 14:00, but Cartwheel made the save. Charlie hit a Poison Rana. Swann hit a handspring-back-stunner on Charlie. DKC hit a rolling cannonball on Charlie. Swann hit a second-rope 450 Splash to pin Charlie. That was fun action. Real1 definitely is a heat magnet. The winners danced in the ring, and Rehwoldt said “Rich Swann and Taguchi are the team I never knew I needed.” Entertaining post-match silliness.
* We have eight men in the ring, in what appears to be an actual random draw for who will be on each tag team. They drew sticks out of a box, and once removed from the box, the tip of the stick was different colors. So, I really don’t know how you could have this pre-planned. TMDK teammates Kosei Fujita and Robbie Eagles wound up teamed up! Chris Bey and Ace Austin did not. I presume that most of this match is being called in the ring, too.
5. Chris Bey, Alex Shelley, Kosei Fujita, and Robbie Eagles defeated Cheeseburger, TJP, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Ace Austin in a random-draw tag match at 16:59. Cheeseburger and Bey started with good reversals. TJP entered at 3:00 and battled Fujita, and Ian said that TJP just competed in Mexico a day ago for CMLL. Ace and Robbie entered and traded reversals. Everyone started fighting on the floor and I still haven’t figured out who is teaming with who. Shelley worked over Ace; he went to his corner but Bey refused to tag in to fight his partner. Cheeseburger entered at 8:30 and beat down Fujita. Kanemaru entered for the first time and hit a leg lariat on Fujita. TJP and Kanemaru applied a team submission hold on Fujita. Eagles entered at 11:30 and hit a series of Yes Kicks on TJP. (Eagles and TJP did a few spots here that had to be planned in advance, right?)
Eagles hit a top-rope missile dropkick. TJP hit a tornado DDT. Shelley made the hot tag at 13:00 and battled Kanemaru, with Alex hitting his Flatliner into the second turnbuckle. TJP applied a modified Border City Stretch on Shelley, so Shelley applied the BCS on TJP! TJP avoided the Shellshock and he hit an inverted DDT on Shelley. Bey and Austin are suddenly tagged in at 15:00 against each other! However, they hit stereo dives to the floor! They got back in the ring, charged at each other, but did the “Too Sweet” hand signals. Cheesburger hit the Shotei palm strikes, then he applied a cross-armbreaker on Fujita. TMDK worked together to beat up Cheeseburger, with Fujita hitting a German Suplex with a bridge to pin Fujita. This was too good, with too many smartly-planned spots, for this to be a random draw, right?
6. Soberano Jr., defeated Lio Rush, KC Navarro, Fugaz, and Dragon Kid in a five-way scramble at 7:14. Navarro had his Warrior Wrestling title, and I’ve said this before, but he’s a far better babyface than heel. My first time seeing Fugaz, who wore a mask and could easily be confused for Dragon Lee. Soberano wore a gold mask and he’s taller than Fugaz. Lio Rush has been out a month with a shoulder injury he suffered at the MCW Shamrock Cup, so great to see him back in action, and he has his Impact X Division Title belt. (His left shoulder is taped up.) Lio and KC stood mid-ring and traded quick offense. Fugaz hit a huracanrana on Soberano. DK hit a moonsault to the floor. KC hit a flip dive to the floor at 2:00.
Rush hit a moonsault off the ring apron to the floor, then he dove through the ropes onto someone; it appears the shoulder is good! In the ring, Rush hit some quick kicks on Dragon Kid. Rush began tearing at Fugaz’ mask, drawing boos. The three luchadors hit some quick offense. Navarro hit a 450 Splash at 5:00. We had several submission spots, and Rush tried removing Dragon Kid’s mask! Dragon Kid hit a stunner on Rush. Fugaz hit a mid-ring Spanish Fly. Soberano hit a piledriver out of nowhere to pin KC. That was really good; they got a lot in for a match this short.
7. Mao and El Desperado defeated “East West Express” Nick Wayne and Jordan Oliver at 19:14. Wayne and Desperado started with standing switches and this crowd was HOT. Oliver and Mao entered at 3:00 and they traded deep armdrags. The EWE hit some team moves on Mao. Oliver flipped Wayne onto Desperado at 5:00. Mao hit a moonsault off the ring apron at the same time Desperado dove through the ropes, and we got a “holy shit!” chant. Back in the ring, Mao and Wayne battled each other. Mao hit a Split-legged moonsault at 7:30; Ian said it was a shout-out to RVD, as the Japanese team began working over Wayne in their corner. Desperado hit a brainbuster for a nearfall at 9:00.
Mao hit a legdrop on Wayne, then a dropkick to Nick’s face while Desperado was applying a Camel Clutch. Wayne hit a mid-ring Sliced Bread on Desperado at 10:30 and they were both down. Oliver made the hot tag and he hit an Acid Kick/Helluva Kick, then the Acid Bomb on Desperado for a nearfall. Mao hit a top-rope kneedrop on Oliver. Oliver hit a superkick on Mao. Wayne made the hot tag at 13:00, and he hit a running Shooting Star Press on Mao. Wayne hit a fisherman’s suplex for a nearfall. Mao hit a superkick to Wayne’s jaw, then a jump-up Frankensteiner. Mao avoided a Wayne’s World stunner and Mao hit a Michinoku Driver, and they were btoh down at 15:00.
Desperado and Oliver tagged back, with Desperado hitting a back suplex, then a spinebuster, and he applied the Stretch Muffler leglock on Oliver. He hit a Rolling Thunder splash on Oliver. All four fought in the ring. The EWE hit stereo superkicks. Oliver hit a German Suplex, then a sit-out powerbomb on Desperado for a believable nearfall at 18:00 and we got a “This is awesome!” chant. EWE hit stereo Clout Cutters for nearfalls. Desperado hit a spear on Oliver. Desperado hit the Pnche Loco/Angels Wings to pin Oliver. Fantastic stuff.
* We have a bag hanging from the ceiling and it is a Philly Cheese Steak match? Are sandwiches in the bag? Coupons?
8. Low Rider & Douki defeated Hiromu Takahashi & Rocky Romero and Blake Christian & Master Wato in a three-way tag team ladder match at 19:23. I admittedly don’t know Low Rider, who at first glance made me think of AEW’s Santana. Wato still is carrying around his BoSJ trophy. Romero carried a ladder to the ring. Hiromu came out last and he got a monster pop. Low Ridere hit a missile dropkick on Wato. Wato and Douki traded quick reversals, showing off their familiarity. Rocky accidentally punched Hiromu; Hiromu accidentally punched Rocky! However, they hit Forever Clotheslines on the other four men in the match and they did hip swivels. Rocky channeled his inner Bully Ray, shoved Hiromu and shouted “Get the ladders!” The crowd responded with a “We want cheesesteaks!” chant. Funny. Romero and Douki fought on the ladder at 4:00.
Low Rider slipped while going for a springboard move; the crowd was forgiving. (Can we agree to retire the “you f’d up’ chant?) Low Rider hit a Lungblower. Wato tried to open a ladder this was already damaged beyond use. Funny. Romero hit a tornado DDT on Wato, and Rocky wisely got a different ladder as the ref removed the destroyed ladder. Douki hit a monkeyflip on Rocky, tossing him onto a ladder in the corner at 7:30. Douki set up a more well-built ladder, but Blake tipped it over, sending Douki flying. Wato hit a springboard European Uppercut on Rocky. Douki slammed a ladder into Blake’s face at 10:00. Low Rider launched Douki, who hit a double clothesline. Low Rider hit a springboard moonsault to the floor. In the ring, Low Rider hit a Clout Cutter and he set up another ladder.
Low Rider was on the ladder, but as it was tipped over, he did a springboard off the top rope and hit a dive onto the floor at 12:30. Nice spot. Wato hit a flip dive to the floor. Douki hit a top rope stage dive to the floor on several guys. Blake hit a springboard 630 dive onto everyone, earning a well-deserved “holy shit!” chant. The tall ladder was set up on the floor, and Hiromu climbed to the top and hit a flying crossbody block onto everyone at 15:00. In the ring, everyone hit finishers and suddenly everyone was down. Wato was bleeding from near his right eye. Wato and Blake set up a horizontal ladder, but then Blake hit a low blow uppercut on his partner Wato! Douki and Blake fought on the top of the ladder, but Douki shoved him off. Hiromu and Douki fought on top of the ladder. Douki hit a sunset flip powerbomb onto the horizontal ladder, earning a “holy shit!” chant. Douki then pulled down the bag to win the match!
* A sponsor presented Low Rider and Douki with a platter of cheese steaks. Romero took one and devoured it, and we had a silly “cheese steaks!” chant. Some of the cheese steaks were tossed into the crowd. This is how you do a wrestling sponsorship! Hiromu also devoured a sandwich. Rocky leaned into the camera and said, “everyone is a winner!”
9. Mike Bailey defeated Kevin Knight to win the tournament at 19:54. These two were in separate Blocks during BoSJ; if they have fought, it is more likely in Impact Wrestling. Knight’s ribs are taped and he’s selling the effect of the post-match beatdown earlier in the show. An intense lockup and they shook hands, with fans chanting, “Both these guys!” However, Bailey hit a Mafia Kick to the face. Knight hit a crossbody block on the floor at 2:00. In the ring, Bailey hit his Speedball kicks to Knight’s sore ribs, then a baseball slide dropkick to the floor. They fought on the floor, with Bailey hitting a punt kick to the ribs. Back in the ring, Bailey hit a kneestrike to the wait and remained in charge. Bailey hit a Vader Bomb-style kneedrop to the ribs at 5:00.
Bailey applied a Trailer Hitch leglock on the mat, but Knight reached the ropes. Bailey snapped the left arm backward, and he began targeting the arm. He hit a Lungblower-style move on the arm. Knight hit a springboard crossbody block at 8:00, then a clothesline. Bailey hit his running Shooting Star Press for a nearfall. Bailey draped Knight over the top rope and he hit a springboard kneedrop to the back at 10:00.
Bailey applied a cross-armbreaker but Knight escaped and Kevin hit his impressive dropkick, and they were both down. Bailey set up for the Flamingo Driver, but Knight escaped and got a rollup for a nearfall. Knight nailed a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker over his knee. He placed Bailey on the top rope, and he dropkicked Mike to the floor. Knight then hit a plancha to the floor at 12:30.
Knight came off the ropes but Bailey caught his arm and re-applied the cross-armbreaker. Bailey hit a moonsault kneedrop to the ribs, a spin kick to the head, and back to the cross-armbreaker, but Knight reached the ropes at 14:00. Bailey hit a superkick to the jaw, but he again couldn’t get the Flamingo Driver, and they somehow both tumbled over the top rope to the floor! That was unexpected. Knight hit a twisting dive to the floor on Bailey. Bailey hit his springboard moonsault to the floor at 16:30. Back in the ring, they fought in the corner, and Knight hit a superplex. Knight hit a Code Red for a believable nearfall.
Knight hit the D’Lo Sky High, but Bailey immediately applied a cross-armbreaker. Bailey hit a Tornado Kick and set up for Ultima Weapon, but Knight nailed a jump-up Frankensteiner. Knight went for his leaping DDT but Bailey again applied a cross-armbreaker. Bailey set up for a Tornado Kick but Knight hit a dropkick. Bailey nailed the Ultima Weapon, then the Flamingo Driver for the pin. That was exhilarating.
* Bailey got on the mic and put Knight over. He then talked about his match at Multiverse United, and he called Hiromu Takahashi to the ring. He told Hiromu he’s excited to team with him tomorrow. However, Bailey then challenged Hiromu for his junior title, and Hiromu accepted. All 37 wrestlers sat together in the ring for a group picture. Very cool stuff to close the show.
Final Thoughts: What a blast of a show. I will go with the main event for best match, EWE vs. Mao/Desperado for second, and the crazy ladder match for third place. Not a bad match in the bunch.
I truly am not sure if the eight-man random tag match was truly random. The opening half was stuff they could have done on the fly, but they had some nice spots that I felt had to be laid out in advance, and I loved how they built to Ace vs. Bey, but those two refused to fight. And, it was nice to see Kosei Fujita get a pin.