By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
You gotta love New Japan Pro Wrestling weekends. It’s not not a grind, but it’s also not not worth it. 20 matches over the course of about 24 hours. The worst city to drive in throughout all the land, Philadelphia, playing home to one of the most iconic nondescript buildings in the history of modern wrestling, the 2300 Arena. The sights. The smells. The lights. The bells. And then, of course …
… The Cheesesteak on a Pole Match.
I love it and I hate it. Above all else, I recognize that there probably aren’t many more weekends like this in my future. Father Time does no jobs for anyone, and the toll the travel takes on a body combined with the mental fortitude it takes to be as engaged as you need to be for what amounts to about seven-and-a-half to eight hours of live pro wrestling in a 24 hour span can not be overstated. At some point, I’m going to have to take some time to focus on my health. This weekend was not that time.
And so, while you can find my live reports on this site from both Saturday’s All Star Junior Festival and Sunday’s Multiverse United 2, here are the things that found their way into my notebook, but were ultimately left out of the events’ recaps. These are always my favorite parts of covering things because all told, life is little more than a series of tiny moments, most of which we forget. And yet when you write them down in a notebook they are forever immortalized … until the pages get shredded when you have to downsize your life every now and then. But that’s another story for another time.
For now, here’s everything left out of this past weekend’s excursion.
– Three names came out of the weekend as the headlines for me: “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Robbie Eagles and Francesco Akira. The former two, I’ve seen more than a few times in the flesh, but Akira was a new one for me, and he stuck out like a shiny, immaculate, definitely-not-sore thumb. He’s so smooth and he’s so quick and he’s so confident, you can’t help but fall in love with him. Eagles, meanwhile, felt like he matured 1,000 years since I last saw him while Bailey … what can you say about Speedball that hasn’t already been said? He’s on a hell of a run right now and when conversations about the best wrestler in the world are had these days, there’s merit to the fact that he belongs in them. It was a Super Junior heavy weekend anyway, and this trio stood above the rest.
– Giulia, Giulia, Giulia. Perhaps the biggest star of the weekend was the NJPW Strong Women’s Champion. The Sunday crowd was clearly waiting for her and when they got her, they responded accordingly. She held herself like a superstar, she performed like a superstar and she was perceived as a superstar. The sole women’s match of the weekend was one of the best of them all in my mind, but Giulia’s mere presence took it and elevated everything around her to heights otherwise not seen or felt Saturday or Sunday.
– Poor PCO. Stepping through the doors Sunday to see a lot of the Impact stars at the Impact table to sign things and take pictures, PCO seemed … nonplussed? Unhappy? Sad? Bothered? Use any of those words and you’d be right. It wasn’t in an unpleasant way, either; it was far more sympathetic than standoff-ish. It made me want to go give him a hug, but that would have felt … um … weird.
– Speaking of wrestlers in the halls, one of the best things about the 2300 Arena is the fact that everyone is so accessible. Granted, there are some (cough, El Desperado, cough), who had a sign close by that indicated you’d have to cough up $25 or $30 to get a picture or a signature, but the communal vibe was still there. Kevin Knight, for instance, was seen at the end of Sunday’s event, drink in hand, talking to anyone who wanted to approach him. Pro wrestling fans are an odd bunch in that on one hand, everyone seems to act like a dick online, but on the other, it’s hard to dispute how much this means to so many and how gracious both fans and wrestlers are when you see them interact with one another. Say what you will about all the bad things, but the element of community at these types of shows means so much to so many.
– Moose isn’t a Moose. He’s a house.
– We can all agree that Hiroshi Tanahashi is a legend. And at this point, we can probably agree that Hiroshi Tanahashi has received his flowers Stateside. Beyond that? Eh. I read a colleague’s review of Sunday’s Multiverse show and the review stated that Tanahashi’s main event against Alex Shelley was G1 worthy and I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t know how the match came off on television, but in person, there was everything from “This is boring” chants to some people simply getting up and leaving. Tanahashi isn’t Tanahashi anymore; he’s what’s left of Tanahashi. Even when I saw him perform some three or so years ago, he looked more spry then; this time out, he was noticeably slower. There’s no denying his legend status, but it’s hard to justify flying all the way over here to lose clean to the Impact World Champion in less than 20 minutes. It’s not a matter of needing the money … right?
– More proof of Tanahashi’s best days being behind him? It turned out Lio Rush’s family sat directly in front of me. His kids, who were the most fun to watch watch wrestling, turned to their cellphones once the main event began – and this was after they were more than engaged with all the other matches of the night. One thing I noticed on their phones while Tanahashi was doing his air guitar bit? Watching and rewatching video of their dad’s entrance. Who says pro wrestling isn’t wholesome?
– Jordan Oliver and Nick Wayne are the future, man. Sure, it was GCW country, so you knew a lot of fans would know who they were anyway, but one of the biggest Saturday night pops came their way as they made their way to the ring. How Oliver hasn’t been scooped up by one of the bigger companies is beyond me. He has the look, the attitude, and the athleticism. What’s the problem?
– Say what you will about the Bullet Club in the year 2023 (and trust me, I know that you already have), but in Philadelphia, that thing is still over with the live crowds. The most fun aspect of the faction for me now is that watching this iteration of the Bullet Club together in one ring is kind of like watching an episode of New Japan Strong circa 2021. All those guys have done gone and grown up. And I’ll even add an unpopular opinion to boot: David Finlay isn’t the worst Bullet Club leader in the world. To watch that guy grow up and into someone who now holds himself like a badass star has been a treat. He’s got a ways to go, but I think he’s off to a good start – especially when it comes to a faction that so many people have already dismissed anyway.
– I really do think Goldy has a future in this business and I’m not just saying that because I finally caught up with “Monster Factory.” That guy’s got it.
– If you can’t smile at Ryusuke Taguchi’s Funky Weapon bit, you might as well find something else to watch. Even if you aren’t into the sillier side of pro wrestling, his hip-swivels have to make you think not everything is all bad all the time.
– Yes, everybody still hates Enzo. Or nZo. Or Real1. Or whatever.
– If Giulia was perhaps the biggest star of the show, Hiromu Takahashi might have been the biggest star of the weekend. He took a hell of a bump onto a ladder on Saturday night during the Cheesesteak match – but then miraculously ate half a cheesesteak while still laying on the ladder after the match ended. Throwing him into an eventual program with Speedball gave the weekend a through-line and it also set things up for what should be a fantastic wrestling match whenever it happens. The people loved him and he was more than happy to be loved.
– OK, what in the hell was it that Bailey won for being the All Star Junior Festival tournament winner again?
– My favorite match of the weekend: Saturday’s first-round tournament match between Akira and Bailey. Moose and Eddie Edwards vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Shane Haste was a close second.
– No matter how many times it’s done and no matter who does it, I will forever have to look away when someone does the paper cut spot. Thanks, Sami Callihan.
– Pro wrestling is such a treat to enjoy in a live setting. There was a time when seeing NJPW stars live and in the flesh didn’t really seem possible in the United States, but it feels like such a common occurrence now that I kind of feel like we’re getting spoiled. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also something to keep in mind for when it feels like all of it can be taken for granted. So, with that said … who wants to head to Vegas for the next NJPW show in a couple months? I’ll ride shotgun.