There was a lot of speculation surrounding how Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling would operate, so their first broadcast in conjuction with New Japan Pro Wrestling (arguably the hottest property in wrestling over the last few years) was hotly anticipated, by me and many others. I've made it clear in the past that I felt I needed a way of getting into New Japan, as without any English commentary I felt I was missing elements of the on-going stories being told and whilst the wrestling was always stellar, I found it difficult to make an emotional connection with the performers, which I think is one of the most important things to have as a wrestling fan, as demonstrated by Daniel Bryan's performances at this years WrestleMania. So with the announcement that Jim Ross and Matt Striker would be on hand to provide the English commentary for this show, I was all over it like white on rice. Could I be converted to one of those people that goes on about how good New Japan is constantly? Let's find out, eh?
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi (C)
Even if you don't follow New Japan, I'd imagine someone over the last few years has mentioned the names Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi to you at some point or another. The two biggest names in the company going at it on the biggest stage available, everything about this match felt special. It was one of only two matches to get a build up package, although this was presented in Japanese with no English subtitles, which was a little annoying. GFW seemed to have very little involvement in the production of the show, and were simply providing English commentary over the top of the Japanese visuals. However, the commentary team did a stellar job of getting me up to speed on the prestige of the match, and the pairs previous encounters.
This match was an absolute delight to watch from start to finish, as two of best wrestlers on the planet put on a real show. This over-thirty minute bout had a little something for everyone pulling in a number of different styles throughout the bout. There was sound brawling as the pair battled on the entrace way, ending with a Death Valley Driver from Okada, terrific high-flying spots like a diving crossbody over the barricade to the floor from Tanahashi, some great technical wrestling and sequences and then there was, of course, the story telling.
What particularly caught my attention was the sophistication of the storytelling in the bout, as about half way through Tanahashi hit a Dragon Screw Leg Whip, just seconds after avoiding a Rainmaker Clothesline from Okada, and the match instantly changed. Tanahashi's focus stayed on the leg for quite some time, both neutralising Okada's quicker paced offence and moving towards his cloverleaf submission hold. Okada's on-going subtle selling and the other on-going story of Okada attempting to hit the Rainmaker clothesline meant that the bout could move into different areas, whilst being able to come back to the Okada's injury with another dragon screw leg whip allowing Tanahashi to take the control that would allow him to take the victory and retain the title following multiple High Fly Flow's (Frog Splash).
Even if you'd never heard of Tanahashi or Okada heading into this match, I'd like to think you'd come out of it thinking they were both world-class performers and on par with any top performer in the United States or elsewhere, because that's exactly what they are. Everything the pair did in the ring felt like it meant something and looked great, therefore even if the rest of the card had been terrible (it wasn't), these two performers would have convinced me to come back on the strength of this match alone. I felt this match was possibly Jim Ross and Matt Striker's strongest performance of the night as they were clearly up to speed on Okada and Tanahashi, which hadn't always been the case throughout the night and allowed for that extra level of understanding that I wouldn't have had if I had watched with Japanese commentary.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Shinsuke NakamuraEverything about Shinsuke Nakamura screams superstar. I'd previously caught glimpses of Nakamura in clips on Youtube, as well as the Ring of Honor/New Japan joint shows last year and had been impressed with his performance against Kevin Steen (now WWE NXT's Kevin Owens), but it wasn't until I saw him walk to ring here, with Matt Striker talking about how Nakamura had been influenced by Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, that I realised what a consumate showman Nakamura truly is, with the proceeding match only compounding this thought. Ibushi was a bit more of an unknown, I'd seen some of his stuff from the indy DDT promotion on Youtube, during one those late night tralls that usually included shoot interviews and Botchamania clips, so wasn't quite sure what to expect from him heading in.
This bout was the classic Rising Star vs. Established Star story that I'd expect anyone in the US would be familiar with, but told almost flawlessy. Helped along by Ross and Striker on commentary, Ibushi and Nakamura produced a match that would rival the main event for match of the night, with Ibushi playing the arrogant former Junior Heavyweight making the step up to the heavyweight division, whilst Nakamura took on the role of experienced main eventer. Both wrestlers excelled in these roles, with Ibushi mocking Nakamura on numerous occassion, including attempting to get the victory by using Nakamura's signature Boma Ye Knee Strike in one of the standout near falls from the bout.
Nakamura took an absolute battering from his opponent, with Ibushi in control for much of the match, using his speed and high flying offence to his advantage, pulling out a Springboard into a top rope hurracanrana, a corkscrew moonsault, an attempted phoenix splash and a lot more throughout the match, whilst also throwing in some beautifully executed technical manoevre's like a half and half suplex and ridiculous german suplex lifting Nakamura off the apron whilst standing on the second rope. Nakamura's own offence of mainly strikes constrasted nicely, whilst some well timed no sells from Ibushi and Nakamura's own selling allowed Ibushi to look even stronger.
When Nakamura managed to pull out the victory following a Top Rope Falcon Arrow and the Boma Ye, it felt like a true star had been made, out of the defeat, in Ibushi. Compounded by the show of respect and hand shake at the finish, this seemed to be Ibushi receiving the New Japan stamp of approval. The booking here was spot on, allowing Ibushi to be elevated, whilst still keeping the title on Nakamura, setting up a potential rematch between the two later on down the line. With this and Okada vs. Tanahashi going on last, the final hour or so of this show was pure unadulterated wrestling porn.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Four Way Match
The Young Bucks
This match opened the show, this was a wise decision for many reasons. Firstly, you can't really go wrong with multi man matches as an opener, they warm the crowd up nicely, get them settled for the show, presenting anything to heavy here would potentially kill the shows momentum straight off. Secondly, all of these tag teams have competed on the American indy scene, most prominently in Ring of Honor, with Alex Shelley perhaps the best know from his time in TNA as part of the Motor City Machine Guns alongside Chris Sabin, so it was a good way of introducing any new viewers watchign on the GFW feed, as they most likely would be familiar with the talent in the ring. That's forgetting that all eight of these men are phenomenal wrestling talents in their own right.
The match went pretty much as one would expect, plenty of fast paced action, exciting highspots and a plethora of superkicks from those cheeky Young Bucks. There wasn't much in the way of story telling or psychology, but there didn't need to be, this match was all about fun, best shown by a pacy sequence that saw a number of flips to the outside, including a suicide dive by Rocky Romero, tope conhilo from Alex Koslov and a stunning corkscrew plancha from one of the Young Bucks (Like the Usos I can't tell them apart when the action is this quick!)
The bout was paced very nicely, with a spirited Romero hot tag mid-way through being a nice addition, as the bout moved towards it's crescendo very naturally, with a number of exciting near falls, double team manoevres and quick tags. The Young Buck's Meltzer Driver is a straight up silly move, and having to have a number of the other wrestlers break up the fall after was a good touch. The Meltzer Driver was the climax of a sequence that saw The Young Bucks land on their feet following an attempted double Doomsday Device, with KUSHIDA delivering the clothesline with the Bucks positioned on Koslov and Shelley's shoulder, before superkicking everyone in sight. If it weren't for the eventual winners of the bout, I'd be picking The Bucks as my MVP's of this bout.
That winning team was reDRagon, who were outstanding throughout the bout. Both Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish had been on a massive roll throughout 2014, holding the Ring of Honor tag titles for most of year, and with O'Reilly finding singles success holding the PWG World title, I'd imagine 2015 is going to be an even bigger year for the pair. En route to victory they pulled out a backbreaker/diving knee drop combo, an unbelievable Double Arm DDT/Wheelbarrow Suplex combination, with Fish hitting a top rope Falcon Arrow and stunning Exploder Suplex, before the pair used their signature Chasing the Dragon double team to pick up the pinfall victory on Koslov. This topped of a superb opener nicely and set the tone for what was to come.
I really really want to hate AJ Styles and write nasty things about him, because he seems to be a bit of a nobhole. "But he's a heel, he's supposed to annoy you" Be quiet! There's being a heel to get a reaction in a building and then there's being unprofessional outside the ring and for me Styles crosses that line. But I can't write nasty things about him. "But you just have, you called him a "nobhole"" Be quiet! I can't write nasty things about him because he's fucking good wrestler and puts on matches like this here bout with Tetsuya Naito.
The match centred around Styles working over Naito's knee and leg, supposedly to set up for the Calf Killer submission (perhaps the commentary team forgot Styles used the move, because there was no mention of it until it was locked in), this offence from Styles was similar to what was seen out of him in the latter stages of his TNA run and works nicely for his heel persona. As soon as Naito was locked in the Calf Killer, his selling was on the button, making it so easy to will him on to reach the ropes, as the villainous Styles played his part in the drama as well.
I was a little disapointed then not to see the leg play a bit more into the finish of the bout, as it could have been easily tied in with the other on-going story of Styles attempting the feared Styles Clash at any opportunity. With Styles perched upon the top rope, Naito attempted a Super Frankensteiner, only for Styles to hold on and manage to set up for a Styles Clash off Bret's rope. A little grab of the leg before Styles' managed to set up for the Styles clash would have been the icing on the cake for me. This is probably the most nit picky paragraph I have ever written in a wrestling review and for that I am truly sorry.
Bar a few slight slips and hiccups, this was a top notch slice of wrestling action, that could have easily main evented any wrestling show going and not received a single complaint. Styles has been rejuvenated since leaving TNA, whilst Naito joins the long list of Japanese talents that severly impressed me on this show and another talent that TNA managed to let slip through their fingers!
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Ryusuke Taguchi (C)
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one, if I'm honest. It was neither here or there, and I'm not quite sure what they were trying to do with this one. Whilst there was some cool looking moves, and elements of story telling with The Young Bucks antics at ringside, there wasn't much in way of chemistry between the two and I just couldn't get into the match as much as I was expecting I would do. Maybe it was because we'd seen all the flips in the Four team Junior Tag match earlier in the show and there was no real attempt to create a strong story thread to follow.
Apart from an awkward double dropkick spot (Does that spot ever look good?), the wrestling was of a high quality and I thought the bout picked up the pace nicely in the second half, so there was certainly something to enjoy in this match. I think perhaps it was also hurt by being a little too long and being placed directly after two hard hitting bouts in the form of Suzuki vs, Sakuraba and Makabe vs. Ishii. With Omega picking up the win via pinfall following the One Winged Angel, I'd suspect this wasn't the star making performance he'd have hoped for, but he's certainly talented and I'd be surprised if he wasn't turning heads with his run as Junior Heavyweight Champion in the near future.
NEVER Openweight Championship Match
Two mean bastards beating the shit out of each other. This match had intensity on tap, as Makabe and Ishii looked to send each other into another dimension. That's at least what it seemed like as the pair unleashed a series of stiff strikes and big power moves on each other for just over twelve minutes. I was completely drawn into this one, with some stunning moves from both men including a powerbomb variation each, a delayed verticle superplex from Ishii and Northern Lights and Dragon Suplexes from Makabe, this match had a little bit more than your regular WWE power vs. power bout.
The stiff back and forth strikes battles and continued cat and mouse style, showcased just how evenly matched the two were and made a nice change of pace from the babyface fighting from underneath style that was showcased elsewhere on the card. I perhaps would have liked Ishii's taped up injured shoulder to have played a little bit more of a role in the match, especially considering it was bought up multiple times by Striker on commentary. This style of match won't be for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.
UWFi Rules Match
Hearing Matt Striker detailing the rules of this match filled me with dread, as I've never been a huge fan of MMA mixing with pro wrestling, mainly because it points to your other matches being pre-determined and makes it a little harder to suspend your disbelief going forward. Luckily, that wasn't the case here, as the veteran Suzuki and Sakuraba used a convincing style, all submission holds and strikes, whilst incorporating the pro wrestling theatrics, such as a hard fought battle on the ramp, over the top. This made it feel much more like a vicious pro wrestling match, than an MMA bout, which is perfectly fine by me.
The bout had a clear and defined story that saw Sakuraba focus the majority of his attack on Suzuki's arm, after being able to lock in a Kimura whilst on the ramp. This was helped along by Suzuki's stellar selling of the injury, as well the last man standing style elements with Suzuki battling to get to his feet before the ten count, which created a decent underdog-style story. When Suzuki made his come back with a huge kick, followed up by a Rear Naked Choke that eventually saw Sakuraba pass out from the pain, and whilst this worked well as an ending, it did feel a little like a John Cena-Hulk Hogan superman-esque comeback, which didn't quite mesh with the style presented earlier. Kudos to Matt Striker for really putting both of these guys MMA credentials over throughout the match, it definitely helped me as a viewer understand everything going on.
IWGP Tag Team Championship Match
Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata
BULLET CLUB (C)
This is where Matt Striker and Jim Ross being on commentary really worked for me. Had it not been for their performance on commentary, telling the story of Goto and Shibata being on the same college wrestling team and the rest of the pairs backstory that gave the bout an extra dimensionm, I'd have struggled to get into this. The flow felt a little bit off kilter and the teams didn't quite connect with each other the way I was hoping they would. All four men, particularly Karl Anderson, had their own moments that impressed me, but I don't think the match came together in the way it should have.
Six Man Tag Team Match
TenKoji & Tomoaki Honma
This bout was a fairly basic six man tag, going a little over five minutes there wasn't much room for the competitors to move in terms of the story they could tell. The heel BULLET CLUB, consisting of Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi (perhaps best known in the US for his 2009 run in TNA as part of the No Limit tag team) and former WWF, TNA and WCW wrestler Jeff Jarrett, spent most of the match working quick tags and working over Satoshi Kojima, before a hot tag allowed for a comeback. There was some American style antics from Jarrett and his trusty guitar, but that aside, with the babyface's picking up the win following a diving headbutt from Tomaki Honma, this was your run of the mill short tag bout, with nothing particular noteworthy.
Eight Man Tag Team Match
Naomichi Marufuji, TMDK & Toru Yano
I found this match a lot more entertaining than the aforementioned six man tag, although it was essentially a "get your shit in" showcase. That's maybe a bit of a harsh term to use, but this match essentially allowed each man to show off a little bit of what they could do in the ring, whether that be Shelton Benjamin hitting his leaping release belly to belly suplex on Marafuji, the power game of Davey Boy Smith, Jr. (formerly WWE's DH Smith) and Lance Archer (formerly WWE's Vance Archer & TNA's Lance Hoyt/Rock), the brawling style of Toru Yano and Takashi Iizuka, the speedy double team work of TMDK's Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste or the flawless skill of Naomichi Marufuji. For what it was, this is was a fun match, but was let down by the commentary team who didn't quite seem to know what was going on during spells of outside interference.
What else is there to say? This was fantastic pay-per-view event, Okada vs. Tanahashi and Nakamura vs. Ibushi were a different class, whilst Styles vs. Naito, the Junior Tag Team Four Way, Makabe vs. Ishii and Suzuki vs. Sakuraba are all worth watching and for entirely difference reasons! Striker and JR did a sound job on commentary, after settling into the show, although it was clear that Jim Ross didn't quite know as much about the product as he should have. I'd like to see Striker return for another show, as once he calmed himself down, he was an informative and interesting listen, perhaps they could team him up with an old New Japan gaijin, who might know a little more about the product? Was it worth the £25 that Flipps app were charging for the stream? Probably not, I'd want to be there live for that sort of money, bring the price down to £15-£17 and I'd definitely hand over my student loan for action this good.