Looking back at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed

Taking a look at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed on September 30th, 2018 live from the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, CA.

One thing I wanted to mention was how happy I was that the Walter Pyramid had two different entrances for fans this time. The last NJPW event at Walter Pyramid had a really long line to get inside the venue. This time, there were two separate lines. One for people with bags, and one without. This made the entry process much better. Attendance was down from Strong Style Evolved in March, but there were still a lot of people in attendance. A lot of people during the early part of the show were standing in lines for merchandise and concession stands, which resulted in a lot of empty seats for most of the show. As time went on, the seats began to fill up.

I didn’t get to see the dark match between the two LA Dojo Young Lions, so here’s Steve with his thoughts on the match.

Dark Match – NJPW LA Dojo Young Lion Showcase: Clark Connors over Alex Coughlin via ref stoppage. [7’33]

Steve: Thirty minutes before the scheduled bell time there was a dark match to showcase students from New Japan’s LA Dojo. The two wrestlers who ended up competing in the match were Alex Coughlin, who was a former WWE Tough Enough contestant and wrestled as Leo Blackstone on the indies, and Clark Connors who was originally trained by Lance Storm and wrestled in the Pacific Northwest before joining the LA Dojo.

As with Young Lions’ matches in Japan, both wrestlers were dressed in identical black trunks. This was a typical Young Lions match where it remained fairly basic while being almost a pure strong style match. Despite no character work, the crowd likely not knowing either wrestler and only half the crowd even in their seats, they still managed to pull the crowd into the match and got some pretty good reactions for the bridging submissions. Clark Connors won by ref stoppage. This was basic by design, but really solid work from both wrestlers.

Andrew: Now onto the main show.

Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi, and ACH over Rocky Romero and Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh) via Dodon on Romero by Taguchi. [8’55]

This was a solid opener to the main show. ACH had a pretty good performance and stood out the most to me in this match. Taguchi and Liger were really over with the crowd. Their signature spots got good ovations from the people in my area, but Liger got the biggest reactions in this match from the crowd. Taguchi also got great reactions for his comedy spots. The action in the match was solid, and the fans were very into this. Even though the rating doesn’t reflect it because of the amount of time the match was given, this was good stuff.
Rating: **1/2

Frankie Kazarian & Christopher Daniels over Bullet Club (Hangman Page & Chase Owens) via Best Meltzer Ever. [8’14]

At the show, I was sitting to across the aisle from SCU’s Gregg of Rice & Beans, and Jay Cal of Alliance-Wrestling.com. Before this match started, I was telling them how surreal it is that the name of this site is being used for a stable in major wrestling promotions now.

This was another solid match that the fans were into. Daniels and Kazarian are really fun to watch as a team. Their double team offense was pretty cool, and they had really good performances in this match. Hangman Page really shined in this match. The spot where he went for a Shooting Star Press off the apron only to be countered by a Codebreaker by Frankie Kazarian was one of the highlights of the night. The Best Meltzer Driver Ever was also really cool. Say what you want about NJPW loading their undercards with tag team matches, but I personally don’t care if the matches are good like this was. it was laid out well and the fans were into it. I really liked it and thought it was a really fun match.
Rating: **3/4

Flip Gordon, Chris Sabin, and Jeff Cobb o er Chuckie T (Chuck Taylor), Beretta (Trent?), and Hirooki Goto via Tour of the Islands on Chuckie T by Cobb. [12’04]

It was really cool to see Chris Sabin live in 2018. His matches in PWG between 2005-2007, both in singles and tag matches with Alex Shelley, were really good. He might be one of the most underrated performers ever in pro wrestling. He had a pretty good performance in this one. The biggest story of the match though was the interactions between Cobb and Goto, which leads to an angle after the match.

As for the match, it was really good. It was more of a sprint than the other matches on the card up to this point, and it had more spots than the other two. There were also antics with Chuckie T and Beretta. Even Jim Ross got a laugh from a Chuckie T spot. Flip Gordon had a good performance in this match and got really over with the crowd. Jeff Cobb also had a really good showing here, and his segment with Goto in the latter part of the match was a lot of fun. Once again, this was a really good match.
Rating: ***1/4

After the match, Goto cheap shotted Cobb with a clubbing forearm from behind. Goto would try to goad him into a fight, and the fans wanted to see them go at it. It was a pretty cool little angle that will hopefully lead to another match between the two.

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre, Jr. and the Killer Elite Squad [Davey Boy Smith, Jr. & Lance Archer]) over Los Ingobernables de Japón (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, and EVIL) via rolling back clutch on EVIL by Sabre Jr.. [9’27]

This match was different than the other matches that preceded it. Suzuki-gun attacked Los Ingobernables de Japón from behind before the match started and got the advantage early on. The Killer Elite Squad got a lot of heat from the crowd for their heel antics and worked over SANADA for an extended period of time. SANADA would get the hot tag to Naito, who got a huge reaction from the crowd. I really enjoyed this match. It was worked more aggressively and came off as more unique than the other matches up to this point of the show. This was another good under-10 minute match, and it did a good job at setting up the upcoming match between Zack and EVIL at King Of Pro-Wrestling on October 8th.
Rating: **3/4

After the match, Suzuki-gun beat up some of the Young Lions at ringside, with Davey Boy Smith, Jr. hitting a running powerslam on one of the Young Lions onto the floor.

Gedo and Jay White over KUSHIDA and Hiroshi Tanahashi via Blade Runner on Tanahashi by White. [8’52]

The fans in attendance gave Gedo and Jay White a lot of heat, and they did a really good job at playing it up. Jay White was very entertaining here. He’s really grown into his character and his personality has evolved. There was some brawling at ringside during the match, and Tanahashi was worked over for some heat before he got the hot tag to KUSHIDA. KUSHIDA and Tanahashi would mount a comeback before Gedo hit Tanahashi with brass knuckles as Tanahashi went for the High Fly Flow, leading to Jay White hitting the Blade Runner for the win. This was probably the least exciting match of the show, but it was still good. The problem is everything else on the card eclipsed it in terms of quality.
Rating: **1/2

After the match Jay White got on the microphone and had Gedo take Tanahashi’s briefcase with his WrestleKingdom title match contract inside it, The fans would boo Jay White heavily as he tried to talk. Jay White would say he had a right to the contract because he beat Tanahashi in the G1 Climax. He then said that NJPW didn’t like the thought of Tanahashi not headlining WrestleKingdom. This was a really fun segment overall with Jay White cutting a good promo as Tanahashi was selling the brass knuckles.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship Tournament: Marty Scurll over Will Ospreay via The Graduation. [16’08]

For those who are unaware, Hiromu Takahashi injured his neck at the G1 Special in the USA back in July. during a match with Dragon Lee. This would force him to vacate the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, leading to NJPW holding a four-man tournament for the title. The other first-round match took place at Destruction in Kobe on September 23rd, 2018 between KUSHIDA and BUSHI, with KUSHIDA going over to face the winner of this match at King of Pro-Wrestling on October 8th in Ry?goku Kokugikan in Japan.

This was really nutty and exciting match. Things started off hot with Ospreay attacking Scurll when the bell rang. This would lead to Ospreay hitting several highspots in the opening minute of the match, which the crowd went crazy for. In person, this match was extremely entertaining and was just as good when I re-watched it on NJPW World, These guys have worked each other so many times before, and it really shows as they have amazing chemistry together inside the ring. I really liked this match overall and thought it was amazing. Both guys had a great showing, and the fans were super into this. I highly recommend everyone check this out.
Rating: ****1/2

IWGP Tag Team Championship Match: Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) over Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) via Killshot to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. [19’21]

The Guerrillas Of Destiny were accompanied to ringside by Haku. I thought this was a really good match. The Young Bucks have really become masters of tag team wrestling, and the Guerrillas Of Destiny of a really underrated team. Along with the current Bullet Club Civil War between the Elite and the Firing Squad angle, one of the stories of this match was Matt’s ongoing back issues. The fans in attendance were really into this match, with the Guerrillas Of Destiny getting a really great reaction from the crowd. Both teams put on good performances, and the action was really fun.

Matt had the standout performance in the match, especially since his back issues was one of the main plots of the match. His selling was tremendous too. When the Young Bucks went for More Bang For Your Buck, Matt would sell the damage for a few moments before hitting a springboard moonsault off the top rope. He would also take a running powerslam onto the floor, and would later get shoved off the top rope by Tanga Loa through a table outside of the ring. As I said, I thought this was a really good match. The pacing made for some good action, and the storytelling was top-notch. This is another match you should go out of your way to see.
Rating: ****1/4

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Match: Cody over Juice Robinson via small package to win the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. [16’45]

As I mentioned before, I sat across the aisle from honorary National Wrestling Alliance superfan Jay Cal of Alliance-Wrestling.com at this event. One thing he mentioned during the show was that one of the main reasons he went to this was to see Cody with the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship. I’m not going to lie, Cody is the perfect choice to be NWA champion. While the NWA is still a long way to go, Cody helps bring some prestige and notoriety to the brand and the title, while also giving it some relevance.

I really liked this match. It was completely different from the other matches, as it had an “old school” style to it with a modern twist. Both guys played to the crowd, and Brandi (who was at ringside with Cody) was really good in her role. It had some good back-and-forth action and good storytelling. There weren’t as many highspots in this match compared to the other matches, but it was still very entertaining and the fans seemed into it at the show. I was pretty surprised when Cody got the win, but I’m interested in seeing where NJPW goes with him as the IWGP US Champion.
Rating: ***1/2

The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) over Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii via Golden Trigger. [23’05]

Even after more than three hours of wrestling, the fans were hyped for this. On top of that, all four men came off as real stars in this match. Jay Cal and I were talking after the show about how Tomohiro Ishii is one of the most entertaining pro wrestlers in the world right now. If you are a fan of pro wrestling, he is one of those guys you should see perform live

As for the match itself, it was great. The atmosphere in the building was pretty electric for this. Especially when Okada and Omega faced off against each other in the ring. The fans were also really excited when Omega and Ishii tagged into the match against each other. Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi had some awesome exchanges in this match. Their sequences with each other were some of my favorite portions of the match.

The layout and structure of the match was great overall. It built up to some really exciting moments such as Omega and Okada’s face off in the latter part of the match. Like I said, this was a great match featuring four of the best professional wrestlers in the world today. Southern California was so lucky to get to have this match happen here. If you are a fan of professional wrestling, I highly recommend checking this match out.
Rating: ****3/4

After the match, Kenny Omega got on the mic as the Young Bucks, Marty Scurll, and Hangman Page joined he and Ibushi inside the ring. He talked about their ten-year promise and how everyone wants to see them have a rematch. Kenny would then begin to challenge Kota Ibushi to a match at King of Pro-Wrestling on October 8th in Ry?goku Kokugikan in Japan.

During Kenny’s promo, Cody came out and got on the mic after Kenny’s challenge. He proposed that he, Omega, and Ibushi have a Triple Threat between them instead. Kenny got on the mic, referenced the 2005 match between Brock Lesnar, Kazuyuki Fujita, and Masahiro Chono in 2005 without mentioning who was in it and said “let us rewrite history” and accepted the challenge. He would close with his catchphrase and the Elite would pose in the ring to end the show.

After a highlight package of the show, we headed to the press room where the Golden Lovers addressed the media. During this, he mentioned that they could only face each other in a ‘legendary building’ that’s even bigger than Budokan. Some people I’ve talked to thought this could be a tease for a match in Madison Square Garden next year, which makes a lot of sense. After the comments, Kenny took questions from the media.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a great show. The main event, IWGP Tag Title match, and Ospreay/Scurll were the best matches on the show. I’ve been to every NJPW show in SoCal so far, and I have to say that every time I attend one of their events, I’m reminded of why I watch pro wrestling. Every match was good, and the second half of the card was excellent. After the event, I ran into local MMA journalist/interviewer Adam Woods and local MMA fighter Blake Troop. Adam mentioned to me that this show changed his view on professional wrestling and that he might never be able to watch WWE again as it can’t compare to NJPW. For the most part, everyone I talked to really enjoyed the show overall.

I also spoke briefly with Blake Troop, who is currently training with Brian Kendrick. He mentioned that he still plans on fighting and is likely fighting in November for LFA on AXS TV. Be on the lookout for that. Speaking of AXS TV, be sure to check out NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed when it airs on AXS TV this Friday night. If you don’t want to wait, check it out now on NJPW World.

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