In this edition of Real Talk, I take a look at the NJPW Super J Cup in Long Beach, the attendance for the Super J Cup in Long Beach, and a Hot Take.
Super J Cup Show Thoughts
Most of the non-tournament matches featured Young Lions from the LA Dojo and the NJPW Dojo in Japan. The LA Dojo’s Alex Coughlin got a win over Shota Umino of the NJPW Dojo in the only case of Young Lion on Young Lion crime that night. Clark Connors of the LA Dojo faced Jonathan Gresham. Ren Narita of the NJPW Dojo went up against Soberano Jr., and Karl Fredericks of the LA Dojo faced Juice Robison. These matches were all solid, but they felt like filler matches. Not that there was anything wrong with these matches, it’s just that there wasn’t much to them. Still, I enjoyed these matches more than most of the matches I’d see on another show in the area.
The other two non-tournament matches saw an eight-man tag team match mostly featuring guys who were eliminated in the earlier rounds of the tournament along with Jushin Liger, and a tag team match featuring two of NJPW’s top stars. In the eight-man tag, Liger, TJ Perkins, Amazing Red, and Ryusuke Taguchi went over Robbie Eagles, Rocky Romero, Sho, and Yoh. This also could’ve been Jushin Liger’s final match in SoCal. That’s assuming he isn’t on the NJPW shows at Chara Expo USA in Anaheim later in December. Seeing Amazing Red in person was really cool. While his career never took off, he was still a huge innovator for his time. This was a very enjoyable showcase match. It wasn’t spectacular, but the crowd was really into this.
In the semi-main event, Bullet Club members Jay White and Taiji Ishimori faced Tetsuya Naito and Bushi of Los Ingobernables de Japon. Jay White and Tetsuya Naito both received big reactions from the crowd. Naito got plenty of cheers, while White got a lot of heat from the fans. They really came off like major stars in this match. There was a lot of energy for this match from the crowd, considering Naito and White were the biggest names on the show next to Liger. The post-match angle involving the Bullet Club laying out LIJ and Jay White declaring his intentions to become the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion at the same time was really cool.
The tournament matches were all really good. Dragon Lee vs. Caristico was a really good opening match in the semifinals. Even though it got awkward at some points, both guys put on a really fun sprint. There were a good amount of Latino fans in attendance (which shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s SoCal) and they added a Lucha-style vibe to the match. The other semifinal match, El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay, was excellent. Will Ospreay, who was getting a lot of praise for his performances on previous nights of this tournament, did a great job in this match. While Ospreay got some praise from a lot of people, I thought Phantasmo shined even more in this match.
In the finals, Dragon Lee faced El Phantasmo in what is one of my top matches of the year in SoCal. Before this, I thought Alex Zayne vs. Blake Christian from GCW’s event earlier this month was the best match that would take place in SoCal this year. Then the Super J Cup finals happened, and I had second thoughts. Dragon Lee vs. El Phantasmo had an epic match that included many things that any pro wrestling fan could enjoy. There was blood, crazy spots, near falls, and a well-told story. Both men put on tremendous performances in this match. Everyone should check this out once it hits NJPW World. Even though I didn’t review this show, I would’ve listed this match as ***** if I did.
While I haven’t seen the first two nights of the tournament, I thought El Phantasmo was the MVP of this show. He had a star-making performance on Sunday night. I saw some negative reactions online to him going over, but I think once people see this show, some of those people will change their minds and be sold on him as one of NJPW’s next top stars. He’s really talented inside the ring, and he has loads of personality. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up moving to heavyweight and was in big headline matches in a few years.
Overall, the final night of the 2919 Super J Cup was a great live experience. All of the matches ranged from solid to excellent. The pacing of the show was also really good. There were nine matches on the show, and the event was over in under three hours without an intermission. While no intermission was a small downer, it didn’t hurt the quality of the show. Plus I can’t complain about the lack of intermission since the show didn’t go on for hours like most wrestling shows do these days. Nothing felt rushed, and everything flowed nicely. Plus the matches were good, which really helped.
The only downside (besides no intermission) was the video announcement of NJPW running in San Jose in November. I don’t know who thought airing this video announcement about a show in NorCal would be a good idea, but it didn’t go over well with the SoCal crowd. Nothing against the people in NorCal, and it’s good to see NJPW expanding to new markets, but never expect SoCal to show love for anything going up in NorCal. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. If a crowd in NorCal were shown a video announcing a show in SoCal, they’d be too. In fact, it’d be disrespectful on their part not to boo and rep their region the way we boo them.
NJPW in SoCal and Super J Cup Attendance
I can’t talk about the Super J Cup show in Long Beach without talking about the attendance. The show drew 2,512, which was down from the promotion’s last two visits to the Walter Pyramid. They did 4,372 for Strong Style Evolved on March 25th, 2018 and 3,007 for Fighting Spirit Unleashed on September 30th, 2018. Some people will probably look at this and think this was a failure for NJPW. Others will probably think NPW has lost its appeal to fans in SoCal. But when you take certain factors into consideration, the turnout for the Super J Cup was actually pretty good and a positive sign that NJPW still has a strong fan base in SoCal.
Sunday was a loaded day for sports fans in the Los Angeles market. You had the New York Yankees making a rare visit to Dodger Stadium in the final game of a series with the Dodger. There was also a game between the LA Galaxy and LAFC. The LAFC vs. Galaxy game drew an announced crowd of 22,757, while the Dodgers vs. Yankees game drew an announced crowd of 53,828. The LA Sparks (supposedly) drew 17,000 people for their game at Staples Center, but I doubt NJPW fans have much interest in the WNBA and vice versa. Sparks game aside, I wouldn’t have a hard time believing if the Dodgers and Galaxy/LAFC games might’ve kept a few hundred potential costumers from going to the Super J Cup in Long Beach.
The lineup for the show wasn’t announced until very early morning Sunday morning. I’m talking 2 AM early. To me, this was probably the biggest reason why the show drew lower than past NJPW shows at the Walter Pyramid. While people could’ve guessed the sixteen performers in the tournament and Liger would’ve been on the show, I doubt anyone expected Tetsuya Naito, Jay White, or Juice Robinson to be on it. Had they been advertised, I’m sure NJPW would’ve drawn an extra 500 people to the show. As good as the announced Super J Cup tournament lineup was, it didn’t have the drawing power to fill up a 4,000 seat venue. On top of that, the show seemed to lack in importance following the G1 Climax and right before Royal Quest in the UK this week.
There’s also the fact that fans from outside of SoCal who traveled to shows in the past now have more opportunities to see NJPW in the US. In past visits to Long Beach, NJPW was able to draw people from outside of SoCal because the promotion hadn’t begun running in other places in the US yet. If you wanted to see NJPW in America two years ago, you had to travel to Long Beach. With NJPW running in more places in America, including the Northeast next month, a lot of the fans who would’ve traveled to events in Long Beach to witness NJPW in person had no incentive to travel for this show. Even without those fans from outside of SoCal, this show drew a good crowd.
As I said above, some people will probably look at Sunday’s attendance and consider it to be a failure. Given the level of importance of the show, no announced card ahead of time, no top stars like Okada being advertised, and the amount of big sporting events that took place, 2,512 for this show should be considered a success for NJPW. I don’t know if they made money on the show or not, but given the circumstances, drawing a crowd of 2,512 was the best number NJPW could’ve hope for when it came to this show. In my mind, it was also a sign that NJPW still has a solid base of fans in SoCal. If they come back with their top stars, I can see them drawing a bigger crowd than the one on Sunday.
Hot Take: Fantastica Mania should be in SoCal
Closing out this column, I wanted to share something I’ve had on my mind since Sunday. As I was watching the Dragon Lee vs. Caristico match, I started thinking to myself about how great a NJPW/CMLL Fantastica Mania event in SoCal would be. There’s a strong NJPW fan base in SoCal, as well as a huge Latino market, so it’d draw really well. Who do I have to talk to to make this happen? Rocky Romero? Harold Meij?
Someone make this happen!