The landscape of New Japan has undergone some drastic changes in the wake of regular schedules in a COVID-19 world. New faces have risen to the top and the barrier between heavyweight and junior has never felt more broken down. The July 25th show airing live from the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium on NJPW World and TV Asahi features three big matches. Kazuchika Okada faces Yujiro Takahashi in a singles match. Shingo Takagi defends his NEVER Openweight title against El Desperado. And EVIL makes his first defense as IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental champion against former LIJ stablemate, Hiromu Takahashi.
The show kicks off with a young lion, Yuya Uemura facing off against Bullet Club’s Taiji Ishimori. Expect a pretty standard young lion singles match here: Yuya Uemura will give it his all and show some real fire, but Ishimori will ultimately come away with the win.
– Uemura has been opposite Ishimori in 9 matches, 1 single and 8 tag matches. He has been on the losing side in all 9 matches, making his singles record against Ishimori 0-1.
Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima & Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe)
Gabriel Kidd, Yota Tsuji & CHAOS (Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii)
An undercard filler match is up next where we have the older guys, the younger guys, and the guys who just aren’t doing anything notable all mixing it up in this 8-man tag match. Expect Kidd and Makabe to go after each other here, as, in the post-match comments for the New Japan Road show, Gabriel said he wanted, “the old Makabe” in this upcoming match. I’m hoping we also get some good ol’ dose of Ishii and Kojima beating the piss out of each other.
CHAOS (SHO, YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto)
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
Wow. From the main event all the way down to third on the card. The former double champion, Tetsuya Naito finds himself and his parejas in a 6-man tag with the CHAOS team of SHO, YOSHI-HASHI, and Hirooki Goto. I’m curious as to whether or not this sets up anything in the future. A potential SHO vs. Naito program would be pretty cool. I feel like BUSHI perhaps takes the fall here as I feel like LIJ needs a few more kicks to them while they’re down in this story of Naito’s reign crashing down at the hands of EVIL and the Bullet Club.
Master Wato, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Yuji Nagata & The Golden Aces (Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi)
Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi)
This is a tag match that will likely further multiple different storylines all at the same time. Master Wato continues to battle with DOUKI and Kanemaru, whilst Tenzan gives his support to the Grandmaster. Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki reignite their feud, with Suzuki wanting Nagata in another singles match (which, hey, no complaints from me here, let’s do this!). And finally, Ibushi and Tanahashi face off against the men they dropped their titles to at Dominion, ZSJ, and Taichi. A rematch between the two teams for the belts, I feel, is quite probable and might end up being a main event during the upcoming Summer Struggle tour.
Now there’s a match I did not think I would be talking about this year. And yet, here we are. I feel like this match is either going to surprisingly good, or painstakingly boring, with there being no in between. But, personally I think this leans towards the latter, as Okada matches seem to never stray away from those, “long epic matches” that they like to do with Okada. So I highly doubt they make any exception for Yujiro. This match really does look like a recipe for disaster because you’re having Okada, who has been working a slower pace as of late, pairing up with a guy who works slower to fit his gimmick. Basically, if you need to take a break while watching live, I suggest you do so here because you likely won’t miss anything in the first half of the match.
– Kazuchika Okada has been opposite Yujiro Takahashi in a total of 83 matches. 2 of these have been singles matches while the rest have been tag matches. These two have not met in a one on one capacity since August of 2015 when Okada defeated Yujiro in the G1 Climax. In fact, both matches from these two come from the G1, where Okada has the 2-0 advantage.
Match 6: NEVER Openweight Title
The 29th Champion, Shingo Takagi
The Challenger, El Desperado
Now, this right here is the match I’m looking forward to the most. I have loved Shingo’s output consistently since becoming a member of the New Japan roster, and Desperado is lowkey one of my favorites in their junior division. It is really neat to see Desperado get this opportunity (even if it did perhaps only happen due to COVID-19 affected booking). I like how these last two matches are laid out because you have a more straight to the point, “two men battle for the belt” match, and then after this match, you have the much more story-based title match. Expect a Shingo win here as he continues to show dominance as the NEVER Openweight champion.
– Shingo Takagi and El Desperado have been opposite one another in a total of 17 matches, all of these being tags. This will be their first time facing off in a singles match, as Desperado was injured back in last year’s Best of the Super Junior tournament, so there was never any opportunity for a singles match.
– Shingo Takagi makes his third NEVER Openweight Title defense
Main Event: IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Title
The 71st & 25th Champion, EVIL
The Challenger, Hiromu Takahashi
EVIL’s turn to the Bullet Club and subsequent IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental title win has been the talk of the wrestling world. There really doesn’t appear to be much of a middle ground to this, as either people have loved EVIL as champion, or have completely buried it. This will certainly be the more story-based match of the night, which both excites me and also worries me. I’m excited because I love wrestling matches that include emotional connections, but also this is New Japan so I’m not sure if I want this storytelling to go on for 30+ minutes. New Japan has a format for its main events these days. And I’m just not sure if EVIL is the right kind of person for that type of match. So either EVIL and Hiromu really need to have a banger of a match or New Japan has to completely change their main event philosophy. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see either of those happening.
So who comes away with the victory? My money is on EVIL, as I think he needs at least one defense under his belt. And I feel that having Hiromu win the heavyweight title while, remember, still being the junior champion, would be a crazy thing to do in this environment. But then again, I would have said the same thing about EVIL winning. But the difference is Hiromu winning is a feel-good moment that should be reserved for a special venue against a special opponent. Like… Perhaps against Naito in the Tokyo Dome? Just a thought, of course.
– EVIL and Hiromu have not faced off in a singles match since March of 2013 when both of these guys were running the ropes as young lions. They have had 20 singles matches where Hiromu was always the victor, making his record against EVIL (who was then known as Takaaki Watanabe) an outstanding 20-0.
– EVIL makes his 1st IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Title defense
Sengoku Lord has three “high profile” matches that may actually be two, or even one, depending on how invested you feel in each match. Shingo vs. Desperado has all the tools to be the match of the night, and EVIL vs. Hiromu should be a good match for those emotionally invested in this storyline. My hope for this show is that New Japan sways away from their obsession with the “30+ minute epic” style of match, but I won’t be holding my breath.
You can watch this show live on NJPW World on July 25, 18:00 JST (2:00 am PDT, 5:00 am EDT, 10:00 am BST). You can subscribe to NJPW World for the monthly fee of 999 yen.