William Lee is a graduate of UC Irvine and Chapman with degrees in Film Studies and Screenwriting. He has held a life-long passion for all things geeky including comics, film, toys, and video games. He was previously a Senior Reviewer for over a decade with Movie Metropolis (formerly DVD Town). Will is a regular of the convention scene in Southern California and has been attending cons since 1993. You can also find him on Facebook as William D. Lee Photography

Puroresu returns to Southern California!

WWE may be sailing high financially, but creatively, they’ve hit doldrums not seen since the mid-90’s. Diehard wrestling fans dissatisfied with the McMahon Empire don’t have to look far for an alternative. Ring of Honor, PWG, PROGRESS, EVOLVE, Lucha Underground, even Impact  has made marked improvements. However, the hot ticket is definitely New Japan Pro Wrestling.

In years past, NJPW partnered with other promotions such as WCW, Jersey All-Pro or ROH, but last July was their first foray into independently running a major show in the United States. Tickets sold out quickly for the 2-night G1 Special in the USA with 2300+ at the Long Beach Convention Center. When New Japan returned the following March, they chose another Long Beach venue, the Walter Pyramid, which had double the crowd capacity. The show, dubbed Strong Style Evolved, still sold out in 20 minutes, with a reported attendance of 4372.

Not surprising, NJPW would aim for a bigger arena by choosing the historic Cow Palace in San Francisco for a follow-up show. Unfortunately, the promotion only drew 6300+ even though the headliner was the long-awaited showdown between Cody and Kenny Omega for control of the Bullet Club. Maybe the novelty has worn off as Fighting Spirit Unleashed, New Japan’s return to Long Beach on Sept. 30th, also fell short of a sell out with attendance of 3007. Despite some noticeably empty seats, the energy of the people present more than made up for it. The crowd was hot throughout the night.

The weekend actually began on Saturday with a meet and greet at their LA Dojo. Tickets were $30 for an autograph and photo op with New Japan stars Juice Robinson, Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr., Guerillas of Destiny, Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega, and Kota Ibushi. If you were looking to meet more NJPW personalities, Scott Norton, Chase Owens, and the Killer Elite Squad set up gimmick tables in the concourse before the show began.

Dark Match: Clark Connors def. Alex Coughlin via submission
The opening bout was between two of the young lions from New Japan’s LA Dojo with head trainer Katsuyori Shibata watching on. In traditional fashion, both rookies wore only plain black trunks and both with no knee pads, elbow pads or entrance music. Crowd was into the match, despite not being familiar with either wrestler. Biggest pops were for a deadlift side salto and a bridging figure-4 leglock. Coughlin submits to a Boston Crab with a pull back bridge by Connors.

Jushin Thunder Liger, Rysuke Taguchi & ACH def. Rocky Romero & Roppongi 3K
This is the first time for Taguchi at the California shows and I much prefer his brand of comedy to the over-the-top antics of Toru Yano. ACH takes out Sho and Yoh with a suicide dive allowing Taguchi to hit the Dodon on Rocky for the pinfall.

The Addiction def. Hangman Page & Chase Owens
Daniels and Kazarian came out with a California flag, as if the Pyramid needed more motivation to cheer them on. Page hit a combination dropkick/moonsault on both members of the Addiction as well as the Buckshot Lariat. He went for a shooting star press to the floor, but Kazarian got his knees up at the last minute. Owens is left alone and falls victim to the BME (Best Meltzer Ever).

Jeff Cobb, Chris Sabin & Flip Gordon def. Hirooki Goto, Chuckie T. & Trent Baretta
Even though this was Goto’s first trip, it was the Best Friends that shined. Cobb, the new ROH TV Champion, played big man with Chuckie and Trent muscling him up for a double suplex. Chuck hits a piledriver on Cobb, but missed a moonsault off the top rope. Cobb plants Chuck with the Tour of the Islands powerslam for the 3-count. Afterwards, Goto hits Cobb from behind to set up a future program between the two.

Zack Sabre Jr. & The Killer Elite Squad def. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & Sanada
Big reaction for Naito though the primary focus of the match was setting up a singles match between Sabre and EVIL. Suzuki-Gun starts it off immediately by attacking LIJ before the bell even rang. As Naito and Sanada brawled on the outside with KES, EVIL gets a close 2-count on Sabre after Darkness Falls. He goes for the Everything is Evil STO, but Sabre counters with the European Clutch while extending his middle fingers high in the air. Lance Archer didn’t do his usual entrance of spitting water on the fans, but made up for it with his post-match antics. A fan in the front row tried to get him to autograph a baseball cap, Archer just took the hat and wiped it on his crotch. Then, Davey Boy Smith Jr. scooped up one of the young lions for the trademark running powerslam in the aisle.

Switchblade Jay White & Gedo def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA
White is an incredibly talented worker, but it’s taken a while for him to grow into this new Switchblade persona. Adding Gedo to his side may be one of the elements he sorely needed. The match itself was probably the worst of the card. Not that anything was specifically terrible, but it couldn’t reach the quality of the other matches. Gedo mainly stuck to classic heel tactics like raking the eyes. While White distracted the ref, Gedo hit Tanahashi with brass knuckles, then knocked out KUSHIDA at ringside. White scooped Tanahashi up for the Blade Runner and an easy pinfall. White proceeded to challenge the Ace of New Japan for his Wrestle Kingdom title shot, but could barely get a word out as the crowd drowned him out with vociferous boos. The post-match was definitely more entertaining than the actual match.

Marty Scurll def. Will Ospreay
This was a quarterfinal match to crown a new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion following the injury of previous champ, Hiromu Takahashi. Ospreay immediately hit Scurll with a Standing Spanish Fly for a 2-count. He followed that up with a Space Flying Tiger Drop and a shooting star press off the top rope for another 2. Scurll slows things down and counters the Oscutter and the Stormbreaker. The two combatants brawl on the ring apron and I had traumatic flashbacks to the time Ospreay nearly killed himself. Finishing sequence was awesome as Scurll hit a Tiger Suplex off the 2nd rope followed by a package piledriver and the Graduation for the pinfall. While Ospreay may have been the loser, it’s obvious he’ll be moving up to the heavyweight division.

The Guerillas of Destiny def. The Young Bucks for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
It’s the battle of Bullet Club factions as the Bucks representing the Bullet Club Elite and the GOD representing the Firing Squad. The GOD were accompanied to the ring by their father, Haku, who didn’t factor into the match. Matt went through a table early on allowing Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa to work over Nick. Matt made the hot tag, but sold his back and needed assistance from his brother to complete More Bang For Your Buck. The Bucks go for the Meltzer Driver, but Tonga catches Nick in mid-air with a Gun Stun. Matt somehow manages to kick out of the Ape Shit and escape the Guerilla Warfare, but falls prey to the Dudley Death Drop. GOD prevail and walk away as the new tag team champions.

Cody Rhodes def. Juice Robinson for the IWGP US Title
Odd seeing Cody back to his obnoxious heel persona after playing total babyface at All In. It was also odd that no announcement was made about him being the new NWA World Champion while Cobb was announced earlier as new ROH TV Champion. Juice and Cody get into a slugfest with dueling “Juice” and “Cody” chants. Juice hits the Pulp Friction, but Brandi pulls her husband out of the ring to avoid the pin. Red Shoes begins the 20-count, but Juice refuses to win by countout. That turns out to be a mistake as Cody connects with the Cross Rhodes on the floor. Both men barely get back into the ring. Cody summons Din’s Fire (the Vertebreaker) for a close 2. Juice gets a superplex off the top rope, but Cody rolls him up out of nowhere win the United States Title.

The Golden Lovers def. Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii
Lots of craziness in the main event with Ishii and Kota Ibushi trading stiff shots, including some loud chops that echoed throughout the Walter Pyramid. Crowd went nuts when Omega and Okada finally faced off. Omega ducked the Rainmaker, but Okada escaped the One-Winged Angel, missed another Rainmaker, and got dropped by a Dragon Suplex. Other highlights include: a backflip into a double kneedrop by Ibushi on Ishii, Ishii nearly powerbombing Ibushi on his head for a 2, and Okada dropping the Best Bout Machine with a tombstone into a Sliding D by Ishii. The Stone Pitbull is eventually isolated and hit with a combination roundhouse kick and V-Trigger followed by the Golden Trigger for the win. Definitely match of the night with a lot of hard hitting action.

After the match, Omega thanked the audience and challenged Kota Ibushi for the main event at King of Pro Wrestling in Tokyo. True to fashion, Cody steals the spotlight and demands they make it a triple threat. Omega accepts in an effort to show the world the “beauty and originality” of professional wrestling.

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