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    Monday, August 2, 2021

    #CafePuro: Long May The Dragon Reign and Thoughts About NJPW's Future

    Shingo Takagi defended his belt against Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome.

    New Japan Pro-Wrestling once again showed everyone how they can adapt to the toughest of situations. Shingo Takagi was originally slated to defend his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome last July 25. However, Ibushi had to be removed from the event due to a condition called aspiration pneumonia. Ibushi was already removed from prior shows leading up to Wrestle Grand Slam due to side effects from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. And when NJPW faced another challenge, one man stepped up once again.

    Hiroshi Tanahashi came in to replace Ibushi on short notice. I'm not quite sure but it seems Tanahashi replaced Ibushi on the day of the event. That's a huge change when Shingo had been preparing for Kota Ibushi. The sudden replacement was not without build-up though. I loved the immediate pivot to discussing Tanahashi's winning record at the Tokyo Dome. Very few people can say they have defeated Tanahashi in one of Japan's premier sporting venues. 

    The match itself was what you would expect from any Tanahashi match. The Once in a Century Talent gave it his all despite having a body that's been damaged over the years. Whenever a big show is on the NJPW calendar, Tanahashi magically steps up to another level you don't see on a regular NJPW show.

    What makes Tanahashi's match so captivating—despite the loss—is that when NJPW management needed him for something, he was there. When Katsuyori Shibata left the company, Tanahashi was there to carry the entire company on his shoulders. When Shinsuke Nakamura left for an excursion in Mexico, Tanahashi was there to keep New Japan stable. Last Sunday was just another day for Tanahashi, but to us fans, it's a sign of how dedicated Hiroshi Tanahashi is to the company.

    I was left speechless by his match against Shingo Takagi. The pacing at the beginning was to be expected of an NJPW Main Event. They started off slow and built up to an exciting conclusion. My friends and I watched the show live on NJPW World, and Tanahashi made us believe he would hold the company's top title once again for several minutes. If Shawn Michaels is Mr. WrestleMania, then Hiroshi Tanahashi is Mr. Tokyo Dome.

    When Takagi hit the Last of The Dragon one last time, I was in awe, not shock. Mr. Tokyo Dome had been defeated. I loved how this match continues to build up Shingo Takagi. He defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the belt and then defeated the stalwart of NJPW to further his reputation as the best in the company today.

    What does the future hold for The Dragon?

    Now that Takagi has defeated Okada (the current Ace) and Tanahashi (the stalwart of NJPW), the next opponent was a mystery for a few minutes—that is until EVIL suddenly appeared on the Tokyo Dome video screen and challenged Shingo. 

    EVIL then attacked Shingo to close off the show. In other words... Shingo got "Naito'd."

    Remember how Tetsuya Naito was attacked by KENTA at WrestleKingdom 15? EVIL basically did the same thing to Shingo. Once again, the Bullet Club became a thorn on LIJ's side. The two are now scheduled to face each other in the MetLife Dome in Saitama for the next Wrestle Grand Slam event.

    A well-paced show

    The rest of the event was great, with the opening matches doing what they were supposed to. Robbie Eagles defeated El Desperado in a banger of a match to become the new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. After months of being stuck in Australia, our dear Kuya Robbie made us proud by having the best match in the first half of the show. 

    Robbie Eagles became the second wrestler of Filipino descent to win a title in NJPW.

    I'm excited for what's next with Kuya Robbie because earlier in the night, former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi declared that he would face the winner of Eagles vs. Desperado to reclaim the Junior Heavyweight belt that he never lost. And just like that, NJPW found a way to keep your eyes on them despite the curveballs being thrown at them. I just hope Hiromu can stay healthy this time.

    In the other matches, Chase Owens avoided handcuffs and the Mega Coaches ran a little long against El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori. Sadly, the much-anticipated Okada/Cobb match ended in a roll-up. I had a bad feeling when that happened and it turns out we're getting a rematch at the next Wrestle Grand Slam in Seibu.

    Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome really picked up the pace towards the end of the night with a crazy match for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Belts. Everybody knows that the pacing of the last two matches is always slow and boy, did Naito and the boys make us wait.

    I must say that the wait was worth it though. The last ten minutes of the tag match brought me to the edge of my seat and I really thought that Naito and SANADA would retain the tag belts that is... until Naito got too confident. El Ingobernable got too cocky by attempting a second Destino and the Dangerous Tekkers would take advantage of the situation and regain their heavyweight tag belts.

    The end result was a bit surprising because I thought to myself, what was the point of losing the titles if you were just going to get them back?

    Into the future!

    Now that we have talked about the current players of NJPW, I wanted to take this time to discuss the future of the company. 

    Shota Umino was supposed to appear at the upcoming Resurgence event along with Fighting Spirit Unleashed. Sadly, he won't be able to make it due to travel restrictions. Other Young Lions seem to be headed out for excursion as well. We already know that Ren Narita is currently performing in North America, including in shows such as AEW. Meanwhile, in Japan, Tsuji Yota and Yuya Uemura participated in their respective final Young Lion matches.

    Naito tips his cap to Tsuji Yota after their match.

    Tsuji faced Naito, while Yuya faced Okada in their last time as Young Lions, and you can't have anyone better to send the two Lions off to excursion. Facing one of the company's two biggest stars shows how much the company believes in these two prospects.

    My question is where do the two Lions go for their excursion? With the pandemic still raging on, I can't see them wrestling in Mexico or the U.K. with all the travel restrictions being implemented. Maybe they'll go to the U.S.? The ROH partnership seems to be active with Violence Unlimited appearing on NJPW Strong. However, the number of cases from COVID-19's delta variants seems to be climbing higher and higher in America.

    Could we see these Lions appear in other Japanese companies instead?

    I want to believe that NJPW will fix their damaged relationship with the likes of Pro-Wrestling NOAH and maybe give their Young Lions a shot to learn from the likes of Naomichih Marufuji and Go Shiozaki. Heck, maybe they could join DDT or ChocoPro, for all we know. Nobody knows where the Lions are going and I'm very curious to see where they will go.  

    What do you think of NJPW's current direction? Do you think Shingo and EVIL will have a good match this September? Will the Young Lions appear in North America or stay in Japan?

    Share your thoughts below!

    Images from NJPW

    Steven Tan (@steviesaidyup) works for an e-commerce company by day and operates The Geeky Juans podcast and blog by night. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, comic books, and the Moomin franchise. You can find more of his geeky thoughts on Twitter.
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: Long May The Dragon Reign and Thoughts About NJPW's Future Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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