New Japan Pro-Wrestling
Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
February 18th, 2018
Presented by Destroy All Lines
Emanating in Melbourne from Australia’s most storied and historic professional wrestling establishment, New Japan’s inaugural trip down under reiterated what their slogan already claims; these guys are king of sports. A raucous, near-sold out crowd of thousands popped like mad for every heavy hit, huge slam, aerial expertise, and charismatic showboat; all of which were in no short supply.
The night opened with former Melbourne City Wrestling champion Elliot Sexton going down in a swift and burly contest against resident NJPW rock and rolling heel Lance Archer. Content to berate the crowd and spit water at them, Archer hammed it up as the bad guy in style, and scored a win after a low blow and roll up went unseen by Edward (Melbourne’s favourite resident ref). It was great to see Sexton’s massively impressive physique back in action after such a long hiatus living it up in the USA.
NJPW veteran Yugi “Blue Justice” Nagata slapped around Chase Owens next up, giving the youngster plenty of time to look good, before finishing him up with a quick chain of slams and holds that had the crowd pumped up in a heartbeat. Nagata is Japanese wrestling royalty, and seeing him live is a huge tick on many hardcore fans’ bucket list.
Sanada and the rather unnerving EVIL faced off against home country favourites Bad Luck Fale and Gino “Juicy” Gambino in tag team action next. The match overflowed with charisma and comedy, thanks mostly to the unquestionable brilliance of Mr. Juicy’s comic timing, and ability to work a crowd. A spot involving every wrestler attempting to power slam the 160kg, 2-metre-tall Fale went off like a rocket, and had the crowd in stitches. Safe to say, they all failed to do so (even the ref), and wound up with Fale slamming his own tag partner Juicy in the confusion. Juicy Gambino is arguably Melbourne’s most beloved Pro wrestler (insert heat from Dowie James here), and it’s no surprise he’s now a member of NJPW NOW-style faction Bullet Club, and presently touring the world with them. It’s fantastic to see a home town boy making his dreams come true after years of 5 star matches on the Australian indie circuit.
The last match before intermission was undoubtedly the evening’s highlight, thanks to the veteran brilliance of Cody Rhodes, and his spectacularly exciting tag partners, The Young Bucks. Facing up in three-on-three action against the hugely underrated WWE/ NXT-alumnus Juice Robinson, along with Kushida and Toa Henare. This match erupted from the opening bell and never let up until a soaring set of perfectly executed signature spots from Cody and The Bucks got them the win. A triple suicide dive, myriads of super kicks, corner spots, and hot tags had Festival Hall unglued for a full quarter of an hour. This was pro wrestling at its best, and definitely best experienced at a house show. The action is in your lap, the wrestlers can really let themselves go and have some fun without having to build TV storyline, and crowds are always that much more excited as a result. Seeing these six guys in action as a hardcore, 30-year wrestling expert was an absolute privilege. A quick mic spot at the end to push some upcoming PPV story line was swift and engaging, and had everyone pumped for the post-intermission main events. Cody mentioning his legendary father’s last wrestling appearance in Festy Hall way back in 1970 was lovely, and it certainly lent acknowledgement to just how important the venue has been for wrestling/ live entertainment in our town since before most people watching were born.
Marcus Pitt and Damien Slater faced off against Robbie Eagles and Mick Moretti in a match that took a crowd of folks who both didn’t know these guys, and were just getting back from the bar a little while to warm up to. Luckily, these dudes structured a ripper little show with some brilliant stiff spots that sold the crowd on their credibility (not that the nut case wrestling fans in attendance needed much convincing). Pitt and Slater came away with the victory.
Kiwi heel Switchblade Jay White has recently risen to stardom, loftily enough to have defeated (arguably) the world’s best wrestler Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Championship this past January at a PPV in Sapporo, Japan. He faced off against overtly machismo local Slex. Although far from a terrible match, the two usually engaging performers didn’t really click, and nothing much truly stood out. Again, it certainly wasn’t a bad match, and there are simply times when in ring chemistry is low. I’m sure these two usually engaging wrestlers blew the roof off other stops in the tour.
The night’s penultimate main event saw massive Samoan-Australian GFW heavyweight champ/ beast Jonah Rock face off against half-crazy MMA/ pro wrestling hybrid veteran Minoru Suzuki in a hard-as-fuck hitting match up that left both men bruised to the nines after a swathe of successive cross chops and stiff blows throughout. It was a brilliant and exciting match that drew many collective groans from the crowd as each “fake” hit landed with a thunderous slap or dull, ugly thud. Suzuki hitting his Gotch pile driver finisher by lifting Rock’s 150-ish kilogram frame off the crowd blew the stadium apart. The vet clearly still has immense strength in that well-travelled frame of his. After the match, both competitors shook hands in a show of huge mutual respect. Awesome stuff all round, and very deserving of its spot on the card.
The night was polished off in style by two of NJPW’s biggest names in the mix for a second three-on-three tag match. Resident jaw-dropping superstar Kenny Omega teamed with Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa to face Omega’s long time 6-star match rival/ NJPW champion Kazuchika Okada, alongside Tomohiro Ishii and Ring Of Honour superstar Rocky Romero. The match was a rollicking brawl full of well-built spots and false finishes that had the already ballistic crowd reaching fever pitch throughout. An all-in-stoush through the audience was icing on the cake for those who’d paid the few extra bucks to get up close. Omega finished off the match at the crest of the rolling fray with his spine-shattering and brilliant finisher The One-Winged Angel, much to the sated crowds further delight.
A brief promo and a big thank you rounded out the night nicely, and not one fan in that place went home unhappy. It’s sad to think that may be the last time the illustrious Festival Hall ever sees a wrestling show again before developers hang another big boring shit in our town and erect more concrete prison flats for idiots to pay excessive rent for where it presently stands. If that’s the case, NJPW gave Festival Hall’s near-century long association with professional wrestling a fitting finale. Thank you, NJPW!
Revisit our interview with wrestling legend Juice Robinson here
Review and Photo Gallery by the legendary Todd Gingell
Please credit Wall of Sound and Todd Gingell if you repost.