Yuko Miyato v Tom Burton
Pretty much nothing happened in the first five minutes of this. Like, at all. Burton walks around with his guard up and Miyato probes, but nothing connects, it's just Burton stalking him down and Miyato keeping him at arm's length. At one point Burton threw a series of knees and Miyato slipped and fell over, but it didn't even register as a knockdown. That was the extent of the action in those first five minutes. Then they get the 'five minutes passed' call and almost straight away Miyato starts winging leg kicks, which gets him a knockdown. Burton starts selling the leg by backing up and limping slightly, so he goes for his bread and butter (the takedowns) and actually hits a butterfly suplex. Finish was cool as well. It's not easy to make a powerbomb look like a shoot move unless you're Rampage Jacksoning your way out of a triangle choke, but this looked like Miyato got caught in the gut and buckled over, so Burton capitalised and drilled him. Burton isn't all that good really, but you can tell he tries and there's something easy to like about the big lug's enthusiasm.
Kiyoshi Tamura v Yoji Anjoh
Well this was tremendous. It's a total "underdog trying to step up to the plate" story and Tamura has the biggest chip on his shoulder the whole way through. Right at the start you see it when he dumps Anjoh a couple times and tells him to bring it. Anjoh will sometimes do something dickheaded and it just annoys Tamura and makes him even more desperate to prove himself at Anjoh's expense. He throws some slaps and you can tell it gets to Anjoh, because he responds by throwing brutal knees to the body in explosive flurries of annoyance at what this kid is doing. When he gets REALLY annoyed he pushes the envelope a bit and drops some super nasty knees across Tamura's head, and that leads to an awesome moment where Tamura repays the favour and Anjoh looks at him almost in disbelief. The nerve of this kid, who does he think he is? Anjoh grabs hold of Tamura's hair to prevent him from putting on a half crab, so Tamura drops the hold and just slaps him across the face. He knows how Anjoh is and he knows the last thing you can do is let him take liberties. It was a great dynamic and it ran through the whole match. Defensively this was a spectacular performance from Tamura. The speed on some of the ground exchanges was astonishing and Tamura would constantly roll out of or reverse situations that looked dangerous. When people talk about defensive wrestlers, at least in a shoot style context, the guy I think of as the bar setter is Fujiwara. I'm not saying Tamura is better, but at this point I think he's right on that same level, albeit in a different sort of way. Defensively Fujiwara was wily. He used all of his smarts along with the stellar ground game. He'd sometimes sucker guys in, and when he looked most vulnerable he'd completely flip the script and submit them, or at least use their fervor to finish the match against them in some way. With Tamura, it's his athleticism that's remarkable. His speed on counters, how he can wriggle free and instantly turn a position where he's almost caught in an armbar into a position that's advantageous. There were plenty examples in this, but the best might've been his escape from a front facelock straight into a go-behind. That probably doesn't seem terribly special just from reading about it, but it was breathtaking in execution and judging by the crowd response I wasn't the only one who was taken aback by it. Towards the end you could see him starting to tire, Anjoh's strikes to the body starting to wear him down more and more. He keeps on coming because he refuses to be denied and the crowd stay firmly behind him, but he was already fighting an uphill battle on the feet and it's tough to keep going on the mat when you've been kicked and kneed in the guts for fifteen minutes. You can have the strongest engine in the game, but that takes its toll. After the match Anjoh hangs around for a little while, because even a shithead like Anjoh can appreciate Tamura's effort. Real recognise real. Tamura had less than ten matches in his career at this point, btw. That's David Robinson averaging 24 and 12 in his rookie season level.
Kazuo Yamazaki v JT Southern
JT is by far the worst of the Americans Takada has brought in. It's difficult to bullshit your way through shoot style because if you can't do it properly then it's glaringly obvious, and it's already likely the hardest style in all of wrestling to work, so he really had no chance. At times Yamazaki looks disinterested because he knows he's saddled with an unenviable task and it's pointless to even try and make this compelling. Once or twice it looked like he might've considered taking liberties and just wasting JT, but then he'd reel back. Southern can't really do anything on the mat and his stand up is basically putting a shoddy guard up. Finish was kind of hokey. Maybe the ref' decided to be merciful.
Nobuhiko Takada v Tatsuo Nakano
This was another underdog v established star match, only where Tamura was a young prodigy looking for his first decent-sized scalp, Nakano is a lumpy little guy looking to somehow upset the ace. His task is just a little more daunting. He's an unassuming little dude and on the surface not hugely impressive, but you usually get fun character moments with Nakano and we got a couple in this. Takada brushed off a leg kick as if to say Nakano's shot was nothing to him, so the first leg kick Takada throws after that was met with the exact same response. Crowd picked up on this and they were solidly behind Nakano for the rest of the match. Nothing on the ground was amazing, but they had a few nice bits standing up where Nakano would try and take Takada's back for a throw. I liked Takada's attention to detail during those parts, leaning forward so Nakano couldn't use leverage, reaching between his own legs in case Nakano tried to shift his foot under there to try and roll Takada back for a takedown. When he tried that again Nakano dropped his grip on Takada's waist and reached up for the choke, which again got a pretty big pop.
Maybe the best show so far, even off the strength of Tamura/Anjoh alone. That's certainly the best match so far. Takada pairing up with Nakano in the main event was welcome as well. His opponents in the first two shows ranged from limited-yet-likeable to woeful, and Nakano might not be world class but he's a step above that.