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‘Capital Collision’ review: Great show from New Japan, in an awful venue

hiroshi tanahashi jon moxley
Hiroshi Tanahashi sets to throw a punch at Jon Moxley at the New Japan Pro Wrestling “Capital Collision.” Photo by Crystal Graham.

Kazuchika Okada, before his first collar-and-elbow tieup, was greeted by the Washington, D.C., crowd with chants of “This is awesome!” and “Holy sh-t! Holy sh-t!”

Okada, the IWGP heavyweight champion, is, yes, the best pro wrestler in the world, and U.S. fans don’t get to see him live all that often.

New Japan Pro Wrestling was at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in D.C. Saturday night as part of its extended tour of the States on Saturday for a show called “Capital Collision,” because pro wrestling shows need names like that.

This one actually didn’t need a name, with Okada, NJPW’s “Ace,” Hiroshi Tanahashi, Japanese legends Minoru Suzuki and Tomohiro Ishii, mixed in with former AEW world champ Jon Moxley, UK star Will Ospreay, and Jay White, an Aussie who has already had a run with the IWGP heavyweight title, and is set for a longer run as the company’s top heel.

The show was typical New Japan – great matches at the top, with Tanahashi defending his IWGP U.S. title in a four-way with Moxley, Ospreay and Juice Robinson in a four-way main event, Okada teaming with Rocky Romero against White and Hikuleo, and Ishii facing another AEW star, Eddie Kingston; after a run of multi-man matches, including an eight-man and a 10-man.

The vibe was … wrestling nerd convention. Ninety percent of the fans on hand were outfitted in wrestling T-shirts, most touting New Japan or AEW, and way too many for comfort went all out with get-ups including title belts, sunglasses, bandanas, garb that looked like something a wrestler might wear to the ring.

OK, I’m being harsh; shouldn’t judge fans having fun, and a crowd that comes out for a New Japan show isn’t at all like, say, a WWE crowd.

A security guard stationed outside my section – we were Section 109, Row A, Seats 1-2 – kept a running commentary with a few fans in our section, and one of his questions early on was, How big is New Japan compared to WWE?

My answer: WWE is much bigger, but people who come to a New Japan show are more hardcore.

Later on, he said he’d been a John Cena fan back in the day. That’s not something that would go over well with this crowd.

New Japan shows don’t start with a contrived 15-minute segment establishing the heat for the main event.

No pyro, no heel general manager.

The presentation is basically MMA theater. New Japan prides itself on its “strong style” approach, almost to a fault.

The fans in my section, as the night went on, lamented the endless knife-edge chop showdowns, which were a feature at one point or another in every match.

Which isn’t to say that fans went home unhappy, because the show lived up to, surpassed, expectations.

We got a nice moment or two between Jeff Cobb and Jonah in one of the early multi-man tags, a chance to sing along to Suzuki’s entrance, Okada teasing the Rainmaker, then a helluva main event that ended with an upset win for Robinson, newly a heel and now with the Bullet Club, to take home the U.S. title, disrupting the anticipated dream match next month between Tanahashi and Moxley at the New Japan-AEW supershow.

Just about everything to the presentation was authentic – down to the ring introductions in Japanese.

The only thing we were missing: no Red Shoes.

(That, and no Tetsuya Naito, out after having eye surgery last month.)

Two things that threw me off: the venue is barely bigger than a high-school gym, out of the way, just four years old and somehow still outdated; and then, there was the security guard in our section, who kept asking us if we knew wrestling was fake, and had a loud conversation with another security person about how “gay” it was for men to be wrestling “in they drawers.”

For the record, yes, wrestling is “fake,” as is a lot in this world; and calling things “gay” has been out of vogue since roughly the third grade.

Solid show from New Japan, but I’d recommend that they not book the Entertainment and Sports Arena ever again.

Story by Chris Graham

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