Welcome to Fightful's NJPW Block Update. Only two nights remain in the tournament. We've almost survived, everyone.
Night 15 Review (A Block - Eighth Matches)
YOSHI-HASHI def. Bad Luck Fale - No thanks.
Hangman Page def. Minoru Suzuki - Turns out, NJPW is pretty serious about making Page a player moving forward. I loved this match for what it was. Suzuki is always great in his role of no-nonsense-ass-kicker. And Page was more than willing to take Suzuki's best shots in order to prove to himself, and everyone else, that he can hang with the best. Page was the gunslinger with nothing to lose, attacking Suzuki immediately and taking risks that Kota Ibushi would applaud. The work was good and this should propel Page into a big second half.
Jay White def. Togi Makabe - If you've seen one Jay White match past the first two nights in the block, you've seen them all. He plays his character to perfection, showing no redeemable qualities as he only cares about himself and winning. But he's not going to carry a one-on-one match and deliver up to the standards we've come to expect in this tournament. And you know what, I'm fine with that. He's something different. He would rather win by any means necessary than look strong and tough in a loss. But the point is, he wants to win. In the end, that's the goal of this tournament.
Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Michael Elgin - Nothing like a slow and awkward finish to take you out of the match. Everything up until the finish was good. Tanahashi looked to be in trouble, but did that Tanahashi thing where he survives and does just enough to come away with the victory. I wish they called an audible, had Elgin kick out of the loose package, and done a bit more prior to a different finish. Tanahashi enters the final night controlling his own destiny.
Kazuchika Okada def. EVIL - Much like Tanahashi vs. Elgin, the crowd was red hot for the closing stretch of this match. Unlike the co-main event, this match had a much more satisfying conclusion. Okada continues to look better with every passing match, but we still won't know if he's fully the Rainmaker until he meets Tanahashi. Even though he was deliberately sloppy early in the tournament, Okada is still the MVP of the Block. The only person giving him a run for his money is Elgin and he's cooled off as the tournament has gone on. EVIL will get another chance to play spoiler on the final night against White.
Match of the Night - Kazuchika Okada vs. EVIL
A Block Standings
* Hiroshi Tanahashi: 7-1 (14pts.)
* Jay White: 6-2 (12pts.)
* Kazuchika Okada: 6-2 (12pts.)
* Minoru Suzuki: 4-4 (8pts.)
* EVIL: 4-4 (8pts.)
* Michael Elgin: 3-5 (6pts.)
* Bad Luck Fale: 3-5 (6pts.)
* Hangman Page: 3-5 (6pts.)
* Togi Makabe: 2-6 (4pts.)
* YOSHI-HASHI: 2-6 (4pts.)
Night 16 Review (B Block - Eighth Matches)
Tomohiro Ishii def. Juice Robinson - Juice once again got his time to shine, going toe-to-toe with Ishii and even coming up stronger in some exchanges. But as has been the case all tournament, Juice eventually fell to the superior competitor. Not quite on the level of previous Ishii matches, but still a great match. A normal man would need at least a month off after the series of bouts he's had with Omega, Ibushi, and Goto. Ishii now has a victory over the IWGP heavyweight, IWGP US, and NEVER openweight champion, setting himself up nicely following the conclusion of the tournament.
Zack Sabre Jr. def. Hirooki Goto - Goto spent this match countering everything Sabre Jr. threw at him. And in the end, ZSJ had the ultimate counter. ZSJ made it known that he would be going after the NEVER openweight title after the match, but he's got to get in line with the amount of losses Goto has suffered in the tournament.
Tama Tonga def. Kota Ibushi - The Firing Squad interference finally paid off. I've hated just about every Tonga match in this tournament, and while this didn't blow me away, at least it all made sense. They baited Omega by going after his best friend, beat Ibushi, and then laid out Omega just before his match with Yano. Ibushi tried his best, including another insane moonsault from the balcony, but Tonga does nothing for me in the ring. It doesn't help that we've been conditioned to not care about Firing Squad matches until the interference. Ibushi actually losing was surprising because by the end of the night, it put him out of the tournament.
Toru Yano def. Kenny Omega - Once Ibushi lost to Tonga, the result of this match became obvious. Omega was never going to win the Block before the final night. Again, while I've hated every second of the Firing Squad thus far, everything they did on this night was perfect. This is what they should have been doing all tournament. Win their own matches and screw up the tournament for Omega. The actual match between Yano and Omega was fine as Omega is not afraid to look like a fool despite his standing in the company. And Yano is Yano.
Tetsuya Naito def. SANADA - SANADA not only lost the match, dude just laid there the entire time Naito was cutting his post-match promo and celebrating LIJ. I felt so bad for him. The post-match stuff had more emotional drama than the actual match, which simply fell short of expectations. It was still a good match, but didn't go to that next level that I was expecting given the participants and history. Naito never felt in real danger of losing and we've seen so many destino kickouts and counters throughout the tournament that the ones in this match didn't register with me. It was still a good match, but the bar is so high in B Block that this one fell short.
Match of the Night - Tomohiro Ishii vs. Juice Robinson
B Block Standings
* Kenny Omega: 6-2 (12pts.)
* Tetsuya Naito: 6-2 (12pts.)
* Kota Ibushi: 5-3 (10pts.)
* Zack Sabre Jr: 5-3 (10pts.)
* SANADA: 4-4 (8pts.)
* Tomohiro Ishii: 4-4 (8pts.)
* Hirooki Goto: 3-5 (6pts.)
*Tama Tonga: 3-5 (6pts.)
*Juice Robinson: 2-6 (4pts.)
*Toru Yano: 2-6 (4pts.)
Night 17 Preview (A Block - Ninth Matches)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Hangman Page - I can't imagine NJPW has Page lose to HASHI after putting him over strong against Suzuki. There's no upside with HASHI while Page's best days are in front of him. This likely won't get enough time to be memorable, but I expect both guys to work a fun sprint.
Togi Makabe vs. Michael Elgin - Elgin has had a good in-ring tournament and gets to end with a hoss match against Makabe. Expect these men to beat on each other and until one man has finally had enough and his shoulders stay on the mat for three seconds.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Minoru Suzuki - Hopefully this immediately breaks down into a Suzuki-gun vs. Firing Squad gang warfare brawl and we're all saved eight to ten minutes.
Jay White vs. EVIL - White needs a victory to stay alive. Should he lose, the Block will come down to Okada vs. Tanahashi, which most figured would happen. As someone who predicted White to win their tournament at the start, I have to stick with my guns and say he'll win this match. But a White victory means Okada will be eliminated and I have a hard time believing he'll be in the main event with nothing but pride on the line. Expect to see White at his "win at all costs" best here.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada - A Block has been disappointing this year, especially compared to the classics we've gotten in B Block. But it's Okada vs. Tanahashi and it's nearly impossible for these two to have a bad match together. Either the entire Block will be on the line or Okada can ruin Tanahashi's whole tournament by defeating him. Tanahashi just needs a draw to win the block, so things could get very interesting if they hit the 25-minute mark. If White defeats EVIL, he would need an Okada victory to win the tournament as he holds the tiebreaker over both men. Which leads me to ask, why wouldn't he interfere and attack Okada? It won't happen, but wouldn't it perfectly fit White's character? I'm leaning towards Tanahashi winning just to highlight Okada's early tournament struggles costing him and him still not being the Rainmaker because he couldn't beat the Ace.
Night 18 Preview (B Block - Ninth Matches)
Toru Yano vs. Tama Tonga - If there's one match where Tonga shouldn't need interference and should look strong on his own, it should be this one. But who am I kidding, Fale and Loa will interfere at some point.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA - Ishii has been so friggin' good in this tournament. I still maintain that Ibushi is the MVP -- he'll solidify his standing in the Omega match -- but Ishii is right behind him. One of these guys will finish below .500, which is a shame as they both deserve a victory here. SANADA started hot before losing his way following the Omega loss. Meanwhile, Ishii has been a mad man who has simply peaked just a bit too late.
Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto - Poor Juice. He's fought hard in every single match and has less points than Tonga, who hasn't cared about winning throughout the entire tournament. It'd be nice if they rewarded Juice with a win over Goto. But it's not like Goto has had a strong tournament and he too could use a victory to feel good about things. This will probably be a lighter version of Juice vs. Ishii.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr. - There are a lot of moving parts in this match. A Naito victory keeps him alive and officially eliminates Ibushi. On top of the win, he would need Ibushi to beat or draw Omega to win the Block. A Naito loss means Ibushi would still be alive, but it would eliminate Naito. What happens in A Block could determine what happens here. Either they have two "winner take all" final matches or they split things up. I picked Ibushi to win the block, so I'll stick with my guns and say Naito will lose here. But I'm not confident in this pick at all.
Kota Ibushi vs. Kenny Omega - As noted above, this match hinges a bit on the outcome of Naito vs. Sabre Jr. Whatever happens in Block A, expect them to do the opposite in Block B. Putting aside that I picked Ibushi, I hope this is a "winner take all" match. Put the highest stakes possible on this bout and let these guys work. This should be an absolute classic in terms of not only work, but story as well. I don't know if my heart will be able to take it.