NJPW Resurgence Review: Carrying the Torch

After a year and a half without running a show in front of a live audience in America, New Japan Pro Wrestling finally earned a gate in the U.S. with NJPW Resurgence. The event featured matches that had been promoted on NJPW’s pandemic-born studio show NJPW Strong, as well as, more visibly, on AEW and Impact programming. With a full big-show run time of about three hours, Resurgence included a range of surprise guest appearances, ended with a title change, and set in motion some of NJPW’s plans for its upcoming American events, some of which are good and some of which are incredibly ill-advised and out of touch.

Resurgence is both the beginning of a new era for New Japan’s U.S. branch (NJPW of America) and the restart of this division doing what it was always meant to do—replicate the NJPW touring business model in the U.S. Now we know that this game plan will deviate from the one used in Japan by having the PPV-style events and house shows supplemented by pre-taped studio wrestling, which will soon feature the presence of fans in the background rather than a spooky, silent void. How appealing did Resurgence make New Japan’s future American endeavors? Partially good, partially bad and scummy! Not like it’ll sell out Madison Square Garden, but like it’ll sell a reasonable amount of tickets in the major U.S. wrestling markets. Let’s get into how!

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Technical difficulties

Before getting to the content of NJPW Resurgence, let’s talk about the show’s production. First, as a live event, it looked fantastic. The wrestling set in that venue with that lighting looked cool and inviting. There are lots of positive accounts from people who were at this event, which was the biggest wrestling show in California since the pandemic began.

However, as a PPV/live-streaming event, the production quality of Resurgence could have been better. The sound-mixing made it difficult to hear the fans over the commentators at times, which decreased the hype of watching an NJPW show with a full, cheering crowd for the first time since February 2020. It was also odd that, despite the show airing from the U.S. at 8 PM Pacific (noon the next day in Japan), only the remote Japanese commentary team could be heard for the live broadcast, but not the English commentary team that could be seen on-site. Not that I’m complaining about experiencing Hiromu as part of this show, but this seems like something NJPW should fix for future American live events.

There were also times when the broadcast stalled, times when the picture quality greatly decreased, and moments when, as in the screencap above, viewers got a behind-the-scenes look at the stream. This type of thing isn’t out of the ordinary for indie wrestling events, but it is for NJPW events in general, and between this and the mics not working during the Good Brothers’ promo segment, it seemed like New Japan didn’t completely have this event together, technically speaking. This wasn’t an issue that majorly disrupted how easy or enjoyable it was to watch this show, but ideally, they’ll fix this stuff for future NJPW of America events.

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The NJPW Strong part of the show

Resurgence starts with three matches homegrown in NJPW of America, as much as that’s possible right now, and they range from pretty good to very good. The PPV opens with Alex Coughlin taking on Karl Fredericks as part of a Young Lion singles match challenge series, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from this kind of match between a Young Lion and a recent Young Lion. It’s motivated, clean wrestling that warms the audience up for a night of more wrestling (the live audience got a dark match before this, but it still probably counts as a warmup.)

The second match—TJP, Clark Connors, and Ren Narita def. Rocky Romero, Fred Rosser, and Wheeler Yuta—displays more of the range of the Strong cast, in terms of both highs and lows. Romero and Narita are technical short kings, as established before Strong existed, and Yuta and Rosser (fka Darren Young) are good wrestlers who you’re happy to see get a major company platform. But TJP is also here, the guy who major companies just will not stop giving platforms even when he is widely despised by wrestling fans and has been one of the industry’s most vocal COVID deniers, even arguing online with people whose relatives died from the virus about the reality of the pandemic. TJP obviously still has his fans, but when over 600,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, a lot of people are obviously going to say “screw this guy” forever (which many were doing pre-pandemic as well.) TJP gets more material further into Resurgence and isn’t the only controversial person on this show, so we’ll dig into the scummy portion of NJPW’s international roster more later.

These first two Resurgence matches include looks at the progress of the first two graduates of Shibata’s first LA Dojo class. While Fredericks and Connors still look like they have bright futures, it also looks like they’re going to need to either go back to Japan or start making an impact on the U.S. indies in order to really break out. If they’re having bangers on NJPW Strong, so far that’s like when Mustafa Ali and Richochet were having bangers on WWE Main Event—to many wrestling fans, they might as well be bumping in the Phantom Zone. But before they can go work the NJPW A-shows, wrestling in front of vocal fans after a year and a half in a studio should do a lot for these guys. (Hopefully, it’ll get Connors to either change or evolve his gimmick too, because right now it feels like less of his personality is shining through than when he was in plain black trunks. Maybe he could adopt a new John Wick persona and become the Sigma Male to Karl’s Alpha.)

The best match of the show also comes from the Strong section: Lio Rush, Adrien Quest, Chris Dickinson, Fred Yehi, and Yuya Uemura vs. Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson, and Royce Isaacs.) All of these wrestlers make the most of every moment they’re in the ring, delivering a ten-man tag with great energy, a variety of wrestling styles, and some cool spots. The match’s highlight is a stretch near the finish, the series of back-to-back “holy shit!” moments of Kratos throwing Rush onto a group of wrestlers outside the ring and teasing his own dive, only to be stopped by a powerbomb from Uemura. The match ends with Uemura getting a win over Limelight, starting his excursion with the first victory of his career that isn’t over another dojo trainee. I think everyone assumed that Uemura was already accepted to the LA Dojo when he showed up in LA, but the moment between him and Shibata is a crowd-pleaser and gives the match a doubly happy ending.

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The babyface vs. monster heel part of the show (part 1)

After the multi-man tags, Resurgence presents two back-to-back singles matches that 1) feature a morally superior dude vs. an elevationally superior dude, and 2) were set up through NJPW’s revived positive relationship with Impact Wrestling. Neither Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo nor Tomohiro Ishii vs. Moose steals the show, but both matches give their babyface the opportunity to shine.

Hikuleo still hasn’t had a breakthrough moment since graduating the dojo, but he’s a solid supporting player for Juice, who it’s encouraging to see doesn’t seem de-energized at all by his time in the Impact Zone. Hopefully, Juice can get some time in the sun soon as a singles babyface, because he’s too good at it for that part of his career to be defined by losing to other ex-WWE guys. How much someone enjoys Ishii vs. Moose is going to be defined by their level of tolerance for Moose, but it’s undeniably a good source of Ishii doing Ishii things (at his midcard singles match setting) with zero intimidation against a guy who’s like a foot taller than him.

Overall, this part of the show could have been stronger if it featured stronger heels, but it basically works. More than anything else on the card, these matches seem like they were more electrifying for the live audience, who got the experiences of actually processing the true size of the giant guys and of seeing Ishii brainbuster a former NFL player right in front of them.

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The surprise appearances part of the show

Moose vs. Ishii is followed by a huge surprise for an NJPW event: a long talking segment in the middle of the show! Also, Will Ospreay returns and he’s a replica belt guy now.

Ospreay, whose neck injury was originally described to fans as likely to keep him out for the rest of 2021, shows up at Resurgence to star in what is just about the least flattering segment possible for himself and for NJPW of America. I think at this point it’s clear to most that Ospreay should not be leaned on to carry things via promos, or for anything in that could be described as “acting,” “creative ideas,” or “the drama/entertainment part of pro wrestling.”

There’s a section of NJPW viewers that never wants to see this guy do anything because of his real-life behavior, the way he wrestles, or both. There’s another portion of the fans that enjoyed Ospreay’s matches before and after most of his scandals but now acknowledges that he is a terrible creative force. I think the decision to RKO his girlfriend out of NJPW after all of his issues re: treatment of women was the final straw in convincing people that Ospreay’s wrestling talents are limited to his impressive physical abilities. And yet, after all this, it was decided that Ospreay should make his post-injury return by cutting a long promo, setting up two different storylines that heavily incorporate his character and personality.

The first is such an ill-advised concept for a 2021 wrestling storyline that it almost doesn’t seem real: Ospreay vs. the LA Dojo, starting with dojo defender TJP. This angle seems to be crafted exclusively for the portion of wrestling fandom that drives off other portions of wrestling fandom. Any hope or expectation that NJPW expanding into America would mean that there would be a major wrestling company in America interested in appealing to the non-male audience has turned out to be disappointingly misguided. It seems like NJPW has decided that where they fit into the American wrestling landscape is as one of the lower-tier, sketchier promotions. The Japanese part of NJPW’s roster isn’t squeaky clean and scandal-free, but NJPW of America’s Japanese equivalent would be one of the promotions that books Joji Otani.

Getting back to the replica belt thing and to NJPW in Japan, Ospreay’s other comeback storyline seems very misguided as well. We’ve barely started to move out of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship’s cursed era with Tanahashi vs. Takagi (the match, not the setup), and now we have someone doing a “I’m the real world champion; here’s my fake belt” angle. Putting this right after Ishii vs. Moose really doesn’t help; it brings to mind that the most recent version of this angle in a major promotion was Moose with the TNA title, aka the answer to recent FAQ, “Why does Christian have two belts when he won one championship?”

In another era of New Japan, I’d have more faith that they could pull off an angle like this, but in this era, they didn’t figure out what to do with the double championship for the whole time it existed and the way they eventually unified those titles was not very well received. The best possible way this current angle could play out is by having Ospreay come back to Japan and challenge Shingo, then have Shingo win and throw this other belt in the trash, and for this to happen at an event like Power Struggle since Ospreay opted out of the G1 Climax. But given how they’ve set up the past two Wrestle Kingdoms, I could see Ospreay returning to Japan as part of an angle where the IWGP champ faces the G1 winner on Wrestle Kingdom Night 1 and then faces Ospreay in the main event of Night 2 because Ospreay is a former champ who’s been carrying around this replica belt and beating guys on NJPW Strong.

To sum up, everything about Ospreay’s comeback speaks to the worst of current NJPW. You truly hate to see it.

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Resurgence’s more positive surprises come from the last match before the double main event, in which Gallows and Anderson take on Moxley and a surprise partner who turns out to be Yuji Nagata. It’s weird that Ospreay could apparently fly from the UK to LA while Shota Umino couldn’t, but Mox and Nagata (Death Justice?) are a crowd-pleasing team who I would not mind seeing tag together at least six more times. As for the match, it’s as good as you can expect from the post-WWE Good Brothers, and it benefits a lot from the novelty of the situation. Mox is here! Nagata’s in the ring with Doc and Karl for the first time in at least five years! Mox and Nagata do submissions at the same time! It’s another Resurgence match that seems a lot more appealing for the live audience than the remote one, but it’s still a fun part of the show.

This match is followed by the final surprise appearances of the night when Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa step up to the Good Brothers, showing everyone that they have real-kayfabe beef, not just Twitter beef! I think the deciding factor for whether someone is going to be into this feud is how tired they are of Bullet Club infighting, G.o.D. storylines, and Gallows and Anderson being active in so many promotions. But while it’s valid for fans to be done with BC vs. BC angles forever, or even just BC forever, this feud basically needs to happen.

If Gallows and Anderson are going to be allied with Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks and also active in NJPW and/or the same promotions as NJPW wrestlers, of course they’re going to clash with G.o.D. Everybody put way too much work into the 2018 Bullet Club Civil War, as awkwardly as that eventually ended, to throw that continuity out the window. Even if that angle never happened, it would make sense for Bullet Club’s first main heavyweight tag team, upon returning to NJPW, to feud with the team that was created to replace them when they left. So while this is going to be a skippable match for some, I think it could over well for people invested in Bullet Club lore. For that crowd, these teams starting to cut actual promos on each other rather than just quote-tweeting would be the biggest way this feud could level up.

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The double main event, including the babyface vs. monster heel part of the show (part 2)

After some iffy-ness and outright badness in the middle, the double main event closes Resurgence much more strongly.

Jay White vs. David Finlay for the NEVER Openweight Championship is a competitive, entertaining match that’s probably less effective than it was supposed to be because the heel is so much more popular than the babyface. Jay has shifted from having some of the most real heat with an American audience that I’ve ever felt back when he faced Juice in San Francisco to basically being a Cool Heel. That impression has only strengthened since he started appearing on Impact, OK boomer-ed the Elite, and recruited Chris Bey to BC, so what momentum Finlay had coming out of the New Japan Cup was overtaken before this match.

That being said, the crowd doesn’t reject Finlay and I think he delivered an aggressive performance that fit the match’s grudge-y tone, though it was hard for that to come across through the weird soundscape of the NJPW World stream. The real biggest issue with this match might be how the referee gets in White’s face in response to Finlay selling a low blow but then ignores White blatantly shoving him. This ref stuff sucked some air out of a heightened moment of the match.

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The second/actual main event, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Lance Archer for the IWGP United States Championship, is a comfort food match, and a nutritious one. Did you know that Tanahashi is one of the greatest babyfaces of all time? Did you know that he has the in-ring expertise to make up for no longer being in his physical prime? Did you know that he is a master of the regular-size hero vs. monster heel match? In case you forgot, this match is a reminder!

Archer is also in great form here, delivering his patented mix of being very large and very crazy, being both entertaining in himself and as a foil for the Ace. That it takes a rare three High Fly Flows to put Archer away is clearly a sign of respect (not just different size) from Tana. With that surprisingly not-crazy promo from Archer afterwards, the match that’s nominally hero vs. monster ends up kind of wholesome and nostalgic.

NJPW of America has resurged—now what?

Tanahashi’s air guitar, love, and new presidency of the United States close NJPW Resurgence on a happy note, and in classic New Japan fashion. The main event and some other moments and matches throughout the show are reminders of why NJPW became popular enough for them to have this show and an American branch. Other moments, like the standout ten-man tag, make NJPW of America look like a platform for quality matches from quality male indie wrestlers, with the hope kept alive that some of these guys can make it over to Japan someday and mix it up with the rest of the roster.

But much of Resurgence is a reminder of why NJPW is less popular internationally than it was at its peak, and why, despite some great moments, a lot of NJPW’s American endeavors have been mixed bags at best. The video package in the middle of Resurgence for upcoming U.S. events shows those great moments, but also claims that “NJPW Strong debuted as a weekly symbol of hope” during the pandemic. That is one of the most insane sentences I’ve encountered in recent pro wrestling advertising and a choice of words that encapsulates how out-of-touch NJPW sometimes seems to be with their international fans.

Strong hasn’t been anything like a “symbol of hope,” but more a lightning rod for the decline of NJPW’s worldwide image. In the summer of 2020, match announcements for an episode of Strong were how fans learned that NJPW was not going to acknowledge or do anything about the Speaking Out allegations against Chase Owens. In February 2021, Strong was where NJPW intended to be the company that brought Marty Scurll back to wrestling, the final nail in the coffin of their international reputation to all but the most mark-like of fans.

That wasn’t the nail in the coffin of their ability to do business internationally, however, and neither will be the misses of the Resurgence card or the worst stuff set up by this show. While the potential NJPW USA cards of the near future probably wouldn’t inspire a ton of PPV buys or streams from U.S. viewers (I won’t pretend to have any idea how this stuff appeals to the Japanese audience) the promise of seeing Ishii in a singles match will get U.S. wrestling fans in the door unless the rest of the card is trash or that local wrestling market has been oversaturated. The live audience, the presence of some bigger stars, and some popular indie wrestlers will probably get some new eyes on the next batch of NJPW Strong episodes as well.

Overall, NJPW of America seems like it’s in a place to survive rather than to thrive. The most positive message that NJPW USA sends is that maybe you can see some unique matches in your town, possibly some that you’d likely otherwise only be able to see by traveling overseas. The appeal of this branch of NJPW, and of NJPW as a whole for many international fans these days, is summed up by Archer’s challenge to Tanahashi after their match: the most exciting setup by NJPW Resurgence is a tease of one of their top stars visiting a different company.

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Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes a lot about pro wrestling. Pratt is a regular contributor for Fanbyte, with other bylines at Uproxx, Deadlock, Mind Games, Orange Crush, and FanSided WWE.

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