As a newcomer to New Japan, Fantastica Mania is a bit of a strange one. It’s the bump in the road before we get back to the serious stuff and it introduces a whole new cast of guys (the CMLL wrestlers) into a group that I’m only just getting to know. However, I’m nothing if not a trooper, and I wasn’t about to slow down on my newfound puroresu love. Therefore, over the last few days I’ve tuned into all the broadcast shows of Fantastica Mania and here are ten things that I took away from them.
Last year was Will Ospreay’s year. His win at Best Of The Super Juniors propelled him towards a wider audience, and his match with Ricochet and the resulting fallout with Vader kept him there. Over the three aired nights of Fantastica Mania, he was a supporting character. Taking part in some of the many multi-man tag matches. However, he never once failed to stand out, and whether he was engaging in comedy or pulling off the flippy shit he does so well, the guy is clearly a star. If Will Ospreay keeps this up, 2017 will only see that star rise even further.
Ultimo Guerrero & Volador Jr.
The mini-feud built up over the three days between Ultimo Guerrero and Volador Jr. was the surprise of the weekend. I’ve heard of Ultimo Guerrero, but at the age of 44, I was expecting him to do little of note. And yet, these two seemed to get the best out of each other. This wasn’t just a case of Volador moving for Guerrero either (although it was obviously a big part of it), Guerrero worked his arse off across these three shows, and by the last night, their main event spot felt entirely justified. I believe Volador was involved in last year’s Best of the Super Juniors and on this showing, he deserves a spot again this year.
Dragon Lee vs. Takahashi
From a storyline perspective, Fantastica Mania was a bit of a detour for New Japan. There was no Suzuki-gun, and the likes of Okada were involved in multi-man comedy spots. Tanahashi repeatedly led a group of his mates into defeats against Los Ingobernables de Japon, but it still felt a holding pattern rather than a continuation. The one exception to this was Dragon Lee and Takahashi, who spent the whole weekend trying to one-up each other. These two already felt like a must watch match, but after this weekend I’m even more excited to check it out. The final image of Takahashi licking Dragon Lee’s mask might not have been the most hygienic, but it nailed the build for this feud.
Liger & Tiger Mask
Everybody says it, but it’s worth repeating, Jushin Thunder Liger is amazing. Sure, he’s not as amazing as he once was but the guy is 52 and pulls off stuff that talent half his age would be pleased with. He and 46-year-old Tiger Mask IV teaming up over this weekend was great fun. The highlight was the last night when they joined up with Stuka Jr. to take on Raziel, Hechichero and Okumura. The match was silly, but in all the right ways, with everything from Tiger hip tossing everyone in the ring to his mask swap with Raziel which subsequently confused the legend Liger hitting for me. A wrestling classic? No. But the two guys who feel like the dads of New Japan entertained all weekend.
Stuka Jr. Beats Up Mima
The second night of the broadcasted shows saw Okumura lose to Stuka Jr. in a match which had his wife, Mima, get involved more than once. What was weird about this was that Stuka Jr. then took great pleasure it dealing out punishment to Mima. Intergender wrestling can work. The work of the likes of Candice LeRae shows that, but this didn’t feel like intergender wrestling. This felt like a guy beating up a civilian woman. All a bit late 90’s WWF, basically. I get it, it’s entertainment, it’s not real, and she got involved in the match, but this left a sour taste in my mouth.
My only previous experience of Mistico isn’t actually of Mistico. It’s of Sin Cara, and the wrestler that used to portray the blue bloke in a mask hasn’t actually returned to his former gimmick. Under the hood at the moment is Carlos Muñoz González who to confuse things further used to work under the ring name of Dragon Lee. Whoever he is, the guy is damn fun to watch. There were a lot of ranas on this show and yet it was two from Mistico that claimed the prize for the best of the weekend. The first was on the second night when Volador launched him over the ring post to connect perfectly on the floor and the second was on the third night when he leapt from the crowd to hit a beautiful one on Euforia. I never saw the previous Mistico work but if he was smoother than this one he didn’t show it in WWE.
If you are reading this thinking that I know nothing about Japanese wrestling, then trust me when I say that compared to my knowledge of Lucha, I’m a Japanese expert. With this in mind, Maximo Sexy is my first introduction to what is known as an exotica character. A wrestler who essentially plays gay despite not necessarily being so in real life (which is the case with Maximo). I’ve already compared one thing in this list to 90’s WWF, but here we go again. Look, I know nothing about Mexican culture, and it’s interesting to see that despite this flamboyant gimmick Maximo is CMLL’s Heavyweight Champ. However, that’s not enough to stop this making me uncomfortable. Surely we can do better comedy than this in 2017?
While a fair portion of the world was watching Donald Trump’s inauguration (although not actually attending the thing), I was watching a flying caveman fight Dragon Lee. Barbaro Cavernario was competing with Taguchi’s Pharaoh costume for most Poundland outfit of the weekend, and it is the kind of thing you don’t see over here anymore. I have to admit, Cavernario’s in-ring work didn’t really impress me. The splash he did from the top rope to the floor on the first night was incredible, if very stupid, and it’s no surprise that he spent the rest of the weekend with a banged up shoulder. Despite that, I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy watching this flyman caveman prance around the ring.
Rush Heeling It Up
This was a very silly series of shows. They were fun but very few people were going for actual heat, and it was more about popping the crowd than anything else. The exception to that was LIJ who heeled their way through the weekend. A prime example of that, and the guy, in my opinion, who did the best work, was Rush. In his mini-feud with Atlantis, he did everything in his power to turn the crowd against him, and he succeeded. I can’t pretend I thought Rush was anywhere near the best in-ring worker at Fantastica Mania, but I appreciated his attempts to play the bad guy on a show where there were very few of them.
Another Side To Okada
Okada cannot be 100% right now. While the bulk of the attention post-Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event hype has fallen on Kenny Omega, that match doesn’t happen without Okada, and he’s the one who got back in the ring the next night. Therefore, not much could be expected of him across these three shows and from an in-ring perspective, you could definitely say he took it easy. This allowed the guy to show a side of himself that I have never seen. Okada turned into a comedy wrestler for these three days, and he’s as good at it as he is the other stuff. Whether he was dancing with Cavernario’s monkey or engaging with Maximo Sexy, this was something different to what I expect from Okada, and I enjoyed it a lot.