Monday, January 4, 2016
This morning, I stayed up to watch Wrestle Kingdom in its entirety. It was the first time I watched a New Japan event live. The attendance numbers for the show were certainly disappointing, being ones of the lowest totals in Dome show history.
On the pre-show we got the New Japan Rumble. This is kind of like a Royal Rumble but with pinfall and submission eliminations. It also doesn’t have the high stakes as it is here so lower card guys and legends can get on the show. This was much more fun than I expected. Liger and Fujiwara started things. There were some great surprises like ROH’s Cheeseburger, who came in and was a ton of fun. I popped for the arrival of fucking Haku, representing the Bullet Club. Unfortunately, he tapped out and made me sad. We also saw the Great Kabuki and even Kazushi Sakuraba, despite just having a fight. Cheeseburger was racking up group eliminations throughout the match. Jado was the last entrant, giving himself a big entrance and eliminating Ryusuke Taguchi to win in the end. A really wacky match which was the light, fun thing it needed to be.
Going into the show, I expected this to be every Jr. Tag Title match ever. Guess what? I was right. This felt very similar to most of what I’ve seen from these teams, even with Matt Sydal and Ricochet being a new addition. I still hate the booking of this match, which made Sydal and Ricochet’s Super Jr. Tag Tournament win irrelevant. This was a retread of their opener last year but it wasn’t as good. There were some cool spots overall, but there is only so many times I can see the same thing and be impressed by it. The Bucks won back the straps with More Bang for your Buck, continuing the revolving door of Jr. Tag Champions. Booking like this is part of the reason it’s hard to take these divisions seriously. Rocky Romero ate the pine, continuing to protect reDRagon at least.
This was to crown the inaugural NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Champions. The tandem of the Briscoes and Toru Yano is one of the most random but interesting things I could think of. Yujiro Takahashi had another fine lady with him, but it wasn’t Mao, who is very popular. There was some brawling to start before Yano took some heat. The Briscoes seemed a bit fired up to be in Japan, but the Bullet Club guys, outside of Tama Tonga, were kind of just there. The Briscoes scored with the Doomsday Device to capture the belts. This was a bit long for my taste. The Yano multi-man tag last year was kept short and to the point. Still, all I want in life now is for vignettes starring Toru Yano in Sandy Fork with the DEM BOYS.
Truth Martini came prepared with a Japanese Book of Truth. While the Japanese crowd really likes Michael Elgin, this felt super out of place on this card. Elgin got to show off some impressive power moves which the crowd was really into. Unfortunately, they didn’t give much heat to Jay Lethal. With them seemingly unaware of Lethal, it was hard for them to really show disdain. They put in some effort but the crowd just wasn’t feeling this. Elgin did all of his signature stuff, including the deadlift falcon arrow, but he fell to the Lethal Injection. A very disappointing match. Probably my least favorite Elgin singles match in Japan.
Ryusuke Taguchi played Doc Brown for KUSHIDA while Kenny Omega had the Young Bucks with him. With Omega, the Bucks and Taguchi here, it’s like they tried to make me dislike this as much as possible. These two had a great bout at Dominion last year and a decent at best one at Destruction where Omega won the belt back. They worked some fine strike exchanges early on and we got some interference. Interference was a theme throughout the evening. KUSHIDA focused on the arm, which Omega did a pretty good job of selling. He attempted the One Winged Angel, but KUSHIAD was able to counter with a sloppy cradle and win back the title that he never should have lost in the first place. This was nowhere near the level of their Dominion outing and was much closer to Destruction. The final few minutes were solid though the finish was very anti-climactic. It also left room for a rematch, which I have no desire of seeing.
As usual with Tomoaki Honma, the fans were absolutely rabid for this. Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson played their heel roles very well, while Honma and Makabe showed good chemistry. Like the rest of the card up to this point, things felt like they didn’t’ kick into high gear. It was a solidly worked match that had a hot crowd but something was off. Makabe took the heat for a while and gave the hot tag to Honma, who ran wild. He was able to hit Kokeshi, which is always a good sign. The finish to this was pretty cool for the most part. GBH did a doomsday Kokeshi, followed by a top rope Kokeshi and then the King Kong Knee Drop to crown new champions. It was a feel good moment as Honma finally got to win some gold. I do think things would have been much better if Honma got to make the pin, but it was still pretty cool. Another decent match.
All three usual members of Los Ingobernables were on hand. Tetsuya Naito was sporting a sick white suit and a pretty badass mask. Hirooki Goto also was sporting what seemed to be rather new attire. We are six matches into the show and again there is a pre-match attack and interference. BUSHI and EVIL got involved a lot throughout this match. They brought a table into play and Naito tried a neckbreaker off the apron through it but it didn’t break. The first few minutes were rather dull but it picked up near the end. Goto was able to overcome the odds, surviving attacks from all three members and blocking Destino. He then hit Shouten Kai to win. This was the probably best thing on the show so far, but again didn’t reach great status and part of it was the continuing reliance on shenanigans. Naito needed the win more in my mind. Also, Yohei Komatsu helped Naito to the back and Naito didn’t attack him like he does to other Young Lions.
Finally. Finally something brought me to the edge of my seat and made me saw wow. These two have had classics before, especially their two G1 matches in 2013 and 2014. Like those affairs, they just beat the holy hell out of each other for the entire duration of the match. I follow people on twitter seeing these guys for the first time and they were stunned. I saw so many stiff strikes and some headbutts that looked like they would kill a normal man. Katsuyori Shibata is perfect for what the NEVER division has become and his chemistry with Tomohiro Ishii is always spot on. Both men collapsed in exhaustion a few times as they were willing to do whatever it took to win the belt. To me, this felt like two guys willing to kill and die to become champion and that’s what I want from a title fight like this. After tons of great moments, Shibata won the belt with the PK. He breathes new life into a stagnant division. I love that he got to have this moment on the big stage because he’s been one of the best wrestlers of the past year or two. They meshed brutality and drama expertly and was what this show needed to get off of average status. It was the first thing that felt like a big deal. This was spectacular and different from everything else on the show.
Here is the dream match that most people, myself included, were looking forward to the most on the card. AJ Styles was out with no Bullet Club and sporting a pretty rad mask for his entrance. The lack of BC is greatly appreciated. Like his match against Jay Lethal last month, Styles was able to do great stuff despite his back injury. They worked a smart opening sequence, trying to feel each other out with no real prior knowledge of one another. Nakamura did a great job of targeting the back and AJ was even better at selling it throughout. It impacted several moves that Styles attempted. They messed up the backflip DDT spot which led to a weird moment and was probably the only time that the selling was up to par. They each kicked out of one finisher, with Nakamura hitting a big time Boma Ye after a Pele from out of nowhere. Styles countered another Boma Ye with a vicious knee strike of his own in one of the cooler moments. Outside of the aforementioned DDT spot, they executed everything nearly perfectly. Nakamura locked in his trademark armbar but AJ got out and hit the Styles Clash for two. I bought into a massive near fall when Nakamura hit a fucking top rope Michinoku Driver. Finally, Nakamura hit a Boma Ye to the back of the head and another to the front to retain. After the bell, the two men fist bumped each other in a show of respect. Just an excellent match that lived up to my expectations.
I previously noted that the matches between these two are always top notch. Their main event last year was tremendous and their match at King of Pro Wrestling 2013 is one of the greatest that I’ve ever witnessed. Early on here, I was disappointed. Unlike last year when the things they did seemed to be wise, this seemed like they were clearly going 30+ minutes for the sake of it. Nothing they did was bad, but it wasn’t the most entertaining stuff. Obviously the story here was whether or not Kazuchika Okada could finally beat Hiroshi Tanahashi in the Tokyo Dome. Tanahashi was his usual self by targeting the leg, while Okada looked for the Rainmaker. They did a good job in calling back to their long series of matches but something about it felt off to me. Tanahashi kind of abandoned the leg work late into the match, which disappointed me since they spent so much time focusing on it early. The final ten or so minutes saw a TON of false finishes and close calls. It seemed a bit overdone but it does kind of make sense in a finality sort of way with this overarching story. It took three straight Rainmakers before Okada could retain and finally put Tanahashi in his rearview mirror. Tanahashi also finally put over Okada as the official ace of New Japan after the match. This was the worst match I’ve seen between them, but their standards are so high that this is still held in high esteem.
Overall: After the first four or five matches, I was pretty disappointed. The show was middling at best with a very low ceiling. I don’t think anything on the show was outwardly bad, but nothing stood out to me. Then Shibata/Ishii came and woke me the fuck up. Styles/Nakamura followed with a tremendous match and the main event was also good, but overly long. The show was good, and ended on a high note, but outside of those final matches, this didn’t feel like the biggest show of the year.