Wednesday, January 4, 2017
It’s that time of the year again. New Japan’s biggest annual event. I stayed up to watch it last year, but a lackluster card allowed me to sleep in and check it out later in the day. The attendance came in at still under 30,000 but more than last year.
Michael Elgin came out first, which was a surprise since he was expected to miss the show due to injury. I believe he was slated to face Cody originally. Billy Gunn was second, giving me a start to a New Japan show I never expected. For the second straight year, we got a Cheeseburger sighting to a pop. He threw out shitty BONE SOLDIER instantly and I loved it. Liger’s theme got the expected loud reaction. Nakanishi and Elgin had a fun standoff before everyone combined to eliminate Manabu. YOSHITATSU did his shitty Triple H cosplay, while Yuji Nagata and Hiroyoshi Tenzan were their awesome selves. In the greatest thing all night, SCOTT NORTON entered the rumble! He hit Taguchi with a powerbomb to get rid of him. Everyone remaining went after Elgin but he was all “I’M NOT AN UNDERCARD GUY OR LEGEND, GET WRECKED!” He kicked ass and it came down to him, Tenzan and Cheeseburger. After tossing Tenzan, Elgin had to deal with a fired up Cheeseburger. Cheeseburger had some hope spots but fell to the Elgin Bomb. Less entrants than I expected but still good fun. I enjoyed Elgin, Norton, Cheeseburger, Tenzan, , Gunn, Liger and Nagata. A good way to bring Elgin back earlier than planned.
The opening video package ran down the card and was well done.
It’s Kota Ibushi vs. ACH. Remember when Kota co-headlined this event two years ago? They worked at the quick pace you’d expect with the first big spot being a Tiger Mask Dark dive outside. W came back with the double jump moonsault to the outside. Things slowed a bit inside before Dark picked up a near fall. W eventually won after a snap German, tiger suplex and then a big tiger bomb. Fun little undercard match that did what it had to.
The Young Bucks came out with all their titles (ROH, NJPW, PWG and their own dumb Superkick titles). They talked about the Hardys during their entrance. This is one of the matches I had issues with on the card. We’ve seen it plenty of times. I wish the NOAH stuff didn’t fall through because ACH and Taiji Ishimori sound more interesting than both teams. The Bucks did the old school “heels walk out” gimmick but hit superkicks when RPG Vice tried to get them, leading to the countout tease. That’s one so far. They pulled out their trademark stuff, which was crisp since they’ve worked each other so often. Beretta nearly died when he missed a dive outside, leaving Rocky alone. He weathered the storm of Bucks offense and they got too cocky. When they went for More Bang for Your Buck, Rocky countered into a cradle for the win. Standard match between the teams but I liked the added story aspect of Rocky having to do things alone and redeem himself after the issues he caused between the team in the past few months. I also dug the out of nowhere finish. We need more of those to show matches can end at any time.
Pimp Yujiro’s ladies tonight were on point. Good to see YOSHI get a spot on the card. He had a good 2016. I had no clue this was a gauntlet match until the bell rang with just BC and CHAOS in the ring. They brawled for a while before things calmed down. Ospreay got his shit in, including a sweet dive outside and middle rope corkscrew moonsault. Page hit an SSP off the apron to the outside while Yujiro pinned Jado to eliminate them. Outside of Will’s sprint, this first section was lackluster. Also, I’m stunned Gedo didn’t blow his load on a Ricochet/Ospreay spot in the Dome. LIDJ entered next, which made the BC advancing baffling. You’d think they’d keep the babyface team there. Both teams cheated a bit before SANADA made Yujiro tap to the dragon sleeper. The champs were the final team to join. This was a six-man pairing I was looking forward to because I like everyone involved. We got early dives from Finlay and Ricochet. It’s like Kojima is the dad letting his kids run wild. After a fast start, LIDJ worked the heat on Finlay. Ricochet’s hot tag saw him hit a brainbuster for two. Ricochet nearly died when EVIL launched him into an MX from BUSHI. It didn’t come off too crisp but was a great idea. Kojima got hit with the mist and lost following a powerbomb and STO. That segment between LIDJ and the champs was the best thing on the show so far. The first two sections involving the BC dragged this match down unfortunately. The right team won too since SANADA, BUSHI and EVIL all had awesome years.
I’m a Cody fan. His post-WWE run has been filled with solid matches, but nothing great. I expected more of the same coming into this. We got a cool spot early where Cody tried a double jump dive outside but Juice caught him and nailed a belly to belly suplex. Juice looked pumped to be working the Dome. He did the Kevin Owens cannonball with Cody on the guardrail. Inside, Cody got in control and did some taunting. He stopped to talk smack to the English commentary team. Cody stopped Juice’s comeback by attacking the knee. Juice survived the American Nightmare submission and sold the leg well. He countered Cross Rhodes and got two on a lariat. His leg gave out on a powerbomb attempt before Cody hit the Cross Rhodes to win. Like I said, solid but unspectacular. Juice gets props for his selling and he came out motivated. Most of this fell flat though. Also, you wouldn’t know Cody was in the BC by this match. No gear or taunts or anything related to it.
I’m not sure if doing back to back all gaijin matches is a good move. Especially when Cody is new to NJPW and Cole hasn’t been around enough to gain a real following. I’d have put Cody/Juice second and the NEVER gauntlet third. They’ve had great matches in the past but I was underwhelmed at Final Battle when Kyle won the title. They played into their animosity with some heated stuff early but the crowd didn’t care much for it. We got an exchange of strikes and kicks that felt hollow. Cole used a series of kicks and the Last Shot to become the first three time ROH Champion. Typical ROH. They waited far too long to pull the trigger on Kyle and now he isn’t re-signing, so they had to waste the long angle and put the title back on Cole. Match went ten minutes but felt closer to thirty.
I heard good things about GBH/GOD in the World Tag League Finals but never watched due to lack of caring. However, adding Ishii and Yano made me interested in this one. Yano got jumped early for stealing the Tag Titles and WTL trophy. Yano was a blast throughout this. He brought his brand of entertainment to this and made it fun. Each guy or team was given a decent amount of time to get their shit in. We got some Honma/Ishii interaction, which is always appreciated. The final stretch saw a frantic pace from everyone involved. In classic Yano fashion, he blind tagged in and then saved Ishii from a double suplex with stereo low blows on the champs. A rollup later and we had new champions. More fun than I expected thanks to Ishii being Ishii and Yano being Yano.
I wanted to see this match more than any other. It was fresh, exciting and featured two guys I enjoy. Takahashi went all Rey Mysterio with a “JUMPING OUT THE SKY” entrance. Takahashi attacked during KUSHIDA’s entrance but the champ fought him off. He followed with an insane dive that looked fantastic. KUSHIDA went after the arm but got leveled with a vicious sunset flip bomb onto the floor. The doctor had to check on him. Back inside, they traded crisp offense, including Takahashi countering the Hoverboard Lock and hitting some Germans. He went for a leaping rana that would pull KUSHIDA outside but they got caught on the ropes and botched it. He made up for it with the bonkers diving senton he’s known for. He hit the floor HARD. Takahashi countered a Pele into an awesome sunset flip bomb for two. KUSHIDA avoided another sunset flip to the outside with a backflip before catching a leaping Takahashi in an armbar. The spot was partially lifted from KUSHIDA/O’Reilly and worked here. KUSHIDA was aggressive and held it while the referee counted, knowing he could get away with it outside. KUSHIDA continued the focus on the arm with vicious kicks. Takahashi battled out of the Hoverboard Lock several times, including one on the top rope, which was countered into an inverted destroyer for two. He then hit a corner DVD and time bomb to capture the title. Easily the best thing on the show so far. Takahashi was the great, fresh opponent KUSHIDA needed and they delivered. This had the heat and crowd investment the last two Dome Jr. Title matches lacked. Great story of KUSHIDA having to get aggressive to overcome his challenger but Takahashi proving to be too much.
I’m almost certain this was planned to be Shibata against someone from NOAH (probably Nakajima or Go). Goto feels like a last minute replacement but their matches usually rule. Shibata had the best match at last year’s WK. This didn’t get off to the wild start that Ishii/Shibata did last year but I’m fine with that. Instead, we got a feeling out process between the two former partners who know each other so well. Shibata kicked his ass early and no sold Goto’s hardest kicks. For the final five or so minutes, they went to war in typical NEVER Title match fashion. Big offense, hard strikes and FIGHTING SPIRIT! Shibata survived Shouten Kai and you felt like Goto would choke again. He reached down and delivered a flurry of headbutts. After hitting the GTR, he captured the title. Damn good match but not quite great. Maybe it’s because Gedo made it impossible for me to care about Goto anymore. I couldn’t get into it the way I did with their past encounters. Plus, Goto could always win the second tier titles, it was the Heavyweight that continues to elude him. Still, great finishing stretch to a strong battle.
Tanahashi debuted his new theme, which is nowhere near as good as the old one. It does shout “GO ACE” in it, which is a dick move since Okada technically became the ace at WK10. Though Naito deserves to be the top guy, there’s something fitting about the guy who has defined NJPW over the past decade facing his disrespectful self. Naito came out in a maroon suit, looking cool as f***. Interestingly, no clean break was given by Tanahashi in the opening minutes. I love when Tanahashi does little heel things. The crowd ate up everything they did, which makes sense since they both get the best reactions on the roster. Both guys went after the leg. Tanahashi because it’s kind of his thing and Naito to set up the knee bar he’s utilized recently. Both guys sold the leg work very well. We got an awesome apron slingblade, which I don’t remember seeing before. He followed with High Fly Flow outside but wasted time mocking Naito’s signature taunt. Inside, Naito brought the big guns with some great offense. They each survived the knee bar and cloverleaf. In a great spot, Tanahashi missed High Fly Flow and Naito hit Destino. I would have had that be the finish. After some more exchanges and survival of High Fly Flow, Naito won by hitting Destino twice more. Amazing match. Tanahashi is a master at laying his matches out. Great wrestling, hot crowd, strong storytelling, well done limb work and fine selling. Not only does Naito get his big Dome win but he does it against a guy who bumped him out of his big spot three years ago. I wish this main evented so Naito could make up for WK8.
I saw a laughable tweet that said Omega and Okada are the two best big match wrestlers in the world. Omega hasn’t had enough big matches to validate that statement and Tanahashi is still around, which he just reminded everyone.
Omega got a Terminator style entrance that came off better than Triple H’s attempt at WM31. The first portion of this match did nothing for me. It felt like they just did stuff to kill time, rather than things that mattered. It wasn’t until a table got brought into play that the match got going. Omega busted out the Ibushi moonsault spot, which I dug. Kenny took a MASSIVE back body drop bump from in the ring to the outside that took some incredible precision. I’m amazed he’s okay. Omega came back with a sick super dragon suplex. Their final exchange was awesome, which is Okada’s specialty. The Rainmaker V Trigger spot ruled. Omega joined Naito and Tanahashi as the guys to kick out of the Rainmaker. It took several more but Okada finally retained. So many of them felt like overkill but I liked how Omega never got to hit his finisher, which will come into play whenever they rematch this. Like a lot of Okada led matches, the first portion didn’t really matter. I don’t mind a slow start as long as everything pays off and matters. Think Tana/AJ from the G1 25. Shave off that first 15-20 and you’ve got a MOTY candidate. With it though, it felt like they tried too hard for the long, epic match. I’ve seen people say this is the greatest match ever and some call it garbage, but I can’t fathom either being true. I know some will hate this rating. A poor first half followed by an insane second half. Shoutout to Omega specifically for one hell of a performance.
Overall: Much better than last year’s Wrestle Kingdom, but still behind WK9 for me. The undercard mostly delivered this time around, with some solid matches. I didn’t care much for Cody/Juice or Cole/O’Reilly, but everything else clocked in with at least three stars. I even liked the Young Bucks match, which is a rarity. The final four matches are where this show hammers it home though. The Jr. Title match was my favorite in years, while Goto/Shibata delivered the kind of match I wanted. Omega/Okada had issues but still put on a great show. Tanahashi/Naito was my MOTN and a fantastic spectacle. The card lacked, but the show delivered in a big way.