Thursday, January 4, 2018

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 Review

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
January 4th, 2018 | Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 34,995

It’s that time of the year again. Wrestle Kingdom. NJPW’s biggest show of the year and the night where most people have ****½ penciled in for matches before they even happen. I came in knowing the result of the main event, and it certainly has dampened my interest in the company, but more on that later. I still decided to check out the show. Since I don’t have all the time in the world, I’m skipping the pre-show RAMBO for this review. I’ll check it out some other time.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K [c] w/ Rocky Romero vs. The Young Bucks
Oh, look. It’s another Dome show opener with the Young Bucks in the Jr. Title match. This was about Roppongi 3K trying to prove themselves against the team with the most reigns in history. The early portions of the match were quite lackluster. Once the Bucks cut the ring in half and put the focus on YOH’s back, it hit a point where things were going well. They avoided a lot of their cliché stuff I hate. They took out Rocky Romero with a powerbomb on the ramp and tried one on YOH, but he escaped. The champions made their comeback attempt following that, but never really felt like they threatened. It was cool to see them tease the finish RPG Vice used to beat the Bucks in the Dome last year. The Bucks lifted the Revival’s spot where once member prevents the other from tapping out. May as well take spots from superior teams. Shortly after, the Bucks hit the Meltzer Driver and won via Sharpshooter in 18:49. Better than most Bucks matches, but not as good as WK11. It started rough, picked up towards the middle, then the heat segment went a bit long. I didn’t mind the idea of the Bucks being a step ahead, it just never felt like the champs had a real shot and they barely got to showcase their stuff. [***]

I really wish title reigns in that division meant something. The Bucks have seven reigns and a grand total of nine defenses. Things like that make seven reigns mean nothing.

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Bad Luck Fale and the Guerrillas of Destiny [c] vs. Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano vs. Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe vs. Michael Elgin and War Machine vs. Taichi, Takashi Iizuka and Zack Sabre Jr.
It’s odd watching Elgin after the recent stuff came out about him. They started out against the Suzuki-Gun trio. Sabre was the start of this segment, though this feels like kind of a waste of flying him over to Japan. They won when he pinned Rowe, bringing CHAOS out next. Within about forty seconds, Yano rolled up Taichi to eliminate them. The Taguchi Japan trio entered next, for probably the best little portion of the match. Taguchi got a bit overzealous and Yano rolled him up to get rid of them. The Bullet Club champs were the final entrants. Everyone got a chance to shine there, though I feel it went a bit long. Beretta rallied late and scored the win with the Dudebuster at 17:03. This is cool for Beretta. Dude was very good in 2017, so I’m glad he got rewarded. Fine little gauntlet, though it felt like a colossal waste of Ishii for the second straight Dome show. [**¾]

Cody w/ Brandi Rhodes vs. Kota Ibushi
Brandi looked magnificent. Cody and his new hair? Not so much. Realizing he was overmatched early, Cody and Brandi played a trick on Kota. She took a bump and swell fella Kota checked on her, opening the door for a cheap shot from Cody. It was all a ruse, because Brandi wasn’t hurt. From there, Cody targeted Ibushi’s neck, which makes sense. Just when Ibushi began a comeback, Cody caught him with a SICK looking Cross Rhodes off the apron. I swear it looked like Kota broke his beck. The response from the crowd on the replay emphasized just how insane that was. Cody got overconfident, opening the door for Kota to get going. Cody survived a powerbomb, but eventually lost to the Phoenix Splash in 15:08. Up there with Cody’s matches against Sabre in Evolve and against Okada for his best stuff since leaving WWE. I enjoyed the contrast of Kota’s high octane style against Cody working old school heel stuff. The neck focus worked and Ibushi seemed ready to kill himself to get this match to work. Hopefully, he sticks around. [***½]

IWGP Tag Team Championship: The Killer Elite Squad [c] vs. EVIL and SANADA
EVIL and SANADA are the most interesting team NJPW has put together in YEARS. The champions attacked before the bell and hit EVIL with their finish in the opening seconds for an interesting near fall. KES remained in control, with the challengers often looking overmatched. EVIL was hit with a chokeslam off the apron, which left SANADA alone to take a lengthy beating. It honestly felt like it lasted forever. I remember when the Dome Tag Title match lasted less than ten minutes back at WK9. Good times. When EVIL got involved again, things picked up, but not enough to stand out. SANADA kicked out of a Killer Bomb, they hit the Magic Killer, and SANADA earned the victory with a moonsault after 14:14. Though it was the shortest match on the card, I’d still say it went too long. Putting it close to ten would’ve worked better. The heat segment lasted too long and most of the match fell flat. EVIL and SANADA aren’t at their best when working from so far behind. [**½]

Either way, great booking decision. This is the team to build the division around. Use them to make people want to see these matches. Them against War Machine sounds rad. Throw in a Jeff Cobb team, Juice and Makabe, and some more improvements and you might have something.

NEVER Openweight Championship Hair vs. Hair Death Match: Minoru Suzuki [c] vs. Hirooki Goto
Talk about a match with little interest. Their match last April was average and they shit the bed at Dominion. I was done with this feud and wanted Ishii/Suzuki. It sounds fresh and awesome. Alas, we’re here with Hirooki again. Luckily, they came out to have a war. They beat the hell out of each other from the start. Minoru nearly ended Goto quickly (not on this show) with a hanging sleeper in the corner. They did a great job making it look like Goto was out. Every Goto rally was stopped. Once he started gaining real momentum, Taichi attempted a run-in. YOSHI-HASHI cut him off, keeping this one on one. From there, the violence got ticked up to an even higher notch. He nearly had it with the sleeper, but wanted the Gotch Piledriver, which Goto avoided. There was something wild about Minoru using a headbutt, which was the move that ended Goto’s buddy Shibata’s career. Goto picked up the win after surviving a lot, with the GTR in 18:04. They finally had the great match I’d been hoping for. Hard hitting, violent and thankfully, no interference. Just what I want from this title. Maybe Goto will be interesting again in 2018. I can hope, can’t I? [***¾]

Suzuki-Gun tried to get Minoru to leave without shaving his head. However, Minoru is a man of his word and returned on his own. He didn’t want Goto to do it, completing the haircut himself.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay
I love Hiromu and KUSHIDA. Marty’s cool. Will has gone from someone I enjoyed a fair amount in 2016, to someone I basically can’t stand. It was easy to know what to expect here. Everyone was rather familiar with each other and it allowed for a fast-paced battle. Ospreay had a big spot where he moonsaulted off a structure. What I really liked about this was that everything mattered. It never felt like spots for the sake of it. It all led to something of note. KUSHIDA/Will, Will/Marty and KUSHIDA/Hiromu all delivered great callbacks to their singles outings. Marty getting the finger break spot turned back around on him was also a cool touch. They even had a wise idea to keep a man out of the match, when Scurll taped Hiromu to the guardrail. Hiromu got free and went nuts, hitting his awesome sunset flip bombs. I did take issue with Scurll kicking out of the Time Bomb, as I’d have had someone break it up. Hiromu was great and nearly won, but Scurll pulled the ref out to save his title. Scurll took out Hiromu with the umbrella, but then fell to the Oscutter at 21:18. Great match and the best thing on the show so far. They had tons of great spots and big bumps, while making sure everything worked cohesively. They played off their past and never allowed the match to lull. Everyone delivered. [****]

To play armchair booker again for a moment, I’d have done something a bit different. If the plan was to get the title on Will, I wouldn’t have done it back in October. I’d have had Scurll dethrone KUSHIDA. Then, Ospreay could’ve still won here and beat the guy who always owns him. From there, have Ospreay beat KUSHIDA at Sakura Genesis (to avenge that past demon), before facing Hiromu (BOTSJ winner) at Dominion. Just a thought.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Jay White
Tough spot for young Jay. The IC Title match has been tremendous in each of the past three years (Nakamura/Ibushi *****, Nakamura/Styles and Tanahashi/Naito ****½). Tanahashi made the early mistake, which was surprising for the vet, by missing a dive outside. From there, White targeted the knee. That’s a staple of Tanahashi matches and I dug him using that tactic. A clear issue early was that the fans didn’t fully buy into White just yet. A lot of his offense didn’t feel aggressive or vicious enough for his gimmick. Well, except for an apron brainbuster. It took quite a while to get there, but Tanahashi made his expected comeback and won with High Fly Flow in 19:43. It was a big step down from prior Dome IC Title matches, though it wasn’t bad at all. I think the problem was that the fans never fully bought into White and he didn’t feel comfortable in the character. The action and story of the match made sense, Jay just didn’t feel like he came out looking like a star. [***¼]

Jay works as a great babyface right now, though he has time to develop this role. Maybe they should’ve brought him back sooner, to give him more of an introduction than to just thrust him into this role.

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship No Disqualifications Match: Kenny Omega [c] w/ The Young Bucks vs. Chris Jericho
Jericho came out to “Judas” and wore his light up jacket. Despite the jacket, he came in more serious than Kenny Omega and his wacky entrance. They went right at one another, which was great. No need for the slow build fluff in a match with this kind of heat. I liked Jericho holding onto the Walls, even when Kenny reached the ropes. When Kenny went through a table, Jericho brought chaos, attacking Red Shoes and his son at ringside. Omega made a comeback, only for Jericho to springboard dropkick him in his recently repaired knee. It looked great. Jericho busted out the cocky pin, which will always pop me. Omega bumped like a madman, as Jericho brutalized him often. He busted Kenny open and took pride in it. He obliterated a chair by using it over and over. His overconfidence cost him (a theme of the night) as the chair was kicked into his face and then he took a V-Trigger that knocked him through a table. It led to a great series of counters and close calls. Jericho’s One Winged Angel counter into the Liontamer was great, as was him getting his hand on the rope after being hit with hit. Some of it felt overdone. Kenny eventually won with the One Winged Angel on a chair at 34:36. Kenny was clearly superior in terms of athleticism and moves, but Jericho is just a master at all the little things that can elevate a match. That combination worked great here. My major problem with this match was the length. They should’ve gone home about ten minutes sooner. [****¼]

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] w/ Gedo vs. Tetsuya Naito
The reaction for Naito was out of this world. Every single form of logic pointed to Naito winning the big one here. Okada wore ridiculous looking bellbottoms. It was easily the worst look of the night. Naito was great at the psychology aspect early, doing small things to alter his style and throw Okada off his game. Okada’s cobra clutch continued to cause problems for Naito. He added a new element and Naito hadn’t adapted yet. Outside of that submission, a lot of the early stuff in the match didn’t work for me. It was what I expect from Okada, where the first third or more of the match is kind of just there and then things picked up. Once it got going, things were great. These two just never seem to click as well as some other top guys do. The fans were way behind everything Naito did and bit on his near falls. The closing stretch was pretty fun, though a bit too similar to other Okada matches. Naito continued the trend of people trying too much tonight. He went for an extra Destino and it cost him, leading to Okada retaining in 34:26. I thought this was a very good main event, just not one that ever touched a great level. A lot of the early stuff didn’t do much for me and the closing stuff was good, but too familiar. There were several strong storytelling elements and a bunch of crisp exchanges, it was just missing something to take it over the top. [***¾]

With the review out of the way, I must make a quick comment on the booking. I hated Naito losing here. Not just because I’m a huge fan of his and because I don’t like Okada. It was absolutely the time. He’s molten hot, his redemption story would’ve been perfect with a Tokyo Dome main event win over Okada, and Okada’s reign has grown tiresome. The booking of Okada is something that people would roll their eyes and groan about anywhere else, but it gets a pass because it’s NJPW. I understand how well Okada performs at the box office. I get that. Take a chance. This was Naito’s night and not pulling the trigger here was an indefensible booking decision.

Overall: 8/10. Better than Wrestle Kingdom 10. Worse than WK9 and 11. This was different than a lot of NJPW shows. They typically have lame undercards and great main events. Here, the entire undercard ranged from solid to good and the NEVER Openweight Title match delivered in a way that it hasn’t in 2017. The big matches weren’t on the level of the stuff from previous WKs, but the consistency of this show helped put it above WK10. Lower ceiling, but higher floor. Good matches, though some questionable booking moves.