NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
October 9 2017
We’re in Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Tokyo for KOPW. I always get a little down on NJPW after G1 and before Wrestle Kingdom because they have a bad habit of making the shows so meaningless. Like Naito vs. Ishii on this show. Sure, it’ll be a good match but does anyone buy for one second that Ishii is actually going to beat Naito and steal his spot at Wrestle Kingdom? If you do, get the fuck outta here. But despite these concerns I miss the wrestlers and the in-ring action so it’s time to get back into the swing of things. English commentary here comes from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis.
SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Leo Tonga
Leo Tonga made his debut last year but has been used on this most recent tour quite heavily. He’s very inexperienced but an enormous 6’8” tall. Yujiro has brought his ladies and it’s sexy time in Tokyo. Hiromu tells a terrific story right out the gate by going after Fale. It wouldn’t make any sense from a logic POV but Hiromu is still mad about what happened to Daryl. My eyes are constantly drawn to the enormous Leo Tonga. He towers over Fale, who’s the largest man in the promotion. Due to his size he finds it tough to sell but all big men struggle to make selling believable, especially against smaller opponents. The timing on his offence is good, for his level of experience, and there’s plenty of potential in there. It’s actually tough to pick holes in his work, other than his strikes looking a bit weak. The forearms, not the big boot.
Hiromu breaks out Daryl to distract Fale and BUSHI mists him for the win. This causes laughter throughout the building and happy women waving their Daryl merch. Yay!
Final Rating: **1/2
Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr vs. Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano
Oh no, they’re doing MiSu vs. Yano again aren’t they? The last time Suzuki was here they feuded for two fucking years. It’s usually good for chuckles but Suzuki doesn’t have many big matches left. This match is fine because Suzuki and Sabre get into the torture elements and mock Yano, in between kicking the shit out of him. Goto is largely ignored until the hot tag. Yano tries his usual business and it angers Suzuki a great deal. There’s no rope break. There’s no reaction to Yano turning to face MiSu during the taunt. The low blow is blocked. It’s really not fair. Suzuki pulls out a bag of bungee cords and ties Yano up with them before leaving him to die. Yano responds with a mule kick to the balls and takes it on count out.
Expert trolling. Yano celebrates with the NEVER title and Suzuki might actually murder him this time.
Final Rating: **
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Ryusuke Taguchi & Ricochet (c) vs. Roppongi 3K
Rocky Romero has a new tag team, who are in CHAOS, and it’s SHO and YOH! Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu on a surprise early return from excursion in Mexico and America. It doesn’t seem like they’ve been gone for that long, although in their defence they were really good as juniors. The pop for their reveal is substantial. Ricochet is another interesting participant here as rumours abound that he’s WWE bound. We had those same rumours the last time he lost the junior tag titles but maybe there’s more truth to the rumours now. SHO and YOH have the misfortune to be less interesting on return from excursion than they were before excursion. In all fairness most wrestlers, on returning, take a little time to bed in. EVIL struggled badly on his return to NJPW but he’s great now. So yeah, it’s an awkward return. Ricochet is a big man here. He lets YOH kick out of the Benadryller and bumps around for SHO. SHO looks the better of the two. He’s changed appearance visibly and has that striking blonde hair. He looks more confident. Ricochet eats a double team and SHO and YOH win the junior tag belts in their first night back, pinning one of the best wrestlers in the Indies to do so. The camera lingers on Ricochet on his way out. He’s looking out at the crowd for an abnormally long time. Could this be it for Ricochet in New Japan?
Final Rating: ***
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Killer Elite Squad (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny vs. War Machine
You have no idea how much I don’t care about this match. The tag division in NJPW makes me cry. I thought they had something when War Machine took the belts but it ended up segueing into Killer Elite Squad. Fuck the Killer Elite Squad. This is tornado rules and elimination style. It should be a right royal ruck and a jolly good time. It isn’t. KES are one of those tag teams that I’m so burned out on that I never want to see them again. I totally blame the long tag title run in NOAH for it but honestly, I’ve never liked them as a team. Now I just hate them. War Machine are able to do more of their crazy shtick in a tornado rules match. The biggest issue the match has, from beginning to end, is that it rarely ever makes sense. It’s just a bunch of spots tagged together. There’s no flow. There’s no emotion. There’s no point. Why should I care about any of these teams winning? The tag belts change every show regardless of who’s involved. Plus they throw in pointless kick-outs when there are guys out there who could break the falls and protect the finishers. I hate this fucking match. GOD go out first, thanks to the Killer Bomb. Ray Rowe stopping Tama from breaking it up, thus ditching their rivals. The no DQ stipulation allows an assortment of crap and Tama takes it out on Rowe when GOD are eliminated. Tama’s storytelling, and frustrations, almost save the match but it’s not enough. War Machine’s brutality almost saves the match as they deliberately one-up themselves but there’s too much bullshit like Davey using a garbage can lid for the sake of it. KES don’t even have the decency to finish the match clean, clumsy Lance knocking over a table while Hanson is being powerbombed through it, causing him to take a horrible bump where one isn’t required. It’s ok to be shit lads, it’s not ok to be dangerous.
Final Rating: *1/2
Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes & Marty Scurll vs. Beretta, YOSHI-HASHI & Jado
It’s weird seeing Scurll shoulder to shoulder with Cody and Kenny. He’s the lowest man on that totem pole but he’s still on it. Kenny has had longer to build his character, as a 15 year pro. You can do a lot with 15 years. The cease and desist is gleefully ignored by Don Callis. Beretta has recently joined the ranks of the heavyweights, which is where he should have been all along. He’s too big to be a junior. This version of the Bullet Club is just here to piss about. It’s a complete waste of Kenny Omega. On the upside t-shirt wearing Kenny means Omega won’t have to break his back for no reason. Save energy for the real big matches.
The pissing around includes the whole “two boots”/”four boots” deal. It’s Kenny ‘day off’ shtick. For some reason his “you can’t escape” spot makes me chuckle every time. I think it’s the intonation of voice. The match rumbles on with a lot of shtick. Kevin Kelly gets to mention the cease and desist over and over again before calling the Bullet Club “the greatest assembly of talent the world has ever known”. Oh, get fucked Big Kev. Even if you’re towing the company line that’s horseshit.
Final Rating: *3/4
Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe
Kota seems to have settled nicely back into a routine for NJPW. He’s only working the big shows and he’s being kept away from big matches. They know he has limited time left taking sickening bumps and want them to all take place in important bouts. Same with Tanahashi, who coasts through every tag team match he’s ever appeared in. His new short hair cut genuinely bothered me but he’s styled it differently here to make him look like Jon Bon Jovi after a hairdressing mistake. The others make amends for Tana’s lack of willingness to break himself in a throwaway tag and Kota in particular takes needless bumps on his neck to get the match over. Mate, you don’t need to do that. It’s a Slingblade, don’t kill yourself for a fucking Slingblade. Juice does the same for a Togi clothesline. In a way it’s nice to see that level of commitment but they’re going to all have trouble walking in their old age. The match has a great conclusion where Juice nails Togi with Pulp Friction after sliding out of the way of the King Kong Kneedrop. Juice needs to be kept strong after a good G1 and surrounding area. It would be easy to slide back into the undercard.
Final Rating: ***
Post match: Tanahashi can’t help himself and holds his belt over Ibushi’s head, like a dick. You lost pal, jog on.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Will Ospreay
Ospreay is dressed as Spider-Man for some reason.
Commentary harks back to Ospreay’s debut in NJPW, when he came up short against KUSHIDA in an excellent debut match. Ospreay is 0-4 versus KUSHIDA. Will looks hugely motivated to put on a show here, and that includes taking ridiculous bumps over the rail. The counters in this are ridiculous. KUSHIDA getting caught on a chair springboard by Ospreay coming over the rail. A Sasuke Special getting caught right into an armbar by KUSHIDA. The plan for KUSHIDA is to take Ospreay’s legs, showing his weakness coming in. He’s not going after his strength (the arm attacks) but rather Ospreay’s strengths; the flying. It doesn’t work because they move on to something else and Will is soon doing all the flipz imaginable. If you ignore the leg stuff in the early going it’s a hugely entertaining display of gymnastics. KUSHIDA resumes his focus by hunting down Will’s arm and Ospreay sells this with the appropriate panic, as he’s submitted to the Hoverboard Lock before. KUSHIDA gets more than a little heat for stomping on Will’s face like a bastard. Personally I fucking love him for it. If you have a guys doing a bunch of flips and no selling your legwork then you stomp that punk. KUSHIDA tries murder with a super Back to the Future but Ospreay counters to a Cutter in mid-air. It’s not beautiful but it is cool. Will knows his match doesn’t make a fat of sense so he makes it as cool as possible. Where logic does apply is with KUSHIDA’s assortment of arm holds. In particular the Hoverboard Lock but this time Will refuses to tap and finds a way out. The counters are so ridiculous some of them look to be made up on the spot. After one of these ridiculous counters Ospreay flies through the air with the Oscutter and has finally won the junior title. This was a very movesy but what moves! I love that the execution wasn’t quite perfect throughout. I love that rough and ready on the edge style.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: Hiromu Takahashi strolls out here to claim first shot but Marty Scurll runs in to snap his finger. Scurll is taking Hiromu’s spot! Well, it’s happened everywhere else, it might as well happen here too. It’ll be a good establishing defence for Ospreay.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Ishii has beaten Naito twice in singles this year but now there’s something important at stake; the title shot at Wrestle Kingdom.
Naito tries to pull his cool pose where he fakes a dive but Ishii knows it’s coming, slides in and bashes him in the head. Not so Ingobernable now are we? Ishii generally lays into Naito. The strikes are stiff as fuck and are designed to give Naito a mountain to climb. It forces him to be more creative because he can’t go toe to toe with the toughest bastard in the promotion. There’s a great spot where Naito slaps Ishii and the crowd react like a Western one. It’s just missing the “you fucked up” chant. That’s how perfect Ishii’s reactions are to stuff. Both guys take a shellacking in this battle. Naito struggles with his knee, Ishii with his neck. It’s brutal stuff at times, although they’ve had two blinders where neither guy appeared to give a shit about their own wellbeing so it shouldn’t be a shock. The pace is frantic and it’s the best match on the show because they know when to slow it down and tell stories, especially with limbs. Naito needs to slow Ishii down and the various assaults do that. Gloria in this match is the most brutal incarnation of the hold I’ve seen. Honestly, it should probably finish. Ishii is dumped right on the back of his head and it’s sickening. I know it’s not his finisher but fuck it, if something lands that well then it’s game over. Plus it’d help re-establish the move for Naito. After this virtual finish they continue to batter each other with big moves and vicious head drops like it didn’t mean anything, which is upsetting. Ishii does his best to try and kill himself by taking Destino on his neck but he can’t make it look more vicious than Gloria or he’ll break his own neck. Anyway, that gets it done and Naito goes to the Dome. As if anything else would happen. Good match but there was no thrill for me because Naito was always winning.
Final Rating: ****1/4
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. EVIL
This is, undoubtedly, the biggest match of EVIL’s career. For Okada it’s just another day at the office. Another in a streak of main events for NJPW’s ace. Okada has now surpassed every IWGP title record in the book, bar two. In a few weeks he’ll surpass Shinya Hashimoto as the longest reigning IWGP champion, ever. He needs around 90 days to pass Tanahashi as the longest reigning champion of all time, for total days. Oddly enough if he makes it to Wrestle Kingdom, he will beat that record by one day.
Kelly brings up the PWI 500, where Okada placed #1. EVIL? #168. Callis gets all wound up by the comparison but it’s entirely relevant. Okada is clearly a draw, not just in Japan. EVIL is not. True, the PWI 500 is largely nonsense but if you’re going to be considered a big enough deal to carry the big belts you’re likely to be at the top end. Okada’s big match structure is usually excellent. He likes to tell stories that need time to develop. That’s in evidence early on. EVIL is aggressive, not even bothering with a lock up and he goes after Okada’s neck in brutal fashion. The storyline, from G1, is that EVIL hurt Okada with Darkness Falls on chairs and he’s not fully recovered. The argument is that Okada even lost to Kenny Omega because of EVIL. Unfortunately EVIL’s psychology involves lengthy rest holds, to work over the neck. While it’s fine from a psychology stand-point it’s fairly dull. Given the blizzard that usually accompanies Okada bouts in 2017 it’s a step down from where our expectations are. Seeing as Okada cannot be bothered to sell the neck it renders all of EVIL’s offence pointless. Okada on offence is something else though. He does his dive over the rail, EVIL tries to throw a chair at him HE DUCKS IT and hits the dive anyway. My word, that’s an awesome spot playing into their last match and showing how prepared Okada is for the big matches.
This comes into play again as Okada desperately avoids the Darkness Falls into chairs, a spot that caused all his neck issues from G1. Okada seems keen on taking big spots to sell the concept of EVIL beating him by breaking his neck. He takes a nasty release German suplex right on the neck as Kevin Kelly talks about the difficulty of holding on to a title for so long. It wears you down. You could argue EVIL’s approach isn’t just about winning but rather further weakening Okada for Wrestle Kingdom. If he does win, it’s a bonus.
The Banshee Muzzle is employed, a hold EVIL debuted at G1, and focuses on the neck. It seems to be building logically with Okada continually taking spots on his neck until they throw in my most hated spot; the referee bump. Modern wrestlers find sneaky cheating impossible, it seems, so the booking has to cater to them. Referees are badly distracted or just bumped for no reason. The set up here is for Darkness Falls on some chairs but Okada rana’s out, nailing EVIL head first into the chair stack. Despite EVIL’s viciousness it’s Okada who draws the most heat, putting a fucking beating on EVIL for the chair business. It seems fair to me but the Tokyo crowd don’t care for it. EVIL’s comeback from that sees Okada land on his neck, again, and I’m genuinely concerned his neck is completely fucked at this point.
The biggest issue the match faces is that it’s simply too long. Okada interweaves a nice storyline concerning his neck and EVIL’s attention to it but it would work far better if it was ten minutes shorter. Eventually Okada overcomes his neck issues and batters EVIL with the Rainmaker to retain. The result was never in any doubt but it was a good journey. Had they kept this to a lean 20 I figure it would have been **** easily, thanks to the logic and focus of the work. Stretching it out takes it down a notch.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Top three matches were all really good. It seems a lot of folks didn’t care for Okada-EVIL but I thought they told a good story. The undercard was very patchy. I can imagine most people like the tag match more than me. For me it was just a bunch of stuff thrown together rather than an actual match but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Also the Bullet Club “Luxury Trio” match was all shtick, no steak. I can’t blame anyone for dogging an undercard match on NJPW though. The focus is clearly on the top end. Pleased for Will Ospreay getting his big win, even if this is probably the worst match he’s ever had with KUSHIDA (although, it’s still great). King of Pro Wrestling was basically a filler show with the focus being on the junior division with the two big title changes happening there. Okada and Naito were never losing here and that’s part of the NJPW down turn between August and January. Roll on Wrestle Kingdom!