NJPW Wrestle Kingdom
January 4 2018
Hosts on the English stream are Kevin Kelly and Don Callis. We kick things off at 7am UK time.
NEW JAPAN RUMBLE
First two are Kitamura and his awesome teeth and BUSHI. #3 is Delirious. Despite several previous tours nobody cares. Some people just can’t get over in Japan. #4 is Leo Tonga. Kitamura vs. Tonga is the very epitome of two guys that need some seasoning. #5 is Manabu Nakanishi. #6 is “honorary Tongan” Chase Owens. Delirious takes a Package Piledriver to be booted and Tiger Hattori fucks up the pin. #7 is Yuji Nagata! King of the Dads. #8 is TAKA Michinoku. A series of pile on’s result in eliminations and a bunch of guys get dumped leaving it as Chase vs. TAKA. #9 is Yoshinobu Kanemaru and a bottle of Suntory whiskey. You can’t spell Suntory without TORY, mate. Get in the bin. #10 is El Desperado. Now it’s three heels, from the same stable, beating up one heel from a different heel stable. Predictably nobody gives a fuck. Chase gets tossed and #11 is Liger! SHOTEI! SHOTEI!
Attempting unmaskings abound. #12 is Gino Gambino. He clears everyone out and stands tall by himself. #13 is Henare. He’s loaded up on gimmick since I last saw him and is rocking a hard-headed Islander gimmick. Is he no longer a Young Lion? #14 is YOSHI-HASHI. #15 is David Finlay. Kevin says it’s the 16th entrant so I have somehow missed someone, or Kelly can’t count. One or the other. Fat boy Gambino gets binned off. Finlay upsets Tacos. #16 is Yujiro Takahashi with Pieter (Twitter’s @Muffin030ass). Don Callis behaves himself. Fucking Yujiro dumps Finlay. I don’t get the booking in this match. It’s been all over the shop. #17 is Cheeseburger. He’s so over. #18 is Satoshi Kojima. #19 is Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Last man, #20 is Masahito Kakihara. He beat cancer and now he’s coming for these boys.
FINAL FOUR: Kojima, Tenzan, Kakihara and Cheeseburger. Kakihara & ‘Burger double team and eliminate TenCozy. Kakihara flattens ‘Burger with the STO and takes the win.
Final Rating: **
Sidenote: Kakihara dedicating the win to Takayama, who’s fighting his own battle right now, is beautiful. As is the Takayama t-shirt. The Real Hero boys gathered a stunning amount of cash in support of Takayama.
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi 3K (c) vs. The Young Bucks
Bucks are chasing their 7th IWGP Jr tag belts.
Rocky Romero has a flamethrower. They do flips early and YOH lands badly. Hard to tell if it’s a legitimate injury but the Bucks kill Rocky to buy him time. Then they work heat on SHO until YOH is back on his feet. Everyone ends up with bad backs, which results in some pretty lousy action in the early going. It’s only when YOH is healthy again that matters improve. The flashy spot-heavy counter sequences with big hits is exactly what this match should have been from minute one. The back injury psychology occasionally comes into play but the match is better off when it doesn’t. The focus does sometimes pay off, like the senton on the ropes across SHO’s back. The impact is brutal on that. Plus Matt’s selling of the back, being unable to lift SHO to start the More Bang For Your Buck, is good selling. The duelling back kicks spot works for me too. It’s a match that keeps getting better and better. Meltzer Driver sets up the Sharpshooter and the Bucks win their seventh junior title. It’s so many that Nick has trouble working out how many he’s won!
This was a great opener. It started badly but picked up and kept threading all the issues throughout the match together to get to the conclusion. If the start hadn’t been so awkward it would have been four stars, easy.
Final Rating: ***3/4
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Championship
Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Takashi Iizuka & Taichi) vs. Michael Elgin & War Machine
War Machine hate Mike Elgin, with good reason, but are good pros and are teaming with the twat anyway. This is a rarity, it’s a match where Taichi isn’t the most hated wrestler involved. Ray Rowe vs. Zack Sabre Jr is a match I never knew I wanted but I now want it so bad. Their interactions here are all kinds of great. Sabre with his technical limb work and Rowe with his awesome offence and brutal hard hits. Sabre eventually wins by choking Rowe out. It was a special battle in the midst of a throwaway six-man. Good work from both guys.
Suzuki-gun vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Beretta)
The attention switches to Yano vs. Taichi and who can cheat the best. Yano wins with a low blow and a roll up.
CHAOS vs. Togi Makabe, Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi
Hair-punching bad-ass Makabe dominates this one while Taguchi gets everyone organised.
Taguchi gets carried away though and Yano pins him.
CHAOS vs. Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa
The Bullet Club boys are the incumbent champions. Ishii runs a fun spot in the corner where Tanga accidentally lariats Tama and then Ishii lariats him too. Ishii isn’t known for his comedy but his timing, on everything, is exemplary. Ishii almost suplexes Fale out of his pyjamas. Beretta plays his role well here, taking a beating and all the GOD double teams. Tama catching Beretta with a Gun Stun in the middle of a moonsault is made to look so easy. The timing on that had to be perfect and it was. Beretta looks in trouble but recovers and downs Tama with the Dudebuster. Huge win for Trent. Ishii and Yano don’t look too bothered but winning the pin at WK as a heavyweight is a big deal for Beretta. Happy for him.
Final Rating: ***
Cody Rhodes vs. Kota Ibushi
We all know this should be Ibushi vs. Omega but that Jericho match has taken Kenny away so Kota is stuck with Cody.
Cody has dropped the ROH title, leaving this match open. If Cody came in as champion the result was inevitable. Brandi referring to fans as “simple marks” for not thinking that she and Cody weren’t the main draw here. You’re not even the main draw in this match!
Brandi gets killed on a Kota dive and the crowd piss themselves laughing at her. I’m sure she’s a lovely person but this isn’t her forte. Cody working over Kota’s surgically repaired neck makes sense, even if using a chair is illegal in wrestling. The referees need to get on that shit. Kota’s offence is so great and so fast that it’s like night and day with the old school heel shtick Cody brings to the dance. It’s a very deliberate ploy. The match is chugging along until Cody hits the Cross Rhodes off the apron! Oh GOD! The impact on that bump was absolutely sick. Kota landed on the top of his head. He is a mad bastard for even considering taking that bump but taking it like he did, with a head spike, leaves everyone feeling very uncomfortable the replay gets gasps from the Dome crowd.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) January 4, 2018
Fuck me, that’s a harsh bump.
Kota overcomes his broken neck and batters Cody with his Komigoye finish but adds in a Phoenix Splash for the pin. This was delicious, goddamn it. Ibushi overcoming the horrors of a huge spot against him and the nefarious heel cheating, plus the distraction of Brandi and his own gentleman behaviour. He had to overcome his own weaknesses. Wonderful.
Final Rating: ****
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Killer Elite Squad (c) vs. EVIL & SANADA
KES are probably my least favourite act in New Japan. As they were the last time they were in the company. I would never have taken them back. Maybe Davey in singles for G1 but even then the standard has risen since he was last here. KES destroy both challengers and the young lions around ringside. Lance Archer trying to cripple someone, Kawato, with double his talent for pro wrestling is quite sad. KES work heat for ages and nobody cares. Archer considers a Spanish Fly but doesn’t flip over so it’s a superplex. KES continue to lay waste to LIJ. Lots of beefy power stuff. It’s extremely one-sided. Archer takes a horrible bump on Everything is Evil. Davey a lazy kick-out on the Magic Killer pin. Moonsault puts Davey away and that’s it. This was KES actually trying hard and it was still bad. The bumps they took the finish were embarrassing.
Final Rating: **1/4
NEVER Openweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
If Goto loses his head is being shaved. MiSu not only agreed to the hair vs. title situation but also but his own hair on the line. It’s hair vs. hair & title and MiSu feels he doesn’t even need any help. There are no seconds at ringside. Suzuki-gun have been turning MiSu’s matches into shit since he got back to NJPW (and beforehand). Suzuki, despite his lack of support, straight up murders Goto and chokes him unconscious for his amusement. Goto takes a shellacking here, in a WWE style main event beatdown. Slowly dismantling Goto with a big smile on his face, Suzuki dominates proceedings.
Any Goto comebacks are beat back with swift, decisive, destructive abuse. There is genuine concern that Goto is getting legitimately hurt, especially during the hanging choke in the corner. Suzuki isn’t the wrestler he once was and when taking bumps it’s clear his best days are behind him. On offence he remains an enigmatic performer and his aggression here is beautiful. He doesn’t want to beat Goto, he wants to put Goto in his place. Suzuki-gun, rather predictably, run out here but the young lions stop them…apart from Taichi so YOSHI-HASHI cuts him off.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) January 4, 2018
Suzuki gets brutal with this dropkick that leaves my jaw on the floor and he doesn’t stop there, putting an insane beating on Goto. Suzuki busting out a head butt to fuck with Goto, whose mate Shibata had to retire after doing a headbutt, is incredible psychology. He wants to destroy Goto, destroy his reasons for being, dismantle his entire career, end him! Then Goto just hits GTR out of nowhere for the pin. I was loving this match until the finish, when I remembered that Goto’s finish sucks.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Post Match: Suzuki refuses to let Goto shave his head and shaves his own head.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Marty Scurll (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay
Marty has wings. Ospreay has dyed his hair purple to match his gear. Hiromu has a luchadore cat plush toy. KUSHIDA is a professional wrestler who likes Back to the Future. There are too many bodies involved here. The match operates at its best when it’s one on one and Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA is probably the best interaction there. Scurll tends to drift in and out and pick his spots. It’s good psychology from the villain, wanting to stay involved but not take abuse. Keep everyone on their toes.
The match has lots of flips and crazy shit going on. Ospreay moonsaults off the support struts. The story they tell develops nicely and the planning that must have gone into this match is off the charts. It never feels thrown together. Everything leads into something else. It’s one of Ospreay’s best attributes. The way it all comes together is great. It’s rare that someone is just strolling around to get into position. Credit to these boys for that. Will once again calls his spot and jumps into the Chickenwing. You’d think he’d have learned by now. Luckily this is a multi-man so he gets saved. I do appreciate all of them throwing in callbacks to singles matches where the moves simply don’t work because of the multi-man environment. As the match progresses some of the timing goes astray. The spots don’t seem as sharp and Marty is late on a big counter. I appreciate them taking Hiromu out by taping his hand to the rail. It gives a better reason for a man being out than selling a big spot. Like with Scurll disappearing to sell a finger injury moments later. Hiromu’s escape leads to two insane sunset flip bombs to the floor. The one on Ospreay was sickening. I don’t get Scurll kicking out of the Timebomb when there are two other guys who could break that fall. The match is just loaded with sickening bumps and ridiculous high spots. It’s exactly what a junior multi-man match should be. It’s good to see two Brits getting involved in such a contest too. Scurll’s underhand heel twice sneaks his way into pole position. Once by pulling the ref out and saving Hiromu and once by battering everyone with his umbrella but Ospreay catches him with the Oscutter for the win, breaking his terrible record against Scurll in the process.
Final Rating: ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Jay White
NJPW are clearly keen on Jay White, and they’ve certainly put him in a massive spot here. I don’t think he has the mental capacity to play a villain and the Switchblade character doesn’t feel like him. The turn in character has come too early in his career to take. Look at Naito, where it happened more organically. It’s like they learned from Naito and turned Jay evil early.
I can’t be alone in not feeling Jay as being on Tanahashi’s level because there’s a weird atmosphere in the Dome and it’s not one of great expectations. Jay will have to earn this spot during the match. He spends a lot of it working a leg match, a staple of Tanahashi down the years. It’s like he’s trying to throw up a dark mirror.
So Tanahashi shows him how it’s done throughout, with the selling and the clinical execution of spots. There’s a definite gulf in talent. The crowd seem quite disappointed in Jay’s lack of aggression. Everything he does is too disconnected from what he’s supposed to be. Tanahashi has more aggression in his comebacks, which isn’t his fault. To be fair to Jay this is the biggest spot he’s ever found himself in and it takes time to learn how to fly. Jay is especially bad at telegraphing that he’ll move ahead of the High Fly Flow. You can see it coming from miles away. If he was knocking around the midcard this wouldn’t be an issue but we’re third top at Wrestle Kingdom. It’s got to be perfect. Or near as damn it. Jay just can’t hit that level. Tanahashi puts him away with High Fly Flow and it’s back to the midcard for Switchblade. He’ll get there eventually because he has a lot of raw talent but he wasn’t ready for this spot and it showed throughout. Maybe the gimmick wasn’t right for him. Maybe he didn’t get enough time to develop it. However you slice it he didn’t look comfortable out there.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP US Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho
Jericho seems to be taking this more seriously. He comes in with a scowl and a Dad Bod to counter Omega’s video game nerdery. Omega goes crashing through the English announce table, killing Don Callis in the process. Next he targets Red Shoes and straps Shota Umino in the Walls of Jericho in front of his dad. It’s chaos out here! They do a lot of smoke and mirrors stuff on the floor to build drama and cover for Jericho’s shortcomings in the ring. His timing on a springboard is amazing though, taking out Omega in mid spring right on the knee. Can’t have been good for Kenny to take but Jericho’s timing was sensational. Kenny gets killed here, taking lots of big spots off Jericho to make Y2J look like a massive threat. Jericho brings all the WWE style he can muster, knowing he needs to bust ass and get creative to sell the match to the crowd. The crowd are into both guys but the in-ring was always going to be tough. Especially with Kenny’s standard being so high.
— John.WK12 (@DK1105) January 4, 2018
Once Omega overcomes Jericho’s shtick and it becomes a fair fight, it becomes very apparent that Kenny is streets ahead with what he can deliver and how fast he can deliver it.
However Jericho sets up spots early, with various plunder to give himself future shortcuts. Omega gets colour while Jericho gets heat.
Omega’s offence is so dynamic that Jericho cannot get an advantage. Whenever he gives Omega an inch, he takes a mile of spin kicks and V-Triggers. The set up table comes back to bite Jericho in the ass, as he gets a V-Trigger off the top through it.
— Italo Santana (@BulletClubItal) January 4, 2018
Kenny’s V-Triggers are on the money in this match. They land so clean and crisp. Jericho struggles a little bit to keep up with Kenny’s stuff but he is quite old. Considering his age it’s a marvellous performance. One of his best in a long time and virtually an audition for WWE if Kenny ever wants to go there. Jericho’s timing on grabbing the rope on One Winged Angel is incredible stuff. As is Kenny’s subtle selling of his back in setting it up. Omega’s selling is so sneaky good. There are inconsistencies in the story, with the rope breaks and the no DQ stipulation, but they exist in the background and don’t take the crowd out of the match. Jericho tries for another Lionsault but gets caught in the One Winged Angel on a chair and Kenny retains in dramatic fashion.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
Here it is; the streak, the longest reign in IWGP history vs. the most popular wrestler in Japan.
Okada brings ridiculous bell bottoms as his gear for the night. Naito wears a suit that fell out of the 1970s. We are going retro.
Naito kills the psychology in the early going by doing little things different to their previous matches, throwing Okada off his game so Okada blocks the slingshot in the corner and dropkicks him to the floor. Both these guys don’t get phased. They’re so calm. This is what happens when wrestlers live in the main event. Okada can’t get the Rainmaker so he switches to his new finish, the Cobra Clutch and Naito isn’t familiar with this and struggles to escape. They build up slowly to bigger things, such as the super reverse rana and the Stardust Press. Although not everything connects. They continue to tell a story of two wrestlers who know each other and predictable moves are treated as such. Even when Naito goes back in time to the Stardust Press because he doesn’t have anything else off the top. It’s in straight up fighting where Naito gets the advantage because Okada has been here for ages but Naito wants to win more. He needs this moment; the win at the biggest show of the year to redeem himself after being demoted the last time he was here. Even when he sees a set up like the German suplex Okada uses to set up the Rainmaker. Naito is desperate to not take it. Then when he does get floored with the Rainmaker he kicks out. He wants this win so badly that one finish won’t put him down. As the match progresses the noise in the Dome gets louder, especially for Naito landing strikes. Each one greeted by a tumultuous noise, echoing around the vast ceiling. Destino countered into the Rainmaker is a special moment, especially as Okada maintains wrist control, knowing he has Naito in a spot where he can beat him. But unlike when he was desperate to beat Tanahashi, he doesn’t struggle to keep it because he figures he can beat Naito later.
Naito is just as guilty, going after a double Destino when he had it won and getting countered (the wrist control from Naito here was breathtaking storytelling). Rainmaker finishes! Okada is still the champion! Holy shit.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Chris Jericho is 47 years old. There’s no way he should be stealing the show like this at his advanced years. The undercard was way better than anyone was expecting. The storytelling up and down the card was excellent. The tag titles fell on their face and Jay White didn’t live up to his spot but otherwise this was a killer show from top to bottom. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from Naito fans, disappointed he didn’t win here but he’s already made as a top guy. It’s not like Goto fails to win the title, because he’s a choker, it’s because Naito is being built up for the ultimate huge, career-defining win next year…or maybe the year after. That’s how Gedo books. It worked with Tanahashi vs. Okada and it should work again here. The matches between them are getting steadily better. Perhaps the biggest joy of this show was nothing hitting that magical ***** level, which leaves MOTY open for once. WK so often delivers a match of almost incomparable excellence that it has the rest of the year playing catch up. The world feels all open right now. What else could be in store in 2018? I am excited. And I’m happy for Okada. I’m a CHAOS guy and I love Okada. He’s breaking every record in the book, bless his shiny flared pants.