NJPW Wrestle Kingdom IX
Arnold Furious: We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Dome. Hosts are Jim Ross and Matt Striker. It is very weird having an English commentary track for a Japanese show. The last time I saw one was when FMW was trying to crack the American market. That was in the 90s and their shows were not that good. This show is pretty special, being the January 4 Tokyo Dome show, but also the first show Jeff Jarrett has tried to expose America to. A different style of wrestling. Hopefully it’ll be a hit and Jeff will bring the crew back over to Japan for future shows. Obviously the Flipps app disaster didn’t help. Maybe just a stream online next time? My decision to even attempt Flipps resulted in signing up to New Japan World instead, which you should all do immediately if not sooner. 36,000 in attendance.
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (c) vs. Young Bucks vs. Time Splitters vs. Forever Hooligans
Striker brings the details, Ross brings the gravitas. I immediately approve of their approach. Striker has clearly done his homework. Striker stops off to put over ROH as reDRagon are also the ROH tag champs before shilling for PWG. He’s pretty much rocking the Mike Tenay in WCW approach and JR just lets him get on with it. Naturally the match is fast-paced with frequent tags. “The wrestling will always triumph” – Striker. Having seen a lot of these junior tags, it’s hard for them to break out anything new, despite the addition of reDRagon. The other three teams are extremely familiar with each other. So some of the spots are recycled from previous matches including Rocky Romero’s corner lariat obsession. As per usual the Bucks don’t bother with tags, which upsets some people more than others. Seeing as virtually every junior tag match breaks down nowadays anyhow, they might as well make everything tornado rules and have done with it. The first really solid spot is O’Reilly flying after Shelley on the floor but eating a superkick. O’Reilly can sell like a motherfucker. As the action continues to break down we get a “Superkick Party” call from JR. “I’ve got my invitation” – Striker. They’re doing well on commentary. The Bucks wow the crowd with flipping and follow that with more superkicks. Bucks manage the Meltzer Driver but More Bang for Your Buck is broken up. From there the tag moves go nuts and they build to a hot finish. Chasing the Dragon finishes off Koslov and a reasonably hot opener concludes with reDRagon retaining. This was 13 minutes long but never felt like it. Depending on how much junior heavyweight stuff you’ve seen, you might find this around the same level of entertaining as me, or you might like it a bit more. Enjoyable anyway. A solid spot-fest to open.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Bullet Club (Jeff Jarrett, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. TenKoji & Tomoaki Honma
Fale tickles JR’s fancy because he’s 290lbs (although Striker claims 330lbs). Yeah, he’s a hoss alright. Plucky underdog Honma finds himself second choice again here as Yoshitatsu was originally booked before getting his neck broken by AJ Styles (Power Struggle in November 2014) but Honma did an awesome job replacing Kota Ibushi in G1. Karen Jarrett shoves Honma around making him look like a total jobber. Which is pretty much how he’s booked normally only with more pluck. JR continues having kittens over Fale’s size, switching weight to 319lbs, as Yujiro acts like a dick. The match switches focus to Honma as he misses yet another Kokeshi. He evades the Miami Shine, hits the flying Kokeshi but Jarrett pulls out the old Acoustic Equalizer. Jarrett miscues on Yujiro, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, Takahashi eats the 3-D and the DIVING KOKESHI finishes! This was a total mess but the conclusion was joyous. You have to love Honma.
Final Rating: **
Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Shelton Benjamin, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) vs. Toru Yano, Naomichi Marufuji & TMDK
Iizuka comes in down the aisle rather than through the crowd and assaulting Shinpei Nogami. Striker has done his research and almost bails. Yano’s partners are all from NOAH, hinting at future antics between the two promotions. Marufuji is way too good to be in this match and TMDK, one of the most promising tag teams in Japan, are getting a bit screwed by being dumped in this match. But hey, at least they’re on Wrestle Kingdom. The issue with an 8-man tag is if you don’t give it time to develop, there’s almost no point doing it. Especially if Yano and Iizuka just recycle the spots they’ve been doing in tags. The beard pull is here again, the corner pad. Haste shows his usual disregard for his own wellbeing while Mikey tries to out-Bulldog Davey Boy Jr. But he’s more ‘Doug Furnas’ to Davey Boy Smith Jr’s ‘Davey Boy Smith’. It’s pleasing to see Marufuji just destroy Iizuka with kicks. Like the last match it’s a bit of a mess but the spots they have planned out are better. Specifically Shelton doing the vertical leap to take Marufuji off the top rope. TMDK set Iizuka up for the Ko-Oh and that finishes him off. Great to see the relatively useless Iizuka taking the job and Marufuji going over. I’d love to see Marufuji mix it up in NJPW again, seeing as he’s come on a long way recently.
Final Rating: **1/2
Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
UWFi means you can only win by KO, submission or referee stoppage. The rules in UWFi changed a few times. Suzuki surprises the crowd by having dyed his hair white and it draws a wonderful “oooooooohhhh” when he reveals it. During the build up tags these guys have been doing tremendous mat work and that’s true from their opening. It feels legitimate. The shoot-style is often hard to accomplish but Japan is the place to do it as they appreciate both the MMA and the pro-wrestling aspects. Saku tries to slap the shit out of Suzuki while he’s on the apron, which leads to the hanging armbar. I like Suzuki being able to incorporate his pro-wrestling spots into a different style of match. They do make the mistake of fighting down the ramp, which kills the vibe they had going and Sakuraba gets a kimura out there but obviously can’t win on the ramp. Suzuki opts to sell the arm and fight one handed, which results in him giving Saku a beating with one arm. It’s a pity Suzuki can’t tear his own arm off and beat Sakuraba down with it because if he could, he would. He’d be fine, he’s tough. Saku works the arm over with kicks with Suzuki shrugging that off. Then Suzuki just wins with the choke. Huh. That was…unexpected. The whole focus of the match was on Suzuki’s arm, which was perhaps a mistake in of itself, so the finish was a bit odd. I certainly preferred the match in the early going with the back and forth on the mat. Maybe the fault is with me, as I expected a more exciting bout but the match came across as a bit underwhelming. The most interesting part is the post-match where Sakuraba offers a handshake and Suzuki accepts it. Where will this lead them? A tag team? Suzuki turning face? Sakuraba joining Suzuki-gun? Or nothing at all. It’s nothing at all isn’t it?
Final Rating: ***
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makabe
When this was booked I thought Togi was a strange choice for the NEVER division as I always figured the point of it was to get over upcoming wrestlers. Ishii pretty much defines that belt (even though he’s late 30s). Togi used to be IWGP champion. I’m not sure he even fits into the division, unless it’s to put someone over. So I was convinced that Ishii would win here. They work a lot of hard-hitting mirroring and the opening sequence is them both smashing into each other. That’s won by Ishii just flat out chopping Togi IN THE THROAT. They just wail away on each other here, which was to be expected. The problem with Makabe having this match is Ishii has had the same brutal match with everyone up and down the card and done it better. Makabe isn’t much of a wrestler, and his strikes tend to clubbing forearms and gimmicked punches. He’s not convincing as a striker. Ishii marks JR out by walking into Togi’s forearms. Ishii is a man’s man. As I expected they can’t maintain a full match of strikes, like Ishii has done against others, and they start exchanging high spots. Ishii looks hurt, as he always does, after taking a German suplex on the injured shoulder. You wonder if he’s so hurt he’ll be taking time off. He has to get surgery on that shoulder sooner or later, or rehab at the very least. Ishii’s knee is heavily taped too and Togi is able to block the gamengiri because of this secondary injury. The story they’re telling is that Ishii is broken but he refuses to stay down. I love his headbutt to Togi’s chest as a defensive move. As the match builds the tension does also and I find myself riveted to the match. The strike duels down the stretch are fucking amazing. The intensity they get is wonderful and it’s all down to Ishii’s selling. Ishii catches a lariat to the side of the head, which looks brutal and the KING KONG KNEEDROP wins it for Makabe. That was a shock, for me at least, as Ishii had been booked as being on the up and up but it might just be so he can take time off to recover from that shoulder injury. They hooked me with this match, it was a war.
Final Rating: ****
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. Kenny Omega
The feeling when Taguchi won the belt was that he was just a placeholder until New Japan got their next champion sorted out. He’s been surprisingly reliable (who else has good matches with Taichi? – Power Struggle ***) considering his normal standard of wrestling. Omega and Taguchi have history too, having a solid match to headline night one of the Best of the Super Juniors 2014 (***3/4). JR compares Omega to Brian Pillman. He certainly has an interesting look now. Omega’s versatility allows some exciting and different opening sequences including lucha-esque stuff and a cracking counter into Taguchi’s anklelock. The match changes tack with Omega spraying ‘cold spray’ in Taguchi’s eyes. It’s unfortunate that Bullet Club feel the need to do this. I wouldn’t mind it if it was later in the match and didn’t effect the whole thing. However it does allow Omega to bust out the ridiculous, DDT-esque Arm Chainsaw. The idea being he shaved his arms four days before the show and uses the stubble as a weapon. Omega is fairly innovative in taking Taguchi apart but the pacing of the match is somewhat off. JR seems to think the same, being polite in his assessment of Omega’s approach. They seem to build to bigger spots with cool counters but it creates a spot, rest, spot, rest, spot, rest pace. Some of the spots are really cool though with counters in mid-move. Omega is more interesting in that respect as Taguchi goes specifically for his trademarks; Dodon, anklelock etc. Omega’s hard-hitting eventually pays off and the One-Winged Angel finishes for the new champion. They did good work here albeit with too much resting in between spots. Also the Taguchi eye injury didn’t really go anywhere.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows) (c) vs. Meiyu Tag (Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto)
This, for me, was a lock. Bullet Club have had those belts for a year and Meiyu Tag’s whole year has been building to this match. Both have gone after singles glory, and come up short, and gone after the tag belts and lost. This feels like the very last shot of success they have as a tag team. If they lose here they may never team up again. The crowd seem to sense this too and there’s a lot of anticipation for this match. That’s intensified by Goto accidentally knocking Shibata off the apron in the early going as he’s been screwing up a lot of late and possibly even holding Shibata back in the big matches. This leads to the inevitability of Goto getting himself isolated and beaten up. He even gets smacked by the Bullet Babe (Doc’s wife Amber Gallows). When the hot tag connects Shibata finds it harder than expected to dominate both guys. Bullet Club look like the better unit with planned out double team spots. There’s a sense that Meiyu Tag’s big chance is slipping away. Goto saves Shibata from Magic Killer before a phenomenal sequence between Goto and Anderson, which is based on their familiarity on being former tag partners. The challengers isolate Doc, Goto throws him into GTS and the PENALTY KIIIIIICK wins the belts and completes the childhood dream of Goto & Shibata. Wonderful pacing here and it’s a year-long journey complete for Goto & Shibata. Seeing them smile as they’re putting the tag titles on each other is a thing of beauty. I’m genuinely thrilled for them. I love the pose with them sitting in the ring after the win, wearing the belts. It’s like they’re posing for a photograph in school. This made me very happy.
Final Rating: ***1/2
AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito
AJ’s first attempted move is the Styles Clash, he’s not hanging around. AJ gets smart to Naito’s moves after the first few spots and takes Naito’s leg on the corner legsweep/dropkick combo. Both guys are fast and capable of pulling counters out of nothing. They do have previous as they met on Day 4 of the G1 Climax this year, a terrific little match that I scored ****1/2. It was rather lost as Shibata vs. Tanahashi headlined that card and their match was stunning. The early focus is on Naito’s injured knee, which isn’t the best of ideas as almost all his moves are aerial. The standard ‘I don’t want to sell this anymore’ spot is punching your own injured body part back into place. It doesn’t make a jot of sense to me but as soon as I see Naito do it here, that segment is over. I can understand frustrations over selling but that’s what they seem to be doing now. The leg does come into play right after that as Naito tries to sell it while AJ is hitting his suplex into neckbreaker spot. The result is a botch that JR calls “ugly but effective”. They immediately recover and throw out some nice sequences based on familiarity and big moves connecting. This leads right into AJ using the Calf Killer, which is his submission hold and if anything is to replace the Styles Clash it’d be that. This makes particular sense with the leg work that AJ has done. He’s done the preparation now he gets the rewards. Naito gets into the ropes and it’s a little disappointing he doesn’t bother selling the knee afterwards, going right into a dragon suplex. BLOODY SUNDAY! AJ again goes for the Styles Clash only for Naito to throw him clean over the top. Now he drops selling the knee. He’s been wildly inconsistent with that. Either sell it, or don’t. Naito tries for a super rana but that’s blocked; SUPER STYLES CLASH! Naturally that’s it and AJ Styles picks up the big win. The move has extra importance ever since AJ broke Yoshitatsu’s neck with it. It’s a killer. You can sense the concern, although Naito was smart enough to take the bump properly and instead sells the knee on his way out. Damn it, Naito! Either sell the fucking thing or don’t. Good match but perhaps a let down compared to their G1 match, which was much better.
Final Rating: ***1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
The booking of Ibushi coming into this show makes me wonder if he was originally booked to win G1. They’re suddenly making a very big deal out of him. I know he’s impressed any time he’s set foot in the ring with a heavyweight over the past three years. Nakamura arrives dressed like a military version of the Statue of Liberty, complete with spiky gold crown. KING of Strongstyle. The match starts out with the almost perfect level of intensity. Nakamura always brings it but Ibushi is keen match him. Ibushi even MOCKS Nakamura with his corner taunting. Nakamura beckoning him in right afterwards to eat a knee strike was perfect. Nakamura throws himself into the big spots, including a kneedrop on the apron where he wings Ibushi and then kills his knee into the floor. Unnecessary, brilliant. Nakamura goes from there to schooling Ibushi on the mat. If Ibushi has a weakness that will prevent him from unseating any of the top guys in NJPW it’s his mat game. It’s not on a par with Nakamura. Not even close. From there it’s strike duelling and Nakamura gets in some mockery there by no selling and then slapping Ibushi in the face repeatedly. Ibushi ends up going to what brought him and hitting flying moves like the Triangle Moonsault. This allows Ibushi to unleash kick combos. Ibushi goes to the well though and tries a springboard, which gets him KICKED IN THE FACE, straight-leg, by Nakamura. The slow motion replay reveals just how much Ibushi got tagged square in the face. KNEES! Striker brings up Ibushi’s concussion a few months back as Nakamura rocks Kota’s head. Ibushi again comes back with flying and it becomes apparent that despite the risk, he’s willing to keep taking those shots because it’s his best hope for winning. Nakamura takes a series of them, which allows the Phoenix Splash but Nakamura moves and knees Kota back down. Ibushi then switches gears as Nakamura kicks him in the head, a lot, and Kota just smiles. It’s beautiful stuff and he comes firing back with SHOTEI palm strikes, which full on turns into a punch up. Kota goes for a lariat, COUNTERED INTO THE FLYING ARMBAR. A great call back to the G1 final again with Okada. Now Kota starts acting like a prick by lifting Nakamura’s little head-kicks. YEAOOOOH TAUNT FROM IBUSHI. BOMAAAAAAA YEEEEE FROM IBUSHI!!! HOLY SHIT! Awesome knee, Nakamura kicks out. Nakamura is NOT HAPPY and kicks the fuck out of Kota for that, at one point standing on Ibushi’s lips. SLAPS! KNEES! FLYING STAMP FROM IBUSHI! Where did that come from? Nakamura tries to slide under the ropes but gets dragged back in with the SPIDER DEADWEIGHT GERMAN SUPLEX!! That pops Jim Ross big time, which should tell you how cool it is. Nakamura headbutts his way out of a Phoenixplex to set up a flying Boma-Ye and Kota no sells it again with a smile. BOMA YEEEE and Ibushi, perhaps stunned by the first one, stays down. Good lord that was great.
Final Rating: *****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
No dinosaurs or gigantic swords for Okada. He’s all business tonight. Tanahashi basically conceded the IWGP title to Okada after failing to unseat him during his last title run but thanks to Yujiro Takahashi, AJ Styles got the belt, now Tanahashi has the belt again. It’s a second chance for Tanahashi to be the Man. Whoever wins this match is officially New Japan’s biggest star. The opening exchanges sell the parity the two share before Okada makes the first dick move; offering a clean break before elbowing Tanahashi in the corner. That provokes some back and forth violence with Tanahashi getting the better of it. That is until Okada DDT’s Tana off the rail. When it comes to trading, Tanahashi is almost impossible to beat but big spots are Okada’s thing. Tana, like the knob he is, does some air guitar and charges Okada on the ramp; HEAVY RAIN! Which should teach Tanahashi for messing around. Tana still has loads in the tank, despite a back problem, and he’s able to avoid stuff like the senton. Okada seems better off letting Tanahashi take over and hit counters instead. Okada seems able to think quicker when he’s under pressure and in danger of being hit. Tana seems to slow down around this point and Okada flat out challenges him to duke it out. It’s as if Tanahashi’s injuries have finally slowed him up. Okada goes to the well with a second Heavy Rain and Tanahashi, out of nowhere, counters it into a neckbreaker. The same again with Okada going after his big dropkick and Tana kicking him in the face. Tanahashi has Okada well scouted. An early High Fly Flow misses allowing Okada to take over with the Savage Elbow.
The Rainmaker, as always, is countered into an inside cradle. After Nakamura’s big Flying Armbar counter, everything else comes as a disappointment. From there Tanahashi goes after Okada’s leg, the right one incidentally, to stop a lot of Okada’s offence. To the floor; HIGH FLY FLOW PRESS OVER THE RAIL! Okada’s knee seems to heal up in the process. Back inside; RAINM…COUNTERED INTO THE SLINGBLADE. HIGH FLY FLOW…ROLLED INTO THE TOMBSTONE…COUNTERED INTO A TANA TOMBSTONE! HIGH FLY FLOW to the back. He flips Okada over. HIGH FLY FLOW. 1-2…NO! Kickout from Okada. That ends a great sequence of excitement and Tana slows it right down. Sling Blade. Rainmaker pose from Tanahashi…and the camera goes wide! RAINM…BLOCKED INTO THE RAINMAKER!!!!! TANAHASHI KICKS OUT!!! Nobody has ever kicked out of the Rainmaker. Ever. Okada looks stunned. They follow up with strike duels and Okada’s wobbly legged selling is near perfect. Tombstone, countered into a pin from Tana…for 2. Tanahashi dishes out a beating with slaps and Okada collapses, holding Tana’s leg. His spirit has been broken. He goes for the Rainmaker again but it’s blocked into the Straightjacket Suplex…for 2. The counters continue as Okada goes after another Rainmaker but it’s countered into the dragon suplex but still no fall. TOO AWESOME DROPKICK! Okada is back! Rainmaker is ducked again and Tanahashi goes after Okada’s other leg, dragon screw in the ropes. HIGH FLY FLOW IN THE ROPES! Okada can’t stand. HIGH FLY FLOW! He’s still down. HIGH FLY FLOOOOOWWWW. 1-2-3! TANAHASHI RETAINS! Okada’s selling at the finish was so wonderful and the way he watched the ref count two before closing his eyes was epic. As if he was getting ready to time the kick-out and then gave in, knowing he’d got nothing left. You cannot teach that. There’s only one kind of wrestler in the world that can bring that. The very, very best. Which is what these guys are.
Final Rating: *****
Post Match: Tanahashi grabs the title. He’s still the Ace of New Japan. He’s finally seen off Okada’s threat. Okada’s selling continues as he weeps openly as Gedo helps him leave the ring. He’s never shown this kind of vulnerability before. Meanwhile Tanahashi, in a bit of a dick move, grabs the mic and says “Okada! Okada! How do you feel right now? I’ll tell you one thing, so listen closely. IWGP is still so far away from you.” Then he plays some air guitar to celebrate.
The first show since Wrestlemania X where I can clearly recall two MOTYC’s headlining the show. You need this!