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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom VIII

Arnold Furious: You know how WrestleMania is a bit on the long side? Well, Wrestle Kingdom is getting longer every damn year and this years (2014) show ran to a staggering 319 minutes. That’s 5 ½ f*ck*ng hours people! I know it’s the years biggest show and they like to hype that shit but damn.

4th January 2014

We’re in Tokyo, Japan. Crowd is 35,000.

 

Dark Match
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tomoaki Honma, Captain New Japan & BUSHI vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Super Strong Machine, Jushin Liger & Yohei Kamatsu
That’s how big New Japan is nowadays, they wheel out Tenzan, Nakanishi and LIGER to open the show. Technically it’s not even on the PPV. I’ve never heard of Kamatsu but he’s a young lion they want to get over so despite all the legends on show, the match focuses on him. His team are jerks so try and isolate Honma for a kicking. Liger’s heel act is brilliant and seeing him count pins is a lot of fun. Like he knows he’s the most experienced guy out there, so screw the ref, he’ll just referee the match himself because Liger Knows Best! When the tide is turned it’s so Team Tenzan can test out Kamatsu. See what he’s made of. Kamatsu can’t really measure up to anyone, apart from Captain New Japan (who’s pretty much a joke gimmick anyway). Nakanishi tags in anyway and since when has Nakanishi been so useless looking? Then it occurred to me, he was Kurosawa in WCW and that was in 1995. How old is he? 47! When did Nakanishi become 47 years old? Well, he looks it and he moves like an old man. Time is a bitch. The sad part is it doesn’t look like he’s aware that he’s moving at half speed. Tenzan is evergreen by comparison so it’s a bit sad to see him have to compensate so often. Kamatsu gets all his best stuff in against Tenzan too, catching him in flash pins. Liger earns his coin by yelling support from the apron but all the support in the world can’t make you bigger and stronger and Tenzan just cuts him down with a clothesline. As if to say ‘ok, enough of that’ Tenzan then makes short work of the rookie with a vicious Boston crab. They took a stab at trying to get over a greenhorn in Kamatsu but at the end of the day, I thought he looked like a little bitch. I guess if they keep trying with him he’ll get somewhere as you can’t fail with Liger in your corner. Typically for dark match fare, this was quick and harmless. 307 minutes left on the show. Egad. Nakanishi and SSM do a spot of apologetic bowing before leaving. I don’t remember SSM even tagging in so he’d better apologise. If you spend the entire of your match standing on the apron, do you still get paid?
Final Rating: ½*

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Forever Hooligans vs. Suzuki-gun (Taka Michinoku & Taichi) vs. Time Splitters
This match is a colossal spotfest. There’s innovation aplenty even if some of the spots border on ludicrous. To my surprise it’s Forever Hooligans who end up stealing the show, both with their spots and their comedy. They have a great spot where Koslov picks up Romero and charges at the opponent in the corner, Romero screaming the whole time, into a knee smash. Like Rocky is some sort of superhero doing an amazing flying knee and Koslov is merely an invisible helper. Like Romero is the plastic blow up doll from DDT, only with 90% more knee strikes. Then Koslov puts his I AM RUSSIAN hat on to does HOPAK DANCING, inserting a nice Cossack head kick in between each squat. Considering the rest of the match is pure spotty insanity, that breaks it up nicely. They do an epic dives spot, which culminates in wonderful comedy as everybody almost gets counted out before everybody rolls back in at the last second to beat the count. Superb stuff. The Bucks take it by both hitting top rope moves consecutively to get the job done. The Bucks have surely arrived now as a top tag team but they almost got lost in the mix here. If you like spotfests, you’ll be quite happy with this highlight reel match. I got enough out of the characterisation to dig it.
Final Rating: ***1/4

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Killer Elite Squad (c) vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows
The challengers are representing Bullet Club, Prince Devitt’s evil gaijin stable. Gallows you probably know from being CM Punk’s muscle in Straight Edge Society. The champs are the rather uninspiring pair of Bulldog’s son and Lance Hoyt. Basically the match is a bunch of North American rejects…and Karl Anderson. Supposedly New Japan are keen on Anderson, to the point where they see him as a potential main event. The match is a total downer because it has to follow the juniors, who were also wrestling a tag match. So none of the tag stuff is interesting and none of the wrestlers are interesting or have a unique style so it drags. Tama Tonga, one of my favourite wrestlers in Bullet Club (if not outright favourite), makes valuable contributions here; showing off his mobile phone case, which reads, rather predictably, “Bullet Club”. Well, I’m glad they booked him on the show. The match improves as Gallows starts taking huge bumps for Archer. It makes Lance look like a monster and the ring shakes when Gallows lands. The match is structured to make Archer look like a beast. When he has the match won Tama interferes and Archer lifts him into the ring and into a double team slam. You’ll notice I’ve not mentioned Davey Jr…he strikes me as somewhat bland at the moment. He’s solid. He comes out there and hits a load of suplexes and stuff but there’s no personality, which is why he’s not in WWE. Compare that to Archer who steals as many Undertaker moves as possible to get himself over and the crowd reacts completely differently. Chokeslam is countered right into the Gun Stun though and Harry has to save. Archer is left giddy and the Bullet Club finish him with Magic Killer. Archer is certainly building a reputation for himself. He looked like a genuine star here and if NJPW keep booking him that way he might even get some main events out of it. Everyone else looked mildly disinterested. The same as me. Easily the most forgettable match on the show.
Final Rating: *1/2

 

NWA World Championship
Rob Conway (c) vs. Satoshi Kojima
It seems bizarre but this is the only ‘official’ world title on offer this evening. What with the IWGP belt mostly defended in Japan and even the Intercontinental belt rarely leaving the land of the rising sun. But this is a genuine world title, dating back to the 40s, even if nobody gives a single damn about it anymore. Nor have they since Shane Douglas threw it away to get ECW over in 1994. Hell, even TNA threw it away in 2007, preferring their own untainted title to take over. To add insult to injury the title only found its way over here because Adam Pearce vacated the title over a dispute with the NWA. No offence to Adam Pearce but that’s quite the slap in the face for the NWA. He was so sick of listening to the NWA’s bullshit that he’d rather walk away than be their champion. The belt ended up on Kahagas (yeah) and eventually Conway. He’s defended the title in Japan before, and even against Kojima. Conway and NWA president Bruce Tharpe seem to be treating this like an old timey territory angle with Tharpe even taking a right hook off NWA veteran Harley Race! The match is wrestled much the same way with Conway doing a lot of posing. When Kojima feels so inclined he mashes Conway. Conway’s subsequence retaliation always seems a lot tamer and lot less thrilling. When Koijma does win with the lariat it’s almost inevitable. Conway does a credible job of selling the lariat but it wasn’t the stiffest move in the world. Kojima seems far more interested in getting a photo for his family album, posing with the belt and Handsome Harley after the pinfall. And that’s what’s happening to the NWA title these days, kids!
Final Rating: **

 

Daniel & Rolles Gracie vs. Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba
I didn’t sign up for this bullshit! Sakuraba was obviously the “Gracie Hunter” when he was in MMA but I’m sure he wouldn’t even have bothered hunting Daniel (5-4 in MMA). Basically what happened here was that the Gracie’s turned up and made an open challenge and Sakuraba, and Nagata (because why not?) accepted. I’m surprised they didn’t just challenge Sakuraba, possibly as revenge for Renzio’s broken elbow. There’s a lot of grappling to start with until Nagata gets bored with that and slaps the shit out of Daniel. Rolles responds with a totally illegal choke hold, which the ref admonishes him for. Yanno, after Nagata is unconscious. Daniel mounts with punches and the ref is all “actually, you can’t do that either”. Yes, I know Steve Austin does it all the time but it’s not actually legal. I love that Rolles tries to get an armbar and Sakuraba just strolls in and kicks him in the head. Another big “f*ck you” to Gracie Jujitsu from Kazu! Rolles keeps using the gi so Sakuraba tries to tear his arm off and beat him to death with it, once again reminding me of Sakuraba’s Gracie arm destroying ways. Then Kazu makes a big show of using open handed strikes on the fallen Gracie (much like he did in actual shoots, only funnier and slower). Daniel fancies his chances against Nagata so Yuji suplexes him on his head and tries to armbar him into submission. I’d have bought that as the finish as the match hadn’t outstayed its welcome. Rolles chokes Nagata full on unconscious with his gi and the ref gets sick of the Mixed Martial Cheating and disqualifies them. I’d have rather seen Sakuraba full on tap Daniel for shits and giggles but the finish at least allows for a re-match. Considering the brutal clash of styles and the inability of either Gracie to figure out how to work Nagata, this was actually ok. Colour me surprised.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

Tangent: In case you missed the whole Gracie Hunter history, it was a lot of fun. Basically the Gracie’s had been boring the MMA world into submission since the birth of the UFC and Sakuraba was Mr Fun Times so he came along and trolled the hell out of the Gracies. In victories over five different Gracies, Sakuraba quite happily inserted cartwheels into fights, danced around, did jumping kicks, spanked his opponents, nodded off in mid armbar and had a damn good time. When one the Gracie’s, I forget which (Royler?), tried the whole Inoki-Ali defence and laid on his back trying to throw kicks. Sakuraba was unimpressed, he just kicked that bitches legs until they hurt. At one point dragging the poor defenceless Gracie around by his now bruised and battered limbs. And when Renzo stepped up to the plate, thinking himself Sakuraba’s equal in wrestling, Sakuraba broke his arm. I would say Sakuraba 1 Gracies 0 but by this point it’s at least 6-0. And why is any of this relevant? Because Sakuraba is a wrestler and he’s been doing all this to demonstrate why wrestling owns everything else. Which it does. F*ck jujitsu!

 

Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin vs. Great Muta & Toru Yano
Suzuki is another fine exponent of the shoot-style, which he can back up with 29 MMA victories. He is arguably the surliest man on tonight’s card, which stems from his career of bumming around and beating the ever loving shit out of anyone who looks at him funny. Muta can barely even walk, which puts this match at odds with New Japans normal behaviour towards veterans; leaving them in dark matches where they belong. Yano somehow arrives in worse condition than an ancient old fossil who can barely stand. That takes some doing. The frankly amazing thing about Muta isn’t that he can still walk but that he can still hit all his trademark moves…at the same speed as before. He’s barely in the match, which keeps him fresh for his bursts of energy but that unfortunately means never-ending Yano comedy spots. Muta mists Suzuki and he has to job to Yano’s inside cradle. Considering Suzuki is my favourite guy in this and he had to job to comedy, I wasn’t best pleased. Still, Muta is a walking miracle. I can’t believe his legs still work after all those knee destroying moonsaults. Plus he’s the guy who thought; my knee hurts a lot, I should get a different finish to a moonsault and selected a move where he runs the side of his knee into an opponent’s head. Other than discovering Muta to be significantly more mobile than I was expecting, especially after seeing him hobble to the ring like a inebriated giraffe with rickets, the match was skippable. I’d rather have seen Suzuki in a match where he kills people with his churlish behaviour. I guess I’ll have to dig that Real Japan tape where he hated everyone he was working with. That’s the Minoru Suzuki I know and love.
Final Rating: *1/4

 

King of Destroyer Match
King Fale vs. Togi Makabe
The “King of Destroyer” stipulation just means it’s Last Man Standing. They start out by clubbing at each other a bit and a voice in the back of my head says “you know this match is going to suck, right?” Damn it, voice, I think you’re probably right. I’ve only seen Fale once before and I wasn’t really sure what to make of him but he keeps it basic. Too basic for my tastes and his grinding style reminds me of the worst New York workers of the 80s. Japan is supposed to be escapism for me, to get away from New York style. Not to cringe as it invades the hallowed halls of Tokyo’s wrestling institutions. Togi, to his credit tries to strongstyle it up a bit by hitting harder but even he resorts to hokey 80s nonsense like the 10 count punches. Basically, everyone in Bullet Club is more fun to watch than Fale. Fale should be their bodyguard or something. Not the dude that wrestles. Why isn’t Tama Tonga wrestling instead? Also, the match type, a Last Man Standing, doesn’t suit either guy at all as they’ve got nothing intense enough to cause a KO. The only thing Fale has going for him in that respect is a gleeful lack of concern for his opponents wellbeing and a habit of releasing every move as early as possible. Which includes flinging Togi across the ring on a chokeslam and even further across the ring on the Bad Luck Fall, which is a release powerbomb at the best of times. Togi makes it back to his feet both times. Togi returns the favour as they set up a table at ringside, Togi goes to powerbomb Fale through it and basically dumps his butt on the table. Fale takes the bump anyway, like a man, and plants the back of his head onto the floor of the Tokyo Dome. That looked like it sucked to take. Fale looks knackered so Togi clubs away at him to set up the King Kong Kneedrop, TWICE! I appreciate the wink of psychology behind dumping Fale on his head and then kneeing him in the head twice but I suspect the connection is luck more than skill. Or misfortune, rather, as the table spot was a blatant botch. So, did the match suck? You betcha! Fale’s style does nothing for me and it looks like he’s trying out for WWE…in 1988. At least Togi won, even if he’s just as one-dimensional, he does at least kick ass.
Final Rating: *3/4

 

Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Goto was on the verge of a big push last year, and may even have won the G1 Climax, but some bastard broke his jaw and cost him his spot. This is his first match back and the positioning on the card reflects how much faith New Japan have in him. Shibata is a strange guy in that he’s so unmemorable and yet after five seconds of any match he’s in, I suddenly remember that I’m a complete mark for him and he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. Of course his missing decade, spent in MMA, makes it easy to disregard his actual wrestling talent but trust me on this one. He is brilliant. The older I get, the more inclined I am to watch guys who bring a realistic style. I’ve always dug that style but when I was younger I also leaned towards the fliers who brought dynamic excitement. Now, I just want to see two guys realistically beat the crap out of each other. Shibata kicks the sh*t out of Goto here, specifically targeting the broken jaw with a series of elbows. When Goto fires up and comes back after him Shibata PUNTS HIM IN THE FACE. MORE ELBOWS! Goto tries to fire up and MORE ELBOWS! F*CK YOU, BITCH, YOU WILL F*CK*NG STAY DOWN! God, I love this guy. Goto goes for a breather so Shibata throws him back in and, wouldn’t you know it, KICKS HIM IN THE JAW AGAIN. Goto does a great thing during the match and that’s as soon as Shibata hits the ropes he follows. It’s the only time Shibata takes his eye off him so it’s the only opening he’ll get. Shibata goes after the jaw with elbows again and the THUD noise of each one landing is awesome. What’s even better is Goto MANNING UP and coming back for more. There’s absolutely nothing in wrestling more satisfying than watching two guys just beat the piss out of each other. The great thing about Shibata is he doesn’t just have one way of hurting you. It isn’t *just* strikes. He goes for a German suplex, Goto blocks that, and Shibata effortless segues into an abdominal stretch and when Goto just about fights out of that, goes back to the German suplex. It all gets a bit silly with the FIGHTING SPIRIT as both guys don’t want to stay down off a suplex. The only concern for the match is that it’ll all get a bit too silly as they continue to no sell and kick hell out of each other and, in a lesser complaint, that Goto just can’t hit as hard. Shibata goes to set up his finish with the sleeper, the Penalty Kick (basically he just kicks his opponent in the chest). PK connects but Goto casually kicks out. Goto comes back with his inventive offence like the Ushikoroshi and the reverse version of the same move. SHOUTEN KAI! That’s his finish, a sitout version of a suplex into a sideslam. Fatigue finally sets in though and they both stay down. As if the match hasn’t been manly enough they go into the HEADBUTTS. Both guys are now reduced to smacking each other from kneeling positions. Clearly the match has taken its toll. Goto catches a kick and hits a lariat but Shibata, constantly wanting to mess with Goto, kicks out at 1. Goto responds with another lariat and the Shouten Kai finishes a superb match. You want all this. Shibata’s level of brutality is such that I wish he’d been around in the late 90s so he could have wrestled in All Japan with Misawa, Kobashi and Kawada. I love this guy.
Final Rating: ****1/4

 

Post Match: Shibata, clearly having had some respect beaten into him, helps Goto to his feet and the two leave together. And thus a new tag team is born.

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Prince Devitt (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
Devitt has done well for a stiff little bastard from Ireland. He’s arguably one of the best cruisers in the world and New Japan rate him so highly he heads up his own stable now, the Bullet Club. Along with Low Ki, this is the same match they had at last year’s Dome show. Devitt won that match by hitting Ibushi with Bloody Sunday off the top and retaining his title. Will lightning strike twice? Devitt, perhaps not taking the match entirely seriously, stumbles into the arena bodypainted to look like a zombie. The entire Bullet Club joins him at ringside. That’s Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga, King Fale and the Young Bucks. It really stresses the importance of Devitt and his title. Bullet Club drags Ibushi out to the floor and give a shoeing while the ref stands in the corner shaking his head disapprovingly. Considering how good both guys are at a spot-heavy style they totally avoid it and I’m not sure if that’s refreshing or frustrating. Ibushi does bring an immense sell for a chop though as he takes it on the top rope and falls to the floor. If that wasn’t sick enough, along comes King Fale to POWERBOMB HIM ON THE APRON. As per usual from Fale there was no protection at all; he just threw Kota into the apron. The whole set up is: Evil gaijins vs. single heroic happy-go-lucky Japanese guy. Kota clearly realises he needs to do something and hits the Golden Star Press onto the entire of Bullet Club. This kicks off the spots as Flippy McGillicutty brings everything in his twisting, flipping locker. After that Kota switches from a roll up into a bridging suplex after powering Devitt up. It’s brilliant. Pointless but brilliant. Ibushi is clearly out to steal this with his bumps though as he takes another sickening one over the turnbuckle. Officials kick Bullet Club out, clearly upset with the level of cheating. I think it was when Karl Anderson threw that chair at Ibushi’s face in mid-move. That gets the dander up. Devitt’s response to his team being kicked out? SUPERMAN DROPKICK INTO THE RAIL! Like a flying punch with his feet. I think a lot of the flipping in this match has suffered, having to follow on from the more realistic style of the last match and HOLY SHIT, SUPER RANA WITH BOTH MEN UP TOP! That takes some doing. This is the point though. Every now and again my mind is blown by the slick and amazing flying and then I start thinking about the last match again. I think it’s because of how soft Kota’s kicks are. When he actually man’s up and hits a stiff lariat, he hurts himself. Oh my God, some of the flying though. The Phoenix Splash that finishes for Ibushi is absolute perfection. He hits it so clean that I almost wish I could go back in time to 1999 and show it to Jeff Hardy. Look, mate, you can do this shit clean as a whistle. Just lay off the drugs. The match didn’t have enough flow to be a classic (the entire first half is just Bullet Club stuff) or anything but the high spots were incredible.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
Okada’s rise to the top of New Japan has been astonishing. Consider this; in 2010 he was still sitting around in TNA’s locker room, waiting for a chance to do something. He couldn’t even get on their TV. He returned to New Japan exactly 3 years ago, aged 23, and has since stormed to the top. Now, aged just 26, he’s already into the top ten all-time IWGP champions for time served and has a massive future ahead of him. There’s still a tiny bit of doubt as to whether he’s a bigger star than Tanahashi, hence him not headlining Wrestle Kingdom despite being the IWGP champ. But apart from that, he’s The Man. I realise I’m somewhat papering over Naito but that’s because he’s always been an overachieving guy. The typical plucky midcarder who has to fight for everything. I appreciate that, in New Japan at least, trying hard for a long time is rewarded but I don’t really buy Naito as a title threat. It shows in the opening exchanges too as Okada is clearly superior technically and his tactics are better. Naito has to speed up the pace as that’s his one clear advantage. The lack of crowd reaction is palpable though and you can see why the fans voted for Tanahashi-Nakamura as the main event. The ‘it’s only Naito’ mentality is hard to shake. Maybe they shouldn’t have treated him like a total jobber for as long as they did? I missed the 2013 G1 so I don’t know how well he was booked in winning that but in previous G1’s, anything he won was an upset. When he was on the verge of a big push he went out for 8 months with a knee injury in 2012 and sometimes, see Hirooki Goto, missing action with an injury isn’t a bad thing in New Japan. Fans are reminded of the wrestler’s best attributes and his return is big news. Maybe it’s just me but I’m not feeling Naito as a top level guy.

That’s the vibe here as his stuff feels a bit twee and lightweight compared to Okada. His punches look really worked. He has some fun counters and manages to switch a Tombstone on the floor into a tornado DDT, using the ring apron. If you want evidence that the crowd just don’t buy him as a champion check out the Pluma Blanca though. He hooks that son of a bitch in the middle of the ring and there’s no crowd reaction at all. Nothing. They know Okada is getting out of that shit. Then Naito gets all fired up and hits a bunch of headbutts to set up something off the top and Okada just escapes and dropkicks him to the floor, Naito injuring his knee on the way down. That’s the difference between the two. Okada can’t even be sacked with pinning Naito and DDT’s him off the apron to take a count out. Which is how Naito REALLY gets over. By surviving. That’s how he got here. Naito beats the count but gets elbow dropped. RAINMAKER POSE!!! I love that shit. Naito takes advantage with a few kicks and a DDT but if you get the time to do your signature pose, that means you win. Pluma Blanca again and again the fans don’t bite on it. I think if Okada had passed out and Naito had won the belt there would have been one of those epic NEEEEEEEEEE sounds from the crowd. Disbelief, Japan style. Naturally Okada survives and kicks out of the German suplex too. Red Ink is hooked and Okada senses he’s got this one in the bag but his arm is sore from Pluma Blanca and he can’t hold on. Okada is a genius with the way he makes himself vulnerable. Naito had to earn Okada selling and Okada only sold the effects of something when it meant something. Good logical psychology from the champ. Naito’s bits of flying would be more impressive if he wasn’t following Ibushi, who does all the same spots only better. I like that he uses ‘wear down’ holds to get Okada to stay in place for his spots off the top though, which is a contrast to earlier where Okada was too healthy. He still finds himself outmuscled and outwrestled at every turn though. Okada just dodging the big spots and hitting his own. Naito’s defensive wrestling remains one of his strengths and when he sees the Rainmaker coming he counters into an inside cradle, which is superb. Another Rainmaker is ducked and yet another one is countered into a roll up. This is brilliant! Okada hits a Tombstone but another Rainmaker is countered so Okada counters back into another Tombstone! RAINMAKER! Game over. Naito comes close but can’t get the job done. For me the first half of the match was a little sluggish and really didn’t play on Naito’s strengths as a wrestler. Namely that he’s great at escaping misfortune and getting lucky. The Rainmaker counters were making me mark out like crazy though and if the whole match had that vibe it’d be awesome.
Final Rating: ****

 

Tangent: The amazing thing about Okada is he’s doing all this shit at just 26. To compare; Shawn Michaels at 26 had just barely gotten out of the Rockers. Hulk Hogan at 26 had just about joined the WWF…the first time round. Ric Flair at 26 was still about six years off his first world title. Does that put it into perspective? I realise modern wrestlers seem to ascend quicker than in the past (Lesnar was a world champion at 26 also) but Okada seems so assured in the role. His character seems so well rounded. Plus his current title reign is the longest non-Tanahashi run since Nagata’s amazing run in 2002. If success is measured on title defences however he’s basically the 6th best champion, ever.

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
These guys have grown up through the New Japan ages. Nakamura becoming more unhinged and weird while Tanahashi has become New Japan’s ace. Nakamura’s 3 IWGP titles pale in comparison to Tanahashi’s record equalling 6 titles. The IC title is very much a secondary one and this is only going on last because of who’s in the match. Hell, it’s only 3 years old and was created for a tour of the USA. Nakamura has given the belt some serious credibility just by holding onto it. But now he has to wrestle New Japan’s ace for it, on the biggest show of the year. And unless he breaks Tanahashi’s orbital bone again with his finisher, chances are this’ll do for him. Tanahashi gets the Sportz Entertainment entrance as he’s played to the ring by his own guitarist so Nakamura out does him with STRIPPERS pole dancing and fireworks. CHAOS in the house! Nakamura is a strange banana. He thinks he can dance like Michael Jackson, which he can’t, and thinks he’s graceful (like a swan or some such) and he really isn’t. He’s an awkward gangly f*ck*r with a terrible haircut. But once you’ve got past him looking like a small Kevin Nash clone crossed with a transsexual professional karaoke singer he’s really good in the ring. If you were wondering how on earth New Japan managed to make this show over 5 hours long, the entrances take about 20 minutes. The match is only 23.

The match starts out with Nakamura looking to beat the highlights out of Tanahashi’s hair only for Tanahashi to take his leg. Which is fine until Tanahashi lines up a chop block…and hits the wrong knee. You’d think a ring general like him would know better. Nakamura decides to take the Rob Van Dam school of selling and hit kicks anyway before staying down selling. Tanahashi was undoubtedly thinking; if I take out the knee, he can’t knee me all match. And Nakamura does a lot of knees. Well, as soon as Tanahashi stops working the leg Nakamura goes back to kneeing him repeatedly. So much for that theory. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing Nakamura knee people in the head. It’s one of his finest attributes. I’d just rather Tanahashi didn’t work the knee at all so we don’t get selling inconsistencies. Anyway, Nakamura re-injures the knee by missing a kneedrop on the apron and Tanahashi wipes him out with the High Fly Flow to the floor. Tanahashi has taken the frogsplash to the next level. Not only can he hit it from anywhere, he can use it equally as effectively on a standing opponent. Nakamura is forced into a ground defence, seeing as he can’t stand, which is his other major strength as a wrestler. Looking at the freak you’d never know he was a talented mat wrestler. Tanahashi wrestles his way out, seeing as he’s also a talented mat wrestler, which you’d never know looking at his flowing blonde locks. Basically, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Both these guys are in the main event for a reason. Tanahashi decides to use the ropes, gets kicked in the head for it, then tries to skin the cat and gets killed with a Lungblower for it. Pride comes before a fall…and working the knee was working out a lot better for him. Nakamura decides it’s time to stomp the hell out of Tanahashi and settle this. Tanahashi decides to hide in the ropes and gets even more f*ck stomped out of him! There’s no place to hide! Tanahashi goes after the knee so Nakamura gives him the knee…in the back of the head! Has he got metal knees or something? Tanahashi hits the Sling Blade out of desperation and heads up top leading to an awesome counter sequence where Nakamura will not let go of the ropes and eventually counters a powerbomb into a knee to the face. Because his knee is knackered he stays down and Tanahashi is able to get the High Fly Flow…for 2. Again, Nakamura’s selling inconsistencies are remarkably frustrating as he pops back up and knees Tanahashi into position for Boma Ye. Tanahashi naturally kicks out, having had his own finisher disrespected. Tanahashi goes back to the knee and slaps on his submission finish, the cloverleaf. When Nakamura won’t tap Tanahashi turns that sumbitch into a Styles Clash. As Nakamura stumbles to his knees; HIGH FLY FLOW. That puts him down. HIGH FLY FLOW finishes. Selling aside this was an enjoyable back and forth between two big hitters. The persistence at Tanahashi working the knee, despite Nakamura having no interest in selling it, was a touch frustrating. Was it a good match otherwise though? Yes, yes it was. Their countering and a few elaborate spots worked really well.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

Summary: With Wrestle Kingdom you cannot go wrong. It is New Japan’s WrestleMania. They’re doing big shows with such conviction now that even when they book the wrong main event, it still comes off without a hitch. The last four matches are all worth your time. Even Devitt-Ibushi with the awful Bullet Club interference ruining the first half of the match. The outstanding match, for me anyway, is Goto-Shibata though. Goto showed incredible resilience and fighting spirit to overcome the unrelenting assault of Shibata. The history between the two and the jaw injury just made it all the more exciting.
Verdict: 72

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