NJPW Wrestle Kingdom XI
Arnold Furious: January 4 2017. We’re in the Tokyo Dome for WK 11. English language hosts are Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino. That’s been the best pairing New Japan have come up with so I’m glad they’ve stuck with it. No more Striker bullshit or ‘Tatsu giving us colour.
First two men are Michael Elgin and Billy Gunn. I never thought we’d be seeing that contest in a New Japan ring but here we are. #3 is The Boner. Kelly and Corino make fun of him and actually call him “The Smuggler” because someone wrote it down wrong. #4 is Cheeseburger. To confirm Boner is a total jobber he’s thrown out first by Cheeseburger. #5 is Jushin Liger. Elgin dumps Billy after telling him to “suck it”. #6 is Kuniaki Kobayashi. He’s older than dirt but he still has a ****1/4 style war with Liger. Admittedly his spin kick isn’t quite as high as it used to be. #7 is Tiger Mask IV. He teams with Liger to dump Kobayashi. #8 is Manabu Nakanishi. #9 is Ryusuke Taguchi “this clown” according to Corino. He seems to have stopped giving a damn, bless him. Pile on eliminates Nakanishi. Then another dumps Liger. Liger, in a dick move, helps Taguchi dump TM. #10 is Yoshitatsu. He stinks. He’ll always stink. #11 is Yuji Nagata. He’s about to submit Taguchi when Tatsu breaks it up to the chorus of boos he deserves for being terrible. #12 is Hiroyoshi Tenzan. #13 is Hiro Saito. #14 is Scott “Flash” Norton. He’s a legend in NJPW, even if he was worth nothing in North America. Especially in WCW where he had his biggest run. He murders Taguchi and teams up with some of the nWo Japan lads. Mike eliminates all of the nWo Japan guys one after another and is left facing ‘Burger. Naturally Elgin gets the pin and wins the Rambo.
Final Rating: **1/2
Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger The Dark
TTD is ACH. Exciting times! Tiger Mask W was Ibushi last time. It doesn’t really matter who is under the hoods because the match only exists to pimp a children’s cartoon. That said ACH brings the flipz and W responds with the Triangle Moonsault. Well, that’s Ibushi then. ACH’s eye reaction look amazing when they’re done through a red tiger mask. It’s like the mask has come to life. Obviously Tiger Mask W wins, with a Tiger Driver, but ACH did good work under the hood.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice
The Bucks are also PWG and ROH tag champs so they’ve made some “Superkick Party” belts to carry around too. Do they really need those? The Bucks do typical Bucks things like luring the challengers down the ramp, superkicking them and leaving them there. Lots of superkicks are thrown. Even Corino is strangely low key calling the action though. It doesn’t feel particularly important. Romero with his Forever Clotheslines manages to pick the crowd up. I love the Bucks trying to avoid the final one, ducking twice before catching a double clothesline. The match changes again when Trent hits a suicide dive and lands back first on the floor. That’s a horrible bump to take. The Bucks can bully poor Rocky from there on out. This is the peak of the storytelling with Romero refusing to stay down after repeated abuse until Rocky rolls Nick up to stop More Bang For Your Buck and RPG Vice score the upset win.
Final Rating: ***1/4
NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Jado, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI)
Yujiro brings four scantily clad women that the cameraman becomes obsessed with. The Bullet Club bunny has a banging body. Love the B’s. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay are the champions but this is a gauntlet match so they don’t start. Weird to see guys like Ospreay and YOSHI-HASHI, who’ve had huge years for NJPW, stuck in a relatively meaningless undercard mess like this. Will, with his new haircut, does the flipz including the Sasuke Special. From the moment he tags in it’s the Ospreay Show. Page tries to overwhelm him by hitting an SSP off the apron and that gives Yujiro enough space to hit his short DDT on Jado. So no more Ospreay, which sucks, but at least the ladies stay out here. Pros and cons.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
Page is now the guy who cares the most about this match, which is fairly shocking. LIJ are usually great at multi-man tags, although they don’t have much to play with here. They switch modes, without thinking, and out-heel Bullet Club with ease. SANADA puts Yujiro out with the Dragon Sleeper.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI) vs. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay
The champs are here! They’re the last team to enter so they only need to overcome LIJ to retain. Seeing as LIJ barely broke a sweat in beating Bullet Club they’re on even ground here. Ricochet immediately starts with crazy flips but it’s not just the insanity, it’s how smooth and clean everything is. How does he flip off the buckles to the floor like that? Landing on his damn feet. Sometimes I fall over getting out of bed in the morning. Kojima is the perfect foil for all this flipping and youthful exuberance. He just chops away happily. LIJ are so good as a unit though that it’s an uphill struggle for the champs to retain. Finlay is out of his depth, for storyline purposes, and Ricochet’s flying gets him into trouble when BUSHI picks him off with a mid-air MX. Kojima eats the Mist with the ref missing it. There’s mist all over his face! That’s surely a DQ. Nope. EVIL puts him away and we have new champions. This whole shebang was highlighted by Ospreay doing his thing and LIJ doing great work at the end.
Final Rating: ***
Juice Robinson vs. Cody [REDACTED]
Cody Rh*des isn’t allowed a surname for he is the American Nightmare. Cody is a heel but struggles to contain his smile as he walks out here. Cody has been specifically put on this card to give lapsed WWE fans something to attach themselves to. Juice goes nuts in the opening sequences, doing a crazy cannonball into the rail. Cody takes over because of that, stealing BUSHI’s pose in the process. The match is extremely patchy. Sometimes they land some incredible counters, like Juice countering Cody’s dive into an overhead suplex on the floor, and then we see less impressive counters. Juice’s knee is the story of the match and Cody’s chop block looks great. His hanging DDT looks devastating too. Shame it doesn’t finish. Instead Cody hits Cross Rhodes for the duke. This was fine. There were two stories colliding, the knee and Cody being heel. The first was fine, the second didn’t work.
Final Rating: **3/4
ROH World Championship
Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
Kyle is out of contract so this is a fairly unique situation. I hope something bigger is planned than Cole simply winning the belt back as I find him mediocre. Like the whole thing being a ruse. Or Kyle going into business for himself and tapping Cole out quickly. Cole does his “BAY BAY” business and Kyle jumps him from behind twice because why wouldn’t you? Cole works the arm. This crowd don’t care whatsoever. Kyle’s offensive segments are far superior to Cole’s. I suppose that’s the idea, because he’s the babyface, but the way Kyle approaches wrestling is far better. His hybrid style is the future of professional wrestling. As Adam gets stiffer, with his strikes perverts, the match improves. Whether he’s stomping on Kyle’s face or hitting multiple superkicks. Last Shot finishes and out of contract Kyle O’Reilly shockingly drops the title. Unfortunately it’s to Cole who becomes the first ever three-time ROH champion. The actual action was strong, especially O’Reilly’s offence, but the match came off flatter than we thought the Earth was a thousand years ago (and Tila Tequila does now).
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. GBH vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
Ishii & Yano got chucked into this because Ishii had nothing to do. Yano stole the belts and the tag league trophies to get kayfabe included. I’ve not seen it but I’m told the tag league finals (GOD vs. GBH) was really strong (Larry Csonka went ****1/2). So it’s disappointing that the random CHAOS team have been inserted here. At least Ishii gets to beat the shit out of Honma on the biggest show of the year. Tanga swears like a sailor in this one, yelling “f*cks” and “shits” and “m*th*rf*ck*rs” to his heart’s content. He’s swearing so much that Corino has to turn his microphone off. It’s a tirade of profanity that’s frankly staggering. GBH do some fun work, beating on Tanga, while he swears a lot. The match takes place at a breakneck pace, like we’re seeing a juniors multi-team tag without the flipz. Unless you consider Kokeshi a flip. Then it’s a spotfest. Yano sneaks in a blind tag and rolls up Tanga for the belts after a low blow. That was unexpected! Oh, now Ishii is stuck in this tag team. Pros and cons.
Final Rating: ***3/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The ticking timebomb Takahashi was, until recently, Kamaitachi. But he’s ditched that lucha gimmick and is now himself again. Only with the flamboyance of his former incarnation. The match immediately flies into top gear and Takahashi attempts to murder the champ with a sunset bomb to the floor. This leads to KUSHIDA playing dead, and getting suplexed on his head some more. Hiromu must feel bad for KUSHIDA’s wellbeing because he hits his ridiculous senton to the floor. One day he’s going to land that badly, like even more badly than every time he does it, and bust the back of his open like a ripe pumpkin. In between they botch a rana to the floor. It’s very obvious because KUSHIDA immediately bails out afterwards to be in the correct place. A second spot to the floor is far better executed as KUSHIDA catches a flying Hiromu in an armbar. The match is sloppy around the edges but that adds to the attraction of Takahashi. Like he’s genuinely out of control. He comes across as equally insane for refusing to tap out to the Hoverboard Lock. KUSHIDA’s response? He punches Takahashi square in the jaw. Hiromu isn’t phased by this and hits a bunch of crazy shit, culminating in the Time Bomb. Takahashi bags the belt and licks it. KUSHIDA has been a great champion but perhaps it was time to freshen things up. Where KUSHIDA was sleek and technically sound, Hiromu is insane. We’re likely to see some crazy matches with him as champion.
Final Rating: ****1/4
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
I love that Shibata brings the British Heavyweight title with him, from Rev Pro. Shibata is wonderful at getting his opponents fired up. When Goto doesn’t show much in the opening exchanges Shibata belts across the face with a slap. Shibata is covered in tape, with two bad shoulders and a bad neck. And a bad knee. He’s falling apart in front of our eyes and he doesn’t give a f*ck. He won’t tone himself down. He wants Goto to have that same fire and recklessness and because Goto is so passive Shibata just beats him up. When it’s Goto’s turn Shibata decides he’s selling absolutely nothing. The way Shibata no sells is amazing though. He refuses to show pain but you can see him holding it back. It’s so measured. There’s nobody like it. It’s such a realistic approach to selling. Not wanting to be phased and show how much he’s hurt but at the same time showing that pain with the grimaces. Great stuff. Goto tries to match that fire as the match progresses, although Shibata always seems to be one step ahead. You can hear the big stadium crowd reactions to every strike as well, echoing away into the ether. It’s an incredible atmosphere. Goto survives a lengthy sleeper. Shibata survives Shouten Kai. It heads towards epic in violent fashion. Just when you think it’s only big shots left they go toe to toe on strikes and it’s just wonderful. I love that Goto pretty much knocks Shibata out with a knee before symbolically executing him with GTR. I never liked that as a finisher but Shibata was already toast. This, naturally, was great.
Final Rating: ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Every title has switched hands so far on this show. Tanahashi is looking for a late career reinvention. He’s changed his music. It’s deeply disturbing. Luckily his hair remains the most magnificent barnet in pro-wrestling. Naito counters this by arriving in a purple suit that makes him look like a pimp. I love that Tanahashi is still massively over and Naito is likewise. Only Tana is playing cheerleader and Naito doesn’t give a shit. He still remembers the crowd booing him as a face and bantering him off the top a few years back in the Dome. Tana, interestingly, refuses to clean break and punches Naito in the ribs in the first exchange. Naito’s response is to work over the knee. Naito is already a jerk, people know this but Tanahashi’s churlish response to this upsets people and the crowd are divided. Naito sometimes struggles with his injured knee, which inevitably Tana works at in response to Naito working his knee. While Tana is predictable, as he’s worked this way for ten years, Naito comes at Tanahashi from different angles and keeps him unbalanced. However Tanahashi’s offence is more impactful and he has more power. The predictability factor kicks in when it comes to the High Fly Flow. That gives Naito time to prepare counters. The match lives in an interesting balance of old vs. new, tactics vs. tactics and honour vs. anti-heroism. That sense of balance is so prevalent in one of the matches biggest spots; Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow being blocked by Naito’s double knees, which in turn injures himself. The layers of storytelling in one spot is fantastic. A tornado inverted DDT sets up the Destino and Naito retains! More importantly he beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom! Holy shit.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Kenny gets a pre-match video where he’s the Terminator. It’s pretty cool, although distinctly low budget. I love him bringing a shotgun to the ring instead of a broom. It’s the ultimate in telling the story of how much more serious he is for this match than he was for the Junior title and all the undercard work he did. Now he means business, goddamn it. He’s spent his entire career building to this moment. Meanwhile Okada is the Main Event in Japan. He’s seen off Tanahashi and he’s become the benchmark. Suddenly we’ve got two guys fighting over the company. Whoever wins will define 2017 and help to mould the company. For Okada it would be business as usual. For Omega it could alter everything. They start slowly but it’s not long before they’re countering finishers and Kenny is eating a DDT off the guardrail. The sickening thud noise that accompanied that cannot be understated. Omega is so fast and unpredictable that he takes Okada out of his game, which is exactly what happened with Naito against Tanahashi. Omega loads the match with a mixture of his familiar spots and things less recognisable. The effect being to unsettle Okada and leave him unbalanced. Some of Omega’s offence is brutal. Like the missile dropkick to the neck. Holy f*ckballs. That’s not even Kenny’s craziest top rope move with him hitting a moonsault from the ring, over the rail onto Okada and into the announce table. Okada sells like a drunk man. He reminds me of watching someone who’s fallen over outside the pub on a Friday night trying to get up to get a taxi. Omega follows that with a double stomp onto a table, which is on top of Okada. Good lord, that’s a brutal shot to take. Okada plays dead after this. Absolutely dead. It sells the brutality of that spot in a way that so man other wrestlers don’t understand. Sometimes you need to play dead. Any offence he hits for five minutes is to protect himself and buy time. This is amplified by another game changing moment where Omega is backdropped out of the ring through a table. The table betrays Kenny by partially breaking. The near side doesn’t move and must do damage to his shoulder. The only way he gets back into the match is by going back to the mid-section of Okada that’s already hurt. Omega hits a dragon superplex and Okada lands on his head! Holy shit. The bumps in this match have been utterly insane. Everything feels more important because of what they’ve been through. V-Trigger is huge in that respect. Okada then flips out of the One Winged Angel because he’s a complete freak of nature. Rainmaker doesn’t get it done and it’s such a rarity for someone to kick out of that. The near falls are so ridiculous that the crowd are having kittens. Kenny does amazing work in the stretch. The facials tell how he’s completely knackered, his game plan hasn’t come off and Okada keeps coming back at him and he looks mentally spent. But the great part is how he suddenly fires up and goes again, knowing Okada isn’t 100% and he’s got a great chance of beating him. Okada increasingly resorts to defensive work to block Kenny’s dynamic offence, which includes him grabbing the wrist to get out of the One Winged Angel and hit a Rainmaker. Okada maintains wrist control and the way Omega tries to break it, with repeated knees because he knows what happens when Okada controls the wrist is great. Omega can never get the One Winged Angel though and Okada fights his way out one final time to hit a Tombstone and the Rainmaker finishes. I’ve heard incredible, borderline nonsensical, complaints about this match being too long. While I argue that about NOAH all the time, because they don’t have the wrestlers to put those matches on, this was an epic storyline. I loved it to bits. Everything built to something else and we worked our way to the brilliant finishing stretch. Probably MOTY.
Final Rating: *****
Summary: While the show is long at almost six hours the final four matches compensated for everything that preceded it. The last four matches were all incredible, all different and all worth going out of your way for.