Good Morning you sleep deprived psychopaths that stayed up for this historic Wrestle Kingdom! With all of the hype leading into this show, as well as, the extra eyes because of the inclusion of Chris Jericho, the expectations are through the roof. Do we see as many title changes as last year? Do we get another match to shatter the star ratings? Does the overwhelming assumption that Tetsuya Naito will win, influence Gedo’s booking?
Time to put up or shut up, let’s get to the matches.
New Japan Rumble
The Rumble isn’t supposed to be a wrestling clinic, it’s supposed to be the fun pre-show starter for the crowd. Some veterans, some lesser known wrestlers and a few surprised. Gino Gambino of Melbourne City Wrestling was a surprise, and further helps solidify the relationship those two companies have, as well as, Masahito Kakihara, former UWF and NJPW veteran. His shirt was supporting Yoshihiro Takayama who recently was injured in the ring and a press conference with Minoru Suzuki sadly revealed the spinal chord injury can’t be remedied and he will remain paralyzed from the shoulders down. Kakihara also overcame his own battle with cancer, so all in all, even though many newer and casual fans don’t know him, the win was a bittersweet moment and a great gesture from New Japan.
Rating: * 1/4 (Bronze IV)
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3k(c) vs The Young Bucks
In what was a more reserved match for the Young Bucks, we saw a lot of call backs to former RPG Vice matches (like the double sharpshooter spot). But an early injury to the back of YOH, would prove to be the downfall for Roppongi 3k. Not that many super kicks, a couple nice sequences and a Meltzer Driver, get the job done for the Young Bucks. The now 7 time Jr Tag Team Champions, doesn’t really leave a lot left for them to do. Maybe they’ll move up to the heavyweight ranks?
Rating: *** (Gold V)
NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet: Tama Tanga, Tonga Roa & Bad Luck Fale (c) vs War Machine & Michael Elgin vs Zack Sabre Jr, Iizuka & Taichi vs Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson & Togi Makabe vs Toru Yano, Trent Baretta & Tomohiro Ishii
Suzuki-Gun (Sabre, Iizuka and Taichi) eliminate Warmachine and Elgin first when Sabre puts Raymond Rowe to sleep with a sleeper hold transitioning into a triangle armbar. Making short work of Suzuki-Gun, Chaos hits the ring next, a scuffle ensues and Yano pulls a classic Yano and gets the elimination by rolling up Taichi. Taguchi Japan hits next, and gets most of their usual stuff in. Taguchi has the coaching moment where they all hit Yano in the corner, then Taguchi pays homage to Shinsuke Nakamura and goes to hit a Butt-a-ye, but Yano catches him for the roll up victory again. The champion Bullet Club team comes down last and immediately takes it to Chaos. A bunch of back and forth, big moves, Tama Tanga even hits a beautiful cutter out of nowhere on Trent Baretta during a moonsault. But Trent hits his Dudebuster finish on Tama and…NEW NEVER 6 Man Champions, Trent, Yano and Ishii. Entertaining, but sloppy in spots, but it’s kinda what’s expected from a gauntlet match.
Rating: ** 1/2 (Silver II)
Kota Ibushi vs Cody w/ Brandi Rhodes
Now this match was the biggest question mark on the card. We all knew why Cody wanted to fight Kota, but coming off his loss to Dalton Castle, it wasn’t clear how this match would be. Early on Cody dominated Ibushi with great character work and even had Brandi feign being knocked out (to distract super babyface Ibushi) during a dive that hit her also. A few weapons, a lot of heel tactics, but Kota makes his come back. Cody really holds his own in this match, so many of the knocks on his in-ring ability may get quieted a little. Ibushi wins after a Kamigoe Knee Strike followed up by a Phoenix Splash.
Rating: **** (Platinum V)
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Killer Elite Squad (c) vs EVIL & Sanada
Well the air was nearly taken out of the Tokyo Dome when KES hits a big assisted powerbomb on EVIL, immediately, and almost gets the win, before Sanada slides in to break it up. This match was rough, KES attacked everyone that moved, learning well from their leader Minoru Suzuki that Young Lions are meant to get beaten up. EVIL and Sanada got dominated for about 3/4ths of this match, but finally turned it around. As soon as Sanada kicked out of the Killer Bomb, you had to think they had a good chance at winning. The LIJ members hit the Magic Killer followed by Sanada hitting a beautiful moonsault from the top turnbuckle on Davey, for the pinfall victory. NEW IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, EVIL and Sanada!
Rating: **** (Platinum V)
NEVER Openweight Championship + hair vs hair: Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Hirooki Goto
In a match that confused people early, it eventually got better. Suzuki had Goto in a hanging sleeper from the middle rope and it looked like Goto legit passed out. No most people would assume that would be a cause to end the match (especially since that’s how Rowe lost for his team during the Gauntlet match). But instead the ref checks Goto, the doctor checks and Suzuki proceeds to beat him back to life. So overcoming the initial confusion, the match was a classic NEVER match, with hard hits and fighting spirit. A combination of the Young Lions and Yoshi-Hashi managed to keep Suzuki-Gun at bay, so we finally get a mostly legitimate match. An avalanche Ushi Goroshi, followed by some hard strikes and then a GTR, sealed the victory for your NEW NEVER Openweight Champion, Hirooki Goto.
Rating: *** 1/2 (Gold III)
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship Fatal 4 Way: Marty Scurll (c) vs Kushida vs Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi
A little slow in the beginning, but it continued the storyline of the rest of the participants disrespecting Hiromu. There are too many huge spots to go over them all, but the spots were all fairly well laid out. Ospreay climbed up an outside structure and hit a big moonsault, later on in the match hitting a big shooting star press. It looked like Hiromu was going to win with the Time Bomb, but Scurll pulls out the ref and starts laying people out with the umbrella. He missed Ospreay and gets caught with an Oscutter. So NEW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion…Will Ospreay. Entertaining match, but a few spots were fumbled, so what could’ve been ranked higher, loses a little bit because of the poorly executed spots. Still a damn good match though.
Rating: **** 1/2 (Platinum II)
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs “Switchblade” Jay White
The match had a nice methodical tone to it. Jay White’s character showed that he is very calculating and will pick apart an opponent if given an opportunity. White’s constant questioning of if Tanahashi really was the Ace, helped to bring out a resiliency we haven’t seen in Hiroshi for a few years. Nice psychology in the match, Jay White got over pretty well as a worthy heel, but the match didn’t have any amazingly special moments. Tanahashi kicked out of a Kiwi Krusher, and wins the match in his typical fashion of back to back High Fly Flows. The first champion to actually retain tonight, is the “former Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi, in a perfectly fine match.
Rating: *** 3/4 (Gold I)
IWGP US Championship No Disqualification: Kenny Omega (c) vs Chris Jericho
Well this wasn’t a straight up match for the most part, it was more of a fight. Quickly moving to the outside, there was a big miss from Omega through a table, lots of chairs and Kenny even brought back the cold spray. During the fighting on the outside Chris Jericho busted out the Liontamer on a Young Lion who was just trying to help (I appreciate the pun). The match got very close during the last 10 minutes or so. Lots of flase finishes, suspenseful moments with Omega in the Walls of Jericho on the borderline of tapping. It was definitely a fun match, nothing noticeably bad, a lot of “sports entertainment” moments, but all in all it lived up to the Dream Match moniker. Kenny Omega gets the win and retains the US Title, after a second One Winged Angel (first was too close to the ropes so Jericho grabbed the ropes so he didn’t really kick out).
Rating: ***** (Diamond V)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
To be fair, the very beginng sequence was awkward. It could be played off as Naito playing mind games, but it looked weird to put it nicely. And aside from a few slow transitions from catch to suplex or submission, the match was tremendous. It had to follow an impressive bout between Jericho and Omega and definitely pulled it out. It builds nicely, Okada goes to the Cobra Clutch early, Naito tries to hit his old finisher the Stardust Press twice, to no avail and for the most part, the match stays in the ring. We saw some innovative moves and ways to transition into their respective finishing moves, but to most of the IWC’s surprise…Kazuchika Okada wins with his signature Rainmaker. Naito finally got his main event, but couldn’t pull off the victory.
Rating: ***** 1/4 (Diamond V)
This show on a whole was a little better than last year’s Wrestle Kingdom. Many of the overall favorites won their respective matches, which will help New Japan maintain a burgeoning western audience. The Okada match may leave a few people sour, but it was a great match, and Okada’s ability can’t be questioned.
Tomorrow’s New Year’s Dash kicks off 2018’s storylines, so any returns, new challenges or possible dissolution of stables, will prove for plenty of entertainment. Watch this Saturday on AXS TV, or sign up for New Japan World–you’ll be doing yourself a favor to watch this. In summation of this show, I’ll just say what the Japanese female commentator repeated about 5 billion times, “Sugoi” (Awesome).