King of Pro Wrestling has a few big stories coming to a head! SANADA/Okada, Liger/Suzuki and Moxley/Robinson! Can SANADA dethrone Okada?
So they announced before the show that Zack Sabre Jr and Jon Moxley couldn’t make the show because of Typhoon Hagibis. Card subject to change shows up with a vengeance! Sucks a little for Moxley since he had to vacate the title, but it’s probably not the last we see of him in New Japan.
Now let’s get to the show and find out how everything shakes out!
- El Desperado & Yoshonobu Kanemaru vs Roppongi 3k (SHO & YOH): Despy wins via Pinche Loco @10:45 – ** 3/4
- Most Violent Players (Toru Yano & Togi Makabe) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma: Tanahashi wins via High Fly Flow @9:45 – ** 1/2
- Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito vs Taichi w/Miho Abe & DOUKI: LIJ wins via DQ @9:00 – ** 3/4
- Jyushin Thunder Liger vs Minoru Suzuki: Suzuki wins via Gotch Style Piledriver @17:40 – ****
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion: Will Ospreay (c) vs El Phantasmo: Ospreay retains via Stormbreaker @28:00 – **** 1/4
- Jay White, KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi w/Pieter vs YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto: Goto wins via GTR @12:25 – *** 1/4
- VACANT IWGP United States Championship NoDQ Match: Lance Archer vs Juice Robinson: Lance Archer wins via EBD Claw Hold @15:00 – *** 1/4 – TITLE CHANGE!!!
- Wrestle Kingdom Rights Holder Contract: Kota Ibushi (c) vs EVIL: Ibushi retains via Kamigoye @24:05 – ****
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship: SANADA vs Kazuchika Okada (c): Okada retains via Rainmaker @36:20 – *** 3/4
El Desperado & Yoshonobu Kanemaru vs Roppongi 3k (SHO & YOH) – Despy was out for 6 months after suffering a broken jaw outside of New Japan. So this is his return match, and it’s a prelude to the Junior Tag League. Sadly, this started off very flat, Despy feigned his broken jaw, typical heel stuff, slow build and the crowd wasn’t really into it. Can’t blame the crowd, since the match wasn’t really at an expected pace. The last minute or so was pretty solid, but nothing surprising. It was a decent opener, and nice to see Despy get a win in his first match back.
Most Violent Players (Toru Yano & Togi Makabe) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma – This match is to commemorate Tanahashi’s 20th anniversary in wrestling. Makabe was one of his opponents in the debut match and even Wataru Inoue came out to be in Tanahashi’s corner as a callback to that first match. This was the type of match you’d expect from all four, but it had a little more heart and built in story because of the 20th anniversary. Good stuff all around, the happy finish and we even saw a few Kokeshi’s hit pay dirt. So a generally enjoyable match.
Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito vs Taichi w/Miho Abe & DOUKI – Getting adjusted because of the card changes, we see a straight forward tag match between Taichi, who’s been on the rise, and two members of LIJ who aren’t doing great at the moment. We got some really good work from all four men. Taichi got his hands on Naito as often as possible and it looked like Shingo was going to hit Last of the Dragon on DOUKI, but Taichi hit him with the microphone stand. Suzuki-Gun gets obviously disqualified, but then they beat the hell out of LIJ and Taichi made a bold statement.
Jyushin Thunder Liger vs Minoru Suzuki – Liger comes out in his “Battle Liger” outfit, which we only see during serious rivalries. The first few minutes of the match referenced their Pancrase match quite heavily. Liger showing his mat/submission technique was better than it was 17 years ago and even surprised Suzuki with a Triangle Choke at one point. We got a bit of brawling outside with weapons, which was right up Suzuki’s alley, but this whole match was like a clip show of their history. Suzuki kept imploring Liger to hit him harder, get up stronger, keep trying, and it was just a match with a lot of heart and story. Suzuki clearing out the Young Lions with a chair just to take a moment to bow to Liger and show a small moment of respect helped to get over what this match meant. To the random observer, they may find this to be a slow match with old veterans, but for fans with any clue of what went on between them…it was very fitting and sentimental.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion: Will Ospreay (c) vs El Phantasmo – So this was a great match. Of course being a Junior match with Ospreay it was heavy on spots. But many spots were callbacks or really helped to elevate the story of how much these two disliked one another. Phantasmo hit a few Bullet Club leader classics like Styles Clash, V-Trigger and nearly pulled off the One Winged Angel. Ospreay on the other hand went for a lot of high impact moves like a Shooting Star Press, Sasuke Special and Avalanche Liger Bomb. Eventually Taiji Ishimori interferes and looks like he’ll cost Ospreay the match, but Robbie Eagles makes the save and we get a clean finish to the great match. Also yes, I appreciated the nod to Arisa Hoshiki.
If you followed the Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix coverage, you’d know that Hoshiki bet Ospreay on Twitter that if she beat his girlfriend (Bea Priestley), she could have one of his moves. Apparently it worked both ways, cause she debuted her version of the Oscutter the same day Will uses the Brazilian Kick to set up for the finish. Fun wrinkle for those of us who follow way too much. Aside from an overly coordinated Apron Cutter, this was great without many spots to complain. Just fun and fantastic to watch.
Jay White, KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi w/Pieter vs YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto – Battle lines were drawn pretty well here. Goto and Jay have issues since Jay doesn’t want to give him the shot, so Goto needs the momentum. It also looks like Ishii is pushing after KENTA, so Ishii is probably the next contender for the NEVER. The match told the feuds well, the work was solid and it was enjoyable. Feel a little bad that Yujiro was only in this match to eat the pin, but it wasn’t bad.
VACANT IWGP United States Championship NoDQ Match: Lance Archer vs Juice Robinson – Since Jon Moxley couldn’t make it to the show because of the Typhoon, he was stripped. Anyone claiming that’s wrong, doesn’t realize that’s how New Japan works. We’ve seen it before, first one that comes to mind is when Togi Makabe had the flu and couldn’t defend the NEVER Openweight in 2015 so it was Ishii vs Honma for the Championship. If you can’t make a scheduled defense, you can’t be champion. There may be a clause where you have to defend within 6 months, this has nothing to do with it. It’s purely “If you can’t make a scheduled title defense, the belt is vacated”.
We still got a hell of a spectacle match, that Archer was calling the Murderhawk Mansion. Tables, Chairs, and general hard hitting destruction. It looked like Juice dislocated or broke a finger about halfway through the match, but that didn’t stop him from giving a spirited fight. Juice slips on chairs when going for Pulp Friction, so that gives Archer the opening to set up Blackout on the stack of chairs, and then eventually winning with the Everybody Dies Claw Hold.
-David Finlay came to make the save when Archer was continuing the beat down to…well, a polite reaction. Given the Finlay return, I’m guessing Moxley would’ve won anyway, so maybe we see Moxley versus Archer at Wrestle Kingdom once he dispatches of Finlay cause…come on, it’s David Finlay.
Wrestle Kingdom Rights Holder Contract: Kota Ibushi (c) vs EVIL – What can really be said? This was a great match where EVIL wrestled his style of match, and even though Kota looked a bit more fluid between his moves, EVIL kept up with him nicely. However, even though the matches preceding this did a good job at building EVIL up, he’s still not a big enough name to headline Wrestle Kingdom. So the suspension of disbelief wasn’t really there, even for the live crowd.
Great transitions and ring work in general. Kota hit the Springboard Frakensteiner and it took 2 Kamigoye’s but EVIL eventually went down. The Golden Star is finally getting his time to shine at Wrestle Kingdom.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: SANADA vs Kazuchika Okada (c) – This was a little too much like SANADA’s challenge after Okada regained the belt from Jay White. The story of the match was to show that they are equals, and even though he doesn’t have much success against Okada (1-6 going into this match), SANADA is on Okada’s level. Okada is also having difficulty hitting his Million Dollar Dropkick on SANADA. So SANADA’s proving himself and Okada is showing a few more flaws than usual.
The pacing was very slow in this match, and I feel like that hurt it a lot. SANADA absorbed a bunch of offense including the Diving Crossbody over the barricade, and when he finally strung together his Dropkick and Plancha, the crowd popped hard. Some of the exchanges were awkwardly long and this match went over 35 minutes, and you felt most of it. The crowd started trying to will SANADA toward the victory, especially the two occasions when Okada was in Skull End for a few minutes each. SANADA is known to be the type of wrestler to go with the flow, and Okada tends to like to wrestle to his opponents strengths. It’s just amusing that they have their best matches, away from the actual title matches.
As the match went long, Okada was able to land the Million Dollar Dropkick, and that helped bring him back into the match. Also during the usual locomotion Tombstone Piledriver counters, Okada stopped SANADA mid counter and dropped him in a Fire/Thunder style driver (which I’ve never seen him do). That set up the Rainmaker and another successful defense for Okada.
Overall Score: 7/10
We had a pretty good show, however, I feel the main events fell a little short with Liger/Suzuki and Ospreay/ELP earlier in the card. It was also a little curious that New Japan really placed a few cool down matches after the two matches I mentioned. We also saw a bit of a story telling hiccup with New Japan. That being, even when you try to elevate someone like SANADA to Okada’s level, it’s not really bought. Okada has had a stranglehold on the main event for the last 7 years, and I appreciated that Ibushi even made mention of it when he came out at the end of the show to make the Wrestle Kingdom challenge official.
With how everything is being built up, and the stories of Suzuki wanting out, next year could be a year of change for New Japan. Ibushi could usher in a new era, we could get a new leader of Suzuki-Gun and someone may finally cash in on this double champion dream. So again, the show was quality matches top to bottom, it just didn’t end as strongly as one has come to expect.
Should be interesting to see if Power Struggle mixes things up at all.