This week’s Brainbuster takes a look at Matt’s Top 5 Wrestle Kingdom matches headed into this weekend’s 14th edition of the event!
Welcome to a special edition of The Brainbuster! No power rankings article again this week, some technical difficulties in my laboratory of statistics, but we move on! As of the writing of this we are just 12 hours away from New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 14! My alarms are set, I’m ready. In anticipation of what many wrestling fans agree is the best night of professional wrestling bell to bell in the world, lets take a look at the Top 5 matches in Wrestle Kingdom history!
1- Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion Minoru Suzuki vs Yuji Nagata
Wrestle Kingdom 1 – January 4th, 2007 – NJPW 35th Anniversary
Many viewed this match as the main attraction on this card, even though Hiroshi Tanahashi would defend the IWGP Heavyweight Championship later. Suzuki came in as the reigning champion and faced off against arguably at the time, one of the top recognized names in Japanese professional wrestling in the world. Suzuki would unleash a vicious assault outside the ring, both men ended up broken and bloody by the end. It was not to be for Nagata on this night as a referee stoppage ended his title hopes, and cemented Suzuki his second title defense of his reign.
2- IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura
Wrestle Kingdom 2 – January 4th, 2008
In a match up between two men who would battle for the title of Ace for the next decade, the reigning G1 winner and IWGP Champion faced the leader of RISE Shinsuke Nakamura. Two years prior, Nakamura lost his championship match against Brock Lesnar, but here he defeated his rival with the Landslide, a second rope Samoan Driver, hooking the legs to claim his second IWGP Championship. There would be many more Tanahashi/Nakamura matches through the years, but this one is truly a memorable match. What I most enjoy about it is you can (and have to) watch it with Japanese commentary, but you understand the story being told and that is vital to wrestling. Both of them are masters of their crafts, and not the last time they will appear on this match
The Top 5 WrestleKingdom Matches Through WK13
#5 IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada
Wrestle Kingdom 7 – January 4th, 2013
The match that started it all. The rejuvenation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. This match was made when Kazuchika Okada won the G1 in his first try in 2012. Tanahashi had been well established as the Ace of New Japan by this point, but remarkably, Okada was a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion already as well, besting Tanahashi at A New Beginning in 2012. They would clash again at Dominion with Tanahashi taking the title back. This match was epic in almost every way you could imagine. It told a great story with Okada trying to prove himself again and again, but Tanahashi tested Okada and the veteran had the answers to the test. Okada would continuously miss Rainmakers as Tanahashi had his rival scouted in their third match in a year. Okada kicked out of a High Fly Flow, avoided a submission loss by scratching and clawing to the ropes, but the second High Fly Flow ended the match after 33 minutes and the Ace retained.
#4 IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles
Wrestle Kingdom 10 – January 4th, 2016
I just watched this match again yesterday, and it was truly one of the most fun matches I’ve ever watched. That’s a lot of praise for the fourth match in a top 5 list, but that just tells you what you’re in for coming up. I had a tough time deciding between this or the next match for the third entry, but the aftermath of this match left a lot to be desired as both men would leave the company, sending shockwaves throughout the wrestling world, but, it did not allow either man to follow up this spectacle. The story here was that Styles regarded Nakamura as one of the best in the world, and he wanted to beat the best in the Toyko Dome. In November 2015, Styles aggravated a back injury in storyline as he was pulling double duty between ROH and NJPW, and that injury was mentioned several times here. Styles even went as far as to feign a pinched nerve after getting slammed into the turnbuckle, but attacked Nakamura from behind to a chorus of boos. Nakamura would lead a charge of his own, trying to Bome Ye multiple times, but Styles dodged them, before getting caught in the teeth off the middle turnbuckle. Nakamura couldn’t make the cover. Kevin Kelly reminded everyone that both men had failed to take advantage of several finishing moves throughout the match. Styles hit what we now recognize as the Phenomenal Forearm but couldn’t get three. Nakamura would end the match with a vicious Bome Ye and retain after 24 minutes. The atmosphere created by these two mega icons colliding in the Toyko Dome was truly the definition of dream match. They gave it their all, telling a great story, working over limbs and targeting injuries old and new.
*Every time Styles tried the Styles Clash he was booed out of the arena, due to the moves perceived danger in Japan after breaking the necks of several wrestlers months prior to this match. Eventually, Styles would connect on one, and eerily enough, Nakamura landed awkwardly on his neck and shoulder, but I believe it was a worked shoot for heat, as Nakamura appeared to attempt to protect himself. If it was a botch, its unfortunate, but I looked at it several times, and I do think it was an attempt to get sympathy for Nakamura and heat for Styles during the match.
#3 IWGP IC Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi
Wrestle Kingdom 9 – January 4th, 2015
Happening a year before the previous match, it was also bred from a challenger wanting to beat Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom for the coveted Intercontinental Championship. Kota Ibushi would humiliate Nakamura in November 2014 during a post-match speech with an amateur takedown suplex and challenging The King of Strong Styles for the Toyko Dome. It was billed as the student versus the teacher, as Ibushi idolized Nakamura and would even attempt the Bome Ye during the match. Nakamura had the entrance of a lifetime, coming to the ring in a red robe with a crown fit for a King, proclaiming himself Mr. Wrestle Kingdom in the process. This was a star making match for the young Golden Star Kota Ibushi, as he graduated from he junior division and delivered a once in a lifetime match here. Nakamura tried to ground the athletic high flyer with grapples and armbars, but Ibushi would take to the sky almost winning the championship with a Phoenix Splash- but he missed! Bome Ye connects! Kickout! Insane. The fans thought it was over. Near the end, both men exhausted, Ibushi lifts Nakamura off the mat with a dead lift german suplex which is burned into my memory and is the one thing I remember most about the match. Nakamura would finally strike his way to victory after multiple Bome Ye’s for the victory after 20 minutes. From the star making and career defining performance of Kota Ibushi, to the pageantry of Nakamura’s entrance, to the hard hitting strikes, the kickouts, and everything in between, this is a special match and one of my favorites, yet better is to come!
#2 IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada
Wrestle Kingdom 9 – January 4th, 2015
A rematch from two years prior. Kazuchika Okada would again win G1, challenging Tanahashi for the championship again. This match was special because it was commentated by Jim Ross and Matt Stryker and was the first main event in Wrestle Kingdom history to have English commentary. Historical standards aside, the history of these two established in just three calendar years made this match truly important in prelude, and memorable in execution. They played a similar story from two years prior with Okada trying to outsmart Tanahashi and taunt the champion, but again Tanahashi used his years of in ring knowledge and his history with Okada against him. Knowing the eyes of the world were on him, Tanahashi gave us a “Wrestle Kingdom Moment” leaping from the top rope across the barricade into the fans connecting with a High Fly Flow onto Okada in the crowd. You really have to see that to believe it. From there they would exchange blows, multiple High Fly Flows were not enough to put away the Rainmaker. Tanahashi tried flash pins, but those were not enough either. Tanahashi reversed the Rainmaker lariat into a dragon suplex, gets two. Okada with a dropkick that shakes the arena and Jim Ross by gawds the hell out of it. His added commentary added so much magic to this match. Okada can not put away Tanahashi, with the lariat blocked again, Tanahashi unloads with patented dragon screws, multiple High Fly Flows again, and pins Okada once more after 31 minutes of five star wrestling. Many argue this is the greatest match they ever had, and the greatest match in Wrestle Kingdom history, but in the words of Yoda Return of the Jedi…there is another.
#1 IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega
Wrestle Kingdom 11 – January 4th, 2017
This match is the definition of wrestling perfection. It is not only the best Wrestle Kingdom match of all time, it is in my top 10 matches ever. The story here was Omega challenging after winning the G1. Omega had taken over lead of The Bullet Club in January 2016, and won the IWGP IC Championship in February. He would go on to wrestle in the first ever Ladder match in New Japan, and would arguably be the most valuable wrestler in the company heading into this match. Omega would draw on his love of anime and video games (one of the reasons he moved to Japan in 2013), coming out with a large anime style gun attached to his arm, and a one winged angel crossed over his back.
Omega knew that the Rainmaker could end the match at any point, so he targeted Okada’s legs and arms throughout the opening and middle of the match. To me, that was amazing to see unfold. You don’t see that in major American promotions, few and very far between anyway. Omega worked on Okada’s arms and legs, kicking, twisting, and bruising them on the outside, everything he could think of to sap the power of Okada making the Rainmaker as useless as possible. Omega would also work the neck, softening the champion for his One Winged Angel, a direct elevated driver on the back of the neck. Omega was masterful here, working a story and a style reminiscent of a Ric Flair or Bryan Danielson, using his opponents strengths against him. The spectacle and historical importance of the two previous matches on this list were paled in comparison to the psychology of this one. Like I said, it compares to any of the best stuff Flair or Danielson ever did in any match. There were multiple crashes through tables, and hard assaults on the outside enough to end any match, but not this one. Omega sustained not one nor two but five Rainmakers and kicked out. Okada countered the One Wing Angel in one of the most athletic ways that even a contortionist should ask him how he did it. The escalation of this match was magical, with both men giving everything they had. I had several thoughts they were going the distance and time limit drawing, but it was Okada who survived an Omega Bome Ye knee strike and delivered a devastating Rainmaker that ended the match after 47 minutes. Omega was never able to hit the One Winged Angel. We were left to wonder if Okada could have survived if he hit it after the methodical breakdown that Omega delivered in this match. It is absolutely one of the greatest matches ever wrestled. Arigato! Arigato! Arigato!