October 12th, 16:00 from Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall), Tokyo
Strong card today. No less than four championship matches, the biggest of which is the Heavyweight title rematch between Kazuchika Okada and A.J. Styles. It’s worth noting that this is the first event on New Japan World to feature English commentary, provided by Matt Striker and Kevin Kelly, so if the language barrier has been getting in the way this would a good show to jump on with.
Here we go…
David Finlay, Jay White, Juice Robinson, Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Kushida, Máscara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi and Tiger Mask
Robinson (aka CJ Parker) was yesterday announced as a full-time member of the roster. They clearly see something in him that I’m yet to. As for the match, it was your usual opening tag with a fair few comedy spots thrown in. In the end, each of the young lions were put in a submission hold and Dorada hit Finlay with a Landslide for the three-count. Watchable. **
Tomoaki Honma vs. Yoshi-Hashi
Honma had his lower back taped up, so naturally that’s what Yoshi-Hashi worked on, even using his twirling baton as a weapon! Disgraceful behaviour. Honma was able to mount something of a comeback, but it was soon cut short. A pinning powerbomb from Yoshi-Hashi got a two-count, but the swanton missed, and a sequence of successful Kokeshis – ending with the lesser-seen top rope variation – earned Honma the win. **1/4
Captain New Japan, Hirooki Goto, Katsuyori Shibata and Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima and Yuji Nagata
I wonder who’s taking the pin in this one. This was, and forgive me for getting too technical here, an opportunity for everyone to their shit in. A lariat to Captain New Japan (who else?) from Kojima after 8 minutes was enough for the win. Good intensity, particularly given the placement on the card. I can only hope this is a stop-gap for Shibata, Goto and Ibushi because all three have been excellent this year and deserve a prime spot on the Wrestle Kingdom card. **
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Baretta and Rocky Romero)
Some antics from Roppongi Vice early on, but reDRagon were savvy and back in control quick-sharp. There was a fun moment midway through as Fish and Romero had heel hooks on each other and Baretta and O’Reilly took turns stomping their respective opponents. Late on, O’Reilly hit the Ambrose Clothesline and a brainbuster and everyone fought up from their knees like they’d been going 30 minutes. reDRagon retained after hitting their wheelbarrow DDT/German suplex at 16 minutes. It was obvious Baretta was supposed to break up the pin, but Tiger Hattori counted three and stuck to it. Kevin Kelly described the match as “redefining what tag team wrestling is all about”. I sincerely hope not. Total spotfest: all surface, no feeling. **1/2
I switched to Japanese commentary at this point.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Matt Sydal
Much of the early portion of this one was Omega working on Sydal’s back in methodical fashion. Sydal was able to mount a comeback after reversing a backdrop to a crossbody and followed with a jumping hurricanrana to Omega on the top rope. A spinning heel kick put Omega on the floor and Sydal hit a corkscrew dive. Sydal went for the double kneedrop, but Omega impressively caught him in mid-air and delivered a Buckle Bomb and then a Doctor Bomb for a near fall. Omega’s deadlift suplex was somehow reversed to a hurricanrana by Sydal for two, then a reverse hurricanrana put Omega down, but the Shooting Star Press hit the knees. A dragon suplex, running knee and the One-Winged Angel were enough for Omega to retain at 17 minutes. The latter portion of the match really kicked it up a notch. Sydal looked intent to make a good impression in his first singles match and Omega’s fun character work continues. ***3/4
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, Shinsuke Nakamura and Toru Yano
The soon to be Intercontinental title opponents, Nakamura and Anderson, went head-to-head to start the match. Things broke down soon after and bodies were strewn around the ringside area. The match was kind of all over the place, with Bullet Club interferences aplenty, but thankfully Our Lord and Saviour – Toru Yano – was able to overcome the odds by pinning Fale after a beautifully precise low blow. Quick rant: the non-Japanese guys seem to think it’s cool to curse loudly because no-one can understand what they’re saying. It’s not. It’s amateurish and particularly ill-considered when New Japan is trying to increase its international audience. *1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship
Togi Makabe (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Ouch. Even the collar-and-elbow in this one sounded like it hurt. Ishii was affronted by Makabe’s unmanly elbow strikes and showed his opponent how it is. Chops to the throat followed, then Ishii’s charge was met with a powerslam. A Northern Lights suplex got two. Ishii hit a huge delayed superplex for a two-count, but a succession of lariats put him on the mat, and a kneeling powerbomb got a near-fall. Makabe set Ishii up for the spider suplex, but Ishii held firm and the Top Rope Elbow Battle was on! Eventually, a nasty headbutt knocked Makabe down and Ishii followed with a King Kong Knee Drop! An awkward sequence of reversals led to both guys being laid out. Strikes for everyone, including a gross unprotected headbutt. German suplex from Makabe! Back up top for the Spider suplex and this time it hit. The King Kong Knee Drop, however, did not. Dragon suplex from Ishii! Sliding lariat. Two-count only. Brainbuster! One, two, three and Ishii wins the NEVER title for a fourth time at 18 minutes. Now, I like my strong style matches, but felt this was beyond the pale. I was wincing at some of the strikes here. This was coupled with several moments where neither man knew what was happening, probably because they were concussed. For the most part the work was good, but if a match is only about hitting hard then eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns. ***1/2
Post-match, Honma challenged Ishii. I’m down with that.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito
Tanahashi is once again defending his Wrestle Kingdom title shot. Naito was joined by an unnamed member of Los Ingobernables, with both wearing the familiar black suit and skull mask combo. Naito had the better of the early going, hitting a reverse DDT from the apron followed by a running dropkick into the barrier. He then reclined on a chair he’d brought into the ring and remained in control in the most aloof manner possible, finding time to attack both the cameraman and the referee and spit in Tanahashi’s face. Talk about multi-tasking. Tanahashi was able to make a comeback culminating in a High Fly Flow from the top rope to the floor, but back in the ring, Naito kicked Tanahashi in mid-air as he attempted a crossbody, and followed with the outside-in slingshot dropkick and a top rope Frankensteiner. An Elbow Battle led to Naito raking the eyes, but the dragon suplex was blocked and Tanahashi hit a spinning neckbreaker. The Sling Blade missed, then Naito hit one of his own! Gloria from Naito for a two-count. The ref got bumped (intentionally) and Naito’s associate revealed himself: a returning Takaaki Watanabe! They worked over a stricken Tanahashi, but Shibata and Goto came to the rescue! Amazing. Naito with a low blow and a jackknife pin. Two-count only! Destino was blocked, but Tanahashi’s Sling Blade connected! High Fly Flow crossbody! High Fly Flow! One, two, three. Tanahashi retains his No.1 Contendership at 20 minutes. Watanabe had been on a learning excursion to the US for two years, so his return was quite the surprise. Nice to see babyfaces actually come out to even the odds for once too. A fun match, improved by the antics. ****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. A.J. Styles
Bullet Club got involved after an even opening exchange which gave way to a short period of control from Okada. An Apron Bomb from Anderson got a two-count for Styles. (Styles’ smack talk is up there with Kevin Owens, by the way.) Okada flipped out of a reverse DDT and dropkicked Styles to the floor, following up with a hanging DDT from the barrier. Back in, Styles hit a springboard elbow and a pumphandle gutbuster, but neither man was able to stay on top. Reverse neckbreaker from Okada. Wheelbarrow facebuster from Styles. Ganso bomb! Two-count only. A springboard 450 missed, and Okada hit a huge missile dropkick which had both men down. The Main Event Elbow Battle led to Okada hitting The Dropkick and The Rainmaker, but Anderson broke up the pin! Okada hit a Tope con Hilo to take out the Bullet Club, only for Styles to take advantage and nail a top rope Bloody Sunday! Two-count only! Okada escaped the Styles Clash, but Styles rolled through into the Calf Killer. Okada somehow transitioned to a Rainmaker attempt, but it was blocked, and Styles once again locked in the Calf Killer! Okada just made it to the bottom rope! Another Calf Killer was reversed to tombstone and both men were down. Main Event Elbow Battle No.2 led to a crazy sequence of reversals ending in Styles’ Pelé kick. Styles headed up top, Okada followed and dragged Styles down into a Rainmaker. He then hit another. And a third! The three-count inevitably followed at 30 minutes. A very good match, but these two have a classic in them and this wasn’t quite it. I doubt it’ll ever happen, but a face Styles vs. heel Okada match, free from the booking constraints this one presented, would be an all-timer I’m certain. All the same, this was great and well worth seeing. ****1/2
Okada’s post-match interview is interrupted by Tanahashi and our circuitous route to a repeat of last year’s Wrestle Kingdom main event is nearly complete.
Final thoughts: Lots to recommend here. A solid show top-to-bottom, well-structured, and dotted with some real moments of quality. The main event is your one to watch.
New Japan’s next big show is Power Struggle on November 7th featuring Nakamura vs. Anderson for the IC title. See you then.