January 4th, 16:00 from the Tokyo Dome
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year. Huge stadium, huge matches, huge expectations.
If you want a some background, my preview is here. And that’s all I’ve got to say. Here we go…
New Japan Rumble
A pre-show battle royal. Silly and fun, if not particularly good. Jado won. No rating.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (c) vs. Roppongi Vice vs. Sydal & Ricochet vs. The Young Bucks
This was a great opener. Spots both high and contrived abounded, but were executed so well it would be churlish to complain. Cody Hall involved himself by launching Ricochet to the outside with a Razor’s Edge after a succession of big dives by everyone else and there was a funny eight-man suplex bit where Romero struggled to find a gap for himself. That got a replay, naturally. Stereo Shooting Star Presses from Sydal and Ricochet failed to get the job done and The Bucks hit More Bang For Your Buck to take the win and the titles. ****
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Toru Yano & The Briscoes vs. Bullet Club (Fale, Takahashi & Tonga)
Not much to see here. The Briscoes connected with the Doomsday Device thanks to some help from Yano and a chair and the Bullet Club were vanquished. Yano and the Briscoes are your first-ever NEVER Openweight 6-man tag champions. No idea why Yano didn’t get the pin here, since that was the only real payoff. In any case, this was fine if a little long, and Yano was the only one getting a reaction. **
Ring of Honor World Championship
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Michael Elgin
Big Mike spent the early going impressing the crowd with feats of strength before Lethal hit a trio of suicide dives to take control. He landed flush on the barrier on the first one and looked to be struggling from that point. Elgin came back into the match with a deadlift suplex and some shitty “lariats”, and later still connected with the Cesaroplex Falcon Arrow and buckle bomb to set up the spinning powerbomb, but Lethal clocked him with a deadly hardback book (the Japanese version of The Book of Truth his manager had brought out with him) and hit the Lethal Injection to retain his title. I was expecting more of a reaction for Elgin and a better match from both. **1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Kushida wore his usual Marty McFly entrance gear and who was in the ring to welcome him but Doc Brown (Taguchi) himself! The Bucks accompanied Omega to the ring and attacked Doc Brown before the match, the bastards. Kenny’s weapon of choice, the trash can, was much used in the opening minutes before he nailed a tope con hilo. He stayed on top thanks to shenanigans until Kushida tilt-a-whirled into the Hoverboard Lock (Kimura), only for Omega made the ropes. Kushida hit a tope from the top rope to Omega on the outside, and back in, a moonsault got two. Omega escaped the Hoverboard Lock once more by dumping Kushida on his head with a suplex, but the challenger hit an armbreaker from the second rope and a straight punch before missing the Midnight Express (corkscrew moonsault). Omega caught him with a Croyt’s Wrath, but Kushida transitioned into a Hoverboard Lock once more. The Bucks tried to interfere but Doc Brown attacked them! Omega came back with a succession of stiff knees before attempting the One-Winged Angel, but Kushida rolled through for the three-count to become the new Junior Heavyweight champion. This got going after a slow start and built well. The crowd are into Kushida, so let’s hope New Japan stick with him for a while. ***1/2
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Anderson & Gallows) vs. Great Bash Heel (Honma & Makabe)
Gallows’ wife got another payday by carrying her husband’s belt to the ring. Nice work if you can get it. Anderson: “Eight Wrestle Kingdoms in a row, that’s fucking Undertaker style.” It was even in the opening exchanges, until Gallows used Makabe’s own chain against him, wrapping it around his arm and nailing Makabe’s surgically repaired jaw. The champs then got to work with punches and forearms and the crowd really got into it. A lariat turned the tide and Honma got the tag. The Kokeshi hit(!), but Bullet Club were soon back in control through nefarious means. Spinning Gun Stun got two, Magic Killer was broken up, and Honma and Anderson were left alone in the ring. Rocket Kokeshi! Honma up top – blocked. A big running powerbomb from Anderson for two. Soon after, the Doomsday Kokeshi took out Anderson, then a top-rope Kokeshi followed by the King Kong Knee Drop got the three-count on Gallows. Honma and Makabe are the new tag champs! A good match with a hot crowd which made for a very satisfying conclusion to several years of Honmania. ***1/2
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito, accompanied by Bushi and Evil, wore a white suit and weird fluffy gap-toothed mask to the ring. A minute or so in, Naito hit Goto with a neckbreaker from the apron through a table on the outside and was in firm control until Goto reacted badly to being spat at and dumped Naito on his head with a lariat. After a few minutes of back and forth, Goto hit Kaiten from the top rope for two, then Naito came back with a lariat and top-rope frankensteiner for a two-count of his own. Elbow battle! Ushigoroshi from Goto. Ref got bumped and while Los Ingobernables did their best to interfere, Bushi misted Evil by mistake. Nevertheless, a low blow and jackknife pin got… a two-count only! Destino blocked, Shouten Kai connects! And that’s all she wrote. An unexpected result and no mistake. I fully expected Naito to take the win here and go on a tear, but I have no issue with that outcome. ***
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
As you might expect, there were slaps, chops, kicks, lariats, and eventually, wince-inducing headbutts. The pacing is what, in my opinion, makes these types of matches and Shibata and Ishii are experts in that regard. There was no climactic sequence as such, they simply slugged it out until one or the other could not continue. In the end, Shibata hit the Penalty Kick and got the win at 17 minutes, picking up his first ever singles titles in the process. Great stuff. ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. A.J. Styles
Even New Japan was promoting this as a ‘Dream Match’. No pressure, guys. And I’m already taking a quarter-star off for Nakamura’s crushed velvet blouse – not even Swagsuke can pull that look off. Neither man was able to get the advantage in the opening exchanges, so Styles played possum with his back injury in order to get on top. Then, this being wrestling, and Styles having a real back problem, that’s the body part Nakamura actually went after, adapting his regular moveset to target it. At this point, I’m not ashamed to admit, I failed to take note of what was happening and just watched the match. I did, however, note that the Fujiwara armbar/Styles Clash/kick-out sequence was insane. The closing stretch was fantastic, Nakamura hit a Landslide from the top rope, then followed with the Boma Ye, then another, to ensure Styles wouldn’t kick out. And he didn’t. Nakamura retained at 24 minutes. We got a post-match fist bump and the crowd loved it. They started slow, almost too slow, so it took a while to really warm up, but once it got there it stayed there. Because of prior expectations, it might better than my rating, it might not – I need a rewatch. ****3/4
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
The final chapter of a years-long rivalry and twelve months alone to get us to this match, the result of which was never in question. Right? Because around fifteen minutes in I’d forgotten who was supposed to be winning and totally bought in to whatever was going to happen next. That doesn’t happen very often these days, but when it gets you, and you’ve entirely suspended disbelief, pro wrestling is just the best. The winner was the man it was always going to be (Okada with a Rainmaker at 37 minutes), but until the three-count happened even the most cynical of fans might’ve doubted it. Masterfully built, a stunning wrestling match. *****
Final thoughts: The top three matches delivered in the biggest way possible and that’s what this show will be remembered for. If we’re nitpicking then the couple of matches that followed the opener fell flat, but from around the halfway point of Omega/Kushida we were rolling, and it didn’t let up from there. A damn fine wrestling show.
I’ll be back for the next big show. See you then.