NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling 2016

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October 10th, 16:00 from Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall), Tokyo

Today’s show – one of New Japan’s biggest of the year – is headlined by Okada vs. Marufuji for the IWGP title, Kenny Omega vs. Goto for the Tokyo Dome title shot and Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly for the NEVER belt. Let’s get to it.

Here we go…

Special pre-show match
Tiger Mask W vs. Red Death Mask
So there’s a new Tiger Mask anime series in Japan on TV Asahi (also on NJPW World and Crunchyroll) and this match is a real-life advertisement for the show. If you ask me, this new Tiger Mask W looks very much like Kota Ibushi. I s--- you not. Red Death Mask seems to be Cody Hall. Considering neither man could see very well out of their masks, this was a decent little bout. Tiger Mask W hit a lovely triangle moonsault (I wonder where he picked that up) and a familiar sequence of kicks followed. A huge Baldo Bomb got two for Red Death Mask, but a german suplex and Tiger Driver earned the win for our hero. Ibushi turning down a WWE contract then turning up as Tiger Mask might be the most Ibushi thing he’s ever done. Who knows if this will be a one-off, but I kind of hope not. **1/4

CHAOS (Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii) vs. Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale & Adam Cole)
Cole made his New Japan debut at the last set of shows in a Ring of Honor title defence against Ospreay, but right now I don’t see quite how he fits in the company. There’s no space higher up the card for another foreigner, so for now he’s left to fill the Adam Page/Chase Owens spot. *My internet connection crapped out here, so I’ll return to it for a proper look tomorrow. CHAOS won.

Bobby Fish, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs. CHAOS (Baretta, Rocky Romero, Jado & Toru Yano)
Roppongi Vice (aka Baretta and Romero) teased some tension at the Destruction in Kobe show; something to keep an eye on during the Super Jr. Tag Tournament. *Same as the last match re: internet. CHAOS lost.

Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan (NJPW) vs. Masa Kitamiya, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Maybach Taniguchi & Go Shiozaki (NOAH)
They started with a big brawl around the ring, then TenKoji took charge for a bit, wailing on Taniguchi, before NOAH used nefarious means to target Kojima. Nakajima threw bombs, drawing boos, until Kojima connected with a Koji Cutter and Nagata entered the match to kick the crap out of the insolent Nakajima. He applied the Shirome armbar until Kitamiya interfered, and hot tags were made to Shiozaki and Nakanishi who traded chops before Nakanishi got the knockdown, then a lariat earned two. Time for everyone to hit their signature spots, including a double spear from Kitamiya on TenKoji, and Nakanishi kicked out of a 3D II. The pin off a brainbuster was broken up, but Shiozaki nailed the lariat on Nakanishi soon after to earn the win. Post-match, Nagata and Nakajima kickstarted another big brawl, so it looks like This Feud Must Continue and hopefully we get that as a one-on-one. This was great fun and had strong heat throughout. ***1/2

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. David Finlay & Ricochet
The elephant in the room is Matt Sydal, who missed the Destruction shows because of travel issues, and now it seems his New Japan status is in question, at least to the extent that David Finlay replaced him in winning the NEVER 6-Man titles and is teaming with Ricochet (Sydal’s regular tag partner) to challenge for the Junior Tag belts. More on this as it develops, I imagine. Finlay, meanwhile, made the jump from young boy a few months ago and is thoroughly deserving of this spot.
Finlay (in pink leopardskin trunks) and Ricochet displayed some nice double teaming early on, and after an extended sequence of fake-outs, Finlay threatened a dive, but received a double superkick for his troubles. Thereafter, the Bucks continued the beatdown in their customary fashion, before Ricochet was taken out with an apron powerbomb, and Matt Jackson asked for Finlay’s hot tag. That’s good heeling. Eventually, of course, Ricochet got the tag, and ran wild with the kind of crispness and confidence that makes a mockery of WWE’s talent evaluation. Back in came Finlay, but he was soon on the wrong end of a couple of near-falls – “you’re just a stupid young boy.” Superkicks all round, and a rope-hung swanton got a two-count, then Ricochet interrupted the Meltzer Driver and all hell broke loose. Ricochet was victim to a tornado DDT on the floor and despite a good effort from Finlay he eventually succumbed to a combination 450/moonsault and that was plenty for the win. The addition of Finlay was of benefit to the match, his selling and ground-based style added some much needed sinew, and he and Ricochet make for a good team. ***1/2

IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Briscoes (Mark & Jay) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
I love New Japan Pro Wrestling, I really do, but the heavyweight tag division is horrible. It was so refreshing earlier in the year to have the belts on a native team (Honma and Makabe) so the crowd would actually care about the matches and the sooner we get back to that the better. Tonga and Loa have been trying, bless them, and I felt their performance last month was their best yet, but the Briscoes have been around all year and don’t appear to care about adapting their style for the audience. Still, I may yet be surprised.
Tonga mocked Mark’s Crane Kick then got hit by it. Such is wrestling. They ran through the various combinations in hard-hitting fashion and there was much shouting, then Mark took the heat as Loa did his best to slow the match to a crawl. Hot tags made and Jay took out Tonga with a suicide dive, while Mark hit an apron blockbuster to Loa. Powerbomb/neckbreaker combo on Tonga for a near-fall, then Loa blocked the Doomsday Device and the GOD hit their own similar double team for a two-count. Another Doomsday Device was cleverly blocked by Loa catching Tonga and an assisted Gun Stun was followed by Guerrilla Warfare to give Tonga and Loa the titles for the second time. There we go then. This started with good intensity and the effort was there, but Loa in particular was sucking air from the early minutes, and the crowd’s interest seemed to dwindle despite some cool stuff in the closing stretch. **1/2

Post-match, the Bucks came in to celebrate then Ishii tried to break up the fun and received Guerrilla Warfare for being a party pooper.

***INTERMISSION***

“Time Bomb will soon blow up” promo and we’re back.

Jay Lethal, KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
Naito claimed the Intercontinental title from Elgin at Destruction in Kobe in a great main event, then lost a non-title match to Jay Lethal (who LIJ had recently turned on) at ROH’s All Star Extravaganza VIII pay-per-view. Tanahashi’s debut was 17 years ago today.
Evil’s Grim Reaper outfit never gets less silly and LIJ were not accompanied by the masked man who appeared a few times on the last tour. Anyway, Lethal had some early success to a decent response, before Tanahashi soon became the Ace-in-peril. Sanada’s Dragon Sleeper was countered to a spinning neckbreaker, and Kushida and Bushi had at it. Kushida launched himself with a tope con hilo, and somehow didn’t break his ankle on the barrier, then back in the ring Bushi reversed a handspring to a lungblower to bring Naito into the match. (Kushida dipped out of the match at this point – looked like he’d injured his wrist.) Elgin levelled Naito with a big boot, then ragdolled him and every other LIJ member who tried to interfere until Naito connected with the tornado DDT. Signature spots abounded, but Naito was on the receiving end of the Lethal Injection from Lethal and the buckle bomb and Elgin Bomb from Elgin for the three-count. Huh. I fully expected Naito to get his pin back from Lethal, but perhaps another IC title with Elgin is where we’re headed. A typically watchable multi-man, though nothing particularly special. ***1/4

Post-match, LIJ targeted KUSHIDA, and they did a rarely-seen stretcher job. Injury permitting, looks like a Junior title rematch is on the cards.

NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Hell yeah. Shibata beat O’Reilly’s ReDRagon partner Bobby Fish at Destruction in Tokyo in a very good (and overlooked) title match, then promptly disappeared from the tour with neck issues that probably should’ve kept him from competing in said title match. I worry for his health/sanity sometimes. Like Tanahashi, his debut was also 17 years ago today.
They jockeyed for mat dominance to begin, with Shibata forcing a rope-break then targeting the left arm of O’Reilly with a short-arm scissors. O’Reilly fought back with strikes and went straight for the armbar, which sent Shibata scrambling to the outside. (Shibata, by the way, is covered in tape for his multiple injuries.) Back in, O’Reilly used a hammerlock to control on the mat, then connected with his kick combination before hitting a backdrop and switching focus to the leg with a kneebar. Shibata brushed off O’Reilly’s chest kicks and nailed him with an elbow, then they traded kicks in the corner culminating in Shibata’s corner dropkick. Half-hatch suplex for two and the Cobra Twist was transitioned beautifully to the Manji Gatame until O’Reilly made the ropes. Big boots were traded, Shibata briefly grabbed a Guillotine Choke, and a capture suplex from O’Reilly got two. Brainbuster for a near-fall, transitioned to a triangle hold and Shibata got a foot on the ropes from the armbar that followed. Suplexes back-and-forth, big elbow from O’Reilly, huge kick from Shibata and the crowd was way into this. Elbows up from the knees then simultaneous high kicks put both men down. Lariat from O’Reilly for one, Penalty Kick from O’Reilly for two! Slaps from Shibata and a Sleeper put O’Reilly down for the Penalty Kick, but that wasn’t enough for Shibata, who clamped on the Read Naked Choke. The mouthguard fell from O’Reilly’s mouth and the referee called for the bell. Niiice. That was really good and felt different to the usual NEVER bouts. Started slow, but they got into a hell of a groove. ****1/4

Plenty of respect post-match for both members of ReDRagon. Then Go Shiozaki came out to face off with Shibata. Then EVIL jumped Shibata and left him laying with an STO (EVIL beat Shibata on Day 18 of the G1, so it’s good to see them paying that off).

Tokyo Dome Right to Challenge Briefcase
Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto
While it appeared Omega would be facing all those who defeated him during the G1, it now looks like he’ll be working his way through CHAOS en route to a possible/probable face-off with Okada. Kenny has rightly been protesting that the powers-that-be have given Goto another shot for no discernible reason. Omega was accompanied by the Young Bucks, natch, Goto by Yoshi-Hashi.
Goto smashed Omega on the head with the briefcase, DDT’d him onto it, then suplexed him outside the ring. Diving elbow into a chinlock and kicks and where has this Hirooki Goto come from? Omega hit back with a leapfrog bulldog and the Bucks hit superkicks to help turn the tide. A table was placed onto a prone Goto and Omega double stomped him from the apron! Missile dropkick back in the ring and Omega grabbed a modified camel clutch before laying in chops and raking the eyes. A high kick brought Goto some respite, and a heel kick and backdrop got a two-count, then Omega flipped out of a german suplex, spat at Goto and landed the Finlay Roll/Moonsault combo for a two-count of his own. A frankensteiner sent Goto to the floor and a lovely tope con hilo followed. The seconds fought over a table on the outside, while Goto and Omega fought on the top-rope, ending in Goto hitting Kaiten for a big near-fall. Omega roused himself to land a pumphandle backbreaker, but the attempted springboard was blocked and he was sent flying through Chekov’s Table! Goto dragged Omega back in the ring, rolling lariat, Ushigoroshi – two-count only. Sleeper locked in, but Goto avoided getting dumped like in the G1 final and hit an inverted Ushigoroshi. Shouten Kai! 2.9! Huge kick from Goto, GTR countered to a pin for a two-count, snap Dragon suplex from Omega. Heat off the charts! Elbow battle up from the knees, culminating in a jumping knee from Omega, but Goto fired back with a headbutt. Cross-legged Ushigoroshi from Omega for a near-fall. V-Trigger knee and despite Goto’s best efforts Omega hit the One-Winged Angel for the win. They started fast and barely let up, with a palpable desperation to win from both men and a high-level of intensity throughout. The addition of the Bucks and Yoshi-Hashi was unnecessary, but this was otherwise great stuff. ****1/4

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Naomichi Marufuji
Marufuji soundly beat Okada on the opening night of the G1 Climax and in every encounter since (including a GHC tag title match in NOAH on Saturday) has had the better of the IWGP champ. He has been portrayed as the question to which Okada has no answer and it’s made for a strong feud.

Marufuji came on top of a wristlock exchange, then Okada sent the challenger flying with a back body drop to take control, but Marufuji turned things his way when the fight went to the outside, nailing a crescent kick for good measure. Marufuji spent the next few minutes taking Okada to Chop City, walloping him with a barrage of shots until Okada was able to duck a charge, hit a back elbow and dump Marufuji with a DDT to kickstart the comeback. A huge dropkick sent Maruufji to the floor, where Okada landed a running crossbody over the barrier, but back in the ring, a kick combination from Marufuji put both men down. Chop, dropkick, and Marufuji spiked Okada with a piledriver on the apron! A springboard dropkick as Okada made his way back in the ring earned a two-count, then Okada managed a desperation flapjack. Reverse neckbreaker out of the corner and Okada’s diving elbow landed. Rainmaker signalled, but instead Marufuji locked in his triangle cobra clutch before hitting a lungblower. High kick from Marufuji, with an immediate shotgun dropkick response from Okada! Main Event Elbow/Chop Battle, won decisively by Marufuji, but The Dropkick hit the mark at the second time of asking. German suplex, Rainmaker blocked with a high knee. Another high knee left Okada in a heap by the turnbuckle, then the Shiranui connected! 2.9! The Emerald Flowsion was blocked, as was a second Shiranui, and Okada hit the Rainmaker. He picked Marufuji up again, but got small packaged for two. High knee caught and countered to a tombstone! Emerald Flowsion from Okada! Rainmaker! One, two, three. Those last few minutes were absolutely nuts. It was built slowly but effectively and they played up the story of Marufuji being a step ahead right until the last moment when Okada had just enough to get the job done. A real battle. ****1/2

Post-match, Okada and Gedo call out Omega. Omega to Okada: You are the symbol of New Japan, but you’ve been given everything, and I’m going to take it from you. Okada to Omega: I know you beat Tanahashi and Naito, but I am not them. I am on a whole other level and I’ll show you that level at the Tokyo Dome.

The confetti falls and we’re out.

To rephrase what I said before the match, Okada’s babyface character is someone who sees his opponents as problems to which he must find solutions. He’s not the guy who goes out there and does it through heart, he is – for the most part – a head guy (aren’t we all?) and that makes for an interesting watch, even if it doesn’t engender the kind of passionate response you get with a Tanahashi or Nakamura. There is no element of the underdog in Okada, he is competent and calculated, yet many of his best performances this year have come in matches where he has been out-fought or out-thought and that juxtaposition feels like a relatively complex dynamic for a “Face of the Company”.

Final thoughts: All the main matches delivered in spades, so it’s an easy thumbs up and the high quality more than counteracted what felt like foregone conclusions. New Japan have knocked it out of the park with their big shows this year and this one continued the trend. Hooray for wrestling.

Up next is Power Struggle at the beginning of November which will feature the final of the Super Jr. Tag Tournament. See you then.