NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling Review

Evil is coming. Credit: NJPW

For the first time this year, New Japan comes into a major show having been merely alright last time around. Destruction didn’t set the world on fire, but, King of Pro Wrestling is not Destruction, and, on paper at least, this was one hell of a card. Let’s dish out those stars.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and BUSHI) defeated Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Leo Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi) 

Bow down to the cat. Credit: NJPW

Leo Tonga stands out on the New Japan roster for good and bad reasons. He is a big boy, and if he fills out a bit he’ll be a legit monster, but he’s their worst wrestler, and I’m including the Young Lions in that. He’s going to have to improve quickly to not stick out in matches like this.

The other talking point from this was the Daryl distraction. Look, I know Hiromu’s fall from top guy to comedy act coincided with all this stuff, but I can’t help it, I love that cat. It makes me smile, and I am of the opinion that anything that makes you smile is a good thing.

Verdict: Two Stars

CHAOS (Toru Yano and Hirooki Goto) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.)

Suzuki vs Young Lions > Suzuki vs Yano. Credit: NJPW

I love the idea of Suzuki yet rarely enjoy the reality. Him beating up Yano has its moments, yet I have no interest in an extended feud between the two of them. It’s an incredibly limited story to follow. Either Suzuki kills Yano and wins or Suzuki destroys Yano and Yano sneaks a victory.

Sadly, this match was built around that feud which meant we didn’t get anywhere near enough Sabre Jr and Goto. Disappointing all round.

Verdict: Two Stars

Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Funky Future (Ricochet and Rysuke Taguchi)

I’m going to have to learn which one is which. Credit: NJPW

While I have had it up to my back teeth with Suzuki’s antics, I still love Taguchi Japan’s. They bring the best out of everyone they face and that continued to be the case against the returning Roppongi 3K, SHO and YOH.

It wasn’t entirely down to them of course, SHO and YOH’s Young Lion run was before my time, but they looked good there. They are smooth as hell and had some lovely double team offence. The Junior Tag Division needs some fresh talent and they look like the perfect fit.

The one downer from this match is the worry that we might be coming to the end of Ricochet’s time with New Japan. It’s no secret that WWE wants him, and with Lucha Underground’s slow death that move is on the cards again. Ricochet is one of the best wrestlers on the planet, and the idea of him in a promotion that might not realise that makes me sad. Fingers crossed that wherever he ends up, he continues to be a star.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Killer Elite Squad (Vance Archer and Davey Boy Smith JR) defeated War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) and Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)

Hanson is slain. Credit: NJPW

Wow, what an original match. Congratulations Gedo on your inventive booking…

No, seriously, it’s okay. The elimination stipulation makes it totally different…

I’m trying, alright!

Look, this was another entertaining encounter between three great teams. The problem isn’t with the wrestlers. All six of them work their arses off, and you could get multiple decent feuds out of them. The problem is that we haven’t gotten that. Instead, we’ve had them lumped together in the same match time after time. It doesn’t matter how hard they work, we’ve seen it all before.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll and Cody) defeated CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Jado and Beretta)

They certainly enjoy themselves. Credit: NJPW

Beretta is great. I don’t have much more to say about that.

This was about setting up YOSHI-HASHI and Kenny Omega, the bafflingly random match at Global Wars in Chicago. I’m sure it will be good. I just don’t understand why it’s happening. I’m also not sure that fun-time Bullet Club is the best way to sell it, but with Kenny still recovering from surgery, I don’t have a major issue with him taking it easy. I do wish we could see a bit of serious Scurll in NJPW, though.

The action was entertaining if predictable, and while everyone had fun, it’s the kind of thing we’ll have forgotten about by this time next week. I think I’d have been a bit higher on it if it had ended five minutes sooner.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Juice Robinson and Kota Ibushi defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe

Flying Ace. Credit: WWE

We’ve done Omega and YOSHI so it’s time to do Tanahashi and Ibushi. It’s fair to say that one of those matches gets the blood pumping more than the other. Despite that, perhaps the most impressive part of this was Makabe taking a bump, he obviously had his worker boots on.

It was also interesting to see Tanahashi going into arrogant Ace mode, something I assume we’ll see versus Ibushi. He’s a master at subtly working heel and never makes a big deal out of it. Instead, he allows the fans to pick up on it themselves and make their own decisions.

There was one final nice surprise as rather than the expected finish of Makabe pinning Juice we got it the other way around. It’s got to the point where he picks up the wins in these tag matches, and that’s a lovely thing to see.

Verdict: Three Stars

Will Ospreay defeated KUSHIDA to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title

They are too damn good. Credit: NJPW

‘You’ve beaten me four times so I deserve to wrestle you again.’

‘Yea, alright then.’

That was the build-up to this match, and it was stupid. However, it’s ended with Will Ospreay holding the Junior Title and that is a good thing. It’s been a long road for Young William and he’s finally where he deserves to be.

You also shouldn’t need me to tell you this was good. If you do, you’re probably doing this wrestling stuff wrong. The question isn’t whether it was good, but whether it was the match of the year or just a match of the year contender?

What I love about these two is the aggression that they go after each other with. If Ospreay and Ricochet’s matches are style and grace, Ospreay and KUSHIDA are style and violence. They lay into each other, and are as likely to trade strikes and submissions as they are flips and dives.

Then there is the speed they work at. I assume these two men have total faith in each other because they jump before they look and the other one is always there to catch them. It’s a beautiful representation of everything that pro-wrestling can and should be.

This was a near-perfect end to a near-perfect series. It felt like KUSHIDA had an answer to everything that Ospreay had. That he knew him too well and was therefore destined to win. Will wasn’t willing to accept that, though.  This time he wouldn’t take defeat and in the end, he finally got the victory he wanted so badly. Match of the year? It’s in the reckoning.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

A quick word on the post-match shenanigans. I assume the plan is for Ospreay to defend against Scurll at Power Struggle before Takahashi gets his shot at Wrestle Kingdom. Both of those matches should be fantastic.

Tetsuya Naito defeated Tomohiro Ishii

Ishii doing Ishii stuff.

What I said about not needing to tell you that Ospreay and KUSHIDA had a good match applies here too. Naito and Ishii never fail to deliver, and in an unsurprising move, this followed that trend. These two are masters of psychology. We all knew Naito was going to win, yet they drag you into their journey and when Ishii hit the brainbuster off the Destino counter for just a second you begun to wonder.

A huge part of that psychology is the fact that they don’t rush their matches. Naito starts things so slowly, dodging around his opponents and slipping out of their grasp. It’s such a simple thing to do and it lulls you in, you relax and then the action comes thick and fast and you’re being pulled along behind it. Ishii meanwhile feels legit. You buy that he is a brick wall of a man who will chop you down until you can no longer stand. It doesn’t matter that he loses more of these matches than he wins, he’ll always have the aura of Ishii.

This was very different from KUSHIDA vs. Ospreay, however, once again, it was a perfect example of how to do professional wrestling. Of how to work a crowd and how to get people emotionally invested in what you do. There is little complex in the offence of these men and you still come out the other side exhausted from the thrill ride that you have been brought on.

Verdict: Four Stars

Kazuchika Okada defeated Evil to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title

That damn dropkick. Credit: NJPW

Much like the previous match, we all knew how this one was going to end. There was no way that Evil was going into Wrestle Kingdom as champ. This was all about how the King of Darkness performed on the big stage. Could he main event a major show with Okada and not look out of place? Like Naito and Ishii, could he make us believe, even if just for one pinfall, that he was going to win?

Sadly, the answer was no. This was worked like an Okada main-event (because it was one), and I wonder whether that was a mistake. Rather than the slow war that Okada has made his own, would it not have been better to work this as a sprinted battle? To let Evil shine in a fifteen or twenty-minute match instead of having him go over half an hour. Evil’s brawling style isn’t suited to a match constructed like this.

Which isn’t to say this didn’t have its moments. When the pace did pick up, Evil looked great. Few people can put together a fast series of counter and counter-counters than the Embodiment of Evil. Part of what has made his feud with Okada so interesting is the numerous ways that he has slipped out of the Rainmaker and used its momentum for his own good. That continued here.

Plus, it was an Okada match and Okada is the best wrestler in the world for a reason. The moment where he ducked under the thrown chair during his dive over the barrier was a touch of genius while the subtle selling of the neck was masterful.

This was by no means a bad match, but we’re used to seeing perfection from Okada, and it wasn’t that. It was merely very good. I don’t think it ends Evil’s run as a main-eventer and I think he is more than capable of competing at this level again, it’s just going to be a while before he could even be talked about it connection with that big belt.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Overall Show

These boys are good at wrestling. Credit: NJPW

This was a fantastic wrestling show. As is the norm with New Japan, there were a lot of alright tag matches before we got to the good stuff, but the good stuff was very good. Roppongi 3K already feel like major players while Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA and Ishii vs. Naito were everything you’d expect them to be. Throw in a good main event and Destruction already feels like a distant memory.

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