Hi No Kuni is in a weird position, falling slap bang in the middle of the Dontaku tour. Part of it and yet also separate. However, it’s giving us a handful of big matches all involving LIJ vs Suzuki-gun, so let’s not complain too much. Even more importantly, that means there isn’t a sniff of Roppongi 3K vs Suzuki-gun. Thank God for that.
Yuji Nagata and Ren Narita defeated Shota Umino and Tomoyuki Oka
I’m always up for a bit of Nagata vs Umino. In general, I’m a big fan of the way that Yuji interacts with the Young Lions. He gives them a hell of a lot, but never once allows them to believe they can dominate him. It takes five Umino blows for him to flinch while only one of his sends the youngster to the ground.
Of course, he always gets the win. As usual, it was poor Shota that fell, this time to the Nagata Lock II. The day he finally gets his revenge will be a beautiful one.
Verdict: Three Stars
David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated CHAOS (Jay White, SHO, YOH and Rocky Romero)
Big Dave is still picking up victories as he Stunnered Rocky into next week. I am delighted about that. It suggests that New Japan has more plans for him than just playing Jay White’s foil and he’s well deserving of anything he gets. Big Dave for president!
The rest of this was pretty standard with the main takeaway being how beautiful it was not to have Iizuka involved. SHO and YOH are on the backburner at the moment, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Like Takahashi, they are the future of their division, and I have faith that when their time comes, they’ll step back up to that plate.
As a general rule, this was at its best when White and Finlay were in the ring. Sadly, there wasn’t enough of that to make it memorable.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Togi Makabe and Toa Henare
Our boy Henare only had eyes for Ishii. I hope they keep this feud going. It can be a consistent benchmark for where Henare is in his career. In the same way that Juice keeps getting closer to beating Goto, maybe Henare can do the same with Ishii.
I want to quickly talk about how strange Ishii and Yano are as a tag team. Not for the obvious reason of one being the court jester and the other being a man who headbutts walls, but also in their presentation. They don’t hit double team moves or have a flashy combined entrance. They’re two wrestlers who go out and do their thing and now and then decide to do it together. It’s a weird dynamic.
Anyway, the match was good. Much like the last one, it was at its best when the running feud was in the ring.
Verdict: Three Stars
Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Takashi Iizuka, Taichi and Taka Michinoku) defeated The Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi)
Christ, New Japan, this is a mixed bag. You’ve got Kota, Kenny, Chase and Zack, some of my favourite wrestlers. Then you’ve got Yujiro, Taichi and Iizuka, people who frequently make me want to skip forward. In the future can we maybe keep them all apart?
Nothing with all the wrestlers I mentioned involved is going to be horrible. It was worth it for the perfectly executed Cross Slash with added dives from Yujiro and Chase. That it was followed up by Chase high-fiving Kota made it all the better. On the flipside, I will say that Kota Ibushi should not have to put up with Iizuka biting him. Keep your dirty mouth away from that man.
The problem was that their brilliance was smothered by the shit around them. So, rather than a fantastic match, we got a decent one. It was good to see Zack getting the win, though. He appears to have gone full-time with New Japan so keeping him strong is the right decision.
Verdict: Three Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA and Michael Elgin defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay and YOSHI-HASHI)
Or, perhaps you could look up a local shelter or charity which helps sufferers of abuse and either donate to them or offer your services in some way?
Verdict: Fuck Michael Elgin
Bushi defeated El Desperado by Disqualification
If you’re a fan of people clawing at each other’s masks, then are you in for a treat! Bushi went all Suzuki-gun by attacking before the bell and tossing Despy into barriers, setting up the theme for a match that was primarily cheating built on top of cheating.
Sadly, I find all of that a bit dull. There were flashes here, moments where they’d leave the masks alone and actually wrestle, but they were kept to a minimum. Most of this was focused on the kind of crap you’d expect from these two.
Towards the end, it looked like Bushi had it wrapped up as he hit a Destroyer followed by a Codebreaker. Then, Kanemaru charged the ring and this one was thrown out. Despy and Kanemaru teamed up to try and remove Bushi’s mask leading to Takahashi making the save. Suddenly, we’ve transitioned into Takahashi vs Kanemaru.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Hiromu Takahashi defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru
It was a smart move from New Japan to weld these two fights together as it kept the pace of the show going. We started with Takahashi going for his John Woo off the apron only for Kanemaru to move out of the way and take control.
From there, Kanemaru went to work on Takahashi’s back, with the most notable instance being a Boston Crab in the ropes. It would prove a vital part of the story they were telling as several Takahashi comebacks were blown by his back giving out on him.
Hiromu isn’t the type of person who gives up, though. He kept fighting through that pain, and when presented with an opportunity he took it. When Kanemaru pushed the ref into Bushi, El Desperado came in to aid in the attack. However, Takahashi ducked Kanemaru’s whiskey spray, at which point Bushi reappeared, sprayed the mist and took out Despy. That left Takahashi free to hit the Dynamite Plunger, Running DVD and Time Bomb for the win.
This was a step-up in-ring as Takahashi makes things better. It also gives New Japan options going forward. They can either see this as the end of the feud between these teams or use it as a reason to provide LIJ with another title shot. It was nicely done.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada) defeated Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer) to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Evil and Sanada had learnt these lessons over the course of this tour. Rather than wandering into the Killer Elite Squad trap, they got ready outside the ring before charging into it.
Right from the start, KES took control, using their brute strength to bully Sanada and Evil. While the LIJ men aren’t small by any stretch of the imagination, in there with Archer and Smith, they look tiny. They looked even smaller when Sanada was being driven from the apron through a table with a Killer Bomb. Suddenly, Evil was on his own.
It’s not a situation that should work. The big goth bloke who carries a scythe to the ring isn’t a natural choice for your babyface in peril, and yet it did. Evil and Sanada have cemented themselves as babyfaces, and as KES dominated Evil, you wanted to see him fight back. He kicked out of their mockery as they hit a Magic Killer and just as they set up for the Killer Bomb Sanada came flying back in, saving the day.
From there, the momentum turned. LIJ had their mojo back. While things weren’t going their way entirely, they were going it a lot more than it had before. They almost had things wrapped up, but Archer pulled the ref out of the ring at the last second. However, they dealt with him by driving him headfirst into the steel chair he’d introduced before Evil put Smith away with the Evil.
I was at the bottom of the pile when it came to the Wrestle Kingdom bout between these teams. It was a bit dull in my opinion. This time around, they get the thumbs up by producing some damn good wrestling.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Tetsuya Naito defeated Minoru Suzuki to win the IWGP Intercontinental Title
Argh, these two frustrated the crap out of me. I almost don’t want to talk about it.
I’ve loved Suzuki’s title reign. Unlike his NEVER run, he cut out all the crap and became a dominant bastard of a champion. Even his brawl with Makabe wasn’t awful while he’s looked like a badass throughout. So, to see it come to an end in something that didn’t quite click was a real shame.
Because this should have clicked. Suzuki and Naito seem like a perfect pairing. Tranquilo vs Murder Grandpa. Naito getting under Suzuki’s skin and forcing the champion to act like the challenger was an excellent hook. Then the slow realisation from the top Ingobernable that he couldn’t Tranquilo this fight, he needed to fight back, or Suzuki was going to rip off his leg. That’s the kind of build that should produce magic.
So why the fuck didn’t it? Why the fuck did I come out of this sorely disappointed?
Well, sadly, the blame has to go at the feet of Mr Naito. For whatever reason, he was not on form and as good as Suzuki is, if he’s destroying your leg and I don’t believe it hurts, it doesn’t matter. Find a clip of Naito sitting in those leg holds and put it up next to one of Tanahashi doing the same thing. That’s where things went wrong.
Then, when it became Naito’s turn, it felt flat. He had his moments, delivering some great slaps on the lead into the finish causing a trickle of blood to run down Suzuki’s face afterwards. However, everything else he transitioned into felt sloppy. There was something that may well have been a neckbreaker, but it fell apart halfway through while his set-up for the brainbuster was awful. Then, he hit Destino, and that was that. Time to go home.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t some steaming shit heap of a match. It just wasn’t the Suzuki vs Naito that I wanted. I wanted two men going out there and trying to murder each other. I wanted the intensity that we’ve seen Murder Grandpa get out of Okada and Tanahashi. Instead, we got a match. That’s about the best we can say.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
We were a tremendous main event away from having a fantastic show. As it is, this will go down as one of New Japan’s weaker efforts. There’s nothing atrocious on it, with most of the matches hovering around the three-star mark but when you look back over the year, I’m willing to bet you won’t even remember that Hi No Kuni happened.