It’s Kota vs Kenny time! I don’t think I need to say anything else, do I? Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega are going to do a wrestle, and we’re going to have a lovely old time!
Toru Yano (3-6) defeated Tama Tonga (3-6)
I have enjoyed Tama Tonga vs Toru Yano in the past. Yano being scared of Tama is always worth a laugh or two and, much like Sanada, Tonga plays an excellent straight man for The Sublime Master Thief.
However, the sight of Tama now leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are worse people in wrestling, but his gimmick over the last few weeks has rubbed me the wrong way. Not the in-ring stuff (I am well aware that he’s told to do that), but the attitude he’s displaying outside of it. If someone like Kenny Omega or Will Ospreay were showing the disrespect towards Japanese culture that Tama has, they’d be getting slaughtered online, heel or not.
This broke down into a clusterfuck. Tama shoved Marty Assami which brought out the Firing Squad along with every New Japan official from Tiger Hattori to Uncle Harold Meij in an attempt to stop them. Kenta Sato would then grab Tama by the hair to prevent him choking Yano which would lead to Tama Gun Stunning him and the match being thrown out.
New Japan is invested in this, and there’s no denying they draw heat from the Japanese crowds. It’s just not for me. I watch this product for in the in-ring work which this storyline is detrimental to.
Verdict: It’s not worth rating
Juice Robinson (3-6) defeated Hirooki Goto (3-6)
On paper, this didn’t mean much. In reality, it meant everything. Goto is the yardstick by which Juice Robinson has measured himself. Twice they’ve wrestled in singles contests, twice Robinson has fallen short.
And he came into this one bursting with the kind of dumbass American bravado that only Juice can pull off (at least while keeping it endearing). Before the bell had even rung, he ripped the cast off his injured left hand.
Luckily for Robinson, he wasn’t the only one coming in injured. Goto’s right arm was taped following his twisty battle with Zack Sabre Jr. For the first time, that allowed Juice to be the man. This wasn’t a stolen victory, it was the better wrestler getting the three, and that’s a big deal for our boy.
It was also a perfect example of New Japan’s long-term storytelling. The injury that Juice Robinson carried all tournament was put behind him as he hit the big left hand in the build-up to the finish (although Goto did bloke an earlier attempt by headbutting Juice’s hand which was a cool spot), and after a tournament where’s he struggled, he finally caught his white whale. Meanwhile, Goto has an out because of his injury. It allows Juice to be elevated while Goto doesn’t lose anything.
I love Juice Robinson. There’s no point denying it, so this match probably means more to me than it will someone who is ambivalent to him. If like me, you’re down with the Juice, you’ll love it too.
Verdict: Four Stars
Tomohiro Ishii (5-4) defeated Sanada (4-5)
There was a moment in this fight that summed up why I love Tomohiro Ishii. It started with him on the backfoot. Stumbling into the corner after a Sanada attack, the referee following to check if he was okay.
Ishii ignored the ref, though. He looked beyond him to Sanada, calling him forward. Sanada, naturally, accepted the invitation. Laying strikes onto Ishii’s exposed head.
Except, Tomohiro Ishii isn’t human. When someone hits him in the head, he doesn’t crumble from the blows. He drives forward, accepting them and relishing the challenge. Sanada, meanwhile, was somehow retreating despite being the man on the offensive. He didn’t want to deal with a machine which seemed to not only shrug off attacks but embrace them.
That’s a story you can only tell in wrestling. If you get smacked in the face in an MMA fight, you’re going down. If a boxer catches you clean, it is over. In wrestling, you can tell the story of a hard-headed bastard who refuses to give up. Tomohiro Ishii is my hard-headed bastard, and I love him for it.
There was a lot more to this match. It was a fantastic contest, and a fitting conclusion to a tournament Sanada can look back on with pride. He’s finally proven that he belongs among New Japan’s elite. However, for me, I will remember it for Tomohiro Ishii roaring at Sanada as he dared to hit him. That’s a wrestler that I will support to the bitter end.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Zack Sabre Jr (6-3) defeated Tetsuya Naito (6-3)
Do you want to know who else I love? Zack Sabre Jr and Tetsuya Naito. It’s safe to say I love a lot of these men.
Naito and Sabre are perfect opponents. Zack, the stroppy technical master, getting frustrated at Naito’s pissing around. Naito, meanwhile, is Tranquilo, however, underneath that calm surface, there is nothing he wants more than to win this tournament and prove he’s the best. These two are built from the same mould, they just show it in very different ways.
That chemistry extends to the wrestling. Summed up by a moment early on when Naito struck a pose and raised his arm in the air. So what did Zack do? Why, he put him in an armbar, of course. It was a simple moment and yet one that showed how inventive these two men are. They push each other to raise the game, and that’s always fascinating to watch.
The story was that Naito needed to win to have a chance of going to the final and in the closing stretch, just like on January 4th, his arrogance would let him down. Having hit a Destino, he should have gone for the pin. Instead, Naito went for a second one, and Zack reversed into a devastating Zack Driver. A move he hasn’t hit in a tournament match but has been teasing for the whole run. It was enough to end a fascinating bout.
Tetsuya Naito will one day go to Tokyo Dome and get the win in the main event. We all know that it will happen because it’s his destiny. However, New Japan isn’t going to give us that destiny on a silver platter. They are going to hold it in front of us and make us beg for it. When that moment comes, though? My god, it’s going to be sweet.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Kota Ibushi (6-3) defeated Kenny Omega (6-3)
Let’s make one thing clear. It was not physically possible for this match to live up to my expectations without Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi killing each other. They couldn’t do it.
And yet, this was incredible. It was a beautiful, violent display of what wrestling can be. These two men went out there and delivered everything they did with a viciousness that they couldn’t do with anyone else. Look at the snap as Kota hits the Last Ride or the way Omega fought out of the Reverse Hurricanrana by dropping Ibushi on his head. That’s only two examples of many, but it’s living proof that their love for each other gives them the ability to damn near murder each other.
This wasn’t just a collection of incredible moves either. There was a story here, one that tapped into what Kota has experienced all tournament. Early on, Omega was in the ascendancy. He appeared to have no issue bringing the violence he needed to take down Kota.
However, Kenny made a mistake. He didn’t kill the bastard. For as we saw against Ishii, if you want to get stiff with Kota Ibushi you better beat him. Because when that fire goes on in his eyes, he will come roaring back. He will climb onto your back as you are perched on the top rope and leap up driving his boots into the back of your head. The Golden Star will give you everything he has to get the win.
Which is what he did. He battled out of multiple One-Winged Angel attempts while Kenny became the first person to kick out of Kamigoye. However, this had to end, and like he did back in DDT in this very building, Kota Ibushi beat Kenny Omega in the centre of the ring, one-two-three. Fucking hell.
You want to know the crazy thing? It felt like they held a little bit back. I have zero doubt that they could go to the next level and perhaps a level above that one. Now the question is, are we going to get that in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom? Did they hold back because they know they’ll be doing it on a bigger stage in just a few months from now?
I adored this. My Magical Beautiful Elf-Man won, and he did it against his Golden Lover. Post-match as he and Kenny embraced it was hard not to get a bit emotional. Think whatever you want about those two men, but they clearly adore wrestling each other, and I might enjoy watching it even more.
Verdict: Five Stars
Well, that was a bit good, wasn’t it? Fuck me. I love this shit. Take Tama out of it (and let’s face it, that’s the best way to do it), and this was a near perfect show. Every match slowly ramped up on what we’d seen before, and it all built to that glorious crescendo of chaotic aggression. I love it, I love it, I love it.
Top Three Matches So Far
- Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii – Five Stars
- Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Five Stars
- Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega – Five Stars