After an underwhelming Destruction tour (the G1 hangover is significant in New Japan), NJPW returns to the feud that built the modern day direction of the company. Okada vs Tanahashi. It doesn’t matter how many times these two do it, it never fails to get the blood pumping. Will Tana keep his spot in the Tokyo Dome? Or will Okada finally extinguish those post-title blues and get back to where he belongs? Time to find out!
Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura fought to a ten-minute time limit draw.
Tsuji’s decision to grow some facial hair was an excellent one. Suddenly, Yota’s a bit hunky.
This was the fifteenth meeting between these two with the fourteen that came before all ending in a time limit draw. So, it was no surprise to see this one going the same way. New Japan has tied these Young Lions together, and it will be interesting to see if one ever gets a win over the other.
That repetition is working for them, as they’ve put together a good match. Tsuji and Uemura work stiff with each other, laying into the chops and getting in each other’s faces. Tsuji zeroed in on Uemura’s knee at one point, even adapting to a Single Leg Boston Crab in an attempt to take advantage of it. It was followed by some good selling by Uemura as he hit a huge chop only to have his leg crumble out from underneath him. Sadly, one of the criticisms you can direct at them is that as the match went on, he seemed to forget about the injury, and Tsuji never looked to take advantage of it again.
Still, even with that minor fault, these two managed to get the crowd invested in what they were doing. As the seconds ticked down, they got noticeably louder and were roaring along as Tsuji stomped on Uemura’s stomach, desperate to lock on a Boston Crab in the final seconds. You won’t get much better than that from two people this early in their career.
Verdict: Three Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Shota Umino and Ren Narita
With Junior Tag League just around the corner, New Japan is bringing the Junior tag division out of its G1 hibernation. Plus, it’s a chance for our top Young Lions to show what they can do against a great tag team.
Brilliantly, SHO and YOH went out there and had a back and forth bout with the youngsters. I’ve been ringing the Umino bell for a while, but Narita is coming on well. He was given a lot of time in that ring, where he showed some fire that we had perhaps haven’t seen from him before. In the final seconds, he caught YOH with some roll-ups that got the crowd excited. People are beginning to get behind him.
SHO and YOH, meanwhile, are fantastic. Two wrestlers who wrestle very different styles, yet mesh them together to create something great. Even in a match like this one, where they could take it easy and run through their opponents, they give it everything, making the other team look as good as they do. It was a damn fine match.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask defeated Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado)
Kanemaru and Despy were naughty boys, attacking the New Japan Dads while they made their entrance before isolating the grumpy kitty. It then didn’t take Despy long to start tugging at the mask of Tiger, while neither man was particularly bothered about being tagged before they entered the ring.
Luckily, this meant we got a Jushin Liger hot tag which is always going to be a shitload of fun. I know it’s not entirely accurate to say he hasn’t aged, but when he’s hitting Super Hurricanranas, you do have to remind yourself that he’s in his fifties. The Thunder God can still go.
Amazingly, his team even went onto pick up the win. Tiger Mask avoided a Deep Impact before rolling up Kanemaru with the Crucifix Bomb. That’s quite a result for the New Japan Dads, and after the match, Liger got on the mic to say that he wouldn’t mind a chance to hold another title.
I’ve said it before, Jushin Liger matches always get at least two stars from me, so one where he earns a shot at the tag titles? That’s got to get three at the minimum. While it was too short to be anything special, there was enough to keep me happy, and a title match between the two teams could be a lot of fun.
Verdict: Three Stars
Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima), Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi defeated Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe, Ayato Yoshida and Tomoaki Honma)
We’re in the elderly portion of the show. The combined age of the Dads team was 196 while Makabe and Honma aren’t exactly spring chickens. I usually point out that Kojima and Nagata are great while Nakanishi and Tenzan struggle. Truthfully, though, the fact that any of those guys can still go at this level after decades worth of bumps is admirable. They’re also not afraid to be in the background and take roles where they are required to work with and put the younger generations over. When you consider Undertaker and Triple H are still working main events, that’s a lovely thing to see.
I came into this one determined to watch Honma closely. Truthfully, I never take these matches entirely seriously, but I’d seen some people point out that he appeared to be struggling on his return from injury. While I’m not sure if I’d say that was the case here, his work was limited. He got emotional in a post-match promo recently as he feels like he isn’t making a difference in the ring. That felt like a real moment rather than something scripted, and I do wonder whether he’d be better walking away. It was a horrible injury that he suffered and it’s a credit to him that he made it back. Perhaps it’s now time he hangs up his boots.
Those observations aside, this was another chance for Yoshida to show what he can do. He got a chance to mix it up with Nagata and delivered some fierce looking kicks to Blue Justice before being put away with the Exploder Suplex. It was a fine match that passed the time. Although in a week it will have merged with all the other fine undercard tag matches you see from this lot.
Verdict: Two Stars
The Best Friends (Beretta and Chuckie T) defeated Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr)
This was a step-up from the match these two teams had on the last show, and I really enjoyed that.
The difference here was that Best Friends were given more of an equal footing. For all intents and purposes, it became a Tornado Tag as these four men just at it. Killer Elite Squad continually giving chase while Chuck and Beretta used their brains to avoid them and even the odds.
It also featured a fantastic counter to the Hart Attack as Chuckie did the simple thing and ducked before dropping into a DDT. I love basic reversals like that. Although even that might have been topped by the sight of Lance Archer going for (and missing) a Moonsault.
For a while, it looked like KES were going to repeat their victory from Beppu as they hit the Killer Bomb on Beretta. However, at the last possible second, he twisted the pin around and trapped Archer’s shoulders for the three.
That was a shock result as I assumed KES were heading towards a title shot. The question is what does it mean for the future? Will we get a rubber match between these teams in America? Or are we going to see another situation where the Heavyweight Tags are defended in three-ways? Fingers crossed for the former.
Verdict Three And Three Quarter Stars
CHAOS (Jay White, Will Ospreay and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated Juice Robinson, David Finlay and Toa Henare
The troubles in CHAOS are being played up by the commentary team, with Rocky Romero joining Kevin Kelly and Mark (sorry, I can’t remember his last name) to have a voice from within the camp. YOSHI-HASHI’s fate is still playing a surprisingly significant role in proceedings.
In the ring, Henare teaming with Juice and Finlay is something that I can get behind. It’s three wrestlers who I will always enjoy watching as they bring in-ring ability and fun. Throw Will Ospreay doing Will Ospreay stuff in there and we’re all in for a good time.
The match was all a set-up for the final few seconds, though. Once again, YOSHI had an opponent (Toa Henare) held with their arms behind their backs only for them to duck when White came flying in with a forearm. This time, it wouldn’t prove decisive, though as White kicked out of the roll-up before flattening Henare with the Blade Runner for the win.
Interestingly, YOSHI looked like he wanted to get into White’s face post-match, but Ospreay got in between them before throwing his arms up and accepting that there was nothing he could do with the issue. The divides in CHAOS are growing, and it seems likely they will come to a head sooner rather than later…
All that aside, the match was alright. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables De Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada and EVIL) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr and TAKA Michinoku)
Honesty is good, right? Okay, I could not be arsed with this. It’s been done too many times, and I’ve written reviews for what feels like a hundred of them. If you’ve seen any of those, you’ve seen this one. The only difference is that we’re not getting EVIL vs ZSJ as well as MiSu vs Naito.
KUSHIDA defeated BUSHI in the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Tournament Semi-Final
I was watching this one with interest. KUSHIDA is fantastic, there is no doubt about that. My problem is that I don’t know whether BUSHI is good or not. Sometimes he looks great, at other times it’s like he can’t be arsed. This felt like a chance for him to show what he can do.
And you know what, I think he put on a damn good performance. It wasn’t the match I was expecting, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What caught me off-guard was the way they started. These two have history, and it looked like we were going to get some fiery beginnings. However, we instead saw KUSHIDA going to work on BUSHI’s arm, slowing the pace down and setting himself up for the Hoverboard Lock. Then, when BUSHI took over, he did similarly. Working a methodical style as they built momentum.
Thankfully, that decision worked out okay as it made it all the more exciting when they did up the aggression. It started with KUSHI hitting a Superplex before trying to transition into the Back To The Future. BUSHI battled out, and suddenly we were off. The strikes were flying before KUSHIDA unleashed an impressive reversal to one of BUSHI incredible Topes as he dropped him into a Fujiwara Armbar.
That was the perfect set-up for the closing stretch as KUSHIDA proved he had BUSHI well scouted. When he came off the second rope for the MX, KUSHI stepped to the side and slapped on the Hoverboard Lock. BUSHI would then spray the mist getting a close two off the Back Slide with a Bridge. Even blinded, though, KUSHIDA knew what was coming. When BUSHI went for the MX, he reacted on instinct, grabbing him out of the air and hoisting him up for Back To The Future before holding on to hit a second for good luck.
The opening exchanges might put some people off this one, but I thought it blossomed into a great match. KUSHIDA brings the best out of everyone he wrestles, and BUSHI proved no exception to that rule. I don’t want to take anything away from him, though. I went into this one wanting a big performance from him, and he gave me one.
Verdict: Four Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Kazuchika Okada to retain the right to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom
It’s the feud that built the castle that is modern day New Japan. I wasn’t watching when these two first faced each other and we’ve already seen it twice already this year. Yet, when Okada and Tanahashi stand across the ring from each other, I get goosebumps. For me, they are wrestling. They’re just kind enough to let other people play in their world.
The weight of that rivalry seemed to rest on both men’s shoulders in the opening seconds. They were almost tentative, neither one wanting to make a mistake. Then, Okada saw an opportunity. Rather than breaking cleanly, he threw a forearm. Suddenly, the nerves were gone as the two old foes stood in the centre of the ring exchanging strikes and calling each other on.
With that moment, the story of this match began to unfold. Okada was willing to do anything to get the win, but Tanahashi was just that little bit more desperate. He needed to prove he could still do this. That it was possible for him to pin The Rainmaker in the centre of the ring. Even when he injured his knee and Okada had tortured it with a Figure Four, he refused to accept a count-out victory having hit a Tombstone and a High Fly Flow on the outside. Instead, he dragged Okada back to the ring only for Kazu to get his knees up when Tana went for the second High Fly Flow. That very desperation was giving Okada a way into this match.
It looked like it was leading to disaster for The Ace too. At one point, Okada whipped him across the ring only for his knee to give out and for the living legend to collapse to the floor. Okada had introduced a merciless edge to his game, zeroing in on that leg as the boos came raining down. No-one tweaks their character the way Kazu does. Adjusting to his opponent and adding a streak of arrogance to the way he wrestles to suit the situation. He scented victory, and it was time to end the old man one and for all.
Except, if there is one thing Tanahashi has in bags, it’s fight. He fought out of Tombstones and slapped away Rainmakers. There might have been a focus on the change in Okada, but this is a different Tanahashi too. That desire to prove he still has it is driving him. Even Okada’s new Discus Rainmaker didn’t put him away. He kept fighting because he knows in his heart that this is his last chance. If he doesn’t go to the main event of the Dome this January 4th, he will never go again.
In the end, that desperation would prove decisive. As they battled on the top rope, Tanahashi lashed out with a slap, leaving Okada reeling. Then, in almost the same movement he pushed Kazu to the floor and followed behind him, coming crashing down only seconds after The Rainmaker had hit the mat. Okada tried to stand, but Tana was already up top again, following up with number two. Then, just for that cherry on the cake. Just to make sure that The Ace was still The Ace he believes he is in his heart, he dragged himself up there once again and flew through the air to finally regain his place at the top of the wrestling world.
FUCK! I love wrestling.
Verdict: Five Stars
Our night wasn’t over, though. As Tanahashi celebrated, Jay White snuck down behind him to hit a Blade Runner. As White stood over his opponent he snapped, switching his attention to Okada and tossing out the Young Lions who dared to try and stop him. Then, in the most YOSHI-HASHI moment ever The Headhunter attempted to make the save (actually getting a pop) only to trip on his way to the ring and end up wandering into the ring, bleeding and looking a bit lost. Fingers crossed he’s alright.
That wasn’t the decisive moment, though. That came when Gedo came to make the save, or at least that’s what we thought. After pulling a steel chair away from White, he ended up driving it into Okada’s back, turning on his former protege and stating that the Tokyo Dome title shot belonged not to Tanahashi or Okada, but Switchblade.
Damn, that’s quite some moment from NJPW. CHAOS has been split in two, we’ve set up Tana vs White and Gedo has gone big bad. There is going to be a lot of fun to be had with the fallout from this one.
I really enjoyed this show. I thought the two matches involving the Young Lions were great, we got a big win for Liger and Tiger Mask while KES and Best Friends managed to one-up themselves. Then, we got a good semi-main from KUSHIDA and BUSHI before Tanahashi and Okada went out and did what Tanahashi and Okada do, stole the show. As if that wasn’t enough, CHAOS descended into, well, chaos. New Japan might have saved the Destruction tour from mediocrity right at the end.