King Of Pro Wrestling 2018 Review

Kota is pissed. Credit: NJPW

There are rumblings of discontent in the New Japan stratosphere. Triple Threats, Gaijin champions and a worry that creative is struggling to get the most out of certain stars (*cough* LIJ *cough*). However, if there’s one thing NJPW does well, it is big events, and King Of Pro Wrestling is one of their biggest. Could this be the moment they get everyone back onside? Let’s find out.

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask

Those pesky Suzuki-gun boys repeated their shenanigans from the non-title bout as they attacked Liger and his grumpy kitty pal during their entrance. They then proceeded to be unsavoury by beating the crap out of the legends and yanking at their masks.

That’s a style of wrestling that I complain about quite a lot, and there are issues with it, but I think Despy and Kanemaru have nailed it during their title run. They’ve been facing off against uber babyfaces and are excelling in their role as total pricks. While it is central to their matches, it’s always done to set up the hot comeback, and Liger came barrelling into the ring bursting with fire when he finally got the tag.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough as the bastardry would ultimately prove decisive. There were whisky sprays, ref bumps and a low blow all of which set up Despy for Pinche Loco. Even with all those shenanigans, this was a damn fine opener. A burst of frantic action where everyone in the ring gave their all. This might have looked very different from the matches The Young Bucks used to deliver in this spot, but it continued their tradition of excellence all the same.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) defeated Juice Robinson and Toa Henare

This was Great Bash Heel’s first straight up tag match since Honma returned. Subsequently, it was a big test for him as he was required to do a lot more work. Togi Makabe ain’t picking up nobody’s slack.

And it’s possible he passed said test. He’s a bit slow and awkward in the ring, but it’s not like Honma was a super worker before the injury. He gets by on his charisma and dropping Kokeshis. At no point did he look likely to injure someone, so it’s hard to complain.

As for the match itself, it was fine. A solid tag team bout. Henare going up against his mentor Makabe was enjoyable while he almost got the win with his rugby inspired Spinebuster on Honma. Plus, Juice was there, and who doesn’t love Juice?

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

The Bullet Club OGs (Taiji Ishimori, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale) defeated The Bullet Club Elite (Hangman Page, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson and Chase Owens)

The Young Bucks don’t have any titles. That’s a rare thing indeed. Sadly, The Bullet Club OGs have quite a few. Hands-up if you’d forgotten they had the NEVER Six Man belts. Put both up if you’d forgotten they existed.

This served up a burst of Nick Jackson vs Taiji Ishimori which was all kinds of exciting. It could have used a bit more of that. Unfortunately, we were working the story, so we were treated to a lot of brawling and working over of poor Matt’s back. He’s still doing a sublime job of selling that injury, though.

Someone who wasn’t doing such a good job was Tanga Loa. There were moments where people were hitting him, and he was just stood there. I thought he was no-selling at first, but nope. He apparently couldn’t be bothered bumping or even flinching. It was weird.

There were enough talented people in this for me to have a bit of fun. I can’t dislike something that includes good boys like Chase and Hangman. Even with that, it was a long way from being a classic.

Verdict: Three Stars

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto and Will Ospreay) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi and Takashi Iizuka)

Sweet baby Jesus, it’s not Suzuki-gun vs LIJ! Are we finally done with the feud that would never end? Although it probably means that we’re set for a few months of Suzuki-gun vs CHAOS instead.

Unless you’re new to NJPW, you can close your eye and picture most of this. It was the wild brawl that every Suzuki-gun multi-man is. In fact, with both Iizuka and Taichi in there it was probably worse than usual.

Thankfully, it came alive when Suzuki got into the ring. He started off against Goto as they relived their feud from earlier in the year before Ishii took over and started slugging it out with the King. They’re set to face off at Global Wars for the British Heavyweight Title which will be a treat. There was a moment here when Suzuki rose up from an Ishii beating with a demonic grin on his face and a touch of blood on his teeth. That made every Iizuka bite worth it.

Then we finished things off with a not so shocking shock. More than one person had predicted this tag was set up to push Young William into the NEVER Title picture and that’s what it did as he, a Junior, pinned Taichi, a heavyweight. That’s not so much a rarity in New Japan as an impossibility. It also meant we got the beautiful moment when his two dads (and bastions of the NEVER division), Ishii and Goto, celebrated with him. Things just got a little bit interesting, and once we got past the shenanigans, this was very good.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Shingo Takagi and BUSHI) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO, YOH and Toru Yano)

Naito loves to keep people waiting, doesn’t he? After much teasing, he finally revealed the newest member of LIJ, Shingo ‘The Dragon’ Takagi. Shingo was the favourite for the spot, but it’s still damn exciting because the man is ace. He’s also small enough that he can work as a Junior in NJPW despite being one of the bigger guys in Dragon Gate and he’s set to team with BUSHI during Junior Tag League.

Once all that pomp and circumstance was done with, we got a decent match. There was a hell of a lot of talent in that ring, so it was unlikely to be anything else. Anytime you get a taste of Okada vs Naito you are going to have a lovely time.

Elsewhere, Sanada did some Paradise Lock stuff while SHO and YOH always look great. They’re a bit part of why I’m looking forward to Junior Tag League as it means we’ll get regular matches from them. Finally, Shingo had an impressive debut. It might take him a while to capture the LIJ attitude (you could see him trying to figure out whether he should stand on the apron or not), but in the ring, there were no problems as he put SHO away with Last Falconry (which has been renamed The Last Dragon). While this was more about the debut than the action, the action was still good.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr was ruled a no contest

EVIL got all fancy with his entrance as he was pushed/pulled down the ramp on a ridiculous chair by some scary masked fuckers. Then one of those fuckers attacked EVIL as he made his way into the ring. That particular fucker was wearing the IWGP Intercontinental Title. He then hit EVIL with a Codebreaker. No idea who it was, though.

I’m kidding. It was, of course, Chris Jericho and this was an interesting decision by NJPW which left me in two minds. On the one hand, this is a bit more of that Western-style booking people have been talking about. The only time I’ve seen New Japan not deliver a match they’ve promised is because of injury. To have one stopped before it starts is very unlike them and will piss some people off.

On the other hand, Jericho attacking after the bell had become very predictable. Everyone suspected it was coming. Flipping it around to have it happen before the event meant it was still a small surprise and they can always go back to EVIL vs Sabre at a later date.

Plus, it led to a cool moment when Zack snapped and started attacking everyone in the ring because he wanted the match to go ahead. That brought Naito charging down with a fire that we very rarely see from the man who preaches Tranquilo. It’s a lovely little insight into the bond he shares with his LIJ teammates and only serves to make him all the more likeable. Plus, it means Sabre vs EVIL has been upgraded to Sabre vs Naito and that can’t be a bad thing.

So yea, while I won’t be giving this a rating, it gets the thumbs up from me.

Verdict: NA

KUSHIDA defeated Marty Scurll to win the vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title

I struggled with the early parts of this as KUSHIDA and Scurll took a while to get going. There was a lot of rolling around on the ground with not much in the way of excitement.

Thankfully, the longer they went, the more they upped the aggression. It was the period where KUSHIDA and Scurll were taking it in turns to knee each other in the face that saw things really explode. Suddenly, this graduated from exhibition match to war.

From there, these two were able to focus on what they do best. KUSHIDA, as usual, went after the left arm. He’s looking for that Hoverboard Lock with anything he can do to set it up being clasped gratefully. Scurll, meanwhile, isn’t as focused. He just wanted to put KUSHI down, hitting multiple Superkicks and always looking for the next big move.

Weirdly, though, it would be Scurll’s limb work that almost proved decisive. At one point, Marty stamped on KUSHIDA’s hand which made it impossible for KUSHIDA to latch on the Hoverboard Lock. That was the respite The Villian needed as he hit that Side Piledriver thing he’s been doing before going for The Graduation. Unfortunately, for him, KUSHI wasn’t dead yet and battled out before hitting a pair of Back To The Futures for the win.

This was good without being great. Marty just doesn’t do it for me outside of the ever ongoing Ospreay feud. In there with KUSHIDA, his weaknesses were exposed. You can see that there’s a lack of a plan in what he does as he’s just heading towards the next big spot. In contrast, you always know why KUSHIDA is doing what he’s doing. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it. It just left me oddly flat.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Jay White to retain his right to challenge for the IWGP Championship at the Tokyo Dome

Switchblade’s gear was very similar, at least in the colours he was wearing, to that of Shinsuke Nakamura, the original leader of CHAOS. It’s those touches which make him stand out.

We’re also seeing the work Jay White has done throughout the year start to pay off. Knife Pervert is hated by the New Japan crowd, and it’s the right kind of hatred. Now, it’s time for him to go out and put on the fantastic matches that are NJPW’s calling card. If he can combine that with his character work, he’ll go to the top.

For this one, the story was simple. Some trickery from Gedo opened up Tanahashi’s knee to be attacked with White gleefully leaping on the opportunity. That allowed both of these men to do what they do best. White was all preening arrogance, mocking The Ace and strutting around the ring. Tanahashi, meanwhile, was the defiant babyface. Fighting from underneath and putting his heart and soul into the battle. Fed by the adoring cheers of the crowd.

And that defiance opened up a way back in. Tanahashi was able to hit a series of Dragon Screw Leg Whips and, suddenly, he wasn’t the only one with a bad knee. They started going back and forth, both men having to dig deep and find what they are made of. Dancing between reversals and throwing desperate strikes in an attempt to get the upper hand. That question of whether Jay White could compete at the level of New Japan’s best? Well, he was answering it.

It was a battle that Tanahashi appeared to win. That extra bit of experience perhaps proving vital as he was able to climb up top and hit High Fly Flow. He, as usual, followed up with the second and this was over right up until Gedo pulled the ref out of the ring. The roars of indignation from the Japanese crowd said it all.

Gedo tried to follow that up with a shot from his new brass knuckles, but Tana fought out. Then Tanahashi seemed to snap. He reached for the steel chair and slammed White onto it. Then climbing up top, he came down with High Fly Flow only for White to have gone missing. Tana slammed into the chair, and the narrative swung again.

Except, this is Hiroshi Tanahashi. He’s where he is for a reason. The time it took for Jay White to get a referee was all he needed to recover. As White went to put the full stop on his victory, Tana rolled up Switchblade and stole away with his contract once again.

Rating this is hard. I think New Japan walked the line between keeping White strong but having Tanahashi still go over well. The shenanigans prevented the match from being incredible, yet it was still damn good, and White is clearly a star. Fuck it, I really liked it. Let’s go with this one.

Verdict: Four Stars

The after match shenanigans are too varied to be summed up quickly, so I’ll stick with the big talking points. Gedo, Jado and, most importantly, Jay White, have joined the Bullet Club OGs. A move that a few people (including me actually) considered during the G1. Switchblade now has a stable behind him as the war with Okada continues.

I’m digging this story. GOD and Fale got ten times more interesting by being put underneath White and with Robbie Eagles being announced as Ishimori’s new tag partner, that stable is a strong one. Finally, White vs Okada at the Dome seems to be all but confirmed, and I’m looking forward to that particular fight.

Kenny Omega defeated Kota Ibushi and Cody Rhodes to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title

Well, this one is going to be decisive. I’m honestly not sure whether it was good or not. It had moments I loved and a few that I hated, so let’s split it up that way.

Firstly, Kota snapping was awesome. The moment when he decided he’d had enough of Kenny’s shit and just started beating him into a pulp was perfect. If NJPW is building up the idea that Kenny is holding Ibushi back and it eventually leads to Kota beating the snot out of him, I will be very happy.

A bad one, Kota took the pin. What the fuck is up with that? You’ve got Cody there, why not just pin him? They pinned him when he was ROH champion, so I doubt it’s because he’s holding the NWA belt, while the Heavyweight Title is obviously higher up the totem pole than the US. If they are planning to build to Kota vs Kenny again, then that feels like a mistake. Omega had never beaten Ibushi for a reason.

Another good one, they hid a lot of Cody’s weaknesses. He was involved with the tables and the chairs, but when it came to straight ahead wrestling, it was left to Kota and Kenny. That was the right way to construct this fight.

Sadly, I’m not sure if the Japanese crowd agreed. The atmosphere in the building was weirdly flat. Perhaps it’s because the result seemed obvious or, more likely, it’s because of a dislike of the three-way format. That’s not what that audience is used to, and I’ve seen some people online saying that Japanese Twitter was not a fan.

I’m going to have to follow-up with another bad one. As much as I enjoyed the construction of keeping Cody out of parts of it, it did feel like all three guys were just going through their big moves. Cody and Omega were particularly guilty of this (Kota at least had some sort of story running through the bout), and it served as a demonstration of Tanahashi’s complaints about Omega’s style.

So yea, a mixed bag main event. A glance around the internet suggests some people hated this and I wouldn’t go that far. I thought it was a fun clusterfuck. However, it felt like the kind of action you could see on a million indie shows. That’s where its fault lie. New Japan is not a million indie shows. It’s better than that.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Overall Show

I enjoyed this New Japan show, with caveats. It was very angle heavy and unlike most big NJPW event that left it lacking in great matches. Nothing from this card will feature on any MOTY lists which is a shame. However, it’s clear that Gedo is setting up big plans for the future and, with that in mind, it’s perhaps the case that they needed a show like this to get there. I still have faith in this company even if some others do not. We’ll find out eventually whether I’m a fool or not.

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