It feels only right to start this review with a shout out to those in Japan who were affected by the typhoon over the weekend, and I hope everyone looks after themselves. It feels a bit cheap to go from that to talk of card changes, as in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal, but it did leave Jon Moxley and Zack Sabre Jr unable to travel. Mox was the bigger loss of the two as his absence forced New Japan to strip the US Title from him and give the match to Lance Archer instead. Amazingly, that’s caused some conspiracy chat, which seems oblivious to the actual typhoon which makes cancelled flights seem perfectly reasonable. Anyway, that silliness aside, this was a hella stacked card, so let’s see what went down.
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) defeated Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH)
Despy’s back! He wandered out wearing the blood stained shirt that he wore when he was injured, so that was pretty badass. This was one of the matches that had to be altered as Rocky and DOUKI dropped out turning it into a straight tag, a move you could probably argue is an upgrade.
It didn’t take Despy long to get into the swing of things, attacking Roppongi 3K before the bell and delivering a spanking to YOH. He then feigned an issue with his jaw to gain an advantage, Suzuki-gun bating Roppongi in and then dragging them to the outside to introduce them to the ringside seating.
That set-up the formula that these teams have perfected across their many battles with Suzuki-gun played the pricks and Roppongi 3K the valiant babyfaces. When you threw in the fun of seeing Despy for the first time in ages, this was an easy watch. I wasn’t even that bothered by the finish coming from a spray of whiskey and a brass knuckle aided punch as Suzuki-gun warmed up for Junior Tag League by establishing themselves as contenders.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomoaki Honma defeated GBH (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano)
As has been the case all tour, this match was designed to celebrate Tanahashi’s twentieth anniversary. It was not only against his peer, Makabe, but another friend in Wataru Inoue came down to the ring with The Ace, paying tribute to the living legend.
Outside of the Tanahashi stuff, this was never going to be a great match. Honma, Makabe and Yano aren’t exactly super workers at this stage in their careers, and it was worked as a chance for each man to play the hits, from Kokeshis to turnbuckle pads.
Makabe and Tanahashi raised the intensity when they faced off, as they seemed unable to resist getting fiery with each other, but it was a snack rather than a full meal. Eventually, Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow on Yano for the three, and this was fun without being essential.
Verdict: Three Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito and Shingo Takagi) defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi and DOUKI) by disqualification
LIJ vs Suzuki-gun was our second match that had to be altered as Zack, Archer and BUSHI dropped out while DOUKI came in. We were also building to Naito vs Taichi as it’s been confirmed that they’ll face-off in a number one contender match for the Intercontinental Title at Power Struggle. Naito two belts still lives, people.
Taichi held the ropes open for Naito during his entrance before mockingly lifting his shirt to look for the belt. The match would then pick-up when those two got in the ring, as the lead Ingobernable is someone who brings the best out of the singing ballbag. Even a slight miscue on a Swing DDT didn’t take away from the fact they’re great together.
Shingo, meanwhile, removed DOUKI’s head with a Pumping Bomber only for Taichi to turn up with the microphone earning the DQ. Naito being Naito found that rather hilarious, but would be punished for his laughter when Taichi got the better of their post-match exchange, getting a visual pin fall after a Powerbomb.
That match was fine, and while I don’t love the DQ finish, I suspect that was brought about by the changes in the card taking pin-eater BUSHI out of the action.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Minoru Suzuki defeated Jushin Thunder Liger
I, like many, went into this match expecting a Kishin Liger fuelled bloodbath. Kishin had already tried to murder Suzuki via spike, so it didn’t seem that ridiculous an expectation. However, we didn’t get Kishin. We got Battle Liger with his stripped-down mask and bare chest and, I won’t lie, that left me slightly disappointed on first viewing. I went in expecting a horror film, and I didn’t get it.
The more I thought about the match, though, the more I suspected that while I didn’t get a horror film, I did get a great drama. So, I made myself go back and watch it again without the weight of expectation, and you know what? I was right.
Because the more you watch, the more it becomes clear that this was the perfect end to Jushin Liger vs Minoru Suzuki. For this feud has never been about Kishin, he’s a sideshow, a violent unleashing that MiSu loved, but didn’t want. It’s been about Keiichi Yamada, the man under the mask, not his alter egos. Suzuki wanted to fight that man one more time, and that’s exactly who he got.
And while these men might not have finished the match drenched in blood, this was still a hard-hitting war. They have a combined age of 105, and they beat the shit out of each other. Every submission was tight and every strike stiff. It felt like two stubborn old bastards going out there and going to war in an attempt to find the better man.
In the end, Suzuki won. He hoisted Liger up for a Gotch Piledriver and held him in the air for what felt like forever before finally crashing down. Liger was still to receive his victory, though. Post-match, Suzuki went to get a chair and looked ready to continue the war. Instead, he dropped to his knees, bowing down before The Thunder God in a show of respect from a man who has always seemed to have it for no-one. In return, Liger offered his thanks and on a show named King Of Pro-Wrestling, would you argue against the crowning of either one of these men?
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Will Ospreay defeated El Phantasmo to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
In a message on Twitter pre-match (that will have got over great with the Japanese fans), ELP claimed to be embarrassed about some of his previous actions and vowed to have a straight contest with Ospreay. He showed commitment to that claim by sending Ishimori to the back before they got started.
I can’t imagine anyone’s surprised to hear that would all turn out to be bullshit. It also caused the start of this match to be frustratingly slow as ELP’s overacting made the fact that he was eventually going to stop playing the good guy incredibly obvious. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long, and he’d rake Will’s eyes so that we could finally get down to some wrestling.
Things did pick up after that, Ospreay throwing ELP into Gino at ringside (Gino Piledrived him at a show in Australia recently) before Phantasmo launched a chair into Will’s face. ELP would follow up by leaping off part of the arena, which was only slightly ruined by the moment beforehand when two men who can walk on a top rope teetered ridiculously on a several foot wide ledge, pretending they were about to fall (Will would eventually hang off by his hands and drop down a distance of a few feet).
If you hadn’t guessed, I was not in love with this match. Perhaps I’m just a miserable bastard, but after the intensity and passion of Liger vs Suzuki, everything Ospreay and ELP were doing felt hokey. There is no denying that they are fantastic athletes who can do some incredible things, but they bring the worst out of each other, and the whole thing started to feel like a pantomime as they chewed the scenery in-between cool looking spots that make no sense. Look at the Oscutter Will hit on the floor. ELP steps into it! Why? Now I can only hope this is the end of Phantasmo’s run as a pushed talent in New japan.
Verdict: Three Stars
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated The Bullet Club (Jay White, KENTA and Yujiro Takahashi)
Can anyone explain how this match ended up above Liger vs Suzuki and Will vs ELP? I assumed we were going to get a big angle at the end, but it was mid-card fodder.
The highlight was KENTA and Ishii’s interactions as they picked up where they left off pre-concussion in London. That would be a perfect match for Power Struggle with the post-match brawl between the two suggesting that’s where we’re headed.
We already know we’re getting Goto vs White, and Goto picked up some momentum by pinning Yujiro. I’m still not sure why it was where it was on the card, but it was fine.
Verdict: Three Stars
Lance Archer defeated Juice Robinson to win the US Title Match
Juice’s entrance attire was, em, interesting. Anyway, as mentioned above, this was supposed to be Moxley vs Juice, but the typhoon ended that. Instead, Lance Archer gets a much-deserved shot at some gold, a shot that he somehow got to decide would be a No-DQ match. I’m not entirely sure why Archer gets to make those decisions, but they at least had Juice agree rather than foisting it on him.
Perhaps I am in a bad mood, but this was another match which failed to click with me. It was summed up perfectly by a moment early on where Archer Chokeslammed Juice through the time keeper’s table before spending a good five minutes doing some DIY, as he took turnbuckle pads off and propped chairs and tables in the corners. It took so long that you have to wonder why he didn’t just, you know, pin him.
From that moment on it became clear the No-DQ stipulation was hurting rather than aiding them. It was incredibly stop-start, never gaining any momentum. To be fair, I doubt it was aided by the fact that Juice seemed to dislocate his finger, but that didn’t change the fact it kind of sucked. Archer would finally win by repeatedly slamming Juice’s head into some chairs before putting on the Claw, and while I think he deserves a belt after the year he’s had, that was an underwhelming way to win it.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Lance wasn’t finished, putting the Claw on again after the match. That brought out a returning David Finlay to make the save and he looked in terrific shape as he hit a Stunner on Archer, presumably setting himself up as the next challenger. Although that hasn’t been booked for Power Struggle, so don’t be surprised to see a load of people crammed into a Dome match.
Kota Ibushi defeated EVIL to retain his contract for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Title at the Tokyo Dome
EVIL has had Kota Ibushi’s number recently. Not only did he beat him during the G1, but he’s twice pinned him in tag matches, as they tried desperately to add some drama to a match that, let’s face it, had little.
And that was the real battle taking place here. Could Ibushi and EVIL convince a crowd that always knew what the result was going to be to get invested in the action? Why yes, yes they could. The fans were brilliant here, clinging to the story of EVIL seemingly having an answer to everything Ibushi did.
The perfect example of that was the huge Lariat that Kota does, as he threw everything into attempting to remove EVIL’s head. The big man barely flinched, shrugging it off to batter Ibushi with one of his own. In moments like that, if you let your heart control your brain, you began to believe that he might just do it.
And, of course, that didn’t happen, but EVIL looked fantastic here. He seems to have found his groove in singles matches, rarely dropping below excellent in the big spot and the final minutes of this were thrilling as he reversed Kamigoye after Kamigoye before kicking out of one only to be hit with a second straight after for the three.
That was a huge performance from the big goth and another heroic babyface showing from Ibushi. The result might never have been in doubt, but the journey to get there was a shitload of fun.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Kazuchika Okada defeated SANADA to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title
All those problems that EVIL and Ibushi had with there being an obvious winner in their match? Yea, that was true for this one too, with the added caveat that we’ve seen SANADA vs Okada three times already this year and they were going to have to do something special to top what they did in the past.
And as much as I’d have loved them to do that by having a sprint (which they teased in the opening minutes), it was never going to happen. Okada and SANADA wrestle epics, and that’s exactly what we were going to get. This was a slow build of a match, the opening act laying bricks that were later built upon. For example, early on we saw Okada dump SANADA over the barricade only for the Cold Skull to sneak out of the draping DDT. So, the second time around, Okada didn’t bother with that. He leapt into the crowd instead, sending SANADA crashing through the chairs.
SANADA and Okada also had the benefit of a crowd that adores SANADA. Much like with Ibushi vs EVIL, they bought into this, playing the game and gasping for every moment where it looked like The Cold Skull might win. They helped you to forget that the result was never in doubt, making it easy to get caught in the ebbs and flows of the match as they cheered their beloved underdog. Not so much turning against Okada, as just making it known that they wouldn’t mind too much if he lost.
Which, ultimately, was the story of this match. Kazu is the emperor of New Japan, a swaggering god who as he arrogantly flies through the air for an Elbow Drop is easy to admire, but hard to adore. SANADA, meanwhile, might look like he was chiselled out of wet dreams (I wrote that, realised it was disgusting, and then decided to keep it in any way), but is flawed. He’s inches away from being one of the best, yet can’t quite do it, and damn the fans are desperate for him to find that magic.
Of course, he didn’t win this match either. However, there is no denying that he looks like a man who belongs in there with the Okadas of New Japan. As he went for a Tanahashi-esque pair of Moonsaults (the move that got the win during the G1), you could picture him coming crashing down and getting the three. Then, when he kicked away a Rainmaker following a Spinning Tombstone, desperately refusing to die, you wanted to believe. In the end, though, Okada had too much, as what was almost a Michinoku Piledriver proved decisive. However, I have never been more convinced that one day, and I suspect it will be sooner than later, SANADA is going to win one of these fuckers, and it will be beautiful.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Post-match, in a rare show of emotion, SANADA broke down, crying in the middle of the ring while Okada crouched next to him. It was a moment reminiscent of Okada being carried out of the Dome while Tanahashi stood tall once again and, honestly, it might be even more important than his performance in the match.
Okada’s promo saw him say that he wanted to do this again with SANADA in the main event of the Dome, before pointing out that this year’s event was now set in stone as he called out Ibushi. Kota cut a promo talking about winning the IC and Heavyweight Title, before pointing out that Okada being at the top has stopped being fun. It’s safe to say those were fighting words which fired the Rainmaker up, and it’s official, Ibushi vs Okada at the Dome. It’s still not quite sunk in that I’m going to be in the building for that match, but you can bet I’ll have a lovely time.
There was a period, between Suzuki vs Liger and Ibushi vs EVIL, where I was worried about this show. Thankfully, that turned out to be a waste of time, as the two main events saved the day. King Of Pro-Wrestling was a stacked card, and not everything hit, but there was more than enough greatness here to make this well worth a watch. Plus, I’m also going to assume that a lot of people will be higher on Ospreay vs ELP because, well, history suggests that will be the case. This is New Japan’s last big show before the Dome, and while the lack of jeopardy in the main event did hurt it, it was still great.
Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/