NJPW Wrestle Kingdom (4/1/20) Review

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Credit: NJPW

With Tokyo Joshi finished, it was time to go to the second most important show of the day. January 4th at the Tokyo Dome is a New Japan tradition, and even if they were running two dates there this year, there was something extra special about the first. Watching Wrestle Kingdom a few years ago got me into Japanese wrestling and, well, have a look around this site if you want to know how important that was to me. So, let’s find out what New Japan gave me on my first trip to their biggest show of the year.

STARS (Mayu Iwatani and Arisa Hoshiki) defeated Hana Kimura and Giulia

Superstar potential. Credit: NJPW

We kicked things off with a tag which most of you won’t have seen thanks to it being a literal dark match. Stardom and New Japan airing on different TV stations in Japan meant this wasn’t put out and became a wee bonus purely for those in attendance.

And, to the surprise of absolutely no-one, it was a great wee bonus. They only had nine-ten minutes, but they packed that time with action as they tried to convert as many NJPW fans as possible. Hana and Mayu, in particular, looked like stars, holding themselves like people who should be wrestling in venues like this all the time. While the place wasn’t full this long before the main card started, they seemed to go down well, capturing the attention of those of us who had arrived early.

The story of the actual match was Hana and Giulia’s inability to get on the same page. There might have been a show of respect at the end of their Christmas Eve war, but that doesn’t mean they’re friends and their squabbling gave Mayu the opening to get the win. I imagine more than one person will have been tempted into giving Stardom World a look after this impressive display.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Alex Coughlin and Clark Connors defeated GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji

Big boys gonna big boy. Credit: NJPW

These Young Lions do not like each other. The sound of their chops echoed around the cavernous Tokyo Dome, drawing the eyes of those still making their way to their seats. They were all fired-up to impress, presumably with the intent of not being shoved in pre-show matches in the years to come.

The more experienced wrestlers didn’t have quite the same fire as Honma and Makabe ran through the usual spots, but Henare gave his usual 110%. That wasn’t notworthy, but big Toa being handed the win was as he pinned Tsuji after a Toa Bottom. Fingers crossed that’s the start of something for Henare, who has been more than deserving of a push for at least a year. A climb up the card away from these kinds of matches would be a delightful treat.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Tencozy (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan) defeated Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi

One final Dome moment. Credit: NJPW

This went roughly five minutes and featured the four New Japan veterans playing the hits. If you’re looking for great wrestling, the likes of Nakanishi and Tenzan aren’t going to provide it in 2020, but there is still pleasure to be found in seeing these guys in the flesh. It’s a pleasure made all the stronger by Nakanishi announcing his retirement, meaning this will be the one and only time I ever see him wrestle.

A good match? No, but the Tokyo Dome greeted those involved warmly and I had a nice time.

Verdict: Three Stars

Ryusuke Taguchi, Shinjiro Otani, Naoki Sano and Tatsuhito Takaiwa defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, The Great Sasuke, Tatsumi Fujinami and Tiger Mask

Rolling back the years. Credit: NJPW

Every entrant received their own entrance with a video package featuring highlights of their interactions with Jushin Thunder Liger over the years. The reaction to each was respectful, but when Liger’s music hit the Tokyo Dome made some real noise for the first time. People love that man.

And watching him in there surrounded by his career rivals and friends, you can’t help thinking that he’s still better than all of him. If you asked someone who had no idea about wrestling to guess who was retiring only Taguchi would be the less obvious choice. He still holds himself and wrestles like a man who could do this for a long old time. Perhaps that’s the point, though, the Thunder God is going out on his terms while still being one of the best.

Despite the limitations of those involved, the match was quite good. Everyone seemed fired up to impress with Sano and Otani looking good while Sasuke did a ridiculous dive to the outside (that I think the cameras might have missed) because he’s The Great Sasuke and that’s what he does. Then, to the surprise of no-one, Liger put over Taguchi. Why? Because he’s Jushin Thunder Liger and even at the end he goes out being the selfless genius he is. God, I love that man.

Verdict: Star ratings are silly for a match like this

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi and El Desperado) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL, Shingo Takagi and BUSHI)

They at least worked hard. Credit: NJPW

Meh, this was a fine eight-man tag that wouldn’t have looked out of place on your standard Korakuen show. Taichi vs Shingo was the highlight as they stiffed it out and opened up the potential to a great match somewhere down the line. Outside of that, Zack got his win back over BUSHI, and most people were left wondering why this was on the card. Oh, and Suzuki-gun came out to Zack’s music which was weird. Why no Kaze Ni Nare, NJPW?

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated The Bullet Club (KENTA, Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi)

Making me not scare about an Ishii match should be a crime. Credit: NJPW

Our second unneeded eight-man was worse than the first because, well, look at that Bullet Club team. I get New Japan wanting to cram people onto the card, but there was no reason for this match to happen even if it did provide some last-minute build to KENTA vs Goto. As usual, Yano was ridiculously over, but that was probably the only interesting thing in ten minutes that could have been used to do anything else.

Verdict: Two Stars

FinJuice (Juice Robinson and David Finlay) defeated Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles

POW! Credit: NJPW

Like most GOD matches this one suffered from the condition of having GOD in it. Thankfully that horrendous title reign is finally over.

After Tama and Tanga spent the opening part of the match boring me, things did pick up in the closing stretch with FinJuice throwing everything into the action. David Finlay was particularly great, as this was built around the idea of him finally getting a big moment. He battled out of a Super Powerbomb with a Hurricanrana before hitting the Acid Drop to get a huge victory.

It added up to something that wasn’t a great match but did warm the heart. Finlay and Juice are an incredibly likeable team and for Big Dave to come back from injury to have his biggest New Japan victory yet is a lovely story. Fingers crossed 2020 continues to be his year.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Jon Moxley defeated Lance Archer to win the IWGP US Title

One of those cool moments. Credit: NJPW

In my humble opinion, there is a difference between a great match and a match with cool moments. For me, this was very much the latter. Moxley and Archer did a lot of awesome shit, from Archer chokeslamming a dude onto Mox to the Death Rider off the apron through a pair of tables that finally got the win. Unfortunately, the stuff around that was all filler until the next big spot came along.

And that doesn’t mean this was bad. I mean, I still had fun, and it was a spectacle (although the Dome is an awful place for people to be brawling on the outside, so I watched most of it on the screens). It was also the rare Last Man Standing match (which is what the Texas Death stipulation basically ended up being) that didn’t waste too much time with the counts, as they kept things moving. Yet, I’ve seen a lot of people heap praise on this and I ain’t seeing it. If I watched via GIFs, I’d probably be blown away, but as a coherent piece of art, it didn’t work.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Hiromu Takahashi defeated Will Ospreay to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title

Is this kinky? Credit: NJPW

Now we’re talking! If there was any match on this card that I had full faith in delivering it was Will vs Hiromu. I might not love Ospreay the way that some others do (although I think he’s very good), but when you combine him with the mind of Takahashi, you know you are in for something special.

And they told the story you’d expect them to, with Will going after Hiromu’s neck. It pretty quickly became apparent that Hiromu was making no effort to protect it either, bumping around like a madman. In a twist, it actually fell to Will to provide the protection, very clearly not connecting with a Double Stomp to the back of the head, which in the long run, is probably not a bad thing.

Eventually, though, these two just took off, and from there it was a million miles per an hour insane action. Everyone will have seen the spot built around the Sasuke Special by now, but there was breathtaking sequences built on breathtaking sequences. Whether it was Hiromu escaping death by Hidden Blade by collapsing forward, the beaten he’d taken proving too much for him, or his incredible reversal into a Destroyer, it appears he hasn’t missed a stepped despite his long time away.

And, as he should have done, he would eventually reclaim the belt that injury stole from him. It was the right result, but I’d been lying if I said there weren’t a few moments where I thought it wouldn’t come to pass, Hiromu’s 2.99 kick-out of the Oscutter being the most obvious one. Then, Ospreay returned the favour, kicking out of the Time Bomb and forcing Takahashi to improvise, hitting the inventively named Time Bomb II for the three. What a match!

Verdict: Four And Three Quarter Stars

Tetsuya Naito defeated Jay White to win the IWGP Intercontinental Title

The Destino lives. Credit: NJPW

Here’s one that has split opinions. Naito and White didn’t go out there looking to outdo Hiromu vs Will or have a match of the year contender. Instead, they were trying to tell a story. It was the story of Jay White dominating the lead Ingobernable in his attempt to rip his dream away from him.

He did that by going after Naito’s knee, crunching into and twisting it time after time. Whenever it looked like Naito was about to get a foothold in this match, White was there to cut him off, and when White wasn’t there, Gedo stepped in instead. The odds were stacked against Naito and his dream of holding both titles at the same time.

And, a lot of people thought it was fucking boring. They went over thirty minutes and at no point did they really leap up the gears, going all out, so I get it. I can see where that opinion comes from. However, being sat in the Dome, watching this unfold, I was on the edge of my seat. Every near fall was a moment as I desperately willed Naito on to overcome the Knife Pervert. In my head, I knew that there was little to no chance White was winning, but I couldn’t tell my heart that. It was beating too hard.

And, at the end of the day, is that not the point of wrestling? To make you feel something. For just over half an hour, I was gripped as I craved Naito achieving his Destino and what felt like an eternity for everyone else flew by for me. The combination of my Naito fandom and being in the room, getting caught up in that atmosphere, made this great, and that’s the kind of wrestling I love.

Verdict: Four Stars

Kazuchika Okada defeated Kota Ibushi to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title

Poor Kazu. Credit: NJPW

There is always a moment in Okada main events, usually around ten-fifteen minutes in, where I wonder if this is ever going to get good. Usually, they then go on to get very good, and this match was no exception.

Because, once again, there were parts of this that could definitely be seen as boring. Okada always starts slow, building up the action, and that was the case here. The opening ten minutes had quick flurries of activity, but on the whole Okada and Ibushi felt like they were feeling each other out, waiting for their moments.

Then, they took off and holy shit, what a match. At one point, Kota Ibushi was just punching the Rainmaker in the head, the dull thud of his fists filling the Tokyo Dome. Trust me when I say there was no pulling of those blows as I’m pretty sure I felt them sitting twenty-odd rows back. It felt like the Golden Star had snapped, and from that moment on, it became clear that the winner was going to have to murder the other to keep them down.

That led to a final stretch that genuinely was breathtaking. Time after time, I thought it was over, only for a kick-out to keep the action alive. Both men survived the other’s finisher, while Kota had a wee call out to his old friend Omega with a V-Trigger. In the end, though, Okada proved once more to be unkillable, Rainmaker after Rainmaker crashing in until Kota had nothing left. That was some damn good pro-wrestling.

Verdict: Five Stars

Overall Show

Night one at the Dome started slow but finished with a trio of matches I’d put up against any in the world. It seems to have become cool to bash New Japan recently and fine, like what you like, but there’s no other company that puts on stuff like this. That’s not the same as saying they’re the best, but if you like this style of wrestling, why wouldn’t you be watching it?

Also, as a side note, the Tokyo Dome is an awful place to watch wrestling. I loved being there, and the atmosphere was brilliant by the end, but it’s huge, and it takes a lot of noise for it to reach that point. You also spend most of the show watching the action on a screen, the distant ring hard to make out over the heads of others. It by no means ruined my day, but its size is what makes it memorable, not the views.

Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/

If you enjoyed this review, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi, even the smallest amount is appreciated.

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