NJPW Wrestle Kingdom (5/1/20) Review

A long time coming. Credit: NJPW

My final wrestling show of the trip was once again in the Tokyo Dome where, on a stacked card, there was only really one match I cared about. It was time for Tetsuya Naito to fulfil his Destino, and if he didn’t, well, I’d be writing someone a very strongly worded letter.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, EVIL and BUSHI) defeated GBH (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi, Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru), The Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi and Bad Luck Fale) and CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Robbie Eagles and YOSHI-HASHI) in a Gauntlet Match to win the NEVER Six-Man Openweight Titles

Shingo goes after the biggest dog in the yard. Credit: NJPW

This was better than it had any right to be. Robbie Eagles was given plenty of shine as he took centre stage in the opening segments and grabbed the opportunity nicely. People are predicting a big 2020 for him, and I’m intrigued to see if it comes to pass. Outside of that, Shingo was his usual brilliant self while the LA Dojo ref seemed to fuck up on a count between EVIL and Ishii, which the two of them did an alright job of covering for. It was good, filling the pre-show nicely without ever blowing anyone away. I can’t complain.

Verdict: Three Stars

Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano

One last time. Credit: NJPW

Before we get to the match, Yoshiaki Fujiwara was at ringside and while he made his entrance someone sitting beside me looked up at the video playing and, I quote, said: ‘fair play to him, he’s got a nice armbar’. It took all the will-power I possess not to make a comment at that, but I couldn’t help having a wee giggle.

In the ring, this was Jushin Thunder Liger’s final match, and in so many ways it was perfect. He and his generational rival took on the new Junior Ace and his generational rival and for ten minutes or so the two legends rolled back the years to match them. You aren’t going to look back on this as a classic in-ring performance, but as a passing of the torch, it was a masterclass. Liger, on his last outing, refused to take centre stage. Instead, he stepped to one side and worked his arse off to make Hiromu and Lee look like superstars.

Honestly, the overwhelming feeling both in that building and from me was one of love. Liger is not a once in a lifetime talent, but a once in eternity, so we might never see his likes again. He has shaped wrestling in a way that few others have, and all I can feel is undying gratitude that I got to see him do his thing before he stepped away. Thank you, Liger, you’ll always be my Thunder God.

Verdict: Again, star ratings feel silly.

Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated The Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo) to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles

The ‘big’ reveal. Credit: NJPW

I remember thinking this match was alright, but a few days later I can’t remember much about it, so it can’t have been that good. We got a load of Ishimori and ELP nonsense which made me roll my eyes, although I will slightly soften my stance for a few seconds to say that the Moonsault into a Back Rake was quite enjoyable.

The problem is that we’ve seen this story before. Every Wrestle Kingdom SHO and YOH overcome a heel pairing to win the titles back, and I’m a bit bored of it. I love those two as a team, but when their big idea for making this match stand out is that they both wear cups so ELP can’t low blow them, well, I find it hard to get excited. Does it make sense? Yea, but it’s not exactly a wrestling spectacle watching a man pull some plastic from his pants.

There were some talented wrestlers in that ring, so it didn’t suck. However, if a year from now you ask me who was in this match I doubt I’ll be able to tell you.

Verdict: Three Stars

Zack Sabre Jr defeated SANADA to retain the British Heavyweight Title

Caught him. Credit: NJPW

To put together a grapple-heavy match in a building as big as the Tokyo Dome is a tough task. When you’re sitting miles away from the ring, intricacies are lost, and it’s easy to get bored as people fight between holds you can’t really see. Thankfully, Zack Sabre Jr and SANADA are better at this shit than most people.

For despite the long-distance to the ring, this match was gripping as the two of them struggled between submissions and kept up an unholy pace. It was two masters of their craft, battling for control and looking brilliant as they did it. Some times you just need to sit back and appreciate good wrestling, clapping your hands and nodding your head in respect.

The finish was fantastic too, Zack finally managing to outsmart SANADA and reassert himself as the best technical wrestler in the company. SANADA was going for yet another clutch, but this time ZSJ was a step ahead sliding into one of his own and claiming the victory.

Verdict: Four Stars

Jon Moxley defeated Juice Robinson to retain the IWGP US Title

Yawn. Credit: NJPW

If Moxley vs Archer was a match of cool moments, then I guess his follow-up against Juice was a match of no moments. Seriously, I couldn’t believe quite how boring the vast majority of this was. They did some brawling at ringside, wandered around a bit and then finally came to life in the home stretch, exchanging suplexes before Moxley got the win.

Now, to be fair, they both had wrestled the night before, and there was a chance they were just tired. They’ve shown in the past that they have good chemistry, although I do think it would be nice if Juice were taken away from hardcore/brawl heavy matches for a while because he’s much better at wrestling than he is that. It feels like he had that one well-received fight with Moxley and has been stuck in that rut ever since.

Thankfully, all was forgiven with the post-match angle when Kaze Ni Nare hit, and the Dome exploded. In one moment, the decision to make Suzuki-gun come out to Sabre’s music the day before made perfect sense and we learnt that MiSu is going nowhere, at least for now. Instead, he’s going after Moxley, and as he spiked him on his head with a Gotch, it’s hard not to get excited about that.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars

Hirooki Goto defeated KENTA to win the NEVER Openweight Title

KENTA was enjoying himself. Credit: NJPW

For whatever reason, I struggled to get into this match. I had watched a lot of wrestling by this point, so it might just have been my brain shutting down, but as KENTA slowed the action down, playing his prick heel to perfection, my mind went wandering. Normally, these two would be right in my wheelhouse, and maybe I’ll go back and watch it again someday, but at the time, I wasn’t with it.

What makes me think I should probably check it out is that when it did pick-up, I had a lovely fucking time. The final few minutes was the match that I think I needed as these two went all out, beating the shit out of each other. Part of me does wish that New Japan would have the courage to book more sprints. How often do we get a match like that classic Ishii Shibata war nowadays? I certainly can’t remember the last one, and on a long card like Wrestle Kingdom would letting KENTA and Goto loose for ten minutes not have been perfect?

Still, a lot of people enjoyed this more than me, and even I was into it by the end. Plus, it wouldn’t be the Tokyo Dome if Goto didn’t win the NEVER Title, would it? That’s basically his job at this point.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Jay White defeated Kota Ibushi

Ugh. Credit: NJPW

Having leapt to the defence of Naito vs White, I’d love to do the same for this match. Sadly, I can’t. Holy shit, this was boring. I’ve been one of White’s biggest fans, but this was him at his worse, slow, plodding and packed with Gedo interference spots. Seriously, I’d kill for him to go back to being the kind of manager he was when he had Okada under his wing. It would be a blessed relief at this point.

I should give some credit to Kota, who was the Golden Star of this match. Once again, we saw him go dead behind the eyes, unleashing on White and Gedo. If that’s going to be established as a regular part of his character in New Japan, I am down for it because he is incredible at it. He single-handedly turned this from a total shitshow into something that at least had its moments, and I love him dearly for that.

Sadly, he wasn’t rewarded for that by the win. New Japan continues to tell the story of White sneaking his way to victories, and as we now know, he’s been set-up against SANADA going forward which we have to assume will put him in line to challenge Naito next. Is that a good thing? Who knows, it very much depends on what version of him turns up for that feud. Fingers crossed it’s not this one.

Verdict: Three Stars

Chris Jericho defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi

What more needs to be said? Credit: NJPW

There are two sides to this match, one good and one bad. The bad part was fucking embarrassing at times. Chris Jericho is many things in 2020, but I don’t think he is a very good wrestler. Watch the High Fly Flow he tries to hit in this match and try not to cringe. Seriously, it’s fucking awful, and even Tanahashi had a little laugh afterwards. His old Dad shtick dragged Tana to his level at times as this match descended into sloppiness.

Luckily, these two are also charismatic buggers, and they managed to drag it back from the brink on the back of that alone. There was something special about watching them stand across from each other, staring into each other eyes. Then you had the constant razzing, the flexing of muscles and gurning as they looked to one-up each other. In many ways, Jericho and Tanahashi are playing the same character. Two men who are past it, but refuse to accept it. The only difference is that Tana still looks good with his top off.

The finish did catch me off-guard, not necessarily because Jericho won (I expected that the second they put the AEW title shot on the line), but because Tanahashi tapped, a thing he doesn’t do very often. To me, that suggests this isn’t the last time these two will face off and that The Ace will be getting that win back. Hopefully, next time, Jericho manages to be a bit less embarrassing.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Tetsuya Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title and retain the IWGP Intercontinental Title

This was a scary moment. Credit: NJPW

Wow. For many, Naito achieving his Destino is two years late, but wow. What a moment it was when it finally happened. I’ve been in a lot of stadiums at a lot of moments (usually for football), but the pop when Naito scored that pin will stay with me forever. People went wild as the man who the New Japan faithful (particularly the Japanese portion of the crowd) have chosen to be their guy finally won the big one in the Dome.

And his final step to getting those belts was one hell of a journey. Credit must go to Okada, who was brilliant here. He played the sneering, arrogant bastard of a champion to perfection. Coming in, he’d made it clear he thinks he’s outgrown Naito, and then over the course of the match, you slowly watched as he realised this bastard wasn’t going down easily. When he kicked out of the Rainmaker, you saw panic in Kazu’s eyes for the first time as he began hammering on Naito’s knee, doing whatever it took to get the win.

Except, sometimes, it truly is just someone’s destiny to win. Naito took his beating, eating Rainmakers and being dropped on his head, yet he would not die. There were moments where I was terrified he would, but he kept kicking out, battling on as he desperately fought to defeat the man who always seems to stand in his way. On this day, he would not lose, something summed up by him finally hitting the Stardust Press, the move that he went for two years before and missed, setting up Okada’s victory.

However, even when that connected Okada kicked out, cruelly dashing Naito’s hopes. This time, though, Naito wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t going to pose or savour the moment. He was straight back up, shrugging off The Rainmakers he’d already eaten as he pushed those old mistakes to the side. When he twisted around for the Destino and came crashing down, it was finally his moment. Tetsuya Naito beat Kazuchika Okada in the Tokyo Dome and stood tall as the double champion he promised he would be.

Verdict: Five Stars

And that fucking cunt KENTA turned up to ruin it all, the piece of shit. Yea, it was a good angle, but fuck him. I hate his guts.

Overall Show

Night two of Wrestle Kingdom was a significant step down from the first but was still a strong showing. Honestly, anything that finishes with that main event is doing alright and they could have had Liger fart into a trombone for the first three hours, and I’d have still been in tears while jumping up and down when Naito won. My final wrestling show in Japan ended on a high, and I, once again, have no complaints.

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

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