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Please click through for the Best and Worst of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9.
Best: As Jim Ross Says, “Dance With Who Brung Ya”
The opening four-way tag team match for the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles was exactly what it needed to be. That sounds like simple praise, but in wrestling, there’s a real beauty in filling the role you were designed to fill. And at the end of the day, that comes down to all four of the tag teams involved being unique ingredients that play off each other extremely well. The Young Bucks are the chaotic troublemakers, Forever Hooligans are the hot-tempered powder keg, the Time Splitters are the lightning-quick sentimental favorites, and reDRagon are the technically-gifted champs with something to prove. The one thing they all have in common? Speed. Holy crap, this match was fast-paced. I mean, I’m used to seeing Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA set up offensive combos really fast, but a one-fall match with four teams added a real urgency to this. reDRagon ended up retaining the titles… I’m okay with this, because I think I know who I’d like to see them feud with next. More on that later.
Best: Enjoy The Silence
Here’s my take on the English commentary with Jim Ross and Matt Striker: As a cohesive unit, they worked fine. The two-man booth is usually necessary for one man to cancel out the other’s weaknesses, and that’s what happened here. JR can’t keep up with the speed of the junior heavyweights, but Striker can. Conversely, Striker can’t relate the GOOD GAWD ALMIGHTY passion of Kota Ibushi kicking out at 1, but JR certainly can. So, as a whole, this worked. And Matt Striker did something impressive and unexpected… he actually said OUT LOUD that he would occasionally just shut up and let the moments happen. That’s rare, and extremely necessary for Japanese wrestling. However…
Worst: Matt Striker On His Own
Man, he was doing pretty well up until the second match, and then it was just WORD VOMIT. The overuse of the word “legendary” was pretty annoying, but the real gripe is his pronunciation. “KenSOOkay Sasaki.” And for a guy who seems to respect Tenzan so much, he doesn’t know his first name. Hiroshi Tanahashi does not share a name with HiroYOshi Tenzan.
Worst: Jeff and Karen Jarrett
Being booed or hated isn’t the worst thing you can be on a wrestling show. You need bad guys for wrestling to work. The worst thing you can be on a wrestling show is just sort of… there. You’re occupying space, and that’s it. The King of the Mountain is a pretty cool guy, but he and Karen were just wastes of space here. ESPECIALLY Karen. Oh my God, she took forever and a got-dang day to get out of the ring. I thought Bad Luck Fale was going to accidentally bump her into the corner and break her in half.
The long-term build is absolutely one of the most important facets of wrestling. Storylines live or die by how well they deliver on something they’ve been working towards for months. Remember how PISSED you were when Triple H screwed Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam, and then continued f*cking wih him for the remainder of the year? Imagine they hadn’t let that stew until WrestleMania. Imagine that they resolved it all at Night of Champions the next month. It would have sucked. It had to happen at The Big One so 70,000+ people could scream “YES” at the top of their lungs. It wouldn’t have been worth the purple and yellow victory confetti that I still have saved in an envelope if it wasn’t such a journey.
Tomoaki Honma had an AWFUL G1 Climax run. He went 0-10, and then lost again at the G1 Finals. But he never gave up, and the fans love him because he’s a grizzled veteran whose spirit CANNOT be crushed. He constantly believes that one day, he WILL win the big one with that diving headbutt. And what happened at Wrestle Kingdom?
I thought my laptop speakers were going to blow out from the ovation. Delayed gratification is a powerful thing.
Best: Pro Wrestling NOAH, Featuring Kamen Rider and His Australian Friends
I said in my predictions column that the guest stars from Pro Wrestling NOAH needed to have a strong showing, and they absolutely did. This match wasn’t even close. In fact, it probably should have gone a bit longer for the NOAH guys to show more offense. Toru Yano mostly brawled with Takashi Iizuka, leaving GHC Champion Naomichi Marufuji to battle Shelton Benjamin while the tag teams of Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith, Jr.) and TMDK (Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls) faced off. I have to say, I want to see more of TMDK in New Japan. Remember how I said I have new opponents in mind for reDRagon? Yeah, it’s these two Aussies. Something tells me it would catch a lot of people off-guard. More exciting new people, please and thank you.
Worst: Not Everything Has To Be The Monday Night Wars, JR
This was a rare moment where Jim Ross was out of his element. After the Yano/Marufuji/TMDK victory, he went on and on about how Pro Wrestling NOAH coming to Wrestle Kingdom and getting a win was practically the first shot fired between the two companies. This is what years of revisionist WCW-Was-The-Axis-Powers history will do to you. I can almost guarantee that there’s no hostility between NJPW and NOAH, and that this match won’t start any long-running angles. This is a working relationship, a valuable concept for any wrestling promotion that doesn’t have a TV show called Monday Night Raw. When WWE ballooned into the vast, global WrestleConglomerate that it is today, the idea of cross-promotion died. NOAH coming to the Tokyo Dome and kicking ass isn’t a hostile takeover, it’s cooperation between two awesome entities that can mutually benefit. I love working relationships like this. Anything that brings Mr. Azerbaijan to Texas is okay in my book.
Best: REVENGE TRUNKS
Noted MMA psychopath Minoru Suzuki usually wears black boots and trunks, so imagine my surprise when he comes to the ring with white gear AND WHITE HAIR TO MATCH. Alternate big-match gear is one of my favorite wrestling tropes. Shawn Michaels descending from Heaven in pristine white, Finn Balor crawling to the ring like a Rasta Predator… it’s a sure-fire sign that business has picked up. Suzuki’s new look was his message to Kazushi Sakuraba, saying “It’s 1995 all over again and I’m going to make you scream like Ken Shamrock.”
Best: Five Rounds in the UFC Dragonball Division
Wrestle Kingdom happened on the same night Donald Cerrone attempted to kick a man’s butthole to smithereens, and Sakuraba/Suzuki was STILL the best MMA I saw all night. How does that even happen? This was mixed martial arts taken to its illogical extreme. It felt like one of those fighting games where you’re throwing people through walls and shrugging it off. The ring could absolutely not contain these two. I mean, it makes sense. Both of these men are MMA legends with legacies to prove, of course it’s going to get wildly violent. Worked MMA can be disastrous, but this looked technical, fantastically brutal, and it made all the sense in the world. I think I would have preferred a Sakuraba victory, but that’s a tiny complaint. I ended up getting the mutual show of respect I hoped for, so I’m happy. Kaze ni nare.
Best: We Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow
One of my favorite “Is this really happening?” moments of the night was Jim Ross talking about Togi Makabe’s emulation of Bruiser Brody, right down to his use of an “Immigrant Song” cover as his entrance music. It’s 2015, JR is in the Tokyo Dome, and he just shouted out Tomoyasu Hotei. This is the world we live in.
Best: Hoss Fights Done Right
You really need to track this match down and see it for yourself, because I’m not sure how much justice I can do it. How do you describe two trains colliding and make it sound beautiful? That’s what this was – beautiful destruction. Togi Makabe and defending NEVER Openweight Champion Tomohiro Ishii are two of the best brawlers on the planet, and they tore it up. This wasn’t a match that starts slow and escalates. The only chain wrestling you’re gonna get from Makabe is when he hits you over the head with his big-ass chain. No, this started like wildfire and ended like wildfire. Lariats and suplexes were traded endlessly, and it never once sagged. Am I surprised that Ishii ended up losing the championship? A little, but you have to remember that he’s been plagued with shoulder problems and he may need time for a surgery. That’s the scary thing about him – he keeps going like a granite Energizer Bunny until he realizes he’s REALLY hurt. Don’t worry though, Makabe’s reign will probably be every bit as fun.
Worst: Matt Striker, Again
He tried to make Jim Ross say “lariato.”
HE TRIED. TO MAKE JIM ROSS. SAY “LARIATO.”
Matt, that is not your thing. Do not try to make it your thing. Don’t be Joey Styles calling the “roaring elbow,” and don’t be the otaku trying to speak broken Japanese to a room full of actual Japanese people. Jesus.
Best: Funky Weapons and Air Chainsaws
I mentioned in my predictions that this needed to be a match full of charisma, and I think it delivered. Defending IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Ryusuke Taguchi isn’t quite back to the heights he reached in the junior tag team division, but he’s getting there. However, in terms of charisma and actual in-ring work, this match was carried by Kenny Omega. Bullet Club’s “cleaner” has been great for years, but this current run with New Japan could be the one that really makes him into a star. You needn’t have worried that this new role would take the fun out of him, folks. If you weren’t already on board when he was in PWG throwing hadoukens and Zangief’s super combo, get on board now. His new elaborate pantomime of choice seems to be THE AIR CHAINSAW, wherein he revs up his arm and proceeds to grind his arm-hair stubble into his opponent’s eyes.
Kenny Omega: Further proof that Canada is a very special place that must be preserved at all costs.
Best/Worst: So, Omega Is The Leader Now, Right?
Going into Wrestle Kingdom, my thoughts were that Bullet Club would be winless through the first seven matches, which would in turn fire up AJ Styles to be the true leader going into his match with Tetsuya Naito. “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” A demoralized Bullet Club led into 2015 by a man with little faith in his troops is a cool idea, and I thought we’d get it here. Instead, the most impressive Club performance of the night belonged to Omega, and he’s now the only member holding a title (sorry if I spoiled the next tag team match). Doesn’t that put him at the top now? Please, PLEASE tell me this leads to a Styles/Omega match for control of the Bullet Club at some point.
Worst: Where Was The Kaboom? There Was Supposed To Be A Kaboom!
Here’s something I noticed at around this point of the night… where were the elaborate entrances? Wrestle Kingdom 8 had some of the coolest entrances I’ve ever seen, including:
- The Time Splitters rolling up in a Delorean
- Doc Gallows firing a bazooka at the stage
- Hirooki Goto summoning geishas
- Prince Devitt’s first excursion into body paint
- Shinsuke Nakamura flanked by a dozen pole-dancers
- Hiroshi Tanahashi played to the ring by Marty Friedman, because Steve Vai was busy I guess
There was practically NOTHING this year. Kota Ibushi popped out of the stage a la Rey Mysterio, but he did that last year. This was probably the one downgrade from 2014.
Best: Gallows vs. Shibata (and Gallows in general)
Katsuyori Shibata is a hellacious striker. He has some of the hardest kicks I’ve ever seen in pro wrestling. Stuff that probably makes fans of the American Wolves feel funny in their nether parts. But against Doc Gallows of the Bullet Club, everything he threw was accompanied by a little “IT’S NOT VERY EFFECTIVE…” dialogue box. It was hilarious! Shibata’s out to pulverize this guy, and Gallows is just “Ha ha, NO.”
That leads me to Gallows himself. Can I just say how glad I am he’s found success in Japan? He was an underrated member of the Straight Edge Society, and I was sad to see him go. TNA flew him to India for Ring Ka King where he was basically Discount American Badass Undertaker, and I was scared that he wouldn’t find his footing. But since he joined up with the Bullet Club, he’s been almost an instant success. I like to think that hard-working people are eventually favored by the universe, so his success feels right. This was not his night to shine, though.
Best: Winning The Big One
While we’re one the subject of hard work eventually paying off, let’s talk about Meiyu Tag – Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata. These two high school friends and wrestling teammates sort of worked parallel to each other until Shibata left to pursue MMA for a while. He returned to NJPW after a while, and while his matches against Goto are great, he eventually realized “Hey, we’re both awesome and we should probably be awesome together.” And here we are in January 2015 – Goto, who wins plenty of tournaments, wins only his second championship, while Shibata wins his first ever. It feels great to reach the peak, but how great must it feel to do it with your longtime friend? This win was well deserved, and I’m glad it happened at the Tokyo Dome.
Worst: Strike Three For Matt Striker
Mispronouncing Tenzan’s name? Fine. Goading JR into saying “Lariato?” Whatever. But then you go and shout out the guy at PWInsider who’s been writing New Japan primers? Oh sure, go ahead. It’s not like I was writing New Japan primers BACK IN THE SUMMER OR ANYTHING. I hope Johnny Mundo vaults off your head for a parkour move.
Worst: AJ Styles (Still) Hates Your Neck
I don’t have a whole lot to say about AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito. Both guys looked fine in the ring, and it did have the sense of urgency needed between two competitors who REALLY what to stop their backwards momentum. Naito can really step up when the pressure is on, and I respect him for that. What I really want to point out is the elephant in the room here. Both Jim Ross and Matt Striker pointed out that AJ broke two necks in 2014 with the Styles Clash. It’s not a fact you can sweep under the rug. I thought AJ’s neckbreaker counter out of a suplex was going to be the worst neck-related thing of the night… and then he starts setting up a second-rope Styles Clash after blocking Naito’s frankensteiner.
Oh, I panicked. Luckily, it looks like Naito took it safely. From there, Wrestle Kingdom moved on to the double main events.
Best: Starring Shinsuke Nakamura as Vincent Valentine
LOOK AT THIS MAN. BASK IN HIS GLORY. If Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus had looked anything like this, I would have at least rented it.
Best: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
I’m taking the scenic route to the point I’m making here, so bear with me.
I’ve loved Marvel Comics ever since someone handed me Uncanny X-Men #332 when I was seven years old. Since then, I’ve seen LOTS of people fall in love just the way I did. People line up for midnight showings of Marvel movies every summer. Fast-forward to May 2012 as I’m sitting in one of those packed midnight theaters for The Avengers. It doesn’t even hit me until Iron Man flies in as Captain America’s backup that the dumb, nerdy dreams I’ve been having since 1996 are suddenly real, and EVERYONE is seeing them. EVERYONE finally gets to see what I’ve been seeing in my head for all these years.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship felt heroic. And everyone got to see it. They got to hear Jim Ross call it. We f*cking made it.
This match was OFF THE CHARTS. I should probably start by talking about Kota Ibushi, who was VICIOUS here. Up until now, he’s been a nice, clean-cut high-flyer. But his forced absence from the G1 Climax due to a concussion really got under his skin, and ever since November he’s just been saying “Screw you all, I want that title.” He doesn’t have to be mean in character about it, he’s mean in the ring.
And Nakamura… Nakamura’s still the King of Strong Style, man. He makes everything look so effortless, so cool. The story these two were telling was flawless. We’ve all felt like we were owed something greater. Ibushi takes offense that he’s not king of the jungle just yet, and it brings out the best AND worst in him. And it’s irrelevant at the end of the day, because you don’t bring a Phoenix Splash to a SWAGFIGHT. I loved the mutual respect at the end, and I SUPER-LOVED how much Jim Ross got into it. The same voice that called Vince McMahon a son of a bitch just called Kota Ibushi a star. I reiterate: We f*cking made it.
Best/Worst: The Entire Jim Ross Experience In Five Minutes
Speaking of JR, he probably went from his best moment to his worst moment during the Tanahashi/Okada match. He was talking about both wrestlers wanting pictures with him and talking about Twitter handles the day before. Jim Ross follows the Rainmaker on Twitter, that’s awesome. And then just five minutes later, he tries to pronounce “Kazuchika.”
Oh honey, no. We still love you, don’t worry.
Worst: The First Fifteen Minutes of Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
This is the same problem Cena and Orton have at this point. Rivalries are great, but when two guys have clashed so many times, what new ground is there to cover? The first part of this match felt like any other big match these two have had. All things considered, that’s okay, because…
Best: EVERYTHING AFTER THAT
Much like Ibushi, Okada reached a point where he must have thought “F*ck you, I’m the new ace and I want that title,” because this kicked into a very high gear. Interesting to note here is the fact that the fans seemed to like this a lot. The more ruthless and risky Okada got, the more of a response he received. And in turn, this brought out something in Tanahashi that I’d never seen before. He’s a very smiley guy, all perfect hair and nice suits. But look at this…
For the first time in my life, I saw Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestle like a jerk. It was stunning. We will never, ever see John Cena turn heel, and we’ll probably never see Tanahashi do it either, but this is the closest we’ll get. The uglier and more personal this got, the more entertaining it was. JR was also really into this one. Hearing him call this with all the gravitas of a Hell in a Cell or WrestleMania main event was surreal and wonderful. I truly thought Okada might’ve had the win at one point after a quick Rainmaker, but this was Tanahashi’s night from the start. Not quite as good as Nakamura/Ibushi, but still a pleasure to watch.
Worst: Be a Star, Tanahashi
Oh, by the way, Tanahashi wasn’t done being a jerk. As Okada left the ring IN TEARS, Tanahashi got on the microphone and berated him. What the hell? I would think they’d be fast approaching the Mutual Respect phase of their still-young rivalry, but Tanahashi gleefully told a crying man that he was “still so far away” from the title. That hurts MY feelings, and I’m not even on the same continent. As painful as that is, it does leave a lot of room for the rivalry to evolve. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. I hope some of you new faces are along for the ride.