Monday, August 31, 2015

New Japan Pro Wrestling - Wrestle Kingdom 9 Review

Tanahashi vs. Okada & Nakamura vs. Ibushi headline New Japan's version of WrestleMania!!

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9
Tokyo, Japan 1/4/15

So here we are! It’s New Japan’s biggest show of the year!! I should note that I did watch both versions of this show, those being the regular version with Japanese commentary on NJPWWorld, as well as the English Commentary version, presented by Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, with Jim Ross & Matt Striker calling the show. The only real difference is that the pre-show match was only on NJPWWorld, while the Global Force Wrestling/English Commentary did not include this match. If you’re wondering about my thoughts on the Jim Ross/Matt Striker English Commentary, I’ll talk about that at the end of this review.
1.) 15-Man New Japan Rumble: *

So this is a match that pretty much is meant for everyone else on the roster who was left without a match on the main PPV. This included Yuji Nagata, Yoshi-Hashi, Tama Tonga, Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka, Taka Michinoku, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, El Desperado, Taichi, Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask, & Captain New Japan. We also got a few surprise entrants in the form of three very old legends: Hiro Saito, The Great Kabuki, & Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Royal Rumble style matches are actually extremely rare in New Japan, so it’s actually not totally surprising that this match wasn’t that good. The only difference between this match and a Royal Rumble is that, when it came down to the final two, the match could be won by pinfall or submission. Yuji Nagata would end up getting the pin on Yoshi-Hashi to win the match.
1.) IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles - Four-Way Tag Team Match - ROH World Tag Team Champions reDRagon vs. Forever Hooligans vs. The Time Splitters vs. The Young Bucks: ***3/4
The PPV officially kicks off with this four-way match for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. There was a ton of fast action in here, as you would expect. It was a really good match, though it wasn’t great (and I would say part of that was due to the crowd’s lack of reaction at points). Still, this was very entertaining. All four teams got the chance to shine in this match. We even saw The Young Bucks hit The Meltzer Driver at one point. Through all of this high-octane carnage, reDRagon were eventually able to gain the edge, scoring the pinfall on Alex Kozlov to retain their IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles!

2.) Six-Man Tag - The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Jeff Jarrett & Yujiro Takahashi with Karen Jarrett & Scott D'Amore) vs. Tomoaki Honma, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: **3/4

Back at the G1 Climax 24 Finals at the Seibu Dome, Jeff Jarrett joined The Bullet Club after hitting Tanahashi with a guitar. In the following months, it seemed that he was going to get into a match with Yoshitatsu at this show (the rumor was a tag team match with Jarrett teaming with Bad Luck Fale to go against the team of Yoshitatsu & Tomoaki Honma), but after Yoshitatsu suffered a serious neck injury after a botched Styles Clash in a match with AJ Styles, things changed, and we now have this Six-Man Tag. I thought this was a perfectly fine match. We got the usual Bullet Club shenanigans, as you would expect, but there was some solid stuff in here. A highlight was Jarrett missing a guitar shot and (inadvertently) hitting Yujiro. In the end, Honma would successfully hit the Kokeshi from the top rope onto Yujiro to score the victory for his team.

3.) Eight-Man Tag - Toru Yano, GHC Heavyweight Champion Naomichi Marufuji & TMDK (Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste) vs. Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Shelton "X" Benjamin & The Killer Elite Squad of Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer): **1/2
Unfortunately, this is yet another match in the seeming never-ending feud between between Toru Yano & Suzuki-gun. The good news, however, is that we’re getting some NOAH guys!! With Minoru Suzuki having a match with Sakuraba, and other CHAOS members occupied, Yano enlisted the help of NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji & TMDK of Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste. This eight-man tag was about on-par with the six-man tag that preceded it. The match turned into a brawl, and everyone got to have their moment. At one point, Lance Archer hit a HUGE chokeslam on Shane Haste!! That looked brutal. The match was kept relatively short, which was definitely a good thing (it didn’t need to be that long). Marufuji, then the GHC Heavyweight Champion, would end up pinning Iizuka to score the win for his team.

4.) UWFI Rules Match - Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba: ***¾

The stipulation of this match basically means that the match can only win via submission or knockout. Suzuki comes out in all-white attire, and his spiked hair is dyed white. I knew a lot of people were going into this match unsure of how it would go, but in the end, I think this match was definitely a hit. These two worked really well together. Lots of hard strikes and submissions in this one. The crowd was really into it. Suzuki would eventually put Sakuraba away with the Saka Otoshi for the victory. Really good match that I think blew away the expectations a lot people had coming in.

After the match, Suzuki & Sakuraba embraced in a sign of respect.
5.) NEVER Openweight Title - Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe: ****1/4
Up next we have another match that is guaranteed to be a hard-hitting affair, as Ishii defends his NEVER Openweight Title against Togi Makabe. As you would expect, this was just a brutal match. These two just beat the ever living crap out of each other right from the opening bell. There really isn’t much to say other than that. It was pretty brutal. Through all of this carnage, Makabe was finally able to hit his King Kong Knee Drop on Ishii to get the win and capture the NEVER Openweight Title.

It was at this point that we got a video promoting a number of events coming up on New Japan’s calendar in 2015, including The New Beginning, The 2015 New Japan Cup, Invasion Attack, Wrestling Dontaku, a return to North America for more joint shows with Ring of Honor, The 2015 Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, Dominion, and the 2015 G1 Climax. Lots of exciting shows to come!

6.) IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title - Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Kenny Omega: ***¼

Omega made his debut as part of The Bullet Club at Power Struggle 2014. Now dubbed “The Cleaner”, he made his intentions very clear, challenging Taguchi for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. Early on, Omega sprayed some kind of deodorant (or other substance) into Taguchi’s eyes, and actually spent some time during the match working over Taguchi’s eyes (and Taguchi did a good job selling this as well). I thought the match was pretty solid, though it wasn’t anything great. We also got several attempts at interference by The Young Bucks, but Taguchi was able to fight them off. In the end, however, Omega would defeat Taguchi, capturing the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title for The Bullet Club.
7.) IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles - The Bullet Club (Doc Gallows & "Machine Gun" Karl Anderson with "Bullet Babe" Amber Gallows & Tama Tonga) vs. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: ***½

Anderson & Gallows have held the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles for a full year coming into this show (they won the title at Wrestle Kingdom 8 the year prior). Goto & Shibata earned this title match by virtue of winning the 2014 Global Tag League in December. This was another match that I think was better than expected. People have been really down on the Anderson & Gallows title reign, but this was probably the best tag match they’ve been in. I’m sure a good amount of the credit goes to Goto & Shibata, who are great wrestlers in their own right. The match didn’t go very long (it was under 10 minutes) and I think that helped. Goto & Shibata were eventually able to put away The Bullet Club, and captured the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles!
8.) "The Phenomenal" AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito: ****
Even though it was never explicitly said, this could be viewed as a #1 Contender’s Match. Naito actually defeated AJ Styles during the G1 Climax, while Styles was still the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Styles, in turn, lost the IWGP Heavyweight Title to Tanahashi before Naito could challenge, and Styles had yet to receive his rematch. So the winner would presumably get the next title shot. This was a great match that told a really good story. Every time Naito seemed to build up some momentum, Styles would cut him off. He really worked over the legs of Naito, even putting him in his leg submission, The Calf Cutter, for an extended period of time. Naito was never able to mount a comeback, and Styles would put him away with a Styles Clash from the top rope! Again, this was a really good match that did a great job established Styles as the next challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.

9.) IWGP Intercontinental Title - Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi: *****
Up next we have the first of two huge title matches. These two had an incredible match during the 2013 G1 Climax, but haven’t faced each other in a one-on-one match since. Nakamura has a fantastic entrance, where he comes out with a huge cape, and an awesome looking crown, in addition to usual jacket (really putting over his “King of Strong Style” persona). I absolutely LOVED this match!! It was all kinds of awesome!! The action throughout was just spectacular. Nakamura was his usual amazing self, but this was a really a star-making performance for Ibushi, who proved he could hang with the top tier talent in New Japan. It was also an excellent follow up to their aforementioned match from the 2013 G1 Climax. Just amazing stuff from start to finish. It definitely had a big fight feel, and it delivered in spades. Nakamura would, in the end, finally put away Ibushi to retain his IWGP Intercontinental Title. Once again, this was absolutely incredible match with a great story told throughout!!

10.) IWGP Heavyweight Title - Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada: *****
On any other show, under any other circumstances, it would be next to impossible to follow the insane match that came before it. This isn’t just any other show, however, and if any match could follow Nakamura vs. Ibushi, it would be Tanahashi vs. Okada. This match was set up when Okada won the 2014 G1 Climax, while Tanahashi later defeated AJ Styles at King of Pro-Wrestling 2014 to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Title. I can confidently say that these two delivered another instant classic. This match was fantastic!! The fact that they were able to match the incredible contest that preceded it is a testament to how great these two guys are. What’s amazing is that this was definitely a contrast to the IWGP Intercontinental Title Match. While Nakamura vs. Ibushi was filled with big moves & high-octane action, Tanahashi vs. Okada had much more emphasis on the story in addition to the big moves (not to say Nakamura vs. Ibushi didn’t have a story, but I think this match had more storytelling as a whole). These two pulled out everything they had, and the combination of action & storytelling produced an amazing match that was another classic match in their series of classic matches. Eventually, Tanahashi was able to outlast Okada, and retained his IWGP Heavyweight Title!! For those wondering, their overall record against each other is now 3-3-1.

After the match, Okada was helped to the back by his manager/mentor Gedo. He began crying, heartbroken that he had fallen to Tanahashi yet again in the Main Event of the Tokyo Dome Show. Tanahashi cut a promo saying that while Okada was great, he still wasn’t The Ace of New Japan. He celebrated with his signature air guitar to close the show.

Overall: 10/10

Wrestle Kingdom 9 certainly had a lot of expectations going into the show. Not only did they meet those expectations, but they absolutely shattered them. This was amazing event from start to finish. Not only is it the best show of 2015 (it will be next to impossible for anything to top this), but I would dare to say that this was one of the greatest wrestling shows of ALL TIME. It was that great. There wasn’t a single bad match on the show. The undercard had a lot of stuff that ranged from solid to great. You had a great opener in the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match, two short multi-man tags that served their respective purposes, a really good match in Suzuki vs. Sakuraba, a hard hitting NEVER Openweight Title Match, two very solid matches for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title & the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, and a great effort in the form of AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito.

The show closed out with two all time classic matches in Nakamura vs. Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title, and Tanahashi vs. Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Both of these matches were absolutely spectacular, but also had their own unique traits & characteristics. They are matches that you absolutely need to go out of your way to see, and turned the show itself into one of the greatest of all time. As far as the English Commentary goes, I thought the Jim Ross & Matt Striker, on the whole, did a very good job. The first half of the show was a little rough, especially for Ross, but I think they got settled in once the second half rolled around. They were both great during the Main Event Title Matches, and I think made it a great experience for people who may have been checking out New Japan for the first time (not as good as Mauro Ranallo & Josh Barnett do with the AXS TV Show, but for a one-off, I thought they did a fine job). Simply put, this show was nothing short of amazing, and it showcased everything that’s great about New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

So this show is basically New Japan’s version of the RAW after WrestleMania, where we see some fallout, and things being set up for the future. Let’s see how they follow up the night after one of the greatest shows in wrestling history!

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