NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Day 3

Arnold Furious: 24th July 2015. We’re in Kyoto, Japan. Yesterday saw Block B kick off. After the wins and losses were tallied here’s how the Block looks:

BLOCK B:
Karl Anderson 2
Kazuchika Okada 2
Yuji Nagata 2
Hirooki Goto 2
Tomohiro Ishii 2
Satoshi Kojima 0
Yujiro Takahashi 0
Tomoaki Honma 0
Michael Elgin 0
Shinsuke Nakamura 0

Nakamura’s defeat, in the main event no less, was a big upset but the plan must surely be to have Nakamura on a slow burn. It’s likely he’ll lose again before he starts on the road to redemption. That’s how Gedo usually books. Seeing as we’re going back over to Block A, here’s a reminder of how that looks.

BLOCK A:
Hiroshi Tanahashi 2
AJ Styles 2
Tetsuya Naito 2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan 2
Togi Makabe 2
Doc Gallows 0
Toru Yano 0
Bad Luck Fale 0
Katsuyori Shibata 0
Kota Ibushi 0

Tonight’s big matches have Tanahashi against Tenzan. Both winners on Day One. Shibata vs. Naito, with Shibata anxious to kick Naito’s ass after their tag contest on Day Two. The other matches expose the weakness of Block A with Gallows, Fale and Yano all in different matches. With the exception of Yujiro Takahashi, the three weakest wrestlers in the G1.

Like Day Two this a show with no commentary, presumably being added later when it airs on Samurai TV, but unlike Day Two it’s a proper shoot with multiple cameras and it looks like someone is actually paying attention to the broadcast.

Michael Elgin, Mascara Dorada, Jay White & David Finlay vs. Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
Elgin vs. Kojima is one of the Block B matches tomorrow, so they face off amongst a bevy of juniors. Both men had a decent showing but lost. They’ll be keen to set down a few markers to try and get inside their opponents head for their second bout tomorrow. There’s a good sign right off the bat; the crowd is rowdy and there’s a buzz around the venue. This was not the case at all during Day Two. It’s a pity last night’s card didn’t get this night’s crowd but on paper last night was better. Tiger Mask employs some totally weird psychology and hits the finish he used on Jay White last night in the first sequence in this match. That makes no sense, at all. He stays down selling afterwards, perhaps aware he’s erred. Liger is crazy over. The same way he is in America and the UK. Kyoto must not get to see him too often.

The juniors always get multiple man tags during G1 but rarely get booked into the tournament. How’s about this for an idea; winner of the Super Juniors gets a spot in G1? That would certainly give that tournament a bit more weight. And also, we’d get KUSHIDA all over these shows. There’s no downside to that. As Kojima and Elgin start to leather each other the crowd erupts, they’re going to be wonderful tonight. I love a good crowd. Elgin gets put over big time, double suplexing TM and Liger and making Komatsu look like a small child. If his pedigree was in doubt, in Japan, before this tournament that’s certainly changed already. Kojima gets the better of him with the Koji Cutter and Finlay takes the lariat for the loss. Elgin and Kojima looked seriously motivated here, which means good things for their match tomorrow night.
Final Rating: **3/4

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI)
If anyone can get a good match out of Yujiro it’s Ishii, who worked wonders during their NEVER title feud last year. They’ll be working a Block match tomorrow night, hence this tag. For those who don’t follow NJPW all that closely, Yujiro used to be in CHAOS before defecting to Bullet Club during AJ Styles IWGP title victory. CHAOS have not been fans of him since and he’s worked series with Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI. The only good thing about Yujiro is he can make it believable that anyone can beat him. Cody works the match like he’s Yujiro’s bodyguard and that’s an ongoing angle I could get behind. Cody didn’t get the memo where you’re not supposed to get over on anyone who’s in the G1 and tries to bully Ishii a bit, which gets him a kicking. Cody is showing signs of improvement, one of the benefits of working in New Japan where the standard is so high. He’s still making mistakes, big ones at that, but his persona is coming across much better than before and he’s gaining in confidence. I don’t think the Japanese fans get the Razor Ramon references so much but they tickle me. Cody’s blunders continue with a botched spot with YOSHI-HASHI, which he forgets to kick out of. YOSHI-HASHI finishes moments later with a corkscrew senton, which makes me think Cody just forgot what move the finish was. This wasn’t very good. Ishii vs. Yujiro should be better tomorrow.
Final Rating: *3/4

Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga) vs. Hirooki Goto & Captain New Japan
Karl Anderson is the talk of the puro world after beating Shinsuke Nakamura in Day Two’s main event. It’s a logical upset, as Nakamura will always contend and Gedo’s booking always sets out with the intention of sewing seeds of doubt. Next for Anderson is another favourite for Block B; Hirooki Goto. The current IC champion and 2008 G1 winner. Goto has spent most of his career hitting his head on the glass ceiling so there will always be question marks as to whether he can hang with the top guys. Beating Nakamura twice recently seems to have removed the stigma I always felt Goto had. Tagging with Shibata, he always looked like a weak link. Interesting to note that despite his transformation into confident main eventer, he’s carrying an injury and has taped ribs. Will that come into play as the tournament progresses? Anderson has been stuck in the tag ranks for some considerable time but come G1 he’s always able to hang with the big stars. Anderson has too much for Captain New Japan and batters him into submission before finishing with the Gun Stun in short order. In the early stages of this year G1 he’s been a big deal.
Final Rating: **1/4

Tomoaki Honma, Yuji Nagata & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura & Gedo)
This is in the spot where so far in the tournament we’ve had our best tag team matches. The line up for this one is great, apart from the insufferable Taguchi who seems to have wheedled his way into teaming with people who are genuinely good. Nakamura, if he wasn’t already a favourite of mine, would go up in my estimation by booting the foolish Taguchi in the stomach for fucking around during the King of Strongstyle’s introduction. As if to try and out-do that Honma puts Okada on notice! Honma’s intention is to claim his first G1 win by beating the IWGP champion tomorrow night. It’s not impossible and it would be a magnificent result…but I can’t see it happening. Okada is brilliant in opposition, slipping by Honma when he sets up for the Kokeshi and catching the confused opponent in the Rainmaker, only for Honma to duck under it. That match headlines Day Four with good reason. It will be quite sensational. Honestly, the only part of this match that isn’t great is Taguchi and how much of my time he wastes with his butt-based offence and stupid mannerisms. He is quite dreadful. Honma more than makes up for it, with perfect reactions to everything. The Nakamura-Nagata stuff is a bit muted as they had a feud for the IC belt earlier in the year and already laid any groundwork for a rematch. When they do clash, Nagata dominates Nakamura. Perhaps suggesting a Nagata victory is imminent to give Nakamura a proper uphill struggle, going 0-2. Increasingly Block B is the place to be. It has the better stories and the better matches. Seeing as Okada comes in with bags of confidence, as IWGP champion and having beaten Elgin on Day Two, he takes a knock or two. He gets trapped in Nagata’s armbar and gets whacked with Kokeshi too. Speaking of which; Honma’s Kokeshi connection rate is insane during G1 and he hits the Super Kokeshi on Gedo for the pin. A marked contrast to the million misses last year.
Final Rating: ***1/4

KOKESHI COUNT – 1 missed. 3 hit.

SUPER KOKESHI – 1 hit.

G1 Climax Block A
Doc Gallows vs. Kota Ibushi
Pre-match pick: Ibushi. His opening night loss was to Tanahashi but he looked like a genuine threat to one of the favourites. It’s unlikely Ibushi will win the whole thing but you’d want him to be a contender at least. Gallows is there to make up the numbers. The story they go for is an obvious one; Kota’s agility vs. Gallows sheer mass advantage. Gallows is very deliberate, throwing big hands in the corner in particular, reminiscent of the Undertaker. Ibushi isn’t used to working against bigger opponents and doesn’t really modify his approach to wrestling to suit. Hopefully this match will give him some ideas for the Fale match. Gallows certainly tries hard here, in a better showing than Day One, and throws in a combination of strikes and big spots. Some of the ideas are perhaps a bit ambitious and the set up to Ibushi winning with a sunset flip is all a bit contrived. At least the right guy went over.
Final Rating: ***

Picks: 7/11

G1 Climax Block A
Bad Luck Fale vs. Togi Makabe
Pre-match pick: Makabe. I think they’ll keep Makabe strong to start with. His third match is against Shibata, which is where the Block will start to get really intriguing. Fale offers very little by comparison, and lacks the conditioning he had last year. Togi’s idea of getting the match over is to take an enormous amount of heat, which Fale is ill equipped to dish out. He really is in horrible condition and the difference between Gallows effort in the last match and Fale’s total lack of effort in this one is noticeable. Several spots don’t work at all, even worse than the last match, and Togi’s answer to everything is a big overhand punch. Fale wins with a surprisingly safe Bad Luck Fall. I couldn’t get into it at all. Will probably end up being the worst match in the G1 this year. Unless Gallows vs. Fale is even worse.
Final Rating: *

Picks: 7/12

G1 Climax Block A
Toru Yano vs. AJ Styles
Pre-match pick: AJ Styles. Yano will probably win some matches here and there but surely AJ is going to be kept strong all tournament long and be there or thereabouts at the end. Even if it’s just as a target for someone else to overcome. Losing to Yano isn’t part of those plans. Surely. Yano goes into the ropes to start with. “BREAK. BREEEEEAAAAAAAAAK. BREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKK. BREEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK”. Yano’s whole gimmick is making fun of people who take themselves seriously. AJ’s certainly a contender for that and he eats a chair doing the rail hurdling spot. AJ probably feels he’s too good to get suckered by Yano but Yano’s magic has worked on everyone. Red Shoes isn’t keen on AJ’s muscle pose pin and won’t count it. “I’m trying to be entertaining here!” – AJ. Yano somehow has this ability to be faster when he’s cheating, and his timing is uncanny. AJ plays along with all the spots, including Yano’s RVD style pointing, smacking Yano in the back of the head with the springboard elbow after being made to look foolish one time too many. AJ’s block of the low blow into the Pele Kick is outstanding business too. Yano is a creative guy, who always seems to be one move ahead, usually illegally. For AJ to match him, he has to get creative. Yano gets caught in the Calf Killer, bang in the middle of the ring, and that’ll do it. This had several memorable moments and Yano definitely shouldn’t have gone over AJ. He’ll upset somebody in this tournament but when the time is right.
Final Rating: ***1/4

Picks: 8/13

G1 Climax Block A
Tetsuya Naito vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Pre-match pick: Shibata. This is the most intriguing match of the night and easily the hardest prediction. I ended up flipping a coin but basically Naito has started strong and Shibata is injured so that would be the logical call. However, logic goes out the window with Shibata and myself. I keep picking him to win everything. I still secretly hope he wins G1. The reactions to Naito’s new Ingobernables character have been indifferent so far but he gets booed soundly in Kyoto (which is near Osaka, a typical hotbed of Naito hatred). The tag match last night did a good job of building to this match as Shibata got some genuine hatred going and he jumps Naito before he’s taken off his mask and suit. Part of the tactic is defensive as Shibata is carrying that arm injury and doesn’t want to get into trouble. If he dominates, he protects his arm. When Naito does get into the match he doesn’t just go after the arm, he uses the arm to set up the leg, which Shibata had worked over by AJ Styles on Day One. A lot of the folks on Twitter seem really into Naito’s new character but it does nothing whatsoever for me. I just find it frustrating that one of NJPW’s more entertaining workers now has weird ticks that make him look lazy. Shibata knows how to please me, and Kyoto, and destroys Naito’s face with the sole of boot. Then he refuses to go down for Naito’s corner legsweep spot, by holding the ropes and double stomps Naito when he slingshots in. It’s good stuff, using Naito’s trademark spot and Shibata’s wrestling ability. He’ll have prepared a game plan for all of Naito’s spots. It’s Naito who kills the spirit of the match with his usual glassy-eyed stare into the middle distance. If he doesn’t give a shit, why should I? Shibata puts the wanker in a sleeper and then finishes with a PK. Good! Some decent limb work from Naito but his character is the worst. People who don’t care about anything are impossible to care about.
Final Rating: ***1/2

Picks: 9/14

G1 Climax Block A
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Pre-match pick: Tanahashi. I’m pretty much picking him to win every match he’s in as I’ll be right 90% of the time. Tenzan won his opening match but he’s not on Tanahashi’s level, despite having three times as many G1 wins as New Japan’s ace. The crowd get Tana all pissed off during the opening exchanges by loudly chanting for Tenzan. Don’t they know they only get a star like Tanahashi once in a hundred years! It says so on his knee pads. It must be true. Tenzan gets lots of love for the Mongolian Chops and Tana starts getting a bit of heat. Tanahashi throws the kind of strop about it that you wish John Cena would do every once in a while. He gets so angry he stops off to play some air guitar. Have you ever gotten that mad? That’s Kevin Bacon anger dancing in a barn from Footloose levels of pissed off. Tanahashi wisely keeps the pace slow so Tenzan can keep up and not drop dead from exhaustion. Tanahashi never really seems in trouble and Tenzan’s domination of certain sequences seem to be Tana simply biding his time. Tana is content to simply wear Tenzan out by drawing the match out and hooking holds that cripple Tenzan’s cardio. The one spot that feels like Tenzan might get somewhere is when he hooks the Anaconda Vice bang in the middle of the ring and Unno is all over it, checking that Tanahashi hasn’t quit or passed out. Red Shoes has phenomenal false finish teases on submissions. He hints at ringing the bell, as if he heard an audio submission and then goes back to check again. It’s the work of a master. When the finish comes there’s a hint of inevitability. Tenzan is worn out from his attempts at getting a tap out and gets caught with the Slingblade. He kicks out of that but gets beaten with the High Fly Flow moments later. The crowd were really hoping for a Tenzan win but, despite the lengthy Anaconda Vice spot, it was never really on the cards.
Final Rating: ***3/4

Picks: 10/15. Best night yet for me on picks as I went 4/5. Only that son of a bitch Fale wrecked everything.

Before we go, here’s the new Block A standings.

BLOCK A:
AJ Styles 4
Hiroshi Tanahashi 4
Tetsuya Naito 2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan 2
Togi Makabe 2
Kota Ibushi 2
Bad Luck Fale 2
Katsuyori Shibata 2
Doc Gallows 0
Toru Yano 0

No hopers Gallows and Yano are the only two blanked after two matches, which will make absolutely no difference come the end. As predicted it’s AJ Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi that are setting the pace. Expect those two to go to the wire. Shibata and Ibushi both picked up their first wins after losing to AJ and Tana, respectively, on Day One. I suspect both will still be in the running come the last couple of shows.

Summary: The least thrilling G1 show so far this year. A couple of decent matches but even the better matches didn’t deliver like the best matches on the other nights. Some of the undercard tags were quite fun but there’s a definite feeling that Block B has the better matches lined up. Still it worked fine as a show and kept me interested throughout. It was quite pleasing that they whole thing ran three hours instead of the bulging three and half hours of the other two shows. Avoid that awful Makabe-Fale match like the plague though.
Verdict: 64

NJPW Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall

Arnold Furious: June 11, 2017. We’re in Osaka at Osaka-Jo Hall. The English language commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis. I’m reasonably happy with this team. It’s panning out better than any other combination they’ve used to date. Got to be better than Matt Striker right? Perhaps Steve Corino was a little better than Callis but Don makes this feel like a unique team, not just ‘let’s get ROH guys to do it’. Highlights today should include KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Goto vs. Mi-Su in a lumberjack death match, Naito-Tanahashi and Okada-Omega II.

 

Jushin Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tiger Mask W, Yuji Nagata, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask IV
The Dads division is in full force here. Plus several wild animals. It’s pretty wild that NJPW are still treating Tiger Mask W like he’s some new wrestler that belongs in opening matches, after battling Okada at the Anniversary show. These guys wrestle each other all the time so it’s an easy match to put together, apart from Makabe failing to get in position for a Nakanishi spear and the big man having to run the ropes again. It causes a chuckle amongst the crowd who know exactly what happened but it’s fairly embarrassing. Togi hits the King Kong Kneedrop on the big man to get the W. Not Tiger Mask, but the Win. This was fine. It always is.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

NEVER Openweight Championship Gauntlet
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI)
The New Japan cameraman is virtually gynaecological in trying to get a shot of Yujiro’s lady. The camera can barely find Fale for his introduction because it’s too busy gawking. “Don’t be such a perve” sayeth Kelly when Callis attempts the same. The match is ok, like the opener, with everything ticking over nicely at a decent speed. There are a lot of different characters and styles involved and it being the first match in a gauntlet series it has to be fast-paced. Yano pulls out the win by cheating. The Sublime Master Thief!

 

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi)
Sabre pins Yano with superior grappling and SKG advance in a matter of seconds.

 

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi) vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson)
Taguchi Japan do a lot of goofy sports stuff to pop the Japanese commentary team. Sabre organises similar abuse and the crowd refuse to pop the heels. Quite right too. I’m proud of you, Osaka. I’m quite happy to see Sabre wrestle any of these guys and whenever he’s in there it’s a solid match. He wrestles most of it, which is fine by me. He should never tag out. They work in a really, really obvious ‘grab the ref’ spot but SKG f*ck up and Juice hits Pulp Friction for the pin. Sabre punishes Juice for this infraction, softening him up for LIJ.

 

Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
LIJ are the incumbent champions so this should be the last match. Ricochet does some very cool stuff with kicks in the early going. Young Rico then gets f*ck*d up attempting to add a powerbomb to a Tower of Doom spot. Sometimes you get what you deserve, Mr Fancypants. The match continues at a fantastic pace with BUSHI isolated as the weak link in the LIJ team. This backfires because LIJ are a far superior team. Taguchi is triple teamed and the MX finishes.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (c) vs. The Young Bucks
The Bucks are going for their sixth IWGP junior championships. The Bucks look to eliminate Romero, with an assortment of abuse on the apron (it’s the hardest part of the ring) before relying on double teams to dismantle Trent. The Bucks continually destroy Rocky on the outside so Beretta has no one to tag. The match is a procession of Bucks offence, leaving Beretta with a series of desperation kick-outs. It’s bizarre to see the Bucks have an old school tag match, based entirely around heat and storyline. With a few less flips it’s the structure of a match from the 1980s. Romero finally returns for Strong Zero only for Nick to kill Beretta in the pin with a Swanton Bomb. It’s one the best ‘break up a pin’ spots you’ll ever see. The work on Romero’s back helps to set up some lovely near finishes. It’s a well-planned match and Romero’s crowd support allows them to tell this story. His heroic comebacks are interspersed with the Bucks killing him again. Eventually Romero, trapped in the Sharpshooter, taps out. This was one of the most logical, smartly worked Young Bucks matches you’ll ever see. It was tremendous work throughout.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
I’ve been somewhat critical of how companies book War Machine. It’s a simple process; they dominate and the other team makes them look good. Then when they eventually do lose it means something. You get over on them by cheating. This is so simple. It doesn’t happen here. GOD work heat and it’s all badly planned. Tanga especially as he tries to no sell. Tanga wants to be more important than he is. He’s not a star. He never will be. There are moments where they get the match right, with War Machine looking dominant but it’s almost immediately followed by Tanga doing something awful and nonsensical. Tama on the other hand is all sneaky in how he attacks and his stuff makes sense. I’m fine with it. He also knows when to take a thrashing off the champs. Tanga looks confused at times, lost at others and can’t match the standard set by everyone else. It ends up being a match where Tama Tonga has to carry everything and cover for his brothers ineptitude. As a team they are nowhere near as good as War Machine but Tama has some awesome ideas, like catching a Gun Stun in the middle of a double team. Most of the action is fine but the booking sucks. Guerrilla Warfare finishes after a bullshit referee bump and a chair shot. That might have been a forced change if New Japan aren’t using War Machine again but Gedo’s style of booking a tag division is to continually switch the belts.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

Michael Elgin vs. Cody Rhodes
Cody does a lot of posing and basic heel stuff while Elgin meets him with raw power. My main issue with this match is that Cody has so many fresh matches in Japan and they keep booking him against other gaijin. I don’t know if that’s just an issue with Cody not being able to communicate with the Japanese talent or wanting to ease himself into the promotion or what. Cody is particularly good at giving stuff room to breathe, which comes from working in WWE. He knows when to stop and pose. He perhaps does this too often, although he is working heel so it’s his job to control the pace. Is lack of drive in that department hurts the reactions though and Elgin doesn’t get those same massive pops that he usually receives. Elgin throws Cody around with his effortless power. Pound for pound he’s probably the strongest man in NJPW. Elgin’s dead lift superplex from off the apron is unreal. Cody picks up the big shock win with Crossroads. Looks like New Japan are very serious about pushing Rhodes as a top talent in their promotion, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Gedo likes Western wrestling. “Okada…let him know” says Cody to the English commentary.
Final Rating: ***

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Hiromu beat KUSHIDA in less than two minutes the last time they wrestled but KUSHIDA has gone through Best of the Super Juniors to claim another title shot and gained a new finisher. But then Hiromu has a new entrance, inspired by Rey Mysterio. The intensity of this battle is there from the opening bell and KUSHIDA outdoes his previous performance. Hiromu has a delightfully violent and dangerous style, which results in KUSHIDA getting thrown around. Hiromu’s ‘antics’ over the course of the week have got in KUSHIDA’s head! KUSHIDA’s response is a Sabu-esque chair assisted dropkick that puts Hiromu through a rail. It’s a vicious spot and it helps KUSHIDA on his path of chasing Hiromu’s arm to get the submission. KUSHIDA once again does something completely sick with the Hoverboard Lock off the top takedown. However Hiromu refuses to give up and instead murders KUSHIDA with a sunset bomb to the floor. This match is insane. Hiromu has been on a tear this year and KUSHIDA’s BOSJ performance was fantastic. Now they’re having this sick match. Which features the Back to the Future off the top, Hiromu not killing himself with the bump as much as Ospreay did but it still causing a lengthy double knock down. KUSHIDA gets a lot of heat for a) punching and b) stomping on Hiromu’s face. Hey, he’s been met with dangerous and he has to respond with violence. That’s all there is to  it. KUSHIDA brutalises Hiromu’s arm, bending the wrist back, and Takahashi has no choice but to tap out. This was amazing. The crazy high spots, the psychology, the revenge, the catharsis, the potential for another match! The Junior division has been solid ever since KUSHIDA rose to the top of it and Hiromu has taken the standard even higher. This was all kinds of great.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

Post-match: KUSHIDA gets a Mexican wave going and BUSHI jumps him from behind.

 

Lumberjack Death Match
NEVER Openweight Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Having a lumberjack match means that CHAOS can actually offset the standard SKG interference. I normally don’t care for lumberjack matches, because they’re meaningless unless a guy keeps getting counted out during a feud, but at least it keeps the interference as part of the match. The match struggles along until Suzuki goes after Liger, who’s on commentary, and they almost get into a fight. Suzuki matches are generally great, because of his intensity, but Goto is a flat, bland character so this one falls flat. It’s not a bad match but it lacks the passion and excitement of the previous match. Goto very rarely gets the crowd fired up. In a match designed to eliminate SKG interference they still manage to insert a ref bump and have Suzuki-gun run in. Only to get single-handedly beaten down by YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI! That’s how shit SKG are. Goto has it won clean with GTR but Taichi pulls the ref out. Suzuki then hits the Gotch Piledriver to retain. Typical ‘big match’ failure from Goto. Horrible match choice, bad structure, two pointless ref bumps and Taichi is the finish. At least YOSHI-HASHI looked like a total badass during this. So while this was a poor match at least it gets us to Suzuki vs. YOSHI-HASHI.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Osaka hated Naito as a babyface. Now he’s a heel the crowd are cheering for him. Such is life. Nice guys finish last. With Naito in his plum suit and Tanahashi in his robes, it’s like a battle of a supervillain and hero. As Naito starts to get some heat he comes to life. Naito is fun as a heel who people cheer but when he gets heat and gets angry about it, that’s peak Ingobernable. Tana comes in with a torn bicep, the latest in a string of injuries for the former ace. Naito, predictably, works the arm and illicits a very strong response from Osaka. It’s the best building for Naito because they always react strongly toward him. Tanahashi, when triggered, can become a total dick and Naito has a habit of triggering people. Naito’s latest way to irritate people is his treatment of the IC title but it has a specific purpose. Naito thinks there are too many belts and want New Japan to ditch it so he’s literally destroying the title belt to make it worthless. Naito comes in with a sneakily taped up knee, which Tana goes after when Naito is so relentless at working his injured arm. Thus is becomes a battle of injured limbs and Tanahashi is hurt worse.

It’s tough to watch because there’s a fine line between Tanahashi rolling around selling and Tanahashi being legitimately hurt. Tana’s injury means his bumps are a little awkward at times, which is a concern. The tornado DDT looks downright dangerous. The match starts to get really heated when they just f*ck off the injury angles and start popping off the big spots, leaving the crowd in a constantly unsettled state (like a lucha crowd). The finish is really weird as Tanahashi fails to score three of the High Fly Flow and switches to a high Cloverleaf until Naito simply taps out.

It’s a curious finish as it felt like a rest hold prior to the actual finishing stretch. But it does make logical sense as Tana spent the whole match working the leg. There was a nice tip of the hat to Nakamura right before the High Fly Flow. He promised Shinsuke he’d become the IC ace and here he is.
Final Rating: ****

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
This is a much hyped re-match to Wrestle Kingdom’s *****(*) contest. That match went north of 45 minutes and there is a possibility of a 60 minute draw. This looks like a possibility from the opening exchanges, which are slow and deliberate. Commentary chooses to make this about match quality and how Omega was responsible for the six star match, not Okada, causing Kevin Kelly to read out Dave Meltzer’s star ratings history for both men, suggesting Okada has had more high calibre matches. What is happening?

The storyline kicks in with Okada “tweaking the knee”. Commentary bashes me over the head with that by telling us about it before the spot even happens. Omega works it over and that’s the focus of the match. I’d rather they didn’t do that, seeing as almost every Tanahashi main event has had that leg story. At least Omega is vicious about it and throws Okada onto the announce table knee first. Tonight has seen a lot of submissions so it’s interesting that Okada, in his defensive moveset, busts out Red Ink to wear Kenny down. There’s just a slight inkling that he might tap, given the other results. Okada does a decent job of paying tribute to that leg work, without letting it dominate the match. He’s hesitant to put weight on it and is slow to follow up on moves as he gingerly recovers from spots. The legwork is slowly forgotten as they move into bigger and bigger spots, and it’s clear that Okada is landing more successfully than during the first match; hitting Heavy Rain on the apron and his savage Shotgun dropkick into the rail. Also he busts out a table, clearly wanting to avenge the table spot from WK. As we get about thirty minutes into the match it becomes apparent this is a long-haul contest. Even more so than WK. Each big bump is greeted by a substantial period of selling. Although the spots are worth selling. For example; Omega countering Okada’s magnificent dropkick into a sit-out powerbomb in mid-move. That’s sensational work. The table comes into play for Okada dropping the elbow through it, leaving Omega a mess at ringside. I like how big spots genuinely turn the tide of the match for large periods of the action. It makes big spots mean something. Plus the storytelling ties in to Okada’s big match tropes. Omega becomes scared as soon as Okada gets wrist control because he knows what that means. The Bullet Club arrive in full force and Cody Rhodes tries to throw the towel in as Omega is finished. The Bullet Club then becomes Kenny’s cheering squad as he mounts his comeback. The match then becomes about the One Winged Angel. The only thing Kenny didn’t do to Okada at WK and the one move nobody kicks out of, ever. He hits it and Okada, showing incredible ring positioning, gets his foot on the rope.

The match is loaded with these little moments like Omega doing his gun taunt and Okada grabbing him for a Rainmaker out of it. At this point both guys look tired and it’s entirely believable that either of them could be pinned at any moment. They both throw out quite sensational last gasp counters to prevent this. At one point Omega collapses in mid-Rainmaker, thus saving himself by passing out. It’s utterly sensational. I’ve never seen anything like it.

It gets to the point where neither guy can lift the other so they wearily strike at each other. This is where Kenny can win because he has those heavy knees. The V-Trigger cannot set up One-Winged Angel because Kenny has no strength left. It’s such an exhausting match, both mentally for the viewer and physically for the wrestlers. Going 60 minutes is exceptionally hard and telling a story throughout that hour is even harder. This has been masterful. Inside a minute left and Okada hits the Rainmaker but can’t get a pin because he’s too tired. The time limit expires. It’s a 60 minute draw. Holy shit.

I preferred the Wrestle Kingdom match but that is in no way a criticism of this match. Just that I preferred that match to this one. This was phenomenal. They told a great story and battled through the hour switching gears and telling that long story. I love these boys. The second half of this was fantastic.
Final Rating: *****

 

Summary: With the streak of awesome main events they’re having this year, if you’re not watching New Japan you’re not watching the best professional wrestling on the planet.
Verdict: 100

NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Day 2

Arnold Furious: 23rd July 2015. We’re in Shizuoka, Japan for Day Two of the G1. Day One focused on Block A where Hiroshi Tanahashi and AJ Styles, the pre-tournament favourites, both racked up victories. After one night here’s the standings:

Block A:
Hiroshi Tanahashi 2
AJ Styles 2
Tetsuya Naito 2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan 2
Togi Makabe 2
Doc Gallows 0
Toru Yano 0
Bad Luck Fale 0
Katsuyori Shibata 0
Kota Ibushi 0

Tonight the focus switches over to Block B. Day One rather cunningly set these matches up. Kojima vs. Ishii featured heavily in a tag match, which resulted in a pull-apart brawl. Everyone else faced each other in tag action also, and the headline event is Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Karl Anderson. While it’s not the stacked card that Day One was those two matches should be great and Honma vs. Nagata as well. Plus it’s the first singles match in NJPW for Michael Elgin…against Kazuchika Okada. No pressure.

This show differs from the first one, in terms of production. While the first show was a multi-camera deal, this one is very much a tour set up with just the hard-cam. Sometimes that takes away from the action and it’s very odd if you’re used to watching WWE but sometimes it helps to intensify the feeling that you’re at a wrestling show.

Today I face my first major challenge since G1 started…eye strain. I woke up and could barely see anything. Perhaps a down side to last nights Brit Wres Roundtable Podcasting and possibly nothing to do with the Wild Turkey I drank afterwards.

Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask IV vs. Yohei Komatsu & Jay White
You’ll have to excuse a lack of details on this match as I was still eating breakfast while it was happening. You cannot beat a well made BLT. It is food of the gods. The contest pits junior veterans Liger and TM against young boys Komatsu and White. It’s interesting to see the young boys in this environment. The hard-cam is a bit odd. It feels like you’re sitting in the audience at the show, which has pros and cons. The young boys don’t get much, generally given a shoeing as Liger tests their resilience before Tiger Mask finishes. This was really basic stuff. Both Liger and TM looked a bit disinterested.
Final Rating: **

Kota Ibushi, Togi Makabe & Captain New Japan vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows & Cody Hall)
The lights on the entrance rig are ridiculous here. To the point where I cannot see anything and I can understand why Bad Luck Fale is wearing shades. Normally only two kinds of people wear sunglasses indoors; blind people and assholes. Ibushi, perhaps forgetting he got himself injured last year, goes ahead and throws high spots into this one to stop the crowd getting bored. Otherwise it’s a bit of a grind with a lot of samey workers doing clubbering. Togi polishes Cody off in about five minutes flat with the King Kong Kneedrop. There was suckage here. Lots of it.
Final Rating: ¾*

Bullet Club (AJ Styles & Tama Tonga) vs. Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI
Yano demanding a clean break is a definite highlight of his act. It makes me chuckle. Before anything even happens here he’s into the ropes. “BREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK. BREEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK”. Genius. Then he gets completely wigged out by Tama sliding around the mat, which is cool as Yano is normally not fazed by any of the tough guy acts in NJPW. It’s nice to see that something unnerves him. AJ Styles understandably takes this match easy. Most of it is heat on YOSHI-HASHI before Yano brings the usual comedy cheating and flukes a win by rolling up Tama. This was ok but the undercard has been brisk so far. Not that I’m complaining. The shorter the undercard the better. Especially if it’s just a bunch of tags. Although there is a concern here that they’re not building anything. Not like the tag matches on Day One where stuff was built up for this show. Yano and AJ were hardly involved with each other.
Final Rating: **1/4

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Katsuyori Shibata & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito & Mascara Dorada
This is more like it. A far better, and more intriguing, mixture of talents. Tana vs. Shibata is the big feud in there, even if they’ve made it a friendly feud now. With Tenzan and Shibata teaming up there are two opportunities for someone to beat the shit out of that sulky bastard Naito. There’s every chance he won’t get along with Tanahashi either, seeing as they’re in the same block. Naito called Tenzan washed up in the pre-tournament hype, which is ok because he’s a heel and Shibata just hates everyone so there’s a very strong chance of Naito getting his ass handed to him. Naito, because he’s an asshole now, goes after Shibata’s bad arm, which confirms there are two guys in Block A that will want to beat the crap out of Naito. His heel persona allows for a lot of cheap short cuts, like running away. Or Naito’s laid back version of running away. When Tenzan finally traps him Shibata tags himself in because he wants to kick Naito’s ass more! Shibata’s aggression levels makes me think the Naito match on Day Three will be solid. Naito shows some strong psychology too by not only working Shibata’s legitimately injured arm but also the leg that AJ worked over on Day One. Even Dorada and Taguchi have fun in this one with Dorada hitting some fun dives and Taguchi his usual butt-based offence. Unfortunately he smacks Dorada in the face with his bottom for the win after some stupid posing that makes me despise him. First really good match on the show, much like Day One where they saved a good multi-person tag for right before the intermission.
Final Rating: ***

G1 Climax Block B
Satoshi Kojima vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Pre-Match pick: Kojima. It pains me to go against my boy Ishii but Kojima’s big lariat tends to end him. Also there’s logic here. Their last three singles matches have gone: Ishii win, Kojima win, Ishii win. There’s a pattern emerging. The build for this one, with them having a pull apart that busted Ishii’s lip on Day One, has me primed for this match. They carry on where they left off by wailing on each other from the bell. It’s the kind of contest where neither man wants to back down or show weakness. It’s the kind of wrestling that defines Japan. Ishii is, for me at least, the definitive Japanese worker for that very reason. In your face and gutsy. While the match mostly consists of back and forth brawling there are some tasty big spots too. Ishii takes a wonderful bump off the Koji Cutter and headspikes a DDT and the impact from an Ishii stalling superplex is intense. They even get a bit of psychology in there with Koji and Ishii going after lariats and working each other’s arms to stop it. Kojima is forced to switch arms and because it’s his weak arm Ishii kicks out. It’s good use of trademarks and common sense. Ishii brings his great selling too, where you’re not sure if he’s really injured because of how he holds himself. Ishii’s defensive headbutts are immense. Brainbuster puts Kojima down and gets Ishii off to a winning start. I love Ishii so I’m not even upset about him ruining my predictions. Great little match. Intense. Ishii is going to have a good tournament this year, I can feel it.
Final Rating: ****

Picks: 3/6

G1 Climax Block B
Hirooki Goto vs. Yujiro Takahashi
Pre-Match pick: Goto. He’s the IC champion and Yujiro is dreadful. At least he brings Mao with him and the perverted cameraman finally discovers the zoom function to check out her rack. The match is about as good as you’d expect. Goto even puts a fucking chinlock in it so Yujiro can do his bullshit thumb biting spot. At least they run it back the other way so Goto can lift it and get a few chuckles. The rest of the match sees Goto giving Yujiro way too much respect and hardly ever dominating the punk-ass bitch. The match improves down the stretch with some nice counters, Goto especially sliding out of stuff. Shouten Kai finishes Yujiro off and gives us the inevitable conclusion. This did not start at all well but the last couple of minutes picked up nicely. By that point they had pretty much lost the audience though.
Final Rating: **1/2

Picks: 4/7

G1 Climax Block B
Tomoaki Honma vs. Yuji Nagata
Pre-Match pick: Nagata. Because Honma always loses. Part of the joy of watching Honma is hoping that he’ll win. These guys tag together quite often, and as recently as 11th July, so they know each other quite well. Honma gets the biggest reactions of the night too, getting chants going at regular intervals. Given how quiet the crowd as been tonight, it’s probably in their best interests to save a Honma win for a bigger venue. Especially as Nagata’s aims are surely higher than Honma in this tournament. He wants to push toward the final, Honma wants to win a match. Honma shows a lot of resilience and Nagata beats the crap out of him. As per usual a lot of the story revolves around Honma’s desire to hit Kokeshi’s. He hits one standing and gets overconfident. Part of his charm is the combination of pluck, tenacity and uncertainty. You can see him thinking if he’ll be able to get that Super Kokeshi and costing himself time with the procrastination. He ends up scoring an unusually high number of Kokeshi’s, two of the torpedo variety, before being felled by not one but two Backdrop Drivers (the first one being of the release variety and a hideous looking head drop). This didn’t quite have the vibe of some of Honma’s matches from last year, where he was a late replacement. Very strong wrestling though with Honma showing testicular fortitude and Nagata showing his continued resistance to the aging process. I think I lost a little enjoyment during this as I developed indigestion. This was the only match effected and I tried to go back to it and re-watch but it just reminded me of the indigestion. Damn you, body, co-operate! We’re only one Day Two.
Final Rating: ***3/4

KOKESHI COUNT: 1 missed. 3 hit.

SUPER KOKESHI COUNT: 1 missed.

Picks: 5/8

G1 Climax Block B
Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin
Pre-Match pick: Okada. The IWGP champion vs. a guy who’s never had a singles match in New Japan? Normally that would be easy but AJ Styles beat Okada under similar circumstances in his first match in New Japan. Elgin is out to shock the world and beating Okada would certainly do that and probably guarantee him a title match between now and Wrestle Kingdom because that’s how Okada rolls. He does not take G1 losses lightly. Elgin is freakishly powerful, which gets him over with the crowd pretty quickly. He can’t get reactions for his near falls though because nobody buys him as a threat. Perhaps Okada wasn’t the best idea for his first match. Having him beat someone first might been a better idea. Elgin is a touch sloppy, not connecting cleanly on his flip on the ropes or a double stomp. I’m a big believer in sticking to your strengths and Elgin is out to impress in ways he doesn’t need to. He’s fine by doing all the big power moves, like jacking Okada up deadweight for a suplex. These little irritations take the sting out of the match but it remains a solid contest. Mainly because of Okada’s presence but also because of Elgin’s freaky power moves. Elgin knows Okada from working with him ROH so he recognises the set up to a few of his trademarks, not just the Rainmaker. Okada getting the Tombstone on the big man is very impressive and that’s enough to set up the Rainmaker for the finish. Surprisingly good contest, with Elgin growing in front of the crowd as the match continued. It’s a good way to catch his footing before more challenging matches roll around.
Final Rating: ****

Picks: 6/9

G1 Climax Block B
Karl Anderson vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Pre-Match pick: Nakamura. Come on, it’s Nakamura. I have him winning every match. Seeing as his record will be very strong in the tournament I think that’s a fair bet. Karl does have his support out here (Fale and Cody included) but normally G1 means no interference. Even the IWGP title doesn’t get that kind of respect. Anderson is gifted enough to have a quality match without any help and his understanding with Nakamura allows for some tidy near miss sequences. Karl’s tactics lean toward illegal with hair pulling and eye rakes. I’m fine with heels being heelish, as long as we don’t get too much interference. Especially when good wrestlers are involved. Anderson does some top work on Nakamura’s neck, including a wicked diving neckbreaker. It’s better than working over Shinsuke’s legs as he won’t sell that. The neck allows Nakamura to do some selling without it drastically effecting his move set. It is a pretty slow paced match up because of this. Spending time building up to bigger spots, like the TKO off the top. Logically all this neck work would lead to Anderson getting a pin, seeing as his finish the Gun Stun works the neck, but in the main event? Surely the native babyface goes over. No sooner did I type that Anderson floors Nakamura with the Gun Stun to win. Holy shit. Ok, I didn’t see that coming. Good use of logic and body part psychology in this one. Karl earned the W. Not the most thrilling of main events though. It’s very weird seeing Karl close out the show with an interview, referencing his 2012 G1 Final. This win certainly puts him in contention and the interview, in Japanese, is a babyface move.
Final Rating: ***1/2

Picks: 6/10. Damn you, Karl! Three right and two wrong, the exact same thing that happened on Day One.

Summary: A very strong second day. Almost all the tournament matches delivered. The one disappointment coming from the Yujiro Takahashi match and that’s entirely expected. The hard cam and lack of commentary was a bit odd but most of the action took place in the ring so it wasn’t really an issue. Four of the five tournament matches were over *** so that’s arguably better than Day One where only two matches clocked in as ‘good’. But Tanahashi vs. Ibushi remains the best match in G1 so far.
Verdict: 72

AJPW Champion Carnival 2017 Final

Arnold Furious: April 30 2017. We’re in Fukuoka, Japan at the Hakata Star Lanes. It’s a weird location for the finals of the Champion Carnival and there are only 875 fans in attendance. It looks embarrassing on tape, especially for such a high profile event. At least dress the venue up a bit.

 

Yuma Aoyagi vs. Yusuke Okada
Aoyagi was in Okada’s position a couple of years ago and now he’s already a gatekeeper against the newest generation of plucky upstarts. Aoyagi beats the fuck out of Okada, intending to make sure he thinks twice about coming back after him. Okada’s response is plucky and involves a lot of dropkicks. If you watch Japanese wrestling you’re used to seeing this kind of contest as it frequently opens Japanese cards. Aoyagi gets it done in less than eight minutes with a fisherman suplex. He’s a solid talent. Okada is too green for me to form an opinion on as yet.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

Atsushi Aoki vs. Koji Niizumi
Niizumi is another in a string of imports into All Japan. He’s from Pro Wrestling KAGEKI, a local promotion. Aoki picks him apart until they switch to trading on forearms. It’s a fucking stiff little match up. Aoki nearly breaks poor Koji with a backbreaker. I mean, that’s the point right? A backbreaker breaks backs but fucks sake, mate! After tearing away at the spine Aoki gets a vicious submission with a version of the Cloverleaf. This was brutal and short, not even making it to five minutes. I enjoyed the shit out of it.
Final Rating: ***

 

Ultimo Dragon & KING vs. Koji Iwamoto & Yohei Nakajima
KING is masked but is a local grappler, again from Pro Wrestling KAGEKI, dressed up to look like a luchadore. Yohei tries to step up to battle the horrors of lucha-libre with sturdy chops. Iwamoto is a potential star but he shows none of that fire here, merely showcasing his good timing. For me, if you’re going to be a star you need to stand out in a meaningless tag match. If anything it’s Yohei who stands out. He even scores the pin with a wicked backfist that levels KING. Nakajima isn’t a great wrestler but he certainly tries hard and he’s showing improvements.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

Jun Akiyama & Daichi Hashimoto vs. Suwama & Hikaru Sato
I hope Akiyama has decided to take young D-Hash under his wing and turn the son of a wrestling legend into a legitimate star. Daichi is destined to be a star some day, partially because of his famous last name and partially because of his talent. Akiyama is a prize shithead, he demonstrates this here by stamping on Sato’s exposed feet. What an absolute prick! I love him dearly. Who doesn’t love an old man who likes to beat the shit out of people much younger than him? It’s that Lee Marvin/Clint Eastwood syndrome. I’m equally thrilled at seeing D-Hash throw big kicks and knees, like a motherfucker. I heard a level of criticism that he’s doing all his Dad’s moves and yet if you have that DNA, use it. Shinya was a fucking badass, channel that. Akiyama is keen to remind people he’s a surly asshole at every turn too. I could really get behind these two a regular team. Akiyama flattens Sato with the wrist clutch Exploder and my boys get the win. Yeah!
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Jake Lee & Naoya Nomura vs. Takao Omori & The Bodyguard
When Jake Lee stands next to Bodyguard it makes me realise just how fucking tall that dude is. He looks huge. Obviously that’s just in Japan but it’s a good sign for his future star power. Nomura occupies the same space that Okada did in the opening match. He’s the young punk, trying hard, but fairly, to make his way in professional wrestling. Bodyguard and Omori beat him up extensively. Omori stuffs the poor bastard with a piledriver. It’s a nasty one. There’s perhaps something to be said for selling at this juncture as the piledriver serves as a point for Nomura to mount a comeback and tag out, where it should have produced an extended spell of veteran abuse. Jake Lee, to his credit, refuses to take any shit and uses his superior size to throw veterans around. You don’t like it? Too fucking bad, I’m 6’ 4” and can throw strikes. Jake Lee ends up manhandling Bodyguard and putting him down with a Backdrop Driver. Jake Lee, lads, he’s a bit good when he gets all fired up.
Final Rating: ***

 

Daisuke Sekimoto, Kento Miyahara & Kengo Mashimo vs. Zeus, Ryoji Sai & KAI
This is a ‘best of other guys that were in Champion Carnival but didn’t make the final’ kinda match up. It’s a solid collection and talent…and KAI. Sekimoto vs. Zeus unleashes a fantastic amount of testosterone. Wild bears would run away scared at this level of manliness. I bet Zeus would fuck up a bear. The thinking on Team Two seems to be that pinning Kento Miyahara would be good for my career. So they all have a go. There’s also a nice little continuation of Sekimoto looking for revenge on Sai for their series in Big Japan. Zeus goes after Miyahara like he considers Kento to be his mortal enemy. It’s as if he just figured out that if he’d beaten Miyahara 18 months ago he’d have been the ace of the promotion and been earning a lot more money. At first he’s annoyed at this realisation and then he becomes focused.

 

And then Sekimoto batters him. Everyone involved gets all fired up during this, as if honour is at stake and losing again here makes you a double loser. This is especially prevalent with Miyahara, who’s the companies top guy. He feels he can’t lose the tournament and then get owned by Zeus before the main event too. Both Miyahara and Zeus are terrific throughout this, showing their combined desperation but also being calm in smashing their opponents face in. Zeus repeatedly kicks out of vicious running knee strikes before the German suplex puts him down for three. This was fucking good. I know I shouldn’t be shocked, because Kento Miyahara has been having excellent matches ever since he was crowned as Triple Crown champion but they didn’t need top bust this much ass in a throwaway trios match. They did. It was great.
Final Rating: ****

 

Post-match: Kento gets a backstage talking opportunity and KAI strolls in to demand stuff. Kento is all “who are you?”

 

Champion Carnival Final
Joe Doering vs. Shuji Ishikawa
You had to put Joe in the final after he came back from a brain tumour. He’s looked suitably motivated too, perhaps aware he may never have wrestled again. As expected this is a very physical match, due to their collective styles. Basically it’s two guys who make it through life by using clubbing shots. Shuji Ishikawa is the more talented of the two, by some distance, but they’re both capable Big Lads. Sometimes you just want two big guys to beat the shit out of each other, which is what Japanese wrestling, at it’s core, is all about. Shuji is nuts. Some of the bumps he takes are those of a much smaller man.

The big back bump from a missile dropkick is crazy. Doering abandons any pretence of subtlety and just throws himself into Shuji repeatedly. The clash of two 300lb chunks of meat is something else. The lack of mobility on Doering makes Shuji look more spry and exciting than usual and he seems to revel in being the smaller man. Not only when trying to be faster but also when he’s popping off impressive power spots. If I was Joe I probably wouldn’t want to take the Greetings from Asbury Park for example. Especially if I’d just had brain surgery. Joe does a fine job of showing how the fatigue is overwhelming him and he struggles to lift Shuji for planned spots. This results in Ishikawa fucking him up. It’s a bruising encounter, exhausting to watch. Joe takes a second Greetings from Asbury Park and stays down. This got a little sloppy and fifteen minutes was as much as Joe had in the tank but it was one hell of scrap. Shuji Ishikawa has been great this year.
Final Rating: ****

 

Summary: This was a rock solid show. The undercard had moments of loveliness  from the likes of Aoki and Akiyama but the top two matches are where this show was hot fire. The trios match was a fucking banger and the main event is one of the best Joe Doering matches I’ve seen, which is fantastic news for a man whose career was almost over. Ishikawa was great as always.
Verdict: 83

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2017 Final

 

Arnold Furious: June 3, 2017. I got into this tournament to begin with and thought the blocks looked awesome but I rapidly ran out of time to watch stuff and I’ve gone from night two to the end of the tournament. I got the chance to check out KUSHIDA’s win over Volador Jr the other night. KUSHIDA has been an exceptional wrestler for some time. So has Ospreay. I’m fired up to see the final. As per usual the undercard is a mess of multi-man tags.

 

Manabu Nakanishi, Katsuya Kitamura & Tetsuhiro Yagi vs. Yuji Nagata, Tomoyuki Oka & Shota Umino
I can imagine Nagata and Nakanishi setting this up over a few pints. Alright, I’ll grab a couple of lads and you grab a couple of lads and we’ll have a ruck. There’s no doubting a talent gulf between the bigger Oka and Kitamura and the smaller Yagi and Umino. It looks like hosses are coming back to New Japan! Yagi looks outclassed, although it’s important to note he only looks small and weak because he’s in with Big Lads. Oka taps him out with the Boston crab. This was fine. I enjoy seeing the Young Lions, especially Kitamura who looks jacked as fuck.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Jado) vs. Togi Makabe, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hirai Kawato
I hear a rumour that Kawato is eating the pin in this one. Japanese wrestling does frequently have that level of predictability that makes upset wins extremely rare and mean significantly more. Kawato seems to think he can fuck up Jado, which is delightful. The other lads run through bits of a match they’ve had thousands of times. It screams ‘house show’. While it’s a shame Ishii is wasted in this capacity, I’m happy he has minimal work to do for his Yen tonight. Kawato tries to beat him, which is a major highlight of the match with him doing Young Lion offence like dropkicks and roll ups. He even kicks out of the brainbuster before Ishii batters him back into Young Boy world with a lariat. I love seeing the Young Lions get all fired up and I like that Ishii beat him clean without being a dick about it.
Final Rating: ***

 

Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Volador Jr
Suzuki-gun had fuck right off. The only thing of note is that Liger competed in his final Best of the Super Juniors and only won one match. It was quite sad. It would surely have made for a better story if he’d pushed for the Block win. I get the point; Liger is getting too old to wrestle in tournaments so that’s why he lost so much. There’s a logic to all this. Liger looks crisp and it never ceases to amaze me how well he’s aged. Volador Jr is in the match for a matter of seconds, and doesn’t even remove his mask, before beating TAKA with the Spanish Fly. Liger spent most of the match eating heat. He continues to be, as he has been his entire career, too generous.
Final Rating: **

 

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. War Machine, ACH & David Finlay
This must be a big show because Yujiro not only has the bunny girl with him but also a second valet. No expense spared by Kidani-san. The New Japan cameramen exercise their usual restrain, stopping just short of a proctology exam. New Japan have found it difficult to get a balance between War Machine being dominant and other challengers looking capable. In reality when you have a dominant team on top of your division, then the challengers should be sneaky and underhanded. GOD come flying in there head to head. They should check out some Roadwarriors feuds from NWA to see how to effectively attack a dominant tag team without making them look less dominant. Finlay looks sharp here, justifying NJPW’s decision to upgrade his status from Young Lion to regular roster member without an excursion. Meanwhile ACH hits one of the wackiest topes you’ll ever see, virtually face planting himself into the announce table in the process. There’s nothing more impressive in wrestling than raw, unshackled speed (unless it’s raw, unshackled power). Takahashi ends up planting Finlay with a short DDT for the pin. Assist from Fale. This was very solid but I like that GOD didn’t get a win over War Machine to help sell the tag title match.
Final Rating: ***

 

Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Minoru Suzuki & Taichi
Goto and Suzuki continue their rivalry. The other two are just window-dressing. Mainly so Taichi can do his usual ring bell hammer nonsense. Suzuki is as enchanting as ever. His bullying of YOSHI-HASHI is quite wonderful. As is Goto standing up to Suzuki’s vicious forearm strikes. It’s another of those occasions where I think “if Goto can’t get over from this then it’ll never happen”. I tend to think that quite often. It’s not that he’s a noise vacuum or anything but he can’t quite get over that hill. Like Naito before Los Ingobernables. This match goes 12 minutes but it feels really long. I blame Taichi. An improbable ref bump leads to Suzuki-gun piing in there in numbers. The referee can actually see all of this happening. Where are the fucking rules in this promotion? Taichi is so useless that despite the weight of numbers YOSHI-HASHI pins him with Karma. I find it weird that nobody from CHAOS comes to help a post match beatdown and Goto makes his own save.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima, Juice Robinson, Ricochet & Dragon Lee) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
This is a rare outing for the entire of LIJ, as they usually have at least one of their guys in a big singles match. They’re a popular group and Naito is shifting merch like there’s no tomorrow. Taguchi’s sporting endeavour amuses me and here Naito lobs the IC title into the ring, allowing Taguchi to recover the strap from harm’s way briefly. It doesn’t stop Naito slamming the belt into the desk in front of Liger. Fuck your belt! I love the punk rock vs. sports motif attached to this match. Especially as Taguchi starts a “Nippon” chant. This is Japan and it’s traditional values vs. the outside influence of music and Mexican sleaze. LIJ have always worked well as a unit but this match allows them to shine in so many different ways and everyone seems to click beautifully. The highlight is yet more Hiromu vs. Dragon Lee. That’s a feud I may never tire of. This is also a match that allows the junior style to shine. It’s quite deliberate, including a tonne of flips and the action is faster and more exciting than anything else on the card. I love Kojima lifting Tanahashi spots, as he replaced Tana on this tour. The sequences where everyone coming spilling in and spots follow at breakneck pace is fantastically entertaining stuff. Destino puts Kojima down, with Naito keen to show that Kojima isn’t on his level. This was tremendous fun from start to finish. The LIJ multi-man tags are always a highlight, even if Naito couldn’t even be bothered to take his t-shirt off.
Final Rating: ****

 

Post-match: Naito starts mouthing off and Hiroshi Tanahashi nonchalantly strolls out to make his presence known. He missed this tour with injuries, a commonplace occurrence of late.

 

Kenny Omega & Marty Scurll vs. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo
This is certainly not a match I expected to ever see going on second last for a New Japan show. This match exists as hype for Dominion with Okada vs. Omega II headlining that event in a few weeks. Technically Scurll is a junior so he’s supposed to pair off with Gedo in this contest. Omega is in a goofy mood, mainly because he’s wrestling with a bunch of goofballs. He never takes his shirt off but he does pull Gedo’s beard and use an umbrella to prevent a sunset flip. So there’s that. Okada spends most of the match on the apron, probably chuckling to himself about getting paid to do nothing. Omega gets in a few shots at Okada’s legs to help set up the Dominion match but it’s Scurll who gets the big pops for all his spots. Especially the finger snap ahead of the chickenwing. The crowd genuinely get freaked out by that. Well played, Marty.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

Best of the Super Juniors 24 Final
Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA
Ospreay won last year but didn’t win the title from KUSHIDA afterwards. KUSHIDA is trying to restore his reputation after losing in under five minutes against current junior ace Hiromu Takahashi. However you slice it, these are two of the best junior wrestlers in the world. KUSHIDA is aggressive and goes after Ospreay’s leg right from the bell, intent at grounding the Aerial Assassin. A secondary assault sees Will bleeding from the chest in the early going. The junior speedy counters are still there but there’s an intensity that takes this to another level. They are evenly matched and the crowd buy into all their flip counters.

These lead to Will bleeding from a busted lip and him encouraging KUSHIDA to him as hard as he can. It’s one hell of a scrap. I like that Will doesn’t back down and tries to batter KUSHIDA, only to get undone by KUSHIDA technically. Will sells the shit out of that leg injury while keeping the intensity that’s defined this match. KUSHIDA switches targets to the arm when his leg work doesn’t get the job done, looking to set up the Hoverboard Lock. In keeping with the tone of the match it’s super aggressive and intense. Ospreay pulls out all the stops; hitting an SSP on the ropes and a reverse rana on the apron as back to back offensive moves. Ospreay isn’t the only one putting his body on the line as KUSHIDA takes a horrific bump from the Essex Destroyer, literally flipping onto his own head. The match contains a tremendous number of modifications, move theft and tantalising near finishes. It’s excellent match planning from two guys at the top of their game. The sequence that leads into the two baseball punches is wonderful. My only issue with Ospreay is you can constantly see him slapping his thigh on moves. Which is not good work. However KUSHIDA makes amends by hitting the Back to the Future off the top rope, popping the shit out of Ricochet, and then rolling into another Back to the Future for the win. Huge finish to a terrific match. Maybe the best match of both men’s career. Full boat? Oh, go on then.
Final Rating: *****

 

Post-match: KUSHIDA convinces the crowd to do a Mexican wave because he’s so wholesome and pure.

 

Summary: Obviously the undercard has a lot of skippable content but the ten-man tag is great and don’t miss KUSHIDA-Ospreay. Definitely on the radar for Match of the Year voting. New Japan have had a ridiculous number of excellent matches already this year and we’ve not even got to Dominion yet.
Verdict: 94

NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Day 1

Arnold Furious: This year I’m trying something a little different for G1. Normally I watch the shows that I like the look of and if anything else gets good reviews I’ll check that too. This year I’m going full bore. I’m watching everything. Yes, every fucking thing and I’m going to busting those reviews out right after the shows (or as soon as I can, what with work and such). That means 19 shows in less than a month. It is the longest G1 in history. All other projects are going on the back-burner for this one. In order to full prepare you, and me, for such a momentous tournament here are the line up’s complete with some serious analysis of the individuals chances. I’ll be listing the blocks in the order that I think they’ll finish so you can laugh at me in a month’s time when I’ve made a complete arse of it.

BLOCK A:

1. AJ Styles. This in itself is wishful thinking because I’m off the opinion that we’ll get Nakamura vs. AJ as the final, which is being hotly debated on Twitter. Nakamura is the big favourite, having dropped his IC belt to contest the G1. Nakamura and AJ have almost zero history so the big hope is a dream final between those two. In order to get there AJ has to fend off Hiroshi Tanahashi, who seems to have AJ’s number in fair fights and Kota Ibushi, winner of the New Japan Cup and showstealer at Wrestle Kingdom. Given AJ’s reactions during last year’s G1, the tournament that *made* him in New Japan and his IWGP title match with Kazuchika Okada, the fans are ready to accept him as the top dog. My primary thinking is that Nakamura vs. AJ is a hot ticket for the final though. Rather than the oft repeated Nakamura vs. Tanahashi. I’m very torn over this pick.

2. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tana is the big spoiler, potentially, for AJ (especially as they wrestle each other right at the end). He’s not won G1 since 2007 and considering he’s been NJPW’s biggest star for that entire time, it’s a bit of a surprise he’s only got the one win. Plus a victory would almost ensure another Okada-Tanahashi Wrestle Kingdom showdown. A match that Okada struggles with. Could they give Tana an elusive second G1 only to fall to Okada, ending the curse of the Rainmaker at WK? It’d be one hell of a story. I personally see them saving that for next year, hoping the dream match of Okada vs. Nakamura (many people’s MOTY for 2014 and G1 Final) will sell WK10 big time. Whichever match they go for, it’ll be huge. I’d watch the shit out of both of those contests. Or indeed Okada vs. AJ, seeing as their last match was the mutts nuts. The more I think about it, the more I think Tana could squeak into the final, at AJ’s expense. Thus saving AJ vs. Nakamura for another time.

3. Kota Ibushi. A strong showing for Ibushi would be nice, seeing as he’s been a big deal this year but not on the same level as the really top guys. Defeats to AJ and Nakamura have reflected this and he’s not beaten any of the big names. Kota missed last year’s G1 with injury and surely has a point to prove. It’s a tournament he’s perhaps considered a little too lightweight to win outright. Maybe in years to come he can change perception of himself. I’m not seeing it this year, although Okada-Ibushi would be another terrific match. New Japan have tonnes of them lined up.

4. Katsuyori Shibata. He was in the hunt last year until a dubious count-out loss to Bad Luck Fale. I can see him being the bridesmaid once more thanks to a pre-tournament arm injury. Expect a slew of opponents to work that arm and him to incur early set backs because of it. Especially as he’s wrestling AJ Styles tonight (more on that later as I stupidly pick Shibata to win). They’ve also got him working Doc Gallows on the last day, which suggests another cheap finish as Doc is a guy they’re happy to put over anyone as he’s big. So expect a poor start, remarkable comeback and cheap finish from Shibata (and despite saying all this I go ahead and pick him to beat AJ, which is why my predictions will fail. I think it through and then pick Shibata to win everything because he’s Shibata).

5. Togi Makabe. New Japan generally treat their champions quite well and Togi is carrying the NEVER belt into G1. For that reason alone he should finish in the top half. He’s generally put over most midcard guys anyway so he shouldn’t be losing to Yano or Tenzan or even Fale. He’s the kind of guy who should contend until the last few nights at the very least. I don’t see him winning but he already has one G1 win from back in 2009. It does happen.

6. Hiroyoshi Tenzan. At one point it looked like Tenzan was heading towards replacing Masa Chono as Mr August. He’s won G1 three times, closing in on Chono’s record of five. He has no chance of winning this one but is carrying the NWA title, which needs to be kept fairly strong if he’s to draw anything in defending the belt. For this alone I see Tenzan getting a good run and his nostalgia pops should be fun. “SSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH”.

7. Tetsuya Naito. Placing Naito is hard because his new found attitude (he looks like he doesn’t give a fuck about anything) could result in a lot of defeats. The weird part of his new persona is he still wrestles exactly the same but only without any interest in wrestling, people or life in general. Like some sort of zombie robot. He could potentially come in last if he starts taking count outs against the likes of Doc or Tenzan. His very first match is with Fale. If he loses that…he could be in for a long, long tournament. He does have a tournament pedigree however winning G1 back in 2013. His resultant title match with Okada got bumped off top though and resulted in him being turned heel (eventually). He’s not yet been rebuilt to a winners circle level.

8. Bad Luck Fale. Fale was a spoiler last year and finished very high up but was also involved with Nakamura around the tournament and was being booked strong so they could finish their series. This year he’s due no such protection and he doesn’t deserve it.

9. Toru Yano. I suspect he’ll probably finish higher but Yano’s sole purpose is to provide the wrestlers with an off night. Last year his matches were routinely short and inoffensive. The idea being that it gave everyone in the block a night where they didn’t have to bust ass. I’m sure Tanahashi and Tenzan will appreciate working Yano. Look for their matches to be especially short. Yano will probably go 50-50 throughout the tournament so I’ve probably got him a bit low.

10. Doc Gallows. While he’ll probably pick up a few unexpected wins to keep people guessing who’ll win the overall prize, I don’t see Gallows over anybody in a straight up match. Maybe Yano. The match with Fale will be skippable. He could potentially be spoiler for Shibata right at the end and could inflict an early defeat on Tenzan this evening but ultimately he’ll be nowhere.

BLOCK B:

1. Shinsuke Nakamura. It’s hard to look past Nakamura. The only other major player in Block B is Kazuchika Okada and he’s already the IWGP champion. The tournament exists to set up the number one contender for Wrestle Kingdom. While IWGP champions have won in the past that was before it was such a deliberate set up for something else. Like how Hulk Hogan won the Royal Rumble when he was WWF champion. Kensuke Sasaki was the last man to win G1 while holding the title so it’s highly unlikely. Nakamura on the other hand is free of IC title issues, having lost the belt to Goto and lost the re-match, and already has a terrific match with Okada in the books. They’ll face each other again in the Block here in what could, potentially, be a preview of WK10’s main event.

2. Hirooki Goto. Most people have Okada as #2 in this Block and I would totally understand that but G1 is never that cut and dry. I don’t see Nakamura and Okada being the only guys capable of winning going into their match at the end of the tournament. I can see Goto winning to go top before their match leaving us to wonder whether Nakamura or Okada can overcome him. Ultimately I see Goto as a red herring but he’s been making overtures toward the big belt, one he challenges for sometimes (and loses), claiming he’ll unify NJPW’s big two belts. I can’t see either of those things happening but beating Nakamura twice sets him up for the hat trick and to be taken seriously as a main eventer.

3. Kazuchika Okada. The IWGP champion coming into G1, which virtually guarantees he won’t win but New Japan will want people to think he’ll win so he’ll be up there all Block long. Probably in the lead for most of the tournament. His first big match is against Elgin. Unless they’re looking to break Elgin in big, that’s a win for Okada. His next big match is Honma and, no offence to Honma, he won’t lose that either. Honma was blanked last year and it’ll all be about Honma getting a big win. He won’t get it against Okada. He just won’t. So Okada will contend the whole way and lose to Nakamura in the last match to miss out. Whether Nakamura wins the Block based on this is debatable but most people think he will.

4. Karl Anderson. A former runner up, in 2012, the Machine Gun is a legitimate singles threat and they usually have one of the gaijin have a good run to contend. AJ is the obvious choice but Karl is the other guy capable of a good run. I see him getting a few upsets and possibly beating Okada, as he has done before (like last year).

5. Yuji Nagata. This is another guy I’d love for NJPW to push but it seems to rarely happen. His IC title shot at Nakamura came after he contemplated retirement after being left off the WK9 show. He’s back to being on the pre-show and you wonder how long they’ll carry on sticking Nagata into tournaments they’ve no intention of having him compete in. With that in mind I’m hoping he has a good showing. To prove he belongs and next year they can put him back into having great matches and finishing in the bottom half.

6. Tomohiro Ishii. I’m a massive Ishii mark. My Twitter avatar at the moment is me standing next to, and towering over, New Japan’s diminutive Stone Pitbull. I’m always hoping he pushes for the big win and I’m constantly crushed he comes up short in big matches. He should at least steamroller the likes of Yujiro but won’t upset any of the big guns. Unless Shinsuke is feeling generous. He loves #141.

7. Satoshi Kojima. Another veteran and it seems like an eternity since Kojima won the G1 back in 2010. He certainly won’t be in contention here and will probably be the cause of much frustration regarding selling and inconsistencies during this G1. He’ll still finish above Honma because Gedo is mean.

8. Michael Elgin. I’m not sure how well Elgin will be received. Mainly because of his lack of experience in NJPW. The crowd were notably silent at his name being announced in previous tours. I can see him getting a few wins and being given the opportunity to prove himself. He’ll hope for a long term gain of future tours by throwing a tonne of effort in. The match with Nakamura alone should be worth his inclusion. His opening match, against Okada, should be a fine demonstration of how well he’ll do.

9. Tomoaki Honma. The loveable loser was blanked at last year’s G1. I’m expecting a wait during this one for Honma to break his duck but I can’t see him going 0-9. I have him winning at least twice, if not more frequently and staying out of last place. The fans will love him regardless and I can’t face the prospect of Yujiro beating the poor guy.

10. Yujiro Takahashi. I hate this guy.

So that’s the preview. Should be a fantastic 19 shows. Day one alone boasts Tanahashi vs. Ibushi and AJ vs. Shibata. It promises to be one wild ride. The anticipation of not only seeing G1 live but also paying a minimal amount for it on the outstanding New Japan World is a genuine thrill. New Japan are bringing the best value for money in the world. Even better than the WWE’s $9.99 Network.

Tomoaki Honma, Mascara Dorada, David Finlay & Jay White vs. Yuji Nagata, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
I actually ate my dinner during this match. That’s not a metaphor or anything. It was a baguette. I had fries with it and JR’s BBQ sauce. The hot one. Bangin’. Anyway, the guys to watch here are Honma and Nagata. Two massive crowd favourites with differing goals during G1. Honma just wants to win one match and land as many Kokeshi’s as possible. Nagata wants to prove he belongs at the top end of the card, despite his advanced years. They leave the legwork to the juniors. Jay White, and his shitty new Mohawk, looks eager to make an impact and looks smoother than usual. As if his training has kicked up a gear. He’s very impressive. There are moments where he hesitates, perhaps giving himself a second of thinking time that a veteran wouldn’t require and some of his movements are quite mechanical and deliberate but he’s improving. Nagata singles out Finlay Jr. for abuse and finishes with the Backdrop Driver.
Final Rating: ***

KOKESHI COUNT – 1/4

Tangent: Nagata and Honma had the best preparations for G1. Nagata did some work on limboing to avoid the Rainmaker. Meanwhile Honma perfected his Kokeshi by doing a Kokeshi bungee jump. This is the kind of thing they show on New Japan World when you’re watching Swerved or Total Divas.

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall) vs. Hirooki Goto & Captain New Japan)
Scott Hall’s boy is starting to progress up the card and feature in matches with no other young boys. This has nothing to do with his ability and everything to do with how tall he is. One day he will be a monster. Yujiro doesn’t bring Mao with him so he’s completely worthless. Cody on Twitter joked “what’s yellow on the outside but white on the inside…Yujiro Takahashi”. I see political correctness runs in the family. Goto’s stock has raised of late and he’s wearing a new robe to the ring for G1, a sign he’s likely to do well. It’s at times like this I wish that New Japan didn’t put on such big shows. This one is three and a half hours and this match is completely unnecessary. Captain New Japan opts to take the joke route, pretending he has mind powers and missing stuff. It’s all very silly and it’s a bit early in the show for a comedy break. The result of this half-assed approach is a house show level event, which only picks up when Goto decides to impose himself on Yujiro as an early marker in Block B. All the tag matches involve Block B participants, with Block A open for business in singles in the second half. Cody throwing Goto around is pretty surprising. He is a beast. If the WWE catch wind of him they’ll be calling. He’s 6’ 8”. He’s second generation. Vince must surely want him. Goto pins Cody with a cheeky roll up, which is a bit odd. You’d expect the IC champion, and a guy in G1, to murder the young boy with his finisher. Match was filler.
Final Rating: *1/2

Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga) vs. CHAOS (Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI)
You don’t get Nakamura and TACOS tagging often. Y-H usually tags up with Okada. Likewise Anderson & Tama as the Machine Gun usually tags with Doc Gallows. Doc is in G1 action tonight though and Tama seems to be working a buddy gimmick during G1. Nakamura might be the most entertaining wrestler in the world right now. His entrance alone is something else. All he has to do is walk into a room and you can’t take your eyes off him in case he does something awesome. Karl knows him well so they have great counters lined up and their G1 match should be really good. The mockery alone makes it entertaining but they can work too. The match is divided in half. The Nakamura half is full of inventive counters and ridiculous showmanship. The YOSHI-HASHI half is meaningless heat. Nakamura gets Tama alone, YEAOOOH, and the BOMAAAA YEEEEE finishes. Tonga had a decent showing but it was all about Nakamura vs. Anderson. Their Block match should be a belter.
Final Rating: **1/2

Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi & Michael Elgin vs. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Gedo)
This is Elgin’s first match in New Japan. They haven’t got his name right though. “Michael Elgar” according to the announcers. Interesting that Kojima and Taguchi come out together and Elgin comes out alone. He does face Kojima in the Blocks so that might factor into how well they operate as a team. That’s true of Okada and Ishii but they’re normally teammates so it’s less of an issue. Ishii gets right in Kojima’s face from the get-go. That’s going to be a hard-hitting contest. I mark out hard for Okada’s blinged out entrance. He has that same X-factor that Nakamura has, only without doing anything ridiculous to achieve it. Elgin wants to start his first match, rather than watch to see how it’s done. Okada obliges. It’s great to see Ishii’s reaction to an early Elgin powerslam. He steps down the apron toward Elgin, sizing him up. As if to say “I’m going to beat the shit out of you”. And he will. And I’ll love it. Kojima provokes the Stone Pitbull further and Ishii full on jumps in there to attack him. Ishii is in the kind of mood that will result in some serious snowflake action during G1. Elgin rather steals the match with a ridiculous stalling suplex, which both Ishii and Okada fail to break up. Okada’s look of disbelief is great. Ishii’s bad mood eventually spills into the ring and we get another prize reaction from him when Taguchi tries that stupid hip attack and then he NO SELLS KOJIMA’S SHITTY CORNER CHOPS! I don’t think Ishii realises he’s supposed to take the tag matches lightly. They’re rest days, mate. NO! Ishii’s determination raises every else’s game, apart from Okada who’s too clever for that. Perhaps the idea is for Ishii to act as Gatekeeper for Okada, wearing out his future opponents. Elgin drops Ishii square on his face, during an ambitious spot where he lifts Okada and Ishii and that takes the starch out of his performance. Okada steps it up to finish off Taguchi but it was Ishii and Elgin who stole this match. Elgin must be thrilled with how his debut came off, despite dropping Ishii on his head.
Final Rating: ***1/2

Tangent: Some good stuff after the bell too where Elgin eyeballs Okada and Ishii full on belts Kojima in the face. Those are going to be two fucking awesome matches. I love Okada here. He just kicks back and watches Ishii and Kojima fighting. Ishii even gets a bloody lip during the ruck but Okada is way too cool to get involved. I would say G1 turns Ishii into a maniac but he’s like this ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

That takes us up to the break with the G1 matches to follow. The break sees clips from the NJPW presser with various suited competitors making comments on the forthcoming tournament. Okada looked remarkably dabber. Champions are men who know their way around a waistcoat.

G1 Climax Block A
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Doc Gallows
Pre-match pick: Tenzan, because he’s NWA champion and he’ll get tired as the tournament progresses. Start him out strong. Doc is likely to win whenever it suits the booking and winning here would start us out on a downer. No one likes downers. Speaking of which, they work really hard to avoid having a stinker to open G1. I’m not really into either guy, which makes it a tough one to sit through. You need a degree of investment to really get into a match. Gallows looks in poor shape, carrying a paunch and being rough around the edges. It’s not as noticeable when he’s working tags but in singles he’s exposed. Tenzan is even more random, selling a knee for no apparent reason (unless he’s really hurt, which would be terrible for him). Maybe they’re going for an injury angle with him, like they did with Makabe and his jaw last year. In which case, I change my pick! Tenzan decides to ground the match, to work around the injury, and hooks the Anaconda Vice. Doc can’t get out and taps. Let me just revel in my 100% predictions accuracy to this point.
Final Rating: **1/4

G1 Climax Block A
Togi Makabe vs. Toru Yano
Pre-match pick: Makabe, because he’s NEVER champion and Yano’s wins and losses will be nights off. Togi doesn’t need one of those yet. Plus Yano upset an injured Togi in the Blocks last year. I’m sure the unchained gorilla hasn’t forgotten that. Togi looks angry, but often that’s Yano’s aim. He winds you up so you lose your focus while he’s laughing at you. Yano tries that here and gets a roll up inside a second, which freaks the crowd out. Yano’s insistence at hiding in the ropes yelling “BREEEAAAAAAAAAAKKKK” is incredibly endearing. I find myself smirking before he’s even started doing it. Yano brings an assortment of the usual, loveable, cheating (chair shots, crowd brawls, exposed turnbuckle, low blow). Togi kicks his ass and finishes with the King Kong Kneedrop. My 100% predictions record remains in tact! Yano isn’t supposed to have good matches but this was actually a welcome break. I feel suitably refreshed ahead of the final three bouts.
Final Rating: *1/4

G1 Climax Block A
Bad Luck Fale vs. Tetsuya Naito
Pre-match pick: Fale. He won an awful lot last year and Naito’s sulky gimmick doesn’t seem to involve effort. Both these guys are into hats all of a sudden. The Underboss has a Blues Brothers hat, and sunglasses. Naito brought a baseball cap back from Mexico as a souvenir and has started sulking because no one complemented him on it. Naito actually comes out here in a Skeletor mask and a suit. He can’t see properly and trips on the ring apron. Twat. Despite Naito looking like getting up in the morning is a massive effort for him (is he bipolar?) he goes hell for leather when he’s on offence and Fale is in the mood to impress. He’s also looking tubby around the waistline. Maybe Bullet Club should cut down on the buffets. Either that or Fale has been dining at Chez Paul to try and get the band back together. Naito’s new personality is hard to get a read on. He’s a morose nihilist. I’m really not sure how I feel about that. It sucks a lot of the fun out of his character and regresses his personality to that of a glum teen. Some of his facials are borderline psychotic and it’s hard to get a handle on what he’s going for. Naito ends up working the leg and going after submissions. It’s a ballsy tactic. Especially as Fale isn’t known for selling limbs (not that anyone does nowadays). He’s known for accidentally avoiding assassination attempts by Carrie Fisher. Naito and Fale have some really nice counters, especially when going after big moves. They make a royal fucking mess of the finish with Naito going for some sort of jack-knife pin and Fale selling his groin. Naito doesn’t even bother staying on top for the full three count. I think I hate Naito’s new gimmick, which means it works? He’s supposed to be a heel after all. Incidentally, there goes my 100% predictions record. I feel like Fale must feel when he saw Blues Brothers 2000 and realised the dream was over.
Final Rating: **3/4

G1 Climax Block A
AJ Styles vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Pre-match pick: Shibata. This is a ballsy call, considering I think AJ will either win Block A or finish second. Shibata is injured and that could count against him. I remember talking about the potential for this match up late in 2014. Thinking it would be a strong contest. They’re both great on the mat with AJ capable of countering Shibata’s range of strikes. They’ve hardly encountered each other at all before this match, which makes it all the more intriguing. Shibata’s arm is a cause for concern, after he missed the lead in shows with an injury, and it’s heavily taped. It looks like the elbow that was causing him problems. He’s eager to avoid that being an issue, using kicks to keep AJ at a distance and giving up his left arm for AJ to work over rather than his injured right arm. As expected the match is technically excellent with strong countering and great proficiency from two mat masters. It’s nice to see Shibata switching to the left arm for his elbows, out of sheer necessity. His kicks are firmly on point and one of them knocks AJ over the rail with the impact. It’s a great mixture of AJ’s willingness to bump and Shibata’s raw aggression. As expected they click like nobodies business. They have an absolutely killer spot too where Shibata kicks the ring post, with AJ ducking, and the brutal CLUNK noise is horrific. It’s one of the most organic spots I’ve ever seen with someone ducking and someone else hitting the ring post. AJ had Shibata chasing him to set the spot up. From there AJ works over the leg, which at least offers respite for Shibata’s bad arm but probably doesn’t make him feel any better.

“You’re crazy, man” yells AJ at Shibata as he gets in AJ’s face, asking for more abuse. It’s a great moment of AJ realising how nuts Shibata really is. AJ is a composed wrestler though and knows when and how to pick his fights. He won’t go toe to toe, not if he can bait Shibata into a move that he can counter. His speed is sufficient to get Shibata into trouble and he uses the Styles Clash as a distraction to set up the Calf Killer, on that injured leg. Naturally Shibata gets the ropes but then AJ springs up and kicks the injured arm too. He’s dissecting Shibata and all the guts in the world won’t get you through busted limbs. AJ goes to those injured body parts to counter just about everything. Shibata has to alter his sleeper by BITING HIS OWN HAND instead of using the bad arm. It’s awesome stuff. AJ ducks the PK though and flattens Shibata with Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash finishes. The psychology in this one was off the page. Some genuinely brilliant selling and limb work. I’m a little disappointed the Calf Killer wasn’t the finish after all the set up work but the big storyline is that Shibata’s injuries will hinder his run.
Final Rating: ****

G1 Climax Block A
Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Pre-match pick; Tanahashi. If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching New Japan is that if you bet on Tanahashi you’ll be right more often than not. That said, I can totally see Kota going over to establish himself as a threat to this Block. Tana is just starting to look a bit haggard, showing his aging rock star good looks more than in the past. Ibushi is keen to show he belongs in the ring with New Japan’s ace (is he still considered the ace? He still beat Okada this year). Kota is younger, faster and possibly hungrier. Kota misses a standing moonsault to set the story of the match in motion; a knee injury for Tana to work over. Kota isn’t the best at selling an injury. He’s in the school of thinking where you can sell a bit but then stop and carry on like nothing happened. It’s a popular school nowadays. Besides Ibushi is far more fun when he’s hitting moonsaults to the floor and flipping around like a lunatic. I had similar issues with KUSHIDA vs. Omega a few weeks ago. Tana is relentless with that knee deal too, going back to it after Kota has moved on. When Kota bails to avoid more abuse he gets himself a HIGH FLY FLOW TO THE FLOOR!

It does become a battle, of sorts, where Ibushi is determined the limb work segment of this match is over and Tanahashi won’t let him forget it. Kota is in the mood to take big bumps though and everything Tana throws at him is met with Ibushi landing his neck on the mat. This includes the Slingblade, which he takes a huge concertina bump on. The match takes a turn as Ibushi javelins Tana into the buckles. It’s a fucking sick bump and Tanahashi looks absolutely fucked after flying head first into the middle of the buckle. Tana tries to sneak out under the ropes but Kota hauls him back into the ring with a German suplex off the apron. It’s batshit crazy. Tana’s neck must be destroyed after those two moves. Both guys attempt their top rope finisher but both times they take too long and allow the opponent to move. A little too much showboating before finishing the contest. The match hits a flow of big bumps, creating a fantastic atmosphere, drawing the crowd in. Tana eventually messes Ibushi’s leg up so bad he can’t stand and finishes with the High Fly Flow. The limb work didn’t work for me but Tanahashi’s persistence was eventually rewarded. The crowd helped to create the big match atmosphere they wanted here.
Final Rating: ****1/4

Picks: 3/5. Not bad. I should have gone with my gut on AJ Styles rather than my heart and should have realised that Naito’s new character wouldn’t be jobbing in his first singles match. Otherwise a grand victory for logic.

Summary: The undercard was a bit patchy but we’re one night in and we’ve already seen two terrific matches. Shibata’s sleeper where he couldn’t use his one arm and had to bite his hand was amazing. Some of the best selling and improvisation I’ve seen all year long. Tanahashi made the main event special. The veteran took a couple of sickening bumps and told a story, forcing Ibushi to go along with it whether he liked it or not. Those two matches are worth the price of admission alone. Obviously thumbs up. Fuck Battleground. See you for Day Two on Thursday!
Verdict: 71

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom XI

Arnold Furious: January 4 2017. We’re in the Tokyo Dome for WK 11. English language hosts are Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino. That’s been the best pairing New Japan have come up with so I’m glad they’ve stuck with it. No more Striker bullshit or ‘Tatsu giving us colour.

 

THE RAMBO
First two men are Michael Elgin and Billy Gunn. I never thought we’d be seeing that contest in a New Japan ring but here we are. #3 is The Boner. Kelly and Corino make fun of him and actually call him “The Smuggler” because someone wrote it down wrong. #4 is Cheeseburger. To confirm Boner is a total jobber he’s thrown out first by Cheeseburger. #5 is Jushin Liger. Elgin dumps Billy after telling him to “suck it”. #6 is Kuniaki Kobayashi. He’s older than dirt but he still has a ****1/4 style war with Liger. Admittedly his spin kick isn’t quite as high as it used to be. #7 is Tiger Mask IV. He teams with Liger to dump Kobayashi. #8 is Manabu Nakanishi. #9 is Ryusuke Taguchi “this clown” according to Corino. He seems to have stopped giving a damn, bless him. Pile on eliminates Nakanishi. Then another dumps Liger. Liger, in a dick move, helps Taguchi dump TM. #10 is Yoshitatsu. He stinks. He’ll always stink. #11 is Yuji Nagata. He’s about to submit Taguchi when Tatsu breaks it up to the chorus of boos he deserves for being terrible. #12 is Hiroyoshi Tenzan. #13 is Hiro Saito. #14 is Scott “Flash” Norton. He’s a legend in NJPW, even if he was worth nothing in North America. Especially in WCW where he had his biggest run. He murders Taguchi and teams up with some of the nWo Japan lads. Mike eliminates all of the nWo Japan guys one after another and is left facing ‘Burger. Naturally Elgin gets the pin and wins the Rambo.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger The Dark
TTD is ACH. Exciting times! Tiger Mask W was Ibushi last time. It doesn’t really matter who is under the hoods because the match only exists to pimp a children’s cartoon. That said ACH brings the flipz and W responds with the Triangle Moonsault. Well, that’s Ibushi then. ACH’s eye reaction look amazing when they’re done through a red tiger mask. It’s like the mask has come to life. Obviously Tiger Mask W wins, with a Tiger Driver, but ACH did good work under the hood.
Final Rating: **1/2

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice
The Bucks are also PWG and ROH tag champs so they’ve made some “Superkick Party” belts to carry around too. Do they really need those? The Bucks do typical Bucks things like luring the challengers down the ramp, superkicking them and leaving them there. Lots of superkicks are thrown. Even Corino is strangely low key calling the action though. It doesn’t feel particularly important. Romero with his Forever Clotheslines manages to pick the crowd up. I love the Bucks trying to avoid the final one, ducking twice before catching a double clothesline. The match changes again when Trent hits a suicide dive and lands back first on the floor. That’s a horrible bump to take. The Bucks can bully poor Rocky from there on out. This is the peak of the storytelling with Romero refusing to stay down after repeated abuse until Rocky rolls Nick up to stop More Bang For Your Buck and RPG Vice score the upset win.
Final Rating: ***1/4

 

NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Jado, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI)
Yujiro brings four scantily clad women that the cameraman becomes obsessed with. The Bullet Club bunny has a banging body. Love the B’s. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay are the champions but this is a gauntlet match so they don’t start. Weird to see guys like Ospreay and YOSHI-HASHI, who’ve had huge years for NJPW, stuck in a relatively meaningless undercard mess like this. Will, with his new haircut, does the flipz including the Sasuke Special. From the moment he tags in it’s the Ospreay Show. Page tries to overwhelm him by hitting an SSP off the apron and that gives Yujiro enough space to hit his short DDT on Jado. So no more Ospreay, which sucks, but at least the ladies stay out here. Pros and cons.

 

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
Page is now the guy who cares the most about this match, which is fairly shocking. LIJ are usually great at multi-man tags, although they don’t have much to play with here. They switch modes, without thinking, and out-heel Bullet Club with ease. SANADA puts Yujiro out with the Dragon Sleeper.

 

Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI) vs. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay
The champs are here! They’re the last team to enter so they only need to overcome LIJ to retain. Seeing as LIJ barely broke a sweat in beating Bullet Club they’re on even ground here. Ricochet immediately starts with crazy flips but it’s not just the insanity, it’s how smooth and clean everything is. How does he flip off the buckles to the floor like that? Landing on his damn feet. Sometimes I fall over getting out of bed in the morning. Kojima is the perfect foil for all this flipping and youthful exuberance. He just chops away happily. LIJ are so good as a unit though that it’s an uphill struggle for the champs to retain. Finlay is out of his depth, for storyline purposes, and Ricochet’s flying gets him into trouble when BUSHI picks him off with a mid-air MX. Kojima eats the Mist with the ref missing it. There’s mist all over his face! That’s surely a DQ. Nope. EVIL puts him away and we have new champions. This whole shebang was highlighted by Ospreay doing his thing and LIJ doing great work at the end.
Final Rating: ***

 

Juice Robinson vs. Cody [REDACTED]
Cody Rh*des isn’t allowed a surname for he is the American Nightmare. Cody is a heel but struggles to contain his smile as he walks out here. Cody has been specifically put on this card to give lapsed WWE fans something to attach themselves to. Juice goes nuts in the opening sequences, doing a crazy cannonball into the rail. Cody takes over because of that, stealing BUSHI’s pose in the process. The match is extremely patchy. Sometimes they land some incredible counters, like Juice countering Cody’s dive into an overhead suplex on the floor, and then we see less impressive counters. Juice’s knee is the story of the match and Cody’s chop block looks great. His hanging DDT looks devastating too. Shame it doesn’t finish. Instead Cody hits Cross Rhodes for the duke. This was fine. There were two stories colliding, the knee and Cody being heel. The first was fine, the second didn’t work.
Final Rating: **3/4

 

ROH World Championship
Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
Kyle is out of contract so this is a fairly unique situation. I hope something bigger is planned than Cole simply winning the belt back as I find him mediocre. Like the whole thing being a ruse. Or Kyle going into business for himself and tapping Cole out quickly. Cole does his “BAY BAY” business and Kyle jumps him from behind twice because why wouldn’t you? Cole works the arm. This crowd don’t care whatsoever. Kyle’s offensive segments are far superior to Cole’s. I suppose that’s the idea, because he’s the babyface, but the way Kyle approaches wrestling is far better. His hybrid style is the future of professional wrestling. As Adam gets stiffer, with his strikes perverts, the match improves. Whether he’s stomping on Kyle’s face or hitting multiple superkicks. Last Shot finishes and out of contract Kyle O’Reilly shockingly drops the title. Unfortunately it’s to Cole who becomes the first ever three-time ROH champion. The actual action was strong, especially O’Reilly’s offence, but the match came off flatter than we thought the Earth was a thousand years ago (and Tila Tequila does now).
Final Rating: ***1/4

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. GBH vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
Ishii & Yano got chucked into this because Ishii had nothing to do. Yano stole the belts and the tag league trophies to get kayfabe included. I’ve not seen it but I’m told the tag league finals (GOD vs. GBH) was really strong (Larry Csonka went ****1/2). So it’s disappointing that the random CHAOS team have been inserted here. At least Ishii gets to beat the shit out of Honma on the biggest show of the year. Tanga swears like a sailor in this one, yelling “f*cks” and “shits” and “m*th*rf*ck*rs” to his heart’s content. He’s swearing so much that Corino has to turn his microphone off. It’s a tirade of profanity that’s frankly staggering. GBH do some fun work, beating on Tanga, while he swears a lot. The match takes place at a breakneck pace, like we’re seeing a juniors multi-team tag without the flipz. Unless you consider Kokeshi a flip. Then it’s a spotfest. Yano sneaks in a blind tag and rolls up Tanga for the belts after a low blow. That was unexpected! Oh, now Ishii is stuck in this tag team. Pros and cons.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The ticking timebomb Takahashi was, until recently, Kamaitachi. But he’s ditched that lucha gimmick and is now himself again. Only with the flamboyance of his former incarnation. The match immediately flies into top gear and Takahashi attempts to murder the champ with a sunset bomb to the floor. This leads to KUSHIDA playing dead, and getting suplexed on his head some more. Hiromu must feel bad for KUSHIDA’s wellbeing because he hits his ridiculous senton to the floor. One day he’s going to land that badly, like even more badly than every time he does it, and bust the back of his open like a ripe pumpkin. In between they botch a rana to the floor. It’s very obvious because KUSHIDA immediately bails out afterwards to be in the correct place. A second spot to the floor is far better executed as KUSHIDA catches a flying Hiromu in an armbar. The match is sloppy around the edges but that adds to the attraction of Takahashi. Like he’s genuinely out of control. He comes across as equally insane for refusing to tap out to the Hoverboard Lock. KUSHIDA’s response? He punches Takahashi square in the jaw. Hiromu isn’t phased by this and hits a bunch of crazy shit, culminating in the Time Bomb. Takahashi bags the belt and licks it. KUSHIDA has been a great champion but perhaps it was time to freshen things up. Where KUSHIDA was sleek and technically sound, Hiromu is insane. We’re likely to see some crazy matches with him as champion.
Final Rating: ****1/4

 

NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
I love that Shibata brings the British Heavyweight title with him, from Rev Pro. Shibata is wonderful at getting his opponents fired up. When Goto doesn’t show much in the opening exchanges Shibata belts across the face with a slap. Shibata is covered in tape, with two bad shoulders and a bad neck. And a bad knee. He’s falling apart in front of our eyes and he doesn’t give a f*ck. He won’t tone himself down. He wants Goto to have that same fire and recklessness and because Goto is so passive Shibata just beats him up. When it’s Goto’s turn Shibata decides he’s selling absolutely nothing. The way Shibata no sells is amazing though. He refuses to show pain but you can see him holding it back. It’s so measured. There’s nobody like it. It’s such a realistic approach to selling. Not wanting to be phased and show how much he’s hurt but at the same time showing that pain with the grimaces. Great stuff. Goto tries to match that fire as the match progresses, although Shibata always seems to be one step ahead. You can hear the big stadium crowd reactions to every strike as well, echoing away into the ether. It’s an incredible atmosphere. Goto survives a lengthy sleeper. Shibata survives Shouten Kai. It heads towards epic in violent fashion. Just when you think it’s only big shots left they go toe to toe on strikes and it’s just wonderful. I love that Goto pretty much knocks Shibata out with a knee before symbolically executing him with GTR. I never liked that as a finisher but Shibata was already toast. This, naturally, was great.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Every title has switched hands so far on this show. Tanahashi is looking for a late career reinvention. He’s changed his music. It’s deeply disturbing. Luckily his hair remains the most magnificent barnet in pro-wrestling. Naito counters this by arriving in a purple suit that makes him look like a pimp. I love that Tanahashi is still massively over and Naito is likewise. Only Tana is playing cheerleader and Naito doesn’t give a shit. He still remembers the crowd booing him as a face and bantering him off the top a few years back in the Dome. Tana, interestingly, refuses to clean break and punches Naito in the ribs in the first exchange. Naito’s response is to work over the knee. Naito is already a jerk, people know this but Tanahashi’s churlish response to this upsets people and the crowd are divided. Naito sometimes struggles with his injured knee, which inevitably Tana works at in response to Naito working his knee. While Tana is predictable, as he’s worked this way for ten years, Naito comes at Tanahashi from different angles and keeps him unbalanced. However Tanahashi’s offence is more impactful and he has more power. The predictability factor kicks in when it comes to the High Fly Flow. That gives Naito time to prepare counters. The match lives in an interesting balance of old vs. new, tactics vs. tactics and honour vs. anti-heroism. That sense of balance is so prevalent in one of the matches biggest spots; Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow being blocked by Naito’s double knees, which in turn injures himself. The layers of storytelling in one spot is fantastic. A tornado inverted DDT sets up the Destino and Naito retains! More importantly he beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom! Holy shit.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

IWGP Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Kenny gets a pre-match video where he’s the Terminator. It’s pretty cool, although distinctly low budget. I love him bringing a shotgun to the ring instead of a broom. It’s the ultimate in telling the story of how much more serious he is for this match than he was for the Junior title and all the undercard work he did. Now he means business, goddamn it. He’s spent his entire career building to this moment. Meanwhile Okada is the Main Event in Japan. He’s seen off Tanahashi and he’s become the benchmark. Suddenly we’ve got two guys fighting over the company. Whoever wins will define 2017 and help to mould the company. For Okada it would be business as usual. For Omega it could alter everything. They start slowly but it’s not long before they’re countering finishers and Kenny is eating a DDT off the guardrail. The sickening thud noise that accompanied that cannot be understated. Omega is so fast and unpredictable that he takes Okada out of his game, which is exactly what happened with Naito against Tanahashi. Omega loads the match with a mixture of his familiar spots and things less recognisable. The effect being to unsettle Okada and leave him unbalanced. Some of Omega’s offence is brutal. Like the missile dropkick to the neck. Holy f*ckballs. That’s not even Kenny’s craziest top rope move with him hitting a moonsault from the ring, over the rail onto Okada and into the announce table. Okada sells like a drunk man. He reminds me of watching someone who’s fallen over outside the pub on a Friday night trying to get up to get a taxi. Omega follows that with a double stomp onto a table, which is on top of Okada. Good lord, that’s a brutal shot to take. Okada plays dead after this. Absolutely dead. It sells the brutality of that spot in a way that so man other wrestlers don’t understand. Sometimes you need to play dead. Any offence he hits for five minutes is to protect himself and buy time. This is amplified by another game changing moment where Omega is backdropped out of the ring through a table. The table betrays Kenny by partially breaking. The near side doesn’t move and must do damage to his shoulder. The only way he gets back into the match is by going back to the mid-section of Okada that’s already hurt. Omega hits a dragon superplex and Okada lands on his head! Holy shit. The bumps in this match have been utterly insane. Everything feels more important because of what they’ve been through. V-Trigger is huge in that respect. Okada then flips out of the One Winged Angel because he’s a complete freak of nature. Rainmaker doesn’t get it done and it’s such a rarity for someone to kick out of that. The near falls are so ridiculous that the crowd are having kittens. Kenny does amazing work in the stretch. The facials tell how he’s completely knackered, his game plan hasn’t come off and Okada keeps coming back at him and he looks mentally spent. But the great part is how he suddenly fires up and goes again, knowing Okada isn’t 100% and he’s got a great chance of beating him. Okada increasingly resorts to defensive work to block Kenny’s dynamic offence, which includes him grabbing the wrist to get out of the One Winged Angel and hit a Rainmaker. Okada maintains wrist control and the way Omega tries to break it, with repeated knees because he knows what happens when Okada controls the wrist is great. Omega can never get the One Winged Angel though and Okada fights his way out one final time to hit a Tombstone and the Rainmaker finishes. I’ve heard incredible, borderline nonsensical, complaints about this match being too long. While I argue that about NOAH all the time, because they don’t have the wrestlers to put those matches on, this was an epic storyline. I loved it to bits. Everything built to something else and we worked our way to the brilliant finishing stretch. Probably MOTY.
Final Rating: *****

 

Summary: While the show is long at almost six hours the final four matches compensated for everything that preceded it. The last four matches were all incredible, all different and all worth going out of your way for.
Verdict: 100