Preview: The King of Pro Wrestling show for NJPW is set to be the last big show before Wrestle Kingdom 10. Other shows will take place, but after tonight the main event and the champs heading in to Wrestle Kingdom will be set. As such, the top of the card is highlighted by AJ Styles challenging Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title and Tanahashi defending his Wrestle Kingdom title opportunity against Naito (who owns a G1 Climix victory over Tanahashi). Lets get this started!
Mascara Dorada, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi, Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Jay White, David Finlay Jr, Juice Robinson, Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu
As is customary with all New Japan shows we have the Young Lions kicking things off against a team of veterans. In this case Juice Robinson (formerly CJ Parker) joins the Young Lions as the newest permanent signee of the promotion. The match starts off quickly with the Young Lions attacking the veterans in the midst of introductions to gain an early advantage. Liger finds himself isolated from his team as he is worked over by the Young Lions. The Young Lions momentarily lose control when Kushida is tagged in, but Juice cuts off his momentum, flashing some of his striking ability and never before seen diving head-butt from the top rope. Kushida than finds himself the isolated man getting worked over, with the same thing happening to all members of that team when they tag in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the explosive European Uppercut of Dave Finlay, which he connected with on Dorada. Although the Young Lions dominated this match it’s the veterans who looked the more impressive during their quick offense. The match reached its conclusion when the Young Lions were all caught in a submission maneuvers while Dorada put David Finely away with a Psycho Driver.
Fun opening match, probably the most aggressive I’ve ever seen the Young Lions. Tiger Mask looks reinvigorated with that NWA Jr. Heavyweight title, even his Tiger Bomb seemed a bit more impactful. However, seeing Kushida in the opening match stinks, as the former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champion and winner of the Best of the Super Jr. Tournament he deserves better than this. Same can be said for Dorada, who’s springboard offense is in a class all its own.
Winner(s): Mascara Dorada, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi, Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask
Tomoaki Honma vs. YOSHI-HASHI
Interesting match we have here. Honma and Hashi are two men not known for winning, so seeing them face off leads me to believe that the winner is in line for a push. Hashi starts off the match strong, taking Honma to the outside where he tosses him in to the guardrail and uses his staff as a weapon. He gets Honma back in to the ring where he removes the bandages on Honma’s ribs and applies a single-leg Boston Crab. I’ve never seen Hashi work a match so methodical before; he is really showing me something with how he is picking Honma apart. Honma comes back with a sudden suplex and ends up landing the first of his Kokeshi Head-butts. Honma catches Hashi with a nice second rope Blockbuster, but Hashi comes back with his own running Blockbuster. Both guys start trading big moves and reversals, with each getting a number of near falls. It’s Honma who capitalizes after a missed Senton Bomb from Hashi, hitting him with a good 3 running Kokeshi, winning the match after a kokeshi from the top rope.
Great match. Honma remains the most underrated wrestler in the promotion, with all of his matches providing great entertainment and drama. Commentary team is alluding to a Never Openweight title challenge for Honma possibly. I hope they are right, that title seen needs his help.
Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Captain New Japan, Kota Ibushi, Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto
A very random match to have on the show; none of the participants are involved in feuds right now. Ibushi starts off the match drilling Nakanishi with a series of amazing kicks, with Nakanishi firing back some lethal chops. It’s Ibushi who gets the better of the situation, knocking Nakanishi down and landing a great standing Moonsault. Kojima and Goto are brought in to the match where they repeatedly charge in to one another, trying to outdo the other’s strength. Tenzen comes in and begins a series of double team attacks with Kojima on Goto. Tenzen ended up on the receiving end of offense from Ibushi, Shibata and Goto until Nagata got the hot-tag in. Nagata (who moves so well in the ring for a man his age) took the fight to Goto, and seized control again after some stiff hits from Shibata. Nagata eventually locked in the Nagata Lock on Shibata for the close submission victory before Capt. New Japan broke it up. Item of note, watch Kojima deliver his signature chops to Shibata, I swear Shibata looked aroused. The match came down to Capt. New Japan one-on-one with Kojima, and of course Kojima picked up the win with his Lariat. Capt. New Japan was there to do his job and he did it.
This match made me sad. Goto, Shibata, and Ibushi are three of the most talented wrestlers on the roster right after guys like Okada, AJ, and Tanahashi. Bad booking has relegated them to a random tag match against a team of veterans who are massively past their best. It was a pretty good match, but hard to get excited for when you know it means nothing for all of these guys.
Winners: Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly (champions) vs. Trent Baretta & Rocky Romero
Warning: I am a massive ReDRagon fan.
ReDRagon has the early advantage with Bobby out striking Rocky, and Kyle outpacing Barreta. The ReDRagon double team of Romero doesn’t last long as Barreta ends up knocking Fish out of the way, leading to the RPG Vice isolation of Kyle. After a Bobby Fish hot-tag the match breaks down in to a free-for-all, a common occurrence with these tag matches. At one point Romero locked Fish into a Cross-Armbreaker from a top-rope throw, with Bobby able to turn it in to a Heel Hook! The back and forth action culminates in what looked to be a botched ending as ReDRagon caught Barreta with their Double-Dragon maneuver and Romero was apparently too slow to break up the 3 count.
Solid match by these two teams. The common knock is the staleness that has become apparent with the Jr. Tag Division. Although it’s great to see them wrestle, fans have seen this matchup and others involving the Young Bucks and Time Splitters time and time again. Doing so has eliminated the luster from matches that are great, but difficult to differentiate from others. Here’s hoping we see a change coming, which I doubt since the botched ending has people talking rematch already.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega (champion) w/ Cody Hall vs. Matt Sydal
Surprise matchup, since no one expected Omega to beat Kushida for the title last month. Omega again brought the theatrics in to the match with his facial expressions and taunts. Instead of a match of many highflying maneuvers, we saw some very good lock ups by these two, with Sydal bringing out a Muta Lock! Sydal worked the leg of Omega, not something you’re use to seeing from faces. Omega would take control thanks to his power, and keeps control by targeting the back of Sydal and help he received from Cody Hall. Sydal made his comeback utilizing his kicks, catching Omega with a great Frankenstiner from the top rope. Great Spaceman Plancha by Sydal to Omega and Hall on the outside by the way. The crowd got very in to this match, especially when Sydal reversed an Omega Suplex in to a near fall. After catching Omega with a Reverse Rana, Sydal missed the Shooting Star Press and that allowed Omega to hit him with a jumping knee and the One-Winged Angle for the win.
The Jr. Heavyweight title once again produced a great championship match. Sydal looked like he had Omega beat at multiple points during the match, with Omega practically winning as the come from behind baby face. Moving forward I really don’t know who challenges Omega next, he has literally beaten every one there is to beat in the Jr.’s division. My only guess would be a Kushida rubber match at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
Winner: Kenny Omega
Kazushi Sakuraba, Toru Yano & Shinsuke Nakamura (Chaos) vs. Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson w/ Tama Tonga (Bullet Club)
The story of this match was the looming Intercontinental title bout between Anderson and Nakamura, with both men hoping to gain an advantage before their Power Struggle match up. Lol at Yano spraying Fale with water during the introductions! Nakamura and Anderson started this match with some fast chain wrestling. Thankfully Nakamura’s elbow looked much better as he seemed near fully recovered from the injury he sustained during the G1 Climax. Sakuraba and Gallows ended up in the ring exchanging strikes, with Gallows taking control while the rest of Bullet Club took out his partners on the outside. After being isolated for a while Nakamura got in to the match with a hot-tag, hitting Anderson with a number of his signature moves. Both men exhausted each other and performed dual hot-tags to Yano and Fale. In an impressive feat of strength Fale got Yano up for the Bad Luck Fall, but Sakuraba made the save. Tonga tried to interfere, but Yano delivered a double low blow to he and Fale, rolling up Fale right after for the 3 count! That’s right, Yano pinned Fale!
A short and sweet match for all guys involved. The Nakamura/Anderson exchange was really good; I’m looking forward to their match at Power Struggle. And not enough can be said about how much of a delight it is to watch the shenanigans of Yano in the ring.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Togi Makabe (champion) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Never in my life have I been so uninterested in a feud and match than this one. Ishii and Makabe have been feuding over the Never Openweight title for a year, and Makabe has won every match. It has been the same match over and over again, with no real progression for the title outside of Ibushi’s title shot last month.
I know this was a good match, likely their best match, but seeing this matchup so many times had me sitting with my arms crossed as these guys beat the hell out of each other. It was a bout with a lot of elbow strikes, clotheslines, and near falls. The crowd was really in to this match (how? I don’t know) and reacted to every hit they delivered. At one point Ishii caught Makabe with his own move, the avalanche knee strike, for a 2-count. It was Ishii who would win the match following a Brainbuster to finally vanquish Makabe.
Honma came to the ring after Ishii’s win to challenge him to a match for the Never Openweight title. Yes! Thank God! Honma beat Ishii during the G1 Climax, so the challenge makes sense. If Honma can claim the title at Wrestle Kingdom 10 than it would be a great moment for fans that follow Honma and are tired of the Makabe/Ishii matches.
Winner: Tomohiro Ishii
Wrestle Kingdom 10 IWGP Heavyweight Championship Shot: Hiroshi Tanahashi (holder) vs. Tetsuya Naito w/ Masked Man
Prior to the match they had a great video package hyping the match as a feud that has been simmering for a while. Naito won the G1 a couple years back, but the fans voted for the Nakamura/Tanahashi IC title match to main event Wrestle Kingdom instead of Naito’s title bout with Okada. Naito never forgot that and sees Tanahashi as having a stronghold on the promotion.
Naito came to the ring in his usual Los Ingobernables suit and masked, but a second man was with him in the same suit! It’s a Los Ingobernables member! His mask stayed on so not sure which member it is. Naito started the match with a lot of head games; the usual prolonged removal of his entrance attire, faking out Tanahashi with starting his grapples, and even walking out of the way when Tanahashi went for a dive to the outside! It was really a tale of the overzealous Tanahashi finding himself on the receiving entire of the slick counters and techniques of Naito. During the match a good portion of the crowd were solidly behind Naito, something you don’t see often in a Tanahashi match. Tanahashi gained control eventually and started utilizing some heel tactics! He slapped on a Texas Cloverleaf and took a while to break the hold after Naito got to the ropes, and than caught him with a Dragon Screw on the ropes! After a great High Fly Flow by Tanahashi on the outside he tried it again in the ring just to be kicked in the gut! Naito was able to hit Tanahashi with his finish but Tanahashi kicked out!
Things got crazy after a ref knockdown as the Los Ingobernables member at ringside made his move, hitting a clothesline on Tanahashi and revealing himself as Takaaki Watanabe! SWERVE! Watanabe delivered a German Suplex to Tanahashi and as all hope seemed lost Goto and Shibata hit the ring to help Tanahashi, clearing out Los Ingobernables. After a near fall by Naito it was Tanahashi who hit back-to-back High Fly Flows to beat Naito and keep his Wrestle Kingdom title shot.
Just wow. The ring psychology and character development of Naito was on full display here as he took it to Tanahashi, coming close to beating him. The reveal of Watanabe as a member of Los Ingobernables was a masterful idea as it sets him up nicely as a tag partner for Naito. Disappointed in the sense of no La Sombra at NJPW, but story wise this makes the most sense. Now Tanahashi heads to Wrestle Kingdom 10 in search of his 8th IWGP Heavyweight title.
Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (Champion) w/ Gedo vs. AJ Styles w/ Bullet Club
Two of the best wrestlers on the planet had a match, and they delivered their best encounter to date and a bonafide match of the year candidate.
An Okada slap to AJ set the tone for the match, with Okada seizing early control. Interference by the Bullet Club would undo that control, highlighted by an Apron Powerbomb by Karl Anderson to Okada. From than on AJ was in control, flaunting a great deal in the ring. After a great sequence that culminated in a nasty European Uppercut by Okada both men would trade control of the match. AJ’s Springboard Forearm and a Springboard Missile Dropkick by Okada were some of the best moments of this period. The latter half of the match morphed into series after series of some of the best chain wrestling you will ever see. Every transition, reversal, and move was pulled off smoothly. The crowd got in to the action and added an extra level of excitement. Okada would take out the Bullet Club after they ruined one of his pin attempts, and AJ capitalized with a Bloody Sunday off the top rope! It wasn’t enough to put Okada away, with AJ resorting to the Calf Cutter to try and make Okada tap. Okada somehow broke up the hold twice and began another comeback. A lot of reversals and big moves eventually led to Okada hitting AJ with 3 consecutive Rainmakers to win the match and retain his title.
During the post match celebration Tanahashi came to the ring as the main event for Wrestle Kingdom 10 was set. Tanahashi pushed the idea that he would become an 8-time champion, with Gedo cutting him off and saying he can’t beat the Rainmaker.
Everyone needs to watch this match. MOTY candidates are often overrated, but this one is not. It is definitely up there with Kushida vs O’Reilly, Nakamura vs Ibushi, and Strong vs Tanahashi. Going in to Wrestle Kingdom one has to wonder what NJPW has planned for AJ now that he is out of the title picture. Now Okada has to focus on finally defeating Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada
A show filled with some great wrestling, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the booking made the show suffer. For some time now it has been a foregone conclusion that Okada and Tanahashi will main event Wrestle Kingdom, and although their matches were filled with drama I never expected them to lose. The rest of the card suffered from predictable outcomes, while wrestlers like Goto, Ibushi, Shibata, Kushida, and Dorada are simply just floating. Booking aside the wrestling was that good that one could overlook the booking. AJ and Okada delivered a gem, and now anticipation builds for Wrestle Kingdom 10.
MOTN: AJ vs Okada
Wrestler of the Night: AJ Styles
Personality of the Night: Tetsuya Naito
Show Rating: 8/10