NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9 Review

Added by Senor LARIATO

Forty eight hours or so on from Wrestle Kingdom 9, the dust has settled and in spite of technical problems with the Flipps App marring the live experience for some non-US viewers and ticket sales in the Tokyo Dome falling around fifteen thousand short of the estimates bandied about before the event, Wrestle Kingdom 9 succeeded in what it set out to do, showing new viewers exactly what New Japan is all about and kicking off 2015 in grand fashion. The pacing of the show (a concession to Global Force Wrestling’s four hour time-slot for the PPV) both helped and hindered proceedings, the matches coming quick-fire one after another with no intermission in between giving a great sense of pace and action to the event, but for that some of the pageantry of New Japan’s annual Tokyo Dome spectacular was sacrificed. That’s not to say the showy pomp and circumstance of NJPW on its grandest stage of the year was entirely absent, but with fewer over-the-top entrances, video packages and less downtime between matches it did feel somewhat hurried, especially in the undercard. The NJPW World stream held up admirably under what was undoubtedly its biggest test to date, however, and it sounds like the GFW presentation was a technical success (in the US at least). All things considered, this was a successful show that, with the help of Jarrett’s GFW hype machine, reached more international viewers than ever before, so without further rambling let’s get to the matches.

00. Pre-Show – New Japan Rumble

Exclusive to the NJPW World presentation, this pre-show match was a fun diversion for 20 minutes or so, but nothing of any real note took place. The crowd (who were still filing in when the match began) got a real kick out of seeing some of the legends involved and also for young lions Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu who used team work to eliminate a couple of opponents. The highlights were seeing Great Kabuki spray mist into TAKA Michinoku’s face and Yoshiaki Fujiwara locking in his patented Fujiwara Armbar, while Hiro Saito scored with his top-rope senton, but the finish came when Yuji Nagata pinned YOSHI-HASHI with a backdrop driver hold. Nagata is eternally popular, but the crowd were hoping for a YOSHI upset here, however unlikely that may have been. I was surprised we didn’t get one of the bi-annual appearances of Super Strong Machine, hope he’s in good health.

01. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles – reDRagon (c) vs Time Splitters vs Forever Hooligans vs The Young Bucks

Kicking off the main show and the GFW broadcast was the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight     Tag Title match, which this year was again a 4-way match. In spite of being three minutes longer than last year’s match, this year’s contrived to feel just as rushed. The action was fast and furious, with barely a second to breath between the next move, but the crowd were excited by it which is generally the point of a crazy multi-man opener. All eight men got a chance to show off their particular skills, The Bucks standing out from the pack with their crisp tag team offence and a perfectly executed Meltzer Driver. reDRagon picked up the win after hitting Koslov with Chasing the Dragon, where O’Reilly hoists the opponent up for a brainbuster and Fish connects with a kick to the head just before the drop. My one main gripe with this match was how anonymous reDRagon were until the finishing stretch, as a first defence of their titles it would have been nice to see them command a greater portion of the action, but it was a solid tag opener and served its purpose well.

02. Special Six-Man Tag – Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & Tomoaki Honma vs Jeff Jarrett, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi

Next up, Jeff Jarrett made his in-ring début for New Japan, wrestling alongside Bullet Club brothers Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi, with ‘The Queen of the Mountain’ Karen Jarrett at ringside. Karen, annoyed at Honma’s lack of respect at the press conference the previous night, berated him as the Bullet Club trio jumped TenKoji before the bell and the match got under-way. This was fine for the time allotted, Fale & Yujiro controlled for the majority, but the good guys got their moves in and the finish came when Honma, who had been isolated after missing a running Kokeshi head-butt, ducked out of the way of a guitar shot from Jarrett and Double J connected with Yujiro! Tenzan & Kojima dispatched Fale over the top-rope, then hit a TenKoji Cutter on Yujio. Honma excitedly signaled for the Kokeshi and climbed up top and then, much to everyone’s surprise, actually connected with the Kokeshi for the 3-count! The crowd erupted at this, great moment for Honma who drew such support during the G1 tournament, in spite of losing every single match. A very short bout here, but it never out-stayed its welcome.

03. Special Eight-Man Tag – Toru Yano, Naomichi Marufuji & TMDK vs Takashi Iizuka, Shelton Benjamin & K.E.S.

Another very short match here, just over five minutes but they packed a fair bit of action in. Things kicked off with Suzuki-gun jumping Team Yano before the bell before brawling around ringside. Yano became isolated by Shelton & the Killer Elite Squad, but made the hot tag after Archer collided with the turnbuckle, Yano having earlier removed the turnbuckle pad. Shane Haste of TMDK got in the ring and immediately impressed with a beautiful dropkick. TMDK made some quick tags, but Davey Boy Jr. interjected, allowing Archer to hit Haste with a frankly insane chokeslam that knocked Shane for six. Iizuka & Marufuji took over, with a brief bit of athleticism from Shelton at one point, who leapt up on the top-rope and hit a lovely belly-to-belly on Marufuji. Iizuka tried to use the Iron Finger from Hell, but Marufuji avoided it and TMDK planted him to the mat with a huge gorilla press slam. Marufuji followed up with the Tiger Knee Lift and got the pin on Iizuka for 3. This, again, was fine, everyone got their stuff in and it was cool seeing the NOAH guys in New Japan, which is the real thing to take away from this match, as it looks like we’ll be seeing more co-operation between the two promotions this year and TMDK vs K.E.S. could make for a hell of a tag match.

04. Special Singles Match: Full Conclusion Rules – Kazushi Sakuraba vs Minoru Suzuki

I was very much looking forward to this one beforehand and it definitely delivered. Suzuki, decked out in all white and with his hair bleached blonde (a throwback to his early days in New Japan), wasted little time in getting started, both men jockeying for position on the mat. The first turning point came when Sakuraba, peppering Suzuki with palm strikes, got caught in Suzuki’s triangle armbar in the ropes. Suzuki then dragged Sakuraba up to the entrance way and took a run-up for his sliding kick to the face. Sakuraba intercepted him, however, and hit some devastating kicks to Suzuki’s left arm before applying the Sakuraba Lock. The ref forced him to break the hold, but the damage to Suzuki’s arm was done. He had to be helped back into the ring, favouring his left wrist heavily, and Sakuraba immediately went to work with more heavy strikes to the arm. Suzuki took a hell of a beating, but fought back after ducking and weaving into a big palm strike combo that just pummelled Sakuraba into the mat. He couldn’t follow up, however, and Sakuraba hit more vicious strikes before trying to roll Suzuki into the Sakuraba Lock. Suzuki blocked the move and Sakuraba transitioned into a cross-armbreaker that had Suzuki scrambling for the ropes. They got into a strike exchange, Suzuki goading Sakuraba in somewhat, which led to Sakuraba’s downfall. Suzuki grabbed Sakuraba’s leg, scored with a pair of huge palm strikes and hit a sliding kick to the face that could easily have ended it. Instead, he wasted no time in locking in a sleeper and hitting Saka Otoshi to choke out Sakuraba! This was a very enjoyable watch, they told a good story with Suzuki’s initial gameplan failing him, forcing him to drag things out and avoid getting caught in one of Sakuraba’s many holds. Post-match Sakuraba (once revived) offered the handshake and, after a moment to consider things, Suzuki accepted, the two men embracing in a show of sportsmanship that greatly pleased the Tokyo crowd.

05. NEVER Openweight Title – Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Togi Makabe

Tomohiro Ishii had an exceptional 2014, winning the NEVER Openweight Title and putting in an incredibly gutsy performance in the G1 Climax Tournament for the second year running. It was during that tournament that Ishii separated his left shoulder, but he’s barely taken a moment to heal, competing in one more hard hitting match after another to hold on to his NEVER belt. In spite of his great performances defending the title, he hadn’t yet defended it against anyone with the pedigree of former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Togi Makabe, a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense performer in much of the same vein as Ishii. The two got things started here with an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ back-and-forth, exchanging elbows, shoulder tackles, powerslams and all manner of strikes until Makabe went down under a vicious chop straight to his throat. Ishii derisively kicked him about the head until he revived, drawing him into another strike exchange that this time saw Makabe come out on top, hitting a bridging northern lights suplex for two. Makabe followed up with forearm strikes, but Ishii powered through them and just picked him up to place him on the top-rope, before climbing up himself and hitting an amazing stalled vertical suplex, following up with a powerbomb for a two-count of his own. More strikes thrown from both men, almost carelessly as they just try and clobber the other into unconsciousness. Makabe levels Ishii with a reverse King Kong Lariat and hits a powerbomb for another near-fall before German suplexing Ishii right on his injured left shoulder. He places Ishii up top and tries for the Spider-style German, but when Ishii fights back Makabe has to settle for a disgusting Air Raid Crash that, somehow, Ishii kicked out of. After struggling to their feet more clotheslines are thrown, before Ishii floors Makabe with a headbutt to the sternum. He hits a sliding lariat for yet another nearfall, then goes for a lariat but Makabe smartly counters into a dragon suplex! Another big strike exchange, before Makabe destroys Ishii with a sickening lariat to the neck. Makabe goes up top and hits the King Kong Kneedrop to pin Tomohiro Ishii and become the new NEVER Openweight Champion! This one was best described as ‘beastly’. Both men just tore into each other. It lacked the flash and excitement of Ishii’s matches with Naito & Ibushi, but more than made up for it in sheer brutality. If anything, I thought they did perhaps one strike exchange too many, but it got over Ishii’s toughness even in defeat and a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion holding the NEVER belt can only elevate that title.

06. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title – Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs Kenny Omega

‘The Cleaner’ Kenny Omega has proved to be somewhat of a divisive character, some loving his over-the-top, Anime villain come to life mannerisms and others detesting it. I’m definitely in the former camp and, although all the pieces of his new gimmick haven’t quite fallen into place yet, his presence will definitely liven up the Jr. Heavyweight title picture. They get things started quickly, Kenny powering Taguchi into the ropes before derisively slapping him across the face for the break. After a quick exchange of armdrags, Taguchi gets the better of Omega with a flying hip attack. He whips Omega into the corner, but Kenny flips up and over the charging Taguchi and goes for a hurricanrana, only for Taguchi to counter smartly into an ankle lock! Omega wastes no time in escaping, but gets clotheslined over the ropes by Taguchi. The Young Bucks (Omega’s Bullet Club stablemates) cause a distraction on the ring apron, allowing Omega to spray Taguchi in the eyes with a spray can and turn the tide of the match. Omega goes to work, at one point hitting a beautiful deadlift vertical suplex, but takes too long following up. He tries for a leaping high kick, but Taguchi ducks under and elevates Omega to the floor before hitting a Devitt-style swan dive over the ropes and onto the Bullet Club, in tribute to his former tag team partner. The champion gets Omega back in the ring and goes for the Three Amigos, but on the third suplex Omega frees himself. He hoists Taguchi up for a buckle bomb, but at the last second Taguchi rolls through and sends Omega head-first into the turnbuckle! He follows up with a blue thunder driver for two, but when he goes up top for a crossbody Omega catches him right in the jaw with a dropkick. Kenny shows off his strength with a Doctor Bomb for a near-fall of his own, before sitting Taguch in an electric chair to set-up for either Croyt’s Wrath or the One Winged Angel. Taguchi drops down, however, and lifts Kenny into position for Dodon, earning another two count. Taguchi hits Dodon’s Throne, but again Omega kicks out, so the champion sets up for Dodon: The End. The Bucks cause a distraction and Omega frees himself. Taguchi hits the ropes for another flying hip attack, but Omega catches him in mid-air and hits a snap dragon suplex! Big high knee to the side of the face, followed up with the One Winged Angel and Kenny Omega is the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion! This was an OK match, Taguchi & Omega have a lot of history and work well together which showed in the counter-for-counter stuff, but in spite of some clever spots this never really kicked into full gear.


07. IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles – Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (c) vs Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata

Anderson tagged in and the Bullet Club tried and play the numbers game, but Goto foiled their plans and Meiyu Tag hit an awesome corner dropkick/rolling heel kick combo on both Anderson & Gallows. Meiyu Tag perhaps foolishly try and isolate the big man Gallows, which doesn’t work out so well for them and the Bullet Club regain control. Beautiful running boot to the face from Karl Anderson, who I maintain has the best spinebuster going today, followed by a backbreaker/elbowdrop combo from the champs. Some good tag work from Gallows & Anderson, showing why they’ve been IWGP Heavyweight Tag Champions for a full year. They try and set Shibata up for the Magic Killer, but Goto intervenes to save his partner, clotheslining Doc over the top-rope. Great counter-for-counter sequence with Anderson, that ends with Goto hitting the Ushikoroshi neckbreaker before Shibata follows up with a PK! Before Meiyu Tag can make a cover, Gallows is back in and floors them with a double clothesline. He goes up top, but Goto catches him and Shibata comes to help drop Doc into a double Ushikoroshi! Shibata holds Gallows up for a lariat and this time Goto connects with the intended target! Goto hoists Gallows up and drops him into a G2S from Shibata, who then follows up with another PK to pick up the win and, believe it or not, his first ever championship title in professional wrestling! This was a fun match, great moment for Shibata & Goto finally winning the big one in the tag division and I really enjoy the dynamic that’s going on with Meiyu Tag. Great performance from the former champions, as well.

08. Special Singles Match – Tetsuya Naito vs AJ Styles

I’d seen this touted as a potential show-stealer and, although it didn’t quite reach those heights, I very much enjoyed the story they told here. Mainly, that AJ wants his title back and isn’t about to let Naito get in his way. As such, he barely waited for Naito to get in the ring before attacking him and trying to hit the Styles Clash mere seconds into the match. Naito freed himself and peppered AJ with forearms, but again Styles tried to go for the Clash, only for Naito to squirm free. Both men end up on the floor. AJ clambers onto the apron and tries to backflip onto Naito, but Naito avoids it, climbs onto the apron himself and hits a big dropkick that sends AJ flying! Naito rolls him into the ring and follows up with a missile dropkick. He tries to go for his fancy inside-out corner dropkick, but AJ grabs Naito’s leg and goes to work on his often-injured knee, obviously trying to set-up for the Calf Killer. He continues in this vein for a good few minutes, before Naito rallies and catches Styles with a nice tornado DDT. A high hip-toss from Naito, who’s still favouring his knee, followed by a dropkick to the side of the head. He charges AJ in the corner, but AJ gets his knees up and goes to the top. Naito follows and tries for a hurricanrana, but Styles easily frees himself and hits his beautiful springboard forearm smash. Both men fight over a vertical suplex, which AJ eventually gets and drops into a neckbreaker that did not look like it went well for Naito. Big German suplex from Styles, but instead of going for the pin he hoists Naito up for a facebuster, only for Naito to roll through for a near-fall.

Beautiful bridging German suplex from Naito, but his knee can’t hold the bridge. He hits an enziguri, bodyslams Styles and heads up top for the Stardust Press. It’s far too early, however, and AJ cuts him off by tripping out his leg. Styles tries for a backdrop suplex, but Naito lands on his feet (doing more damage to his knee). He charges Styles, but gets beautifully caught in the Calf Killer! After a prolonged struggle Naito eventually makes it to the ropes, but is left struggling to stand. Styles grabs the leg, but gets hit with another enziguri followed by Naito’s huge uranage slam! Naito hits a dragon suplex and this time the bridge holds, only for Styles to kick out at two. Naito sets Gloria, but AJ escapes and scores with a Pele kick before hitting a Bloody Sunday. He tries for the Styles Clash, but Naito just hoists AJ up on his shoulders and blindly dumps him face-first over the ropes to the floor! Styles just makes it in to the ring for the 19 count, but Naito’s still heavily favouring his leg. Naito hits his inside-out corner dropkick and then places AJ up top. He tries for a hurricanrana, but AJ powers out and hooks him up for a Styles Clash from the second rope that, unsurprisingly, ends things for Naito! Huge finish to a fun match. Naito really struggled to build momentum here, he never seemed anything more than a temporary nuisance to Styles and his mistake of going to the Stardust Press too early ultimately turned the match against him. Styles came out of this looking very strong and, as such, is set to face Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title this February at New Beginning in Osaka.

09. IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Kota Ibushi

The 2013 G1 Climax Tournament match between Nakamura & Ibushi was widely regarded as one of the best matches of the tournament, also earning Tokyo Sport’s coveted ‘match of the year’ prize, so to say the re-match was hotly anticipated would be something of an understatement. It was something of a long match, by G1 standards, and often times with these G1 matches there can be a tendency to do much of the same as before, but more drawn out. This wasn’t the case here, however, as while in the G1 match there was a tentativeness to both of the competitor’s gameplans, here there was just desire to win. The build-up for the match was as simple as you can get: Ibushi wants Nakamura’s title, so to get his attention his German suplexed him on his head and mocked him a bit. That’s about all it takes to piss off the man known as ‘The King of Strong Style’, so while Ibushi was out to make a statement by earning his first heavyweight title, Nakamura was out to put Ibushi firmly in his place. A quick exchange of strikes get things started. Nakamura offers a handshake, then attacks Ibushi with an axe kick to the head. He goes for a Boma Ye, but Ibushi quickly avoids it and floors Nakamura with a dropkick to the back of the head. Ibushi stomps Shinsuke in the corner and mocks his signature mannerisms, which doesn’t go down too well. Nakamura drapes Ibushi over the ropes and hits a big knee to the gut. Nakamura takes full control, dictating the pace of the match as he really wrenches in on a side-headlock. Ibushi has to get to the ropes to free himself and then Nakamura invites him to take a free shot, derisively laughing off his forearm strikes. Ibushi swings for a big slap, but Nakamura ducks it and hits backcracker before going for the reverse powerslam. Ibushi lands on his feet, however, and sends Nakamura to the floor with a hurricanrana before hitting his beautiful triangle Asai moonsault! Crazy move there, Ibushi’s face nearly collided with the ring apron.

Ibushi gets Nakamura back in the ring and scores with a missile dropkick. He peppers Shinsuke with some speedy strikes to the mid-section, before flooring him with a huge kick to the chest, followed by a standing shooting star for a 2-count! Ibushi charges into the corner, but Nakamura elevates him to the apron and then catches him with a huge kick to the face when Ibushi tries to springboard back in. Nakamura hits a roundhouse kick and follows up with knees to the side of the head, before trying for the first Boma Ye of the match, which Ibushi barely avoids. Ibushi catches Nakamura climbing the turnbuckles, but Nakamura knocks him down to the apron only for Ibushi to launch in with a springboard hurricarana off the top! Snap dragon suplex following by a standing corkscrew moonsault for a near-fall from Ibushi! A last ride powerbomb gets him another near, near-fall as the crowd come alive, hoping to see an upset. Ibushi goes up top, but Nakamura avoids the phoenix splash and hits a Boma Ye to the back of the head! Nakamura tries to stomp Ibushi’s head in, but Kota’s fired up and goes to work with sumo palm strikes. Nakamura shoves the referee into Ibushi and punches him square in the mush with a closed fist. He tries to follow up, but Ibushi cuts him off and goes for a lariat, only for Nakamura to catch his arm in a rolling cross-armbreaker! Ibushi manages to make his way to his feet and stomps Shinsuke in the face to break the hold. He uses Nakamura’s own reverse powerslam against him and then hits a disgusting Boma Ye, but Nakamura kicks out at one! Big strike exchange and Shinsuke rolls to the apron, but Ibushi springboards to the top-rope and somehow German suplexes him into the ring, goddamn. Ibushi goes for the Last Ride again, but Nakamura smartly escapes and stomps his face into the mat, following up with a Landslide and a huge Boma Ye for the win. Thoroughly enjoyed that, a very well paced match and I don’t think either guy put a foot wrong.

10. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada

When Kazuchika Okada defended the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Hiroshi Tanahashi at King of Pro-Wrestling 2013 it was supposed to be the end of their rivalry, Okada declared himself the ‘New Ace’ of NJPW, while Tanahashi vowed to never again challenge Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Just six months later, however, Okada lost the title to the debuting AJ Styles but by winning the 2014 G1 Climax Tournament it seemed certain that Okada would face off against Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and reclaim his title. That is until Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Styles at King of Pro-Wrestling 2014 and made this match for the Tokyo Dome main event. Going into the match I was almost certain that this would be Okada’s moment to win the big one on the grandest stage, sort of a passing the torch moment from Tanahashi to Okada who, although calling himself the New Ace, hadn’t taken on Tanahashi’s role as the top guy in the company. Okada’s post-match attack of Tanahashi on The Road to Tokyo Dome show, however, led to a different sort of Tanahashi facing off against Okada, one determined to show the upstart challenger why he was still considered the main man in New Japan. The match started off tentatively, Okada attempting to dictate the pace on the mat but Tanahashi coming back with a response for every tactic he tried, then blasting Okada in the face with a flurry of forearms after Okada took a cheap shot on a rope break. Tanahashi went up for his middle rope flipping senton, but Okada hit a huge European uppercut that sent him crashing to the floor and the action spilled to the outside. Okada whipped Tanahashi into the railing, before hitting an elevated DDT and dragging Tanahashi out to the entranceway. He tried to go for the Tombstone, but Tanahashi squirmed free and hit a chinbreaker, before taking a run-up to perhaps attempt a Mutoh-esque charging lariat, only for Okada to catch him in the Heavy Rain neckbreaker! Nasty fall for Tanahashi there, who came crashing down hard on the unforgiving entranceway.

Okada dumped Tanahashi between the ropes and hit a nasty dropkick to the side of the head before going to work with elbow strikes in the corner. Okada went for a senton, but Tanahashi rolled out of the way and the momentum shifted in his favour as he hit a big flying forearm. He goes again for the flipping senton, which this time hits, earning him a near-fall but when he tries to follow up Okada hits a flapjack before locking in his old submission, Deep in Debt. Tanahashi makes it to the ropes, but Okada hits a beautiful senton atomico for another two-count. Okada seems almost lackadaisical here, as he lazily slaps Tanahashi about the head. He invites Tanahashi into a strike exchange, but regrets it once Tanahashi grabs a leg and hits the dragon screw. Tanahashi charges into an elbow and then Okada regains control with a vicious dropkick that sends Tanahashi crashing into the corner. Tanahashi, however, is full of counters here, catching Okada in a neckbreaker as he goes for Heavy Rain and again as Okada tries to dropkick Tanahashi off the top. Tanahashi tries for the High Fly Flow, but it’s too early and Okada avoids it, hitting a diving European uppercut for a near-fall. He hoists Tanahashi up and hits a reverse neckbreaker for another near-fall. Okada hits the top-rope elbow and the Tokyo Dome roars aproval for the subsequent ‘Rainmaker pose’ that indicates a Rainmaker is imminent. He sets Tanahashi up, but Tana rolls for a near-fall of his own. Okada tries for a big boot, but Tanahashi again hits a dragon screw and Okada’s visibly in a lot of pain. Okada’s hobbling about the ring here as he tries to keep up Tanahashi, but the champion keeps working on the leg and knee. They spill out to the floor and Okada gets whipped over the barricade. Tanahashi then goes up top and hits a huge High Fly Flow! Wow, that was amazing. Tanahashi drags Okada back in for the 20 count and tries for another HFF, but Okada charges and Tanahashi jump over him. Okada grabs a waistlock and goes for the Rainmaker, but Tanahashi counters with a Slingblade! Tanahashi hits a HFF crossbody, but Okada isn’t done yet! He hangs on, deadlifts Tanahashi up but Tanahashi reverses it and drills Okada with the Tombstone! HFF to the back from Tanahashi, who tries for another and hits it for a near, near-fall!

Tanahashi tries to lock on the Texas cloverleaf, but Okada desperately kicks himself free while Gedo wills him on from ringside. Big European uppercut from Okada, but Tanhashi is barely phased. He hits another Slingblade and then sets Okada up for the Rainmaker, but Okada reverses it into a Rainmaker of his own! Okada makes the briefest of pauses before making the cover, but Tanahashi somehow kicks out and the Tokyo Dome errupts! First person to kick out of a Rainmaker clean and Okada can’t believe it. Both men struggle to their knees and begin exchanging forearm strikes. Okada gets the better of Tanahashi and lifts him up for the Tombstone, but Tanahashi rolls through for another near-fall. Okada goes for the big boot again, but Tanahashi kicks out his injured knee. Big palm strikes from Tanahashi that leave the challenger dazed. Okada grabs a desperate backslide for two and goes for the Rainmaker once more, but Tanahashi ducks and catches Okada with a straight jacket suplex! He tries to follow up with a dragon suplex, but Okada reverses it into a German suplex. Okada holds on and tries another Rainmaker, but Tanahashi counters into the dragon suplex for yet another near, near-fall. Tanahashi hits the ropes, but eats a picture perfect dropkick from Kazuchika Okada! Another Rainmaker attempt, but Tanahashi reverses yet again and grabs a leg. Okada scrambles for the ropes, but Tanahashi hits the dragon screw anyw​​​​​​​​​​ay! Dragon screw with Okada’s leg wrapped in the ropes! Tanahashi goes up top and hits a High Fly Flow while Okada’s leg is still in the ropes, then a High Fly Flow crossbody and, finally, one last High Flow Flow to put away Okada and retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title!

This was an epic match and a perfect way to cap off a great event. The story they told here was not one I expected, not one I was rooting for, but I enjoyed every minute of it regardless because of how well they sold it and how well everything was laid out. Tanahashi’s post-match comments were revealing, as he mocked Okada for losing and told him that the IWGP title “is still so far away for you”. An inconsolable Okada being helped to the back by Gedo and the way Tanahashi almost trounced Okada in the ring really drove the point home. Tanahashi played the wily veteran role to a tee, always one step ahead of his youthful nemesis with his move-set fully scouted, but more than that he seemed almost frenzied in his desire to prove his point to Okada and demonstrate his fire. In his arrogance, Okada had presumed that he was already the very best, while Tanahashi proved how far Okada still had to go if he wanted to do what Tanahashi and those before him have done and truly lead the promotion. Overall, this was a highly enjoyable show and while the aforementioned time restrictions left some of the undercard matches feeling more rushed than I would have like, the four hours just breezed by. I’m having difficulty picking a match of the night, however, but it’s definitely between the semi-main and main event. Both were fantastic matches but for different reasons and I think I’ll have to give the nod to Okada vs Tanahashi which, while not quite as exciting as the Ibushi vs Nakamura bout, presented a fantastic story that I really bought into as the match went on. Ishii vs Makabe was a hell of a match as well, some brutal shots dished out by both men and I loved Suzuki vs Sakuraba which I’d probably say was my third favourite for the show. Everything from that match onwards was well worth a watch and Wrestle Kingdom 9 has undoubtedly set the bar for 2015.

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