What’s good everybody? My name is Justin Baisden, a long time pro wrestling fan and avid viewer of Japanese wrestling (Puroresu) specifically. I used to work with (for?) Scott 15 years ago during The Smarks “era.” In any case, with New Japan’s recent big show being broadcast in North America with an English speaking commentary team of Matt Striker and Jim Ross, I thought it a prime opportunity to write a review for the show. Hopefully I’ll be covering all future New Japan big shows and PPV’s in the coming year.
I’m basically going to try and provide back story for those of you who don’t know the workers involved or the history behind some of the matches. Please feel free to ask any follow up questions in the comments and I’ll endeavour to answer.
Also note I will try to talk about the matches without providing the winners. While the information is all over the Internet, I’ve always found I enjoy pro wrestling and sports as a whole far more if I don’t know the outcome.
ReDragon vs The Young Bucks vs The Time Splitters vs The Forever Holligans (IWGP Junior Tag Titles)
ReDragon (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish) are the champs here. They won the titles from The Time Splitters (Alex Shelly & KUSHIDA) the recent Power Sruggle PPV (11/08/2014 ****½). The participants in the 4 way are 4 of the last 5 Junior Tag champs (TAKA Michinoku and Taichi were left out). The match itself is an extended spotfest. The earlier matches on this show were rushed as Japanese “big shows” tend to run very long. Most Wrestle Kingdom shows are in the 4.5 hour range. Obviously that isn’t going to fly on US PPV so the poor Juniors and a couple of other non consequential matches got hacked up. The teams essentially cram as much as they can into the 10 minutes they were given. Poor JR is completely lost (a theme for the first ½ of the show) as he’s unfamiliar with everyones moves. The team to watch is The Young Bucks (brothers out of Southern California who look like the late 90’s Hardy Boyz). They’re the glue here as they provide the most innovative spots and also take the brunt of every other teams punishment. I’d classify them as the best Junior Tag Team in the world right now and can’t recommend their work highly enough from here, Ring Of Honour, or Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. There’s an absolutely spectacular spot where The Bucks are hit with a double Doomsday Device, land on their feet (WOW!) and then Double Superkick Alex Kozlov & Alex Shelly. If you like your matches fast and spotty you’ll enjoy it. Juniors typically play better with more time to build their spots in smaller venues. ***½
Jeff Jarrett & Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Tomoaki Honma
So the heels are part of a primarily foreign (gaijin) stable called The Bullet Club. Jarrett debuted on 08/14 during the G-1 Climax Finals (major tournament) in New Japan as the face of Global Force Wrestling. He was invited by New Japan’s president and then immediately turned, hitting Hiroshi Tanahashi (the company’s “Ace”) with his guitar and joining The Bullet Club. Bad Luck Fale and Takahashi are part of the stable but are filler here. On the other side, there is veteran tag team and crowd favourite TenKoji + perennial jobber loved by all (think Santino Marella) Honma. Like the opener, this is very rushed, only going a little over 5 minutes. It’s a back and forth 6 man until Jarrett introduces the guitar and shenanigans ensue. A completely nothing match. *½
Toru Yano & Naomichi Marufuji & MIkey Nicholls & Shane Haste vs Takashi Iizuka & Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer & Shelton X Benjamin
This is like a convoluted grudge match. Yano and Iizuka were partners in the stable called CHAOS (with caps). Iizuka turned on Yano and joined the heel stable Suzukigun. Now instead of a singles match for the blowoff, we got an 8 man tag. On top of that, Yano didn’t know who his partners were until the last New Japan show of 2014. He announced Marufuji (Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC Champion) and The Mighty Don’t Kneel (TMDK if you see the acronym around) who are the top foreign tag team in NOAH, as his ringers. New Japan has bought a majority stake in NOAH and plans a lot of Interpromotional stuff in the upcoming year. This match is really a backdrop to introduce Killer Elite Squad (Smith & Archer) as new opponents to TMDK in NOAH in 2015. Again, a very rushed match. I was gushing to see Benjamin but he literally has 2 moves in the entire match. This only goes 5 minutes but again, it’s more a launching pad to NJPW vs NOAH in the coming year. There’s an absolutely insane spot with Archer Choke Slamming Shane Haste into the stratosphere but otherwise it’s just filler. *½
Kazushi Sakuraba vs Minoru Suzuki (UWFi Rules)
To be clear, the rules mean you can only win via submission, Knock Out, or referee stoppage. This is a worked shoot dream match, though I’d say 10 years too late. Suzuki was the first Pancrese champion. Sakuraba is arguably responsible for PRIDE exploding as an MMA promotion in the early 2000’s thanks to his feud with the Gracie’s. I know I’m really condensing his significance with that statement but if you want a detailed history piece I’ll do one in the future. This sort of links into the previous match. After Iizuka turned, Yano began a feud with Suzukigun. He needed a partner for the big Dominion PPV (06/21/2014) and brought in Sakuraba to take on Iizuka & Suzuki. The match was a mess. The key though was Suzuki & Iizuka attacking Sakuraba afterwards and leaving him laying. They re-matched at Power Struggle and Sakuraba went over clean. This match got time, but could have used 5 more minutes. These guys worked STIFF as is the norm for worked shoot style. The story of the match was Sakuraba seemingly breaking Suzuki’s arm with a Kimura Lock at the mid way point and Suzuki having to work with 1 arm. It’s an odd story as you’d figure the face would work with the injury. In either case, the crowd was very hot for this one coming off a 6 month build. Both guys worked very hard and the story is enthralling after the “arm break.” ***½
Togi Makabe vs Tomohiro Ishii (NEVER Open Weight Title)
New blood Evolution Valiantly Eternal Radical. I might as well get that out of the way now. There’s no major back story to this match. Makabe challenged Ishii after his successful title defense against Hirooki Goto at Power Struggle (absolute war of a match ****½). Makabe went over Ishii in a 6 man tag on the final show of the year and here we are. Shocking how simple booking works sometimes. If you’ve never seen Ishii in a big match, the best way to describe him would be “guy willing to die for you.” Every major Ishii match makes you cringe. Not because of blood (though he ended up coughing up blood in the Goto match from the beating) or weapons, but because you are guaranteed to see the stiffest match on the card. These two just beat the holy hell out of each other. It’s just Lariats and chops and forearms that should by all rights break your jaw. Ishii’s got a bad right shoulder (legit) and Makabe smashes that thing to bits with Sledges. You can’t help but grow invested as you’re left wondering who will possibly be able to withstand all the punishment each guy is laying down. The smack of flesh and flying sweat from all the brutal Lariats will make you clutch your own chest. A completely different style of match from anything else on the card and a true joy if you’re into simple stiff wrestling. ****
Kenny Omega vs Ryusuke Taguchi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title)
Omega is a Canadian who has been working Japan regularly for years. He’s actually a very good wrestler with flat out amazing facial expressions. He was in WWE developmental for a while but hated the experience. It’s a shame because he looks like a natural for WWE. In any case, he was working the Japanese independant DDT promotion until 3 months ago when he jumped to New Japan. He immediately joined The Bullet Club and challenged Taguchi at Power Struggle after the conclusion of his title defense. I’ll be honest in saying I”m not the biggest Taguchi fan. He’s a solid worker with a diverse moveset and some charisma but I’ve never been able to get into his matches. He used to be far more tolerable as Prince Devitt (Finn Balor now in NXT) partner but now he’s just a near Eddie Guerrero clone who you know will give you a ***+ match and nothing more. Actually Randy Orton is a the closest comparison. The previously mentioned Devitt turned on Taguchi a year and ½ ago when he formed The Bullet Club with Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson. Taguchi has been going back and forth with that stable ever since. This was an enjoyable match. Omega is a big junior and uses a lot of unique power moves while still moving at a blistering pace. There’s a beautiful spot where he uses a Dipped Suplex. It looks simple but it’s very difficult and uses a lot of power. Omega carries the match. He heels it up, sometimes with interference from The Young Bucks (who accompanied him) and gives Taguchi the perfect opportunity for hope spots. I’ll give Taguchi his props in that he ramps up the charisma here. At one point he tosses Omega and then does Devitt’s signature kneel pose before hitting a Tope Con Hilo. I would expect to see a series between these two over the next few months. Omega is a treat to watch if you’re into the little things like facial expressions, creative selling, and working the crowd. ***¼
Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto vs Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (IWGP Tag Team Titles)
Goto & Shibata are legitimate high school friends and rivals. They had an emotional feud and when it was over they became a tag team. They went into the annual World Tag League and went over the champs in the finals (12/07/2014 ***1/4) to earn this title shot. Anderson & Gallows come into the match having held the titles for 1 year, winning the belts from Killer Elite Squad at Wrestle Kingdom 8. I’m a big fan of Anderson/Gallows. They’re big men that work a fast pace but incorporate lots of power moves. JR makes a comparison of Karl Anderson to Arn Anderson and he’s spot on. If you’re unfamiliar, you may know Doc Gallows as the former Festus and then Luke Gallows from CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society. He’s carved a prominent role for himself in New Japan. This match was oddly short (10 minutes) but the pace never slows. Anderson in particular brought his working boots for this one. They packed a ton of work into a short amount of time and it was fun while it lasted. 20 minutes with a slower build likely would have yielded a MOTYC. ***½
Tetsyua Naito vs AJ Styles
Yoshi Tatsu (yes that Yoshi Tatsu) had come back to New Japan at the King Of Pro Wrestling PPV (10/13/2014), was promoted as a major WWE star, and immediately was thrust into a major program with The Bullet Club. He faced Styles at Power Struggle and was defeated. He also broke his neck taking The Styles Clash (I’ll get into that in a second). The Bullet Club beat him down after the match and Naito made the save. They had a big staredown. The crowd went bonkers and the match was signed. Now as for The Styles Clash, there’s been a bit of an issue with that move over the last couple years. It’s either very safe or can kill you. See most wrestlers tuck their head taking a bump. It’s almost a reflex action. With the Styles Clash, you have to lean your head back. Every so often, this goes horribly wrong and the result is a broken neck. That’s the case with Yoshi Tatsu at present. There are a lot of fans who are calling for the banning of the move. In New Japan’s case, they ran with it for all that it’s worth and pushed the move as “deadly.” Both guys are fast paced, hard hitting, high flying, workers and can put on a hell of a show on any given night. That was no different here. I wouldn’t say they tore the house down but they put on a very worthy performance of their skills with the simple story of “don’t get hit by The Styles Clash.” Respect to New Japan for making the best of an awful situation. ***½
Kota Ibushi vs Shinsuke Nakamura (Intercontinental Title)
So this goes back a year and ½. These two faced off during the G-1 Climax 2013 (08/03 ****½) in a true MOTYC. It’s very telling of their respective talent as Ibushi was a Junior Heavyweight at the time. In the vast majority of cases, a Junior does not go over a main event Heavyweight. Suspension of disbelief is key to some of the truly fantastic pro wrestling matches over the years. Everyone was hyped for a re-match during the 2014 G-1 but Ibushi suffered a devastating concussion July 4th against KUSHIDA in dropping the IWGP Jr Title. He was out for nearly two months just for an idea of how bad it really was. He came back and sort of re-debuted this time as a Heavyweight. He gained 10lbs (or so they say) and would now challenge exclusively with the big boys. This match was to get revenge after their last encounter and be his coming out party. Nakamura, if you’re unfamiliar, is considered by many to be the best overall pro wrestler on the planet right now. He is the ideal fusion of hard hitting, fast paced, creative, charismatic, the list goes on and on. If you have a check list for the ideal pro wrestler, he’s it.
JR is in his element here. He pushes Ibushi as a young kid looking to overtake the established guy. Truth be told, Ibushi is 32, though he could pass for 25. Nakamura has lived a HARD career and it shows. He’s 34 and looks 45. Ibushi plays the spunky kid to a tee. He’s flashy in his moves. He steals Nakamura’s signature moves and mannerisms to insult the established star. Nakamura plays asshole grumpy main eventer, corralling Ibushi from getting out of hand and beating the piss out of the guy whenever he can. They came up with some of the most creative spots I have ever seen including an Apron German Suplex where Ibushi stood on the top rope and Suplexed Nakamura standing on the apron, OVER the top rope into the ring. I don’t know anyone who has said they’ve seen that spot before. You as a viewer are drawn in from the get go with the nuclear hot crowd that doesn’t stop yelling for 20 minutes. Stiff in strikes, fluid in moves, nail biting in its near falls, and layered upon layered in story, this was a true classic and has a viable chance to hold up as Match Of The Year, only 4 days into 2015. ****¾
Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (IWGP Heavyweight Title)
These two have a history going back nearly 3 years. Okada was a “young boy” (rookie) who left New Japan to go to TNA in 2010. In Japan, a lot of wrestlers go on “excursion” and ascend from a no personality black trunks kid into a character that they’ll go with for the remainder of their career. They learn new styles from other non Japanese wrestlers, incorporate it into their own unique style, and go forth from there. Okada was used as a jobber in TNA over 2 years. When he returned to New Japan in 2012, he created The Rainmaker persona. The idea is that he’s a money maker, wanting only the best money can buy for himself, family, and fans. Yen drops from the ceiling onto the fans during his entrance. He challenged then IWGP Champion Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 6 (01/04/2012). Fans thought their match at the New Beginnings PPV (02/12/2012 ****) would be competitive but nothing major. In an absolute shock, Okada went over the for the title using his debuting Rainmaker finisher (Wrist Clutch Step Through Lariat) and was instantly made into a star. They’ve since had 5 more matches (Okada with a 3 - 2 - 1 overall series lead). The two had been kept apart for 13 months, having last battled at the King Of Pro Wrestling PPV (10/14/2013 ****¾). It was considered the true passing of the torch as Tanahashi vowed never to challenge Okada for the belt again. Then Tanahashi defeated AJ Styles for the title on King Of Pro Wrestling this year (10/13/2014 ****). Okada had been chasing the belt but couldn’t beat Styles time after time. So now we got the 7th match in their series, as Tanahashi did not have to challenge for the belt.
Unlike Nakamura/Ibushi, this wasn’t so much about story as it was working the best possible match. This was super heated. I thought the crowd would burn out after the IC Title but they were with these two from the get go. The match is slow and steady in build. Mat work -> small spots -> big spots -> near falls. It’s constructed right out of the pro wrestling manual of how to build a strong match. It was given plenty of time (over 30 minutes) and is just one of those great matches that would have been all the better if it wasn’t following something that was just a bit better. These two worked so hard but the impression in the viewers mind is that it wasn’t on the level of the previous. It’s an unfair approach, I fully admit that. I give serious props to Tanahashi. At 37, he’s worked very hard as the Ace of New Japan for the last 7 years. His body is really starting to break down. You’d never know it here though. He works at a blistering pace and takes tons of risks including a High Fly Flow (Frog Splash) Body Press from the top rope, OVER the barricade, onto Okada. It’s absolutely breathtaking and terrifying all at once. You’re left on the edge of your seat coming down the stretch as to who will win. There’s a discernable point though where you know they worked past the peak though, which takes it down a slight notch. Truly an outstanding match that’ll be in the mix for Match Of The Year consideration as well. ****½
Final Thoughts: Wrestle Kingdom 9 set a ridiculous bar for match quality for 2015. There were two legitimate MOTYCs and another **** match with Ishii & Makabe. Other reviewers have gone so far as to rate the Jr Tag & Styles/Naito as ****+ as well but I didn’t think they were quite on that level. In any case, with only 2 throwaway matches, and everything else ranging from very good to outright classic, you owe it to yourself to track down this show. It’s truly a must see.
I drop regular thoughts on various wrestling (and video game) related topics on Twitter at @NagataLockII. I hope you enjoyed and I look forward to writing more in the future.