NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
October 14, 2019
We open with news that Zack Sabre Jr and Jon Moxley were unable to get to Japan because of the typhoon. Mox has been stripped of the US belt. That’s politely applauded, which is a huge contrast to Western audiences. Juice Robinson’s new opponent is Lance Archer and that’s bumped up the card.
I’ve barely seen any New Japan since G1 finished and I hadn’t particularly missed it. It’s not the same New Japan where Tanahashi and Nakamura were on top and everyone on the undercard was exciting. They still have insane depth to the cards but Okada vs. SANADA doesn’t excite me.
Commentary comes from Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton.
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Roppongi 3K
This is Despy’s comeback match after five months out with a broken jaw. The match is fine. It always startles me how much SHO has improved since coming back to Japan and how YOH has just not. When they went on excursion YOH was marginally better. That’s not even close to being the case now. They work in a shoddy ref bump, although that leads to a very well executed Suntory Surprise. Despy gets the pin. Welcome back!
Final Rating: **3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma vs. Togi Makabe & Toru Yano
This is the 20th anniversary of Tanahashi’s debut. He faced Makabe! So we’re back to square one.
Wataru Inoue is in Tana’s corner. He’s been retired five years but he also debuted the same day as Tanahashi.
This is four old guys having a laugh. It’s fun but that’s the whole thing. I’m not expecting miracles here so it’s fine. Most of the match is Yano’s antics and building to Tanahashi hitting a Kokeshi. High Fly Flow puts Yano away. A nice little nostalgia match for people to pop Tanahashi being the best for 20 years but it was expectedly sluggish.
Final Rating: **1/2
Taichi & DOUKI vs. Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi
This is sure a waste of a great talent. Where’s Shingo’s singles title shot?
Naito is in full t-shirt mode. DOUKI is here on job duty. The match never gets out of second gear despite Shingo’s insistence at being good regardless of circumstance. Naito is so lazy here that he fucks up a swinging DDT because he runs too slowly into the ropes. Living the gimmick. You never see Okada do that. Taichi gets himself disqualified to preserve the sanctity of DOUKI, who was about to lose clean. Naito clearly doesn’t give a shit. Which about sums up his entire performance. I’m thrilled when Taichi dumps him on his head post match.
Final Rating: *3/4
Minoru Suzuki vs. Jushin Liger
Suzuki has pissed Liger off enough to release the beast; Kishin!
Battle Liger means business. While it’s all about Liger and his retirement Suzuki is a beast to slay. He’s the scary monster here, regardless of what Liger did with the Kishin Liger business. Liger is happy to take the fight to Suzuki on the mat. Matters get sufficiently heated that Suzuki goes after the mask again. Liger is a little sluggish by his own lofty standards but the match isn’t about sleek, sexy wrestling. It’s about two guys beating each other up. It doesn’t need to operate at the level of New Japan’s best and bravest. It just needs to be high impact and meaningful and it certainly hits those benchmarks. The no selling is this is magical because they’re really tagging each other and motivating each other to fight harder. It’s wonderful stuff. I love when Liger tries to fire up and collapses hitting a strike because he’s fucked. Suzuki almost playing rope-a-dope, only without the dodging. Gotch Style Piledriver puts Liger down and despite his best efforts he couldn’t overcome his tormentor. No happy ending here. Great match though.
Suzuki comes after Liger with a chair afterwards but instead bows before his fallen body. Incredible showing of respect. Lots of the gaijin have done that to Liger and he was almost embarrassed by it but Suzuki doing it here has enormous meaning.
Final Rating: ****
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. El Desperado
ELP has had a change of heart and doesn’t behave like a dick on the way out here and has no backup (well, Ishimori is here but ELP sends him to the back). He wants to win the belt here without bullshit.
ELP is in a playful mood. Ospreay recognizes ELP as someone who can match him on flippydo’s so they do lots of them. ELP accidentally gets Will in the eye and apologises profusely before attacking anyway. I don’t get the act. What does he gain from pretending to behave?
This is where matters pick up and then they head up to the balcony.
This is where ELP’s tactical approach is so frustrating. Why wouldn’t he just continue to be a face throughout the match? You’d get more love him coming off a balcony if he was a face. He’s getting cheered anyway because he’s been great but the heel/face alignment stuff hasn’t worked. It’s a shame because they nail the high spots. They nail the execution of everything but the story doesn’t click. Ospreay is flipping around out there doing ridiculous things. The Spider German, with ELP posing like a dickhead, is perhaps the best spot. Ospreay has added some power to his repertoire, as if it wasn’t insane enough already. Ospreay starts coming from all manner of weird angles. The diving cutter off the apron is ridiculous.
Then the booking kicks in and Ishimori gets involved. Then Robbie Eagles. It’s basically a trailer for junior tag league. ELP’s exceptionally poor looking belt shot doesn’t help matters. Basically the match fucking rocked when it they left the bullshit at the door. As soon as they let that bullshit in the match was just off. ELP attempts to pay tribute to Bullet Club history but unfortunately his V-Trigger is total ass. At this point the match is way into overkill territory. I start to get genuinely agitated at kick-outs. They’ve gone longer than a Simpsons episode. This needed to be leaner and tighter to focus on the great spots they had.
The Hidden Blade! Oh my word.
Stormbreaker naturally finishes. This suffered from overbooking and odd structure but Ospreay put some incredible spots into this. ELP didn’t quite measure up to his level of excellence and was punished with the Hidden Blade for it. Ridiculous wrestling. Ospreay might actually be getting better in the ring, which is astonishing.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Jay White, KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi
It’s hard to get a read on this. We’re getting Ishii vs. KENTA again at Power Struggle, and also White vs. Goto but both teams also have a jobber so it could go either way. Logic has New Japan building to one of their singles matches with the pin/submission.
Goto puts Yujiro away with GTR and it actually looks decent for a change. This was filler, leading to other things. The KENTA vs. Ishii exchanges were a highlight here. Hopefully their Power Struggle match is better than London.
Final Rating: **1/4
IWGP US Championship
Lance Archer vs. Juice Robinson
This is for the vacant US title as Mox couldn’t make it to Japan with the typhoon. Juice has new gear, which is hard to describe.
Somewhere between artic explorer and African prince. Lance demands a no DQ stipulation as was originally intended. Archer, in this environment, may be unstoppable. He’s able to do anything he wants, which amplifies his violent moveset. The chokeslam through a Japanese table is a prime example. A lot of Archer’s G1 matches suffered from him being so dominant that it was hard to find a logical way for his opponent to score the win. Here they work off Lance’s sheer arrogance. So he does the top rope walk of doom, for no reason than to show off, and pays the price for that. I like how Archer isn’t even remotely careful when throwing chairs around and disturbing stuff. It makes him feel more legitimate and fans are scared of him like they were of gaijin monsters of times gone by. Juice tries for Pulp Friction on some chairs but slips on one and gets murdered with the EBD Claw. Lance has a belt! Good for him.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: David Finlay runs in and attacks the new champ. He’s been out injured since February where he hurt his shoulder wrestling for Ring of Honor.
#1 Contender’s Briefcase
Kota Ibushi (c) vs. EVIL
I often take issue with New Japan’s booking between G1 and WK. They set up these matches with the idea that the WK landscape could change at any moment, which is patently ridiculous. If you think EVIL is main eventing the Tokyo Dome then I don’t know what to say to you. Comms even point out how EVIL beat Ibushi in G1; due to Kota’s injured ankle that limited his mobility. That was their whole story in that match. Now Ibushi is healthy he’s bouncing off everything and looking like a far more important pro wrestler than EVIL. I mean, shit, he was more important when he was injured too but now he’s healthy too.
The match is ponderous, as most EVIL matches are, and when he’s in control it’s a slog to sit through. Kota’s comebacks are the only worthwhile bits worth seeing. Apart from the chair baseball spot, which nearly takes out the cameraman. Is EVIL being deliberately dull to allow Ibushi to look like a star or is he just boring? Matters pick up after a frankly dire opening ten minutes. The argument for these New Japan marquee matches being a lot shorter is in evidence from the start here. Once they get into a rhythm and aren’t just killing time it gets good. EVIL isn’t Okada. He’s not Omega. And these long-winded matches do nothing for him. When they trade on stuff right into Kamigoye, which EVIL bizarrely kicks out of only to get finished moments later, it’s really good. But it’s a long, long slog to get to the finish.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. SANADA
If the last match suffered from a long drawn out building sequence that’s nothing compared to this. Okada at least knows he needs to litter the earlier parts of the match with the odd high spot. Which is marked contrast to the grind of watching EVIL just ‘control’ a match. We get 15 minutes in and SANADA is selling like Ricky Steamboat in a sixty minute draw. I don’t get someone like SANADA, who has explosive offence and incredible stamina, overselling like he’s barely able to stand then moments later he’s doing leapfrogs and shit. This is a very common issue. Not so much the big spots, because the wrestlers train hard on stamina, but the overselling. The “oh, I’m so exhausted I can barely stand” approach needs to have one big move after it followed by a double down. Not a bunch of intricate spots that show athleticism.
This isn’t an issue isolated to these guys, or New Japan, just a general problem in pro-wrestling that needs highlighting. It’s particularly prevalent with SANADA though, as he’s so athletic, so capable of going full pelt for 20-30 minutes that it becomes a frustration that he feels the need to change gears like he does on the selling. I have no issue with him attempting a submission and them just using that as a rest hold if they need to rest but overselling takes me out of the match.
Big Kaz has been running these overlong main events for a while now and with most people it usually works out but SANADA doesn’t interest me enough to see him wrestle for 30+ minutes. Mainly because he’s more effective in short bursts of offence. New Japan seem to be locked in to having this long main event aesthetic unfortunately and it does make sense here as SANADA used the 30-minute time limit during G1 to win, sneaking it in before the time limit expired. Here it does past the 30 minutes to make a point that on another day that G1 match would have been a draw.
The G1 match seemed to have a lot of drama though. This one just doesn’t. SANADA slaps Okada in the dragon sleeper a couple of times and nothing happens. They tease the same G1 finish with the moonsault but that gets knees this time. So Okada’s big learning curve from G1 was to put his knees up on the moonsault and that’s the only difference. In a way saying that wrestling can be won or lost in such tiny moments is pretty cool. It’s just a shame it takes such an interminable amount of time to get to this. As with Ibushi/EVIL there’s a really good stuff down the stretch. 34-36 mins is dead good. Okada’s dropkick to block the pop up cutter is my favourite spot of the whole match. If you just saw the last five minutes you could be forgiven for thinking this was an absolute classic. Rainmaker finishes. Last five minutes was ****+. Whole match? Not so good.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Perhaps the last matches having a similar structure was damaging to the show overall. I certainly didn’t need EVIL and SANADA to have big singles matches back to back. The card overall was solid, although New Japan were their own worst enemies throughout the show. Even with the restructured card there were issues with how matches were booked and how the great Suzuki/Liger contested was marginalized. A solid effort but not one of my favourite King of Pro Wrestling’s that’s for damn sure.