NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 N1
January 4, 2020
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome for the first major show of 2020. Maybe ‘the’ major show of 2020. Time will tell. Is the experience going to be diluted by being spread over two nights this year? Again, time will tell. Two big stories here. One; the title match winners clash tomorrow to determine the Super Double Champion. Two; Liger is retiring and wrestles his final two matches this weekend. Full commentary team here. Kevin Kelly, Rocky Romero, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton.
Mayu Iwatani & Arisa Hoshiki vs. Hana Kimura & Giulia
We’re not allowed to see this because of TV companies bickering over the rights. It’ll probably show up on Stardom World at some point. Happy for Mayu, Arisa and Hana to show what they can do in front of this huge Dome crowd though.
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemera vs. Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors & Alex Coughlin
CZW Presents Dojo Wars. This is a bunch of beefy youngsters battling a few more established dudes. The LA lads look like they’ve been working especially hard of late. That Shibata don’t take no shit man. Tsuji is looking positively portly by comparison. As punishment Toa pins him. This was very solid. Lots of big future stars here. Watch Karl Fredericks especially. My word. Jamie Hayter knows what’s up.
Final Rating: **3/4
TenKoji vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
I dubbed this the “old guys tag” when asking about show timings yesterday. Almost all of them can still go at a tremendous level and shows the depth of the roster that they’re on the “pre-show” and there’s still a bunch of multi-man tags on the undercard. They play the hits, as you’d expect. It’s a joyous little match although Father Time is the true winner. Nakanishi and Tenzan are both past the ‘best before’ date. Nagata is struggling a bit too but I remain convinced Kojima still has a run in him. Apropos he gets the pin with a lariat on Nakanishi. The big man takes a bow on his own, which feels like he’s going to retire. Probably the right time for that. He looks gassed.
Final Rating: **1/2
Jushin Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask IV vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi
Sano has kept his hand in, with a few matches each year, but hasn’t been a full time wrestler since 2012. Everyone else should be fine and I do agree that Sano should be here as one of Liger’s great opponents.
He struggles a little bit because he’s into his 50s now but still manages a tope. The structure of the match is everyone doing their spots on Liger and Sasuke treating himself like a joke. Everyone seems to be having a lovely time and the whole thing just warms my heart. Liger ends his career taking comedy spots off Taguchi and the Dodon finishes. Liger mate, take the W for once. Geez.
Final Rating: ***1/2
SANADA, EVIL, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI vs. Zack Sabre Jr, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & El Desperado
The Suzuki-gun teaming coming out here to Zack’s music and Suzuki just strolling out with no pomp or pageantry speaks volumes. Everyone goes about their business here, fully aware this is not a marquee match and there’s not much point to it. It’s a shame NJPW have found so little for Shingo to do given his outstanding 2019. I’m sure he’ll be getting opportunities throughout 2020. He’s easily the star of this one given his power and speed. I’m sure it’s intended to be SANADA, doing silky reversals with Zack, but it isn’t. Sabre taps out BUSHI for the win.
Final Rating: **3/4
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI vs. KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens
This is yet more filler, building toward the NEVER title match tomorrow. Nothing much happens. There’s a lot of banter with Yano and Fale. Goto pins the disposable Yujiro with GTR and stares down KENTA ahead of tomorrow’s match. “Those rugby guys did nothing” states Gino. Indeed.
Final Rating: **
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerillas of Destiny (c) vs. FinJuice
To say I’m never enthused about GOD matches is an understatement. That said New Japan’s tag division has been a piss break for years. Why change now? The difference here is the sympathetic babyface duo challenging for the belts. Finlay after a long spell on the sidelines with injury. Juice after breaking out in singles over the past two years. The match is largely about GOD dominating, cementing the challengers underdog status despite them winning tag league. Juice Robinson is remarkable at glow ups. His constantly changing appearance is all about evolution of his persona. GOD continue to boss things and hit Magic Killers on both guys. It becomes a little too much with the reversal of the Superbomb and the kendo stick shot. Juice socks Jado to turn the tide. Acid Drop puts Tama out and Finlay picks up the pin and the belts. This was a little overblown for what it was but, slightly shaky final third aside, it was generally good.
Final Rating: ***1/2
IWGP United States Championship
Lance Archer (c) vs. Jon Moxley
Mox lost this belt because he was stranded by a typhoon and Archer is effectively interim champion. He needs to beat Mox to legitimize his run.
The stipulation means Mox is out here in jeans and Archer, having no respect for Texas, has whatever this gear is on. They do a fine job here of doing all the WWF Hardcore match business. Chairs, kendo sticks, trash can lids. It’s all there. Archer steps it up by using one of the young lions as a weapon. It’s Gabriel Kidd! The plunder is a mixed bag. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The striking is similar. Mox’s knees in the clinch are horrible. Archer is not as kind and stiffs the fuck out of the former Dean Ambrose.
Death Rider through two tables finishes and Archer is a bloody mess from that ridiculous spot. This match drifted in and out of being good.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
I had to imagine the start of this because Paint basically crashed in the middle of the screen. Hiromu is a little out of sorts after a long time off injured. It’s pretty clear he’s not operating at the same level as he was before the injury. Hiromu taking bumps on the top of his head is pretty uncomfortable. Will makes a point of targeting the neck of Takahashi, which forms the basis of the match. It’s working smart before they do a ridiculous spot where Hiromu throws Ospreay over his head and he lands off the floor into the ring, right into the Sasuke Special. It’s amazing work. Ospreay tries to work around Hiromu’s shortcomings. Like he doesn’t want to be the guy who injures Hiromu again. Despite his caution the Cheeky Nandos still opens up Takahashi’s nose. There’s a sensational kick out from Made in Japan where Hiromu is bang in position for a corner spot and then turns over and ruins it. It was so organic too. Will is quite happy to take big bumps for Hiromu and make him look better but there’s no disguising that concern for Hiromu’s wellbeing. I still find myself getting freaked out by stuff like a Spanish Fly. Anything that can go wrong with Hiromu upside down. Hidden Blade is horrifying. The trouble with Hiromu’s neck is it’s a perfect story for him not winning and that’s not the story they’re telling. Instead it’s about Hiromu overcoming and finding a way around Ospreay’s big money offence. Hiromu busts out a new variant on the Timebomb, as yet unnamed, to claim the belt. Great comeback for Hiromu who only struggled a little to stay with Will Ospreay. The loss is a fantastic result for Ospreay, who can now follow the footsteps of Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, other former juniors who stepped up to the main events.
Final Rating: ****3/4
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Jay White (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
Imagine how mad people will be if Naito loses? I’d love it. I’d drink their salty tears. The match starts out dull, as expected with these two involved, apart from Gedo getting his beard pulled and a neckbreaker off the apron. It’s very sluggish as they’re following a crazy match. I’m not convinced anyone wants to see a long Jay White match in the semi-main event of Wrestle Kingdom. The match plods along with Jay working the leg and Naito half-heartedly selling it. This is after a long, boring establishing sequence where nothing happened. After all this they do a suplex to the apron spot where Naito lands on his neck. Why waste all the time on the leg to switch to that? Then they go back to the leg and everything feels like a rest hold. I like how Naito blows spots in this and kinda blames the bad knee. Even after he’s stopped selling it because it’s no longer relevant to the match and simply existed to kill time. Then it’s ref bump time. I hate this match with a fiery passion. It’s so bad. It’s everything I hate about wrestling. Complete with the tacked on last minute of ‘hey, we can actually have a fun match we just refused to’. Fuck you both.
Final Rating: *1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
Okada and his big interactive screen entrance is cool. Meanwhile Ibushi just strolls out here with a briefcase. Bit of a contrast.
These two also start methodically but there’s no stalling or bullshit. It’s a feeling out process that feels organic to the start of a big clash. However, it still costs the match because the last match was so boring. You need to energise the crowd after that shitshow. The Okada dive over the rail signifies the match kicking it up a notch and pretty soon after that they’re head dropping each other for my amusement. Or in Ibushi’s case dropping himself on his own head. Kota has this Ken Shamrock-esque zone he goes into and when he flips into it here and goes nuts it’s fucking brilliant. The punches are sickening. He’s tattooing a prone Okada with them. As a receipt Okada dumps Ibushi on his head with an apron Tombstone and Kota spikes it, making a point of sliding down and landing head first. His neck is fucked. He’s a complete lunatic.
Kota is fantastic throughout. Okada is a big match guy but it’s Ibushi that drives this. He’s first to the punch, he’s countering things that don’t get countered and in dramatic fashion. His timing is impeccable and his presence is stunning. Both guys take turns to be close to winning but there’s always a last gasp counter, showing how close the match is. It feels important. The strikes get more intense. Everything feels more weighty. The selling leans more towards fatigue and that’s a better sell than Naito’s dodgy limb work. Plus the desperation counters look improvised almost, like Kota jumping into a missile dropkick to hit a sitout powerbomb. Or Okada just rolling out of the way of the Phoenix Splash because he’s so tired. I love how much the false finishes take out of both guys. So there’s time in between to absorb the atmosphere and the moment. It’s so well done. Okada eventually batters Ibushi with the Rainmaker and it’s over. God, this ruled. It was so well paced. It built beautifully.
Final Rating: *****