GAUNTLET MATCH FOR THE NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX-MAN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe, & Toru Yano(c) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Robbie Eagles, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & Taichi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, BUSHI, & EVIL) - 6.25/10
We start off with CHAOS vs. Bullet Club and of course Bullet Club jump the bell on their opponents. These two teams actually did a really good job of… how shall I put this? They knew coming in that everyone knows that this match is just filler and is only a gauntlet match to get more people on the show and thus everyone knows that none of the falls are going to go very long, so they just did a bunch of well-built nearfalls that everyone bought as finishes because everyone’s expectations were that this segment of the match would be over with in less than five minutes.
In next were Suzuki-Gun, who also jumped the bell on their opponents. Taichi choked Ishii with his microphone stand right in front of the referee and wasn’t disqualified. His team soon lost by roll-up, setting up CHAOS vs. LIJ. After some action that was actually pretty good, LIJ felled CHAOS when EVIL pinned Ishii after Darkness Falls. Ishii kicked out at 3.1 because Ishii, but this time it actually led to an angle where he didn’t like the count and attacked EVIL, who quickly put him down again with Everything is EVIL. An Ishii heel turn. That’s not something I saw coming. Or something I think is in any way a good idea, but whatever.
The champs finally came out and they had a pretty good little match. Yano’s roll was kept as a minimal as possible without cutting him out entirely. Those two things are pretty clearly related. LIJ won with the mist and Shingo’s finisher, so now they are the ones cursed with schlepping those pointless hunks of metal from town to town. As a whole this match was better than I was expecting, but I still would have much rather seen a match that had some actual build to it.
JUSHIN “THUNDER” LIGER & NAOKI SANO vs. HIROMU TAKAHASHI & DRAGON LEE - 6.5/10
Yeah… I’m not going to call the guy Dragon Lee in ROH and Ryu Lee in NJPW when the name means the same thing but in a different language. I don’t call Rey Bucanero “King Pirate” when he wrestles for ROH.
Also, Dragon Lee is teaming with HIROMU TAKAHASHI? This is also something that probably should have had some sort of storyline build-up. I don’t want to see them bumping fists. I want to see them annoyed at having to team together and only doing it for Liger. Either that or give me promos where Dragon Lee now totally respects Hiromu and Hiromu forgives him for breaking his neck and they have now become friends.
So we start off with a nice, clean match… and then these two guys who idolize Liger and who are both theoretically babyfaces just start stomping the sh*t out of him in the corner and double-teaming him. How does that make any sense?
The match was good, but I would have liked it more if it had just stayed as a babyface vs. babyface match. Gino Gambino was absolutely correct when he said that “the air feels like it has been sucked out of the Dome” when the match ended. It’s really hard to process the emotions. No more Liger. That’s all I can really think at the moment.
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo)(c) vs. Roppongi 3K - 4.75/10
El Phantasmo attacks a ring attendant during his entrance because every heel has to do that. Kevin Kelly refers to this (with humor, rather than outrage, because he’s not very good at his job) as “a source of consternation for New Japan officials.” Is it, Kevin? Is it really? If that were true, you’d think New Japan officials would have ACTUALLY DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT BY NOW, and they haven’t done sh*t to stop Suzuki-Gun or Bullet Club from assaulting these poor young-boys.
Bullet Club turned this match into a near farce with all of their over the top back-raking, including doing a backflip into a back-rake. It’s that sort of indy sh*t where they’re being so over the top with it that fans start laughing and cheering instead of booing, defeating the purpose of the exercise and turning themselves into goofy cartoon characters.
Then, later, they did their cool flips anyway, once again defeating the point of their over the top back-raking. They also stepped on the babyfaces’ nuts without getting DQed.
The match was mostly a bunch of stuff happening without any real story. Part of this stuff included a Styles Clash being kicked out of in the opener, so that move has officially lost all of its cache.
On the bright side, after YEARS of sitting on commentary and watching people get the sh*t beaten out of them by gangs of heels and watching heels hit the babyfaces with weapons and sitting there doing nothing but saying how “someone has to stop this!” Rocky Romero finally got off of his lazy ass and STOPPED A HEEL FROM USING A WEAPON. Good for you, Rocky.
Also, Roppongi 3K have finally learned to wear cups when facing an opponent who makes a habit of going after your balls. Hooray for the babyfaces finally getting smart. I guess the 179th time is the charm, because it led to Roppongi 3K winning the belts. The match was well below what these two teams are capable of in fourteen minutes.
RPW BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr.(c) vs. Sanada - 8.5/10
Why did it take over half a year for Sanada to finally get the title shot he earned by beating Zack on the first night of the G1? Well… whatever the reason, these two went out there had an EXCELLENT counter-hold for counter-hold professional WRESTLING match.
IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Jon Moxley(c) vs. Juice Robinson (w/David Finlay Jr.) - 7.5/10
If this is supposed to be the blow-off to this big blood feud and the guys are going to use weapons anyway, why not just make it a no DQs match instead of making your referees look like idiots for letting a chairshot go, even when it happens right in front of their faces? Other than that, this was an excellent brawl. Moxley got the win, so he’s going to be sticking around, it seems.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Great! MINORU SUZUKI comes out to brawl with Moxley! Suzuki wins the brawl with sleeper hold and Gotch-style Piledriver.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
KENTA(c) vs. Hirooki Goto - 8.75/10
Kevin Kelley mentioned that there is a long list of people who have betrayed CHAOS to join Bullet Club, and it’s really quite the list. By my count there is Jay White, KENTA, Jado, Gedo, Yujiro, and Captain New Japan. Obviously with large stables that have been around forever, the list is going to get long at some point, but I really can’t think of too many other stables in NJPW that have gained members via betrayal since I’ve been watching it, and certainly not a situation where one stable has gained so many members from another individual stable.
They fought on the outside forever without being counted out. Then count-outs kicked in, just in time for the Count-Out Tease That No One Ever Buys. Other than that one spot, this was a FANTASTIC strong-style slugfest. Unlike in some many of these strong-style matches, the emotion here actually felt real. These guys were firing up for real, not because it was the spot in the match where they are supposed to fire up.
Goto picked up the win, which baffled me, as Goto has, at this point, basically been defined as someone who can go no higher than winning the NEVER Openweight Title. KENTA, on the other hand, would be some wonderfully fresh blood for the likes Okada, Naito, White, Ibushi, and Tanahashi to contend with. Maybe this loss was just about getting the belt off of him, but I really don’t like the optics of losing to a guy who we all know will never go as high as KENTA should be going to be the beginning of his journey to the main event.
KOTA IBUSHI vs. JAY WHITE (w/Gedo) - 7.5/10
This match went about fifteen minutes longer than it needed to. I’ve watched eight and a half hours of New Japan in the past twenty-four hours at this point. There was no reason for this match to go twenty-five minutes. Most of it was White throwing Ibushi around or Kota kicking white in the head, but their transitions between the two felt very disjointed. At no point did this match feel like a progressing story. I once again hated this new Super Kota bullsh*t where he stops selling and gains super strength so that he can floor people with a single punch, then just stands there and waits around for them to get up so he can no-sell their punches and do it again instead of following up. The ref bumps were annoying, but I’m willing to give them a pass if Kota getting a visual pinfall on White is actually going to be relevant. The best guess for where we go from here has to be some sort of dark, evil Kota… but that’s really not a story Gedo tells very well… if at all. Just think about balloon-carrying Okada and ask yourself if they actually did anything to flesh that out and tell a story with it rather than just have him carry a balloon to the ring to signify his sadness (hint: the answer is “no”). That being said, this is yet another example of a spot where you need to do the ref bumps, and while I understand that in hindsight, I still found the ref bumps extremely annoying because NJPW does them in so many places where they don’t actually need to do them.
IF TANAHASHI WINS, HE GETS A SHOT AT THE AEW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Chris Jericho - 8.5/10
Other than the pathetically situational enforcement of the count-out rules, this was excellent. This was half a brawl and half guys just hitting their big stuff and countering each other’s big stuff, but they string it together so well and they (especially Jericho) had so much intensity that it worked perfectly.
TITLE VS TITLE MATCH:
Kazuchika Okada(IWGP Heavyweight Title) vs. Tetsuya Naito(IWGP Intercontinental Title) - 8.75/10
They started by setting up the story of working on each other’s head and neck to soften the opponent p for their finishers. Then we got a spot where they were on the outside forever while Red Shoes attempted to get them to come back into the ring while waving his arms impotently instead of doing his job the proper way and counting them out. Okada slammed Naito’s knee into the floor, then gave him a shinbreaker with a table. Only now did the count-out rule start to apply so that we could get the Count-Put Tease That No One Ever Buys.
That did, at least, open up a story about Okada working over Naito’s knee after it had been damaged last night by Jay White, but they didn’t really do too much with that or incorporate it into the larger story of the match. It was kind of an isolated side thing that they would just occasionally go back to, and not in a particularly fleshed-out way, either. It was just Okada slamming Naito’s knee into the mat occasionally.
The nearfalls were exciting and the result was definitely the right choice, given the history between these two. The match was quite awesome, but it didn’t really feel like it lived up to the weight of the stipulations and the gravitas of moment. It would have been an excellent main event for any another night, but on this night, at this moment in time, it didn’t feel like it was quite what it needed to be.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Fine. KENTA lays out the new champion and then poses with the belts. One of the new champion's buddies ran out and chased him off.
This was an awesome show from New Japan, but it turned into a real slog to get through. I really, really hope they don’t split Wrestle Kingdom up into two nights ever again, or they do, they make them significantly shorter. These shows ran over five and a half hours EACH. I am so burned out on New Japan right now that I might well just skip New Year Dash and only watch it before the New Beginning tour starts if everyone says it’s good. I don’t even want to try to some my thoughts up in a nice succinct paragraph like I normally would because I just want to get away from New Japan right now. They took one of WrestleMania’s biggest negatives and decided that they should copy it for their biggest show of the year. I hope the gate for the second night was worth it for them.