FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR THE VACANT IWGP KING OF PRO WRESTLING TITLE:
Toru Yano vs. Bad Luck Fale vs. Chase Owens vs. BUSHI - 0.5/10
If the announcers are to be believed, the story of this match is that the heels did a lot of work to earn their way into this title match, while the two babyfaces got where they are through either luck or cowardice. Tell me again how Gedo is a good booker. Kevin Kelly playing along with this bullsh*t only made it worse.
The other two wouldn’t get into the ring, so Fale gave Owens a 2 Sweet of Doom and went for the pin but the others broke it up. This has to be about the fifth time Fale has clearly conspired to fix a match. In any real sport, the f*cker would have been fired after the first, but apparently New Japan has no problem with this.
The story of the match was Fale and Owens working together to dominate, despite the fact that Owens was wiling to lie down for Fale earlier, for no explained reason, he changed his mind in the middle of the match and tried to pin BUSHI after a double-team. Fale broke it up. Those two argued until the referee- FOR NO LOGICAL REASON- started to yell at them. They turned their attention to the referee, which allowed F*ckface the Clown to sneak into the ring, hit them both in the nuts and pin BUSHI to win the IWGP Stupid Rules Unnecessary Championship.
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)(c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato (Hiroyoshi Tenzan) - 5.75/10
We got some good shine on the babyfaces early on. The heels took over when Taguchi decided to engage in dump comedy. El Desperado refused to play along, but Taguchi kept at it, allowing Kanemaru to sneak up on him, pull him out of the ring, and whip him into the guardrails.
Kanemaru constantly shoving the referee into Master Wato should have been a DQ. MAYBE you could get away with doing it once if you made it look more accidental, but to do it four times in a row makes a mockery of the rules… and for no gain, because they gained absolutely nothing from doing it the first three times because you could have done it just once and gotten to the exact same place.
Taguchi’s leg got worked over. The heels won. Master Wato was a great babyface here and I’d like to see him form a team with someone who isn’t a clown.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Shingo Takagi(c) vs. Jeff Cobb - 8/10
This was an excellent hoss fight. I’m sure if you’re someone who is into hard strikes more than I am then you’ll like this a lot more, but this was good enough that even someone like me who wants to see more storytelling than just “guys hit each other hard and don’t want to stay down” has to concede that this was excellent.
I do think Shingo should have won the match, but with both Ospreay and O-Khan losing, Cobb losing here as well just makes Ospreay’s group feel like a bunch of losers. Why not have one of the STARDOM women come out and pin Bea Priestley while you’re at it?
SANADA vs. EVIL (w/Dick Togo) - 5.5/10
Early on Sanada got EVIL in the Nuto. He wants to both win the match and get revenge on this man who betrayed him, so of course he gave him a dropkick to the gut instead of stomping on his defenseless head until the referee stops the match because… well… it’s Sanada. As I’ve noted many times before, he’s an idiot.
EVIL got control on the outside. He whipped Sanada into the guardrail, which somehow caused the timekeeper, who was sitting both behind the barricade and a table, to get knocked out of his chair and need medical attention… and apparently the person responsible for checking on the injured timekeeper is the referee. There are six other people over there, plus, presumably, a doctor or trainer at ringside. Why is the referee taking his eyes off of the match to go check on the timekeeper?
EVIL hit Sanada with his dumb chairshot to the chair around the opponent’s neck. that doesn’t make much sense if you actually think about it. That seems to be a there in this match so far. The ref comes back over and we go into the ring so EVIL can stand on Sanada for a bit, and then it’s right back to the outside for the timekeeper to take another bump off of EVIL being run into the guardrail. Is this dork so really so week that he can’t take a table being pushed into him without falling backwards out of his chair? This led to more cheating by the heels while the referee is checking on the timekeeper.
Yes, I realize I always complain that they just use the weapons in front of the referee with no repercussions, but I don’t just want them to distract the referee; I want them to distract him with something that actually makes some f*cking sense! For example, having a manager distract him. It’s too bad EVIL doesn’t have a manager at ringside. Oh… wait…
They traded moves for a while and EVIL worked on Sanada’s back. There were some good reversals and stuff, but mostly it felt like they were just doing spots. I often have this problem with EVIL matches. He feels like a guy who just wants to get his sh*t in. His dumb signature chairshot is a perfect example of this. Ignoring the nonsensical physics of the whole thing, if the story of the match is that you’re going to work over Sanada’s back, why not hit him with a chair in the BACK? You don’t have to get all of your sh*t in in every single match, and when you’re getting your sh*t in at the expense of doing something with a similar set-up that would actually add to the story of the match, you’re doing the wrong thing.
Eventually we got a ref bump and Togo got involved again. Man, if only Sanada was a member of some sort of group and had allies who could come in and even the odd. Oh well.
Sanada eventually overcame the odds (just as the referee was getting back up, of course) and got rid of Togo. He got EVIL in the Skull End and had him seemingly on the verge of passing out… and, in usual idiotic fashion, decided to let go of the hold to go for a high-risk maneuver. Shockingly, he actually managed to hit the moonsault, but instead of going for the pin, he decided to go for another one… and, like with the High Fly Flow, if the guy forgoes a pin attempt to try the second one, you know the second one is getting countered. Sanada overcame some more cheating, hit some moves, and won. This was a disjointed mess, and hard for me to sit through (it went twenty-three minutes). Cutting out the first third of so would have been a good choice.
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Taiji Ishimori(c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi - 8.75/10
I always love it when someone uses a top-rope move to target a limb, so seeing that 450 onto Hiromu’s arm got me really excited, and these two didn’t disappoint. Working the arm was a great choice here because not only did it build on last night’s match, but Ishimori’s Bone Lock targets both the arm and the neck, and Hiromu’s neck will always be a weak point. Hiromu’s selling in the hold was GREAT, and the pacing of the match was tremendous. They did a great job of timing out Hiromu’s little bursts of offense, always giving them to him right after you started to think that he wasn’t going to be able to come back, and always having Ishimori cut them off right when you thought this time it was going to be the big comeback.
The one negative in this match (aside from Red Shoes not enforcing the count-out rules, of course) was that spot where Hiromu kept charging at Ishimori and getting forearmed by wouldn’t go down. It just went on for WAY too long. There is a point where something like that stops feeling like the natural result of your determination and resilience and starts to feel like a spot. This went all the way past that and hit the point where it became comical.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE AND IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Kota Ibushi(c) vs. Jay White (w/Gedo) - 9/10
We got the usual Jay White bullsh*t stalling to start off. Gedo grabbed Ibushi right in front of the referee. Not only was there no DQ, but he wasn’t even ejected from ringside. White got the advantage after tricking Ibushi to chase him into the ring and cutting him off, then nearly murdered Ibushi with a back suplex onto the apron. He then proceeded to run Ibushi into the apron in a manner that looked a lot more violent than usual. I don’t know if it was the camera angle, Ibushi selling it differently, or maybe Ibushi telling him “it’s the main event of the Tokyo Dome, just stiff me,” but whatever it was, it was great.
From that point on they began to have a CLASSIC match. White worked over Ibushi’s, midsection, neck, and back at times, and all three felt like viable routes to victory. They also took the pacing I so loved from the previous match and pushed it a step further. It was absolutely tremendous… until Super Kota randomly made his return.
Super-Kota was what I called that mode Ibushi went into for a time on both nights of last year’s Wrestle Kingdom, where not only does he stop selling, but he suddenly gains super-strength and is now knocking his opponent down with every strike. If I suddenly found myself possessing superhuman strength in the middle of a match and had my opponent down, I would try to use that strength to hold my opponent down and pin him. Kota just stood there and waited for White to get up every time.
After WAY too much of that crap, Kota just stood over White and started punching him in the face. Red Shoes went to stop this but Kota shoved him down (which should have been a DQ but wasn’t). Cue the usual low blow by Jay White, and apparently that’s Kota’s Kryptonite, because after that, he was no longer Super Kota.
Kota’s superpowers having disappeared, we got White dragging Kota to the ramp to beat him up, because apparently that’s better than punching someone in the ring. And it’s not even like he was trying to win by count-out because when Red Shoes was finally going to start counting (after letting them be out there for WAY too long), White ordered Red Shoes not to count. But he still went back to the ring with Red Shoes, so essentially White beat Kota up, and then purposely gave Kota all the time he wanted to recover from the beating. There is way too much of this sort of sh*t in New Japan that makes no f*cking sense at all.
The dumb portion of the match out of the way, they went back to having the awesome match they had been having before, with White working over both Kota’s neck and midsection and Kota relying on big moves in short bursts. The built up to Kota hitting the Phoenix Splash… and then Gedo yanked Red Shoes out of the ring. I can’t help but notice that if either the referees or management were competent, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen because Gedo/Jado/Togo/whoever would either be ejected from ringside the moment they are caught trying to cheat, or would be barred from ringside to prevent said cheating from occurring.
Gedo tried to use the brass knuckles but got beaten up by Kota. Kota revived Red Shoes but got caught in a Blade Runner for one of those false finishes that no one buys because NJPW is so patterned and we all know they’re not going to do a dirty finish in the main event of the Tokyo Dome. They went back to trading finishers and it was once again very good, although they did definitely hit the point where it felt like they were going long just for the sake of going long. You could have cut a solid five minutes of trading finishers out of this match and it would have made it more enjoyable.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Meh. Ibushi won, because taking the belt away from him so soon would be cruel. Sanada came out to ask for a title shot, and if I’m Ibushi, I’m thrilled with this. As I covered above, Sanada is a dumbf*ck who often gives up sure victories to take big risks.
This was another good show from New Japan, but there was definitely a big split between the Wrestle Kingdom-quality stuff and the other stuff, which would have been bad on any random “Road to…” show, never mind the biggest show of the year. I’ve hit the point where I just don’t find New Japan very interesting or exciting. I thought taking a big break would help me, but it really didn’t. The many things that have frustrated me over the years are still there (and, in some cases, growing), while the style feels a lot more homogeneous than it has in the past. I will probably continue to watch the big single shows and selected individual matches, but I don’t see myself watching most of the tours until either the style diversifies or the booking picks up.