The Young Bucks defeats reDRagon, Matt Sydal and Ricochet, and Roppongi Vice to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
This match has basically become a staple of the Wrestle Kingdom card by now, opening the show by throwing all the junior tag teams into a four-way and let the havoc ensure. Some people don’t seem to be a fan of this thing, since it literally just breaks into a chaotic spotfest from the drop, but c’mon, you’ll get your technical wrestling and storytelling from the last three matches or so, this thing is just meant to be a ton of fun. It’s always hilarious because the match always starts off well inside the rules with two guys starting it off, abiding by the tag rules, but then within a minute or two it always devolves for the rest of the match with crazy spots between all four groups at once and you never know who is actually the legal men for the pinfalls. It really doesn’t matter to me, because individually all these teams are fantastic, and they’ve worked with each other so much that this thing always is fun and provides a nice segue into the show.
I was surprised the Bucks came out on top, I was expecting reDRagon to lose, most likely to Sydal and Ricochet with them having won the tag tournament and are they fresh blood, but I guess not. Everything, though, seems to be pointing towards a Buck/Sydal & Ricochet program, which is the logical route, so it should be fun to see them put together some more concise and story-oriented spotfest tag matches when it’s just those two teams.
The Briscoes and Toru Yano defeats the Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi) to win the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship:
I don’t think anyone knows why this belt was created, since the two tag championships seem a little bit much as it is. It’s not even like they got some great factions or some kind of storyline that would realistically culminate in this belt, nope, rather they just threw in the other remaining Bullet Club memebers who weren’t booked and have them face the Briscoes and Toru Yano for some reason. The Briscoes are great and it’s cool to see them back in Japan, which hopefully is the start of more to come, but this thing was wholly unnecessary all the way around. Toru Yano was fine, and this whole thing was just that, fine, but it was just not needed in anyway. Mark Briscoe definitely had the best showing and seemed committed to trying to get over with his move-set and personality. Mark actually seems like somebody the Japanese would love with his zany and wacky personality combined with his solid in-ring skills, so who knows, this might be the beginning of something worthwhile.
Jay Lethal defeats Michael Elgin to retain the ROH World Championship:
I was really looking forward to this since I’m a huge ROH fan, an even bigger Jay Lethal fan and have done a complete 180 over the past year on Michael Elgin and have been loving his work as of late. Unfortunately, since this thing was at this point in the card they weren’t given much time and did a good enough job with what they had, but was nowhere close to how good this could’ve been main-eventing an ROH pay-per-view. Everything just felt very condensed and didn’t really feel like much of a world title match. The Japanese looove Elgin now since he’s this mammoth of a gaijin, but even still there was no way Lethal was going to lose the belt like this, and it really was just a showcase for the belt and company.
It’s super cool to see Elgin get so over in Japan, a place he’s wanted to wrestle his whole life. I used to hate Elgin, namely because he was so boring and I usually hate his big lug style of wrestling, but with him taking a backseat from the ROH title picture and him heading over to Japan for the G1 Climax he’s been putting in some solid unassuming work that made him a favourite with the Japanese fans and seems to have put him in a top spot going forward with NJPW.
Kushida defeats Kenny Omega to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
This belt bounced around between both men this year and it was pretty clear it was going back to Kushida for the foreseeable future, especially when bigger things were being brought up for Omega. The matches between these two are always great, like, solid four star outings everytime, nothing ever sensational, just very solid matches.
Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma defeats the Bullet Club (Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson) to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship:
This thing was also pretty predictable with Makabe and Honman completed their coronation after winning the tag tournament last month and by finally giving Honma a win and putting it on the grand stage of Wrestle Kingdom. It was a really good match all the way around, helped out by the always solid Gallows and Anderson who are basically an institution in these sorts of tag matches by now.
Hirooki Goto defeats Tetsuya Naito:
For all intents and purposes this was basically a no. 1 contender’s match for the heavyweight championship, which seemed to me to be a sure-win for Naito, but Goto had other ideas. It seemed like ever since re-jigging Naito with this Los Ingobernables stable and his whole evil bad-ass gimmick that they were grooming him to be next in line with Okada, not that that won’t happen, but it’s not the immediate plans here. Goto relatively fresh off his Intercontinental reign and battles with Nakamura looks to be stepping things up and entering a program with Okada. Goto at this point just seems like a breather feud for Okada to go into after the enormity of the Tanahashi feud, so I don’t expect much beyond a stop gap for that.
I’m a big fan of Naito and still think the long-term is to try and build him to that main event status to duel with Okada, whether he’s up to the task and people buy him in that position is another story, but it seems like that’s what will happen, especially with the eventual departures that we’ll get into.
Katsuyori Shibata defeats Tomohiro Ishii to win the NEVER Openweight Championship:
And now we get into the big stuff, a basic trifecta of matches that easily could main event any PPV card around the world. Each match had it’s unique hook that you could argue through your own preferences why it was match of the night. This one was the war. This was a Shibata/Ishii match after all, we all knew what we were getting, a pro wrestling match that basically throws pro wrestling out the window in regards to the “wrestling” aspect and also the “fake” aspects. This thing was just a brutal battle of kicks, chops, headbutts and one-upmanship with both men trading kicks and inviting each other to take their best shot, like it was some sort of tough guy competition. Shibata somehow prevailed in the end, somehow gaining his first singles title, which is kinda hard to believe for someone of his calibre. It’s time for him to own the belt and really there’s no better guy to put the title on and long may he reign.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeats A.J. Styles to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship:
I can’t honestly remember match that I’ve looked forward to more than this one. A.J. Styles has been my favourite wrestler for over a decade and it’s still crazy to me that coming back to him over a decade later he’s putting on the best matches of his life at this point in his career and at the age of 38. I’m relatively new to NJPW so Shinsuke Nakamura was new to me, but like pretty much everybody who sees just one match from the guy I was hooked before he even got to the ring. His flamboyance and charisma make you unable to draw your eyes anywhere but where his frame is occupying the screen. Nowadays I usually skip entrances of people I’ve seen a million times, but not Nakamura, his entrance and song deserves to be seen every time, it’s that captivating. Not only does he have this unique and boisterous Michael Jackson-eqsue look, but he backs it up in the ring with a mix of technical prowess and hard-nosed strikes. It gets thrown around a lot, but this was a dream match, with both guys never really fighting each one-on-one like this, and everything culminating with expectations for this to be match of the year.
Unfortunately, A.J. has been suffering with a back injury for the last month or so, putting him out of the tag tournament and putting this and his Final Battle ROH Heavyweight title match in jeopardy. But, A.J. being the big match wrestler he is put on a fantastic performance at Final Battle, but the jury was still out on how healthy he would be for this one of, if not the biggest match of his career. In the end you couldn’t even tell how or if A.J. was suffering, but what you could see was the flawless match that A.J. and Nakamura put on. A.J. sold his back in the match, but just in-so-far as a method to lure Nakamura into a false sense of security, never actually seeming in any pain. A.J. and Nakamura put on a chain wrestling with both men so skilled at countering and seeming to have about 20 different ways to reverse each move the other put on him. In the end Nakamura outlasted A.J., not before kicking out of a Styles Clash (a one-handed one, though, so perhaps Styles didn’t connect all the force that he wanted to). An exhausted Nakamura hit Styles with two back-to-back knee blows to the back of his head, doubling up on his finisher to get the win.
This was the kind of match that makes you proud to be a wrestling fan and thankful that this thing actually exists and matches like this are capable of reaching the insurmountable hype. I basically had to stop writing this blurb halfway through just so I could go watch it again.
Kazuchika Okada defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship:
And then as if match of the night had already been snatched up before the main event even went on, the culmination of the years long feud and passing of the torch between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada culminated like few things I’ve seen before. Now, about halfway through this match I was certain it wouldn’t reach the Nakamura/Styles level from the previous match, but then the back half and the ending sequence just blew this thin into the stratosphere.
It’s hard for me to judge this fully because while the Nakamura/Styles match was largely just built off wrestling and the fact that they hadn’t wrestled before, the Okada/Tanahashi match was dripping in this epic feud they’ve been having for seemingly forevever, with the remnants of previous matches effective the latest one. I’ve only been watching NJPW for a year now, so the history and storytelling doesn’t mean as much to me as someone who lived through the whole thing, but nonetheless it was a gripping and wondrous piece of storytelling.
As the 36 minute match drew to a close Okada was reaching as far into his bag of tricks as possible, his lariat finisher The Rainmaker, which nobody kicks out of, was doing nothing to Tanahashi to put him down. Unsure, of what next to do Okada’s hand clung onto Tanahashi, never letting him out of his grasp, making sure he wouldn’t venture away from Okada’s grip. He kept hold of him and nailed Tanahashi with two Rainmakers, keeping hold of Tanahashi and then finally collasping over him for the pin count. Only then did Okada relieve his grasp on Tanahashi, separating himself from the man who he’d been connected to through wrestling, expectation and life. Cementing himself as THE guy and champion on top, with the Tanahashi era vanishing behind him. As he released his grip, he became the pre-eminent guy on top, Kazuchika Okada readied himself for what’s to come by letting go of what got him there.
Post Wrestle Kingdom 10 craziness/New Year’s Dash:
As if Wrestle Kingdom wasn’t enough of a newsworthy event to kick off the new year, the following day had a little something to say about that. It was reported that Shinsuke Nakamura, A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows had all given their notice to NJPW the day of Wrestle Kingdom with their intention to leave the company, and join… WWE. How about that! From everything that’s come out it seems like besides the physicality of signing the actual contract this thing is as good as done. Nakamura has made it no secret that he desires to take himself and his brand to the highest level possible and expand himself globally and he sees WWE as the best chance to do that. A.J. Styles has literally for years been THE guy that people wondered what would happen if he ever signed with WWE and it seemed like it would never happen given his career and how successful he was outside of it, but now it’s finally happening. Anderson and Gallows look to be WWE wanting them in the company to try and garner some of the Bullet Club popularity and remake that sort of group, perhaps with Finn Balor. Again, this is all speculation about what they’re exactly gonna do, but what isn’t is that they’re coming, barring something amazingly foreseen.
Now is this the best move for these guys? With A.J. I think it’s just an inevitable thing and a “checking the box” type of thing. He’s done almost literally everything to do in a wrestling career without any involvement with WWE. It’s not like you can blame his age or call him washed up, given his laundry list of epic matches over the past years, not to mention his MOTC last night. Nakamura seems to be a different story, where he’s on the top of the world in Japan and is a foreign talent, and you never know how WWE will treat that, but they seem high on him, so it’s all up to the usage. That’s the thing, these guys have been having incredible matches outside of WWE and don’t need the company, but eventually it all comes down to usage. If WWE uses them right and lets their talents shine and doesn’t smother them with the WWE way and doesn’t make them just another cog in the machine they can help the product, but just as easily they could revel and be just spinning their wheels. It’s obviously a blow to NJPW, a huge one actually, with half of their “top four,” the others being Okada and Tanahashi, leaving very abruptly.
The New Year’s Dash show the following day shot a terrific angle with Kenny Omega of the Bullet Club turning on their leader A.J. and demolishing him, eventually joined by the Young Bucks, Anderson, Gallows and the rest as they ousted their leader. Omega made some pretty good reasoning as why he turned on A.J., as they basically stood beside while A.J. got all the good singles matches and all the top championship opportunities while people like Omega languished in the light heavyweight division. Omega then made his case about going after Nakamura and the IC belt, which I’m sure he’ll take since Nakamura is on his way out. It’s honestly a long time coming, with Omega obviously more of a fit for the heavyweight division. NJPW needs all the top singles talent it can get now, and while I don’t know if Omega ticks every box on what makes a main eventer, he’s definitely committed and dedicated enough to make a hell of a run at things and I’m excited to see where they take these things. NJPW is so good at booking that I have more faith in them booking a good product without Styles, Nakamura, Anderson, Gallows then I do WWE with those talents, but I guess we’ll see.
It’s amazing to think we’re four or five days into 2016 and we already probably have our match of the year and story of the year. It’s going to be an interesting couple months as we see how and when these new WWE signings occur, supposedly WWE was pissed it got out as some of those guys could’ve been surprise Royal Rumble entrants, and how NJPW books their programming, but I have no doubts they’ll be great.