The hype is building to January 4th, and this show in particular is the beginning of the Road to the Tokyo Dome. Can you feel it brothers and sisters? The show kicked off with a video package recapping the past year, with clips going back as far as Wrestle Kingdom 9 before the matches began.
As with most New Japan openers, it served mostly as a way to showcase multiple people in the ring at once. Tenzan headbutted Nakanishi to little effect then got leveled for his troubles. Tenzan’s double chops served as equalizer as they brought Nakanishi to the ground. A slap fest followed. Nakanishi held Tenzan up in a stretcher rack before Kojima ran in to double team Nakanishi. Tenzan attempted the pin but was interrupted by Yuji.
Finally all the men in the ring decided they had enough and turned the match over to the Young Lions, who as usual proved they are more than capable of putting on a strong showing. Jay and David showcased their athleticism and are always impressive. Nakanishi chopped Jay then Nagata ran in to help his partner out and hit him with a double lariat. Yuji’s stiff kicks did not stop Jay, who kept getting fired up every time he was struck. He was eventually knocked down after a series of kicks from Yuji, but kipped up even more enflamed. Tenzan brought his strong (hand) style to the show and began double chopping everyone out of the ring. There were chops, shoulders, headbutts and suplexes galore between Tenzan and Yuji. Kojima machine gun chopped Nakanishi, who was able to get out of the corner and make a comeback. Tenzan was tagged in by Kojima and he was racked by Nakanishi before being kicked in the bread basket and given double-double (would that make them quadruple?) chops by Tenzan and Kojima.
Conveniently, the Young Lions were both tagged in at the same time to face off against each other. There were lots of nice lockups and Finlay hit White with a flying corkscrew shoulder block. Nakanishi came in to further the punishment on White, who got the bejeezus chopped out of him. Yuji and Tenzan faced off next with Yuji eventually getting the better of him. Eventually Nakanishi and Kojima ended up in the ring and after Nakanishi got out, Finlay was able to get some offense on Kojima. Kojima finally took advantage of a small opening and was able to pin Finlay after delivering a series of forearm shots followed by a lariat. All in all, the match felt unimportant, lacked direction and was more chaotic than necessary, making it hard to invest in any drama, but I wouldn’t call it bad, just sort of there.
Coming off a very successful World Tag League, Makabe and Honma certainly had momentum on their side. The match began with Makabe and Sho trading ground based shoot attempts, which I am a huge fan of. They then started a contest of one-upsmanship with wristlocks and arm locks, Sho surprisingly getting the better of the two. Sho was able to land a hurricanrana followed by a standing dropkick. Sho backed Makabe up but near Makabe’s corner. Honma tagged himself in and Makabe looked pissed to not be able to get payback this go round.
Komatsu and Honma faced off, with Komatsu showing real tenacity, even standing his ground in a chop war. Honma missed a Kokeshi because of course he did. He was able to jump to the corner & tag Makabe in and Togi was able to do some damage before Honma was recharged enough to get back in and punish Komatsu. Komatsu repeatedly ran into Honma’s boot before he realized it was time to tag in Sho for reinforcement. Sho was able to get some really great offense off and he continued to land flying elbows and dropkicks on Makabe. Eventually a lariat from Makabe turned the tide, and Makabe drilled Sho in the skull repeatedly while standing on the second rope. Makabe finally got Sho in a Boston crab but Sho was able to bridge up & power his way to the corner to get the rope break before tagging in Komatsu.
Makabe dominated Komatsu until he tagged in Honma to continue the punishment. Makabe was able to get tagged in again to keep the heat on. All four men spilled into the ring and Makabe put a crab onto Komatsu while Honma hit a flying head butt on Sho. Honma took Sho’s head off with a huge lariat while Makabe no-sold Komatsu’s elbow shots. Makabe fired his own elbows & brought down Komatsu, but he was able to hulk up & start firing back even harder. He was then able to land a Superman punch on Makabe, but Makabe withstood it and climbed to the top rope and landed a knee on his throat. Honma and Makabe celebrated in the middle of the ring with their World Tag League trophies before leaving.
First off, before we start, I just want to address the elephant in the room: Takahashi has already been on my shit list for some time and no Mao means he’s walking home tonight. OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, Yano starts off by telling Saku that his ribs hurt and he backs out of the ring to make him start against Cody. Cody did the big man routine on Saku, while Saku continued his badass legit MMA guy gimmick. Sakuraba wrapped around Cody’s leg & Cody screamed out “Fuck! Jeeezus…” before retreating back to his corner. Yano came in at the same time Sakuraba tagged in Yano. Things spilled out of the ring quickly then Yujiro attacked Yano with a chair while Cody and Saku also fought on the outside. Cody almost ended the match with a big kick to Yano, but he was unable to get the 3. Cody screamed out “Fuck all of you” to the audience. Keep it classy, Codester.
Saku just kicked the shit out of Yujiro’s chest, then when Cody ran in to help out his partner, Saku grabbed Cody’s leg after a kick attempt and managed to take him down too. The double team eventually got the better of Sakuraba when Cody got him up on his shoulders and dropped him down over his knee in a brutal fashion. Yano ran in to break the pin and Cody is put into a sleeper by Sakuraba after he jumped onto the larger man’s back then pulled him down so he can secure an arm bar to defeat Cody.
The NWA theme is played and Liger came out, but in a different mask than usual and without the long fake hair or the normal Power Rangers spandex top. For his age, Liger is in amazing shape. Things started quickly when Liger began to stomp Tiger Mask. They spilled out to the floor and Liger spiked Tiger Mask to the floor. Liger kicked Tiger Mask over the barrier and waited for the 20 count, which Tiger Mask *barely* beat. Liger hit a Liger bomb on Tiger Mask but it was not enough to count him out. They fought their way to the top rope and Tiger Mask was able to deliver a headbutt before a suplex. There ended up being lots of back and forth exchanges between the two in the finishing stretch, with momentum swings before Tiger Mask was finally able to tap out Liger after securing both arms in a scissor armbar to a chickenwing submission. An enjoyable yet quick little match.
Los Ingobernables got the jump on their opponents, inflicting damage on the outside by throwing them into the guard rails. They made it back to the ring, where BUSHI first choked Captain New Japan with his shirt before EVIL came into the ring and did a standing bomb onto his mid-section then tagged Naito in. BUSHI tripped Captain New Japan from outside the ring, then EVIL was tagged in and he held Cap until Bushi could hit him with a move off the top rope. BUSHI continued to inflict punishment until Cap could tag in Dorada, who could give Bushi a run for his money as far as luchador style and aerial manoeuvring. Naito and Goto had a HELL of an elbow exchange before Naito could take control with an impressive aerial arsenal. Goto kicked Naito in the back followed by an armbar submission attempt, but EVIL ran in to break it up. Goto got the best of the exchange. All six men poured into the ring and the faces and heels both took turns dominating while things broke down. Cap had a huge kick out after I was sure EVIL had him, but the second time was a charm as EVIL got the pin. Post-match, BUSHI tried to unmask Mascara Dorada outside the ring and successfully did so when he was dragged into the ring. BUSHI stood over him holding his mask and CMLL Welterweight title in his hands. Another mask to add to his growing collection.
Gooch came out with a Nakamura parody shirt and crappy paper crown similar to the one Nak wore at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and he even did Nak’s signature rope arch that he is known for as he entered the ring. WHAT… A… DICK. Nakamura was out next. Accept no imitations, this is the real deal Holyfield. He showed Taguchi a thing or two about swagger as he did the arched back rope move much better than the pale comparison we saw earlier. The first lock up was almost a mirror image as Taguchi played his “gimmick infringement” gimmick. Nak leaned his head against Taguchi’s stomach and Taguchi pushed his head down to his crotch. Again, say it with me, kids. “WHAT. A. DICK.” By this point, Nakamura began to lose his cool. He tried to squash Gooch but he just wouldn’t die. Nak was shown up by Taguchi when he got arm dragged. He buried his hands deep in his face in shame. Finally, he put on a smile and extended his hand to Taguchi. Taguchi reached his hand out, Nak attempted to kick him but had his leg intercepted and again Taguchi got the drop on him. They spilled out into the ringside area and Nak seized an opportunity to make sure that Taguchi knew what guardrails & flying knees to the back of his head felt like. Nak gave Taguchi a stiff kick as a cherry on top of the violence sundae. He continued to stomp and prod Taguchi until he got up and tried to chop Shinsuke, who no-sold all the way. He then got Taguchi in a sleeper and attempted a pin while he wasn’t moving but the Gooch still managed to kick out. There were some really nice exchanges between the two to heat the action up. Nak did the vibration kick, flying knee and knees to his side before trying to hit the boma ye, but Taguchi fell down instead. Just when Nak thought he had Taguchi finished, Gooch kicked his ass-based offense into high gear then flew out of the ring to get Nak when he tried to escape. Nak tried to get Taguchi in an arm bar before Taguchi reversed it into an ankle/leglock. As expected, Shinsuke ended up hitting the boma ye, sealing Taguchi’s fate. This ended up being way better than I ever would have expected. Lots of great moments and Taguchi is a much better wrestler when doing someone else’s shtick.
An 8 man elimination match finished off the card, but it wasn’t a normal over-the-top-rope gimmick match, an elimination can also occur due to a pinfall or submission (which I only figured out during the match as we will get to later). I can’t tell you how excited I was to see it. While much of the card didn’t sound great on paper and much didn’t deliver above the level of a house show, this one I had interest in. Stone Pitbull made his way to the ring solo then Juice, KUSHIDA and Tana came out to join him. I got hyped as CHAOS made their way to the ring to Okada’s theme. The tension is thick from the beginning when Shibata and Ishii get face to face and Shibata stares a hole through Ishii’s soul. Juice and YOSHI-HASHI started off, trying to establish which team would have the momentum. I must confess I could care less about either and they feel like odd men out in this match to be truthful. YOSHI-HASHI got taken for an airplane spin by Juice, with Hashi screaming “STOP IT!!!” while being spun around. Surprise of the century, the move threw both men off-balance. Side note: has ANYONE… EVER… pulled off that move without both men being dizzy?
They decided it was best to tag in their partners, so we got Gedo vs. KUSHIDA next, whose exchange was electric. After a short stare-down, Gedo approached KUSHIDA and told him “take it easy”, poked him in the eyes, put him in a headlock and threw him to the ropes. KUSHIDA leapt over Gedo off the ropes, but Gedo caught him on the way back and got very close to dumping KUSHIDA out of the ring. He held on for dear life as Gedo flipped him out of the ring, still hanging on but struggling hard. The whole face team came running in to save KUSHIDA from being eliminated and they even picked up Gedo to throw him out. All 8 men fought to save their respective partner in a really incredibly fun spot. Back to their fight, KUSHIDA got the better of his exchanges with Gedo before all of CHAOS came running in to knock their opponents off the ring apron. Gedo and KUSHIDA continued their battle in the ring and Gedo began to blatantly choke KUSHIDA in front of Red Shoes, then tagged in Ishii to continue wearing KUSHIDA down.
Ishii stretched KUSHIDA’s leg and Gedo screamed at Red Shoes “Ask him!” from outside the ring to see if he was ready to submit. Ishii spat at Shibata and made confirmed contact. Uh oh, you done fucked up now, son. Shibata began to pace the ring apron like a caged animal waiting to attack. KUSHIDA continued to struggle and it looked like he was going to tag Shibata when Okada came in and pulled him away, effectively tagging himself in to the match. At this point Okada dragged him to his own corner and slingshotted himself into the ring from outside to a prone KUSHIDA. Tanahashi ran in to distract Okada, but Okada was able to maintain control over KUSHIDA. As Tana was being shooed away by Red Shoes, Okada got a little cheap shot in as a heel should. He tagged in YOSHI-HASHI, who first knocked his opponents off the apron before continuing to beat on KUSHIDA. YOSHI-HASHI tagged in Gedo, who put KUSHIDA in a chickenwing stretch submission attempt. KUSHIDA struggled and Gedo put his foot in KUSHIDA’s back for leverage, screaming “No, no, no, no. I know you motherfucker!” while he applied even more pressure. Things looked grim for KUSHIDA, as he was attacked by all 4 CHAOS members. He found that intestinal fortitude and started getting the better of every guy before finally dropkicking Ishii from off the ropes and to his corner to tag in Shibata.
Shibata came in, fired the hell up, and absolutely brutalized Ishii with elbows and a flying dropkick. The two exchanged back drop suplexes and then Shibata threw several more elbows at Ishii, who by this point was no longer selling them. Shibata started stretching Ishii after a quick back and forth, and the crowd was on fire. They got even louder when Shibata almost threw out Ishii, but Ishii held on. He then picked up Shibata from inside the ring and brought him to the apron with him so he could eliminate him. Shibata choked out Ishii, but YOSHI-HASHI dropped both men to eliminate them from the match. Sad face.
Juice and YOSHI-HASHI then came in for their respective teams and Juice was quickly eliminated. Tana then came in for his team, and they chopped, flipped and neckbreaker’d their way to a pretty decent exchange. The crowd got loud when Tana was almost eliminated, but he was able to use those ab muscles to flip back into the ring, grab YOSHI-HASHI with his legs and instead dump him out. Tana then made short work of Gedo (boo), tapping him out.
As a preview to the main event at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, Okada and Tanahashi stood face to face and started laying into each other with elbows and strikes. Okada kicked Tana to the gut and did a DDT before kipping up, then threw a corkscrew shoulder to Tana’s face. Tana tried to take Okada’s legs out then Okada finally got him out with a dropkick.
KUSHIDA and Okada were all that were left at this point, so whoever eliminated their opponent won for their team. With stakes high, KUSHIDA turned it up, actually catching Okada in a flying arm bar when Okada came off the ropes. Okada got back to the rope for the break. The drama was heightened and the crowd was alive. KUSHIDA tried to get Okada in a Kimura lock, but Okada was able to reverse it before delivering a Tombstone then splashing KUSHIDA from off the top rope. Okada signaled the Rainmaker pose, the camera zoomed out and he delivered the Rainmaker lariat to score the win for his team. Money fell because Okada is money. Bite it, Okada haters. Okada then took the mic and cut a promo on Tanahashi before handing the mic to Gedo, who continued cutting promos on Tanahashi. The crowd then began to chant Okada’s name while he stood in the ring for a bit to soak up the atmosphere.
All in all, the first half or so of the show pretty much felt like a regular New Japan house show, but the last couple of matches especially were quite excellent and worth going out of your way to fire up NJPWWorld.com and check them out yourself. I’m looking forward to the rest of the build to Wrestle Kingdom 10.