For what could be hyped as one of Wrestle-1’s biggest shows ever, we have quite the card on our hands. Two big title matches take place; one where young W-1 standout Daiki Inaba challenges Cruiserweight champion Hiroshi Yamato in a very emotionally charged match which has seen Inaba come out and really turn his aggression up against Yamato. The second title match sees a crazy size differential challenge for normally cruiserweight division challenger Minoru Tanaka going up against destructive hoss and newly crowned W-1 champ Yuji Hino. It’s an incredible unique matchup to headline the show, and around these two matches are various wild tag matches with many different names involved and new arrival Kotaro Suzuki’s first real test against former cruiser champ Andy Wu.
Truly warms my heart to see TWO GUTS World representatives in this match in Shota and Tatsuhiko Yoshino. I think you’ll being seeing those two in a lot more places than just GUTS this year, by the way. This opening tag clusterfuck has a ton of good talent in it. The thing is, I never really love the structure of these 4 way tags as psychology always seems to be tossed out the window in turn for overdeveloped spots and massive awkwardness. They clipped this one, but it probably helped the overall presentation. Mostly everyone got their stuff in and it was fun for the small window given. Everyone tried going after the hated one half of the tag champions Shuji Kondo at first. Personally enjoyed Yoshino and Shota having a small GUTS alliance for a few seconds, only for the tricky Shota to try and get Yoshino with a small package. Kono ended up clearing the ring with his awful looking chokeslams, leaving only Shota for him and Kondo to destroy. Shota took quite a bit of punishment and kicked out of some high impact Kondo offense, but Kondo sent a message with the finish: he used Yuji Hino’s FUCKING BOMB to beat Shota! I audibly oooo’d over this, love when things like that are done to setup for an upcoming feud/match. Kondo clearly wants next in the main event picture.
This is looking like a snoozer. The crappy part of Desperado goes up against the Wild Order dudes in a pretty inconsequential match, if anything it could determine a next in line for the 6 man title contendership. Once again this was clipped, thankfully didn’t have to see the full 9 mins of this. Really not a whole lot to point out here. AKIRA was really fired up though, probably the most entertaining part of the match was him just flying around still thinking he’s in his 20s in New Japan. AKIRA’s top rope splash and a Wild Bomber lariat finished NOSAWA and his little trolls off. Next.
Kotaro Suzuki was locked in a game of “Will he, won’t he?” when he left AJPW in late 2015. No one could pinpoint exactly where he was going, although a majority certainly thought back to NOAH was the strong possibility. He ended up pretty much swerving us all when staying freelance but working mostly Zero 1 and W-1. This is an awesome addition to W-1’s already booming Cruiserweight division and will be great to see once he develops chemistry with their guys. A really entertaining, sub ten minute match. Loved Wu basically jumping Kotaro right at the bell to basically give him a W-1 housewarming gift, peppering him with dropkicks and dives. Kotaro finally got situated and started going toe for toe with Wu. They were almost trying to one up each other on the high risk offense. Suzuki always has such unique looking offense and is able to control and contort his body extremely well. Finish was very good, Wu tried to hit his crazy Feihong finish where he tries to hit a facebuster out of being wheelbarrowed by his opponent, but Kotaro was able to catch him on his shoulders in mid wheelbarrow, crushed him with a spin out powerbomb and then nailed a tiger driver to end it. Really cool sequence that showed the agility and skill of both guys and Kotaro starts his W-1 run on a good note.
This is the start of Jiro’s Trials Single Match Series, meaning he’s going to be facing some really unique and different opponents than what he’s used to. First up is junior legend Ultimo Dragon. Ikemen tried playing to the crowd at the start, so Dragon just tied him the hell up like the veteran he is. It was beautiful to watch the master going to work, he’s still amazing. At one point I’m he hit a dragon screw with his legs, and transitioned it into some sort of reverse figure four ankle lock on Jiro. Unbelievable. Ikemen having to fight out of it was tremendous. The action spilled to the outside, Dragon wanted to hit an Asai Moonsault but it was countered and Kuroshio hit one himself! This led into some incredible, and I mean incredible pinning sequences between these two that were mind blowing. Two damn fine workers just busting their tails. Ikemen’s facial expressions are fantastic and he tells so much of a story with his body language and can easily connect with fans, hence why he’s so popular as an act there. Dragon avoided a moonsault from Jiro and hit the Asai DDT to cap off a really fun and technically sound match.
Inaba has something to prove. Like I said before, he has a huge chip on his shoulder because he was out for months with a major shoulder injury while fellow Wrestle-1 young guys Kumagoro, Shotaro Ashino and Hiroki Murase were tearing it up and were put into two big stables. The irony now that both Murase and Ashino are now on the sidelines recovering from injury while Inaba gets his chance to have the show to himself, and he’s now in a big title match because of it. He appropriately came out incredibly aggressive at the start, catching Yamato off guard. Yamato at one point tried to hit his falling backwards headbutt, but Inaba put his legs up and pushed Yamato off, sending him backdown into a grapevine choke from Daiki, I audibly reacted to this and loved it. This match structure was so different than you would usually get from young underdog challenger against veteran champ, because the “young underdog” here sure was not booked as such. Inaba legit got 80% of the offense in this, I kid you not and I can justify it as Inaba being a man possessed wanting to seize his opportunity. He kept trying to go back to the Octopus Stretch to wear the champ down, but the third attempt looked to cost him dearly when Yamato turned it into a disgusting looking Omori Driver that sent Inaba straight on his head, but Inaba fired out of the count at one! Yamato honest to god went full Brock Lesnar on this kid following that, he snapped. He gave him a german suplex, Inaba got right up. One uranage, Inaba got up. Two uranages, Inaba got up. THREE uranages it took to just keep Inaba on the mat but he still wouldn’t quit and clawed his way to the ropes to prop himself up, unbelievable. Inaba was legit being booked as a god damn top tier babyface here and it was pretty mindblowing. Korakuen got right behind him after that craziness as well. I think they definitely tread the line of believability here without absolutely flying through it. Not sure how that makes Yamato look through this though to not be able to put away a young rookie with all those moves in succession. Finally, Inaba hit the backwards shoulder block and the Northern Lights Bomb which finally kept Inaba down for three. A completely unique booking of this match had me perplexed a bit but I also enjoyed how different it was from what I was expecting. I mean, I expected Inaba to come out aggressive but not to outright dominate the match even in defeat. I can definitely see others having their gripes with this one and Inaba’s selling in particular but I certainly love Inaba being made to look like a star.
Kotaro Suzuki came in after the match, and that’s presumably gotta be the next obstacle for Yamato to overcome.
Boy if this isn’t a tale of two guys Wrestle-1 wanted to be at the top just not quite working out. Sanada was different, he basically shot himself in the foot because he was positioned as the top guy before he left to go to America and toil in TNA and the fans actually accepted him in that role. KAI, well, not so much. The W-1 higher ups really wanted KAI to be the face of the promotion but the fans had absolutely none of it, much in part to the way he was booked during the Hideki Suzuki Wrestle-1 run. Hideki Suzuki was booked as a total monster and ended KAI’s reign as champion in about a month, choking him out in mere minutes twice in that span of time. KAI won the title back eventually, but the damage was done, even prompting Muto to run a poll asking the fans if KAI should be champion and the majority said no. Yikes. No one was buying KAI as a legitimate threat after Hideki emasculated him and embarrassed him. KAI dropped the title once again and finally realized he needed to change something to save his career. What he did was become an Onita/Ambrose like brawler with a wifebeater and jeans and adopted Shota from GUTS and Masayuki Mitomi to be his minions he could bully around whenever he pleased. This act has actually caught on and the W-1 fans have embraced KAI much more. Sanada of course has been more than welcomed back and this match really signifies new beginnings for both of these guys in W-1.
This match was so different than their previous affairs. The old KAI wouldn’t beat Sanada’s ass all around the Korakuen landscape, but this one would. The old KAI wouldn’t viciously forearm and headbutt Sanada like a rabid pitbull, but this KAI would. Loved how these two mixed an absolute brawl with some of their really good junior like bouts they had in early W-1 and it made for great entertainment. An absolute insane spot was KAI going for his trademark frog splash after a brutal Thunder Fire Bomb and then getting RKO’d out of mid air by Sanada. These guys set out to steal the show and they did. My only real gripe is the finish being sort of flat, Sanada just kinda hit KAI with a moonsault with no big buildu and that was that. But everything else was awesome, credit to KAI for completely winning favor back his way and adjusting himself, while Sanada has seamlessly come back to having good matches.
Had a grand laugh at Kaz Hayashi coming out to show respect to KAI, only for anti-hero KAI to slap his hand away and give him the middle finger salute on his way out. They’re going to face off on the 3/13 show now.
We all know Kabuki and Muto are here for the cheap nostalgia pop, and why not? It’s fun. I’m just more excited for more crazy Okabayashi and Kamitani interactions in yet another promotion, their brutal rivalry can’t be contained to just BJW! Unfortunately, those were just not as intense in this more lighthearted match. This was definitely more of a buffer match for the main event but still had some fun moments nonetheless like Kabuki accidentally misting Hama and Kaz taking advantage of the blindness and having Hama run into Kamitani thinking it was someone on the opposing team. Muto did his greatest hits collection sans moonsault basically. It really was neat seeing Kaz Hayashi and Kamitani do things together though as that’s something you wouldn’t see all the time and I appreciated Kamitani doing the “strong boy don’t sell for your junior shit” shtick with him. Muto hit Hama with the Shining Wizard for the win. A solid crowd pleaser that did its job and was still able to showcase some strong goodness from Yuji, Kamitani and Hama.
I’ve been hype as hell for this for weeks now. How can you not? You have two amazing performers in completely opposite ways. You have Tanaka in a David vs. Hino Goliath role. It seems like a match made in heaven for what I love in my wrestling. And boy was it. This is my MOTY. Dead serious. The way this thing was laid out was a thing of beauty. Tanaka tried kicking Hino’s legs to chop him down at the start, but Hino literally just swatted him like a bug and threw him around like a ragdoll in response. Why should big man Hino take this junior geek’s offense seriously (I love you Minoru.)? Him just laughing off Tanaka in the beginning was straight brilliance and made it all the more compelling to see Minoru work his way from below. This got Korakuen so invested in Tanaka making his comeback and Hino played off it perfectly, flipping the bird to the crowd and giving the crowd sarcastic looks on numerous occasions. Minoru’s selling and bumping for Hino was absolutely incredible. You almost wondered if he was dead after some of the chops and power moves he took from Yuji Hino. Tanaka’s second wind allowed him to pulverize Hino’s legs and take the champ down to even level where he could finally exploit the big rock that stood in front of him. Hino sold the agony beautifully himself, walking on wobbly legs and matching his facial expression to the excruciating assault on his lower body. It seemed for every huge bomb he threw Tanaka’s way to stop the onslaught, Tanaka just kept coming back for more. An absolutely thrilling submission sequence put this one over the top for me and made all of Tanaka’s leg work earlier on pay off from a watcher’s standpoint; Tanaka rolled through into a brutal leg lock on Hino that had to have been on for several minutes. Hino’s expressions and emotion while being ravaged in that leg lock and trying to get to the ropes while being pulled away several times was artistry. This is what wrestling is all about, to make that connection with the fan and stuff like that just does it for me. Even though I knew the result coming in, I really bought Tanaka getting the win there. Hino escaped and from then on out, it was a back and forth exchange of high impact moves until the other guy just couldn’t stand anymore. Throwing strikes at each other while flipping the bird to each other, both completely wobbly and about to collapse was some of the more powerful wrestling imagery I have seen this year. Finally, it took TWO FUCKING BOMBS from Yuji Hino to destroy the seemingly endless quit of the smaller yet tenacious Minoru Tanaka who proved he could hang in there with anyone of any size or caliber. My goodness, what a story. You need to see this ASAP.
Kondo came out to challenge Yuji Hino and it is ON for 3/13: Hino vs. Kondo for the title. Awesome sounding main event for that show. This W-1 event was just yet another feather in the cap for the company in the past several months. I enjoyed almost everything on here, except for a bit of the clipped filler at the start but that’s minor complaints. Jiro/Ultimo was a damn fun match, Kotaro Suzuki had a solid W-1 debut, Inaba looked like a main event tier babyface in defeat against Cruiser champ Yamato, Sanada and KAI had a show stealing match out of nowhere and Hino/Tanaka is easily a MOTY level match that told such a gripping and emotional story throughout. Highly recommended show.