WrestleWatch: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14- Night 2
Running this shit back-to-back, watching on-demand the next day on NJPW World because they shit the bed live, but getting the review to you good people as soon as I can... it's Wrestle Kingdom, Night 2!
I don't know how I feel about the 2 night set-up. I mean, it's probably a bigger financial success for NJPW, selling double the tickets at the Tokyo Dome, but from a wrestling show quality perspective... I feel like it potentially dilutes each show. Night 1 felt like a preview show for Night 2 until the top matches kicked in. In year's past, Wrestle Kingdom has been an extremely strong card befitting the biggest New Japan show of the year, from opening match to main event.
The story over-arching both night of WK14 is the Double Gold Dash, where out of Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Jay White and Tetsuya Naito, someone would leave the Dome at the end of Night 2 as a double champion, holding both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships. Following the results of Night 1, it'll be Okada vs. Naito in the Night 2 main event for all the marbles.
The other main draw, the co-main event for Night 2, is the return of "The Painmaker" Chris Jericho. He's facing the Ace of New Japan, the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi, in a special singles match. The stakes got raised in this one, when Jericho made an offer a week before the event- should Tanahashi beat him in the Dome. the Ace would get a future AEW Championship shot. He then referred to "opening the forbidden portal", as until this point, AEW and NJPW hadn't directly acknowledged each other's existence. It was thought that there was some bad blood between the two sides, as AEW top stars and executives, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, were all top stars in NJPW before leaving to start their own company. It's a little understandable, as New Japan were looking to expand their business in the US, and losing their top American stars, who went on to create what was essentially a competitor to them, hurt their business. But the idea of two of the top companies in the wrestling world, NJPW and AEW, joining forces is mouth-watering. Now, the ramifications of Jericho vs. Tanahashi go far beyond the legacies of these two legendary wrestlers.
Let's do this!
Match 1: Los Inglobernables de Japon (Evil, Shingo Takagi & Bushi) win a Gauntlet Match to capture the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Championships (at 23:23 total time)
Thoughts: It speaks to how loaded Night 2 actually is with talent, that wrestlers of this caliber ended up on the pre-show. The action starts with Bullet Club vs. Chaos. Ishii gets the elimination with a brainbuster on Chase Owens, but it's Robbie Eagles that shone from the Chaos tandem. From PWA to the Tokyo Dome, and he gets the next elimination with a victory roll on Kanemaru, eliminating Suzuki-gun. Unfortunately, Chaos is eliminated next, when Evil hits Ishii with Darkness Falls, and then the LIJ members take the gold from the defending champs, Taguchi, Makabe and Yano. Surprising to see a title change on the pre-show here. But this was fun, getting lots of guys a paycheck, and the first Tokyo Dome appearance of many to come for my boy, Robbie Eagles. (**1/2)
Match 1: Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee def. Jushin "Thunder" Liger & Naoki Sano (at 12:16)
Thoughts: Emotional scenes, as this was the final bout in the amazing career of Japanese wrestling icon Liger, and Liger did the honours, as is pro wrestling tradition, on the way out. Chris Charlton made the salient point that Liger was getting out while he was still on his game, before anyone could pity or patronise him with "You still got it" chants (I genuinely think fans chant that with good intentions, but I can see why it tends to annoy wrestlers). Good action, with Liger holding his own throughout, including a nice Time Bomb counter into a pin fall that fooled me for a moment. Sano held his own too, and Lee provided some nice athleticism with a big tope (that wiped out his partner Hiromu, but oh well). Nice way to start the main card action, although not quite as exciting as the legends match the previous night, funnily enough. (**3/4)
Match 2: IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship- Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh) def. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori (at 14:08)
Thoughts: Between the quick elimination in the pre-show gauntlet, Switchblade losing to Naito last night, and this, not a good weekend for the Bullet Club. This was really good action, highlighting by ELP's dickhead antics. Surprisingly, this was ELP's Tokyo Dome debut. Feels like he's been around a lot longer considering how quickly he became a prominent member of the NJPW roster. Sho showed amazing strength, German Suplexing ELP and Ishimori at the same time. Eventually, 3K prevailed when ELP tried a low blow- but they were wearing cups! A Shock Arrow/double stomp combo awards Sho and Yoh the titles. Wonderful! (***1/2)
Match 3: RevPro British Heavyweight Championship- Zack Sabre Jr. def. Sanada (at 12:32)
Thoughts: This was a great chess match between two submission specialists. ZSJ never fails to take what looks like a disadvantage at face value- his stringy beanpole "seriously, that dude's a wrestler?" body- and make it a unique advantage for himself, being able to bend his body and his opponents in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Even though it was a ground-based battle for the most part, it was never boring, and the pin exchanges towards the end showed a lot of high level grappling. I really got a kick out of this! (****)
Match 4: IWGP United States Championship- Jon Moxley def. Juice Robinson (at 12:48)
Thoughts: You know what, I wasn't feeling this one a great deal. It started well, with a fired up Juice quickly throwing himself at Moxley and brawling around ringside, but as the battle continued, there weren't many moments where I thought Juice was going to get the win, and Moxley managed to hit Death Rider with little trouble to retain the gold. Just there, really. (***)
The somewhat mundane title match is quickly forgotten here though, as Moxley stands in the ring clutching his retained US title, the music of Minoru Suzuki hits! Fuck yes! I was disappointed when Suzuki was barely involved in his Night 1 match, but with him getting in the business of Mox, we're looking at a future awesome battle between two vicious bastards. Suzuki takes off his jacket- he has his ring gear on underneath- then he gets in the ring and starts throwing hands with Mox. The bell rings and Gino gets excited on commentary, thinking we've got an impromptu match, but c'mon, New Japan doesn't play like that. The bell continues ringing, as if that's going to stop these men from throwing down. Suzuki nails Mox with the Gotch piledriver, grabs the mic and warns the champ to be careful who he picks a fight with. This is going to be immense!
Match 5: NEVER Openweight Championship- Hirooki Goto def. Kenta (at 16:12)
Thoughts: Commentary do a really great job here, establishing the character and motivations of Kenta. Without mentioning WWE by name, they talk about the frustrations he has experienced in recent years, and highlighted that he has a chip on his shoulder and feels he has something to prove. Romero states that he feels Kenta has a "glass jaw" and is not the striker he once was, but he can still deliver strikes like a walking weapon, laying the kicks into Goto. Goto starts firing back some hard strikes of his own, rocking the defending champ. Kenta fires back with a busaike knee that gets a near fall. The GTS is countered, and a short time later Goto hits the GTR to once again become NEVER champ! A deserved accolade after the work Goto has put in- the guy's in great shape and consistently delivers. This was an enjoyable, hard hitting affair on both sides. Hideo Itami in WWE and Kenta in NJPW is night and day. (****)
Match 6: Jay White def. Kota Ibushi (at 24:58)
Thoughts: If I'm understanding the Double Gold Dash right, the winner of this match is the no. 1 contender to the winner of the main event. I found this match to be far more enjoyable than White's match with Naito on Night 1. I appreciated the psychology in Night 1, but Night 2 was undeniably a more exciting match. White gets enough offense in to make it look like he can get the job done on his own, but utilises the help of Gedo at ringside because he can. Ibushi, for his part, was working as if he didn't just go through hell with Okada the night before, and at one point re-entered that Terminator mode from the Okada match where he start n-selling everything and practically shooting on the Kiwi. Then we had ref bumps, steel chairs, brass knux... all the classic fuckery. Switchblade hits Blade Runner on Ibushi, who's already unconscious from the weapon usage. What a glorious bastard. (****1/2)
Match 7: Chris Jericho def. Hiroshi Tanahashi (at 22:24)
Thoughts: Finally, the curse is broken! Jericho wins at the Tokyo Dome! I'll admit, they got me with the AEW tease, thought the Painmaker was doing the J-O-B for sure. But, age be damned, Jericho and Tanahashi put together a great match. He might not look as great as he once did physically, but Jericho can still bust out his old athletic moves, like the springboard dropkick and the Lionsault. Hell, he even stole Tana's High Fly Flow at one point! Making the Ace tap to the Liontamer in the Dome is a huge feather in the cap of the already guaranteed HOF career of Chris Jericho. Looks like Jericho and Mox are both sticking around in NJPW given the results of their matches, and Jericho wore his AEW Championship to the ring, so... intriguing. (****1/2)
Match 8: Double Title Match- Tetsuya Naito def. Kazuchika Okada (at 35:37)
Thoughts: First of all, for these guys to go as long as they did, when they both had grueling battles just 24 hours earlier... respect. Naito finally wins the big one after falling short against Okada two years earlier at WK12. He forced Okada to throw everything he had, including a vicious attack on Naito's knee that actually got the Tokyo Dome to boo their world champ. Naito gutted it out, kicking out of Tombstones and Rainmakers until he could finally hit that emphatic Destino for the long-awaited 3 count. Naito holds all the gold! (*****)
Post-match, Naito soaks in the atmosphere and love before grabbing a microphone. Right in the middle of Naito's speech, Kenta hits the ring! He attacks Naito and sits over him. "This is bullshit." Rocky Romero repeatedly says on commentary. Interesting scenes to close out this weekend at the Tokyo Dome!
I'm very torn on whether 2 nights of Wrestle Kingdom was a good move. On one hand, Night 1 had some filler. Night 2 had less filler, but there was the Moxley match that almost seemed to exist as a vehicle to do the Minoru Suzuki angle. That said, could the Double Gold Dash have occured in one night? It's impressive enough what they did with a day's rest, but it may have been an impossible task to pull double-duty and produce those kinds of matches. I preferred Night 2 by the slimmest of margins. Kenta continues to impress post-WWE, and Chris Jericho showed once again that age is only a number. Switchblade and Ibushi displayed great chemistry as well as every gimmick ever conceived in wrestling, while Okada and Naito produced a storybook ending years in the making. Incredible pro wrestling. When it's good, it's fucking great.
Until next time, take care,