We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome for New Japan’s biggest show of the year, which is also the biggest Japanese wrestling event of the year. Like with the final day of G1 Climax 25, I watched this with Redje, a fan who hasn’t seen much New Japan. It gives me a chance to relax and not worry about reviewing and to enjoy the show with a wrestling buddy. However it does leave me completely devoid of notes. So this will be entirely from memory and my memory is notoriously awful.
New Japan RAMBO
The pre-show featured a bizarre battle royal, done time-lapse style like the Royal Rumble. Some of the names that appeared genuinely popped me including the standard collection of aging main roster stars like Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi and Satoshi Kojima. However it didn’t stop there and we had nostalgia acts like Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Hiro Saito, Shiro Koshinaka, Great Kabuki and King Haku (a surprise entrant if ever there was one) representing the Bullet Club. The backbone of the match was the total unpredictability of it all. I genuinely had no idea who was going to win and ROH’s skinniest competitor Cheeseburger had a surprisingly great run, mentored by a generous Liger. Koshinaka and Ryusuke Taguchi teamed up due to an obvious shared love of hip attacks and Jado, teaming with a pop idol (Momoka Ariyasu), booked himself to come in last and win. Some of the ridiculousness included the long run for Cheeseburger and many established names getting quickly eliminated. Sometimes unpredictability can go a long way although this felt totally weird. It was a lot more entertaining than just putting over Kojima or Nagata because they’re the top guy in the match.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (c) vs. Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Roppongi Vice vs. The Young Bucks
These opening junior spotfests serve a purpose and this was no different to a dozen other matches that are all currently blending together in my head. Everyone brought something to the table and generally the match was well received in the Dome. The multiple man suplex spot and Cody Hall hitting a release Razor’s Edge on Ricochet onto the other wrestlers were both big high spots that worked for me. I was particularly enamoured with how Rocky Romero managed to be the most over guy in this mass of car crash spots by just hitting clotheslines. Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The only real downside was the finish with the Young Bucks once again claiming the junior tag belts, which seems to New Japan’s go-to when they’ve run out of stuff to do with whoever has the titles. This is now the fourth time they’ve ended up with the belts for no discernable reason. The one interesting route looked to be Sydal & Ricochet but maybe they can’t lock one or both into longer deals to allow title defences. Anyway, this may have leaned toward spot heavy but it was clean and joyous and good start to the show proper.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Toru Yano & The Briscoe Brothers
New Japan are quite good at making belts mean something so I’m not aghast at the arrival of yet another set of titles. Especially if the NEVER brand starts to run their own shows, or have shows built around NEVER title defences. The aim being like NXT or DNA to push younger talent into the spotlight. Something New Japan struggle with despite their outstanding crop of rookies. Wrestlers improve when they get to work in front of people. Even if it’s a crowd of a few hundred. The match treated the Bullet Club guys like a pack of jobbers, which is fine by me as two of them are poor and Tama can’t cut promos at all. Most entertaining was Yano, followed by Mark Briscoe and his redneck kung-fu. Due to the poor quality of opponents the match struggled to get going though and a lot of the heat was tedious. I could have lived without this being on the card. The strangest thing was Yano & the Briscoes winning as that means New Japan have long term plans for Dem Boyz. It has to be better than Fale & Yujiro teaming.
Final Rating: *1/4
ROH World Championship
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Michael Elgin
#BigMike drove this match forward, in spite of Lethal’s status as champion. Elgin powered Lethal around the ring and dominated with his size and strength. We got such wonderful power spots as the deadweight German and the deadlift super Falcon Arrow. Lethal’s main strategy involved his manager Truth Martini. I’ve never been that into managers making the trip to Japan as it doesn’t translate well over there. The one guy who made it work was Bruce Tharpe, representing the NWA, and that’s because he was prepared to make an ass of himself and take a few bumps. Truth just waved a book around, grated at people’s nerves and that was it. His interference in the match was uncalled for and didn’t produce the required heel heat but rather a series of irritated groans from the New Japan audience. As if to say ‘we gave a plum spot to an American promotion and this is the bullshit they gave us’? This was especially evident on the finish as The Book of Truth was used as a weapon to set up the Lethal Injection. I get they didn’t want #BigMike to go over here as that effects ROH’s business but if that was the case why not just get a Japanese guy in there and at least get the extra heat that goes with that. Elgin is definitely a popular guy in New Japan but this did nothing for him and nothing for me.
Final Rating: **1/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
The show was flagging at this point and this needed to be a good match, which thankfully it was. Omega’s weirdness was on full display here and he couldn’t quite get his spots to look as cool as usual. Especially having the Bucks banging on trashcans for the Terminator dive. That looked a lot better when it felt improvised. It felt like Omega got carried away in the moment and wasn’t in the right place when it started. KUSHIDA was on form though, constantly going after armbars and that allowed Omega to focus on selling his arm, which he did a fantastic job of. At one point doing a one-armed version of the One Winged Angel with the other arm tied up. The combination of limb work and the selling made for the core of a very good contest. It didn’t quite get the time to hit higher levels than ‘very good’ but it certainly delivered after a few disappointing matches. The result aiding that as Omega lost via roll up attempting another One Winged Angel. KUSHIDA has always felt like a worthy junior champion and Omega felt like he was unhappy to be classified as a junior when his weight is bang on the limit. He clearly wants to graduate to the heavyweight division, taking the belt off him allows this. KUSHIDA managed one of the finest entrances of the evening by having Ryusuke Taguchi dress up as Doctor Emmett Brown from the Back to the Future series and corner him during the match, offsetting the evil of the Young Bucks. New Japan needs to book Bucks & Omega for the six man titles. As well as Time Splitters & Taguchi. That division books itself.
Final Rating: ***3/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)
I struggle to get into the Bullet Club’s tag title runs as the team really isn’t that great and the lack of good challengers just intensifies that. However this match didn’t fall into the usual pitfalls of the Guns & Gallows defences. For starters GBH looked up for the challenge and Honma in particular was seriously energised and eager to please the mass of Tokyoites in the Dome. This forced the champs to up their game and there was no taking it easy for them. Anderson in particular worked hard to get the match over but Gallows also delivered on a series of strikes working at incapacitating Makabe’s jaw. The champs made a good crack of beating Togi down to leave Honma alone but Tomoaki wasn’t going to lie down here and did enough to open up the champs for the Super Kokeshi/King Kong Kneedrop combo. It’s Honma’s first title since 2007 and that was in Apache-Pro. It’s a sign of how over Honma has gotten as a loveable loser and he looked happy as a pig in shit to win the belts at Wrestle Kingdom. How long GBH stay champions is open for debate. Since first winning the straps at Wrestle Kingdom 8, two years ago, the belts have only been away from Guns & Gallows for about four months. The longer GBH’s run, the more important it ultimately becomes.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito
As we hit the final four matches I thought we were gearing up for something really special but Goto vs. Naito was a flat match filled with Los Ingobernables cheating and it didn’t do anything for me. The complaints regarding Naito are the same as always. He’s removed high spots from his routine and replaced them with nothing in particular other than cheating. It makes him less entertaining to watch, even if Los Ingobernables has definitely rejuvenated his career. That said, two years ago he was main eventing and now he’s in the midcard and still a loser. Hopefully this is part of a bigger plan as Los Ingobernables have started to look a bit suspect as a group. First losing the tag league to Great Bash Heel and then not getting the job done at Wrestle Kingdom. Plus Naito lost to Tanahashi in between G1 and WK10. They’re starting to look like geeks. Compare that to how Bullet Club is booked and you can see why Naito’s heel turn isn’t having the desired effect for his career. Goto didn’t do much to aid his cause here but someone had to win and the post-WK push appears to be Goto getting a title match. New Beginning is largely a filler PPV so the result is in no doubt but Goto usually delivers in big matches as a challenger. He didn’t here though. This was mightily disappointing.
Final Rating: **
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
These are two of my favourites by virtue of how they beat the shit out of people. In this one they beat the shit out of each other. It was brutal, beautiful and contained numerous spots that made me wince. The strikes were so good and yet Shibata somehow managed to out-do Ishii. Even when it came down to the sickening *clunk* of headbutts, it was Shibata who was doing the best work. His forearms connected more convincingly and all round he landed with more than Ishii. Which is weird because Ishii is my guy and I’m normally into everything he does but he was routinely out-done by Shibata. When they launched into a ‘you kick me, I kick you’ sequence Shibata’s looked more vicious and sounded more vicious. The lack of parity between the two when it came to the striking is what took it down a touch compared to the 2013 G1 match they had, which scored the perfect *****. It didn’t drop down by much though and was a rollicking good ride of strongstyle badassery. The best part of the entire thing was Shibata winning the belt because it radically changes the division overnight. I loved Ishii’s run with the NEVER belt, endless Makabe matches aside, but giving Shibata his own division to kick fuck out of people in is a fantastic idea and I support it wholeheartedly.
Final Rating: ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. AJ Styles
This had so much hype coming into it. They’d never wrestled each other in singles before and it was one of the few remaining dream matches New Japan had completely untapped. The pay off was sensational. So many moments make the match a great experience. Whether it was AJ’s feigned back injury or Nakamura’s insistence at making that injury legitimate or some of the counters they came up with. I was especially pleased with the backbreaker where AJ landed so hard that Nakamura’s busted up knee buckled and Styles bounced off and landed on his head. It was brutal and it sold Nakamura’s intention to damage AJ’s back and Nakamura’s own frailty thanks to AJ’s knee attacks. Then there was Nakamura’s persistence at going after AJ’s arm to the point where he clung on relentlessly as AJ attempted a Styles Clash and hit that son of a bitch. Brilliant from both parties on both occasions. The only flub in the entire match, during some very difficult sequences, was AJ not being able to get the quebrada inverted DDT. Nakamura was out of position for the spot and it collapsed. Apart from that, and I dig that they never bothered repeating the spot, it was largely flawless work. They could have coasted by on reputation and it being a ‘first ever’ match but they didn’t and while it was never quite as good as Nakamura vs. Ibushi from WK9 it was certainly up there. Very, very close to being full boat. An argument you could make for any of the top three matches on this card.
Final Rating: ****3/4
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
It was a match a year in the making because as soon as Tanahashi pinned a teary-eyed Okada at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom you knew that eventually Okada would be back for another bite at the Ace Apple. It didn’t even need to be for the title, it was far more important than that. This match was about who would represent New Japan as a company going forward. The same was true last year and when Tanahashi won he went on to represent New Japan for the rest of the year. Winning G1, fighting on their behalf over in DDT and generally being New Japan’s ace. Okada had to learn humility, through a series of jobs to Bad Luck Fale and then slowly earn his way back up the card before winning the title again. When Okada was chosen to face Genichiro Tenryu in his retirement match it showed that Okada had elevated his game. He was no longer content to be a strong second best in New Japan. Last year’s IWGP title match was damn near perfect. It’s my favourite Okada-Tanahashi match. This one was close and had the added benefit of concluding the storyline that goes back years in New Japan. Ever since Okada returned from his excursion with TNA and became Tanahashi’s main competition at the top of the card. This was the one that Okada couldn’t lose or it could have destroyed him.
So it was pretty amazing to see the call backs to their previous matches and the previous finishes and my feeling of shock horror when certain things happened (High Fly Flow to the back before Tana goes up for a second) cannot be understated. I was emotionally in the moment and it was almost as great as the storyline from last year. I was relieved when Okada won rather than elated. Like a weight had been removed from my shoulders. This emotional intangible is the only thing stopping the match from being full boat and that’s more my fault than anything else. A criticism I saw a lot of was that Okada didn’t sell Tanahashi’s leg assault but selling is a rarity in wrestling nowadays to the degree that people want, when they’re being critical. Nakamura didn’t sell his knee either when Tanahashi worked it over but everyone still called that a great match at G1 last year. Okada’s selling was far more subtle than you’d think. No, he didn’t hobble around but he grimaced and kept checking the leg to make sure he could carry on. The selling was there, if you were looking for it. They didn’t want the knee to stand in the way of a good match and it didn’t. An excellent addition to a terrific series of matches then. A capper on a feud that’s been at the heart of New Japan’s booking for the last three years. Now Okada is the King of New Japan. Long may he reign.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Summary: You could argue for all the top three matches being ***** and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone handing those ratings out. I personally felt they all came up just a wee bit short, especially compared to last years top two matches, but they were all terrific matches however you look at it. When you finish a show with three matches and they’re all brilliant the show is a winner. No matter what your criticisms are, Wrestle Kingdom 10 was a great show. Maybe it’ll be the best of the year and, as with WK9, every other show during 2016 has their work cut out. The bar has been set and it is set high.