4th July 2015.
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Sumo Hall. Known in Japan as the Ryogoku Kokugikan. The building is one of the largest wrestling venues in Tokyo with the kind of capacity the WWE normally looks for. The only thing above this is the Tokyo Dome. Normally Japanese promotions run Korakuen Hall, a much smaller building that holds roughly 2,000. Sumo Hall is reserved for bigger events like the G1 Climax final. I love that this show has been built around Finn Balor’s triumphant return to Japan. I’m sure they were originally intending on booking the show around KENTA but Prince Devitt was a big deal in Japan. He sort of turned face just before he left too, leaving Bullet Club in the hands of AJ Styles. Hosts are Michael Cole and Byron Saxton.
Chris Jericho vs. Neville
Jericho had a cracking match with Finn Balor on this tour and he’s definitely a popular figure in Japan where he spent a lot of time touring (FMW, WAR, New Japan) before breaking America. Neville also made a breakthrough out here working for Dragon Gate (which Cole even mentions). Good move putting these guys on first because not only are they great wrestlers but also guys with Japan experience. It helps massively with your crowd reactions in Japan if you’ve been there before. Although WWE shows are a bit different and we get duelling chants, which isn’t normal. The great thing about Jericho is that he doesn’t need to wrestle. He just does it because he loves it, to make some shows special for the fans. Jericho looks a little sluggish, which you could forgive based on his age, but he’s good enough that Neville can helpfully get into positions for the big spots and it all works. Credit to Jericho for even attempting to wrestle the way he did when he was a lot younger and, for the most part, pulling it off. It’s a perfect choice for the opening match and Neville seems to be enjoying himself throughout, looking to outshine a genuine Hall of Famer. It’s certainly a unique match. As it progresses they even slip into a little strongstyle, which the fans are completely into. Jericho absolutely nails a Lionsault, which gets a big nostalgia pop. It’s sending a message to Neville that he too can fly. Jericho pulls out all his tricks with the Walls of Jericho coming up short and the Codebreaker catching Neville in mid-air in a great spot. Not sure why Jericho feels the need to delay a cover as it telegraphs a kick-out. Throughout the match Neville goes looking for the Red Arrow. After two failures a third one gets knees and Jericho finishes with the LIONTAMER. Not the Walls of Jericho, the high-angle, kneeling Boston crab. Fantastic opening match with bags of effort from Neville and a retro performance from Jericho.
Final Rating: ****
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige vs. Tamina
Naomi was originally billed in this match but is replaced by Tamina due to a family bereavement. Tamina is not an improvement. Cole, in an attempt to get over Japanese stuff, references Bull Nakano and pronounces her name wrong. Nice try, Maggle. Incidentally Cole & Saxton is a far better pairing without the irritating JBL channelling the company line. Saxton genuinely seems to know his stuff. Tamina takes at least one badly botched bump, which is about average for her. She shouldn’t be taking bumps she’s not comfortable with and as a big lass should be more dominating. The crowd are quiet compared to the opener but enjoy Tamina executing a rugmunch bomb on Nikki, doing a superplex on Paige simultaneously. There’s certainly hard work from all the ladies and Nikki has shown some improvement recently but that’s only because she absolutely sucked before. Tamina gets some serious heat for breaking up the PTO. No matter the country the support is generally with Paige. At least until Sasha Banks gets called up. Nikki ends up flooring Tamina with an elbow combo to retain. Ok for a diva’s match.
Final Rating: *3/4
Kofi Kingston vs. Brock Lesnar
There’s a meme going around Twitter with this match announcement and an RIP Kofi tribute attached to it. He is going to die. Kofi tries to extend the match time by stalling. Just take your medicine, Kingston. Lesnar completely no sells everything Kofi does as the crowd “YAY” along with every Brock strike and throw. The suplexes are deadweight and it looks like Brock is filing paperwork. F5 finishes in a few minutes but it was never a contest. Kofi had himself an invitation to Suplex City. Brock throws Kingston around after the match just to emphasise his dominance. To my boundless joy the rest of New Day run in and get massacred too.
Final Rating: SQUASH!
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Finn Balor
They have the full big match atmosphere here with ladies presenting flowers to the participants. Owens throws his away in a tremendous show of disrespect. STREAMERS FOR BALOR!! Awesome. That’s so cool. Balor is on fire from the bell as the crowd launch into an “NXT” chant. This isn’t surreal though Michael, this is hard work that’s produced results. Triple H must be proud. Given both men’s combined skills it’s an excellent contest. Owens is the best natural heel in the world. Balor’s explosive offence fills in for the John Cena role and they just go ahead and have that match again (albeit minus the finisher theft and countering). Which is fine because that Owens-Cena match was brilliant. Incidentally, Michael Cole is actually quite good on commentary when he’s not got someone barking in his ear. He still has stupid ticks (“for the win”) but he’s much better and Saxton is too. Owens brings a standard grating offence, which on a less charismatic man would be quite dull but it’s HOW he does it. “You’re not impressed. I don’t care. I hate this stupid country and everyone in it” – Owens.
As the match continues they draw the crowd in and it starts to get noisy with the fans backing Balor. Slingblade gets a tasty pop as a tip of the hat to Tanahashi. Coup de Grace…gets 2. It didn’t feel like a finish because of the tame set up for it. The set up was a high kick. That was it. When Owens hits a Rolling Senton off the top, that feels like a finish but Balor kicks out, keeping the fairy tale alive. BLOODY SUNDAY from Balor! His New Japan finish and that gets a near fall. I was wondering if he’d use that, because we’re in Japan, and he did. It’s a nice tip of the hat to his previous life. The WWE fans wouldn’t get it but it wasn’t for them. Balor does a great flip over to escape the Pop Up Powerbomb. As if he’d done his home work and was ready for Owens’ best. This time a couple of low dropkicks set up the Coup de Grace and Balor takes the NXT title! The match had a tremendous slow burn build up and the right man won. This pretty much confirms Owens departure from NXT in record time. I’m sure everyone was happy with how this came off, apart from a slightly miserable looking Hideo Itami who knows it could have been him. Tatsumi Fujinami strolls out here to show Finn some legendary love. The match was good but the intangibles put it over the top into great territory; the streamers, the tradition, the crowd, even the commentary.
Final Rating: ****1/4
King Barrett & Kane vs. John Cena & Dolph Ziggler
Cole’s suggestion that they should “get rid of JBL” on Raw is a little close to the bone. Cole & Saxton have gotten better as the show has progressed. Wallowing in their creative freedom. If only they could keep Vince McMahon out of the announcers ears on a regular basis. Ziggler tries to take this opportunity to showcase that he’s capable of stealing shows with big matches on them. When he’s in there, it’s almost a worthwhile match. The rest of the time it’s just a plodding non-event. Cole gets so bored watching that he starts listing Japanese wrestlers who’ve wrestled in the WWE and Saxton bites by listing the WWE superstars who’ve wrestled in Japan. New Coach’s claim that Shawn Michaels worked there is a bit tenuous seeing as that was only in WWF co-promoted shows with SWS. Now they’ve got me doing it! Cena takes a lot of heat, which is less interesting than the big bumping Dolph taking heat. Mostly at Kane’s hands. I don’t get criticism of Kane deteriorating. He’s not deteriorated, he’s never been any good, now he’s just old. Plus as a heel he’s never been even remotely interesting since his first run in 1997. Hot tag to Ziggler, he gets in a couple of spots and they work heat on him too. I was right about Ziggler being more entertaining taking heat and in particular when he takes a massive powerbomb off Kane. The match is way too long though and feels like a bonus dark match that they stick on Raw and Smackdown tapings. It’s a house show main, on the B circuit. For anyone who’s seen these ponderous events this is nothing new and it’s a reminder of some of the worst half-assed attempts at wrestling in the history of the promotion. In that respect it is pretty Old School. At the end Ziggler hot tags Cena and the AA finishes. Thank God.
Final Rating: ½*
Summary: The show was all kinds of great until the main event rolled out and rolled on, and on, and on, and on, and on. If they had a lot of spare time could they not have showed one of the undercard matches somewhere? Obviously Balor-Owens will get all the plaudits and recognition for a well-executed, well-built title switch. The big surprise for me was how great Neville-Jericho was. Jericho turned back the clock in that match and made me wish the WWE had televised the Balor match too. Maybe as a bonus…instead of the main event? Anyway, main event aside, this show delivered on any promises the WWE made about Beast in the East. I’d love to see more house shows with odd match up’s thrown on TV. I know it was sold on the big NXT match but that’s why the IC title and US title should mean more. You could book events around big title defences, the same way NJPW does. Anyway, thumbs up. More two hour shows.