No long introductions this time, let’s get right to the action from Wrestle Kingdom 8, the culmination of what may have been the greatest in ring year in New Japan history.
Early reports as of this writing are that the show drew 35,000 fans. If true, that is an enormous success. We will update on twitter as we learn more.
0. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tomoaki Honma, Captain New Japan & BUSHI vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Super Strong Machine, Jushin Thunder Liger & Yohei Komatsu – Komatsu won a decision match over Sho Tanaka on a three match warm up show from Differ Ariake on 1/3 to replace Tiger Mask, who was pulled from the show due to appendicitis. This likely ended up being better off with the change. Komatsu is a young lion with star potential written all over him, and he was heavily featured here. He showed his usual great fire, sold like a champ, and had the crowd behind him. The veterans for the most part just got their trademark stuff in, but this was a fun match. For the finish, CNJ held down Komatsu with a choke, and Honma dropped the headbutt. Then Tenzan finished him off with one of the deepest crab holds you’ll ever see. So Tenzan, relegated to the preshow, got the respect of scoring the fall. Sadly, Super Strong Machine, a cult favorite of mine, didn’t do much. Better than average preshow fare. **3/4
1. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title – 4WAY Match: Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson (c) vs. KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi vs. Rocky Romero & Alex Koslov - The Timesplitters made their entrance in a Delorean, Back to the Future style, with KUSHIDA decked out in the MARTY MCFLY VEST.
The Young Bucks won the Jr Tag League, and then knocked off TAKA & Taichi for the titles. This match featured the last four sets of champions, in what had become a very stale division until the Bucks, perhaps the best team in the world, arrived to spice things up. This match was exactly what you would want out of an opener. It was a fast-paced Dragon Gate style tornado match with hot moves and nonstop action. A bunch of cool spots, with everybody getting their trademark stuff in, and finishers being broken up all over the place. The big highspot was everybody doing dives, and Taichi going up top for what would have been a moonsault to the outside. The Bucks caught him and gave him a double superplex on to everybody instead. It looked great. The Bucks retained with More Bang for Your Buck on Taichi. Everybody shined, even Taichi. Fun opener. ***1/4
2. IWGP Tag Team Title: Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. (c) vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows - Anderson & Gallows earned a shot by winning the World Tag League in December. Guns & Gallows were in fatigues and were accompanied by Tama Tonga. KES came out on motorcycles like last year, with the riding challenged DBS riding a three-wheeler. This was worked snug as these guys were clobbering each other. The stuff with Archer & Gallows was real good and made me want to see a singles match. The finish was excellent. Archer caught Anderson on the top rope and hit a great looking Blackout. Tonga pulled out the ref at the two count.
KES grabbed Tonga and gave him a Killer Bomb. They went for another on Anderson, but Gallows broke it up. DBS & Gallows brawled to the outside, and Archer hit a big choke slam on Anderson for a 2.9. Gun Stun out of nowhere, DBS made the save. Gallows cleared DBS, and they hit the Magic Killer on Archer for the win. New champs. Very good match, Archer looked great here. ***1/4
3. NWA World Heavyweight Title: Rob Conway (c) vs. Satoshi Kojima - Bruce Tharpe was wearing an epic bow tie, and doing his usual fantastic shtick. Harley Race was here, and he isn’t moving well. He had a hard time getting in the ring with his cane. Tharpe got in his face, and Race decked him. Tharpe took an amazing bump and sold it better than most wrestlers would have. Tharpe is the best.
This was the usual Conway Japanese defense, with Jax Dane causing trouble on the outside. Conway mocked Tenzan (who was also at ringside) by doing the Mongolian chops. This got a ton of heat, and the crowd was really into seeing Kojima take the title. Tenzan took out Dane with Mongolian chops on the outside; Kojima escaped an Ego Trip attempt, and hit the big lariat to win the title. Big pop. Tharpe went absolutely apeshit doing the crybaby act with over the top theatrics on the outside. He’s really, really great in his role. Kojima posed with Race, and he looked genuinely honored. I hope this means we get a few U.S. based defenses from Kojima, who I would love the chance to see live. Good for what it was, the best Conway Japanese defense yet. ***
4. Special Tag Match: Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Daniel Gracie & Rolles Gracie - Not the trainwreck I was expecting, it was just boring. Lots of fake grappling, which was probably for the best as to not completely expose the Gracies (and Sak, to be honest, who stinks). People on twitter really, really hated this. It was a borefest but it wasn’t horrible. Daniel was DQ’d for choking out Nagata with the gi. He celebrated as if he won. Some awful mic work post match that didn’t get over, with the end result being some sort of rematch. Ugh. Look, this could have been much worse, but it did grind the show to a halt. Nobody on earth wants to see more of this. **
5. Special Tag Match: Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin vs. Great Muta & Toru Yano - Epic entrance for Yano & Muta, surrounded by dragons.
Odd psychology here, as I thought it would build to the Suzuki/Muta showdown, but they started off against each other. Suzuki quickly tagged out. The confrontation was flat. The usual Suzuki/Yano spots followed, with Shelton doing athletic things in between. Muta, who knows more shortcuts than a taxi driver, worked smart as usual. He broke up a Gotch piledriver attempt on Yano with a shining wizard, and then hit dragon screws on everybody. Shining wizard on Shelton, then Taichi hoped on the apron and caught the red mist. Suzuki snuck behind Muta for a choke. Yano came in with a chair to break it up, but Suzuki put him in a choke. Muta spit the green mist, Yano ducked, Suzuki sold it as he was burning to death, and Yano rolled him up for the win. It was ok. **1/2
Intermission. Big announcement was that they’re running Seibu Dome for G1 Finals in August. That’s ambitious.
6. King of Destroyer Match: Togi Makabe vs. King Fale - This went on forever. “King of Destroyer” meant you had to win by KO or submission. Fale choked Makabe out with a chain early, but Makabe survived the count. Then they did a lot of nothing for a long time. Just basic brawling, and it went on entirely too long. Fale used the Bad Luck Fall, which has KO’d everybody, but Makabe survived.
Fale missed a splash off the top. Makabe power bombed Fale through a table on the floor, but overshot and nearly killed him. Makabe finally put him away with a King Kong Knee Drop. This match did nothing for me. Fale doesn’t excite me as a single, he has a long way to go. **1/2
7. Special Singles Match – Hirooki Goto Return Match: Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata - I don’t even know what to say. If you’ve seen the previous matches between these two, you knew what you were getting into. And it delivered. Just sheer brutality, but not quite as nasty as some of the previous bouts (which isn’t a complaint, as it has gotten uncomfortable in the past with these guys). The story was Shibata going after the broken jaw of Goto, with brutal forearms, the big corner drop kick, and then a stiff kick to the face. Goto hit a big lariat that popped the crowd, and then they went into dual no sell mode. Some people will hate that, but for me it works in the context of the feud and the story being told. Plus, at the end of the exchanges, they both collapse like they’re dead, teasing the double KO gimmick from the previous matches. They did the dueling one counts. Goto hit various variations of the Ushi-goroshi, including a frontwards version where Shibata went face first into his knee. Ouch. Goto went for a Shouten but Shibata reversed into a Rock Bottom in a great spot. Shibata set up a Go 2 Sleep but Goto countered with a head butt. Shibata gave him one right back. Nasty, but not as bad as the head butts from their previous encounters. Neither man would die. Goto finally put him away with the Shouten Kai. This was a great match, but not everybody will feel that way. I loved it though and thought it was a great ending to the story. They helped each other to the back, so the feud appears to be over. ****1/2
8. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Prince Devitt (c) vs. Kota Ibushi - Devitt came out of a casket and was doing a zombie gimmick. I’ll tell you what, WrestleMania will be playing catch up to this show in the entrance department.
Lots of Bullet Club shenanigans early, which was upsetting a lot of people on Twitter who just wanted to see a great match. I like the gimmick just fine, but at the same time the junior title has essentially been dead as a result, and I guess I haven’t been the only one getting antsy about it. Too bad Ibushi’s DDT pals weren’t there, as he only had Michael Nakazawa with him (who the Bullet Club quickly ganged up on and beat up).
Anyway, a bunch of refs came down and ordered the Bullet Club to the back, WWE style. The match picked up from here, and it was typical Devitt vs. Ibushi. Devitt hit an inverted Bloody Sunday for two. At this point it was obvious Ibushi had to win, because the story was finally Devitt was no longer protected by his gang, and Ibushi would have looked real impotent had he lost. The closing stretch was pretty great and Ibushi hit the Phoenix Splash to win the title. The title is better off on Ibushi. Not sure where this leaves the potential Ibushi/Ishii match. The masked El Desperado debuted, and gave Ibushi black flowers from a guitar case. He makes his in ring debut 1/5 at Korakuen vs “X”. ****
9. Double Main Event I – IWGP Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito - Crowd was split, slightly in favor of Okada, but Naito got a good reaction. Okada took control early by faking his usual clean break spot by whipping Naito into the ropes. Nice touch. Later, Okada drop kicked Naito off the top rope to the outside, and followed up with a DDT off the apron. During the meat of the match, Naito tried two Pluma Blanca’s which got zero reaction. One, he tried them too soon. Two, the move is STILL not over. Not to be outdone, Okada used the Red Ink, which got a slightly better reaction, but nobody really buys that as a finish either. Naito showed real fire with some nasty head butts, hit a Dragon Suplex, but missed a Stardust Press. Okada kept going for the Rainmaker, but Naito was pulling counters out of every angle, including a cool roll up that got a 2.9. Naito countered another, but Okada slipped out and hit his high dropkick. He hit his tombstone, tried the Rainmaker again, it was ducked, but Okada countered with a drop kick to the back of the head this time. One more Rainmaker attempt, Naito tried the roll up counter, but Okada caught him mid move and delivered Tombstone #2. A Rainmaker finally landed, and Naito was dead. Amazing closing stretch that I’m badly not doing justice. Great match. ****1/2
10. Double Main Event II – IWGP Intercontinental Title: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - Stan Hansen was at ringside. Two more epic entrances. Tanahashi’s theme was played live by Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman as Tanahashi air guitar jammed with him down the ramp. Nakamura had a bevy of strippers doing pole dances. From start to finish, this show had some amazing entrances that really helped the show feel huge.
Nakamura had some vicious offense in this match. He was killing Tanahashi with hard knees to the head & body. Tanahashi hit a standing high fly flow from the top to the outside. Another cool sequence was Nak using a triangle choke (giving me flashbacks to the Gracie’s), which Tanahashi reversed into a Texas cloverleaf. Each man survived the others finish. After kicking out of a Boma Ye, Tanahashi reversed a second attempt into a dragon screw. He used another cloverleaf, which he maneuvered into a Styles Clash in a cool spot. Tanahashi hit a HFF on Nak who was sitting up, then hit a second when he was down for the finish. This was worked at a higher pace and was more intense than most Tanahashi matches. It was also very different from the previous Nak/Tana matches over the years. I enjoyed it. Hopefully it sets up Nakamura to be rebuilt for a IWGP Heavyweight Title shot against Okada. ****1/2
After three decent matches to open things up, followed by three sub par bouts, this show was up in the air going into the final four matches. The final four delivered big, and this ended up being a pretty great show. The main theme here, is this show was fun. Twitter was buzzing big time, and everybody had a great time. Throw in the fantastic entrances, and we are looking at what will surely be another show of the year contender for New Japan.
Still no word on 1/5 Korakuen for iPPV, but if it does end up being offered, we will cover it live and review it.
Special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for the fantastic gifs!