Wrestle Kingdom 7, the annual New Japan January 4th tradition from the Tokyo Dome and airing live on worldwide iPPV during the wee hours in North America, was easily one of the greatest top to bottom shows in wrestling history. Everything delivered. Most matches exceeded expectations. From the epic Tanahashi/Okada III, a sleeper match of the year (Nakamura/Sakuraba), a junior classic, legends delivering, and even Shelton Benjamin seemingly giving a shit and putting real effort, what more could you want?
The announced paid attendance was 29,000. With easily over 30,000 in the building, and a crowd of this size would normally lead to an announced attendance of well over 40 or 50k, but at the press conference, Bushido Road announced that moving forward only paid attendance figures would be released. That policy will likely last until the first bad house, but we’ll see.
Dark matches – I didn’t pay close enough attention to rate either match, as I was setting up my TV, ordering the show, preparing food, etc. Sorry. Neither looked like anything special.
Nakanishi, MVP, Strongman, & Akebono vs Takahashi, Yano, Iizuka, & Bob Sapp – Sapp got his own entrance and was wearing the Flair robe. Still has charisma most wrestlers would kill for. Iizuka went looking for the announcer who he beats up before every match, but the chair was empty. Turns out the announcer has had enough, and he was in the back with the babyface team. Iizuka was not pleased. The match was nothing special, but way better than it had any right to be. Wild brawl from the start, with Nakanishi using the torture rack backbreaker to finish Iizuka. The faces invited the announcer into the ring, where he delivered the world’s worst clothsline to Iizuka, who barely bothered selling it because it was wretched. Looks like the blow off to the oddest feud in wrestling. **3/4
Masato Tanaka (c) vs Shelton Benjamin – NEVER Openweight Championship – NEVER is like NXT, but with more veteran stars mixed in. Basically smaller spot shows where young guys get work, and a couple of months ago they did a tournament for a title which outsider Masato Tanaka won. This match was short, but good. Benjamin is hit or miss when it comes to effort, and with his rumored impending return to WWE, I feared Lazy Shelton. But he tried hard. Tanaka was his usual awesome self. At one point, Shelton did a real smooth evasive counter to the Sliding D. Takahashi kept trying to interfere. Towards the end of the match, he was on the top rope ready to break up a pin, but Shelton spotted him an surprised him with his corner leap belly to belly in what was the spot of the match. Unfortunately for Shelton, it was enough of a distraction for Tanaka, who hit the Sliding D for the pin to retain the title. ***
Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr (Killer Elite Squad) (c) vs Hirooki Goto & Karl Anderson – IWGP Tag Team Championship – Archer rode in on a motorcycle (literally, as this took forever, as he appeared to be coming from outside the venue), with a glittery skull mask. Archer & Smith were giving me Aces & 8’s flashbacks. TAKA led them to ringside. I expected a title switch here, but didn’t get it. Goto and Anderson both always seem to lose the big one lately, both as singles and now as a team (aside from the win over KES at the Tag League final that earned this title match). Slow build, but good action & drama at the end. Goto survived on Killer Bomb (double team power bomb), but after KES dispatched Anderson with one, they delivered a second to Goto for the pin. Good match. ***1/2
Yuji Nagata vs Minoru Suzuki – Suzuki’s awesome theme song “Kazi ne Nare” was sung live on the big stage by Ayumi Nakamura (yes, I looked that up, I have no idea what the title of the song is or the identity the recording artist), in what was a pretty amazing spectacle, because Suzuki has one of those very distinguishable entrance themes that the whole crowd sings along to. Suzuki, who is the ultimate heel, provided a pretty awesome moment as he acknowledged Nakamura on the stage. The match (the third between these two men in the Dome) was the hard hitting fight that people expected from these two. They got plenty of time for an undercard match, and with these two you knew whatever they were given would be utilized perfectly anyway. All of the key spots here, with Nagata doing the eyes rolling back into his head, and Suzuki doing plenty of his trademark no selling. Nagata won, a bit out of nowhere, with a backdrop driver. Nagata is now 2-1 over Suzuki at the Dome, and this felt like the feud wasn’t over, but we’ll see. ****
Prince Devitt (c) vs Low Ki vs Kota Ibushi – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – A rare New Japan three-way match, between the three men who have traded the junior title for the better part of a year. Low Ki wrestled the entire match in a suit. Let me repeat that. LOW KI WRESTLED THE ENTIRE MATCH IN A SUIT. He was dressed as the character from the video game/movie Hitman, complete with guns, for his entrance, which looked really cool. I expected him to remove the suit, but he never did, and worked this match Mr. Hughes style. Oddly, it worked, and for me at least it added to the flavor of the match. The match itself was outstanding. All three men delivered in a big way, in a fast paced sprint that felt a lot longer than the 13 or so minutes they were given. Too many great spots to mention, with Low Ki in particular on fire and shining in this one. The finish came with Low Ki’s top rope Ki Crusher attempt being broken up by an Ibushi pele kick, sending Ki to the floor. With Ki on the outside, Devitt hit a top rope Bloody Sunday for the pin. Outstanding match. ****1/4
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs Keiji Muto & Shinjiro Otani – Otani replaced fellow Zero-One star Daichi Hashimoto, the concensus 2011 pro wrestling rookie of the year, who broke his arm on Christmas Eve. This was meant for Hashimoto to symbolically take the place of his father, in the Dome with the three other veterans, but it wasn’t meant to be. Otani is from the same era and was a more than suitable replacement. Perhaps the surprise of the night. Muto was super over as expected, all four men delivered big time, and the crowd ate this up. Tenzan hit the moonsault on Otani for the win. Post match, Hashimoto, who was in the corner of Muto/Otani, got into it with Tenzan. ****
Togi Makabe vs Katsuyori Shibata – They have been setting up this singles match for months. They went at it right at the bell. This was an intense fight. Shibata took control early and dominated the meat of the match. Shibata, who teams with Sakuraba as Laughter 7, and quit New Japan on the verge of a big push years ago to embark in an MMA career, used MMA tactics here to beat down Makabe. A sleeper with the Hogan armdrop (he survives at two!), followed by a big knee to the head, were the big spots for Shibata and at that point Makabe looked dead. But he made the comeback and won with the king kong knee drop from the top rope in a bit of an upset. Way better than I expected it to be. A fun fight. ***1/2
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Kazushi Sakuraba – IWGP Intercontinental Championship – The Intercontinental title has been elevated to a true #2 title since Nakamura won it. I was worried about Sakuraba holding up his end of this, but boy was I wrong. This was a flat out fantastic hybrid style match, which will surely get Match of the Year votes. The big spot that everybody will be talking about is Saku nailing Nakamura flush on the jaw with a running knee, which at first appeared to be a KO finish. Either this was the best worked knee ever, or he legit killed him, because it looked beyond awesome. Tons of reversals and counters on top of the stiff work, with Saku working for armbreakers and Nakamura barely surviving. After missing a Boma Ye early, Nakamure landed two at the end to score the win. Nakamura cut a promo with slurred speech and a bloody mouth. It was pretty obvious from his body language that he knew this was a classic. Tons of drama, fantastic work, and an absolute must see match. ****1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Match #3 of the epic year long rivalry. They showed a pre match video package, which really highlighted how far Okada has come in a year. We’ve seen him grow from being very awkward in his role, and having Gedo cut all of his promos, to a guy who is super confident, carries himself like a superstar, and is one of the best workers on the planet. He even largely cuts his own promos now. Both men got extended entrances where they were lowered from the top of the stage. A real buzz in the the Dome for the staredown. Probably the weakest of the three matches between the two, but that’s hardly a knock. This was great, a true big show main event caliber world title showdown. Okada kicked out of the High Fly Flow, which got a nice pop. He missed at least two Rainmaker attempts. They didn’t tease a ton of near falls, as the story here was each man fighting to hit his finish, with Tanahashi doing whatever it took to stay out of the way of the Rainmaker. Okada nearly tapped to a texas cloverleaf, but fought it off while Gedo went nuts on the outside. The second High Fly Flow was too much, and Tanahashi retains. So no title changes on the entire show. Match sort of felt like a blow off, but hopefully the WWE rumors are false because Okada needs to stay here and continue his rise as the companies future top guy. Great match. ****1/2
That’s right, FIVE four-star plus matches on one show, and not a single bad match. This is without a doubt a must see show, and perhaps the greatest show in wrestling history. We are in the midst of seeing something truly special in New Japan. Like the Three Muskateers era almost two decades earlier, or early 90’s All Japan, or the Attitude Era/Monday Night Wars, there is no question we are witnessing a defining era in wrestling history right now. Enjoy it while it lasts.
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