Welcome to the 2015 Voices of Wrestling NJPW Yearbook!
Not really, but obviously this will be the first review you see in the eventual 2015 Yearbook, so why not get the obligatory greeting out of the way?
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, we wrote a book. No, seriously. We really wrote a book. If you want to check out our 2014 New Japan Yearbook, click the link, name your own price (including the unbeatable price of $0), and catch up on every moment of the year that was in New Japan.
But enough with the plugs. Let’s get to the first major show of 2015.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has arguably been the best in ring promotion in the world for the last three years, if not longer. If you are a hardcore fan who has been along for the ride for that entire time, stop and think about which show you would choose if you had the power to expose the company to thousands of fresh eyeballs, and potentially the largest number of total viewers to ever watch a New Japan show. Think about all of the amazing G1 shows over the last couple of years, the King of Pro Wrestling show from 2012, 2013 Invasion Attack, and the last few Wrestle Kingdom events, including the 2012 show with the near universal five star Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Minoru Suzuki match. Think about the best of the best from this promotion which has produced literally dozens of show of the year contenders during this current hot run.
Is there any doubt whatsoever that the show you would choose would be Wrestle Kingdom 9?
The bar for the 2015 Match of the Year has been already been set, by the two spectacular show capping matches that somehow managed to out do the spectacular encounters that each of those pairings had previously produced. The show could not have ended leaving a better impression on a first time viewer than it did.
This was not a two match show. Following a fun four way junior tag opener that delivered exactly to the level it was expected to deliver, the show built slowly from a couple of perfectly acceptable yet unspectacular tag bouts, all the way up to a very good IWGP tag team title match and an excellent AJ Styles vs Tetsuya Naito match that preceded the billed double main event. Nothing under delivered.
Jim Ross & Matt Striker received mixed but generally positive reviews from our Twitter followers, with the general consensus being that they improved as the show moved along, with Ross in particular shining during the last two matches.
I watched on New Japan World. My feed was flawless, set on the highest resolution. There were some complaints of the feed dropping after the opener. This happened to me, too. It turns out I was never logged in at the start of the show. I was not aware of this, but just like the USTREAM days, New Japan World airs the opening match for free. The paywall came back down as soon as I logged in to my account. We did receive a few reports of people being automatically logged off after the opener, and some people missed the second match before they realized they needed to log back in. Aside from that, the New Japan World stream seemed to work great for just about everybody. The replay was posted within minutes of the original airing ending.
The Flipps app was another story. News broke before the show that the app was not compatible with XBOX, Chromecast, or LG TV’s for the live showing of the card. It is interesting to note that this information was not made public until hours before the show. Then, due to server traffic, the app crashed anyway causing everybody else to miss a large chunk of the show, too. Flipps was forced to offer refunds, and GFW would probably be best served to find a new over-the-top distributor for any future PPV endeavors. I can’t imagine there will be any consumer confidence in Flipps moving forward, especially from wrestling fans who have been burned over and over again for many years when it comes to OTT viewing, whether by Go Fight Live, wwnlive’s various issues, two different attempts by AAA to stream TripleMania (one of which failed completely), the running joke that is ROH’s attempts at iPPV, or a number of other failed services.
Immediate buzz from fans was that this was a great show. Scanning various message boards, the overwhelming consensus from first time viewers was that it was an all time show. Unscientific, but on the F4W & Wreddit boards, the matches with the most buzz were Tanahashi/Okada, Nakamura/Ibushi, and surprisingly, Omega/Taguchi. I would have expected the four way junior tag match, the first exposure of most to Tomohiro Ishii, or maybe the Styles/Naito match to have been more impressionable than the Omega/Taguchi bout, but it seems Omega in particular has gotten over strong with new fans.
There were no bad matches anywhere on the show. With two sure fire match of the year contenders, and arguably up to eight matches in the four star range, this is a must watch show that is sure to pop up in show of the year polls, and will likely serve as a hook to keep some casual New Japan World buyers on board for at least another month.
Wrestle Kingdom 9 knocked it clean out of the park.
15-Man New Japan Rumble: Hiro Saito, The Great Kabuki, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara were the surprises. Yuji Nagata, YOSHI-HASHI, Tama Tonga, Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka, TAKA Michinoku, Jushin Liger, El Desperado, Taichi, Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask, and Captain New Japan filled out the field. Highlights were the young lions pinning Taichi, Fujiwara tapping out TAKA after TAKA took the Kabuki mist to the face (thus eliminating Kabuki via DQ, and that’s a good thing, because he could barely move), and Saito being extremely blown up before he even got into the ring. It came down to Nagata and YOSHI-HASHI, with Nagata winning via the backdrop driver hold. A fun trainwreck, with the crowd happy to see the legends and popping for the young lions scoring a pin. *
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – reDRagon (c) vs. Forever Hooligans vs. Time Splitters vs. The Young Bucks: The Dome crowd, as they usually are when it comes to juniors, was dead for this. That’s too bad, because everybody here worked hard and they got far more time than anyone had predicted. Fish & KUSHIDA started things off with some nifty mat work. What a journey for Fish, an long time under appreciated NOAH veteran who came in during the back end of their hot run, now getting a chance at age 38 to work New Japan near the start of theirs. Alex Kozlov has put on weight, probably due to not being able to lift while his shoulder was injured. He was moving around just fine to be fair. The first hot sequence of the match was the Bucks getting hit with a double Doomsday Device by Romero, but back flipping out of it and landing on their feet. They superkicked everybody in sight and hit the Meltzer Driver on Kozlov, but reDRagon broke up the pin. Poor Kozlov, who had already eaten a Meltzer Driver, ended up isolated with redDRagon and was saved from an initial Chasing the Dragon attempt when somebody pulled Fish to the outside before he could deliver the kick. reDRagon cleared the ring and hit the move on Kozlov on their second attempt, and that was the finish. The heat didn’t match the effort, but this was a hot opener. ***3/4
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Jeff Jarrett and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Tomoaki Honma: Karen Jarrett accompanied the Bullet Club to the ring, and got right into Honma’s face. This seemed to wake the crowd up. Basic match here, until Jarrett missed a guitar shot intended for Honma and nailed Yujiro. TenKoji cleaned house, Honma hit the Kokeshi (yes, HONMA HIT THE KOKESHI) on Yujiro, and the Dome exploded for the Honma win. Awesome feel good moment. Really just a two star match at best, but this gets an extra bump for the Honma pop, because why the hell not? ***
Mikey Nicholls, Naomichi Marufuji, Shane Haste and Toru Yano vs. Suzukigun (Davey Boy Smith, Jr., Lance Archer, Shelton X Benjamin and Takashi Iizuka): By the end of this match it became obvious that the timing of the show (which was a huge concern because New Japan had never operated under strict time constraints) was not going to be an issue. This match and the previous match were kept very short, which was the right call, because both matches had one simple point to get across and they both accomplished their goal in the limited time given. The previous match was all about the Honma moment, and this match was all about establishing the NOAH crew. I knew this match was going to fly by when Yano immediately untied the turnbuckle pad seconds into the bout. Iizuka didn’t enter through the crowd, and he also didn’t attack Nogami. Or Jim Ross, for that matter. A big spot in the match was Lance Archer murdering Shane Haste with a huge chokeslam. That popped the crowd. Haste, if you do not follow NOAH, has star potential written all over him and is a name to keep an eye on. This came down to Marufuji and Iizuka, with Iizuka attempting to use the iron glove to knock Maru out, and then a wire to choke him out. TMDK made the save, hit a huge double press slam/chokeslam combo, and Marufuji finished off Iizuka with a shining wizard to pick up the win. You had to figure the GHC champion would be protected, and TMDK was given a chance to shine to set up their feud with KES. It was fine, but too short to be anything but a showcase for the NOAH guys. **1/2
Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba: This was going to be hit or miss, and ended up being very much a hit. The crowd exploded when the match popped up on the big screens, and they were red hot throughout. Suzuki wore his old white gear and dyed his hair white for a fresh look. The match spilled to the outside early, and Saku locked on a Kimura out on the ramp. The ref forced a break to get things back in the ring, but Suzuki’s arm was destroyed. Saku worked over the arm with vicious kicks, and nearly won with a cross arm breaker before Suzuki made the ropes. About all Suzuki could do was slap with his right hand. Suzuki baited Saku with some taunts, sacrificing his arm by allowing Saku to get close with kicks, before knocking him down with hard slaps. With Saku down Suzuki went for the kill with a front kick to the face, then locked on a choke, and used the Saka Otoshi to finish off Saku from there. This was just about as good as it possibly could have been with the time they had. They told a tremendous story and the work was stiff and convincing with just enough pro wrestling style drama to balance things out. They hugged it out in the post match as the old UWFI music played. ***3/4
NEVER Openweight Championship – Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makabe: You ether love this style of match or you hate it. I love it. This was two wild bulls mauling each other to death. First big sequence was Ishii hitting a superplex brainbuster, followed up with a powerbomb. A few minutes later Ishii blocked the spider suplex and hit a Samoan drop from the top rope. That kind of foreshadowed the finish, because Ishii was thwarting all of Makabe’s key moves early. This had all of the hard lariats, one count kickouts, headbutts, chops to the neck (!) and fighting spirit no sell spots that you would expect from these two. Makabe hit a headbutt during a forearm exchange, which is usually Ishii’s weapon, and followed up with a big lariat and the King Kong Knee Drop to win the title. This delivered exactly what was expected, which was fun brutality. ****
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. Kenny Omega: Omega sprayed deodorant into Taguchi’s eyes, and then worked over the eyes for the meat of the match. Yes, they did focused work on a body part, and that body part was the EYES. Taguchi was pretty great here selling his lack of vision and working “blind”. One of the best spots was Taguchi reversing a running Omega bucklebomb attempt with a hurricanrana and whipping Omega hard and head first into the turnbuckle. That looked amazing. The Young Bucks interfered every time Taguchi was starting to mount a comeback. The Bucks grabbed Taguchi’s legs coming off the ropes, but he managed to back body drop Omega over the top into them. Taguchi followed that up with Prince Devitt’s (his former partner) flip dive over the ropes into all three. That tribute spot went over Ross & Striker’s heads, who never mentioned the signifigance. Taguchi used a Dodon and rolled it into an anklelock, but the Bucks hopped on the apron for the distraction to break it up. For the finish, Taguchi tried to use a running butt smash (that’s what i’m going with here), but Omega caught him in mid air and delivered the sickest snap German you’ll ever see. Omega has some of the most wicked and creative looking offense in all of wrestling. He’s a force of nature when he’s on, hitting high impact offense and bumping like a maniac, and in this match, he was on. Omega used the One Winged Angel, one of his half dozen or so awesome looking finishers, to win the match and the title. His character work as “The Cleaner” needs some refinement, but bell to bell Omega is fantastic. This was also the best overall Taguchi performance in a long time. ***1/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship – Bullet Club (Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson) (c) vs. Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata): Amber O’Neal debuted in the corner of the Bullet Club. She’s married to Doc Gallows. She did an interference spot early but overall didn’t add much, partly because this match wasn’t about BC shenanigans. Goto was the face in peril, which made it feel like they were setting up a fiery Shibata hot tag. Shibata took the tag, and started to clean house, but Gallows came out of the corner before Shibata could deliver the corner dropkick to cut him off. That was essentially the story of the match, Meiyu Tag getting cut off at every turn. Goto saved Shibata from a Magic Killer and hit a Ushikoroshi on Anderson, to which Shibata followed up with a PK. Gallows saved Anderson with a double clothlesline, and hit the Gallows Pole on Shibata for two. With Anderson taken out, Goto hit a lariat on Gallows, who ended up in a choke from Shibata. Shibata passed him back to Goto, who lifted him up and tossed him in the air for a double team Go 2 Sleep. One more PK and Shibata finally won his first New Japan title. Huge pop for this. This couldn’t have been any better for the time it was given. Maybe the best Gallows performance of his entire New Japan run. This was also Shibata working in a completely different way than ever before, doing traditional babyface style tag work until doing his high impact strikes close to the finish. ***1/4
A.J. Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito: The previous match was the babyface team constantly getting cut off until the big comeback, and this match was the babyface getting constantly cut off and ultimately never making the comeback at all. I loved the structure here. Every time Naito was on the verge of getting back into the match, Styles was one step ahead of him and nipped it in the bud. This was just fantastic work by both men, with Styles’ usual wide variety of great looking offense, Naito doing a good job selling the leg, and both men building nicely to a great sequence that led to a Calf Killer spot that ended up being a very convincing before Naito lunged for the ropes. In what was perhaps the best sequence of the match, Styles used the Bloody Sunday and went for the Styles Clash, but Naito blocked it and flipped him clean over the ropes in what was a phenomenal (get it? get it?) looking spot. Styles won it with a great looking top rope Styles Clash. This was basically a long, extended squash. Naito never got going with any extended period of offense. This sets up Styles nicely as an IWGP Heavyweight title challenger. Great booking. ****
IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi: The long awaited rematch of their 2013 G1 classic somehow ended up over delivering on already massive expectations.
Things got going when Ibushi hit his corner post moonsault to the outside, and rolled Nak back in for a Phoenix Splash. Ibushi missed, and Nak hit a Boma Ye to the back of the head. This is where the match took off to an entirely absurd level of great. Nak worked over Ibushi’s head, playing off of his concussion issues, with some of the nastiest looking worked stomps & kicks you’ll ever see. Ibushi was amazing here, getting “knocked out”, but then “waking up” as Nak kept killing him relentlessly with head shots. Ibushi rose up like a fucking zombie and fought back with hard slaps & kicks. Nakamura, reminding everybody with a shit eating grin that despite being perhaps the most popular wrestler in the company that he’s still technically a heel, pulled the ref between himself and Ibushi to curtail the attack. Ibushi went for a lariat and Nakamura reversed into a cross arm breaker, reminiscent of the amazing Rainmaker reversal from the G1 Finals. Ibushi made the ropes. Ibushi ended up back in control after jumping over Nakamura’s sliding escape attempt by landing a double foot stomp, which was utterly insane. Ibushi then went after Nakamura’s head with stomps, copied Nakamura’s mannerisms & Boma Ye set up, and nailed Nak with his own move. Nak kicked out at one, and at this point I was going mental watching this unfold. More strike exchanges and head attacks, and Nak finally hit a sick looking final Boma Ye for the win.
This was incredible. A superstar making performance by Ibushi, who showed a vicious streak he’s never shown before, and another off the charts performance by Nakamura. Ibushi’s insane, maniacal looking facials due to being punch drunk from being “knocked out” helped take the match to another level. The right guy won, because this sets up the long climb for Ibushi, who is clearly going to be a top star, and the first step will be the build towards the big win over Nakamura, who now holds a 2-0 edge in the series. It would have been too soon for Ibushi to score such a big win, and he isn’t hurt at all by the loss. Go out of your way to watch this, but watch the G1 match first for some context if you’ve never seen it. Great story, flawless execution, incredible match. *****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada: Okada, who promised a six star match, had a look on his face that indicated that he knew he needed to do just that in order to top what we just saw. I don’t know if this was the mythical six stars, but it was easily the best match these two have ever had together (and keep in mind I’ve rated two of their matches five stars), and it was very likely one of the greatest matches of all time. There are no more superlatives for these two men for when they get together in a wrestling ring. If they ever meet again, and they surely will, I can not fathom how they can possibly top what they put together here. This was flat out spectacular.
Okada carried over his ruthless pursuit of the title that began with destroying Nakamura at the end of the G1 Final by bluffing a clean break and stiffing Tanahashi in the face. From right then it was on, and the pace these guys worked was truly remarkable. Okada followed up with a DDT over the rail on the floor, and in a call back spot to the great angle at the World Tag League Finals, attempted to tombstone Tanahashi on the ramp. Tanahashi blocked, but Okada ended up hitting an ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT instead. Okada has apparently been watching those Cena tapes. A few minutes later, Tanahashi went for the High Fly Flow way too early and missed. Okada tried a Rainmaker, but Tanahashi ducked and reversed into a dragon screw. That would prove to be key later. Tanahashi whipped Okada over the railing like a rocket, and climbed the ropes. I’m not great at judging distance, but i’ll just say that Okada was so far from the corner post that nobody believed Tanahashi was going to jump. Well, he did, and hit a flying cross body HFF. This led to one of the greatest sequences you’ll ever see. Tanahashi rolled Okada back into the ring, missed a HFF but rolled through and hit a sling blade, went back up for ANOTHER HFF, Okada caught him, reversed into a tombstone, and Tanahashi reversed that into a tombstone of his own. Tanahashi hit a HFF to Okada’s back, rolled Okada over, hit another traditional HFF, but Okada kicked out at 2.9. I have no idea how this reads, but watching it unfold in real time was unreal. Tanahashi leaned over the ropes, utterly confused, wondering what on Earth what he had to do to put this guy away. Tanahashi tried a Rainmaker, but Okada reversed and hit one of his own. Tanahashi kicked out (the first true & proper kick out of the Rainmaker). They exchanged German & dragon suplexes for super close near falls. Okada hit the most perfectly timed dropkick possible for an enormous pop. Tanahashi ducked a Rainmaker and used another dragon screw. With Okada now tangled in the ropes, Tanahashi used a HFF to the LEG. This was too much leg damage to overcome. Tanahashi set Okada up for another HFF, hit it, and then went up & hit a another one. Okada couldn’t escape or kick out because of the damaged leg. It took 31 minutes and nine High Fly Flows from every conceivable angle for Tanahashi to finally put Okada away.
Okada was nearly as brilliant in the post match as he was in he match itself, being carried away by Gedo while sobbing into a towel. Talk about putting over the importance of the title and the meaning of the struggle…wow. Tanahashi, who wrestled with an edge in order to match Okada’s aggressiveness, grabbed the house mic and rubbed it in with this: “Okada! Okada! How do you feel now? I’ll tell you one thing. Ace is still very far away from you.” The two now stand at 3-3-1 since 2012. Tremendous psychology, worked at an insane pace, with incredible drama. This was the art of pro wrestling at the highest possible level, as Tanahashi solidifies his position as possibly the greatest big match performer ever, and this rivalry leaves everything else in the dust with the possible exception of Misawa/Kobashi. *****