New Japan Pro Wrestling
King of Pro-Wrestling 2015
October 12, 2015
Ryogoku Kokugikan
Tokyo, Japan

New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to Ryougoku Sumo Hall Monday morning for NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling 2015. The main event featured the fifth encounter between Bullet Club leader A.J. Styles and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the young ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling Kazuchika Okada. Hiroshi Tanahashi put his #1 contendership briefcase on the line in the semi-main event against Tetsuya Naito. One of the biggest stories outside of the card was the presentation of King of Pro-Wrestling, specifically the presentation to American fans. For the first time ever on NJPW World, we were given the option for live, English commentary (Kevin Kelly and Matt Striker). If the live English commentary shows profound success both in buys and view counts, look for this to be a regular occurrence.

David Finlay, Jay White, Juice Robinson, Sho Tanaka, Yohei Komatsu vs Jushin Thunder Liger, KUSHIDA, Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask

The lions attacked before the bell, and worked this as heels. This was action from start to finish, with the three big takeaways being Juice Robinson having his best NJPW performance to date (and looking far more comfortable than he did on the previous tour), Finlay & Dorada having a brief but awesome exchange, and Dorada scoring the pin, which could be significant moving forward in terms of setting him up as the next junior title challenger. This had enough time to deliver at the level most thought that it could. The entire young lions side in particular looked motivated. ***

Tomoaki Honma vs YOSHI-HASHI

According to the Japanese commentary, Honma wanted to win this to earn a NEVER title shot, while YOSHI-HASHI wanted to win to prove that he was the one who belonged in the G1 instead of Honma. This was a spirited sprint, with Honma missing the top rope kokeshi early, while later YOSHI-HASHI missed a Loose Explosion swanton. Honma used a flying kokeshi to the small of the back and then finally landed his top rope kokeshi to pick up the win. Honma was working this with his back taped up, but still worked hard. Both the Japanese & English commentary were pushing the idea that Honma was now in line for a NEVER title shot. ***

Captain New Japan, Hirooki Goto, Katsuyori Shibata, Kota Ibushi vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata

New Japan Army explodes. This was the unofficial Gedo troll match, as the “unpushed three” were teamed up with Captain New Japan, guaranteeing them another loss. This started off with an exchange between Ibushi & Nakanishi that has to be seen to be believed. Once or twice per year, the nearly immobile Nakanishi finds the fountain of youth and does something cool, and this was one of those times, as he gave a serious dad beat down to Ibushi, like a grumpy middle-aged father coming home from a long day at work to find out that his deadbeat 30-year old live-in son drank his last beer. The finish was CNJ suffering death by murder, as he took nearly every finisher from the opposing team, including Nakanishi’s top rope chop, the TenKoji Cutter, and finally a Cozy Lariat that killed him dead. Good action, and much better and more inspired than I expected it to be for a mid card match with absolutely no long or short-term purpose. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title – reDRagon (c) vs Roppongi Vice

Just as they were heading towards the closing stretch, there was a botched finish, as Trent kicked out (or did he?) late after reDRagon hit their wheelbarrow/double underhook DDT combo (a move that NEVER scores a pin), and Tiger Hattori called it like a shoot and counted three. I’m not sure if Trent failed to get his shoulder up, Rocky Romero was late to break up the pin, or if Tiger botched his count, but after watching the sequence a dozen times I blame Tiger the least. Bobby Fish immediately celebrated in exaggerated fashion in an attempt to cover for whoever screwed up, but RPG Vice looked very annoyed that Tiger called for the bell (particularly Romero, who was visibly incensed). This was on its way to being your typical excellent reDRagon match before the mess occurred. At any rate, reDRagon moves to 30-1 in straight 2 vs 2 tag team matches in New Japan with 30 consecutive wins. **1/2

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title – Kenny Omega (c) vs Matt Sydal

Great match. Both guys were out of this world, with Sydal continuing his red-hot 2015, and Omega once again making me wish he was free of the Bullet Club gimmick so he could work more straight matches like this one. The crowd was comatose until Sydal did an incredible Fosbury flop dive, and they teased an Omega count out. Sydal went for the Meteora, but Omega caught him in mid-air (!), buckle bombed him, and then did deadlift powerbomb. Just an amazing sequence. Sydal reversed a delayed suplex into a hurricanrana and went for the shooting star press but Omega got the knees up. Omega hit brutal looking running knee to the face, his gorgeous quick snap dragon suplex and set up the One Winged Angel. Sydal fought it off, but Omega switched legs and hit it from the opposite angle to win clean as a sheet. Brilliant performances from both guys. Sydal was crisp as could be, and Omega showed again why he’s got one of the best and most crisp offensive arsenals in the business. Dead crowd early brought it down a bit early, but by the end the great work won them over.  ****

Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson vs Kazushi Sakuraba, Shinsuke Nakamura, Toru Yano

Anderson didn’t score the pin on Nakamura (Yano used a low blow Fale followed by a school boy for the win), but Guns & Gallows put a good beating on Nak for the majority of the match to set the scene for Power Struggle. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see here. They got in and got out in a hurry. Totally skippable. **3/4

NEVER Openweight Title – Togi Makabe (c) vs Tomohiro Ishii

This was the best match ever that nobody wanted to see. About half way through this I forgot that I was annoyed about the constant (and unwarranted, since Ishii always loses) rematches and happily watched these two chop each other in the throat, hit big lariats, throw headbutts, and basically maul each other like giant rabid bulls (can a bull even contract rabies?). They even managed to add a few new wrinkles (like Ishii using Makabe’s own King Kong Knee Drop against him), which isn’t easy to do when everybody has seen you empty the tank three other times against each other over the course of eight months. For the finish, Makabe missed a King Kong Knee Drop, and Ishii delivered a sick flying headbutt by throwing himself like a dart at Makabe’s head. Moments later, he hit the brainbuster for the win. This was probably the second best of the four bouts they’ve had this year. ****1/4

IWGP Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito

As promised at the press conference, Naito brought a masked pal with him, immediately identified by savvy fans as Takaaki Watanabe thanks to the long blonde hair peeking out from the bottom of his mask. Both sets of commentators commented on how Tanahashi has stated that he did not like the slow pacing dictated by Naito in the G1 match between the two, and that it threw him off and led to the loss. So right on cue, Naito slowed this match down to a crawl too, completely dominating in the process, and just as Tanahashi was starting to make his comeback we got the ref bump and Watanabe run in. Watanabe took out the useless Captain New Japan (who Tanahashi had stated was specifically there to watch his back, making Tanahashi the dumbest man on Earth), and after putting the boots to Tanahashi, he unmasked to crickets. We had one person who was at the show live tell us that nobody recognized him, which makes sense, since he completely changed his look from the last time he was here roughly two years ago.

Both sets of announcers did put Watanabe over strong, particularly the English crew, who acted stunned that the humble young boy they worked with in the States was taking to this new direction. Goto & Shibata ran in and cleaned house, running off Watanabe and reviving the ref. From there, Tanahashi quickly won with the High Fly Flow. Watanabe recovered and destroyed Goto with a gorgeous STO, leaving him laying. I’m probably not doing any of this madness justice. This was more of an angle than a match, and a red-hot scene despite the live fans not recognizing Watanabe, and it all got over big time. Hard to rate as a match, which was a backdrop for the angle, which adds a quarter star. ***1/4


IWGP Heavyweight Title – Kazuchika Okada (c) vs AJ Styles

A completely different match than these two have ever had before, with more deliberate pacing, and the story of Okada being far more prepared for the Styles Clash than Styles was for the Rainmaker. Okada was one step ahead of every Styles Clash attempt, with several creative counters, forcing Styles to switch gears and work for the calf cutter instead. Okada worked to the ropes on two calf cutter attempts, and rolled out of a third, transitioning it beautifully into a tombstone. Styles survived an early Rainmaker that followed an awesome sequence where each guy took turns decking the other with forearms, culminating with dueling dropkicks and the Rainmaker, with Anderson yanking Okada out of the ring at the two count. Okada fought off a top rope Styles Clash attempt late, and moments later hit the Rainmaker for the win. Okada came out of this looking like the smarter wrestler, confident at all times and never in serious danger losing. This felt like he was putting AJ in the rear view (especially after a symbolic sequence down the stretch where he hit multiple short clotheslines on a lifeless AJ when he could have used the Rainmaker to finish things at any time), which by design or not, was the right vibe to nail heading into the big showdown with Tanahashi. Very good match with great work from both guys. A notch below MOTY level, lacking the insane closing stretch you normally get from a big NJPW main event, but instead telling a story that makes Okada ultimately look stronger heading into the biggest match of his life. ****1/4

I watched the English language feed, and while they weren’t great, and I’m sure they’ll be taking a beating in some quarters, the reality is that Kevin Kelly & Matt Striker were totally inoffensive. Aside from some sprinkling in some ROH details concerning a few guys, Kelly didn’t add much, but he was hardly a distraction and didn’t hurt things or get in the way at all. Striker stayed away from his cringier habits almost completely (he didn’t make anything up out of thin air, or bust out any forehead slapping, blatant kayfabe breaking things like “slap the leg!”), and I thought he did a great job working in plenty of history and backstory. They both did a good job getting across the larger themes in most of the matches and detailing where things were going moving forward, so they were well prepared and understood the stories for the most part. This was an improvement over Jim Ross & Matt Striker at Wrestle Kingdom, who at times sounded like they were flying by the seats of their pants, even if Ross was more dynamic & dramatic in putting over his main events than Kelly was here. Kelly & Striker sounded far more confident in what they were calling, perhaps because they were better produced, as opposed to the GFW production, where it felt like NJPW stuck them at the kids table and left them to their own devices. A first time viewer very likely came out of this understanding the key stories as we move forward towards Wrestle Kingdom.

Final Thoughts: The show itself was good, not great. No Match of the Year contender, but several strong Match of the Month caliber bouts with Okada/AJ, Ishii/Makabe, and Omega/Sydal. The botched finish in the junior tag hurts, as that surely would have been another very good match. The Watanabe angle got over strong, and they set up a potential huge Wrestle Kingdom moment if they hold off on the Honma/Ishii NEVER match until January. Perhaps most importantly, Okada comes out of this show looking as strong as ever heading into what may wind up being his career defining match two and a half months from now.