After a lengthy break, Highs & Lows returns with coverage of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s King of Pro-Wrestling 2015, which took place over the weekend at the prestigious Ryogoku Sumo Hall. What were some of the events highlights, and what can we do without going forward? Here’s a rundown below.
After a sizzling summer which included a stellar G1 Climax tournament and a few big events, NJPW resumed its mandatory event viewing with King of Pro-Wrestling 2015, which saw Kazuchika Okada retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship over AJ Styles. In the co-main event, Hiroshi Tanahashi had to fend off a returning Takaaki Watanabe in order to defeat Tetsuya Naito, booking his place in Wrestle Kingdom 10’s main event against the “Rainmaker.”
Here are some highs and lows from the event, starting off with some strong points:
Bye Bye Bullet Club?
Many pundits have been predicting the demise of NJPW’s Bullet Club, stemming from AJ Styles’ loss to Kazuchika Okada in the main event. It would certainly make for interesting television, but breaking up the band would be a rushed decision.
We all remember Kenny Omega’s behavior after helping Styles retain the Heavyweight title over Kota Ibushi back at Invasion Attack earlier this year, hinting at dissention in the ranks by showing the perils of embracing evil, even if it means costing your former bestie and putting over your leader when you think you’d be better off taking the reins.
The problem is Bullet Club has become a global phenomenon, and more importantly, an entity of NJPW for international fans. While Styles is a big draw in Japan and received more so as a face than a heel when his compatriots aren’t at ringside, his work alongside stablemates the Young Bucks in both CHIKARA and Ring of Honor proves the clique still has its reasons to continue.
Instead of having everyone go their separate ways, why not hint at an eventual breakup by screwing it up from the inside? Another way of looking at this is Instead of a full dissolution, Karl Anderson can lead a core group consisting of his partner Doc Gallows, alongside Biz Cliz OG’s Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale, with Takahashi in the fray when he isn’t searching for his next muse NJPW cameramen will objectify. That way, Styles and Omega can clash over supremacy, while Anderson proves his worth by acting like the natural-born leader of the group, and with these three stepping on each other’s toes, we’ve got a civil war to watch.
Tetsuya Naito & Calling it a Comeback
Talk about a resurgence.
In just under a year’s time, Tetsuya Naito went from being uninteresting and lost in the shuffle to one of the promotion’s most amusing bad guys.
While walking down the aisle like a hungover teen at church service on Sunday morning, the 2013 G1 Climax winner should anticipate embracing a role as faction boss, considering Watanabe has rejoined the promotion from excursion and some of his Los Ingobernables friends should appear in the company soon. With Meiyu Tag fending off both Naito and Watanabe in the co-main event, this sets up a nice little feud between teams, and maybe one that can continue throughout the upcoming World Tag League. It may be a little too soon to write Naito’s name next to the big guns in the title picture, but at least he’s made up for being lost in the shuffle in a big way.
Honma To NEVERland
The NEVER Openweight title tilt between Togi Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii wasn’t the worst, it just wasn’t necessary, yet the ending is what made the title picture a little brighter.
After defeating YOSHI-HASHI earlier in the evening, Tomoaki Honma stormed the ring to square off against newly-crowned champ Ishii, challenging him to a future contest. These two had an epic, five-star encounter earlier this year at New Beginning in Sendai which Honma lost, but he exacted revenge with a win over Ishii in the G1 this summer.
Maybe these two will duke it out at Power Struggle, but it makes sense to drag this feud out until the January 4 Tokyo Dome show, where Honma can earn arguably the biggest win of his career at Japan’s version of the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to reinstate NEVER’s original concept by introducing some younger and newer challengers outside the habitual three, perhaps by calling deserving guys like Tonga and even extending a hand to Michael Elgin.
Now, for some lowlights:
Chasing the Super Juniors
Lately, both the heavyweight and junior heavyweight tag team divisions haven’t been great, but some are giving the heavyweight division a little more flack for being a little boring as of late, seeing how Anderson & Gallows don’t have any upcoming challengers (especially with Killer Elite Squad in NOAH).
When it comes to the junior heavyweight tag team division, it’s on course for being as stale as the bigger dudes. Ring of Honor’s reDRagon, who hold an impressive 30-1 record in two-on-two competition, have done far more than impress in Japan, yet there’s a shortage of teams, which is starting to lead to a shortage of excitement.
If you take the Time Splitters into account, notable tag teams competing in the division are the Bucks, Roppongi Vice and the champions. Spotlight matches and title changes seem to revolve around these four teams, and if they aren’t competing in a four-way war, what’s there to do that we haven’t seen before? Maybe the upcoming Super Junior. Tag Tournament will breathe new life into the division, because stemming from the botched ending to reDRagon vs. Roppongi Vice this past weekend (which you can’t blame Tiger Hattori for), it’s going to take something other than the ROH boys’ excellent work rate to ignite a flame. It’s true that the audience is usually quiet for junior heavyweight contests (as they were during the excellent Omega vs. Matt Sydal showdown), but the Sumo Hall’s reaction when the bell rang really says it all, regardless of a mistake.
Can It Be All So Simple?
This event featured English commentary for the first time, along with a lot of buffering issues which caused the English stream to be less reliable than an issue of the National Enquirer.
While the best option would have been to enlist NJPW on AXS darlings Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett to call the action, it does nothing for the ROH/NJPW relationship (enter Kevin Kelly), and you’d be a little harsh to say Matt Striker didn’t deserve it after working Wrestle Kingdom with Jim Ross this past January.
Right off the bat, Striker couldn’t tell Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu apart, which sort of sealed the deal for this writer’s Japanese commentary preference, even though the Lucha Underground broadcaster should have been given a pass. This isn’t to take a hot crap on the promotion’s eagerness to appease to Western fans, but it seems forced and unnecessary for now, and it surely takes away from the experience. The wrestling fan is a savvy breed, and it doesn’t take two dudes explaining storylines in English for audiences to tune into one of NJPW’s major shows.
The Booking Fee
Complaining about booking is the new X-Pac heat.
Onlookers don’t even need to a reason to become nauseated, or dish out their two cents on what company officials (Gedo & Jado) should and shouldn’t do. They’ll hate the way the show is booked because Shibata still hasn’t won a major tournament, KUSHIDA is being overlooked as a singles competitor or they really don’t want to see Okada and Tanahashi for the eighth time, even though every single encounter has been breathtaking.
What we should do instead is look at pro-wrestling like a television series. Compelling and major series have seasons, including the season premieres and finales. Some seasons are great, while others drift off from main storylines, and sometimes, the season finale sucks so bad you can’t help but turn away and talk about it for the next three weeks.
It’s true that NJPW has seen some ups and downs this year, and that maybe KUSHIDA shouldn’t have lost to Omega, Goto shouldn’t have lost to Shinsuke Nakamura (or that him and Shibata shouldn’t have lost tag titles so early, too), and that another Makabe against Ishii match felt like eating leftovers of leftovers. But maybe it’s just been a slower season, or one that’s building for something greater at the start of next season. Maybe Wrestle Kingdom is the big season finale, or depending on how you look at it, the premier of a new season. It sounds redundant to say, but patience is a virtue, and don’t get so worked up on the booking, because in the end, it takes away from enjoying your favorite pastime, and sour grapes won’t do you any favors when tuning into the next big show. It may turn out that you simply didn’t like this past season and that’s okay.