New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 10
January 4, 2015
Tokyo Dome – Tokyo, Japan

Pre-show Rumble Match

Order of entry: Jushin Thunder Liger, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Tiger Mask, Cheeseburger, Hiro Saito, YOSHI-HASHI, Mascara Dorada, Captain New Japan, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Ryusuke Taguchi, Shiro Koshinaka, King Tonga, Great Kabuki, Kazushi Sakuraba, Jado

Order of elimination: CNJ, Fujiwara, Tiger Mask, Saito, Liger, Nakanishi, Nagata, Kojima, Tonga, Tenzan, Kabuki, Sakuraba, Cheeseburger, YOSHI-HASHI, Koshinaka, Taguchi

Winner, Jado.

Highlights included nobody selling a thing Cheeseburger did, Cheeseburger terrified of Kabuki, Kabuki getting DQ for blowing mist for the second year in a row (you’d think he’d learn), TenKoji doing 25 year old “tag team that can’t coexist in an every man for himself environment but then they make up” Royal Rumble spots, Koshinaka doing ass spots with Taguchi, and KING TONGA (Haku) as the latest member of Bullet Club.

Taguchi, who was working with Koshinaka the entire match, broke up a pin of Jado late for no apparent reason other than he pulled a Malenko. Jado dispatched both men and picked up the win. Harmless fun. *

Then this happened:

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title
reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) vs. Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)

The best of the multi-team junior tags in a long time and a legitimate 4-star spotfest. I hate even calling this a spotfest, because while their was plenty of wild, creative spots and great flying, this was paced very well and the work was super crisp. Compared to the similar opener last year, the work was far cleaner, the match felt less rushed, and the crowd was way more into the participants. The Bucks were the least dynamic team in the match, but is many ways held the bout together, slowing the pace early and then bumping like madmen all over the building during the final wild five minutes.

Cody Hall delivered what I believe was his first successful Razor’s Edge attempt in New Japan when he tossed Ricochet over the top rope and into the other seven men. This was the turning point of the match, and from here is was organized madness, with the offense of Ricochet & Sydal and the bumping and selling of the Bucks really shining.

Ricochet & Sydal hit the dueling 450s on RPG Vice, but the Bucks stole the pin attempt. RPG kicked out, but moments later the Bucks hit More Bang For Your Buck on Romero to win the titles. Notable: reDRagon once again avoided taking a fall, and Romero took the pin. The latter is rumored to potentially be on his way to NXT. ****

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Title
The Briscoe Brothers (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe) & Toru Yano vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi)

This was brave. You had two unfamiliar guys working in a deep prelim against the Bullet Club B-team, and this was paced very deliberately in a huge building with thousands of casuals who come to see stars who are sometimes very quick to give up on a match when they’re bored. The Briscoes charisma kept people engaged for most of this, and when they started to lose the crowd towards the finish, they wrapped things up before it got real quiet and real awkward. Yano didn’t do much aside from a long face in peril spot, so this was the Briscoes show. Mark worked especially hard (he always does), and Jay looked very motivated. Briscoes hit the Doomsday Device on Tama Tonga to win the titles. This was well worked and clearly designed to get the Briscoes over, either for a long New Japan run, the upcoming ROH Japan tour, or both. ***

ROH World Title
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Michael Elgin

Here’s the thing about the finish (Lethal knocked out Elgin with the Book of Truth to avoid a powerbomb). I didn’t dislike it for being a garbage finish, I disliked it for ruining an otherwise good match that I was really starting to dig until Lethal used the book. Lethal worked the exact kind of Lethal title match that Rich warned would lose the Dome crowd (long control spots), but the crowd stayed engaged and was way into Elgin’s hope spots, so it worked. It was laid out perfectly for Elgin to finally break through with a big comeback, and had that occurred it wouldn’t have mattered who won, but Elgin’s big rally never came. The abrupt finish they ended up doing would have worked better with Elgin dominating the match instead of Lethal. The work here was better than the rating, but the finish and the weird layout for what the finish ended up being knocks off at least a half star. **1/2

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA

This was very similar to a match these two had a few months back, worked around Omega’s left arm damage from repeated Hoverboard Lock attempts. I can not stress enough that underneath the sometimes over the top gimmick, Kenny Omega has one of the best offensive arsenals in all of wrestling, with creative throws and underrated, crisp looking strikes (his knee attacks here were great). Like the previous match between these two worked around the arm, Omega did a great job adjusting his offense to the injury, struggling to hold up KUSHIDA to hit the One Winged Angel, and using a one armed powerbomb at one point that wasn’t strong enough to score a pin. Ryusuke Taguchi (dressed as Doc Brown) ran off the Bucks, who were attempting to save Omega from a Hoverboard Lock, and moments later KUSHIDA cradled Omega out of the One Winged Angel position (which Omega struggled to lock in due to the damaged arm) to win the title. Omega’s shoulder was very visibly not pinned to the mat on the fall. Good match, but they’ve had better. ***1/4

IWGP Tag Team Title
Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)

Excellent match to complete an excellent story, as realistically this is the highest level you can expect Honma to reach. Everyone looked good here, even Gallows, who we are hard on around these parts, but this was one of his best New Japan performances to date. Anderson worked his ass off, Makabe took a backseat to Honma as mostly a face in peril (and did a good job of it), and Honma was Honma, which means he was very good as always. This match built and peaked perfectly, with the right guys (Anderson & Honma) in for the most important stretch of the bout. Crowd was way into GBH winning the titles, and hopefully this is finally the end of Guns & Gallows dominating the belts. ***3/4

Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito

Naito got a huge babyface reaction when he was announced. Los Ingobernables jumped Goto before the bell and Naito tried to pick up the cheap count out after putting Goto through a table. From there it was a nothing match until a ref bump. Goto fought off EVIL & BUSHI, survived a low blow, and hit the Shouten Kai for the win. Naito is in a great spot with the new gimmick in that losses will never hurt him. This win may set up Goto as a title challenger at one of the New Beginning shows. This ended up being good, but not great. ***1/4

NEVER Openweight Title
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata

This will be the divisive match of the show, as you either love the story of two guys with testosterone overload mauling each other to death while being too proud to allow the other to know that it hurts, or you hate it. This was exactly what I was expecting, and exactly what I wanted it to be. The thing about the NEVER matches, is that whether you like them or not, they have a distinct style and they feel different than the Intercontinental and IWGP Heavyweight bouts. I get why this isn’t everyone’s thing, but manly men beating the shit out of each other never gets old for me. ****1/2

IWGP Intercontinental Title
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. AJ Styles

Once in great a while, you just know you’re watching something special. This was one of those times. This match had zero wasted movements. None. Every single thing they did mattered. AJ played possum with the back early, but then Nak went right after it and eliminated the need to feign injury. AJ countered by going after the calf, eventually catching Nak in the calf slicer which led to an incredible series of moves. Nak rolled the calf slicer into a cross arm breaker, which AJ somehow worked into a modified Styles Clash. Two count. Bloody Sunday, AJ fired up. In a great callback, AJ tried to set up a Styles Clash off the turnbuckle (the same way he beat Naito in the same building one year earlier), but Nak escaped. Two vicious Boma Ye’s folded AJ in half, and it was all over. This all came together perfectly. Two of the best in the world, on the biggest stage, delivering even beyond the high expectations. If this match had a flaw, show me. *****

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

As one of the greatest in ring rivalries of all time comes to a close, I’m not ready to think about where this match slots in with the rest of the series. That’ll be a discussion for another time. What I do know is that these two men managed to do something different again, and they delivered something special again. What I do know, is that I just watched another incredible match.

This was a match that was not only the payoff to the seven previous, but also the payoff for the hardcore fan. The hardcore fan who watched Tanahashi use the cloverleaf on every mediocre Korakuen show and every shitty World Tag League stop, who watched Tanahashi figure out how to keep Okada down for good one year ago. The fan who has been invested in the rivalry every step of the way. New Beginning was about the shock. Invasion Attack was about the arm. G1 was about the stalemate. Wrestle Kingdom 9 was about the overconfident punk. This was about the end.

The story was two men who by this point knew each other so well that the first counter came with the very first rope break of the match. Tanahashi knew the cocky chest slap was coming, and swung with a right hand. Okada ducked, and we knew this was going to be something much different than before.

All of the usual moves had answers. Both men were two steps ahead. No one could land a thing. Tanahashi broke through first. He was, after all, the veteran ace. He figured out Okada the year before. He figured out the Rainmaker. He figured out how to keep Okada down. Years ago, he tried taking out the Rainmaker by taking out the arm that delivers it. That didn’t work. So one year ago, he destroyed his legs. He destroyed Okada’s legs until he could no longer get back up. Beating opponent after opponent over the last few months with the cloverleaf was no accident. It was a message. I’m coming for your legs. Again.

Okada’s old tricks were no longer working. He couldn’t hit the piledriver. His dropkicks were countered. He couldn’t hit the Rainmaker, which he chased out of desperation when everything else was failing. When he finally did connect, Tanahashi kicked out. Just like last year.

Meanwhile, Tanahashi once again tried to destroy the legs. He waited for the dropkick, and when it came, he countered it into the cloverleaf. That was the plan. It didn’t work. He abandoned it and went back to the High Fly Flow. It didn’t work. He even tried the Rainmaker. It didn’t work.

Plans failed. This was now about guts and skill and heart and who truly wanted to be the ace.

Okada fought all year to get here. He fought Fale with broken ribs. He beat him, and he learned about guts.

He fought AJ, who always seem to have his number. He beat him, and he learned about skill.

He fought Tenryu, the symbolic old ace. The old ace battered and bruised his face, and would not die, but he beat him too, and he learned about heart.

One last obstacle. The man who had him all figured out and mocked him from the ring one year earlier. “Okada! Okada! You are not ready to be ace!” He was the champion, but the title meant nothing until he could be the ace.

This match wasn’t about execution or selling or body parts or babyfaces or heels or workrate or stars. This was about the story of what happens when you exhaust the plan. When there is nothing left to counter, when what worked before won’t work again, when history isn’t repeating, who is the better man? Who is the man?

Who is the ace?

“Okada! Okada! You are not ready to be ace!” -Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9

Okada is now the ace. *****

Final Thoughts:  An incredible show that in many ways mirrored, but ended up topping, last year’s excellent Wrestle Kingdom 9. Comparing the top two matches from each show is pointless. All four matches were great. The Wrestle Kingdom 10 undercard is what holds the edge. The junior tag four way opener was better. The Yano “X” match was better. The Omega junior title match was better. The Bullet Club tag title match was better. The NEVER match was better. Like the 35+ minute main event that was engaging from start to finish, this five hour show was entertaining the entire way. The final three bouts may have produced the best three match stretch ever.

This show was probably one swing of the Book of Truth away from being about as perfect as a pro wrestling show can be. Speaking of books, we released our 2015 New Japan Pro Wrestling Year in Review book yesterday and you should definitely check it out: