Coming off one of the best Wrestle Kingdom events of all time, news broke Monday that several New Japan wrestlers, specifically AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, and, most surprisingly, Shinsuke Nakamura, had given notice.
The obvious speculation is that all four men (and possibly a few others that haven’t yet been reported on, as we’ve heard the name Rocky Romero whispered to us specifically) are potentially headed to NXT. AJ Styles has been pulled from all of his upcoming ROH dates, but as I type this Anderson, Gallows, and Nakamura (who is booked for the Anniversary show in Las Vegas) are still scheduled to work their remaining ROH shots. Styles & Gallows had been working New Japan without a contract. Anderson is under NJPW contract until January 31. Dave Meltzer reported (and our source confirmed) that Nakamura wouldn’t be leaving NJPW immediately, and there are rumors that while he has in fact given notice, that he is still in negotiations to stay with New Japan. He is presumably under the same one year deal as everybody else with a contract, as New Japan still uses the traditional one year deals that expire each January. Re-signing is generally a formality, particularly for natives, but in a quickly changing landscape (read: NXT as a worldwide touring brand, and WWE Network launching in Japan on January 5), New Japan may want to rethink that strategy, as it makes things far too easy for a company like WWE to perform a raid.
Our source indicated that the four gave notice the day of WK10, moments before the show.
“Gedo & Jado dropped their jaws.”
This means Wrestle Kingdom was booked and formatted with no knowledge of the exiting talent (reports are that the WK booking was not changed), and with the way New Japan typically books long term, that very likely original plans needed to be scrapped for the February dual New Beginning shows. This also meant that the booking for the annual January 5th New Year Dash show was likely tweaked as well, since that show typically features angles to set up New Beginning. New Japan didn’t announce a single match for the card until moments before the show.
All of this news and speculation added a ton of intrigue to NJPW New Year Dash, in terms of both New Beginning direction, and how New Japan would handle the soon to be departing wrestlers moving forward.
Ryusuke Taguchi, Sho Tanaka, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Shiro Koshinaka vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Jushin Thunder Liger, Yohei Komatsu, Tiger Mask, Cheeseburger
Fujiwara started this with Tanaka, slapping and stretching him silly. Fujiwara looks like he’s 65 going on 90, and like he’s about to turn to dust, but it’s shocking how credible his offense looks. Koshinaka did his hip attacks, and Cheeseburger, who was super over with the Korakuen crowd, got a ton of ring time as the roster veterans took a backseat to the Rambo participants. Taguchi pinned Komatsu. This was good fun. **
Ricochet & Matt Sydal vs Jay White & David Finlay
Ricochet & Sydal continue to gel as a team, improving with every appearance. Is Ricochet officially on the roster? He and Sydal have matching gear, Sydal has an intro video and original entrance theme that I’m told is on a NJPW CD, and after the match they were talking about challenging the Bucks for the junior titles. White & Finlay are one of my favorite tag teams in the world to watch. They’ve never won a match (0-10 all time after this one), but both guys can go, they work very well together, and they make their opponents look great. This was a tight little bout, with super clean work at great pace. Ricochet & Sydal won it with the dueling shooting stars. ***
Juice Robinson vs Jay Lethal
This was non title. Lethal looked good here, and an easy Korakuen crowd took to him well. Let’s talk about Juice Robinson. In my review of the Grand Puroresu Festival two days ago, I noted that Juice was the best worker in his match. He looked good here too, and after a very slow start getting acclimated to the New Japan style, he’s starting to come around. This had liberal interference spots from Truth Martini, including Martini being put in a long airplane spin by Juice that ultimately served as a distraction and led to the Lethal Injection finish. Solid enough match. **3/4
KUSHIDA, TenKoji, Great Bash Heel vs Guns & Gallows, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga, King Haku
I could have sworn Haku was announced as “King Tonga” at Wrestle Kingdom, but he was King Haku here. He looked pretty great, not just for his age, but he didn’t look out of place at all, tagging in frequently and even hitting a nice looking piledriver. Guns & Gallows beat Honma with the Magic Killer, setting up a rematch from Wrestle Kingdom, presumably at one of the New Beginning shows. That could be the write off for Anderson & Gallows. Very good match and another great effort from Anderson & Gallows. Where were these great performances the last two years? ***1/2
Mascara Dorada, Michael Elgin, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs BUSHI, Tetsuya Naito, EVIL
Hiroshi Tanahashi removed the word “ace” from his gear, but that didn’t stop Matt Striker from continually referring to him as the company ace. You wouldn’t think that Striker could completely miss the theme of the two Wrestle Kingdom main events that he called, but here we are. Aside from the World Tag League final, this was probably the best Los Ingobernables match to date. Elgin was great as usual, and from his first day in the company he has had a knack for stealing the show in his tag matches. The finish was creative. Dorada used an airplane spin on BUSHI, who dizzily bumped the ref. He used the distraction to blow the mist, then hit the top rope lung blower for the win. Los Ingobernables put the boots to Dorada until KUSHIDA made the save. BUSHI blew the mist in his face and challenged him for the junior title. Great angle. BUSHI has looked great lately, and especially here. ***1/2
Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI vs AJ Styles & Kenny Omega
Omega seemed to have toned down “The Cleaner” act a bit, and that would make sense later. Omega was on fire here, and shockingly put away Nakamura with the One Winged Angel. The match was very good, but the story was the post match. Omega announced that he was done being a junior, and challenged Nakamura for the IC title. As AJ celebrated on the second turnbuckle, Omega put him on his shoulders and delivered a One Winged Angel. Korakuen gasped. Bullet Club ran out to break up the beating. With the Bucks holding back Omega and the rest of the Bullet Club holding up a weary AJ, Omega and the Bucks delivered a triple superkick to Styles. The crowd gasped again. Omega cut a second promo, buried AJ, and the music hit. Omega attacked Styles AGAIN, this time hitting a Styles Clash for the exclamation point. This was as good of an angle that you will ever see, immediately establishing Omega as a top player. The events over the previous 24 hours may have expedited it, but this was going to happen at some point eventually, as Omega did not leave a very comfortable position as a top star and established draw with DDT to be a New Japan junior. He was going to be a heavyweight, and he was going to be a top guy eventually. My gut tells me that this angle was planned before AJ gave notice, but regardless, it was going to happen at some point anyway. Very good match, memorable angle. With tears in his eyes, Styles bowed to the Korakuen crowd, and this sure looked and felt like goodbye. ***1/2
reDRagon & Meiyu Tag vs Roppongi Vice, Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada
Another very good match. Everybody on this show worked hard and looked motivated. The crowd was hot all night, the internet was buzzing live, and this is the good vibe New Japan has been lacking in Korakuen lately. Ishii & Shibata looked like they were setting up a rematch. Goto put away Baretta, then challenged Okada. Okada mocked him for losing the IC title, and accepted. Goto is a perfect opponent for Okada right now. On the heels of finally putting Tanahashi in the rear view, Okada doesn’t need a heavy feud immediately. Goto is good enough to have a great match in a filler defense on a B-show without burning a better challenger. ***1/2
NEVER Openweight Six Man Titles – Toru Yano & The Briscoes vs The Young Bucks & Bad Luck Fale
This is exactly how the new trios titles should be used. These belts are perfect to main event Korakuen or big televised house shows, don’t need any sort of elaborate build, and the challengers can be any wacky and random combination of anyone. The Briscoes look thrilled to be in New Japan, and Mark in particular looked great, just as he did the night before at Wrestle Kingdom. The champs retained, and I’m excited about seeing where else these belts pop up, hopefully adding some juice to otherwise lackluster lineups. Another high energy, fun match to cap off a super fun show. ***1/4
A crazy 48-hours for New Japan fans, with wild swings in emotion. Wrestle Kingdom was a fantastic show, but the excitement was tempered a bit by the apparent WWE talent raid. A few hours later, Korakuen was rocking with the best Korakuen show in recent memory, with a couple of great angles setting up some fresh match-ups and new directions. This is a turbulent yet exciting time for New Japan, and at the end of the day this could have been the shake up the company needed.