Days removed from a monumental weekend for New Japan, which included Wrestle Kingdom 10 (Jan. 4, Tokyo Dome) followed by New Year Dash (Jan. 5, Korakuen Hall), the aftermath of both events has the wrestling world buzzing. The Tokyo Dome show was as important as any other show in the promotion’s history, while major shakeups happened the next night in front of the raucous Korakuen Hall faithful.
Since the happenings at New Year Dash set the tone for the tour of New Beginning events (and possibly a new beginning for the company), both events will be covered in this column, which is a rare case. Without further ado, let’s get down to it:
Katsuyori Shibata is the type of wrestler who isn’t defined based on his results or success. Much like the new and improved Tetsuya Naito, wins and losses don’t particularly matter to him, and neither do belts. (That’s why he doesn’t do well in tournaments.) Opening a spectacular three-match stretch of title fights, Shibata defeated Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight title in an incredibly physical and stiff contest, with both athletes egging on the other for his hardest shot.
The new champion’s loyal fan base would love to see more of these accomplishments for Shibata, yet winning the title and breathing new life into a division where Ishii and Makabe dominated for the past two years, his nonchalant way of conducting himself is exactly what the NEVER title needed. For all we know he could lose to Ishii in a rematch, given the brief history of the championship. It wouldn’t be a desirable decision whatsoever, but it wouldn’t hurt the lone wolf, nor damage his reputation. As Shibata laced Ishii with the PK, that one last kick was the defining moment in Shibata finally finding success in perhaps his last high-profile attempt. Finally, he proved all those losses in the past made his character that much stronger.
Tag Team Transformation
You could say the same for Tomoaki Honma, who reached the pinnacle of his career winning the World Tag League and the IWGP Tag Team titles with Makabe over Bullet Club bros Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows. It’s going to be interesting to see what the future has in store for Great Bash Heel, two guys who seemed like they needed a tweak moving forward. Both Honma and Makabe are likely done cracking their craniums over the NEVER title, paving the way for what both tag divisions in New Japan desperately needed – a clean slate.
That’s not a knock on Guns & Gallows, who established themselves as one of the best teams in the world based on their lengthy run, and their compatriots the Young Bucks, who won their fourth IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship, aren’t newcomers to the gold, either. With that said, the heavyweight tag division was lacking challengers, and furthermore, the same old situation put a dent into the excitement.
When it comes to the Bucks, it’ll never be a bad choice to put the title on them. Regardless of Matt Sydal and Ricochet deserving the win after their Super Junior Tag Tournament triumph (who knows when it comes to their schedules), taking the belts of long-time holders reDRagon seemed like a palpable move, and the Jacksons will help add a little more noise to the joint venture of Ring of Honor and New Japan, even though Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish have also been doing double duty for both. Factor that with the newly installed NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Championship, consisting of the fun and wacky affairs they could produce, it’s a breath of fresh air New Japan tag team wrestling desperately needed.
Speaking of the ROH influx, some fans had a problem with the ROH talent placed on the card; on the flip side, the Tokyo Dome show is a spectacle complete with people or situations you may not see on other New Japan events throughout the year. After all, it’s nothing new, and it certainly won’t be the last time outsiders are featured on the Jan. 4 shows.
To put this all into perspective and to explain why Truth Martini and Cheeseburger were both on your laptops screens in the wee hours of the night, ROH has to establish a connection to the Japanese faithful, and establish new stars outside of the beloved Michael Elgin that the fans can get behind when ROH travels to Japan for a tour. Putting belts on the Briscoes and having Jay Lethal win singles matches two nights in a row is a good start.
Dare To Dream
By now, you must know Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles and Guns & Gallows are leaving New Japan for NXT. They reportedly all told Gedo and Jado hours before Wrestle Kingdom 10, and without the general public knowing much about this, Nakamura and Styles put on an epic affair with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship on the line. In the end, Nakamura was awarded the victory after a set of Boma Ye strikes that looked to have nearly sent the American’s head into the 14th row. But who would have thought this would have been somewhat of a flawless tribute match for both? As the dust settled and observers learned the news of departures a day later, this was A.J.’s last meaningful match in New Japan, and the last Tokyo Dome show in the prolific career of the King of Strong Style (for now, anyway).
Betrayal Is The Only Truth That Sticks
Rewind to Wrestling Dontaku 2014; Styles had beaten Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his debut match, thanks to outside interference from Bullet Club. After losing it to Hiroshi Tanahashi at King of Pro-Wrestling 2014 (with only Jeff Jarrett) by his side, Styles beats Tana in a rematch at New Beginning in Osaka months later; courtesy of involvement from Bullet Club.
Fast forward to last year’s Invasion Attack, it was Kenny Omega who screwed his old friend, as Kota Ibushi jumped right into a Styles Clash after being distracted. As Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi worshipped Styles, the Canadian looked distraught; he had chosen a life of evil which came at a cost, yet also decided to take the backseat while he was the driver with an open fast lane. As Omega stared at Styles trophy, it looked like he was about to crumble.
When Styles lost to Nakamura this past weekend, he was solo (foreshadowing). The next night, Omega turns on his leader, capping off an incredible story filled with loyalty, jealousy and betrayal. As Omega buried Styles the following evening at New Year Dash, he talked about the group carrying Styles, who could never get the job done himself. This story was over a year in the making, and coincidentally, the perfect way to write off Styles (as he thanked the Korakuen crowd afterwards) and an equally perfect set up to Nakamura vs. Omega, promoting the latter from the junior division straight to an Intercontinental title match.
It’s a new day, and Omega’s the new don.
It took eight matches for Okada to become the new ace, but it was one powerful image that defined this rivalry. As Okada went for another Rainmaker as both him and Tana exchanged finishers (and their foe’s finishers), Tana slapped him hard in the face, unable to reverse the maneuver. As both wrestlers went down to their knees, Okada held on for dear life; he wouldn’t let go of his rival’s arm.
Okada couldn’t let go.
He needed Tanahashi, and he always needed him. Without Tanahashi in Okada’s life, how could Okada be the new ace? How could Okada have overcome the embarrassment of last year’s walk of shame, drowned in his own tears? Okada wouldn’t have been able to overcome himself without a win. It was Okada’s last chance. Had Tanahashi escaped him, Okada would have been carrying a burden for the rest of his career.
It was an image reminiscent to one you’d see revered in a museum, or one from a legendary director on film. It’s something worth considering framing and putting on your wall. It spoke volumes, and even this explanation doesn’t even do it justice.
Now that Tana won’t be challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, fresh title challengers will surely be on deck for the Rainmaker.
Least of The Lows
It’s difficult to really have a problem with anything New Japan did over the weekend. Apart from the Doraemon plug that made every onlooker feel like they were trapped in the most volatile mushroom trip ever and the constant objectification of women by perverted New Japan cameramen (and their employers, too), you could say the Tokyo Dome attendance should be considered as a low point, since it was the worst figure since 2012. For whatever reason (economy, weekday, etc.), 25,000 attendees isn’t great, but it didn’t take anything away from the action.
If anything, this year will be pivotal for New Japan. With two major draws set to leave for WWE, and Tanahashi presumably occupying the Intercontinental title scene, it remains to be seen how the promotion deals with the losses in the upcoming future. The aptly-titled New Beginning has turned into a must-watch set of shows and by the same token a metaphor for the promotion’s escapades this upcoming year. With the ROH relationship strong and the extra room for talent to grow, it’s time for the promotion to fill the gaps and figure out which new stars will lead the charge in 2016.
All in all, let’s just say last weekend was special.
- For more New Japan coverage, make sure to check out Voices of Wrestling’s NJPW 2015 Year In Review eBook, available for download with a pay-what-you-can price tag right here.