New Japan Pro Wrestling
King of Pro-Wrestling 2016
October 10, 2016
Sumo Hall – Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Tiger Mask W def. Red Death Mask

We’ll have expanded thoughts on this match from Kelly Harrass—who reviewed episode one of the new Tiger Mask anime—later this week. In the meantime, here are my quick thoughts.

Many of us were worried that this would simply be Tiger Mask IV in some showcase match that was more about waving to the crowd and pumping up the new anime. Worry no longer. Not only were we treated to a new Tiger Mask (who looked very GOLDEN with STAR-like qualities!) but this was a legitimately good match! Tiger Mask hit a Golden Triangle moonsault and a picture-perfect belly-to-back suplex. He’s been watching his Kota Ibushi tapes!

Okay, look, Tiger Mask W was Kota Ibushi. We have no idea if this was a one-time thing or if Ibushi will continue in the role. Should Kota return semi or full time this would be yet another bizarre (but welcomed!) chapter in his life and career. **1/2

Tomohiro Ishii, Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI def. Adam Cole, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi

My thought coming out of this match: I want Fale vs. Ishii now. Right now. Fale was an absolute brutal force in this match, tossing his opponents around like rag dolls before stacking them up in the corner, and as Steve Corino unfortunately put it, “running train on them.” Yep.

There wasn’t a ton to glean from this match, it was fine, but would ultimately be outshined by a few of the other multi-man matches on the card. The finish saw Ishii isolated in the ring with Yujiro. As you can imagine, it didn’t go well for Yujiro. This was solid, but nothing to go out of your way to see. **

Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Ryusuke Taguchi Taguchi, Bobby Fish def. Toru Yano, Jado, Rocky Romero & Beretta

Jado came out with his newly-won GHC Tag Titles. Yes, in the year of our spaghetti monster 2016, Jado and Gedo, are tag team champions. What a world.

On the English announce side, there was plenty of discussion on Rocky Romero and Beretta’s growing tension and it was obvious throughout the match that it’s no longer a question if they’ll break up, but when. It seems to be drawing ever closer by the day, and a post-match “discussion” between the two only added fuel to the fire.

This was a super fun match with each participant able to shine in their own way. Despite being short, everyone seemed to get just enough time to connect with the crowd and do a few of their signature spots. Honma won with a Kokeshi on Romero which only intensified the issues between the two members of RPG Vice.

Makabe and Yano had some extra words for one another throughout. Yano kicked it off by spraying Makabe with water before the match. As you’ll assume, the bleached blonde gorilla was none pleased and attacked Yano throughout the match, busting through the Yano-signature BREAK BREAK BREAK spot to get some shots in and attacking Yano on his way to the back post-match. There seemed to be more than a few hints dropped about Great Bash Heel…possibly going for the GHC Tag Titles? GHB as GHC Champs has a nice ring to it. **1/2

Go Shiozaki, Maybach, Taniguchi, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi

Like the previous multi-man tag, each person had a chance to show off their respective spots, with a few guys standing out above the pack.

Manabu Nakanishi had his bi-yearly eruption, so that was fun. Whether Nakanishi was extra motivated because of the NJPW vs. NOAH aspect or he got his cortisone shot today, regardless, he was great throughout, in particular squaring off with Shiozaki who was the unquestioned star and focal point of the match. There were further teases of tension between Nagata and Nakajima that were really cool, with Nagata salivating at the chance to get after the youngster but never quite getting the chance to get what he wanted.

In the end, Shiozaki hit his patented lariat on Nakanishi for the victory. The NOAH crew was great, and the New Japan dads delivered big. This ruled.  ***½

After the match there was another huge brawl, which didn’t quite have the heat of the G1 Final brawl, but did its job effectively in advancing the rivalry.

Nakajima and Nagata had a face-off with Nakajima dickishly smirking at Nagata. Then the shit went down, as Nakajima slapped Nagata, Nagata slapped back, and the ring exploded in a brawl that had the crowd going nuts. Nakajima vs. Nagata is happening soon and it’s going to be incredible. This is so much better than anything going on in NOAH proper right now.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks © def. David Finlay & Ricochet

Matt Jackson got the match started hot by yelling and taunting Finlay that he was a young boy. He eventually set off the young Finlay off by saying “your dad sucked at wrestling too!” This was solid enough but slightly disappointing given the participants. Despite a flurry or two from Ricochet and Finlay, this was the Young Bucks show as they won convincingly with a More Bang For Your Buck on Finlay.

Once again, Finlay proved himself above the young lion threshold, but the story is clearly that he has a far way to go before becoming a full-fledged threat on the main roster. I saw others really enjoyed this but for whatever reason, it never connected on the same level for me. 

The big story here is the Bucks’ successful defense. This marks, two, yes, TWO successful defenses for the Bucks. Not a big deal? Think again… you have to go back five title runs to find the last time the IWGP Junior Tag Champs had one successful title defense, let alone two. The last successful title defense of these titles before this current Bucks run was October 12, 2015 (reDRagon def. Roppongi Vice). The TimeSplitters (remember them?) were the last team to have more than two successful defense and that was all the way back in 2014. **

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny def. The Briscoe Brothers ©

God dammit.

I’ll be fair here, I have to, that’s my job. This was the best Guerrillas of Destiny match yet. There were times where I was actually entertaining and the finishing sequence—which saw GoD counter a Doomsday Device by having Loa catch Tonga after impact—was pretty cool.

But god dammit, GoD are tag champs again. I can’t be objective here. If it was up to me, I’d never see them in a New Japan ring again. Hey, maybe this was their turning point and they’ll be a positive part of this division moving forward. I’m not holding my breath. **

Michael Elgin, Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA & Jay Lethal def. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI

The story here was Lethal and Elgin enacting revenge on Naito for various deeds over the past few months. Lethal got some measure of revenge at ROH’s All-Star Extravaganza pinning Naito, and Elgin—whom Naito beat for the IC Title—pinned Naito after a brutal sequence culminating in an Elgin Bomb.

Elsewhere, this match seemed to run on autopilot. It was fine but certainly an example of guys taking it easy based on their placement on the card. **½

NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) def. Kyle O’Reilly

My high hopes for this match were met… and then some. This was awesome. Best of all, there was a little something for everyone in this match. If you like the worked shoot, MMA-influenced, RINGS-esque style you’ll love the first part of this match where O’Reilly and Shibata, who are both well versed enough to make it look shoot-style, had some fun back and forth grappling sequences. The last half of the match, specifically the last five minutes, were perfect for people who love the modern New Japan style—kickouts at one, no selling suplexes until both men couldn’t go anymore, and a finishing sequence that really sealed this as an incredible match and maybe the best of O’Reilly’s career.

O’Reilly seemingly had the match won after a Penalty Kick of his own. Shibata, however, kicked at out two. That would be O’Reilly’s last gasp. The ending was absolutely incredible, and perfect for a Shibata match. He finally turned the tables on O’Reilly, shot him against the ropes and gave him a deafening slap and a backfist. Shibata then locked the sleeper in, knocking O’Reilly out and giving Shibata the opening for the PK. But nope. That wasn’t enough. After the PK Shibata locked in a rear naked choke until O’Reilly passed out. This was an awesome finishing sequence to end an awesome bout, do not miss it. Bonus points for Bobby Fish, O’Reilly’s cornerman throughout the match, screaming for Kyle to “BITE THE HAND!” on every Shibata sleeper attempt. ****1/2

After the match, Shibata helped O’Reilly up and the two bowed to one another. Fish got in the ring and all three hugged it out. Shibata hung out in the ring uncomfortably long, which meant someone was coming out to challenge. To the crowd (and my) surprise, it was NOAH’s Go Shiozaki! Go is a total heat magnet in New Japan and the crowd showered him with boos. That’s going to be a hell of a match.

We’re weren’t done yet. EVIL snuck up from behind and took out Shibata, holding up the NEVER belt. It seems Go will have to wait, as EVIL—as a result of his G1 victory over Shibata—gets first dibs.

Wrestle Kingdom 11 Title Shot
Kenny Omega def. Hirooki Goto

The opening of the match set the stage of what was to come. Goto attacked Omega before the bell, hitting him with the WK11 briefcase and showing much more fire and spirit than we typically see out of of him.

Goto’s added fire, however, didn’t lead to victory, as Goto, after a hard fought battle with Omega, knocked The Elite’s leader off the apron and through a table (which was extra brutal with Omega bumping the back of his head on the guardrail), but in a move that perplexed the English announce team, Goto brought Omega back into the ring, when he surely would have won via countout. This brief moment was a microcosm of Goto’s career, as he had a chance to win in a big moment, and he gave it up so he could presumably do something more honorable. And much like the rest of his career, it didn’t work out. Omega grabbed the momentum right back and hit a serious of sick looking knees to the chin including one that appeared to legitimately knock Goto loopy.

To add insult to injury, Omega tried to finish off Goto with his very own Shouten Kai. Thankfully, Goto kicked out at two but it was only a formality at that point as Omega hit his patented One-Winged Angel for the win. This wasn’t as good as their G1 Climax Final match but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. With the win it became official: Kenny Omega is in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11 and will be fighting for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. ***1/2

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Naomichi Marufuji

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about the attendance of King of Pro-Wrestling 2016. On last week’s VOW Flagship podcast we pondered that the relatively lackluster on-paper card had to be a result of Okada/Marufuji potentially being able to draw a big house all by themselves, and NJPW not wanting to give away too many matches if the show was already going to do well. Reports from sources such as the Wrestling Observer Newsletter indicated that ticket sales were good as of a few weeks out, but we still didn’t know how good it would ultimately turn out. Now we do. 9,651 fans attended Sumo Hall for King of Pro-Wrestling 2016. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, last year NJPW drew 8,302 to the same building for the same show. However, 2015 featured a much more robust card with Naito/Tanahashi as the semifinal and Okada/AJ Styles on top.

This year, Tanahashi was stuffed away in a random mid card tag match, Styles was asleep after working the main event of WWE No Mercy, and Naito was busy with his Ingobernable friends earlier in the show…so only Okada remained. And between him, Hirooki Goto, Kenny Omega and Naomichi Marufuji, they increased year-to-year attendance for this event by nearly 1,000 fans. That’s a tremendous accomplishment and speaks volumes to a few things: Omega’s place as a draw in Tokyo, Marufuji’s drawing power in NJPW, and the continued stabilization of Okada on top. The Rainmaker also made his presence felt in NOAH over the weekend, helping draw 1,515 to Korakuen Hall—their best Korakuen Hall number in quite some time—as he and YOSHI-HASHI took part in a main event tag match.

Thankfully, the near 10,000 folks at Sumo Hall were treated to an absolute delight of a main event. I’ll have to rewatch the G1 Climax Night 1 match to compare, but my initial thought was this being better than that match… and that’s slotted as one of my Top 10 matches of the year. This was unbelievable throughout with some sick bumps, crazy back and forth action, and a slowdown period in-between to set up one of the best closing stretches I’ve seen all year. Marufuji was an absolute beast in this match, perhaps his best performance ever.

One particularly harsh spot saw Marufuji hit an apron piledriver on Okada. Pro tip, Kaz (we’re close enough where I can call him Kaz), don’t take apron piledrivers. You’re welcome.

Okada stumbled, eventually got to his feet by 18, and slid back into the ring at 19. Marufuji, wasting no time, dropkicked Okada as he was sliding back in. It was an awesome visual capped off by some top notch camera work (which NJPW does NOT get enough credit for). The next few minutes saw Marufuji brutally beating Okada with chops, kicks and knees.

I called the finishing stretch perhaps the best of the year and I stand by that. Marufuji kicked it off with a Shiranui that had me legitimately wondering if NJPW had lost its mind and booked Marufuji vs. Omega as the Tokyo Dome main event.

Okada kicked out which led to Marufuji hitting a stiff superkick (Marufuji was on point with EVERYTHING tonight, he was so, so good) that had Okada out of his feet. Marufuji went for another Shiranui which Okada immediately turned into a Rainmaker variant.

Much like his recent battles with Tanahashi, Okada clutched Marufuji’s wrist and refused to let go. The cameras once again picked this up perfectly adding an additional layer of emotion of the moment.

Okada went for another Rainmaker but Marufuji countered it into a small package and a 2.9 count that once again made my heart stop and contemplate Gedo’s sanity. Okada hit a Piledriver and followed it up by finisher stealing Marufuji’s Emerald Flowsion before finally finishing Marufuji off with a Rainmaker.

Not only did these two deliver at the box office but they delivered an all-time great performance in the main event. I can’t say for certain where this will land on my final Match of the Year list at the end of the year but it has certainly warranted a rewatch before I make my list. Okada continues to have a low-key great year in the ring (seriously, go back and look at the record) and Marufuji may have just had his all-time best single performance. This lived up to the billing and then some. ****3/4

Final Thoughts:

NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling 2016 was one of NJPW’s best shows of the year, with a something for everyone from shoot-style to a grandiose NJPW vs. NOAH main event.