New Japan Pro Wrestling
King of Pro-Wrestling 2017
October 9, 2017
Ryōgoku Kokugikan – Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI def. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Leo Tonga

This is where I like my Yujiro, nestled in the prelims, bringing charisma to the first half of a card. Where Yujiro doesn’t belong is anywhere near anything important. The closer he delves to intermission (and god help us, anywhere post intermission), the more likely he is to be badly outclassed and exposed. Yujiro is a prelim act, an entertaining prelim act, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Speaking of prelim acts, let’s talk about Daryl. The finish here, with BUSHI escaping the certain death of a Bad Luck Fall thanks to Hiromu distracting Fale with the dopey stuffed cat, allowing BUSHI to mist Fale and score the pin, was good fun and a solid callback to Fale tearing apart Daryl on the G1 tour. “Good fun” is where Hiromu lives these days, ever since the introduction of Daryl. “Good fun” is fine in prelims and against the likes of Yujiro.

My issues with Daryl have little to do with Daryl in the literal sense, or an aversion to fun, they have to do with a star act in Hiromu teetering dangerously close to the edge of comedy wrestler territory, and comedy wrestlers are almost always prelim acts. The character shift from the unstable, edgy, unpredictable Time Bomb to the childlike, comfort toy carrying, temper tantrum throwing manchild is a disappointing turn, because the former was on a potential main event arc, while the latter is firmly preliminary shtick. Hiromu Takahashi is simply too talented and has too much potential to be saddled with such a reductive, low ceiling gimmick. This is the kind of stuff more suited to the Yujiro’s of the world, who lack the superstar intangible and need to find creative ways to connect with crowds. Hiromu has evolved in a negative way. He’s still over, and for that matter so is Daryl, but Takahashi is now on Ryusuke Taguchi’s path as opposed to a major star one.

He’s way too good for this shit, and here’s hoping the toy animal gimmick quickly runs its course and we get our unstable potential superstar back. ***

Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano def. Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr (via count out)

Yano slithered into the ring to beat the count while wrapped in rope, outsmarting Suzuki once again, and earns a NEVER title match at Power Struggle as a result. That pretty much sums up this bout, as we rekindle the least exciting feud of 2013-2014, when we were treated to seven singles bouts and something like 1,276 tag matches between these two. **3/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Roppongi 3k def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Ricochet (c)

SHO(Tanaka) & YOH(ei Komatsu) return from excursion, revealed as Rocky Romero’s charges and the newest members of CHAOS. All told, the pair worked roughly 75 bouts abroad from February 2016 and September 2017, a relatively short excursion, mostly for CMLL & ROH. With their new gear and haircuts, they look like sleazy Dove Pro or DDT undercarders with gym memberships.

The returning boys looked pretty great here, starting off with a bang with a double flip dive to the outside to cut off the Funky Future entrance, and finishing Ricochet off with a flapjack/complete shot double team finish (which I believe they are calling “3K”), which followed SHO destroying everyone in sight with a million German suplexes, including catching Taguchi in mid air on a hip attack attempt. This is a fresh, homegrown team that could inject life into a junior tag scene that always produces good matches, but sometimes lacks heart and focused long term booking direction.

As SHO & YOH return, it appears Ricochet will exit. ACH is paired with Taguchi on the Power Struggle tour, and Ricochet’s body language seemed to indicate that he was finishing up, backing up rumors that his Lucha Underground contract issues have been settled, freeing him up to potentially sign with WWE. ***1/2

IWGP Tag Team Titles
Killer Elite Squad (c) def. Guerrillas of Destiny & War Machine

Look, everyone was tired of this matchup after FOUR straight major shows. This one was a little different with the tornado/elimination rules. Critics were hard on this feud, none harder than this very site, but it’s important to remember that the wrestlers have no control over the booking, and when the dust settled, despite being put in the disadvantageous position of the same match over and over and over that these six dudes improved on each successive bout, with this one being the best yet. You’d probably never get them to say it, but I’m sure these guys were tired of working the same match every show, and it would have been easy for malaise to set in. That never happened, and they busted their asses to give fans four pretty damn good matches. A tip of the cap to all six dudes. Thanks.

When the dust settled, KES (2-2) came away with the final two matches and the titles, War Machine (2-2) could be done with their run (and if so, it was a solid ~1 year run), and GOD put up a goose egg (0-4), so I have no idea where they go from here.

Now please, PLEASE Mr. Gedo or Jado or whoever is booking this division—let’s all move on to something fresh. ****

Kenny Omega, Cody, Marty Scurll def. YOSHI-HASHI, Beretta, Jado

Run of the mill six man match featuring the returns of Cody and Scurll, and low effort fringe tights/t-shirt Kenny. Sometimes CHAOS runs out of members on a show and it forces Jado to work. This was one of those times, and whoa boy does he look stiffer and less athletic with each passing match.

Nothing much to see here. Kenny will defend the IWGP United States title in Chicago vs YOSHI-HASHI, and not much heat was put on the match. You get the sense that Kenny doesn’t care all that much. YOSHI-HASHI is going to have to work heel, because there is no way the Chicago ROH crowd is going to boo Omega. Scurll tapped out Jado with the chicken wing, a fall score that set him up for his IWGP junior title challenge later in the show. As for Cody, well, he existed. I have no idea why they bothered flying him out for this. I have no idea why they bother to book him, period. He adds nothing. **3/4

Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson def. Hiroshi Tanhashi & Togi Makabe

I figured that noted tag team match sandbaggers Tanahashi & Makabe would jokey for position to do the least while poor Juice sold for 90% of the match to protect IC title challenger Ibushi, but that wasn’t the case as everyone worked hard here. I was flat out stunned when Juice rolled out of the way of a King Kong Knee Drop and hit the Pulp Friction to pick up a pin on Makabe.

I know Juice scored a win over Kenny Omega, but that was a title match setup G1 upset, the likes of which we see pretty frequently. To me, this is a more significant scalp, because Makabe is a protected veteran who almost never jobs, and I was fully suspecting Juice to eat the loss here (which wouldn’t have hurt him one bit in a match with stars of this caliber). Makabe putting Juice over tells me that they take Juice seriously as a real player moving forward. ***1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Will Ospreay def. KUSHIDA (c)

A great match, but one that fell short of the Best of the Super Juniors final.

Hiromu came out to challenge, but similar to when Will knocked him out and took his spot vs KUSHIDA, Marty Scurll walked out, broke his fingers, and made the challenge. This is an entertaining little gimmick of people stealing Hiromu’s challenges, but it smells a little too much like WWE style goofiness for my taste. At least it appears to be headed somewhere, but unfortunately, the destination may wind up being a three (or four) way match at Wrestle Kingdom. No thanks.

I’m not going to pretend that Ospreay isn’t hyped to a high degree, but he still comes off as a guy who is severely underrated. There may not be a wrestler on the planet who delivers at a more consistently high clip than Ospreay, whose singles work settles right at the cusp of match of the year level nearly every time out, especially over the last few years as he matured as a worker. His knocks from critics almost always come off as horribly dated four year old takes from people who haven’t seen him wrestle since 2014.

“He doesn’t sell” (one of the best around in this regard, and if anything, he over sells), “His matches are all the same” (utter nonsense, unless you are so obtuse that all you see, or want to see, are the flipz), “He doesn’t understand psychology” (the Ricochet series, ironically enough bashed for all of the above, featured excellent match to match psychology).

His style may not be for everyone, but no style is. Will Ospreay is one of the five best wrestlers in the world. And I may be underrating him. ****1/4

Tetsuya Naito def. Tomohiro Ishii

My ratings for the last four Naito/Ishii matches:

  • 5/3/16 ****1/4
  • 7/1/17 ****1/4
  • 7/29/17 ****1/4
  • 10/9/17 ****1/4

5/3/16 was the Wrestling Dontaku match that is quite possibly my favorite singular pro wrestling performance of all time (by Ishii). It prompted an emotional Flagship rant on the greatness of Ishii, and this is what I wrote about him in the review, which to this point has been the only IWGP heavyweight title challenge of Ishii’s career:

Ishii has an intangible quality about him where he compels you to pull for him, and is probably the most complete pro wrestler working today. His offense is nasty and believable. His selling is top notch, maybe the best in the business, whether staggering after a big blow, absorbing a giant bump, going limp for a finish, or going glassy eyed and drooling when his stubborn heart is finally stomped dead. He gives off a vibe of being a hard to kill, but not impossible to beat, eliciting the right kind of emotion for the modern era where the superhero archetype isn’t necessarily what the people want. He’s a real guy, the everyman, who will never give up. He’s like John Cena without the primary colors or the pandering, the quiet neighbor who you never knew was a volunteer fireman until he pulls you out of your burning house, dutifully goes back in to look for your parakeet, and won’t stop looking until he digs through every pile of ash. He will fight to the death, but you know he can lose (and so does he), and that’s the hook. You’re happy for him when he wins, and you’re gutted for him when he loses. He’s a great worker but an even better character.

The last thing I expected this to have was drama, and shame on me. Ishii is Ishii. But then you had the added dynamic of Okada and Gedo cheering him on, thwarting EVIL and BUSHI’s attempts to save Naito as Ishii attempted to tear the champion’s leg from his torso. How could you not think about an Ishii/Okada IWGP title match while watching this? All the while Tanahashi is creeping on commentary, looking like he’d like another crack at that strap. Ishii worked and worked and worked Naito’s surgically repaired right leg, and wrestled perhaps his most complete match yet. Ishii and Naito always have great matches, but this one was different. This was an Ishii with a plan, an Ishii who went after Naito’s leg like he wanted to rip it off and take it home as a trophy along with the title. “Ishii Smash”, after all, didn’t work at New Japan Cup.

Naito didn’t get the help he thought he needed, because Okada took care of that. The Pluma Blanca wasn’t enough (is it ever?), but the Destino was. The crowd, somehow sucked in just like I was, was quickly and suddenly silenced.

It would be fitting if this Wrestling Dontaku clash was the one and only IWGP Heavyweight Title match in Ishii’s career. He came to work, he showed HEART, he showed FIGHT, and he came up short. He has never been the chosen one. He wasn’t destined to win. He couldn’twin. We knew better. But he got us anyway. He always does.”

The 7/1/17 match was in Long Beach, the first of three 4-star+ matches in two days for Ishii (I went the full five on the Omega final). Ishii was more over than Naito on this night, thanks to his underdog charisma and the fact that LIJ is a hotter act in Japan than it is in the U.S.

7/29/17 was a G1 rematch three weeks later. Modern G1 matches tend to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t remember much about it, other than the “****1/4” in my notebook.

Instead of heaping praise this King of Pro-Wrestling match, let me offer a minor critique, but one that bothered me enough to knock the match down a peg. The top rope brainbuster spot was done a little too early. I may have bought the spot, for at least a split second, had it been placed closer to the home stretch. Naito kicking out at two without much milking for drama took me out of the match for a bit.

My favorite of the four, by far, was the Dontaku match. It’s one of my favorite matches of all time. ****1/4

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kazuchika Okada (c) def. EVIL

EVIL was carried to the ring on a throne by masked goth geeks, looking like the unfortunate spawn of a wild Harley Race, Triple H, and demonic era Undertaker drunken fuck fest. It may not read well, but he came off like an absolute superstar.

This gradually developed into a great match, slowly peeled back with layers of subtlety. It lulls you early, with the winner never being in any sort of doubt, and business as usual Okada & EVIL spots (Okada whiffing on a way-too-early Rainmaker, EVIL wrapping a chair around Okada’s head and whipping him into the guard rail, et al). It continues to go through the motions until Okada ducks a flying chair on his crossbody over the rail spot, a tremendous callback counter to the memorable G1 moment that was promptly borrowed by Braun Strowman a few days later on RAW.

The work here is hard, clean, and stiff throughout, with a crowd that had been pro-LIJ all night politely(?) split early on, perhaps not wanting to feel foolish by backing a man who everyone in the building knew had no chance to win.

That all changed when a cocky Okada stomped a downed EVIL’s back, in the most disrespectful manner possible, eliciting boos and working up the LIJ heavy crowd. The tone of the bout then shifted, with EVIL working face and Okada backpedaling as the heel, perfectly peaked with an enormous pop for EVIL’s huge lariat that knocked the champion out of his boots, followed by EVIL mocking the condescending back stomps he endured moments earlier. The fans were firmly behind the challenger the rest of the way.

The shifting heel/face dynamic after the first two thirds of the bout was a microcosm of modern New Japan, where a large chunk of the roster works as fluid tweeners. Tetsuya Naito will cowardly attack opponents from behind in a post match brawls to soften them up for future matches, and on the very next show cut long babyface promos after winning his main event match. Okada represents the valiant babyface ace champion one moment, yet blatantly shows cocky disrespect by not taking Satoshi Kojima or Tiger Mask W seriously the next. Kenny Omega receives some of the biggest pops in the company, while leading the (mostly) heel Bullet Club (a unit with plenty of underlying inner strife among the members). The purest babyface, KUSHIDA, will throw his straight right closed fist in times of desperation, knowing full well the crowd will boo him out of the building. On this very show, Hiromu popped the crowd by outsmarting Fale with his Daryl antics in the opener, but was then positioned as a clownish heel buffoon in the Ospreay/Scurll post match title challenge.

With the exception of (most of) Taguchi Japan and Suzuki-gun, the bulk of the roster is presented in various shades of gray, with some fans choosing hard allegiances, and talented dudes like Okada, Omega, and Naito manipulating the emotions of the rest to whatever best suits the situation. This Okada/EVIL match was a great example of that, and the Wrestle Kingdom main event will put this dynamic on display under the largest spotlight possible.

The closing stretch created just enough drama with the angry, charging, maniacal EVIL surviving one Rainmaker and escaping another, without going too long or overly dramatic for a challenger of this caliber. There was delicate balance in how the finish ultimately played out, with EVIL clearly elevated through both the G1 and this bout, but Okada taking care of business in a manner slightly easier than he does against a Kenny Omega or Minoru Suzuki. This was the right approach, and all told, this was a satisfying match with a satisfying conclusion that told the correct story. A slight notch below Okada’s best stuff of 2017, but an excellent, well worked match to cap off a tremendous show. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

New Japan rebounds from a mediocre Destruction tour with an excellent show featuring no less than three great bouts and several other very good ones. It’s hard for a show to deliver when virtually none of the relevant outcomes are in any doubt whatsoever, but this one did, and it even managed to produce a few pleasant surprises (Juice pinning Makabe, the cool debut of Roppongi 3K). A four hour New Japan mega show that is well worth your time. Fire up New Japan World and don’t skip any of it. Even the mediocre bouts have something to offer in the way of storyline advancement.