New Japan Pro Wrestling
King of Pro Wrestling
October 14, 2019
Ryogoku Kokugikan
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Heading into one of the biggest events on the New Japan calendar, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered before Wrestle Kingdom in January. Is there going to be a mini-tournament that has been hinted for months? Who will be in the tournament? When will Hiromu come back? Do we get a definitive end for Suzuki and Liger?

While we didn’t get answers to everything, we did get some of them and the road to Power Struggle is more interesting than expected. 

With the typhoon that occurred over the weekend, the show kicked off with the announcement of the changed card that has no Zack Sabre Jr or Jon Moxley, as both men were unable to make it. Due to missing the show, it was announced that Moxley was stripped of his IWGP US Title and Lance Archer would be replacing him in the match against Juice Robinson, which got the instant approval of the live crowd.

Suzukigun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH)

In the anticipated return of El Desperado, this match with him and Yoshinobu Kanemaru against Roppongi 3K started off like every Suzukigun tag match: an attack before the bell. What was really intriguing is that El Desprerado came out in the same shirt that he wore when his jaw was broken at Taka/Taichi Mania right before the Best Of Super Junior tournament. Kanemaru and Desperado haven’t missed a beat and had tremendous chemistry throughout this match. A preview of their opening night match for the Super Junior Tag League on Wednesday the 16th, this was a solid opener and preview for what we will see from them in 48 hours, which should be better, as it felt like they left a lot in the tank. **½

Second Match-20th Anniversary Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomoaki Honma def. Togi Makabe and Toru Yano

Twenty years and four days prior, we saw the debut of the Ace Hiroshi Tanahashi against Togi Makabe and we see them squaring off once again in this special 20th Anniversary match. What made this match special was that the now-retired Wataru Inoue, who debuted at the same time as Tanahashi, was ringside for this match. Overall, this was fun. We got Yano shenanigans, a dual Kokeshi attempt with Tanahashi and Honma and a High Fly Flow to end the match. **½

Los Ingobrenables de Japon (Shingo Takagi and Tetsuya Naito) def. Suzukigun (Taichi and DOUKI)

Before the bell, we had an interesting interaction with Taichi and Naito, where Taichi held the ropes open for Naito and then checked his waistline for any hidden objects. I guess Naito is now Toru Yano? Anyway, this was a solid match with some good back and forth with plenty of Suzukigun shenanigans, including DOUKI using his pipe to choke Shingo and Taichi getting the team disqualified by hitting Shingo with the microphone stand when he was going for the last of the dragon. Naito came into the ring and told Taichi to be tranquillo and he dropped the mic stand. The exchange ended with Naito taking a signature unnecessary neck bump with a backdrop suplex. Taichi followed it up with a last ride and got a visual pin with DOUKI counting to 3. Taichi grabbed the mic, called Naito “weak” and said “I will finish what you started.” With Taichi seemingly entering himself into the mini-tournament picture, this should culminate in a match at Power Struggle in 3 weeks. ***

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Minoru Suzuki def. Jushin Thunder Liger

A feud that evolved out of a meaningless six-man tag match months ago, this is a blood feud that has a big fight feel. Not only have we seen original Liger, but Suzuki has brought out Kishin Liger at Destruction In Kobe and this match has brought out Battle Liger, who, as Chris Charlton noted, hasn’t been seen since 2012. 

The beginning of the match started off as a callback to their match in Pancrase from 2002 with Liger getting down on the ground and inviting Suzuki to grapple with him.

While it’s a nice callback spot, this feud doesn’t scream “lets grapple” but rather “I want to murder you.”

Shortly after a couple of minutes of grappling, they got their blood flowing with Liger grabbing a chair, but referee Marty Asami stepped in. After Liger dropped the chair, Suzuki landed multiple chair shots on Liger, and Suzuki followed it up with an attempt to rip off Liger’s mask.

Later on, we get a great spot where Liger delivers a Shotei to Suzuki in the corner which was brilliantly no sold. One of the best parts of Suzuki is his brilliant use of facial expressions. His sick and twisted enjoyment of each strike is perfect in every way.  Afterward, we get a lot of back and forth grappling, which is weird because all they talked about in the lead up is how they want to murder each other. However, after Liger got a near fall with a brainbuster, we finally got the striking exchange that we all expected the match to be. Liger, the struggling babyface, tried standing up to Suzuki, but couldn’t bring him down and succumbed to the Gotch Style Piledriver.

After the match, Suzuki teased beating up Liger with a chair, but dropped it and bowed to him, showing Liger the ultimate respect. As good as this match was, it was very disappointing based on the build. For two guys that wanted to murder each other, they failed to get there on every level. ***3/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Will Ospreay © def. El Phantasmo

To start the match, El Phantasmo showed that he wants to live up to his word of having a clean match by sending his second Taiji Ishimori to the back. Ospreay does the same by sending Robbie Eagles as well. Phantasmo offers his hand to Ospreay multiple times but to no avail, as the only one who will accept his hand is referee Marty Asami. About 5 minutes in, Phantasmo offered his hand to help Ospreay up and Will accepted, only for Phantasmo to turn on him and go back to his normal heel antics.

This match told essentially the same story as their previous two singles matches: two great wrestlers with the babyface trying to overcome the heel antics of the challenger. We did get some new and fun spots from these two. Will throwing El Phantasmo into Juicy Gambino, ELP stomping on Will’s fingers sending him to the floor, following it up with a diving crossbody from the top of the wrestler’s entrance. Will went for his running backflip enziguri but after the flip, ELP hit the enziguri, which I had never seen before. 

Right after Ospreay hit the OsCutter, we saw Ishimori pull Asami out of the ring and attack the champion. Right as Ishimori was setting up to hit the champion with the belt, Robbie Eagles came in for the save and took Ishimori out of the ring.

After El Phantasmo starts emptying his bag of tricks, including using a Styles Clash and V-Trigger from former Bullet Club leaders, Ospreay was able to roll through a One-Winged Angel and hit a running spanish fly. The match fully turned in Ospreay’s favor when he countered a frankensteiner into a sit-down powerbomb. He followed it up with the most brutal hidden blade I’ve ever see and a storm breaker finished off ELP. Overall, this was an incredible match where Ospreay proved he is one of the top wrestlers in the world and El Phantasmo proved he is on the same playing field as Ospreay. Moving forward, El Phantasmo will be worth keeping an eye on, as he proved that he doesn’t need the shenanigans to compete with the best, but will he ever grow out of that habit? ****1/2

CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto) def. Bullet Club (KENTA, Yujiro Takahashi and Jay White)

I really don’t understand the direction for Hirooki Goto. Why in the world is he still wearing the G in G1 stands for Goto shirt? It proves once again how big of a geek Goto really is. Anyways, with the presumed Intercontinental title match with Jay White and Hirooki Goto and NEVER title match with Tomohiro Ishii and KENTA at either Power Struggle or the San Jose shows in November, this match served as a setup match for both of these matches. While we got some good exchanges from both pairs of competitors, the matches continued their build due to the arrogant actions of both Jay White and KENTA. Goto ended up getting the pin on Yujiro Takahashi, which wasn’t a big surprise.

After the match, Ishii attacked KENTA and Jay White proclaimed that Goto doesn’t deserve a shot at the IC title and he will become the first double champion, taking digs at both Goto and Hiroshi Tanahashi, who was at the Japanese announce table. It will be interesting to follow the direction for these four men moving forward.

IWGP United States Championship
Lance Archer def. Juice Robinson

Before the match, Lance proclaims Sumo Hall as his murder-hawk mansion and wants to give the fans a no disqualification match and Juice agrees. Right out of the gate, they go right at each other. Juice kicks Archer in the balls and tries a quick roll up to a two count. Archer then spears Robinson out of the ring and gets attacked with a chair in the process. Archer gets the upper hand by choke-slamming Juice through the announce table and takes all four turnbuckle pads off and replaces them with chairs while Juice recovers.

Once the match got back into the ring, we saw Archer in his element. Not only is he an incredibly athletic big man, but he is an incredible monster. His performance was excellent, but was also elevated by the ultimate babyface in Juice, who sold like a million bucks for Archer. It took everything Archer had, including a full nelson bomb and a blackout onto chairs, only to have Juice kickout at two. Juice couldn’t survive the EBD Claw, which gave Archer his first ever singles title. 

After the match, we had Archer about to continue his attack on Juice only to have a returning David Finlay come out to make the save. What was surprising was that Finlay came out to little/no reaction from the crowd, which was definitely disappointing. It seems that we are getting Archer/Finlay in San Jose for the US Title. ****

Right To Challenge Briefcase Match
Kota Ibushi def. EVIL

Coming out for this match, there was a renewed focus that I haven’t seen on Ibushi’s face in a long time. He wasn’t here to have fun in the ring or for the fans: he came to Sumo Hall to take care of business.

On the other side of the ring, EVIL was once again in a familiar spot. He is wrestling in a big spot late in the year, this time getting a chance to main event the Tokyo Dome. He has a look in his eye like he is ready to take the next step in his career.

As Kevin Kelly notes during the match, this match has a healthy Kota Ibushi, as his ankle has healed from his match at the opening night of the G1 against KENTA. Initially, you can tell that Kota is moving around in the ring much better than he was in the G1.

This match started off rather slow, with both men exchanging holds and strikes. EVIL, as always, went for his patented home run chair shot and Ibushi sold it with perfect timing. After having wrestled against each other in tags for the last month, they know each other very well and have great chemistry, executing counter sequences flawlessly.

While this match was physical and these two work well together, this match never hit that next gear we have come to expect from the upper card matches. The closing stretch was surprisingly short and was underwhelming. This was fine, but fine is a disappointment for a New Japan semi-main event. ***½

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada ©  defeats SANADA 

Not only is this the fourth singles match between Okada and SANADA this year, it is also their second IWGP championship match, with their first being at Wrestling Dontaku. After that Dontaku match, Okada called SANADA, even with his 6-0 record over him, his rival. On night 13 of G1 29, SANADA finally lived up to the billing, pinning Okada with only 13 seconds left in the 30-minute time limit.

On the King Of Pro Wrestling preview, I wrote that I thought this would be a draw. It seemed to me like the most logical conclusion to the match. SANADA gains credibility taking Okada to the limit and Okada keeps the belt going into Tokyo Dome. Within the first five seconds of the bell ringing, my prediction was proven wrong, as Okada comes out guns blazing attempting a shotgun dropkick on SANADA. After the initial fleury, these two settled into a groove. 

When Okada took control, we saw a cocky, arrogance about him that we haven’t seen since his previous title reign. The silver hair, the swagger and the nonchalant facial expressions are all in peak form early on.

On the other hand, SANADA has shown a lot of character growth and development during this calendar year positioned across from Okada. One of the things his detractors would always focus on was his lack of charisma. Not only were his expressions lacking in the ring, but he also failed to get the crowd riled up after big moves just by doing the simple things. In this match, he showed staggering improvement in this area, getting the crowd going on multiple occasions.

This match was incredible. Not only was it well placed, but it was filled with callbacks and it showed that, while SANADA is getting closer, he still doesn’t have what it takes to win the IWGP Title. What was interesting at the end of this match is that SANADA was crying, just like Okada did after losing to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9. With how much growth we have seen from SANADA the past couple of years, this could be foreshadowing for a future IWGP Title win. 

After the match, Okada said to SANADA “let’s do this next time at the main event of the Tokyo Dome.” He calls out Ibushi and the main event for Wrestle Kingdom on January 4 is set. ****½

Final Thoughts

Coming out of a pretty good King of Pro Wrestling show, we had a lot of questions answered, but also had more posed to us. With only two and a half months until Wrestle Kingdom, we are running out of time to have those answered. Super Junior Tag League starts on Wednesday and the road to Tokyo Dome will become more clear each day.