Monday 6 January 2014

And That’s My Opinion...on Wrestle Kingdom 8 By Dave Green (@dagreeno)

January 4th at Tokyo Dome. A major date on the wrestling Calendar. Since 1992, New Japan Pro Wrestling has held their biggest card of the year on this date. This year’s Wrestle Kingdom played before a crowd of 35,000 people. I’ll warn you right now that this is a long column. It’s a long show. Roughly 5 and a half hours. Yes, 5 hours and 30 minutes! But with this show, the production values are off the chain. Video packages are superbly produced, nearly everyone has a specially created entrance, live music. It’s a huge event. What will happen in the latest chapter of Tanahashi vs Nakamura? Will Naito get the negative reaction that demoted his title shot from the main event? Will the Gracies produce a watchable match? Let’s find out

Kicking things off is the dark match. Yes, a dark match is broadcast for everyone to see.

Dark match – Team 1 - Bushi, Captain New Japan, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Tomoaki Honma vs Team 2 - Jushin Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Super Strong Machine and Yohei Komatsu

Team 2 whip Komatsu into the entire team 1 to kick off a brawl. Bushi hits a nice top rope dropkick and breakdances up to his feet. As Liger breaks up a Boston Crab, he also stomps Komatsu in his head to fire him up! CNJ calls for a top rope headbutt and inevitably misses. Nakanishi hits Tenzan with the most awkward looking spear I've ever seen. Komatsu hits some good offense on Tenzan and gets several near falls. CNJ chokes Komatsu into position for top rope headbutts from Honma and Tenzan. Tenzan cinches in a high angle Crab for the submission on Komatsu in 8 minutes. Decent enough, but very little if any action from Liger and Machine. Bit of a waste of them. Despite being a last minute substitute, Komatsu was actually the star of this match, as the young lion worked hard against some big names and did himself proud.

The iPPV kicks off proper with some live traditional music while the English speaking announcers run down the card. The female voice keeps singing the name of everyone she announces – “Tetsuya NaitoOoOoOoOoOoO!!!!!” Both annoying and hilarious at the same time.

Match 1 - 4 Way Tag Match for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Title - The Young Bucks (c) vs Timesplitters (KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley) vs Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov & Rocky Romero) vs Taka Michinoku & Taichi

After a great opening video and some live music, the night kicks off properly with one of the matches I'm most looking forward to.

Prediction: Young Bucks.

Timesplitters enter in a delorean! Amazing. Kushida even wears a Marty McFly duffle jacket. Koslov sings the Russian national anthem but the Bucks double superkick him. Can't say I blame them, what with everything going on in that country. Apparently this is tornado tag rules, though Taka and Taichi decide to do some guest commentary while the Bucks and Splitters run through some great tandem offense. Romero's multiple clotheslines in the corner get a great reaction, as do Koslov's Cossack dance kicks. All eight men hit a quadruple suplex. Multiple dives from everyone lead up to the Bucks suplexing Taichi off the top to everyone else outside! The ref counts to 19 but everyone dives back in the ring just in time. Doomsday Device only gets two for the Hooligans. Timesplitters hit their neckbreaker/moonsault combo on Romero but Taka comes in with a chair to distract the ref from counting the pin. Double Air Raid Crash gets two for Taka & Taichi. Bucks hit the spike Tombstone, double superkick for Taka, More Bang for Your Buck on Taichi gets the win in 11 minutes.

Not a long match, but they packed a huge amount in there. A spot fest certainly, but a damn good one. Hope we get a feud between the Bucks and Timesplitters from this. Ha - Nick just gave Kevin Steen a shoutout. Keeping the PWG connection going.

Match 2 – IWGP Tag title match – Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr) vs Bullet Club (Doc Gallows & Ken Anderson w/Tama Tonga)

Interested to see how this match is taken to, being all heels and all Gaijin.

Prediction- KES.

Bullet Club enter in camouflage war clobber. Not to be outdone, KES enter on motorbikes. KES start strong and dominate, even bringing Tonga in with a huge hiptoss and nearly hitting the killer bomb. Bullet Club take advantage and isolate Smith. Archer comes in with some hard clotheslines. Goes for Old School, but Tonga crotches him behind the refs back. Archer hits the Blackout, but Tonga pulls the ref out! He gets the Killer Bomb for his trouble. KES try it twice more, but it's countered each time. Archer hits a HUGE choke slam. 2nd attempt is countered with the Gun Stun - only for 2. DBS is taken out with a flapjack. Magic Killer! New champions in 10 minutes! Wow I'm surprised at the result. Then again, it's a fresh team at the top, which he division does need. The match was good, lots of high impact moves and kept a good pace. Crowd reacted well and treated KES like faces, which may continue as the interference made it a tainted win

Match 3 – NWA Championship match – Rob Conway (c) vs Satoshi Kojima

Prediction - Kojima. Well, actually I know Kojima won as it was spoiled by a certain web host ;)

Harley Race is introduced to the crowd, he's going to present the belt to the winner. Nice way of making this a big deal. Bruce Tharpe gets in his face before the match starts, so Harley decks him with a left hand.

Crowd are really behind Kojima. Say what you want about the NWA and it's place in today's wrestling world, but Conway and Tharpe have done a great job of getting reactions from the Japanese crowds. An exchange on the apron sees Kojima hit a DDT. Dane interferes before the Bakayaro elbow, Conway knocks Kojima off the top to the floor. Conway hits Tenzan's Mongolian chops whilst taunting the man at ringside. Kojima cuts him off with a Koji-Cutter and brainbuster. Dane puts a sleeper on Kojima right in front of the ref. Tenzan slams Dane on the outside. Conway ducks the lariat and hits a spear. Ego Trip is countered with a lariat to the back. Running lariat! Kojima wins in 9 minutes. The match was decent, but the crowd was very into the action which helped a lot. After Kojima's matches in the G1, this win is thoroughly deserved and Race presenting the belt to him is a real feel good moment.

Match 4 – Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs Daniel & Rolles Gracie

Prediction - Nagata & Sakuraba.

I don't know much about the Gracie clan. I'm aware that Sakuraba took on the clan and beat most of them in the MMA world, but Rolles and Daniel were not in that list. What the Gracie's wrestling background is, I know not, so this match could be a train wreck. Rolles catches Sakuraba in a few submission situations leading Nagata to break it up. Daniel gets into trouble when Nagata kicks his legs. Daniel tries shoving him back, but his shove looks weak. That's a first - a weak looking shove! A chokehold gets Nagata in trouble, but transfers into a cross arm breaker, which Daniel reverses. Sakuraba drops a knee in his face. Daniel looks really awkward going for strikes, like he realises he has to hold back and not go full power as he would in his fighting environment. Nagata hits the backdrop, but Daniel kicks out! Rolles and Sak brawl - well, hold each other - on the outside. Daniel counters the backdrop and chokes Nagata with his gi, the ref admonishes him. Nagata's out, the bell sounds at 10 mins. The Gracie's celebrate, but they've been dq'ed. Well that was underwhelming. It was hold, then a hold, then a hold ad infinitum and ends with a pathetic DQ. Rolles was poor, but Daniel was awful! New Japan left names like Tomohiro Ishii off this card and had this instead? Waste of time. The promos after the match took as long as the match!

Match 5 – Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin vs Toru Yano & The Great Muta

There've been some good entrances tonight, but this is the one I’ve been looking forward to - the return of the great Muta. Live band, multiple dragon dancers, and a typically bonkers warrior robe and mask.

Prediction – Yano & Muta.

Muta and Suzuki start, but not before a green mist spit which pops the crowd. Exchanges with Suzuki and Benjamin don't quite go Muta's way, so he pulls from under the ring....a lighting truss?? That's a new under-the-ring item. Yano tags in and immediately gets into trouble. Suzuki-gun dominate a brawl on the outside. Yano's worked over until he manages to expose the turnbuckles and Benjamin leaps right into them. Hot tag to Muta. Running kick in the corner followed the Dragon Screw. Muta uses a chair on the outside. Hits the Muta elbow. Benjamin fluffs the dragon whip kick. Yano runs through his usual routine of doing his RVD pose and getting stopped. Yano counters the Gotch piledriver and sets Muta up for the Shining Wizard. Taichi tries interfering and gets the red mist! Yano's caught in a sleeper and is shouting at Muta to help, who just stands and watches. As the ref puts a chair out, Yano low blows Suzuki and shoves Muta! Muta goes for Yano but hits Suzuki with green mist. Yano cradle gets the three at 11 minutes. Not a technical classic by any means, but it was great fun. I just hope the Yano/Suzuki feud is over and they can move on.

Match 6 – Togi Makabe vs Bad Luck Fale (King of Destroyer Match)

Second half kicks off with a long running feud where the match can only be won by submission or knockout. This also Fale's singles debut.

Prediction - Fale.

As expected its strikes a-plenty as they brawl to the outside almost immediately. Fale takes over quite quickly once outside. His offense ranges from kick to punch to stomp. Makabe comes back with a slam but misses the King Kong knee drop. Fale grabs Makabe’s chain, but gets it and waffles Fale with chain punches and a lariat. Makabe gets a table - I think I see where this is going. Makabe goes to the top rope, but Fale knocks him back into the ring. Fale hits the Grenade (Samoan Spike) but Makabe gets up before 10. Splash Mountain Bomb! Makabe gets up again - first man to survive that move. Fale gets desperate and goes to the top and misses a splash. Fale gets caught posing on the apron and Makabe catches him with a powerbomb through the table - really rough bump! The lower back of Fale hit the table but his upper body and head smacked against the floor. Makabe gets him back in the ring and hammers him with clotheslines in the corner. Makabe with the King Kong knee drop to the back of Fale's head, and another to the chest and that's it at 15 minutes. This went a lot longer than I expected it to. Dull first half but it picked up once Makabe got on offense. Fale took a bad bump through the table and still finished the match, so he still looked strong in his first loss.

Match 7 – Katsuyori Shibata vs Hirooki Goto

Goto's return from injury against his long time friend turned rival. In a series of matches last summer, Shibata's won one and the other matches all went to draws, so prediction - Goto.

Shibata starts strong and barely misses a penalty kick in only the third strike of the match. Figure four locked in. Shibata in control early, playing off Goto's ring rust. Goto hits a great spin kick in the corner but Shibata comes straight back with kick to the face! Shibata with vicious forearms to the previously injured jaw. Goto finally hits a massive lariat to get some control. Each man tries a running strike, with the other absorbing the blow. Stiff German Suplex by Shibata. A sequence of each man no selling backdrop drivers leads to a Shibata enziguri. Oh my god - clotheslines, roundhouse kicks, only getting one-counts in absurdly quick sequence. DVD over the knee followed by the penalty kick - Goto kicks out! Goto hits a face first powerbomb over the knee (!) followed by two neckbreakers on the knee, Shibata kicks out. Spinning face buster, another kick out. Goto goes for the Shouten, but Shibata reverses into one of his own! Shibata goes for the GTS, Goto counters, unprotected headbutts 'from both, ugh. Double KO tease. Massive lariat, Shouten, Goto wins in 15 minutes. Shibata raises Goto's hand and they leave together. Apart from the headbutts, this match was awesome. Intense and even throughout. I predict both these men will have a title before the year is out.

Match 8 - IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title match – Prince Devitt (c) vs Kota Ibushi

Prediction - Ibushi.

I was back and forth on who'd win. Everyone seems to think it’s a lock for Ibushi to win, but Devitt and the Bullet Club holding a majority of titles would be a major deal for them. But the title hasn't been defended in ages, so a title change probably should happen.

Oh my goodness, Devitt's entrance. He gets brought out in a coffin. Holy shit, he's body painted like...well, like this -

That's thinking outside the box. The entire Bullet Club are at ringside except Fale. A running ropes exchange leads to an Ibushi roundhouse kick. Interference almost immediately as Gallows pulls Ibushi out. After some slow offense from Devitt, he chops Ibushi to the outside where Anderson powerbombs him on the ring apron! Devitt misses a top rope stomp, Ibushi goes for a dive, the Bucks are in the ring but Ibushi hits them with a double backflip kick. Then he takes out the rest of the Club with a springboard twisting Asai moonsault! Standing shooting star press into a second rope moonsault gets two. Someone throws a chair against Ibushi's head, getting Devitt two on a rollup. Schoolboy rollup into a German suplex by Ibushi! Wow! Gallows holds Ibushi's leg so Devitt can push him to the floor. The interference is getting stupid now. Just as I think that, the Club is sent away from ringside by officials. Hard dropkick against the barrier by Devitt, so impactful that Ibushi sprung back and hit the ring post! Ibushi catches Devitt up top - SUPER HURRICANRANA!!! That was amazing! Only two! Reverse bloody Sunday, only two! Top rope double stomp, only two! Crowd are going crazy for this match. Snap German suplex - never seen that move hit so quickly. Last Ride-style sitdown powerbomb. Phoenix Splash! Ibushi wins! 16 minutes and a new Jr Heavyweight Champion. Slightly odd ending in that I expected it to be a bit more competitive, but Ibushi dominated the last 90 seconds. The interference got too much, so I was glad to see the Club get sent away. Overall though, great match as expected between these two.

Afterwards, a masked suited man presents Ibushi with black flowers and leaves. Apparently he is known as El Desperado. No idea who it was and nor does anyone else apparently. I've read who people think it is, but I won't speculate, let's wait and see.

Match 9 – IWGP Heavyweight Title – Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito

So Naito got a big push after his injury lay off by winning the G1 for this title shot. However after a negative crowd reaction to him in a promo exchange with Okada, officials decided to put the placing of this and the IC Title match to a vote. This lost, of course. Let’s see if Naito can convince us we made the wrong choice.

Prediction - Okada

Okada makes it rain money all over the Tokyo Dome, what a sight. A good even exchange until Okada hits a springboard dropkick to knock Naito outside. Okada locks a strange stretch move on the entrance ramp, then runs a good length of said ramp to dropkick Naito. Innovative submission hold where Okada ties up Naito's arms in his legs and holds his head in a cravat. After little offense for 10 minutes, Naito finally hits an apron-to-corner dropkick. He pounds away at Okada in the corner to audible boos from the crowd. Naito counters a tombstone attempt with a tornado DDT on the outside. Puma Blanca is locked in but Okada makes the ropes. Naito shows his vicious side with headbutts in the corner, but he caught napping and Okada takes to the turnbuckles and dropkicks him outside, where Naito surgically repaired knee gets caught in the ropes on the way down. Diving elbow followed by the Rainmaker signal. Naito counters a DVD attempt into a spike DDT. Puma Blanca locked in again to no reaction from the crowd. Enziguri and German suplex get a loooong two count. DDT into the Red Ink by Okada. After Naito makes it to the ropes, he counters another tombstone attempt and hits his flying forearm. Nice top rope hurricanrana. Dragon suplex for two! Gloria! Only two. Stardust Press and Naito crashes and burns! That was close! Okada hits the reverse neckbreaker, then Heavy Rain, both for two. Rainmaker countered into a victory roll! Close two count. Urenage slam on the neck! Naito hits an unprotected headbutt. Ugh those are stupidly dangerous, stop doing them! Forearm countered with Rainmaker, but that's countered with a palm strike, then Naito runs into a beautiful dropkick, rainmaker countered again, Gloria-rollup, closest you can get to a three count without getting the three! Dropkick to the back if the head! Tombstone! Naito counters Rainmaker again, goes for Puma Blanca but that's countered to another Tombstone! Rainmaker!!!! 31 minutes and Okada retains. What a match! Okada performed incredibly and Naito did a great a job too, despite the crowd seemingly not much into him. Some innovative counters to the Rainmaker but couldn't quite get the job done. Not sure where this loss leaves Naito but hopefully he won't be completely forgotten.

Match 10 – IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

They haven't fought each other since G1 2011, and they've twice headlined January 4th Tokyo Dome previously. Both times, Nakamura won. Just in terms of where they can both go from here, I'll go with a prediction of Tanahashi.

Stan Hansen in introduced to present the winner with the title. Not sure why they couldn't have found someone to do the same with the previous title match. Marty Friedman of Megadeath provides live guitar for Tanahashi's entrance.

Early advantage to Tanahashi, who immediately targets Nakamura's left leg. Good psychology always employed by Tanahashi, as he always targets the parts of the body that his opponent uses for his finisher, e.g. matches against Kojima and Okada where he targeted their Lariat-throwing arms. In this case, the Boma-Ye kicking leg. However Nak uses said leg to counter a cross body attempt. Seems Nak is targeting the mid-section. After some trademark Tana offense, Nak hits a spin kick but sells his leg, showing it may not be as healthy as he made out. Wicked face-first suplex. Tan misses a charge and leaves himself open for a series of knees to the ribs. Enziguri knocks Tana to the floor. Nak misses a knee on the apron and wipes out on the floor. Tana with a crossbody to the floor! Dragon Screw in the ropes. Tana tries a cloverleaf but Nak gets him in a triangle choke. MMA background came in handy there. Tana counters into the Cloverleaf. Straight jacket German gets Tana a loooong two count. Tana goes for High Fly Flow, gets knocked off, he skins the cat back in but Nak hits a backcracker! Great sequence. Nak wins a strike exchange and ruthlessly stomps Tan in the ropes. Boma-Ye from behind, but Nak's too tired to cover. DVD-neckbreaker, followed by flipping back suplex. DVD countered with kind of a Slingblade. Sunset powerbomb is countered by Nak into a Codebreaker. dragon suplex gets two for Tana. High Fly Flow!!!! Only two! Wow I thought that was it. Nak hits a second rope Boma-Ye, then a regular one! Only two again! Nak goes for the Boma-Ye again several times but it's countered every time, until another dragon screw while on the canvas by Tana. Cloverleaf again. Tana turns it into a Styles Clash! High Fly Flow crossbody while Nak was on his knees! Looked rough as hell. High Fly Flow frog splash! New champion!!!! 24 minutes of excellence.

A worthy main event. As Tanahashi can't challenge for the heavyweight title while Okada still holds it, this will give him a new direction. Plus this must surely make Tana some kind of record holder? Surely he's New Japan's most successful title holder. Nakamura doesn't lose much by dropping the title. He made it a main event worthy title and hopefully he will be put into the main title picture.
Overall a very well delivered card. Every match had everyone working hard and the entrances made this feel like a very special event. Having said that, I could've done without the Gracie's match and I don't look forward to more from them in the future. The final three matches are all worth checking out, as well as the opening four-way tag and Goto/Shibata.

New Japan have set the bar for wrestling events very high with this one. Rest of the world, the floor is yours.

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