Hey everybody! Welcome back to the Wolski Wrestling Ramblings. With a new semester comes another major change, as I cancelled my subscription to the WWE Network and got one for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s equivalent, NJPW World.
It’s been reported that the service gained 25,000 subscribers in the past month, with most of them coming from interest in their Jan. 4 event Wrestle Kingdom. Think of it as their version of Wrestlemania.
Every year it takes place at the Tokyo Dome, one of the largest arenas ever, and is where NJPW puts on their biggest matches.
One of the major reasons for the increased interest was the semi main event showdown between Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. For me it was the final thing to push me into getting a subscription, as Jericho is one of my favorites and I had heard nothing but good things about NJPW, and wanted to start watching for a while.
So without further ado, here is the review of my first NJPW event ever. As an aside, I watched with the English commentary team of Don Callis and Kevin Kelly, and I didn’t really know any of the storylines or a lot of the wrestlers going in.
- (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship) The Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice 3K: This was a fun match to start up with, and a good introduction to the Bucks, as this was the first time I saw one of their matches. The storytelling with one member of each team having a back injury was fun to watch.
In the end, the Bucks won the title for an unprecedented 7th time after hitting the Meltzer Driver on Yoh and putting him in the sharpshooter.
I had heard a lot of complaints about the Bucks and wasn’t sure what I was gonna get from them, and I was pleasantly surprised. There were plenty of fun spots and very solid ring psychology in this match. A good introduction to the company.
- Kota Ibushi vs Cody: Now I have seen some of the work of both of these men. Cody always showed a lot of potential and had a lot of good matches when he was with WWE, and I saw Ibushi do his thing in the WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016. So I was excited to see what they could do.
I liked a lot of what I saw out of Cody. His wife Brandi is a nice addition to his character and he’s still smooth as ever in the ring. Plus, “The American Nightmare” is such a good nickname, especially since it’s a take off his father Dusty Rhodes.
The match was a lot of fun with both guys trading offense some really good offense. Cody shined playing the bad guy in the matchup, stooping so low as to have Brandi get hit and trick Ibushi into showing some restraint.
The ending came when Ibushi hit a phoenix splash, which was something to behold. Cody lost the ROH title just before this event, but they still wrestled like something was on the line. Very good match.
- (Never Openweight Championship) Hirooki Goto vs Minoru Suzuki: Now this was something. I had never heard of or seen anything from these two guys, but they blew me out of the water with their physicality and intensity, especially Suzuki.
The story of the match was that the two had traded the title back and forth a couple times, and Suzuki was done. Goto then offered to cut his hair should he lose the match, and Suzuki agreed to put his hair on the line as well.
This is probably the one match where the English commentary made it, as I had no clue how big a deal shaving your head was in Japan. They also explained the story of the rivalry well and that played in my enjoyment of the match.
Suzuki had a majority of the offense, with Goto catching a break every now and then. And boy, were some of the smacks he threw at him brutal. Suzuki’s facial expressions were equally terrifying, and helped the heat sections of the match go by quick.
In the end, Goto came back and hit two GTR’s to score the victory. After much debating and an attempt to leave, Suzuki came back and shaved his own head, a sign of respect towards his opponent. This match was great, with a good story as well as some stiff action.
- (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship) Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi vs KUSHIDA: From what I’ve read this match and division is the New Japan equivalent of the Cruiserweight division, and it did not disappoint.
I had heard various things about all four wrestlers involved in the match, but this was my first time seeing them.
Scrull especially caught my eye with his awesome entrance and villain persona. It’s clear he’s going for the “guy you love to hate” sort of villain instead of focusing on making people hate him and that kinda bums me out.
However he did his shtick well in this match as did everyone else. Ospreay was incredible to watch as he did some high flying stuff that was amazing. The criticisms I’ve heard about his lack of selling definitely ring true in this match though.
That didn’t bother me very much though because this match was wall to wall action. All four guys got some great moments to show themselves off, and I want to go back and see some of their prior work.
The main story of the match was Ospreay trying to beat Scurll for the first time, and he finally did in the end by hitting the Os-cutter to get the pin and his second IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship. A very fun and exciting match.
- (IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship) Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega: This was the match that likely sold a lot of people on this show, including me, and it was fantastic. From the opening bell Jericho took it to Omega, as they fought all around ringside before Jericho dogged an Omega dive through one of the announcers’ tables.
From that point on the match was more of a brawl than a traditional style match, which the two using weapons, last chance strikes, basically anything they could. One of the highlights of this was Jericho positioning a chair in the corner of the ring, and bashing Omega head first into it at least six times!
By the end of that assault the chair was more broken than Matt Hardy and Omega was bleeding. After this the match became more about each man shooting their best shot, with both kicking out of each other’s finishers. It finally took a One Winged Angel onto a steel chair for Omega to put Jericho down and gain the victory.
This match was great. It was nothing but chaos, a bunch of fun moves and sequences, with the right guy coming out on top. This is the best Jericho’s looked in a while, and that’s saying something considering the quality of his recent WWE run.
One thing I loved was just how much Jericho was heeling on the crowd. From flipping off Omega and other fans, to punching all the young lions as well as putting the referee’s son into the walls (How was Red Shoes able to stay impartial after that? True professional in my book) he made it that more cathartic when Omega beat him.
- (IWGP Heavyweight Championship) Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito: While Alpha vs Omega was the final kick I needed to subscribe to NJPW World, the main event enticed me to stay.
I came in not knowing much about the story between these two, but the commentary did a solid job catching me up to speed. This match and opportunity had been a long time coming for Naito, who the fans in attendance loved. Okada reminded me a bit of Roman Reigns if he was booked well and had the in ring skill of Randy Orton.
Okada and Naito both just had a natural ability to wrestle and it shined through in this match. They both have had neck problems and targeted each other in the early going. The action started out slow, as it was a marathon and not a sprint. The amount of finisher reversals and lack of kickouts was quite different from WWE.
There were a couple times when a finisher was hit that neither man could get an advantage due to the pain. In the end though, Natio hit two Destinos (his finisher) and instead of going for the cover he tried to hit a third. Okada took advantage of this and hit a tombstone piledriver and a rainmaker to get the three count and retain his title.
This match was awesome and was wrestled in a smart style. I was really impressed by both guys and I want to see what’s next for Natio, since he didn’t get his big moment. A really good main event.
- New Japan Rumble: From what I understand, this was on the preshow and is kinda meant as a “get everybody on the card” match. With that in mind though, I didn’t really enjoy it, since I didn’t know who most of the guys were, and the English commentary didn’t really educate me enough on them.
The winner ended up being Masahito Kakihara, a guy I never heard of but he is fighting cancer. If nothing else, I’m sure that win was a nice feel good moment for Kakihara and the live crowd, but nothing extraordinary in terms of in-ring action.
- English commentary/General use of insider terms: One thing I can’t stand in wrestling is when anyone involved uses insider terms, like “mark” or “heel” or “getting over.” I already know it’s not real and that stuff takes me out of the moment.
This was made worse in the main event, when Callis and Kelly started talking about Dave Meltzer (one of wrestlings most respected journalists) and the potential star ratings he would give the match. I don’t care about that, I care about seeing two guys beat each other up for honor and a title, not if they’re gonna try and get a five star rating.
In general I wasn’t impressed by the English commentary. There were a few bright spots where they explained rules and feuds really well, but most of the time both Kelly and especially Callis just sounded disinterested.
Most of the clips I had seen of New Japan had the Japanese commentary, and they were fantastic. I didn’t know a lot of what they were saying, but the passion they had and the excitement in them was universal and contagious. Once I get used to who everyone is I’ll be switching to Japanese commentary.
- (NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Championship) 5 team Gauntlet match: This match didn’t do a lot for me. The action was solid but I didn’t know any of these guys. It fell into the usual trap with gauntlet matches where all of the matchups are too short and don’t have a lot of time to breathe.
I will say this was the first time I’d seen GoD, and I liked them. They were really quick and looked cool.
- (IWGP Tag Team Championship) EVIL & SANADA vs. Killer Elite Squad: I get the story of this match being all about EVIL and SANADA making the comeback, but it was just too long for me. Maybe I was tired after seeing Cody vs Ibushi. Whatever the case I zoned out during the middle of this match. However I did like how heelish KES was in their entrance, and the weird spitting water on people.
- (IWGP Intercontinental Championship) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Switchblade: This match made me feel similar to the KES match in that the entrances were cool, but they worked at a plodding pace, which wasn’t helped by following the fatal four way match.
Jay White has some cool looking gear, but not much else to make the Switchblade persona feel legit. I’ve read some stuff on Tanahashi, who was essentially carrying the company for a long time, and that he’s been wrestling injured for a long time. Both those factors didn’t help with my enjoyment of the match, and I zoned out again until the end.
Wrestle Kingdom 12 was a long show. It offered the best contests NJPW had to offer, and for the most part I was not disappointed. “Alpha vs Omega” was the match of the night for me.
However the fatal four way and the main event will entice me to keep my subscription to NJPW World. I plan on digging into the archive and seeing some of AJ Styles’ best matches, and learning more about all the characters and factions that dominate the promotion.
If you like very good wrestling this is the promotion to watch. It’s full of colorful characters, great matchups and surprises. Thanks for reading this week, and next time I’ll be back with a guide to NJPW for beginners, as I find my own way around the promotion.