Metalhead’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 Review (Okada vs Omega, Naito vs Tanahashi, Shibata vs Goto, KUSHIDA vs Takahashi)

Well it has become a good tradition by now, on January 4th, NJPW presents us with their biggest card of the year, a card that has always delivered BIG matches, awesome action and pay-offs to their greatest feuds. And now is the time I should write something like: would they succeed this year also? But I won’t since, if you read my preview, you KNOW there was no way they were gonna screw this one up (this isn’t WWE after all). And they didn’t. On the contrary. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start where all such things start, the beginning:

Pre-show – Michael Elgin won the New Japan Rumble in 25:13:

The entrants were: Michael Elgin, Billy Gunn, Bone Soldier, Cheeseburger, Jushin Thunder Liger, Kuniaki Kobayashi, Tiger Mask, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Yoshitatsu, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Hiro Saito and Scott Norton. I had consider Elgin as a surprise entrants but thought he hadn’t recover sufficiently from his eye-socket injury (suffered in October). In this case, I was happy to be wrong as it’s great to see Big Mike again. Of course, as soon as he appeared, he became the favorite to win this thing and that’s exactly what happened. Some fun appearances also by Norton §who killed Tagushi with a powerbomb, which is always fun) and Billy Gunn but (aside from Elgin), the best surprise for me was the original tiger-hunter Kuniaki Kobayashi who, alongside the original Tiger Mask and The Dynamite Kid Tom Billington pioneered NJPW’ sJunior Heavyweight scene. It came down to Elgin and Cheeseburger in the end with the rather predictable result of Cheeseburger being destroyed by Big Mike. Rather generic rumble but, with Elgin’s return and win and some fun spots in between it easily achieved its objective of entertaining the crowd.

Tiger Mask W defeated Tiger The Dark in 6:45 via pinfall:

This was a solid little opener, but you couldn’t help but wish you were watching a “real” Ibushi vs ACH match instead. The mask still seem to  give Ibushi some issues, probably because these seem to be made out of some sort of plastic material. Good back and forth with some fun sequences and some jaw-dropping aerial moves, but I had to laugh at Steve Corino who kept hinting he knew who was under the masks while everybody knows already. Nice try Steve.This ended with the inevitable Ibu… Sorry, Tiger Mask W win. Here is hoping we can witness Ibushi’s “official” return at New Year’s Dash.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match – RPG Vice defeated Young Bucks (c) in 12:57 via pinfall:

The Young Bucks come out showcasing their collection of tag team titles (PWG, ROH, JPW Junior and custom-made “Superkick” titles) and cutting promo’s on the Hardy’s. both teams started brawling before the match even started and folowed that up with some fast-paced action, crisp team-work and, since the Bucks are in there, some amusing silliness. But what I found most interesting was that Gedo had, for once, bothered to put some story in this one. Indeed, RPG Vice had been teasing a break-up for months now due to Beretta being fed-up by Romero costing them matches. So when Beretta took himself out by attempting a over the top rope dive, only to crash on the concrete because the Bucks ran away, Romero had to fend for himself in a 2-on-1 situation. Romero managed to survive the double-teaming long enough for Beretta too recover somewhat and stop Matt just as the brothers went for  More Bang For Your Buck. This allowed Romero to surprise Nick with a crucifix for the win. Good, fun match but if the titles once again change hands at the next event, this won’t mean much in the long-run. I did like the Romero redemption story though.

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Title Match – Los Ingobernables defeated  David Finlay, Ricochet and Kojima (c), CHAOS and Bullet Club in 16:06 via pinfall:

Apparently, Takahashi is back in full-on Tokyo Pimp mode, since he came out with an assortment of scantily clad bunnies. I’m glad for that,  it makes up, somewhat, for having to watch him wrestle. This is a gauntlet match and it’s Bullet Club vs CHAOS to start things off. Will Ospreay was once again incredible here, with some ultra-fast, jaw-dropping stuff, including an amazing Sasuke Special to the floor, and some good exchanges with page. Bullet Club worked well together to isolate first Ospreay and then Jado and after a Shooting Star to the floor from Page, Takahashi puts Jado away. This brings out the Los Ingobernables trio who waste no time bringing their own brand of hard-hitting offense, with a smattering of chair-shots and ref-bumps. The Bullet Club boys are quickly overwhelmed, Takahahsi gets blasted by chair shots in the ring and SANADA applies the Dragon Sleeper to make him tap. The champions are next and this immediately degenerate into a huge brawl. After twin dives from Ricochet and Finlay, some semblance of order is restored and LIJ immediately takes advantage by ganging up on Finlay. Ricochet makes the hot tag and almost pins BUSHI followed by Kojima entering CHOPPING MADNESS mode. Truly wild finishing stretch with both teams going back and forth but this was to be LIJ’s night as Kojima falls victim to BUSHI’s Green Mist and EVIL finishes him off with a sitout powerbomb and a STO. This was a very good and very entertaining outing overall with the right team winning. LIJ has performed extremely well in multi-man tag situations in 2016 and should continue to bring the same fire and excitement now they have the 6 man tag belts in 2017. Good stuff.

Cody defeated Juice Robinson in 9:37 via pinfall:

I could say this was a breakout performance for Cody Runnels in NJPW, but it really wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the match was fine, technically sound but Cody has a LOY of work to do before earning the Japanese crowd’s attention. Perhaps teaming up with Page and/or Omega is the best way to go for him. For his first singles match on just a big stage, Robinson did more than just OK, like said before, his enthusiasm has certainly struck a chord with the Japanese audiences, he was also fine as the babyface in peril once Cody “injured” his legs, but it was a bit too obvious he was loosing here. Cody countered the Unprettier with the Crossroads for the win. Solid, but Cody needs to bring more to the table if he wants to succeed in NJPW. Post-match, Cody berated Kelly and then sprayed water over Corino to continue on what happened at ROH’s Final Battle.

ROH World Title Match – Adam Cole defeated Kyle O’Reilly (c) in 10:14 via pinfall:

Certainly not a bad match work-wise but they could have used a little more time although the fact that O’Reilly refused to sign any contract extension with ROH probably didn’t help either. Both did well enough but you couldn’t help but feel O’Reilly’s mind wasn’t entirely on subject, making it feel like there was something missing. The end came when, after having already delivered two Last Shots, Cole hit a flurry of superkicks and a third Last Shot to re-capture the ROH Title. The fact that, after all he has gone through last year to get the title, O’Reilly lost it again just one month after winning it feels rather anti-climatic but I guess that couldn’t be helped given the circumstances. Epect O’Reilly to join Roderick Strong and Nigel McGuiness in NXT sooner rather than later. To make matters worse, Cole could also end up being a caretaker champion as his contract ends in April and he has given signs he wasn’t that eager to sign a contract extension. And, finally the fact I end up talking more about contract situation than the match itself probably says it all. Whatever the circumstances this should have been better. Too bad.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles Match – CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated  G.O.D (Tanga Roa and Tama Tonga)  (c) and G.B.H. (Makabe and Honma) in 12:24 via pinfall:

So it seems that to conceal the fact that Roa can’t really wrestle, they now have him swear a lot. Corino and Kelly were complaining about the swearing, but, if more swearing means less wrestling from Roa, I’m all for it. Aside from that, this was a very good match with both CHAOS and GBH targeting GoD and more or less avoiding each-other. Amusingly, Yano and his bag of tricks proved to be the deciding factor here. After GoD decimated GBH, Ishii went to town on Roa and Tonga but it was actually Yano who sneakily tagged himself in. After Ishii had some fun he hit a double lariat and Yano expertly capitalized with a role-up on the stumbling Roa (the legal man) to win the tag title for his team. I know some aren’t really into the Ishii/Yano team (because Yano annoys them) but I actually enjoy. Plus, the fact that the World Tag League winners (GBH) never got pinned means that we could move towards a GBH/CHAOS feud and given the history between those factions this could very well be the most heated feud the tag team division has had in years. And that’s a good thing.

Junior Heavyweight Title Match – Hiromu Takahashi defeated  KUSHIDA (c) in 16:15 via pinfall:

I can imagine there was quite a bit of pressure on Takahashi for his first appearance on such a big stage, but boy, did he deliver. He got in KUSHIDA’s face before the match even started, which is the wrestling’s equivalent of throwing oil on a fire and soon enough the two were trading insane sentons to the floor.This one never really slowed as both traded the advantage, mixing aerial madness with kicks, punches, submissions, reversal and everything in between. Move of the match might have been Takahashi leaping off the apron only for KUSHIDA to meet him in midair… With an armbar. Amazing. KUSHIDA then started the preparations for his Hoverboard Lock, but Takahashi was having none of it, refusing to stay down, until he caught the champion with a belly to belly into the turnbuckle. This was followed with a sick waistlock rana bomb off the turnbuckle and a running Death Valley Driver before finally finishing off KUSHIDA with his Time Bomb. The card had been entertaining until this point, but this was another level entirely. Takahashi proved to be the perfect opponent for KUSHIDA and is bound to provide him with the feud he needs to make 2017 an even better year than 2017. The fact that the crowd went absolutely crazy for everything these two did says it all really. A couple more matches like this one and you might have an early candidate for feud of the year. And yes, their chemistry was THAT good.

NEVER Openweight Title Match – Hirooki Goto defeated Katsuyouri Shibata (c) in 16:17 via pinfall:

Speaking of crazy, Shibata is next and he’s facing his childhood friend Hirooki Goto. In my preview I noted there always seemed something was missing with Gotot. An excellent wrestler, make no mistake, but, when it came to intensity, charsima, in short the ability to draw the crowd 200% in, it seemed he always came a little short. Well you can forget about all that because in this match, Goto brought it. It was absolutely amazing to see Goto finally burst of that shell of his and show an intensity that easily equaled Shibata. Of course, saying that Shibata is intense is like saying that water is wet or grass is green, so we basically got two guys fully intend of kicking the everlasting hell out of each-other. Again,there was simply no time to breathe here as those two went at it with everything in their arsenal and then some. And when that didn’t work, they simply tried to headbutt each-other to oblivion. If you want a comparison point, think Nakamura/Zayn but stiffer and with more headbutts. And yes, it was THAT good. Such matches always last until someone can’t stand anymore and this time it was Goto, the eternal challenger, who finally accomplished his quest to become singles champion once again. This is one of those matches were everybody is a winner. Shibata loses nothing, on the contrary, it is with such matches that he cements his status as ultimate bad-ass and he is now free to pursue even bigger titles. Goto finally redeemed after a year spend trying to prove he could be a contender, not just a challenger and the red-hot crowd got exactly what they wanted. So did I and I daresay everyone who was watching. Great stuff!

IWGP Intercontinental Title Match – Tetsuya Naito (c) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in 25:25 via pinfall:

For some reason, Tanahashi has a new entrance and theme-music, but the only thing I can say about that is, bring back High Energy. Seriously. Naito’s entrance was as great as ever, but the most interesting thing about about it was the crowd’s reaction. he got an even bigger pop than Tanahashi. Say what you will but Naito is the living proof that being an ultra-popular heel is not a contradiction in terms. Now what can I possibly tell you about this one? That it was great? That it was fantastic? That it was awesome? That the emotion was there since this was also clearly about Tanahashi fighting in what may be his last Tokyo Dome co-main event? Do you get the picture or should I continue? There is little point in me trying to describe this, words cannot do it justice. I mean all I can tell you is that if you’re reading this than you consider yourself to be a wrestling fan. So what the hell are you waiting for? GO WATCH!

And while you’re watching, notice the crowd’s reaction when Naito countered Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow with his knees and followed up with the Destino soon after. In short the whole Tokyo Dome went bat-shit crazy. Ladies and gentleman, the best heel in the business right now and still your IWGP Intercontinental Champion: Tetsuya Naito.

IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada defeated Kenny Omega in 48:25 via pinfall:

OK, let me get the only point of criticism some have found about this one out of the way. This match was long, yes, specifically the first part could, perhaps, have been a bit shorter (the second part was off the charts amazing). Then again it’s Okada and Omega in there. Those two could read the phonebook and you would still watch, so who cares? This was epic in the best sense of the word, and the start of a feud that will probably last until Wrestle Kingdom 12 or beyond. Again, it’s useless to try to put this match into words, best thing you can do is the same as the Tanahashi/Naito match, and, indeed the two before also, just watch them. You wanna know why people like me talk endlessly about Japanese wresting and guys like Naito, Omega, Shibata and/or Okada? Watch these matches and you’ll know.

Now a point could be made that this was Omega’s match to win, even that he needed to win, but truth to be told,h he lost nothing here. Okada is the Ace of NJPW, he’s not that easy to bring down, but, most importantly, Omega’s finish, the One-Winged Angel, was never used here, while Okada needed no less than 4 Rainmakers to bring Omega down. In a promotion where finishes still mean something, that’s very important, and I have no doubt Omega will bring this point up sooner rather than later.And remember, even Okada needed three attempts to finally beat arch-nemesis Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome.

Even without the One-winged Angel, Omega managed to bring the audiences in with some amazingly close near-falls, sending a loud and clear message. He CAN beat Okada, the difference between the two was paper-thin.

Finally, on a lighter note, Omega did an awesome, Terminator-based entrance. Someone should show that to HHH, so he can finally see what a real Terminator entrance is supposed to look like (sorry, couldn’t resist). Now go watch this match, it will blow your mind.

 

Conclusion: Well NJPW did it again, didn’t they? On the 4th of January they once again produced a card that will be almost impossible to top for ANY promotion.The under-card singles matches could perhaps have been better but they were solid to good regardless, while the tag-matches delivered plenty of entertainment and more than made up for that (relative) weakness. But more importantly, the top 4 matches delivered everything that was expected of them and more. 4 very different styles but one common denominator: top-notch action from start to finish. So if you’re picking out your matches, don’t you dare miss those four, but, honestly, this is one card I have no trouble recommending as a hole. Besides, when you get a Card of the Year candidate when said year as barely started yet, you’re kind of obligated to watch, right?

 

 

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