New Japan were back at Ryogoku Sumo Hall for their annual King of Pro Wrestling, as the road to the Tokyo Dome began in earnest.
On the card today was Will Ospreay’s attempt to beat his losing streak against KUSHIDA, as the last two Best of Super Junior winners faced off, whilst Tetsuya Naito put his G1 briefcase on the line against Tomohiro Ishii.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Leo Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi)
We’re straight in with the action as Hiromu has a chance to get revenge on Bad Luck Fale for ripping apart Daryl during the G1… and that is how he starts, stomping away on Fale, only to get bulled down rather quickly.
Size differences matter, folks.
In a trios match, Hiromu’s only respite came when Yujiro Takahashi tagged in… and yes, we’re getting the battle of the Takahashis that I dreaded when Hiromu returned a year ago. After a while, Leo Tonga got too lax, allowing SANADA to get tagged in for a comeback, featuring a plancha to the outside. Again though, the size differences took over, as BUSHI gets splatted by Fale and Tonga… and I have a weird feeling that this is going to be one of the Bullet Club teams in the World Tag League next month.
Hey, it’s an upgrade from Bone Soldier.
Fale looks to finish off BUSHI with the Bad Luck Fall, but the crowd roars as Daryl made his return! That led to the finish as Fale chased down the stuffed cat, and earned himself some mist by BUSHI as the ref was unsighted… and that’s enough for the win! Eh, this wasn’t much of a match, but a way to bring Daryl back into New Japan canon… **¼
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano
If you were wondering “who’s Suzuki mad at today”, we found out very quickly. It was Yano.
They spilled to the outside straight away, where Zack Sabre Jr grabbed someone’s shoes as Yano and Suzuki fought into the crowd before locking in all manner of wristlocks. Zack even joined in as Desperado at ringside shoved Yano’s foot off the rope to stop any breaks… and this would be fun for anyone who has a dislike of Yano.
Finally Goto awakens from whatever the hell he was doing before, and mounts a comeback, before a top rope elbow dragged him into a cross armbreaker attempt from Sabre. More submission attempts follow, but Goto manages to escape and pull Zack into an ushigoroshi. Then we get Yano back in as he goes back to his old tricks, which Suzuki doesn’t want any part of…
After brutalising Yano with various strikes, Suzuki blocks a low blow and headbutts Yano to the outside… where the punishment continues. Suzuki finds a bag of bungee cords under the ring, and uses them to hog-tie Yano… but it backfires as Yano broke free and knocked Suzuki down with a low blow before racing back to the ring to beat the count… and that’s the win by count-out. Yano leaves with Suzuki’s NEVER title belt, and yes, we’re getting this match! **½
Rest in Peace Young Lions.
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Funky Future (Ricochet & Ryusuke Taguchi) (c)
After the Roppongi Vice split, Rocky Romero vowed to debut a new team: Roppongi 3K. They turned out to be the former Tempura Boyz, returning from excursion and are now simply known as SHO and YOH.
The challengers launch into action with topes con hilo at the start, but the champions quickly put them in place with a series of attacks into the corner. Don Callis on commentary makes a rather bad-taste gag comparing Rocky Romero to Harvey Weinstein, just as YOH starts to get some headway over Taguchi. A flip-over into an armbar from SHO forces Taguchi to scramble to the ropes as 3K asserted their dominance for a spell.
Taguchi finally makes a comeback, sidestepping a clothesline as he made the hot-ish tag to Ricochet, who dropkicked YOH out of the sky. SHO takes a hot shot and a neckbreaker, before YOH ran into the rolling suplex combo, before trapping Ricochet in a crossface for a brief moment. SHO and Taguchi try submissions as Taguchi switched things up into a Three Amigos attempt, only for that to get turned into a Shock Arrow (cross armed package piledriver) attempt that Taguchi backdropped out of as the match broke down for a while. 3K nearly win it with a clothesline-aided Dominator, but Ricochet breaks up the cover as he burst into life, blasting YOH with a shooting star press for a near-fall.
SHO breaks that up with a trio of rolling Germans to Ricochet, before giving Taguchi more of the same as he tried to fly in with a hip attack. Gotta love them rolling Germans! In the end, 3K chained together some offence as Ricochet was left open for a pop-up Flatliner… and 3K win the titles in their (re)debut! A fun return from SHO and YOH, and with the graduated Young Lions, the junior tag division is suddenly wide open. At least, until the Bucks come back! ***½
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) vs. Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) (c)
Under elimination and tornado rules, we’ve got yet another retread of the tag team three-way that hardly set the world alight during the Destruction shows last month.
We start with the champs getting double-teamed as the Guerrillas went behind them and left them trapped at the bell. Davey Boy Smith Jr. was taken to the ring as the challengers worked over separate halves of the champs… before turning sights onto themselves. Why?! The madness saw everyone laying waste to each other at ringside, with plenty of plunder coming into play, before Hanson ate a double-team Tongan Twist for a near-fall. War Machine come back with a springboard clothesline to Archer, but Davey Boy breaks up the cover and quickly goes back to Tama with a Sharpshooter. Tanga Loa uses a bin lid to break that up, only for Archer to hit a Bossman slam as things turned into a mini Parade of Moves, ending with Rowe kicking out from a Killer Bomb.
Hanson retaliates by trying those Forever lariats, but the Guerrilas cut it off pretty quickly, only for War Machine to respond post haste with Fallout… but Tanga Loa gets up at two! What else do you do then, but pull out a table? More bin lids come into play, and a steel chair, which Tanga Loa spears himself into before eating a Killer Bomb… that’s our first elimination!
We’re down to War Machine and the Killer Elite Squad, but Tama Tonga decides to come back and waffle Rowe with a bin – and its lid – which doesn’t become a DQ as we’re still under tornado rules. Rowe eats a Killer Bomb, but Hanson makes a save as that table looms ominously, with Hanson looking to moonsault Archer through it.
In the end though, Smith uses another bin lid to stop him, and then Hanson gets a Killer Bomb through a falling table as the KES retain. Enjoyable anarchy, but can we move on from this? Four times in a little over a month is overkill! ***¼
Bullet Club (Marty Scurll, Cody & Kenny Omega) vs. YOSHI-HASHI, Beretta & Jado
With “too sweets” banned, Kenny’s just doing the ET finger touch. Universal’s lawyers will be in touch…
This was put on the card to build up to Omega/YOSHI-HASHI for the US title in ROH later this week – and Kenny wiping his rear with YOSHI-HASHI’s shirt was just the start of things. Cody tries to interfere and eats a Bunker Buster, as Marty Scurll also tried something… and was quickly knocked down. YOSHI-HASHI was at least competent in overcoming 3-on-1 Bullet Club offence as his CHAOS colleagues took forever to make a save.
When things calmed down, Cody’s infatuation with his Ring of Honor earned him some chops from Beretta, before that ring was used to knock Beretta down for a near-fall. Scurll has a go, stamping on Beretta’s hands… and truth be told, I’m having a real hard time getting into this match. In spite of the US title match it’s setting up, it feels totally throwaway.
Beretta takes the classic Shawn Michaels bump into the corner as Cody followed up with a Disaster Kick before the 3-on-1 stuff continued, with Beretta’s lower back being the focal point. The Bullet Club run through the boots in the corner spot, and this really is the shtick-y touring match that they seem to do overseas. Of course, they go up to four boots, and Kenny gets thrown into them.
When we break free of that, YOSHI-HASHI dumps Kenny with a Bunker Buster for a near-fall, only for Omega to catch him with a Finlay roll and a moonsault. Scurll goes back to the fingers of YOSHI-HASHI, before a Just Kidding superkick left Kenny’s challenger down. Jado tries to help out, but he gets his fingers snapped, before countering out into the rope-hung DDT for a near-fall. Everyone runs in as the ring fulls, then clears, leaving Jado alone with Marty, as a crossface was quickly applied, then countered into a chicken wing as Scurll gets the submission. This was, there I guess? Take away the shlock in the middle and this was alright… but this was a match that didn’t need to be on this card. Marty calling this team “the Luxury Trio” is perhaps closer to home than it ought to have been? **¼
After interval, we get another vignette – telling us that Switchblade is coming. November 5 was shown written on some of the papers, so I guess whomever Switchblade is is going to be at Power Struggle.
Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe
Wacky team time! We open with a tease between Ibushi and Tanahashi, ahead of the Intercontinental title match between those two at Power Struggle next month, before the pair tag out.
Juice and Togi had a brief back-and-forth, ending up outside where Juice gets whipped into guard rails repeatedly, leaving him vulnerable as he’s quickly isolated in the wrong part of the ring. Some Dusty punches and a spinebuster gets Juice some breathing room, and allows Ibushi to tag in to land a standing moonsault for a near-fall. Ibushi keeps up the pressure with a snap German suplex, before Tanahashi hits a Dragon screw to end that particular spell. We’re back to Juice and Togi, with the latter trapping him for some punches in the corner that the crowd enjoyed, only for a big boot to smack the veteran en route to a Pulp Friction attempt.
Tanahashi slaps that away as the ring fills, then empties after a Slingblade, and we’re back to Makabe and Robinson, who trade clotheslines for a while. A powerbomb almost gets Makabe the win as the Intercontinental title pairing go after each other… meaning that when Makabe misses his King Kong Knee drop, there was no help available as Juice hits a left hand then Pulp Friction… and it’s another big name scalp for Juice! Some good sequences here as Juice continues to be built up slowly, whilst we had our mandated tease for next month’s title match. ***¼
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA (c)
Ospreay’s win/loss record against KUSHIDA isn’t a good one – two unsuccessful title challenges, a Best of Super Juniors final and the WCPW World Cup finals meant that Will’s starting to get a monkey on his back.
Will’s using his new theme here, “Elevated”, as opposed to the “oh oh oh oh” song that New Japan had made for him last year. He’s also out in a Spiderman mask… cycling through animals, is it? They start out windmilling punches at each other as a high tempo start seemed to indicate that Ospreay was looking to end things early… or at least get all his flippy stuff in post haste!
Ospreay gets dropkicked over the crowd barriers as KUSHIDA looked to have a similar idea, but the champ’s attempt at a step-up dropkick into Ospreay was met with a springboard forearm off the guard rails. Good lord, this is breathless! A Space Flying Tiger Drop from Ospreay just lands him into a cross armbreaker from KUSHIDA on the floor, before KUSHIDA takes him back inside to start working over the knee.
KUSHIDA keeps going through submissions, forcing a rope break from Cattle Mutilation, only for Will to fight back and crash into a cornered KUSHIDA with a hanging dropkick a la Shibata. A Cheeky Nando’s gets avoided as KUSHIDA tried to follow in with a Hoverboard lock, only to eat a standing Spanish Fly as he tried to end his hoodoo. Instead, KUSHIDA took him up top for a rolling cross armbreaker, which again ended in the ropes as they landed too close to the corner.
Ospreay powers up out of some attempted stomps, and pulls KUSHIDA into a tombstone gutbuster and a Rainham Maker that almost won him the title. Good heavens, this is hitting all the high spots… including KUSHIDA’s cartwheel kick knocking Ospreay onto the top rope. An attempted Hoverboard Lock takedown’s turned into a Cheeky Nando’s, before a slipped-up OsCutter out of the corner proved to be an effective counter to a Back to the Future. An imploding 450 splash still can’t do the deal, so Will rushes in with a Robinson special kick, before the OsCutter lands him into a Hoverboard lock!
KUSHIDA thought he was losing it, so he rolled Ospreay into the middle for a Back to the Future, but we get counter on top of counter before Ospreay landed one final OsCutter… and the streak is over! Will Ospreay becomes the first British holder of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title, and some 18 months after his first crack at the belt… Will has done it! An insanely frantic match, with some roughness in there… but if you’re going a million miles an hour, you’re likely to get the odd slip here and there. ****¼
After the match, Hiromu Takahashi comes out – seemingly to issue a challenge for the title. Well, he did get knocked out by Ospreay before he could do it last time. This time though, Marty Scurll heads out and snaps Hiromu’s fingers… and yes, New Japan is giving us the latest iteration of Scurll vs. Ospreay. That’d be at least the 14th singles match between them…
Poor Hiromu, can’t catch a break. Well, not like that.
WrestleKingdom 12 Title Shot At Stake: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito’s G1 Climax briefcase is on the line here, and after these two have had two screamingly good matches this year already (at the G1 in USA special, and in the G1 itself), I’d be surprised if this was any different.
For a change, Ishii wasn’t taped up anywhere, as Naito had both his knees wrapped. He probably needed his neck wrapped once Ishii dropped an elbow on him as the Stone Pitbull started throwing bombs, only for Naito to reply with a low dropkick. Was Ishii’s lack of wrist tape a red herring? After some meetings with the guard railings, Naito targets the knee, taunting Ishii into retaliating… which he does.
Forearms and chops pin Naito into the corner as Ishii unleashed his own violence party, targeting the G1 winner’s throat repeatedly until Naito rushed back in with an over-the-knee neckbreaker. Ishii responds by avoiding a series of offensive moves and throwing in a Saito suplex for good measure, only for that injured knee to come back into play as Naito kicked away at it to get himself free.
Naito gets too cocky and slaps Ishii… and that just angers him. Like you’d expect. A single forearm takes Naito into the corner, as does a German suplex, before a Last Ride powerbomb proved to be good for just a two-count. Ishii gets slightly closer with a superplex, as the director unfortunately cut to a group of fans playing on their phones rather than watch the match. Grr. When we return to live footage, Naito hits his tornado DDT off the ropes, before the pair exchange further flurries of strikes, ending with a Koppo kick and a release German from Naito. A top rope ‘rana almost does the job foir Naito, who keeps on top despite Ishii elbowing out of Gloria, and instead ends up hitting a missile dropkick to the back of the head and a Dragon suplex. Yeah. Those head drops just angered Ishii.
Ishii’s sliding lariat leads us to an attempted brainbuster, but instead Naito wheelbarrows out into a modified knee bar as the G1 winner was able to shrug off that comeback and drop Ishii high on his neck with Gloria for a near-fall. All that’s left is for Naito to go for Destino, but that gets countered back and forth, as Naito escapes a brainbuster and hit a version of Destino for a near-fall!
Another Destino this time gets turned into a high-angle brainbuster, but Naito barely gets a shoulder up in time – and remained on the mat prone as Ishii fired himself up. Slaps and chops ring around Sumo Hall, but Naito keeps getting back up, escaping out of a brainbuster twice in a row and then rushing back in with Destino for another ultra-close near-fall! One more Destino does the job – and Naito keeps his briefcase! This was really good, but in a coin-toss, I’d put their G1 match above this… excellent work as Naito’s great year continues to roll on. ****¼
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: EVIL vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
EVIL gets the shot after recording a win over Okada during the G1… although circumstance makes this something of a lame duck title shot. With Tetsuya Naito confirmed as getting the WrestleKingdom shot now, were we really going to get Naito/EVIL? Still, at least EVIL got a cool entrance, think a mash-up of the Undertaker and King Mabel.
We start with both men looking for their finishers early, as the first five minutes flew by with precious little happening it felt. Okada tried to target EVIL’s neck, wrenching away with a strangle hold, before they head outside, where EVIL throws Okada into the guard railings… then into the ring post, with a chair on his head, naturally. Back inside, EVIL wrenched away on Okada’s face, but the champ rebounds somewhat, dropping EVIL with a flapjack for a near-fall.
Okada takes EVIL down to the floor as he lifted him up top, then dropkicked him to the outside, but you got the very distinct feeling that nobody seemed to be buying EVIL as a threat. Probably should have flipped the top two matches around…
Still on the outside, EVIL tried in vain to avoid a crossbody from Okada by throwing a chair at him… Okada ducked and still vaulted the railing to take down the challenger. Rather than take the count-out win, Okada goes back out to grab EVIL… which led to him being thrown into the chairs as Okada made a rare mis-step.
Back inside, Okada regains ground and hits a neckbreaker slam, only for EVIL to throw him on his neck with a wicked German suplex. The Banshee Muzzle traps Okada in the middle of the ring, but eventually the champ slipped free and was able to get a foot to the ropes. That spawned some back-and-forth strikes, before Okada edges ahead with a top rope elbow drop and… Rainmaker zoom-out!
EVIL blocks a Rainmaker and hits a discus forearm instead, before Okada charges into the corner… and bumps into Red Shoes. We’ve no ref, which means everything’s fair game as Okada’s dumped into the corner by way of a Fisherman’s buster, before bringing in a bunch of chairs to set up some Darkness Falls. Instead, Okada escapes and turned it into a ‘rana that planted EVIL on the furniture instead.
At the second attempt, EVIL gets the move – but having taken a tombstone, he wasn’t able to capitalise – and so we resume with both men on their feet, teeing off on each other, before Okada eased ahead. Repeated boots to a downed EVIL actually drew boos from Sumo Hall, and as the ref looked to check on EVIL, Okada shoved him aside and earned himself a half-and-half suplex. Serves him right.
A lariat dumped Okada, as did an avalanche Fisherman’s buster, but Okada replies with a German before an attempted Rainmaker earned him a headbutt and a lifting reverse DDT. But still, EVIL couldn’t get the W, nor the crowd to bite. More back-and-forth finishers led to a spinning tombstone, before a Rainmaker dumped EVIL for the decisive three-count. Technically this was fine, but throughout it felt like the crowd struggled to invest at a higher level because of the preceding results… On paper it was fine, but I’d have much liked this to have been a semi-main event instead. ***½
Overall, King of Pro Wrestling was a very good show, but one that had several letdowns. Two of the top three matches were phenomenal, but New Japan dropped the ball in my view, in having Okada/EVIL finish the show when the result was pretty much telegraphed by the result of Naito/Ishii. Still, after a rather wobbly Destruction tour, King of Pro Wrestling put New Japan back on track, with Power Struggle being the next major stop in the road to WrestleKingdom!