New Japan get their year off to a blazing start with their annual Tokyo Dome show – here’s our take on the whole card!
I’m watching along on the English feed, since this may be one of the last times we get to hear Steve Corino for a while!
New Japan Rumble
Number 1 was Michael Elgin, who returned from injury here as the first entrant, whilst Billy Gunn was a surprise at number 2 after his impressive World Tag League outings. After some back and forth, number 3 was revealed as BONE SOLDIER. Yeah, I don’t think this Boner’s going to last.
The Boner goes after Elgin and Gunn with uppercuts, but he’s quickly overwhelmed as Billy Gunn distracted the referee in order to use a closed fist. Number 4 is ROH’s Cheeseburger, who gets a good reaction for his second Rumble appearance. Cheeseburger hits a superkick to Gunn, before low bridging the Boner out of the match. Bye bye, Boner!
Gunn grabbed Burger by the hair as our fifth entrant came out: Jushin “Thunder” Liger! The veteran paired up with Cheeseburger against Elgin and Gunn, but they were easily shoved down as Gunn instead went for Elgin, before taking a discus lariat as a clothesline took the former “Mr Ass” out. Number 6 is revealed as Kuniaki Kobayashi, and he went straight after Jushin Liger as Elgin and Cheeseburger took a breather. Kobayashi gets a near-fall with a fisherman’s suplex on Liger, as number 7 is brought out: Tiger Mask!
Well, isn’t that a coincidence! We’re told of Kobayashi’s famous feud with the original Tiger Mask, and of course, these two pick up where the original left off. A leg lariat knocks down Tiger Mask as Kobayashi goes for the mask again, but a crucifix pin eliminates the veteran. Number 8 emerges as Manabu Nakanishi, who lays into folks with Polish hammers, before spearing Elgin to the mat.
More clotheslines follow for everyone, but Elgin resists, before double big boots almost get both men pinned by the rest of the crew. Number 9 is Ryusuke Taguchi, and he flies in with a hip attack to Nakanishi from the start, before four guys pile onto Nakanishi… who kicks out! Eventually, Nakanishi’s pinned after five men piled on him from a big splash.
Taguchi’s caught in a Romero special as the tenth man comes out – Yoshitatsu! Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask get pinned in two separate screw-ups, as Liger looked to be pinned as he had that Romero special, before Taguchi and Liger helped to pin Tiger Mask. Cheeseburger had to grab the ropes to escape a Boston crab from Taguchi, as the 11th man appeared: Yuji Nagata!
Nagata immediately drops Taguchi with an armbar, but Yoshitatsu kicks him off to a loud chorus of boos. They trade kicks as number 12 is revealed as Hiroyoshi Tenzan. During that entrance, we miss Nagata eliminating Yoshitatsu … Taguchi lays into Tenzan with hip attacks and Mongolian chops as our next man comes out – number 13: Hiro Saito! Amazingly at 56, Saito is still active somewhat, but he doesn’t remove his leather vest, which may suggest that he’s not going to be long here.
Tenzan throws Saito into Nagata in the corner, before Saito hits his back senton for a big pop… and that eliminates Nagata! Our 14th guy is rushed out as Scott Norton! He’d been rumoured as being here, and it’s the former IWGP heavyweight champion back on the scene! Norton shrugs off a hip attack from Taguchi, then dumped the “Funky Weapon” with a powerbomb for an easy three-count.
Tenzan, Saito, Cheeseburger and Norton look to gang up on Elgin, but Big Mike dumps Saito with a lariat for an elimination. Norton’s eliminated by a backdrop from Elgin, who then takes some Mongolian chops, before Tenzan and Cheeseburger looked to double-up… with little success. A lariat from Elgin takes out Tenzan – so we’re down to Cheeseburger and Big Mike, and it’s the expected David vs. Goliath battle as Elgin drops Cheeseburger with a forearm smash.
Elgin lifts Cheeseburger up by his ring gear, but Cheeseburger surprises Elgin with a superkick, before a DDT turns into a sunset flip… and then into a bucklebomb and a spinning powerbomb as Big Mike wins the Rumble! Fun enough for what this was – a pre-show parade. **¼
Tiger The Dark vs. Tiger Mask W
Or ACH vs. Kota Ibushi, if you prefer! The voice actress of one of the characters from the Tiger Mask anime series accompanied Tiger Mask W to the ring, and thank God, W’s mask does look to be slightly less absurd than it was for his debut.
W starts off with a headlock, then a shoulder tackle to Dark, before armdrags and dropkicks lead us to a stand-off. A dropkick from Tiger The Dark takes W to the outside, and in prime place for a Space Flying Tiger Drop in the aisle, getting a near-fall out of it. A running rolling lariat in the corner by Dark ends up being met with a dropkick as W takes his turn to fly, and nails a Golden Triangle moonsault (springboard to the top rope, then a moonsault to the floor).
Back in the ring, W lights into Dark with a series of kicks, before a standing moonsault is blocked by Dark’s knees, and Dark eventually follows up with a variant of the Octopus. Tiger Mask W tries to power free, but he’s caught in a tombstone, which is reversed back and forth until Dark lands it for a two-count.
Dark tries for a Tiger Driver, but W counters into a snap German suplex, then a Tiger suplex for a two-count, before W gets the win with a Tiger Driver turned into a Golden Star Powerbomb… hmm. A decent enough opener, but very toned down compared to what we could have seen. **½
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c)
The Young Bucks came out with every title they own… including the “Superkick Party championships”. Self-made titles in the modern era always work out well, don’t they! For some reason they were calling out the Hardys during their entrance; unless that feud’s crossing over into New Japan, that seems rather frivolous.
They start off with right hands at the bell, before Roppongi Vice laid into them as the Bucks were dispatched with some double knees and a clothesline. The Bucks avoid a dive as they head to the aisle and tease a walk-out, before dumping Roppongi Vice with a pair of superkicks as they followed them down. The Bucks rushed back to the ring as they looked to get a count-out decision.
Beretta and Romero barely break the 20 count, before Beretta takes a high back body drop from the Bucks. A baseball slide dropkick through the ropes takes out Romero once more, then Nick Jackson superkicks Beretta onto the apron. This is all one-sided as the Bucks repeatedly knock their challengers down, but their cockiness leads to a brief downfall… until Rocky Romero gets superkicked back to the floor as he hit Matt Jackson.
Beretta sends Nick flying to the outside with a tornado DDT, but the Bucks recover to keep Beretta in the ring. On the outside, Henare accidentally takes a superkick as Beretta recovers to tag in Romero, who lands a big crossbody, before Matt was sent into the corner with a reverse kick. The Forever lariats come up empty though, before a double Forever lariat sent the Bucks inside out.
Romero goes for a Shiranui, but the Bucks counter and look for one of their finishers, only for Matt to eat a double knee strike whilst Nick takes a tope on the outside. Beretta eventually hoists Matt in a Torture rack, before a stomp off the top from Romero gets a near-fall. A Strong Zero attempt from the Bucks is caught as Nick Jackson hits a bulldog on Romero, as Beretta ended up taking a Destroyer.
A double superplex gets blocked by Romero, before Beretta sends Matt flying with a release German superplex. Beretta tries to follow with a tope con hilo, but Nick pulls Matt out of the way as Beretta crashed and burned into the aisle… and by “crash and burn”, I mean Beretta landed HARD on a non-padded part of the aisle.
That left Romero one-on-two against the Bucks, but he took them both down with a ‘rana, before the Bucks went in on superkicks for a near-fall.
The Bucks combine with a buckle bomb/enziguiri combo, as Romero then eats a 450 Splash as he was draped off the middle rope, but still manages to kick out. More superkicks take Rocky down, but again he kicks out, before an attempt at More Bang for Your Buck is blocked – as Beretta holds Nick on the top rope, with Matt getting caught with a crucifix pin out of a Finlay Roll… Roppongi Vice are your new champions! A decent match and a great story of Rocky never-saying-die, but it felt toned down and nowhere near the levels the Bucks are capable of. ***¼
NEVER Six-Man Championships: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Jado) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay (c)
This is behind held under gauntlet rules, and New Japan still can’t spell David right! The Bullet Club come out first, as Takahashi has his gaggle of women with him, and their opponents are the CHAOS trio of YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay and Jado.
We have our usual jump start as Ospreay is thrown into the crowd barriers as Fale and YOSHI-HASHI start in the ring. YOSHI-HASHI tries a shoulder tackle, before avoiding a Grenade and drops Fale with a diving clothesline, but a pump handle driver probably wasn’t the smartest move to go for.
Takahashi and Page combine to blast YOSHI-HASHI with a big boot, then again in the ring as Page lands a jumping DDT for a near-fall. Page takes the Bunker Buster from YOSHI-HASHI, who tags in a platinum-dyed Ospreay for some impressive stuff, including a headscissor takedown to Page over the ropes, before a Sasuke special lays out all three Bullet Club members.
A springboard forearm and a running shooting star press drops Page, who finally falls to a third shooting star press, and a corkscrew press out of the corner for a near-fall. The diving corkscrew kick knocks Page down, but he blocks an OsCutter before landing a slingshot lariat for another two-count.
Takahashi hangs up Ospreay in the ropes, but he comes back with a handspring overhead kick as Jado comes in to land a kneelift to Takahashi, before getting a near-fall from a flipping corkscrew neckbreaker. Jado grabs a crossface, but Fale breaks it up, then knocks down YOSHI-HASHI and Jado with shoulder tackles.
On the outside, Page drops Ospreay with a shooting star headbutt, whilst Jado takes the Pimp Juice DDT – and the CHAOS crew are gone. Not bad – and this is just the first fall, as Los Ingobernables are next! Except they take so long to make their entrance, the Bullet Club team probably get their wind back!
We almost had a flash pin as Fale flattened SANADA for a near-fall. EVIL knocks Page off the top rope as Los Ingobernables cause a ref bump, before BUSHI takes out Fale with a tope. EVIL and SANADA pair up to hit a home run with a chair on Takahashi, before a Skull End causes the match to be waved off. So it’s Los Ingobernables vs. the champions after that throwaway bout.
Ricochet’s out in a crown as I guess he’s King Ricochet today, but the champions get jumped in the aisle only for Ricochet and Finlay to hit back with topes con hilo to the Ingobernables trio. A standing shooting star press from Ricochet to SANADA gets a near-fall, before Finlay’s pulled off of the middle rope as the pace slows down somewhat. BUSHI uses his shirt to choke Finlay, before Ricochet tagged in and laid out all three challengers, ending with a springboard lariat to SANADA, and some rolling suplexes to BUSHI.
A rebound enziguiri drops Ricochet in the end, as EVIL and Kojima tag in… and sure enough, EVIL, then SANADA eat the rapid-fire chops in the corner. SANADA comes back with a kick in the ropes as he crotches Kojima, who then takes an EVIL lariat for a near-fall. Kojima counters an STO with a DDT, before Finlay and Ricochet combine to dump SANADA with a death valley driver onto the knees.
More combination stuff went awry as Ricochet ate a nasty-looking pop-up MX from BUSHI, before a Koji Cutter drops EVIL. In the end, Kojima hits a Strong Arm lariat to EVIL, before BUSHI sprayed the mist as EVIL had him unsighted… but Kojima still kicked out of the spinebuster slam, only to fall to the STO seconds later. Los Ingobernables pick up the gold after an entertaining gauntlet dethroned what was (in hindsight) a makeshift trio! A fun first fall, a disposable middle fall, and a good finish balanced out to me as ***
Juice Robinson vs. Cody
This is Juice’s Tokyo Dome debut – and he’s up against the debuting Cody (Redacted – credit Arnold Furious)… Stars-and-Stripes contact lens and all! Cody’s using his “Kingdom” theme that he uses everywhere, and to show he’s a heel here, he’s in a leather jacket, as opposed to his usual aviator jacket.
Cody and Juice block hiptosses, until Cody succeeds with one that sees Juice go to the outside, where he’s met with a springboard body press… but Juice catches it and gives Cody a belly-to-belly on the floor! During the replay, we miss Juice hitting a cannonball dive to Cody in the crowd barriers, with Juice’s hips landing full-on in those barricades.
Cody hits the Goldust uppercut after Juice aborts a missile dropkick, then lands an Alabama Slam for a two-count, before Cody stomps away on a downed Robinson in the ropes. A springboard dropkick from Cody takes down Juice… as Cody then does almost the BUSHI pose for some reason before taking verbal shots at Steve Corino.
Juice fires back, but takes a dropkick to the knee, before rebounding with a leg lariat, then a series of chops and right hands. A corner lariat and a diving clothesline takes down Cody, as does a Fireman’s carry gutbuster attempt that gets Juice a near-fall. Eventually, Cody hits a chop block to the injured knee… but Juice hits back hard with a left hand.
A crossbody from Juice is rolled through, and Robinson ends up with a massive wedgie as Cody locks in an inverted figure four that forces a rope break eventually. The Disaster Kick follows as Juice is dropped to the apron, before he’s brought in with a rope hung DDT for a near-fall.
Juice nearly wins it with a lariat as my feed starts cutting in and out, before the knee gives up on a powerbomb. Undeterred, Juice tries for the Pulp Friction, but Cody gets out and hits the Cross Rhodes for the win. Not bad, but inoffensive Cody matches aren’t exactly the calling card he threatened after his WWE departure… ***
ROH World Championship: Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly (c)
This rematch from Final Battle should tell us a lot about whether someone signed a new contract or not!
Cole spits at O’Reilly in the opening handshake, and Kyle immediately takes down his challenger in search of an armbreaker in the opening seconds. A rope break ends that, before Adam Cole’s taunting almost saw him get choked out twice in successive attempts.
Cole hits back with a dropkick to take O’Reilly to the floor as he finally reels off his name, before he goes into the crowd for a chair. Kyle’s arm takes a chairshot against the ringpost, then an arm whip back in the ring as it’s clear what the challenger is targeting. A forearm from O’Reilly cuts off some bragging from Cole, before a knee strike from the champion knocks Cole down to the mat.
That knee strike is returned as Cole hits the Last Shot (suplex into an over-the-knee neckbreaker) for a near-fall, before both men started unloading on each other with shots and duelling big boots that eventually sent each other to the mat. O’Reilly comes back with a brainbuster, but he can’t immediately make the cover, as he delays that armbreaker, which Cole rolls up for a near-fall.
O’Reilly counters a suplex into a rear naked choke, but he can’t keep the hold on as Cole hits a Shining Wizard in return for a near-fall. Another Last Shot gets Cole a two-count, but Kyle catches a superkick and turns it into an ankle lock… only to lose it and take a trio of superkicks, before a fourth sends Kyle to the mat, as a third Last Shot gets Adam Cole the win – and cue the rumours that Kyle is off to WWE? A fine mid-card match, with a result that I think shocked a lot of folks. ***½
So far tonight, every belt has changed hands… which is somewhat of a surprise.
A video package follows for some future New Japan dates – New Beginning in Sapporo on February 5, then New Beginning in Osaka on February 11. Another show on March 6, before the New Japan Cup on March 20. Sakura Genesis follows on April 9 after TNA seemingly gave up that name (this replaces Invasion Attack), before another card on May 3. Best of Super Juniors starts on June 3 this year, with Dominion in Osaka on June 11, as the G1 Climax starts on July 17 and ends on August 13. They also announced the G1 Special in the USA with shows on July 1st and 2nd – as opposed to the US having G1 Climax matches as had previously been rumoured.
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
This was all sorts of fun – and that was just from the swearing in the ring! Yano stole the tag title belts at Korakuen Hall, then the Tag League trophies at a press conference earlier this week… so these challengers actually came in with the gold.
Tama Tonga jumped Toru Yano at ringside… good! Yano’s thrown into the ring as everyone goes after him, ending with a double shoulder tackle from the Guerrillas. We settle down as Honma misses a Kokeshi on Loa, and it’s Yano who capitalises by removing a turnbuckle pad, before throwing Honma into the exposed corner.
Ishii lays into Honma with chops and forearms, before Yano comes in and… tags out to Tama Tonga immediately. Tonga accidentally hits his own man as Honma gets away, then lands a brainbuster as Yano returns to stop Honma from tagging out. Makabe finally comes in and lays into everyone with lariats, before Ishii and Yano run into each other and take a double spear.
Makabe and Honma give the Guerrillas mounted corner punches at the same time, then duelling Northern Light suplexes for a near-fall. Tonga’s rope running confuses Makabe for long enough for a DDT to take him down, whilst Tama Tonga curses like a good one for anyone who’s staying up for this!
Honma finally gets his Kokeshi in, but the tables turn as the Guerrillas land the powerbomb neckbreaker for a near-fall as everyone’s decided to see how much they can make Steve Corino laugh by way of swearing. A double clothesline from Makabe takes the champions down, before Loa is held for a diving Kokeshi for a near-fall too.
Makabe lands a powerbomb then holds down Loa for a swandive Kokeshi… but Ishii dives in to make the save at the last second! Honma blocks a Gun Stun, but falls to it anyway as he flew in for a Kokeshi, before Makabe’s attempt at blocking it ends with him taking a swinging reverse DDT from the champions.
Honma fight out of an assisted DDT, but Yano tags himself in as Tonga dumps Honma with a spinebuster… Ishii tries a double lariat on the champions, which finally works after Yano hits a double low blow, and the roll-up from that gets the pin! Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii get the belts for real! A hell of a fun tag team match here – easily the best thing so far here ****
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA (c)
Well, they tore the house down here… and woke the crowd up as well!
Hiromu’s gear was thankfully not the ripped-jeans he sported at Korakuen Hall a few weeks back, but instead a throwback to John Morrison’s furry WWE gear from a decade ago.
Takahashi throws KUSHIDA to the outside as he was on the ring ropes posing, but KUSHIDA replied with a cartwheel kick on the apron then a massive senton to the floor as we got going. KUSHIDA targeted the arm of Takahashi as he looked to soften him up for the Hoverboard lock – and we got an early armbar attempt as Takahashi eventually wriggled to the ropes to force the break.
The tide turned as Takahashi dumped KUSHIDA to the outside with a sunset flip powerbomb, and that led to a doctor heading out to check on KUSHIDA… but since a count-out started, things were obviously relatively fine. KUSHIDA rolled back into the path of some stomps from Takahashi, but eventually the champion struck back with a Flatliner into the turnbuckles.
KUSHIDA fires back with some lariats and a hiptoss, before cartwheeling into a dropkick. A handspring back elbow takes Takahashi down, before the challenger blocks a Hoverboard lock attempt and lands a German suplex as KUSHIDA takes the brunt on the back of his head. Takahashi tries a flying rana, but he ends up bouncing off the ropes as he didn’t get all of it, before he flies off the top rope to the floor with a back senton that saw the challenger land with a thud.
Back inside, Takahashi hits a Meteora off the top rope for a two-count, before trying for another sunset flip powerbomb, but this time KUSHIDA backflips away and catches an attempt at a follow-up by grabbing a cross armbreaker as Takahashi flew off the apron. KUSHIDA looked to be keeping the hold on to force a count-out, but instead he threw Takahashi back inside for more punishment.
That punishment consisted of some kicks and slaps that eventually dropped Takahashi, before a punt kick to Takahashi’s left arm led to a tiltawhirl into a Hoverboard lock in the middle of the ring… but Takahashi didn’t tap, and instead he started to crawl towards the ropes, only for KUSHIDA to roll through and switch it into a Victory roll for another two count. Another Hoverboard lock attempt followed, but Takahashi powered out as the champion and challenger blasted each other with straight right hands.
KUSHIDA tried to keep up the pressure, but he charged into an overhead belly-to-belly that sent him into the corner as Takahashi looked to follow up with a superplex… but it’s caught and turned into a Hoverboard lock on the top rope, before Takahashi turns that into a waistlock ‘rana bomb off the middle rope for another two-count.
After lawn-darting KUSHIDA into the turnbuckles with a death valley driver, Takahashi picked up the win – and the title – with the Time Bomb (swinging Samoan Driver). Amazing stuff, and this just usurped the tag match as the best thing on the show! ****¾
NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata (c)
Goto and Shibata had a tentative opening… until Shibata slapped Goto hard in the chest to a loud reaction.
Shibata headstands out of a headlock as he then swings and misses a kick at Goto, before a wristlock grounds the challenger. A swing and a miss from a Goto lariat leaves him vulnerable for a sleeper on the apron, before a PK knocked him down to the floor. After throwing him back into the ring, Shibata stomps on Goto’s arm and softens him up for an armbreaker attempt that is eventually broken as Goto’s legs make the ropes.
This is all rather nonchalant as Shibata kicked away at Goto some more, but Goto came back with a lariat to a chorus of boos. Shibata rebounds with a knee to the head, but Goto then bounces back with a back suplex and a top rope elbow drop for a near-fall. They go back and forth before Shibata blasts into Goto with a diving dropkick in the corner, before he lands a single underhook suplex for a near-fall.
Shibata wraps up Goto in an abdominal stretch in the middle of the ring, but Goto drags his way to the rope… only to be taken back into the middle with a German suplex. A lariat in response from Goto barely registers, as the pair bounce off the ropes with lariats and big boots. Shibata and Goto pop up from belly-to-back suplexes, until Goto drags Shibata over his knee for a neckbreaker.
A front suplex turns into a facebuster from Goto, and my feed jumps again as we see Goto fire back briefly… and then Shibata dumps him with an STO! The pair get up and tee off on each other with forearms, but Shibata catches a rear naked choke in the middle of the ring – then reapplies it after Goto made the ropes – eventually adding some body scissors to drag Goto to the mat.
Eventually Goto reaches the ropes to break the hold, and my feed picks the best time to freeze yet again! After shoving the referee down, Shibata and Goto trade headbutts before Goto lands an ushogoroshi… then a shouten kai for a near-fall! More headbutts between the two follow as they rile each other up, before the GTR earns Goto the win! A great match, but severely hampered here by feed issues… yet again, Shibata drops the title, but at this point the title is best served on Goto. ****½
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito (c)
Yet another fantastic match that needs to go onto your “must see” lists…
This was the show where Hiroshi Tanahashi was going to debut a new theme song to replace his long-used “High Energy”… what we got instead was a song called “Love & Energy”, which sounded like a tribute version of the old song, at a higher key, with a chant-able “Go Ace!” line.
After finally disrobing, both men took their time to get going… although that was mostly because of Naito pacing around. Naito willingly goes into the corner from the initial tie-up, but Tanahashi throws in a cheapshot to a chorus of boos from a pro-Naito crowd. We get the tranquilo pose after Naito throws Tanahashi outside, but overall Tanahashi just about edges the early exchanges.
Naito comes back with his outside-in dropkick in the corner as the champion then shoved the referee into the corner for some reason. The ref came into play again as he was handed Tanahashi’s leg, just so Naito could hit another dropkick en route to something resembling a figure four as Tanahashi made the ropes. After Naito spat at Tanahashi, he was given some forearms, but another dropkick neutralises Tanahashi briefly, as the challenger came back with a flip senton off the middle rope for a two-count.
The two went back and forth as a knee breaker from Naito resulted in a low dropkick from Tanahashi… and again Naito spits out, as the referee seemed to get the worst of it. Tanahashi blocks a tornado DDT and instead catches Naito in the ropes with a Dragon screw, then rushed in on the apron with a Slingblade to dump Naito to the floor. That looked nasty!
Tanahashi hits the High Fly Flow off the top rope onto Naito on the floor – but Tanahashi ends up flying onto the guard railings after the impact took down Naito. There’s some more boos as Tanahashi mocks the Tranquilo pose on the apron, before Naito’s finally rolled back into the ring, where this time the champion staggers into the ropes to crotch Tanahashi as he was going for another High Fly Flow.
Naito comes back with a top rope ‘rana and a German suplex for a near-fall, then followed up with the Gloria side-slam for another two-count. Tanahashi blocks a hint at Destino, then a tornado DDT, but has no answer for a low dropkick to the knee, which is returned in kind before Naito gets a victory roll into a kneelock. Somehow, Tanahashi stands up out of it and turns the hold into a Liontamer-esque Texas cloverleaf, but finally Naito slides towards the ropes for the break as the referee looked set to wave off the match.
Tanahashi tries to drag Naito back in, but instead he goes for another Dragon screw, then gets a pair of Slingblades for a near-fall. Another High Fly Flow is attempted as Naito was face-down… so Tanahashi waits until Naito gets up to hit the move, before going back up for another one, but Naito rolls away! From there, Naito rushes in with Destino, before a second was caught and turned into a Roll The Dice by Tanahashi out of nowhere!
Both men get back to their feet to exchange some more forearms, before they kick out at each other’s knees, ending with a low dropkick from Naito. Tanahashi fires up quickly though with a Dragon suplex for a near-fall, before he pops up for the High Fly Flow… and this time he lands it on the back of Naito! A second one follows, but this time Naito gets the knees up!
Naito clocks Tanahashi with an enziguiri as he looks to hit a reverse tornado DDT/super Destino for a near-fall… then a standard Destino finishes him off as Naito becomes the first champion to retain tonight. That. Was. Amazing! A slow-burner of a match that paid off big time in the end. ****¾
IWGP Championship: Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
This went long – block out a good hour for this folks, including entrances! Kenny Omega got a Terminator-inspired entrance, beating up some folks who happened to be wearing Kazuchika Okada shirts. This was glorious! Likewise, Okada got an elaborate entrance, albeit many levels lower than Omega’s mini-movie. The Young Bucks were out with Omega, which unsettled me a little after a night full of clean finishes.
They start off on the mat as Okada worked a headlock, before Omega grabbed one in kind and took the champion down. The pair worked some early pinning attempts starting from a springboard sunset flip out of the corner, before Okada schooled Omega with armdrags.
An early attempt at the One Winged Angel led to a Rainmaker attempt… which was countered by Omega spitting at Okada then powdering to the floor. Okada gave chase, but returned to drop Omega with a big boot as the action again spilled to the floor. Omega almost broke the ring barricades as he took an Irish whip into them, before Okada used them to land a draping DDT.
Omega blasts Okada as he went under the ring for a table, but that offence barely lasted as Omega was then sent into the crowd, where Okada ran the length of the ring to clear said ring barricades with a cross body block into the crowd. They return to the ring as Okada continues to wear down Omega with a neckbreaker for a near-fall, before Omega lands the leg lariat from behind to get a two-count himself.
Both men miss an elbow drop, then a back senton as Omega stays on top of Okada with a shot to the back for a near-fall, before Okada knees his way out of a cross-legged brainbuster. Undeterred, Omega lands a ‘rana to send Okada to the outside, and now we get the Terminator beat as Omega lands where Beretta failed in the opening match, taking Okada down with a huge tope con hilo.
The pressure stays on as Omega slams Okada on the corner of the ring apron, before a missile dropkick really waffles the back of Okada’s head for a near-fall. So much whiplash with one dropkick…
Omega grounds Okada with a modified camel clutch, but the champion easily grabs the ropes to force the break. Okada makes a comeback, and gets a near-fall with a DDT and a diving uppercut, before a flapjack gives way to a cross-legged STF. That’s broken as Omega reaches the ropes, so Okada decides to change tack and go for an elbow drop… but he’s forced to abort that as Omega rushes in, but Okada eventually comes back with a neckbreaker slam.
An elbow drop off the top rope is blocked as Omega gets his knees up, and Okada quickly ends up dropkicked to the outside and over the barriers as he ends up getting very cosy with the Japanese commentary team. That commentary team shuffles back, as Omega runs in and lands the Golden Triangle moonsault into the crowd – paying homage to a man who may or may not have been a tiger earlier tonight.
Omega runs out and places the folded table onto Okada, then lands a double stomp through the table to the champion’s midsection/groin. A Makabe-like powerbomb back in the ring gets Omega a two-count, as the Bucks set up that table on the outside – since it didn’t break with that double stomp. They call back to the One Winged Angel that Omega gave Okada on the last show of the year, but the referee restrains Omega successfully as the match returned to the ring.
A Finlay roll and a springboard moonsault out of the corner gets Omega a two-count, before an attempted Dragon suplex is blocked as Okada dropkicks Omega to the outside – and off of the elevated platform that the ring was on. Okada drags Omega onto the apron, dangerously close to the table, but the challenger slips out and into a One Winged Angel before they continue to tease the table bump… eventually delivering as a big… no, a HUGE back body drop sent Omega flying out of the ring and through the table.
Okada heads out to throw Omega’s limp body back into the ring, before flying back into Omega with a missile dropkick for a two-count. That top rope elbow finally lands as Okada gets to do his Rainmaker pose, but Omega clings to the top rope for dear life as the Rainmaker looked set. Omega ducks the lariat and drills Okada into the corner for a back superplex… which the champion elbows out of, only to get dropped with a Dragon Superplex as Okada landed square on his head! Yeah, I shrieked just watching that…
Despite that, Okada got the shoulder up at two, so Omega follows up with an Adam Cole-like neckbreaker, but Okada returned fire with a high angle German suplex, and held on to roll it into a Rainmaker attempt. That’s ducked as Omega lands a bicycle knee, only for Okada to return with a beautiful dropkick. A reverse ‘rana takes down Okada, who then eats another knee to the head, and finally the One Winged Angel… but Okada flips out and lands a tombstone piledriver! One Rainmaker later, Okada gets another near-fall as this went from an 8 to an 11 on the Spinal Tap scale.
Another dropkick sends Omega careering into the turnbuckles, but he counters a tombstone and lands a package tombstone piledriver for yet another near-fall. They pick themselves up for more back and forth forearms as this turns back into a slugfest, before Omega flashes in a Dragon suplex and a knee strike for a close two-count. Omega tries for the One Winged Angel, but Okada slips out and nails a Rainmaker… right as we hit what I’m told is the 45 minute mark. This certainly hasn’t felt like that long.
Omega repeatedly boots Okada in the head, then throws in a series of increasingly stuff knee strikes, but Okada holds on and hits another Rainmaker. Another Rainmaker is blocked as Omega hits a dropkick instead, and this crowd is getting hotter as a Rainmaker bicycle knee downs Okada. Yet again, the One Winged Angel is countered, this time with a jumping tombstone from Okada, as one more Rainmaker ends this absolutely epic main event. Perhaps a little on the long side, and if they were going to go that long with stuff that felt like it was done for the hell of it, they perhaps should have gone the full 60-minute time limit, but this was amazing. ****½
What Worked: Just about everything. The big four matches all delivered – and then some! Ordinarily I’d be annoyed at how many titles changed hands in this show, but at least the major switches played into storylines. Los Ingobernables now all hold a belt each, Shibata is now free to have a meaningful feud, and Steve Corino can now stop being ashamed of the swearing!
What Didn’t: In the middle of the show… my stream! Cody (Redacted) as a heel didn’t really work, since he debuted as “hey look, it’s Cody, and he’s in the Bullet Club” rather than actually being seen as a part of the stable at any point.
Thumbs: Massively, Massively Up! 999 Yen/£7/$8.50… for one show alone is a steal. For what at this early stage is likely going to be one of, if not the best show of the year from New Japan, it’s daylight robbery! The show started slowly, but built up solidly with each match as good as, if not better than the last – exactly what you want from such a top-line event.
Next up for New Japan… New Year’s Dash from Korakuen Hall tomorrow, where new directions are set-up for the months ahead.