The first of two nights of WrestleKingdom got underway at the Tokyo Dome on Saturday, as the fabled Double Gold Dash kicked off.

We don’t get the STARDOM pre-show match, despite Bushiroad now owning them, thanks to various politics. What we did get was a four man, alliterative commentary booth in the form of Kevin Kelly, Rocky Romero, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton.

Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors & Alex Coughlin vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
Hey, that’s Gabriel Kidd in the Dome! Apparently Yota Tsuji is the 600th wrestler to appear at the Tokyo Dome, which is some pub trivia stuff.

Connors and Uemura get going with a LOT of scrambling, before they traded side headlocks and chops as things were getting rather testy. Alex Coughlin is in and chops Uemura into the corner for a two-count, before Karl Fredericks came in and kept the momentum going with a slam and a leaping elbow. Uemura cuts off Fredericks with a dropkick before a tag brings in Makabe, who clears house… only for the Mounted Punches to get cut off by Alex Coughlin. Not to worry, Honma’s in to dish them out eventually, while Fredericks had to kick out of a Northern Lights suplex. Fredericks makes Makabe bump, as Tsuji and Henare come in next to trade forearms, only for Tsuji to land a running dropkick as the ring cleared… so Henare could get quadruple-teamed. Henare takes a Kokeshi for a near-fall, before Tsuji worked his way into a Boston crab on the Kiwi.

Coughlin comes in to chop the Boston crab away, eventually breaking the hold before he got speared. A rear spin kick from Henare clocks Tsuji, as does a lariat, before the Toa Bottom got the W. They got a little more time than usual for this match, and it ended up being a real cracker too! This crap of Young Lions – particularly the LA Dojo folks – are gonna go far… ***

Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
We’ve got a legends match of sorts here, as Kojima’s fighting with his robe…

Kojima and Tenzan start us off with Mongolian chops to Nakanishi, wearing him down at the bell before a double-team suplex gets reversed. Nakanishi’s back with a splash, with Nagata counting the two-count along with the ref, before a clothesline from Nakanishi left Kojima down… and in comes Nagata! Kicks keep Kojima in the corner, as does a running boot before Kojima blocks an Exploder… elbowing his way free for a DDT. Tenzan’s in to go for a brainbuster, which lands for a near-fall, while a Mountain Bomb flung Nagata across the ring… only for the recently re-signed Nagata to respond with the Exploder.

The Machine Gun chops from Kojima work, but Nakanishi press slams him off the top rope as a boot/clothesline combo from Nakanishi and Nagata gets another near-fall. Kojima’s racked next, but Nakanishi lets go so he can chop some more, before he ran into a TenKoji Cutter for a near-fall. Kojima goes for a Cozy Lariat, but needs two attempts to get past Nakanishi… and that’s enough for the win! This was a lot better than World Tag League would have suggested, and you’d be a fool if there wasn’t enough left in the tank for some sort of “one last run” with these guys, no matter how brief. **½

After a 20 minute break, the opening video runs down the entire card… and we are ON! Fireworks, too!

Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask
EVERYONE gets entrances, even if the videos are all “their work with Liger in the past” and they even brought back the classic New Japan ring announcer Kero Tanaka as we’re in the land of the overdubs. Great Sasuke’s sporting a sweet half-and-half mask, complete with a Liger horn…

It’s Liger and Sano who start off this throwback, and of course Liger’s straight in with his greatest hits, rolling Sano to tease a seated surfboard, before he pulled him up and took him back down with a shoulder tackle. Sano’s back with a dropkick, taking Liger outside for a tope that almost went south, before Otani tagged in and washed the face of Liger with his boot. Great Sasuke gets in the way and eats a second face-washing boot, before Liger hit a Shotei to prevent another. In comes Tiger Mask and Takaiwa, with the pair trading chops and kicks, before Taguchi tags in to hit a bunch of hip attacks for a two-count on Tiger Mask. Sano’s back with a rear spin kick, and we’ve got a lot of quick tags here to isolate Tiger Mask in the wrong corner.

A top rope elbow from Takaiwa almost puts Tiger Mask away, but a desperation Tiger Driver opens the door as Fujinami comes in to Dragon Screw EVERYONE. A sleeperhold drags down Takaiwa ahead of a Dragon sleeper, but Sano breaks it up as Sasuke tags in… and promptly heads up top for a senton bomb that whiffs. That almost went south too… Sano misses a stomp on Sasuke, who kicks back and heads up top… only to get met with a superplex. Tags get Liger and Taguchi in, and Liger’s back to the hits as a Shotei and a top rope ‘rana send Taguchi flying. Tiger Mask flies into Takaiwa on the outside as the ring clears… meaning Liger has to save himself after a hip attack. An enziguiri from Taguchi has Liger on his arse, before a Bummer Ye gets a near-fall… as a Dodon proceeded top put Liger away. Ah man, the groans there for that result, but we shouldn’t be too shocked. Maybe Liger’s final win is going to be that indie show against TAKA Michinoku after all… Exactly what you expected of this, with everyone playing the hits, while Liger bowed to everyone afterwards. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado)
How the hell do you follow that then? By not giving us Kaze Ni Nare!

Of course, we’ve a jump start as folks pair off… EVIL and Suzuki stay in the ring while everyone else powders outside. There’s a Bronco buster to Suzuki in the corner for a quick two-count, before Suzuki countered with an armbar in the ropes he took EVIL outside for the obligatory guard rail spot. Suzuki’s got a chair, which EVIL tastes, before a rear naked choke led to a Gotch piledriver attempt… but EVIL wriggles free. Desperado’s in with a chinlock on EVIL, rolling it into a camel clutch while Taichi wandered in to playfully boot EVIL on the way to a two-count. Taichi tags in but gets a Fisherman buster after he took too long, and EVIL’s able to get free to tag in Shingo, who clears house on Despy and Taichi with clotheslines. There’s a sucker punch and a clothesline for Taichi too, but Taichi’s back with an enziguiri before he ripped off his trousers…

Dualling clotheslines see Taichi and Shingo clatter into each other, but it’s Taichi’s kicks that had the edge, and finally we get to Sabre/SANADA. The double leapfrog/dropkick takes down Sabre, while Desperado’s quickly trapped in a Paradise Lock… a TKO on Sabre’s countered into a Cobra twist, but SANADA hiptosses free before he tries for another Paradise Lock. Sabre counters that into a series of see-saw pins like the final Korakuen shows of 2019, but it doesn’t get the win as BUSHI tags in and hits a missile dropkick to Zack. LIJ triple-team Sabre, with a back cracker from BUSHI getting a two-count as Shingo lost track of Desperado on the way to the break-up, before BUSHI teased another backslide win on Sabre, only to get caught in an omoplata for the submission. A bit of a statement win for Sabre, but man, this doesn’t bode well for tomorrow. **¾

Post-match, SANADA broke the hold by pulling Sabre into a Skull End… which had Zack mocking his shitty Dragon sleeper for having the gall to do it while Fujinami was in the building. Too true.

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Bullet Club (KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi)
We’re building tomorrow’s NEVER title match…

Yano’s all excited because he wants to start… but he craps himself when Fale is standing opposite him. Oh Yano-san. Ineffective shoulder tackles give way to Yano removing a turnbuckle pad, before he rushed and tagged in YOSHI-HASHI. That’s smart. Chase Owens is in too, chopping YOSHI into the corner… but YOSHI’s back with a Head Hunter neckbreaker. Yujiro trips YOSHI at the second time of asking, and provides a distraction as Chase dropkicks him into the guard rails while Fale charged through Goto and Ishii back in the ring. Fale slams YOSHI for a two-count, and poor YOSHI-HASHI’s taking a beating until his CHAOS buddies make a save. Ishii drops Yujiro with a German suplex, then tries to suplex Fale… but it’s quickly cut-off.

Yano’s back to try and low bridge Fale, but he’s not playing stupid. YOSHI-HASHI has more luck with a Bunker Buster on Yujiro as tags took us to KENTA and Goto, with the latter landing a nice clothesline. A DDT from KENTA stops things, before Yujiro returned to take down Goto for a low dropkick… a Parade of Moves breaks out as the ring fills, then clears, as Ishii finally suplexes Fale! Goto lands an ushigoroshi in Yujiro, then hits a GTR as a rather morose KENTA was made to watch… and that’s it. Eh. Aggressively okay, but this match was always going to be held up as why a two-day WrestleKingdom doesn’t need these warm-up tags. Especially when one of the eight men didn’t tag in. Hi, Big Tom! **½

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
Tiger Hattori’s here to referee on his final Tokyo Dome appearances. I swear we had that last year, no?

Juice and Finlay are waiting in the aisle for the champions, as we start with some brawling on the walkway. Juice bounces with a back body drop on the ramp, as the bell finally sounds to start the match. The champions take Juice into the corner ahead of a brutal double dropkick for a quick two-count, and it’s already looking ominous for the former US champion. Tanga Loa goes for a suplex, but Juice slips out and hits a reverse DDT as Finlay comes in and threw some forearms. A diving uppercut from Finlay has Tanga in the corner ahead of another uppercut off the middle rope, only for Tama Tonga to swarm the ring and catch Finlay from behind. Finlay lifts Tama to the outside to avoid a splash in the corner, before he got caught on the top rope as Tanga Loa pulled him awkwardly into the buckles.

A powerslam from Tanga drops Finlay, as did a headbutt from Tama, who followed up with a floatover suplex for a two-count. Tanga’s back with a slingshot senton, with Tama repeating the trick, as the pace in this one remained something you could charitably describe as methodical. Finlay hits a desperation spear to buy him some time, as he finally got the tag out to Juice. Elbows and a clothesline from Juice get rid of Tanga, before spinebusters greeted both of the tag champions. Clotheslines in the corner set up for cannonballs, but a German suplex from Tanga Loa splats Juice into the mat. Tama’s back to miss a Stinger splash as Juice lands a pair of leg lariats, before Finlay tagged in to wipe out Tanga with a Pescado… a dropkick to Tama’s good for only a one-count too.

The challengers seemed to be setting up for a superplex/splash combo, but Tanga Loa knocks Juice off the top rope as a powerbomb/splash from the champions lands instead. Finlay’s bounced with a back suplex/neckbreaker combo, but somehow he kicks out at two before he took a Magic Killer for a near-fall. Juice takes a Magic Killer for good measure, before Finlay was set up for the Super Powerbomb… but he counters out with a ‘rana instead, before an O’Connor roll on Tama got a near-fall. From the kickout, Jado cracks Finlay with the Kendo stick, leading to another near-fall, as the lead began to change hands. Tanga teases Apeshit, but instead pushes away Pulp Friction as Jado gets punched out… Left Hands of God from Juice lead to a Pulp Friction that Tanga seems to sit out of, before Tama takes a Left Hand of God, and an Acid Drop… and yet again, the Guerrillas drop the belts at the Dome! This felt a little long by the end, but was low-key decent… but man, the Guerrillas have a nasty habit of blowing hot and cold, and that continued again here.

Hey, at least I feel vindicated for watching all of World Tag League! ***¼

Texas Death Match for IWGP United States Championship: Jon Moxley vs. Lance Archer (c)
The only way to win is by a standing ten-count, a knockout or a submission – and Moxley’s in the Tokyo Dome looking to win the title he never lost.

Moxley jumps Archer before the bell, with both men having brought plunder… and they’re not slowing down as fists get thrown before Moxley hit a dive to Archer on the outside. Archer’s thrown back inside as Moxley grabs a Kendo stick, but he takes too long setting up and gets a chair properly flung into his head. Archer uses that Kendo stick to good effect, along with some bin lids, as he prepared to go Old-ish School… but he slips off the top rope and Moxley just wrecks him with the Kendo stick. JESUS. A Derailer’s attempted, but a bin lid stops the POUNCE as Moxley sets up a pair of chairs and suplexes Archer through them.

The Knee Trembler’s next, but Archer rolls onto his feet on the floor to stop the ten-count. Moxley joins him with a Pescado and gets caught with a chokeslam while poor Gabriel Kidd gets used as a human weapon, chokeslammed off the apron into Moxley’s head. Archer keeps up with a wild plancha, which is insane on so many levels, before they calm down back in the ring. Archer sets up more chairs back-to-back, and they’re quickly used to good effect as Moxley took a Blackout through the quartet. OW. Somehow Moxley’s back up, but he’s caught with an EBD Claw, which he counters out into a cross armbar, only for Archer to roll free and throttle Mox. An overhead suplex hurls Moxley into the corner, but he pulls himself up to throw a clothesline, before a Death Rider DDT led to a standing ten-count on Archer. Lance barely beats the count, so Moxley looks for a second Death Rider, only to get pushed away for a Derailer. A chokeslam onto a chair’s next as Archer tried to get the ten-count, then again with a big boot as Moxley stood up.

Archer recycles next as he pulls out a plastic bag and tries to suffocate Moxley with a bag-assisted EBD Claw… and it nearly works as they do the arm drop gimmick, but Moxley refuses to go down. Out come TWO tables, but Archer jabs Mox with his spikey helmet, before a teased chokeslam through the tables on the floor was blocked… so Moxley could hit a Death Rider off the apron through the tables! Archer took it right on his head, as a double ten-count started, but Moxley’s able to get to his feet as Archer stumbled… and Jon Moxley regains the US title! He’s got an instant defence tomorrow against Juice Robinson though, so perhaps don’t rest on your laurels, eh? They didn’t go too heavy on the plunder, and this made for a hell of a match – with most of the slips being covered up well. Those knees though… ***¾

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay (c)
Those first few matches back in Korakuen Hall all ended in defeat for Hiromu after over 500 days out injured… but with Will Ospreay having seemingly beaten everyone BUT Hiromu, you’ve got to expect a happy ending for the Time Bomb here, no?

Hiromu’s got a new video, with those damn cats, and he’s got a peacock coat too, with ALL THE COLOURS. When we get going, Ospreay took down Hiromu like he were nothing, before the pair burst into a series of forearms as the opening exchanges ended with Hiromu using headscissors to take Ospreay onto the apron, teasing a sunset bomb… that ended up becoming a powerbomb on the apron instead. The camera misses Hiromu flinging himself at Ospreay with a dropkick, before they returned to the ring to trade more forearms, only for Hiromu to catch Ospreay with a version of the Tarantula in the ropes.

Takahashi tries to come through the ropes, but he’s caught with a stomp to the back of the head, then a spiking DDT for a near-fall as Will was definitely going for the neck. That trend continues on the outside as Ospreay used a cravat around the guard rails to stretch Hiromu, with a neckbreaker keeping Hiromu on the defensive. Back in the ring, a kick to Hiromu’s back is followed up with a Koji clutch, but Hiromu gets a foot to the rope to force a break. Hiromu tries to fight back, hitting a nice wheelbarrow Flatliner to start an explosive comeback, as a Falcon arrow gets him a two-count. Chops keep Hiromu up, only for a handspring enziguiri to bring Ospreay right back in.

Ospreay goes for a Sasuke special, and eventually lands it – but not before he had to counter a German suplex on the ramp, then an overhead suplex that he countered by landing into the ring so he could go for the second dive. Absolutely sublime.

Back inside, a springboard forearm’s good for a two-count for Ospreay, but Hiromu keeps going, only to get taken onto the apron as another stomp targeted the head and neck. Will goes for it again, with an Okada-like missile dropkick aiming for the back of the head as Hiromu’s tank was starting to empty. He collapses to avoid a Hidden Blade a la Omega/Okada a few years back, so Ospreay just throws some Kawada kicks before he lifted Hiromu up for a Cheeky Nandos. Ospreay doesn’t let Hiromu fall, instead lifting him into an elevated Electric Chair on the middle rope. Hiromu fights free and looked for a wheelbarrow driver, only for Ospreay to counter back out, getting caught with that wheelbarrow driver anyway for a near-fall. Hiromu’s leaking blood, and lands a Dynamite Plunger for a near-fall, before Ospreay hit back with a flash enziguiri.

The Robinson special follows to Hiromu, who then blocks an OsCutter before falling to a Made in Japan as he almost lost to a stablemate’s finish! Ospreay heads up top straight after, hitting a shooting star press to the back for another near-fall. An OsCutter connects, but Hiromu sneaks the shoulder up just in the nick of time! A hook kick from Ospreay drops Hiromu as the Hidden Blade looked to follow, but Hiromu drops out and hits a powerbomb in response. With both men on their knees, we get an exchange of elbows leading to Hiromu countering an Oscutter into a German suplex. Ospreay tries for a powerbomb, but it’s countered into a spiking Destroyer as Hiromu’s momentum continued to build, with a death valley driver into the turnbuckles coming next.

Hiromu senses the end is near, but Ospreay counters out of a Time Bomb, only to get caught with some superkicks. A hook kick lads as Ospreay counters back for a Storm breaker, instead having to land a standing Spanish Fly as those near falls kept on flowing. Finally Ospreay damn near decapitates Hiromu with a Hidden Blade, then pulled him up for a Storm Breaker, but it’s countered into a Code Red as my heart begins to pound through my chest. Hiromu nails Ospreay with a lariat, then lands the Time Bomb… but it’s still not enough! A running forearm decks Ospreay again as Hiromu sets up for his new move… a package Emerald Flowsion, and that’s enough to complete the comeback! Hiromu Takahashi is back on top of the pile after a match that was batshit crazy… and that’s without even considering Hiromu is barely 18 months on from a broken neck. They didn’t go a million miles an hour, but this was Hiromu showing he’s tweaked just enough while staying resilient to outlast Ospreay and reclaim Belto-san. *****

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Jay White (c)
Oh, these poor sods having to follow that.

Jay White’s wearing the same gear he wore last year when he breezed past Okada, and he starts with his usual tactics, rolling outside to defuse the situation, while Naito followed… so he could try and pull Gedo by his greying beard. It’s nice of Gedo to let his beard partially match White’s gear… Naito holds the ropes for White to get back in, but he avoids the usual con by taking White outside for a neckbreaker off the apron… chasing Gedo away, Naito stays on White, throwing him back inside by the hair, before Gedo finally got involved, holding onto Naito’s leg, and now White begins to take advantage.

After another Gedo trip, White drops Naito neck-first over the ropes, before wrapping his legs around the post. The double act continues to distract the ref as Gedo uses a chair on Naito’s bad leg, and it’s all White from there. Naito’s thrown into the guard rails, then has his leg wrapped around them as a trip back to the ring was only brief, as a Saito suplex send Naito rolling back outside for cover. White stays on Naito’s legs, working his way in for a Muta lock, but they’re pretty close to the ropes as a break is quickly called. Naito manages to ‘rana White away to get some time, and starts to build anew with a neckbreaker for a quick two count. A delayed Combinacion Cabron and some headscissors on the mat have White scrambling for the ropes, which he clings onto to stop Naito from going for a German suplex.

Red Shoes breaks it up, but Naito rushes back in and gets DDT’d for his troubles. A death valley driver sees White build new momentum, before he looked for a TTO submission… but Naito pushes it away, only to get pulled back down to the mat. Naito tries to go after White’s knee as well, then threw some elbows to the back of the head as he wore down the Intercontinental champion… all while keeping an Okada-like wrist clutch. Naito connects with a flying forearm, but couldn’t avoid a Complete Shot a la Gedo, nor a German suplex. White gets caught out though when he misses a shot as Naito hits a neckbreaker in the ropes, before a trip up top ended with him getting knocked into the turnbuckles. A knee-breaker sees White jar Naito’s knee again, following up with a Dragon screw in the ropes as White looked to be trying to force a stoppage. Look, I’m trying to make this interesting, but this is the polar opposite of the last match, okay?

White tries to whip Naito into the ropes, but he collapses, so White keeps up with a uranage for a near-fall. A Saito suplex from the ring to the floor leads to an awkward landing for Naito, before a Blade Buster back inside, then a Kiwi Krusher spiked Naito for a near-fall. A LOT of nasty landings for Naito here… A chop block from White resumes the focus on the knee, as did some Dragon screws, as the TTO looked to snuff out Naito’s latest dream of gold at the Tokyo Dome. Somehow Naito got to the bottom strand to force a break, before a Koppo kick and a series of switches led to Naito hitting a spinebuster. Naito looks to go for Gloria, but elbows cut him off as Gedo gets in the ring… it’s another distraction, but Naito ducks and hits a swinging DDT and a top rope ‘rana.

Naito follows that up with Gloria for a near-fall, before Destino was blocked as White threw Naito into the referee. In comes Gedo with a chair, but Naito kicks him away and proceeded to dump White with a Dragon suplex. More Gedo. Yay. He’s punted low, before White breaks a chair over Naito’s head. The referee returns as White looked to set up for a Blade Runner, but instead switched it into a sleeper suplex before Naito ran in from nowhere with Destino. White again goes for Blade Runner, but instead ends up taking a reverse ‘rana before another Destino almost led to the title change… Two more from Naito did the trick though, and he’s through to tomorrow’s IWGP title unifier. Technically, this was fine, and while they struggled following Hiromu/Ospreay, I’m not going to lash out and crap over the match because I’m not a fan of one of the wrestlers in it… but Jay White is absolutely not my cup of tea. This match was just another in a growing line of matches that dragged in the middle – things picked up at the end, but there’s just something about this current iteration of Jay White as a villain that simply doesn’t connect during a lot of his top level matches. ***¼

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
So Kota Ibushi gets his reward for winning the G1 – and it’s a remixed theme for Ibushi for the Tokyo Dome. Okada, meanwhile, gets some insane FLUORESCENT ring gear.

We’ve a slow start here as Okada took Ibushi down with some body scissors, as they seem to be setting their stall out for a long match from the off. They go in for shoulder tackles, but Ibushi pops right back up, throws some kicks and hits a standing moonsault for our first near-fall of the match.

Ibushi keeps going with kicks which winded Okada… but he recovers to take Ibushi outside, charging him into the barriers, before a draping DDT off the barrier spiked Ibushi on the floor. Back inside, a chinlock has Ibushi on the deck, but Kota gets out and hits a dropkick, then a flying kick to the midsection as a springboard moonsault out of the corner followed for a near-fall. Okada hits back with a dropkick to knock Ibushi off the top rope, before it was time for a trip to the guard rails as a boot knocked Ibushi into the crowd. A running crossbody over the rails crashes into Ibushi perfectly, before Okada trapped Ibushi with the Red Ink STF back inside. Ibushi gets to the rope, but just gets slammed as a top rope elbow from Okada finds its mark, as did the Rainmaker zoom out.

Ibushi tries a backflip kick to counter the Rainmaker, but he lands on his own head… before giving Okada a taste of the same medicine with a package tombstone. Okada tries to respond with a shotgun dropkick, but Ibushi leaps up and stomps him down, following in with a Golden Triangle moonsault on the floor to boot. Back inside, Ibushi hits a springboard missile dropkick for a near-fall, then a delayed Last Ride powerbomb for another two-count, before Okada dropkicks away an attempt at a Bomaye knee. Another head drop follows as Okada lands a tombstone, but Ibushi’s quickly up, refusing to register any kind of emotion from some uppercuts before he popped up again from a shotgun dropkick. Did landing on his own head turn Kota into a Terminator?!

Ibushi’s back with some body blows, with increasing degrees of heaviness behind each shot, which drew some boos from the crowd. Red Shoes breaks it up, but Ibushi’s attempts at a deadlift German suplex got countered as the pair fought on the apron, leading to a goddamn tombstone on the edge of the ring for Ibushi. That all led to a count-out tease, but Kota rolls in at 19, only to be dropped with an instant neckbreaker slam. A Heavy Rain death valley driver’s next for a near-fall, before Okada and Ibushi took some more head drops. They go again for the deadlift German, with Ibushi hauling up the champion, folding him in half for a near-fall that probably should have counted given Ibushi’s leg was under the rope. Ibushi picks up for a lawn dart, but Okada wriggles out and gets a spinning tombstone off as they jam Kota’s neck yet again.

Ibushi counters a Rainmaker with one of his own, almost out of desperation, but it’s Ibushi who’s up first for more kicks ahead of a Bomaye knee… for a one-count?! Another to the back barely gets a two-count, before a head kick and a Kamigoye dropped Okada for the nearest of near-falls! Another Kamigoye’s countered with an Okada dropkick, as we’re back to the back-and-forth strikes, with Ibushi launching into a flurry before he just toe poked Okada’s head. We cross the 35 minute mark as Ibushi collapses, then recovered as he looked for a superplex… only for Okada to break the grip and knock him down as his attempt at a missile dropkick was countered into a piledriver that almost ended the match! Ibushi goes right back up, but whiffs on a Phoenix splash as a spinning Rainmaker from Okada swiftly drops him… with a regular Rainmaker almost sealing the deal. HOW?!

Okada grabs Ibushi by the wrist and hits more Rainmakers, but rather than go for the pin he tries for a third. Ibushi counters with a head kick, then rushed in with a V-Trigger before a Kamigoye’s countered into a Fire Thunder Driver. That, and one final Rainmaker, is enough, as the summer-long G1 Climax campaign proved to be for nought, as Okada eked past the Golden Star. That was absolutely phenomenal – my heart was in my mouth for more than half of this match, probably from when Ibushi landed on his head on, but the question now is: after going over half an hour today, can Okada do it all again tomorrow against Tetsuya Naito? Absolutely special stuff here, telling a story from bell-to-bell while capturing the crowd for the entire journey, as the first half of WrestleKingdom closed out with a match worthy of the hype these shows get. *****

Speaking of Naito, he walked out afterwards with his IWGP Intercontinental title as Ibushi was getting rolled out of the ring. Naito lays down that Intercontinental title and recounts his past with Okada, vowing to beat him tomorrow to become the first man to leave with both belts. Okada still looks like that Intercontinental belt is beneath him, as the dualling chants broke out briefly. Naito departs, so Okada can close the show out in front of the announced 40,008 crowd.

The first night of WrestleKingdom 14 unfortunately was what we feared – with a “full card” spread across two shows, there was about an hour of the show that you’d be able to skip, as those undercard tags did nothing that you couldn’t have done on those Road to Tokyo Dome shows. It was a rare missed opportunity, I feel, to make this undercard count. Still, a show with two ***** matches can’t be dismissed as anything less than good. Starting out with the first of Liger’s retirement matches was a nice touch, especially given that everyone in that match was still able to go – which was a surprise for someone like myself who doesn’t keep too much of an eye on the Japanese scene beyond New Japan… but after that, you may as well tune out until the title matches hit, and in particular Ospreay/Takahashi which hit all of the heights we dreamt of. Tomorrow sees the culmination of the much-talked about Double Gold Dash, as Tetsuya Naito puts his newly-won Intercontinental title against Okada’s IWGP title. Jay White, meanwhile, is going to be looking to beat Kota and avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon…