NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

During my first trip to Japan I had to travel back during Wrestle Kingdom, so I was extremely excited to actually be able to attend this year. While I generally prefer shows where I can get reasonably close to the ring and really enjoy the benefits of being there live, stadium shows are unique and different experiences in their own right and attending Japan’s biggest wrestling show of the year (at a venue like the Tokyo Dome no less) was definitely a bucket list item for me.

I was happy to have an opportunity to check it off, and had a great time. The atmosphere was unlike any event I’ve been to before and it was a good show with several great highlights.

 

15873472_1497401793618344_2664053648317531625_n

 

That said I have to admit I don’t necessarily feel any need to do it again, despite having a lot of fun and enjoying the show. It’s simply too long and the novelty of being at a 27,000 person show won’t be as strong the second time around. As mentioned I enjoy experiencing the energy of live wrestling much closer to the ring. If I have the chance in the future I think I’d rather try to catch their follow up Korukeun Hall show instead next time around.

I’m not going to try to run down or separate thoughts on all 11 matches and do a full review here. My memory’s simply not up to it, and watching from the very top of the Tokyo Dome seats meant I was getting more general impressions than details at certain points anyway.

The pre-show New Japan Rumble was amusing mostly due to the lineup, ranging from Jushin Thunder Liger to Scott Norton to Billy Gunn to Cheeseburger (seriously…). Michael Elgin is extremely over in NJPW, so having him come in and destroy some guys to win it was a good call.

 

15873591_1497402056951651_8351913696452039918_n

 

The undercard was the appropriate mix of styles and stories. I don’t recall anything being actively bad, but to be honest I found both Cody Rhodes debut and the ROH title match flat. Both would have benefitted from having Japanese talent involved, although I do acknowledge I’m in the minority of the audience in that Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly in particular is a match I can (and have) see repeatedly in the states. Still, I don’t think it had the impact intended. I understand the benefit to ROH of changing their title at such a big international event, but as one of eight title matches (and one of six title changes) it got lost in the midcard and fell flat. It was also seemed a rather average outing from the two regular opponents to me.

The midcard in general was good but blended together a bit. Standout moments in my memory are a strong finish to the Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice match, and being annoyed with Yano’s antics and thus disappointed when his team won the tag team championship.

 

At an event like this the top of the card is always where the strongest matches belong, and NJPW pulled that off in spades. The top four contests were all singles title matches filled with wrestlers the crowd went wild for.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match between Kushida (c) and Hiromu Takahashi was good but spotty, with way too many dangerous looking head drops for my tastes. The story here was escalation, and I think they overdid it. Both competitors looked a bit loopy at times, and it was hard to enjoy this while more and more afraid for the wrestlers’ safety the longer this went. The rest of the crowd was hot for it though, so your milage may vary.

I felt the three matches that followed walked the line better, building increasing drama without going overbaord (ok, the main gets more of a pass on that for being the main). Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight title match was a tense, hard hitting affair. I’ve heard some comments that it wasn’t the best match the two have had as opponents, but it was the first time I personally was seeing that pairing and I was impressed.

 

15873366_1497401486951708_2671885211620989036_n

 

In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion best of the night honors from me go to the semi-main between Tetsuya Naito (c) and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title, who built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish.  The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

So of course if Naito vs Tanahashi is my match of the night then (in my opinion) the main event IWGP Heavyweight title match isn’t the the industry redefining match it’s been described as, and certainly not the greatest match of all time. That’s not to take anything away from Kazuchika Okada (c) and Kenny Omega: it was fantastic. It’s just the hyperbole has been out of control regarding this match. The semi main built more smoothly  in my opinion. Here they had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear. Again, still excellent though.

 

15826286_1497401506951706_2985624921613424439_n

 

Overall

Great show that was just too long for me to enjoy to the fullest extent live. The top of the card hit it out of the park though and reenergized me, and it’ll be easier to watch on replay (with the ability to watch in pieces) anyway. Easy recommendation on the strength of the top 3 matches alone, which are all well worth going out of your way to see.

ROH War of the Worlds NYC Live Thoughts

May 14, 2016 in Manhattan, NY

Big show for ROH at Terminal 5 in NYC to wrap up the War of the Worlds tour, with a great number of NWJP stars in the US to face ROH regulars.

I was extremely excited for the pre-show autograph session and the chance to meet some of the stars of NJPW. I grew up watching Jushin Thunder Liger and he’s a big reason I became a lifelong wrestling fan. I’m also a huge fan of Hiroshi Tanahashi. I was beyond honored to meet them both and get a picture.

The show was nine matches long, and apparently had some last minute changes made due to injuries. Comparatively what we got looks better than the original matches.

reDragon (Fish and O’Reilly) vs ANX (Kenny King and Rhett Titus) was a decent opener. Honestly ANX’s currently heel run isn’t really working for me. The megaphone gimmick did nothing since they still couldn’t be heard, and they stall way too much. Really prefer their work when they’re faces. That said, they were still ok here against the red hot Fish and O’Reilly, who really got the crowd going to start the show.

Fish stayed at ringside to provide commentary for Lio Rush vs Michael Elgin vs Moose vs Dalton Castle, no doubt to scout future challengers for his TV Title including number one contender Castle.

I adore Dalton Castle and his antics, and the pre-match ritual was even more amusing then normal with Elgin kissing Castle’s hand in lieu of shaking for the Code of Honor. Rush followed suit and Castle even insisted on the ref doing so as well.

The match itself was great, perhaps my favorite of the night. All four wrestlers know how to use their strengths to build up the action appropriately, and with a high-flyer in Rush, two big power wrestlers in Elgin and Moose, and Castle somewhere in between there was a lot of potential for interesting pairings. Particularly awesome spots included a huge pop-up powerbomb by Elgin on Moose and Castle performing deadlift German suplexes on each of his opponents in succession.

Kushida vs Silas Young was like something out of a time warp, which I suppose is fitting for Kushida’s gimmick. 😉 Silas is 100% old school heel, from using the back rake to doing the Rick Rude mooning the crowd spot. I don’t think I’ve seen that in at least a decade. Slow for me, but not bad and the crowd was way into Kushida.

Gedo subbed for Rocky Romero and teamed with Trent Baretta to face the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin). I like the Guns and it was nice to get to see them live again. Baretta and Gedo had decent chemistry and played off each other well. There was an awkward sequence where Gedo tied up the ref and Romero slid in to interfere while Sabin STOOD AND WATCHED from the apron without even trying to save his partner. Baretta then knocked Sabin off the apron after Romero left the ring and the ref turned back around. Would’ve made much more sense with the order reversed. Small point, but it really broke the immersion for me. Fun match otherwise. The heels got into a scuffle among themselves after the match, but made up with a triple hug to annoy the crowd.

The super-team of Jushin “Thunder” Liger & the Briscoes faced the Bullet Club (Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Adam Page) in the pre-intermission spot. Smart choice, as the face team was over enough to get cheered in equal measure to the heels by the sea of Bullet Club t-shirts that comprised the audience. The Briscoes came across as thrilled to be teaming with the legend, and it’s amazing what Liger can still do in the ring. Pure crowd pleaser here. Was surprised to see one of the current IWGP tag champions take the fall instead of Page, but I suppose it may be setting up a title shot for Dem Boys.

During intermission Mandy Leon came out to great the fans. Taylor Hendrix ambushed her after a few minutes and laid her out with a DDT on a chair.

Cedric Alexander got a strong reception from the crowd and “Please Don’t Go” chants for his last appearance in ROH. He and Donovan Dijak had a decent little match with Cedric putting Dijak over on his way out.

After The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Kazarian) recently capturing the ROH World Tag Team Championship in an impromptu match the previous week, War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) got a rematch here. They dominated the champs for the majority of the match, forcing Daniels to resort to a blatant belt shot in front of the ref to get DQ’d and keep the titles. This was fine, but suffered a bit due to the crowd being lukewarm about War Machine’s quest for revenge. Daniels is never seriously booed in NYC.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Matt Sydal was up with the four-way and the semi-main as my favorite matches of the show. Tanahashi carries himself like the star he is and it was wonderful to see him in singles action against someone who could keep up with him. Sydal’s in the best shape of his life and looked great here as well.

The semi-main of Tetsuya Naito vs ACH was a treat. Naito has incredible presence and charisma, and ACH was the perfect opponent to fly around trying to outdo NJPW’s Champion.

The revised main event was a three faction face off seeing Bullet Club (Adam Cole & Matt Jackson) vs Team NJPW (Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii) vs Team ROH (ROH World Champion Jay Lethal & Roderick Strong). The Rainmaker felt the love in NYC. His mock bills were handed out throughout the evening to fans. The visual of them falling when he came to the ring was fantastic. The crowd was on fire for both the Bullet Club and NJPW’s duo, which made it a bit unfortunate that this was ROH’s big win of the tour. Personally I’m neither a fan of the heels Lethal and Strong as conquering heroes nor Cole and Jackson’s “cool heel” antics, so while the action was fine I wasn’t over the moon for this. Okada and Ishii were a lot of fun though.

IMG_9768

Overall

Good end to ROH’s War of the Worlds tour. Extremely predictable, especially NJPW sweeping all of their singles matches, but enjoyable regardless. Strong effort up and down the card and some definite in-ring highlights, on top of an amazing opportunity to meet numerous stars before the show.