These days, many wrestling fans wait all year for January 4th for NJPW’s annual Wrestle Kingdom event. Over the past seven or eight years, WK has managed to rival WrestleMania in terms of best wrestling show of the year. And while WrestleMania has managed to draw more people than Wrestle Kingdom more often than not, many people have called WK the better of the two shows from a quality standpoint. Even now, some people claim that NJPW can do no wrong when it comes to the wrestling product that they showcase.
But this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when NJPW’s annual January 4 Dome shows were just as full of nonsensical and asinine booking as any WWE show. In fact, there was a time when NJPW’s creative direction was so bad that the company was feared to shut its doors.
Which brings us to this event: the first-ever Wrestle Kingdom event. Although NJPW had been doing annual January 4 Tokyo Dome shows since 1992, the 2007 edition was the first one under the ‘Wrestle Kingdom’ name. Today we’re revisiting Wrestle Kingdom I to see what it looked like as a show, and to see just how different NJPW’s booking was at the time compared to what it is now.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom I in the Tokyo Dome, January 4th, 2007
It was announced that there were 18,000 fans in attendance, and later investigation revealed only 10,000 of those fans actually paid. 18,000 people in the cavernous, 60,000-seat Tokyo Dome. OUCH.
There are nine matches on this show, and most of them appear to be part of another ‘outside invasion’ angle. This time, NJPW is dealing with wrestlers from All Japan Pro-Wrestling looking to wreak havoc. All of the matches have this NJPW-vs-AJPW setup except the main event, which is being billed as some sort of special dream match. Which is ironic considering it features Keiji Mutoh, who is not only an AJPW wrestler at the time but it the president of AJPW.
In the past, there was usually a big outcome or story coming out of whichever side (NJPW or the invaders) won the most matches. I don’t think that story was really followed up on here, but I’ll be keeping score just to make things more entertaining.
Six-Man Tag Team Match: Masanobu Fuchi, Ryusuke Taguchi and El Samurai (NJPW) vs. Akira Raijin, Kikutaro and Nobutaka Araya (AJPW)
I have no idea why Fuchi is on the NJPW team here since he’s an AJPW lifer, but whatever. Taguchi and Raijin start things off and Taguchi knocks him down with a dropkick. Then they trade elbows until Raijin fires up and headbutts him down and tags Kikutaro, who looks like a cartoon character come to life. Fuchi tags in as well and some silly comedy ensues. Kikutaro even tries to get Fuchi to lock-up with the ref, which gets him a hard slap to the head from said ref. Fuchi sneakily kicks Araya off the apron and gets taken down by Kikuytaro, who plays more games with the ref. he can take no more and kicks Kikutaro down. Kikutaro gets his legs stretched in the corner and El Samurai tags in. This leads to a low blow exchange (somehow not illegal) and all three of his opponents start hitting corner clotheslines. More shenanigans ensue and Raijin tags in, but Samurai drops him with a Scorpion Death Drop. Samurai goes for a top-rope Frankensteiner but Raijin holds on and lands a running spear followed by a big slam for a two-count. They clothesline each other, go down, and tag in partners. Kikutaro and Taguchi go at it. Kikutaro starts wrestling like Muta with a rib breaker, moonsault and Shining Wizard, but all that gets him a two-count. He holds Taguchi in a front chancery and starts shouting at the crowd, which gets a decent reaction. But Taguchi counters into a snap suplex and a diving dropkick. He pins but everyone jumps into the ring. Fuchi lands a backdrop suplex, Samurai lands another SDD, and Taguchi lands his Dodon/chickenwing facebuster, all on Kikutaro for the pin and the win after about eight minutes.
Winners: Masanobu Fuchi, Ryusuke Taguchi and El Samurai
Analysis: *1/2 This was silly comedy that didn’t accomplish much. Fuchi and Samurai were both older veterans with nothing to do, while the AJPW team of Raijin, Kikutaro and Araya didn’t really do much. The only story here was Kikutaro being mildly funny, but even that was a stretch. One of the AJPW guys pretty much stood on the apron for the entire match. This wasn’t good at all.
NJPW = 1; AJPW = 0
Tag Team Match: Gedo and Jado (NJPW) vs. Tokyo Gurentai (Mazada and Nosawa Rongai) [AJPW]
Gurentai cheapshot Gedo and Jado and Jado is stomped on outside the ring and choked with an electric cable. In the ring, Mazada and Gedo trade shoulder tackles to a mild reaction. Mazada lands a running hurricanrana, then they trade chops before Gedo knocks Mazada down. Both partners tag in, have a high-speed exchange, and Rongai takes Gedo down with a Shining Wizard. One solidary fan chants for Rongai but otherwise the crowd is dead. Gurentai continue double-teaming both Gedo and an incoming Jado, and pull him crotch-first into the ringpost. Gedo gets dragged across the top-rope and then choked until the ref breaks it up. Mazada lands a corner clothesline for two and then both he and Rongai bites Gedo’s fingers. Rongai lands a low blow for two as Mazada attacks Gedo’s fingers some more. Rongai applies a weird arm stretch submission hold but Jado breaks it up. Rongai tags in and lands a standing armbreaker and continues to work on Gedo’s fingers. Jedo gets knocked off the apron as Gurentai double flapjack Gedo and land a double-team wheelbarrow suplex. Jado saves his partner at the last moment but gets tossed out of the ring. Gurentai go for Hardyz-style Poetry in Motion in the corner but Gedo dodges and tags Jado, who starts cleaning house on Gurentai with German suplexes and clotheslines. Jado lands five or so consecutive Germans on Mazada. Mazada escapes a vertical suplex and charges but walks into a crossface until Rongai makes the save.
Mazada lands a DDT on Jado and tags Rongai and Jado tags Gedo. Gedo regains control with eye pokes and a Manhattan drop, and a DDT. He goes for a top-rope dive, and then poses for the crowd, which allows Rongai to recover. Rongai kicks the ropes and goes for a superplex but Gedo fights back and goes for a diving splash but Rongai gets his knees up. Mazada comes in and tries to attack Gedo from behind but Gedo fights back. Gedo tries to Tombstone Mazada, but somehow Mazada rolls forward into a Tombstone of his own. Rongai lands a sliding kick for two, then charges but Jado grabs his leg. Gedo uses the distraction to grab a foreign object, and as Rongai approaches him Jado low blows Rongai from behind. Gedo and Jado land a Dudleyz-style Superbomb and Gedo lands a frog splash to get the win after 13 minutes.
Winners: Gedo and Jado
Analysis: **1/4 This was fine as a TV match, but disappointing for a PPV. Both teams wrestled like villains so it was hard to really get behind either of them. There was lots of cheapshots from both sides and blatant low blows, which would become an unexpected secondary theme for this whole show. It came across more as a gimmick WWE match, but not even the good kind. The only real thing that mattered here is that the NJPW team won, but their win didn’t get much of a reaction from the crowd.
NJPW = 2; AJPW = 0
Six-Man Tag Team Match: Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) [NJPW] vs. (Bull) Buchanan D’Lo Brown and Travis Tomko (AJPW)
Yano sprays all three gaijins with water and a big brawl starts the match. He and Makabe choke Tomko in the corner as the other three brawl ringside. Tomko blocks their attempt at a double-team with double clotheslines. The gaijins gain control of the ring and Tomko has a nose-to-nose staredown with Makabe. They trade chops until Buchanan comes in and lands Old School onto an oncoming Yano. He lands some running elbow drops and a knee drop for a two-count. D’Lo tags in and lands a sliding lariat for another two-count. Makabe counters his charge with a powerslam and tags in Ishii (who has HAIR), and he and Yano knock the other two off the apron. Some double-team moves on D’Lo gets them a two-count. Ishii tosses D’Lo out of the ring, allowing Yano and Makabe to double-team him on the long entrance ramp. Back in the ring, Ishii lands a suplex for a one-count and tags Makabe and does a few punches before tagging Yano. They trade corner forearms until D’Lo blocks him but misses a moonsault from the corner. Yano tags Ishii and they tackle D’Lo to the mat. Yano then tags back in and he and D’Lo go back and forth on a suplex attempt until D’Lo lands one.
Tomko tags in and drops Ishii and lands a full nelson slam on Yano for two. He lands more power moves on everyone and tags D’Lo, who lands his Sky High for a two-count. Yano gets waistlocked and somehow manages to land a low blow on D’Lo without the referee noticing and tags in Makabe, who walks into a kick from D’Lo. He tags Buchanan and they land a double flapjack on Makabe for a two-count. Makabe tries getting momentum but walks into a sidewalk slam from Buchanan for two. The gaijins all land corner clotheslines on Makabe and Buchanan lands a Booker T-style scissor kick for another two-count. Buchanan goes for a claw slam from the top rope on Makabe, but Yano interferes (again behind the ref’s back) and lands a powerbomb/lariat combo on Buchanan from the top rope. Makabe pins but Tomko breaks it up at the last possible moment. Makabe charges for a lariat but walks into an Iron Claw sweep slam, yet manages to kick out again. Buchanan charges for a lariat, but Yano hits him with a chair in the back from ringside. A lariat from Makabe gets his team the win after about nine minutes.
Winners: Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano)
Analysis: **1/4 It was an average six-man tag match without much of a story. It felt rushed and no one really got the chance to shine or do anything beyond basic moves. This came across as the kind of ‘get as many people onto the card as possible’ sort of match. No one really stood out here. Makabe’s brawls were short and lacking in excitement. Yano did some cheap tricks, but they weren’t in his typical funny manner. And this version of Ishii was bland and unexciting, not at all like the wrestling fire hydrant that he’d become in six years. As for their opponents, none of them were in the ring enough to show what they can do. I guess there’s a novelty attraction here of seeing where some ex-WWE guys ended up after their various tenures with Vince came to an end.
NJPW = 3; AJPW = 0
Eight-Man Tag Team Match: Manabu Nakanishi, Naofumi Yamamoto, Riki Choshu and Takashi Iizuka (NJPW) vs. Voodoo Murders (Giant Bernard, Ro’z, SUWAMA and Taru) [AJPW]
This is a weird combination of wrestlers on both sides. Yamamoto would become known as Yoshi Tatsu in WWE, Bernard is Matt Bloom/ (Prince) Albert/(Lord) Tensai, and Ro’z is…Rosey.
They brawl all over the place to start things off. In the ring, Choshu lariats Taru and tags Iizuka, who stomps on Taru and tries to knock Bernard off the apron. Nakanbishi tags in and hits some big chops. Khali-style tree slam into the corner by Nakanishi. He hits some running attacks for a quick two-count and tags Yamamoto, who immediately gets low blowed by Taru (in front of the ref, how is that not a DQ?) as Ro’z tags in. Yamamoto tries fighting back but Ro’z knocks him back down with stiff strikes (because, Samoan). Bernard tags in and lands a double-arm suplex for two as Choshu breaks up the pin. He lands a rope guillotine and tags SUWAMA, who lands a German suplex for two. He tosses Yamamoto out of the ring so that Taru can drag him way out into the stands and smash him into the steel barricade. SUWAMA continues with hard strikes as Taru bothers the commentators and then tags in again. He chokes Yamamoto with his wrist tape as his partners knock everyone but Choshu off the apron. Bernard distracts the ref allowing his teammates to land an aided ax kick to the crotch on Yamamoto. No more kids for him I guess. Also, why bother distracting the ref when you landed a blatant low blow minutes earlier without consequences?
Taru continues with punches but Yamamoto counters into a botched float-over DDT and tags Choshu. He lariats both Taru and SUWAMA, and ducks a double-team clothesline from Bernard, causing Bernard to hit Ro’z instead. another lariat for Ro’z from Choshu. In tags Nakanishi, who goes crazy with his version of a ‘superstar comeback’, knocking everyone around him down with his massive hands. He goes for the Hercules Cutter (torture rack neckbreaker) but then tosses Taru onto an oncoming SUWAMA. He nearly manages the Hercules Cutter on Ro’z but Ro’z escapes and Bernard bicycle kicks him into his team’s corner. This allows Iizuka tags in and lands an Exploder suplex on Taru for two, and then applies a sleeper. Taru’s hand falls twice before Ro’z breaks it up. SUWAMA tags in and lands some corner clotheslines and a belly-to-belly for a one-count. Choshu makes the save after SUWAMA lands a Britsh Bulldog-style running powerslam. He charges for a clothesline, but Iizuka counters into another Exploder and tags Yamamoto, who lands a missile dropkick. He tries to fire up with a strike combination comeback but only gets a two-count. SUWAMA avoids a backdrop suplex and drops a charging Yamamoto with a powerslam. Bernard tags in and crushes Yamamoto with a massive sitout Last Ride Powerbomb, only for all of Yamamoto’s teammates to make the save. Nakanishi fights with Bernard until Ro’z knocks him down from behind. SUWAMA is in again (I didn’t notice a tag) and gets two off a German suplex. He lands a bridging backdrop suplex. That’s enough to get the win after 15 minutes.
Winners: Voodoo Murders (Giant Bernard, Ro’z, SUWAMA and Taru)
Analysis: ** Average match with lots of nonsensical chaos. I didn’t like the inconsistency of whether low blows were legal or not, and the overall flow of the match seemed all over the place. There were some sloppy bits as well, especially from Yamamoto. The coolest moment came from Bernard when he landed a monstrous Last Ride that was even better than The Undertaker’s. But apart from that, this match’s messy structure makes it entirely skippable, especially since it was a longer yet less-focused version of the six-man that took place before it.
NJPW = 3; AJPW = 1
Ten-Man Tag Team Match: Kaz Hayashi, Koji Kanemoto, TAKA Michinoku, Tiger Mask IV and Wataru Inoue (NJPW) vs. Control Terrorism Unit (Jushin Thunder Liger, Milano Collection A.T. and Minoru) and Voodoo Murders (“brother” Yasshi and Shuji Kondo) [AJPW]
The video I got of this skips intros so I barely know who’s who. I can only recognize a handful of wrestlers (Liger, Tiger Mask, Taka), so this’ll be fun. Also, Liger and his CTU are very much NJPW wrestlers, yet they’re teaming with the evil AJPW invaders here.
Kanemoto (I think) dropkicks two of his opponents and lands a facewash in the corner. He charges but walks into a pop-up powerslam. Two others tags in and one lands a standing dropkick and a suicide dive through the ropes. TAKA lands a plancha on Liger and then the rest of the wrestlers follow suit with their own dives. The babyface (non-Liger) team all recover in the ring together. One guy lands a gutbuster as TAKA tags in and they land double-team elbow drops on him. His opponent counters a suplex into one of his own and lands a knee drop and tags Liger. TAKA avoids both a Ligerbomb and a shotei but walks right into a blatant low blow from Liger. Liger gets TAKA into his corner and all five of them beat TAKA up. Some guy in with dreadlocks (I think Yasshi) exchanges chops with TAKA and then they grab each other’s nuts. Riveting action here. The ref forces them to separate and Yasshi lands head-first on TAKA’s groin to absolutely no reaction. Another guy tags in and whips TAKA across the ring, but TAKA dodges a corner handspring elbow and lands a Nagata-style corner knee lift. His opponent Matrixes to dodge a kick and drops TAKA with a thrust kick of his own. Take gets ‘wrapped up’ in the ropes and then Liger tags back in and lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and a surfboard stretch. All five of them come in, knock the babyface team down, and take turn hitting corner strikes on TAKA.
TAKA dodges a corner charge and lands some desperation kicks and tags in (I’m just guessing) Milano, who runs wild and knocks all the heels down. He has a chop battle with (again, guessing here) Kondo but Milano counters into a grounded armbar until Liger makes the save. Milano lands a shotgun dropkick for two but Kondo counters his German suplex into a flipping slam and tags Hayashi. Hayashi tries to maintain control but eats a handspring elbow and a lionsault. Everyone charges in and brawls. Hayashi lands his Final Cut finisher but Kondo gets up and they escape multiple finisher attempts until Kondo lands an Air Raid Crash for two. Hayashi gets locked in an armbar but reaches the ropes quickly and then counters some kicks with a dragon screw. Yasshi tags in and whips Hayashi, but Hayashi counters into a Rey Mysterio-style wheelbarrow bulldog. Tiger Mask (TM hereafter) tags in and lands a diving dropkick and a Tombstone but Kondo breaks up his pin. TM goes for a dive but gets thrown off the turnbuckle and another big brawl ensues. TM gets double-teamed by Yasshi and Kondo until Kanemoto makes the save. More chaos and randomness ensues with moves being hit at random on random people. Yasshi and TM are the legal man and TM counters a charging Yasshi with a wheel kick. He follows with a standing moonsault double knee drop and a Bridging Tiger Suplex, which gets him the three-count after 13 minutes.
Winners: Kaz Hayashi, Koji Kanemoto, TAKA Michinoku, Tiger Mask IV and Wataru Inoue
Analysis: *3/4 More senseless nonsense. It felt more like an extended brawl than an exciting match. Nothing really mattered here. Big moves and big dives were done without any build-up, which made the match feel directionless and lacking in structure. Of course, with so many participants you can’t expect a great match unless there was something huge at stake and there wasn’t any of that here. Once again, this match felt like a case of NJPW throwing as many people onto the card as possible, and the result was an entirely forgettable clusterf**k of a match.
NJPW = 4; AJPW = 1
Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW) vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW)
An extended amateur grappling sequence opens the match. After getting a clean break, they trade strikes in the corner. Kawada wins the exchange because he’s Kawada and leaves Nakamura reeling. He does some more amateur holds until Nakamura gets him in the corner and lands a huge knee lift under the chin. Nakamura applies a leglock to take away Kawada’s biggest weapons, and Kawada does the same. After a ropebreak, Kawada soccer kicks Nakamura in the back, but this only pisses him off and he knees Kawada hard in the stomach several times. Nakamura first goes for a sleeper and then an armbar, and makes sure to stretch the ropebreak as much as he can. Nakamura lands a few knee drops and kicks to Kawada’s neck, but Kawada gets up and stares daggers at Nakamura with the biggest ‘you little shit’ look on his face. Nakamura slaps Kawada defiantly, which leads to Kawada hitting Nakamura as hard as humanly possible. And by this I mean he starts treating Nakamura’s entire body like a football. Plus he lands some sick knees to Nakamura’s head. the referee is pretty much powerless to keep things going smoothly, but the ref takes a bump and Kawada hits an amateur takedown and looks to be legit angry at Nakamura. But after a few failed attempts, Nakamura gets Kawada into his guard and applies an armbar. Kawada reaches the ropes, so Nakamura starts kicking Kawada’s arm. Nakamura stalls for a bit and then charges for a clothesline, but Kawada gets up and yakuza kicks Nakamura’s arm. Double lariats. Then Nakamura lands one to take Kawada down. Nakamura goes for a German, Kawada blocks and lands a gamengiri kick. A second one gets him a two-count. Stretch Plum submission hold. Nakamura reaches the ropes quickly. Chop/kick combo by Kawada, followed by another Stretch Plum. He pins but Nakamura kicks out. So Kawada answers with an armbar of his own. Nakamura escapes. More brutal kicks from Kawada, including an ax kick to the back of the neck. Running lariat from Kawada. Nakamura escapes a powerbomb but eats a Backdrop Driver. Nakamura gets right back up and lands his inverted exploder suplex. But Kawada gets up shaking his head. a second Backdrop Driver. Nakamura refuses to stay down and lands a German suplex. Kawada lands on his neck but GETS RIGHT UP, still shaking his head. A third Backdrop Driver. Nakamura still gets up. Tiger Suplex from Nakamura. Both men stay down for a long time.
They both get up slowly and Kawada boots a charging Nakamura in the face. They trade hard strikes in the corner once more, and Kawada wins the exchange again. Kawada charges with a lariat, but Nakamura counters into a flying armbar. Amazing counter. Kawada reaches the ropes again. They trade armbar attempts back and forth until Nakamura gets another one in. but Kawada answers by stomping on Nakamura’s face. Yet Nakamura won’t let go. After a long struggle, Kawada gets to the ropes again. Nakamura goes for his Landslide finisher but Kawada escapes and goes for more kicks. But Nakamura blocks one and counters into a Folding Powerbomb. He uses Kawada’s own finisher against him, but Kawada still kicks out AND gets his own armbar. But Nakamura gets both of Kawada’s shoulders to the mat for a quick two-count. Kawada tries to avoid another Landslide, but still gets dropped sideways for a two-count.
They have another standing strike exchange but both men struggle to stay on their feet. Kawada keels over, now deeply affected by all the damage done to his body. They fight on with brutally stiff strikes, Nakamura kicks Kawada in the damaged arm but Kawada answers with another gamengiri. Kawada drops a knee on Nakamura’s head for another two-count. Kawada goes for a powerbomb but can’t because of the damage to his arm. He tries and tries, and eventually lands the powerbomb. He pins, but Nakamura kicks out at ONE! And defiantly at that. But Kawada has had enough of Nakamura’s shit. Brainbuster! Kawada pins. Nakamura kicks out at 2.9! Kawada starts going for kicks to the head, but Nakamura tries to dodge them. He manages to dodge a few but not the last one. Kawada damn near punts Nakamura’s head off. One, two, three! There’s the match after 19 minutes.
Winner: Toshiaki Kawada
Analysis: **** This was way better than it had any right to be. Kawada was way past his prime yet he managed to hang with Nakamura for almost twenty minutes. They told a great story of the scrappy Nakamura fighting (not wrestling, fighting) against the grumpy veteran Kawada. And while Nakamura was ahead in terms of stamina and consistency, Kawada was better in terms of raw brutality. I loved the way Kawada kept switching between ‘working’ the match and hitting strikes so realistic that they looked legitimate. Kawada’s movements and body language suggested he was in a real fight as opposed to a ‘worked’ pro wrestling match, which made this contest feel so much more exciting. I also loved how both he and Nakamura at first struggled to get up, and kept getting up by shaking their heads to say ‘that’s not enough’. Unfortunately, they did go overboard with the head spikes here. Kawada landed three consecutive Backdrop Drivers, yet that was only a transitional move when in the past that would’ve ended the match. And with the conclusion, in which there were so many kickouts, I think they went too far into overkill territory. But still, this was a great match, even with a lack of a sustained crowd reaction.
NJPW = 4; AJPW = 2
Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship Match: Minoru Suzuki [c] vs. Yuji Nagata (NJPW)
Suzuki is a freelancer wrestling wherever he wants at this time and Nagata is a NJPW mainstay. The bell rings and they tear into each other with strikes. Suzuki takes control with slaps and forearms. He taunts Nagata with slaps and a cocky grin, but Nagata gets angry and slaps him HARD…and then spits in his face. Nagata explodes with forearms against the ropes, but Suzuki traps him with his hanging armbreaker. They continue fighting at ringside and the referee takes a bump. Suzuki grabs a chair and hits Nagata in the head (read: hits the ringpost). As Nagata lays motionless ringside, Suzuki recovers and grins in the ring. It takes the referee forever to start the ring count, and Suzuki charges and kicks a now-bloodied Nagata off the apron. The action spills to ringside again and Suzuki grabs another chair, but this time the referee tries to take it away. He fails, but that distraction allows Nagata to kick the chair into Suzuki’s head. They continue brawling ringside and Nagata lands a sick brainbuster o the ringside mats. In the ring, kicks Suzuki in the chest as blood pours down his face. He lands a big running yakuza kick to Suzuki in the corner, but Suzuki counters his second Irish whip into a sleeper hold. But Nagata counters that into a standing armbreaker. Nagata kicks at that now-weakened arm and locks in the Nagata Lock II (Becky Lynch’s Dis-Arm-Her) while doing the best Undertaker impression he possibly can. He pulls on that arm as much as he can but Suzuki reaches the ropes with his foot.
Nagata maintains control with more stiff kicks. He goes for a backdrop suplex, but Suzuki somehow counters and lands a big running knee to Nagata’s face. They start heads-butting and slapping each other very hard, back-and-forth, until Nagata drops back to his knees. Suzuki lands his Gotch-style Piledriver but can’t pin right away. He crawls over but only gets two, and then applies an Octopus hold, stretching the same abdomen the same abdomen he had been targeting with those knee strikes. Nagata fights out and both men get to their feet and trade hard slaps again. Nagata lands a big knee strike in the corner and a vertical suplex. Backdrop suplex by Nagata. He goes for the pin, but then lets go? Nagata has the match won but still wants to fight. Nagata lands another kick to the chest and pins, but Suzuki kicks out at one. Suzuki gets a sudden second wind but is quickly shut down by Nagata again. Nagata tries another backdrop but Suzuki counters with a stiff punch to the head. Sleeper by Suzuki. Nagata tries to power out as Suzuki laughs like a maniac. Nagata tries the same counter as earlier, the standing armbreaker. But he falls to his knees. And then falls unconscious. Suzuki wins after 17 minutes.
Winner and STILL AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion due to referee stoppage: Minoru Suzuki
Analysis: ***1/4 This was the stiffest match on the card, by far. Nagata and Suzuki just tore into each other with hard slaps, kicks and knee strikes. There wasn’t much of a story beyond ‘which one of these tough bastards will outlast the other’. It was intriguing in its own way, and I got the feeling that there was some degree of personal animosity between them. Suzuki was great early on as the cocky jackass that taunted Nagata, and Nagata did a fantastic job as the straight-faced company spokesman that doesn’t back down from a challenge. And yet, I think this match was a bit too chaotic for my taste. It was all over the place with weapons shots and a bit of an incompetent referee. I also found Nagata’s decision to break his own pin to be incredibly stupid. He had the match won but apparently decided to take things a little further, which led to Suzuki making his comeback. I think that entire section of the match was executed poorly, even if the idea of Nagata being so vengeful that he forsakes early victory to dish out punishment looks good on paper.
NJPW = 4; AJPW = 3
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Taiyo Kea (AJPW)
I have no idea who came up with the name ‘Taiyo Kea’ since his real name – Maunakea Mossman – sounds way more badass. His first name is literally the name of an enormous volcano.
They lock-up and Kea gets a clean break. A technical exchange ensues and ends with double dropkicks leading to a stalemate. They lock up again and Tanahashi slaps Kea in the face on the ropes and gets a shoulder tackle. Kea gains control with a hiptoss and a kick combination. Kea charges in the corner but Tanahashi blocks and lands a corner crossbody for a one-count. He dropkicks Kea out of the ring and goes for a plancha but Kea dodges and chops Tanahashi hard. Kea pulls off the ringside mats and lands a Samoan Driver/Cradle Shock, dropping Tanahashi back-first on the exposed concrete. Brutal landing.
Kea tries to suplex Tanahashi over the rope but he resists, to Kea dragon screws his leg through the ropes instead. He succeeds in landing the suplex and pins for a two-count. They brawl a bit and Kea maintains control with a backbreaker for another two-count. Tanahashi tries to counter an Irish whip with a dropkick but Kea holds onto the ropes and lands a basement lariat for two. Kea goes for a Vader Bomb but Tanahashi gets his knees up. He climbs the top rope but Kea cuts him off and lands a superplex for another two-count. Folding powerbomb by Kea. Tanahashi kicks out. He goes for the TKO but Tanahashi escapes and fires back with strikes. Kea reverses a whip but Tanahashi answers with a Shawn Michaels-style flying forearm. Then Tanahashi pulls another Shawn Michaels and skins the cat. Slingblade. Missile dropkick. Enzuigiri. Bridging German suplex. All from Tanahashi. He pins but Kea kicks out.
Kea tries to fight out of a Dragon suplex with a backdrop but Tanahashi resists, so Kea escapes and lands a clothesline. A Russian leg sweep get Kea another two-count. He lands a forearm smash in the corner followed by a bug running lariat to Tanahashi. He pins, but Tanahashi kicks out at 2.7. That gets a big reaction from the crowd. Another big suplex from Kea gets another two-count. Tanahashi ducks a jumping kick and lands a jumping elbow drop and a senton. He goes for a hiptoss but Kea counters into a running DDT for two. Kea goes for the TKO, but Tanahashi counters into a dragon sleeper and then into an elbow drop. Uranage from Tanahashi. He charges for the slingblade, but Kea counters into a Backdrop. Nice counter. Tanahashi gets back up and charges, But Kea counters into a cobra clutch suplex. The crowd pops big for that.
Both men get up slowly. They brawl and both men stagger. Kea lands a Fireman’s carry into a Powerslam, which I believe is his finisher, but Tanahashi manages to kick out. Batista Bomb by Kea. Tanahashi kicks out again. Kea tries the cobra clutch. Tanahashi counters into a straightjacket German suplex. Kea kicks out. Dragon suplex by Tanahashi. High Fly Flow. Tanahashi pins Kea after 17 minutes.
Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Analysis: ***3/4 This was a pretty solid title match. Tanahashi came across as an unbreakable warrior that had to go through hell to keep his title. And Kea did a great job acting as the stronger challenger. Kea was unrelenting here as he bombarded Tanahashi with one brutal move after another. There were a few occasions where it looked that Kea would come close to winning. And the crowd was surprisingly vocal for Tanahashi once he began his comeback. I think this match would’ve been better if Tanahashi sold the bump on the exposed floor more thoroughly. That looked to be a critical move from Kea, but Tanahashi barely sold it after five minutes had passed. His facials were great, but at the same time he still ran around at full speed. That inconsistency really prevented this from being just slightly above average for a Tanahashi match.
NJPW = 5; AJPW = 3. NJPW wins the interpromotional war!
Super Dream Tag Match: TenCozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) vs. Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono
They do ring intros and the aging 1990s veterans, Mutoh and Chono, get huge reactions while their opponents – the younger generation – do not. That should tell you about the success of this company’s booking.
The bell rings and Mutoh immediately lands two dropkicks to Tenzan. Followed by a Shining Wizard. And one for Kojima as well. Both of them escape the ring. The crowd pops big for Mutoh.
After recovering, Tenzan gets back in the ring and knocks Mutoh down with a shoulder tackle. he lands some big Mongolian chops and whips Mutoh, but Mutoh reverses a whip and lands a big hiptoss. He goes for his patented flashing elbow but Tenzan answers with a head-butt and a suplex, which forces Mutoh to take a breather and tag in Chono. Kojima likewise tags in and they trade strikes. Chono starts working Kojima’s leg but Kojima quickly counters into an armbar. Chono escapes but Kojima out-powers him and tags in Tenzan, who lands a falling head-butt that forces Chono to tag Mutoh. They lock up and Mutoh quickly takes Tenzan down and starts working the leg. His Flashing Elbow finally wakes the crowd up. Chono tags in and they shoulder tackle Tenzan. Chono busts out some of Mutoh’s moves like the dragon screw leg whip and Figure-4 leglock combo. Kojima tries to break it up but Mutoh catches him with his own dragon screw and applies an STF. Eventually, Tenzan reaches the ropes, so Mutoh tags in and lands another dragon screw and a Figure-4. Since Chono just did that a minute ago, this gets zero reaction. Chono tags in and tosses Tenzan out of the ring and works him over at ringside. Mutoh tags again and dropkicks Tenzan’s knees. Tenzan counters Mutoh’s Irish whip and tags Kojima, who does a silly Kenta Kobashi impression with machine gun chops in the corner. He clotheslines Mutoh in the corner and lands a diving elbow drop for two. He charges but Mutoh answers with a dropkick to the knee. Kojima blocks a Shining Wizard and dragon screws Mutoh. A top-rope Frankensteiner gets Kojima a two-count.
Kojima goes for a lariat but Mutoh ducks and lands a big dropkick and tags Chono, who lands a diving shoulder tackle and knocks Tenzan off the apron. Big running kick in the corner from Chono. Kojima counters a suplex into one of his own. He charges again, but Chono answers his lariat with a big boot. Chono charges, Kojima blocks and lands a Diamond Cutter. In comes Tenzan, who lands big chops and clotheslines. A top-rope bulldog from Tenzan gets two. Chono counters an Irish whip into a Manhattan drop but walks into a wheel kick and a Side Effect from Tenzan. Mutoh breaks up the pin and Kojima attacks him. A double-team Diamond Cutter drops Mutoh and an aided lariat drops Chono. Tenzan pins but Chono kicks out. Kojima applies a grounded armlock while Tenzan applies the Anaconda Vice. Chono reaches the ropes. Aided Diamond Cutter on Chono. They go for two-man Tombstone on Chono, but Mutoh comes in and lands a Shining Wizard on Kojima, using the referee as a stepping stone. I always love how Mutoh comes up with clever ways to land the Shining Wizard.
Mutoh counters a Tenzan kick into a dragon screw. Shining Wizard. Lariat from Kojima. Big kick from Chono. Tenzan takes him out with a Samoan drop. Diving head-butt from Tenzan for two. Kojima drops an interfering Mutoh with a Diamond Cutter. Kojima pulls off his elbow pad and Tenzan whips Chono into him as he charges. LARIAT. Kojima planchas onto Mutoh to keep him outside the ring. the ref checks on Chono to see if he’s conscious. His arm falls one, twice, no, he gets up. Tenzan hoists him up. Cradle Tombstone Piledriver. Tenzan pins…then lifts Chono’s shoulder up? He wants to send Mutoh a message. Rib breaker by Tenzan. That’s Mutoh’s setup move. Snap moonsault. Big middle finger to Mutoh from Tenzan. Chono kicks out. Tenzan and Kojima try to double team Mutoh again, but he fights them both off. Then he starts hitting big karate chops to the head. Snap DDT from Mutoh. Shades of Shinya Hashimoto. The crowd pops bigtime. Chono does the same to Tenzan. Simultaneous Shining Wizard and Shining Yakuza kick to Tenzan. Mutoh Figure-4s Kojima. Chono STFs Tenzan. Tenzan taps out at 18:43.
Winners: Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono
Post-match, Chono and Mutoh put karate headbands on their heads and point to Heaven to tribute their friend and former fellow Three Musketeer Hashimoto.
Analysis: *** This was a pretty good tag team match that was more about the story than the action itself. The story was that Tenzan and Kojima were the established stars of the present and recent past while Chono and Mutoh were legends from the prior decade. Tenzan in particular wanted to send a message to Mutoh by beating them with Mutoh’s own moves, instead of winning the match when he had it won after his piledriver. I didn’t like that personally because that flash of arrogance from Tenzan spelled disaster for his team as it enabled Chono and Mutoh to get the comeback they needed to win. And by winning, it reinforced the notion that the current drop of stars – in this case, TenCozy – were inferior to Chono and Mutoh, who were both way past their primes. On the plus side, I really like the tributes to Hashimoto, who passed away two years earlier. That gave the fans something sentimental to sink their teeth into, especially since the match itself wasn’t that exciting from an athletic perspective.
Five Stars of the Show
- Toshiaki Kawada – put on a great performance despite his age and did a lot to make his match with Nakamura feet significant (and very realistic)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi – did a solid job of the hero in peril and made Kea into a convincing threat
- Shinsuke Nakamura – would’ve been higher if he put more fire into his offense. He just lacked the charisma that both Tanahashi and Kawada had on this night
- Satoshi Kojima – he seemed much more focused and wrestled better than his partner Tenzan, and had to pretty much carry more than his share in this match
- Keiji Mutoh – he is the master at getting the most mileage out of the smallest amount of work. He pretty much only landed five different moves the entire match, but made all of them mean something.
Best match on the card: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Toshiaki Kawada (****)
Worst match on the card: Masanobu Fuchi, Ryusuke Taguchi and El Samurai vs. Akira Raijin, Kikutaro and Nobutaka Araya (*1/2)
Show Rating (out of 10): 5
This might as well have been two completely different shows. The first half completely sucked with garbage multi-man matches that belonged on low-drawing house shows instead of on NJPW’s biggest show of the year. The final four matches were, from an in-ring perspective, pretty good to great. But from a booking/promotional perspective I can see why this show had such a low number of fans in attendance. Eight of the nine matches featured AJPW outsiders facing NJPW wrestlers, which showed just how poorly booked NJPW’s local stars were. There was no interest in seeing NJPW wrestlers facing each other; the only drawing mechanism NJPW had was going back to the well again to find some foreign invaders. That speaks volumes of how poor a job NJPW did booking their own talent. And worse, there weren’t any stakes in the whole NJPW vs. AJPW feud. Nothing felt significant in these match-ups which caused the central story to fall completely flat.
The only reason to really watch this show is for its novelty. There are some interesting things that happened that I think some people might be curious to see. Some of those peculiarities include:
- Seeing Tanahashi carry NJPW during its dark period;
- A pre-Swagsuke Nakamura getting the piss beaten out of him by a 1990s AJPW legend;
- How many times can two wrestlers slap each other in the face before one of them gives up;
- Seeing what happens to some guys after they’re released from WWE
Thanks for reading.