Welcome to TJRWrestling’s review of Night Two of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s (NJPW) Wrestle Kingdom event.
The card had some changes made to it due to the fallout from Night One’s matches. Just like in previous years, I think the second show was better than the first one because the first one was built to setup the bigger matches on this show. It’s a bit disappointing that they’re not balancing both shows out to make them equally good, but hey, what can you do. You can read my review of Night One’s matches here.
So with that out of the way, let’s get to the matches.
Pre-show: Match #1: Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, and Tomoaki Honma defeated Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Gedo, and Jado)
This was a simplistic match between six lower-carders without anything in terms of stakes beyond statistics. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it was still bland. Then again, that’s to be expected for pre-show matches in New Japan. The only thing any of them can say is ‘such-and-such team has X number of wins in the Tokyo Dome’ and that’s it. In this case, it has been an extremely long time since Honma was the one to score the pinfall for his team, so to him it must’ve been a feel-good moment to be the one getting the win instead of staring at the lights.
These low stakes also reflected the quality of wrestling here. Everything was by-the-numbers and lacking in any real interest or story. Of course, it made sense to open with something like this because there’s no such thing as a ‘bring-down match’ or ‘bathroom break’ match in New Japan.
Final Rating: *3/4
Pre-show: Match #2: Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, and Tomoaki Honma defeated Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and TAKA Michinoku)
This was a significant improvement from the first match because there it actually had a story. On one hand, poor Despy went from being in the fight of his life in the semi-main event against Hiromu to being on the pre-show less than 24 hours later. On the other hand, New Japan took this opportunity to elevate Wato as the next challenger for Despy’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight title. Tenzan and Kojima got some nostalgia moments to play their greatest hits while TAKA and Kanemaru mostly played support roles, acting as foils.
The meat of the match involved Despy taking a beating and then getting beaten clean by Wato, who debuted a new submission finisher similar to the one Naomi uses on SmackDown. This win guarantees Wato a title shot, which will likely take place in March on New Japan’s 50th anniversary show. The moments involving Wato and Despy were solid while everything else was exactly what you’d expect from two guys north of 50 and two smaller guys approaching that age. Nothing wrong here at all.
Final Rating: **3/4
Pre-show: Match #3: Los Ignobernables de Japón (Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi and Bushi) defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Zack Sabre, Jr., and DOUKI)
Similar to the previous match, there was an interesting story in this match that made it fun to watch. Takagi needed a measure of revenge following is loss to Okada the night before and got some of it here. He came in at the end and mauled DOUKI after DOUKI got a few minutes to shine and managed to add a little bit of a story to his match with Okada even though it was over. Takagi won here with his Last of the Dragon ultimate finisher, which he wasn’t able to land on Okada the prior night. But what if he had? Would he still be champion? Would Okada kick out? Those questions leave enough to the imagination to leave people wondering what will happen when Takagi and Okada eventually cross paths again.
Also, the match featured a great interaction between the cruiserweight Hiromu and ‘heavyweight’ ZSJ. ZSJ, like Bryan Danielson, can work very well with guys that are either bigger or smaller than him. He did that here with his clever counters and reversals to Hiromu’s frenetic movements. All in all, the best match on the card so far.
Final Rating: ***
Match #4: Flying Tiger (Robbie Eagles and Tiger Mask IV) defeated Bullet Club’s Cutest Tag Team (Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo) and The Mega Coaches (Ryusuke Taguchi and Rocky Romero) to retain their IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
There was a unique story here that made this match way better than I thought it would be. Although it started off the same as most matches of this sort – with lots of senseless dives, chaotic action and a blatant disregard of tag team rules – it wasn’t long before it morphed into an intriguing story. ELP was the star for most of the match with his incredible balance on the ropes and his right boot, which was long speculated to be loaded. Well after dominating most of the match and making himself look like a star, ELP found himself surrounded by four opponents that were sick and tired of speculating on his cheating. They held him down (which should’ve been a pin because both his shoulders were on the mat, but whatever) and untied his boot, revealing a piece of metal inside. But instead of ending the match with a boring DQ, the referee decided to respect the integrity of the title by simply eliminating ELP and Ishimori from the match.
That was a fair call that allowed the remaining teams to have a fair and balanced match. The last two minutes were filled with fun action and clever near-falls that led to the champions retaining. I was glad to be proven wrong here as Eagles and TM4 did a lot better than I first predicted.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Match #5: Stardom exhibition tag team match: Tam Nakano and Saya Kamitani defeated Mayu Iwatani and Starlight Kid
I’ll be honest, this was the first Stardom match that I’ve ever seen and it was great. The commentators did a phenomenal job explaining the different wrestlers’ background, teams, histories and motivations. That gave some great context to what was happening in the match, which was crucial since these women set a blistering pace that only Hiromu and Despy managed to surpass the night before.
This was like something out of 1990s All Japan Women, it was so good. It only went around nine minutes but my God, did they tell a great story. There was a sense of urgency here with everything they did, especially the long struggle between Starlight and Kamitani. Nothing seemed excessive or ridiculous here and every move had a purpose. Everyone looked good here, which made it the perfect exhibition match for anyone not familiar with these wrestlers.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Match #6: Minoru Suzuki defeated Chase Owens, CIMA and Toru Yano to win the Provisional KOPW 2022 Trophy
Finally Suzuki can call himself ‘the King’ and have it actually mean something.
This was six minutes of pro-wrestling entertainment, New Japan-style. It wasn’t a serious match like almost everything that preceded it; rather, it was like slapstick humor with four men joking around while competing for something ‘coveted’. CIMA had a clever spot where he locked Yano in an Indian deathlock with one leg and DDT’ed Owens, and by dropping down he added more pressure to the deathlock. Soon after, Suzuki put a standing CIMA in a sleeper, and Owens in turn put Suzuki in a sleeper. All of this happened while Yano screamed in pain still stuck in CIMA’s deathlock.
Seeing New Japan’s biggest troll get his comeuppance was great, but Yano still managed to get the last laugh. After Suzuki cut his own celebration short to attack Yano, Yano handcuffed Suzuki to the ropes and escaped, embarrassing Suzuki in the process. This feud will likely continue, but at least Suzuki is doing something instead of being left off big cards like he was in the past.
Final Rating: **3/4
Match #7: House of Torture (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashji and SHO) [with Dick Togo] defeated CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI and YOH) to retain their NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships
I might be the only person on the planet that enjoyed EVIL’s match with Ishii the night before, simply because watching Ishii smash things is fun. But I can’t say the same for this match, which was easily the worst thing on the main card.
It was a typical Bullet Club-style beat-down with the heels disregarding the rules, hoping the referee would disqualify them and they’d retain their titles. Well the ref showed great patience for the HoT’s shtick, which is getting tired and repetitive fast. The challengers all got fleeting moments to shine, but they were all outfoxed by HoT’s constant double-and-triple teams, alongside Dick Togo’s interference. I’m surprised Ishii didn’t just run him over like a freight train when he came out in order to even the odds. But I guess someone in New Japan must love cheap finishes, even though that’s what most people want to avoid when they watch New Japan.
Luckily this was under ten minutes long, and yet it felt so much longer, especially compared to the Stardom match earlier.
Final Rating: **1/4
Before we get to the next match, there was a surprise appearance from the NOAH roster, led by Keiji Muto. The NOAH guys cut a promo saying they’ll solve New Japan’s empty seat problem until they get interrupted by LIJ (Takagi, Hiromu and Bushi). KENOH mocked Takagi for losing the IWGP World Heavyweight title and asked who his partners are. Takagi fired back saying that since NOAH had nothing better to do, Takagi and the rest of New Japan will show NOAH why they’re the top company in Japan. KENOH invited Takagi to step into the ring and Takagi backed down. Not because he was scared, but because there were three LIJ guys there and over twenty NOAH guys. Takagi would rather look smart than suicidal so he and his friends left. KENOH further insulted the fans and warned that NOAH will change the pecking order of wrestling companies in Japan before leaving.
Author’s note: Night Three will not air live on New Japan World like Nights One and Two, but will be archived on NJ World a week or so later. I will try to find a place where I can see it live or as close to live as possible. But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll review it next week for all of you to see if all this promotion and smack talk was indeed worth it.
Match #8: SANADA defeated The Great O’Khan
This felt like two different matches. The first five minutes was soulless and empty, with SANADA doing very little and O’Khan applying an interesting strategy by targeting SANADA’s face. Then there was a moment of inconsistency when the ref tried to stop O’Khan from diving to the floor. Since when are dives discouraged? Everyone does them in every match, but God forbid O’Khan do one onto a standing and fully-aware SANADA?
Strange nonsense aside, things picked up in the second half when O’Khan started actually showing that he was more than a one-trick pony. He actually wrestled and came up with clever counters to what SANADA did. But it wasn’t enough as SANADA landed a sudden roll-up to steal the victory from O’Khan. All in all, this was the kind of match you’d find in the middle of a WWE PPV. That isn’t saying it was a bad match, but that it was forgettable in spite of having some better-than-expected action from one of the two wrestlers involved.
Final Rating: ***
Match #9: Tetsuya Naito defeated Jeff Cobb
This match reminded me of Naito’s match with Michael Elgin from 2017 in that Naito had to fight from beneath against a much-stronger opponent. But while this match was much shorter, it was just as fun. It’s always great to see a massive tank like Cobb manhandle a former world champion and no-sell forearms to the face to create a major sense of despair for the hero. But Cobb wasn’t at 100% as one of his knees started giving him trouble. It took a while but once Naito found his opening he began to take Cobb’s power advantage away from him. Cobb rightfully slowed down but still managed to hit hard enough while adapting to avoid Naito’s targeting of his knee. He did his best but Naito was smarter than him and followed his strategy so well that Cobb couldn’t even land his big slams.
But then, when he saw his own blood, he became enraged and started throwing bombs, but that too wasn’t enough. He became too slow, which turned him into an exposed target for Naito to smash with his array of finishers. It was the most psychologically-sound match on not only this show, but of the entire two-day event thus far. I’m hoping we get more of these two and especially Cobb, who appears to be growing more and more into a proper main-event monster.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Match #10: Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated KENTA to become the NEW IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Never in my life did I think I’d ever see a Tanahashi match start with a lightsaber duel, but that’s what we got here.
This was an interesting match because it put the usually pure and straight-laced Tanahashi in an unfamiliar environment. He always prided himself on being a pro-wrestler, but here he had to be a hardcore fighter. At first he found himself at KENTA’s mercy. That made sense; KENTA has long been a remorseless bastard in the ring so using weapons was fair game to him. But it wasn’t long before Tanahashi fought back in his own wrestling-based way. When he dropkicked KENTA’s knee (which was a staple of his wrestling matches), he also caused the garbage can KENTA was carrying to hit KENTA in his face. But Tanahashi knew he couldn’t afford to remain straight-laced here if he wanted to win so he decided to embrace the violence and brought the fight to KENTA. Tanahashi matched KENTA’s brutality with just as many weapons-based moves, including a slingblade into a stack of chairs that hurt both of them and a Jeff Jarret-inspired guitar shot to the head.
The match sort of stopped soon afterwards to set up some labored and needlessly-complex spots, especially as KENTA awkwardly setup the tallest ladder I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this thing dwarfed the giant ladders WWE and AEW have used. But even though it took a long time to introduce, the payoff was worth it: Tanahashi got his own Jeff Hardy moment when he landed a Frog Splash through a table from, what appeared to be 30 feet high. Once the match was over, I don’t know who had it worse: KENTA with his face all bloodied, or Tanahashi’s poor knees.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Match #11: Kazuchika Okada defeated Will Ospreay to retain his IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The status quo is restored in New Japan.
I ended up being half-right in my predictions for the two title shots. Although I was wrong when I predicted that Takagi would beat Okada, I was right when I said that there was no way Okada of all people would be a one-day transitional champion for Ospreay. But Ospreay tried his best and did come very close to making that pipe dream a reality in this crazy 33-minute battle.
On one hand, Okada did a great job keeping Ospreay in check by countering Ospreay’s acrobatics with big moves of his own. Okada forced Ospreay to be less wild and frenetic, which in turn kept his worst tendencies to a minimum. On the other hand, Ospreay still wrestled like a junior heavyweight babyface at times and shoehorned unnecessary flips and dives into a match that didn’t need them. The whole story with him was that he was supposed to show maturation and transformation as the supposed undefeated world champion that never formally lost his title. But instead, Ospreay wrestled like a lighter version of Kenny Omega. Even with all his clever moves and gravity-defying acrobatics, Ospreay didn’t come across as Okada’s equal, much less his better.
All that being said, these two did make up for a rather bland and inconsistent first half with an explosive final fifteen minutes. They built up on their own matches and made great callbacks to big matches involving other wrestlers to tell a deeper story and show the world how much being champion meant to both of them.
If only Ospreay could learn to slow down and be a bit more realistic with how he moves and sells, then he really would be as great as so many people say he is.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Overall Show Rating: 8/10
This show benefited from having more solid matches all around. The multi-man matches were kept to the pre-show, save for another bland an uninspiring House of Torture match that proved that that stable has the most appropriate name ever. The rest of the undercard featured matches ranging from above-average to great, including a fun little sprint involving the Stardom women and a great David vs. Goliath match between Naito and Cobb. The main-event was solid albeit a tad bloated. It’s a bit irritating that every main-event these days has to go more than thirty minutes, which is dumb given howmanygreatmatches New Japan has puts on over the years that weresignificantlyshorter.
All in all this was a good show, but far beneath previous Wrestle Kingdoms for sure. The lack of crowd noise was crippling here as it robbed the matches of the usual big fight atmosphere that the Dome has showcased in the past. Hopefully things change soon for New Japan and fans will be able to make more noise than simple quiet applause. If not, then the company’s 50th anniversary year will go off not with a bang but with a whimper.