January 4th, 15:00 from the Tokyo Dome
The big day has arrived and the card is stacked. Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP title and Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the Intercontinental title top a show which sees every NJPW title defended.
Here we go…
New Japan Rumble
Michael Elgin was the surprise first entrant of the pre-show battle royal and was soon joined by Billy Gunn and Cheeseburger. Yoshi Tatsu drew boos for going after Nagata, Taguchi drew laughs for using the “Mongolian Ass Attack” on Tenzan, and we saw returning old-timers in the form of Kuniaki Kobayashi, Hiro Saito and Scott Norton! But Elgin outlasted everyone, finishing Cheeseburger with the Elgin Bomb to claim the win. Most enjoyable. N/R
Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger the Dark
Sorry to spoil the fun, but it did indeed appear that Kota Ibushi and ACH were donning the masks. Tiger the Dark launched himself with a Fosbury Flop to claim the advantage, but the main man soon replied with a familiar top-rope triangle moonsault. After avoiding a standing moonsault, Tiger the Dark was on top and hit a tombstone for a near-fall, then “W” connected with German and Tiger suplexes for a near-fall of his own before getting the three-count with the sit-out Last Ride powerbomb. Considering this was a glorified advert for an anime series, this was a fine little opener. **1/4
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Baretta)
The Bucks faked a walkout, then superkicked the chasing RPG Vice before sprinting back to the ring to try and get a count-out win. Funny stuff. From there, they stayed on top of Baretta after dropping him across the edge of the apron. A tornado DDT started to turn the tide, then Baretta thrice avoided superkicks, and in came Romero to run wild with Forever clotheslines. Jumping high knees set up a double team for a two-count and Baretta dumped Nick with a top-rope German, but immediately went splat on a tope con hilo, landing flat on his back on the outside. The Bucks took advantage, and an assisted springboard 450 earned a near-fall, as did stereo superkicks. Baretta reappeared to block Matt on the top-rope, and Romero crucifixed Nick for the win! Nice to see a happy ending to the Super Jr. tag tournament story. I like the Bucks’ schtick, so this worked for me, and Roppongi Vice are over as a face team. ***1/2
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match
- Bullet Club (Yuriro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale & Hangman Page) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Jado)
Yoshi-Hashi succeeded in knocking Fale off his feet, but didn’t get much further and was imperilled in short order. Tag made to Ospreay, however, who hit a Sasuke Special among other feats of agility, then he and Page had a good back-and-forth. In came Jado to let the side down and Yujiro soon hit the low DDT for the three-count. Boo.
- Bullet Club vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)
Fair play to LIJ, they initially tried to do things the legal way, but they know the score. With the referee knocked silly, Evil got rid of Page, Bushi dived onto Fale, and Sanada locked the Dragon Sleeper on Yujiro to send Bullet Club packing.
- Los Ingobernables de Japón vs. Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay (c)
Stereo tope con hilos from Ricochet and Finlay(?!) to put the champs on top, then in short order, Ricochet was in to flip and fly as is his wont. Kojima entered the fray to lay in machine gun chops, but Sanada cut him off, and Evil earned a two-count with a lariat. A leapfrog Codebreaker to Ricochet didn’t quite work out, which didn’t look like fun, then Kojima struggled manfully to finish the match on his own. The mist from Bushi ended that notion, and Evil delivered the STO for the win. The right result and a whole lotta action, call it: ***1/2
Juice Robinson vs. “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes
Cody went for his double-hop crossbody to the outside, but was caught and suplexed by Juice (and his technicolor dreamtrunks), who followed with a cannonball. Back in, Cody took control with an Alabama Slam and springboard dropkick, then berated Kevin Kelly at ringside, before targeting Robinson’s knee. Juice fought back with a couple of clotheslines and a gutbuster for two, but a chop-block stopped him and Cody reversed a crossbody into his American Nightmare leg submission, with Juice just making the ropes. Disaster kick and rope-hung DDT earned a two-count, then soon after the Cross Rhodes connected to give Cody the debut win. Solid enough, but the crowd just did not care about this, despite Juice’s attempts to engage them. Juice > Cody, says I. **1/4
Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship
Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
Cole spat in O’Reilly’s face, which I can assure you is not a traditional Japanese greeting, and O’Reilly responded by twice denying Cole the chance to bellow “BAYBAY!”. After Cole used a chair on O’Reilly’s arm (but wasn’t disqualified), O’Reilly went after both the leg and arm of Cole with hard strikes. Ushigoroshi from Cole for two, and an elbow battle followed, then duelling kicks put both men down. A huge kick from O’Reilly was followed by a brainbuster and transitioned into an armbar from which Cole stomped his way out. German suplex from O’Reilly, but an immediate knee strike reply from Cole got two, as did the Last Shot. O’Reilly’s ankle lock was countered and several low superkicks and a second Last Shot put O’Reilly down for the three-count. Adam Cole is once again the ROH champion. Well, well, well. It’s taken a few appearances, but Cole is starting to make an impression and both guys worked hard here. ***1/4
We get a hype video running through the year’s events, including the announcement of a G1 Specials in the USA on July 1st and 2nd (not tournament matches). It also appears an event named Sakura Genesis will replace Invasion Attack.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
The Guerrillas went straight after Yano for stealing their belts, then targeted Honma. Yano tagged himself in, and he and Ishii continued to punish Honma, before Yano tagged himself out again. In came Makabe to run wild and deliver clotheslines to all four opponents, culminating in stereo mounted punches with Honma. Tama Tonga fired up and connected with a Headshrinker DDT, then in came Honma, who landed a Kokeshi on Loa. Ishii lariated Loa and Honma out of their boots, but the Guerrillas upped the pace to clear the ring. Double-team powerbomb/neckbreaker to Honma for two, but Makabe stopped the rot with a double clothesline. Another Kokeshi to Loa for two, then a powerbomb and top-rope Kokeshi connected, but Ishii broke up the count! The Guerrillas landed a twisting neckbreaker on Makabe, but Yano tagged himself in and a couple of lowbrows and a roll-up gave he and Ishii the win and the titles. Not entirely keen on the result, but the crowd approved, and the match itself worked a lot better than I expected given what could’ve been a strange dynamic. ***1/2
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Kushida almost immediately connected with a flipping senton from the top-rope to the floor, then went after Hiromu’s arm with a short-arm scissors. Big chops followed, but Hiromu was too quick, and he landed a sunset flip powerbomb over the top-rope, slamming Kushida from the apron to the floor! Dismissive slaps, chops and a side kick for two, but Kushida reverse STO’d Hiromu into the turnbuckle for respite, and a hip toss/low dropkick combo put him on top. The handspring elbow landed, but Hiromu hit back with a roll-through double German suplex. An attempted ‘rana was messed up, but it sent Kushida to the floor anyway, and Hiromu followed with a seated senton from the top-rope, the crazy bastard! Top-rope double knees got a two-count, then an overhead kick from Kushida put both men down. A second sunset flip powerbomb was blocked, then Kushida caught Hiromu from the apron straight into an armbar! Several hard kicks to the arm from Kushida led to the Hoverboard Lock and Hiromu was screaming in pain, but somehow he powered up. The Time Bomb was rolled-through for a two-count only, then Kushida tried and failed to cinch in the submission once more. Both men struck with straight punches and both men sank to the mat. Belly-to-belly into the corner from Hiromu, who followed with a sick victory roll driver from the top-rope! Two-count only. Death valley driver into the turnbuckle and this time the Time Bomb connected for the three-count. Hiromu Takahashi is the new Junior Heavyweight champ. Great match, really heated with a tremendous pace throughout. I’ll say it again: this felt like a Big Deal. ****1/4
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Shibata made no concession to respect and simply slapped Goto’s chest hard as he could on a rope-break, then a missed Penalty Kick suggested he didn’t feel like hanging around. Goto regrouped on the outside (after being sent there by a kick), but Shibata threw him back in to work on the left arm. More hard kicks, before Goto finally decided to fight back with a lariat, spinning heel kick and backdrop. Diving elbow earned two, but Shibata brushed off Goto’s kicks and asked for more! A huge elbow floored Goto and Shibata’s stomps, dropkick and hatch suplex got two. Goto popped up after a backdrop, but Shibata stood firm after a lariat, only falling to the mat after Goto dropped him face-first over his knee. They fought up from their knees with stiff elbows and Shibata twice grabbed the sleeper, transitioning into a rear-naked choke from which Goto somehow got his foot on the rope. Goto unleashed headbutts, so Shibata leathered him with a kick, and both men were down. Ushigoroshi from Goto! Shouten Kai! Two-count only. Elbows and headbutts over-and-over again to wear down Shibata. He finally faded, and Goto delivered GTRs for the big win. This was absolutely brutal in its stiffness and very much the type of match the NEVER title has come to represent in recent years. I liked the sense that Shibata needed to absolutely hammer Goto to draw a response, but then got more than he could handle in return. ****
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
To say Naito was over would be a massive understatement. Tanahashi, new theme and all, couldn’t compete on the entrance pop, but once they faced-off the (huge) heat was evenly ditributed.
Naito took an age to lock up, then Tanahashi gave a couple of literal gut punches, before Naito “landed” his reclining pose. Both men pulled hair, and Tanahashi got a brief flurry, but Naito blocked the rebound crossbody with a dropkick to Tanahashi’s left leg. He went after the leg then, even utilising referee Red Shoes Unno in his offence, and the slingshot dropkick hit the mark. Tanahashi tried to fight back with elbows, but Naito kept going low, until a leaping forearm finally brought respite. Second-rope rolling senton for two and then a low dropkick from Tanahashi, who followed by responding to Naito’s spitwad with a Dragon Screw through the ropes. Sling Blade on the apron! High Fly Flow crossbody from the top-rope onto Naito, then Tanahashi mimicked Naito’s reclining pose!
Back in, Naito managed to crotch Tanahashi on the turnbuckle and a top-rope frankensteiner and German suplex got two. Leaping elbow, Gloria, two-count only. The tornado DDT didn’t connect, but Naito rolled into the scissored kneebar. Somehow, Tanahashi powered up and transitioned into the Cloverleaf, with Naito eventually scrambling to the ropes. Grounded Dragon Screw and a Sling Blade. And another. Two-count only. High Fly Flow crossbody connected. High Fly Flow splash missed. Destino! But an attempted second was countered into a spinning neckbreaker! Both men down. Elbows to the huge roar of the crowd, then both men stomped at each other’s legs. Dragon suplex from Tanahashi for two! High Fly Flow! A second High Fly Flow… hit the knees! Enzuigiri from Naito, then a swinging Destino from the second rope for 2.9! Destino!!! One, two, three! Wow. A HUGE win for Naito (believe it or not his first in a Tokyo Dome singles match). Loved the dynamic of both guys unecessarily going for too much and it costing them, but ultimately it came down to Naito being the better man. He did it on his own. ****1/2
Post-match, Naito bows to Tanahashi! Holy shit.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Omega got a full-on Terminator video before making his way to the ring and wore Terminator entrance gear. Love it.
They started cautiously, which neither man wanting to make a mistake, but both eager to strike first. Omega held firm with a headlock, before a series of pinning combinations allowed Okada to take control briefly. Omega avoided getting dropkicked from the top, Okada blocked the One-Winged Angel, and Omega ducked the Rainmaker attempt and spat at the champ. Then a big boot and seated dropkick sent Omega to the outside, where he received a barrier-hung DDT. Okada followed up with an impressive running crossbody over the barrier and, back in the ring, stayed on top with a tope atomico and a chinlock. Neckbreaker for two, then Kenny bamboozled Okada to hit a leapfrog bulldog and started to work over his back, cutting short a brief comeback with a ‘rana to send Okada outside then landing a big tope con hilo.
A scoop slam on the apron was followed with a massive top-rope dropkick to the back of Okada’s head and the champ needed to grab the bottom rope the break the count. He blocked Omega’s knee strikes to hit Heavy Rain, then made the comeback with back elbows, a DDT and a leaping elbow strike. Flapjack, and Red Ink was cinched in, forcing Omega to scramble to the ropes. The reverse neckbreaker out of the corner connected, but the diving elbow hit the knees, and Kenny returned to the back with a pumphandle backbreaker before sending Okada to the announce tables. He followed with a springboard moonsault over the barrier and onto Okada! Then, as the champ tried to make it back into the ring, Omega laid a table on him and stomp onto it from the apron! Back in, pinning powerbomb for a near-fall. Deadlift Doctor Bomb for a near-fall. Red Shoes stopped Omega from using the table that the Bucks had set up at ringside, so he hit the Finlay roll into a moonsault for two and the crowd were rabidly trying to will Okada back into it. Finally, he was able to dropkick Omega to the floor, and then, after both men tried desperately to avoid it, Omega was back body dropped out of the ring and through the table! Nasty.
Back in the ring, Okada followed with a shotgun dropkick for two. Diving elbow, Rainmaker pose, but Omega clung to the ropes to block it, then drove Okada into the turnbuckle. He set Okada up top, and OH MY GOD, hit a Dragon Superplex! 2.9! Fuck. Cross-legged Ushigoroshi, knee strike avoided and Okada delivered a huge German suplex. Rainmaker ducked, but The Dropkick landed! Rainmaker blocked, inverted frankensteiner from Omega! V-Trigger knee strike! Okada beautifully flipped out of the One-Winged Angel and hit the tombstone. Rainmaker! 2.999! Omega desperately raked at Okada’s eyes, but Okada responded with a shotgun dropkick into the turnbuckle. Kenny reversed a tombstone to one of his own for another near-fall, and both men – out of it – engaged in an elbow battle. Snap dragon suplex and a knee strike from Omega for two. One-Winged Angel blocked again and the Rainmaker connected. Okada lifted Omega once more, Kenny blocked desperately but Okada wouldn’t let go and another Rainmaker connected! Okada lifted him for another, but Kenny hit The Dropkick!!! Rainmaker knee strike, but the One-Winged Angel was blocked for the final time. Jumping spinning tombstone from Okada. Rainmaker! One, two, three. Okada retains at 46 minutes. And breathe. An epic of almost ridiculous proportions. Omega came out of this looking every inch the main eventer, even in loss. Hard to see quite where either man goes from here, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow. ****3/4
Post-match promos from Gedo and Okada and we’re out.
Final thoughts: The top four matches delivered huge and make this an easy, without-qualms recommendation. The surfeit of foreign talent in the first half meant the crowd weren’t as engaged as they might’ve been, but it’s just as likely they were saving themselves for the second half, because the sustained heat, especially during Tanahashi/Naito, was crazy. I feel drained, in the best way, after that. What a show.
New Year’s Dash is tomorrow, so I’ll back for a quick recap of that. See you then.