NJPW WRESTLE KINGDOM 13 [Review]: High Fly Whoa.
I made a joke on social media that every match at Wrestle Kingdom 13 last night/this morning felt like a “Loser Leave Town [to AAE or WWE]” match. For many taking the fall last night, that joke will become reality. While we don’t yet know the details of what went on backstage at the Tokyo Dome between the respective execs at New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring or Honor and All Elite Wrestling, one thing’s for certain: last night’s NJPW card certainly “Changed the World” of professional wrestling. We’ll see soon just how far. But for now, here is a brief overview at every match and their earned bible score.
Pre-Show: **#1 Contender – NEVER 6-MAN TITLE GAUNTLET MATCH**
*Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano, & Togi Makabe vs. David Finlay, Jeff Cobb, & Yuji Nagata vs. Best Friends & Hirooki Goto vs. Killer Elite Squad & Minoru Suzuki vs. Marty Scurll, Adam Page, & Yujiro Takahashi*
Look, every year I give the New Japan Rumble a N/A due to its utter silliness and lack of any care for match quality. It’s a tradition — fun as they were — that was due to go away. At least we got an actual wrestling match here and it was fun, had a bit of story to it; the 6-Man Gauntlet was at least on part with a good WWE preshow match. Adam Page turning on Yujiro (and an interfering Chase Owens) were the highlights, while Taguchi’s reincarnated M.V.P. (Most Violent Players) 3-man unit will now face the Bullet Club and likely tonight at New Year’s Dash. 3/5 Bibles.
**NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE**
As great as you’d imagine, starting the match with brisk reversals, dive and finisher teases. It only takes seconds to feel the instant chemistry. There were some mean counters, including an Ospreay kick to the face of a Golden Triangle-attempting Ibushi, but nothing seemed too out-of-the-ordinary dangerous here. They mostly worked safe, yet the defeated Kota still left with a concussion and was carried out by a stretcher! Kafabe or naw, you can blame Ospreay’s brutal lariat and spinning backfist that set up the Storm Breaker. My only issue with this absolute splendid spectrum was the questionable match placement; I would’ve had this title just before Okada/White and opened up with Ishimori and Kushida or Cody/Juice instead, seeing how the importance of it all now feels like an afterthought following the three great matches to end the night. 4.25/5
**IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TITLES**
*Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado vs. Roppongi 3K vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi*
They put the whole spotlight on Shingo Takagi and as a big fan of his recent work in All Japan and Pro Wresting Guerilla, I simply had no problem with it. You knew no matter how hard these guys worked (Sho was one in particular who shined) it’d come off like a nothing match in comparison to the opener. Thankfully, it was a swift decision without the usual Suzuki-Gun shenanigans and their lengthy, albeit tedious reign as Junior Tag champs is over. 3.25/5
**REVPRO BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE**
*Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii*
This was the best technical match on the show, between the guy who had the best first four months of 2018 (Sabre) and the guy who had the best middle four months of 2018 (Ishii). Zack is such an anomoly, a brilliant mat-based technical freak unseen in today’s professional wrestling. Only Jonathan Gresham comes to mind. While far shorter than their recent stuff, they still went to a titillating finish with Sabre putting Ishii away via guillotine-into-double-cobra-twist — or something like that. Funny, but besides the tag stuff, Ishii might be the only loser tonight who’s 100% staying with the company. 4.25/5
**IWGP TAG TEAM TITLES**
*Guerrillas of Destiny vs. The Young Bucks vs. EVIL & SANADA*
10-minutes of all action, akin to a solid tag match on SmackDown Live. Trust me, that’s not entirely a bad thing. But with some of these undercard matches getting watered down into triple threats and 10-minutes as opposed to the 18+ of Wrestle Kingdom past, it’s not hard to see why New Japan decided to make WK14 a 2-day affair for 2020. And your boy intends to go! Two things I liked about this particular match: G.O.D. coming out as babyfaces; sure, it’s the old Rick Martel or Alberto Del Rio trying to be friendly deal, but fun anyway, seeing the Tongans change up their style, even for one night. Two, it was the battle of the Magic Killers. Now imagine if Anderson and Gallows were in this instead of Matt and Nick? This could have been a stipulation. 3.5/5
**IWGP US TITLE**
*Cody vs. Juice Robinson*
According to the Modern Day Smark, Cody is everything wrong with professional wrestling and hardly ever has a good match–unless he has an opponent the caliber of an Ibushi or Omega to carry him. His “WWE” antics are unwanted and good riddance he’s leaving! Well, to this Smarky Mark (hey, it’s my middle name), Cody is everything right with professional wrestling– a wonderful balance of classic NWA/WCW/WWF and the modern day hipster-indie trappings of today’s wrestling. Sure, he’s far far far from the most talented guy out there and he’ll certainly be the first to tell you that. But what Cody does is put on a good show, he has a charisma and presence not too many guys have, and his beautiful wife/valet/manager actually makes a difference — something you just don’t see from manager types in wrestling anymore. Cody and Brandi are also great at getting heat. What I loved about this match was the whole Macho King and Queen Sherri feel against the Ultimate Babyface in Juice Robinson. Sadly, this match was only 8-minutes and Cody’s recent injury caused him from doing anymore in the ring than the stuff most of these NewGen Smarks hate. I’ll admit this was a far cry from the great Fighting Spirit Unleashed match back in September and not the best way for Cody to finish his New Japan career — one that finally saw Cody produce as much in the ring as much as out. 3/5
**IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE**
KUSHIDA vs. Taiji Ishimori
This was a well-wrestled match, but that’s not exactly what you expect from a Junior Heavyweight title match at Wrestle Kingdom. Seeing how this one lacked the heat of previous matches of its kind, it’s gonna be tough for this division moving forward; Hiromu’s on the shelf (hopefully not forever), Ricochet’s since moved on to NXT, Scurll’s a bigger focal point of Ring of Honor, and Ospreay’s now the NEVER champ, ready to battle the heavyweights. With KUSHIDA possibly going elsewhere (WWE.. AEW, hell, ROH?), expect this division to shift towards more brawling/technical aspects than high-flying, which really sucks out the reason to have the division in the first place, right? That said, Ishimori is a terrific athlete, a guy who provides as much compact power as speed. The two had some nice exchanges down the stretch, as Bloody Cross and Back II The Future reversals were squeezed by a devastating Death Valley Driver from one triumphant Bone Soldier. Very good match. 3.75/5
*Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White*
Jay White needed a great match here, seeing how Okada is considered by many to be the best in the business. It happened. This was not the White from the G1 who relied on a series of ref bumps and horrible Firing Squad interference to get a one-up. No, Mr. Switchblade won it clean! You had a feeling they had to go all the way with this guy, and losing wouldn’t have hurt Okada as much as White. I joke about the Rainmaker now wanting to head to Vince City, but if Okada was offered the highest contract in WWE history, would you not go? You don’t think Regal and Hunter want this guy more than anyone? And anyone who says “well, look at Itami and Shinsuke”, you gotta understand that Okada is an entirely different animal. I mean, look at those trunks! They’re back! He has a presence bigger than a “rockstar” and Kenta Kobayashi has been given several chances in NXT and WWE and has just never connected with the fans as much as he did in NOAH and ROH. Shinsuke, on the other hand, has done pretty well for himself despite not exactly looking up to the level he was in New Japan. I think Okada is too good of a talent to not shine anywhere, if given the right situation. As for this match, it was great, easily Jay White’s best ever (although, if you remember, his US Title match with Juice from the Cow Palace was pretty awesome too), and Switchblade kept up with Okada, having the best finisher exchanges I’ve seen since Okada/Naito from one year ago. Bravo. 4.5/5
**IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE NO DQ**
*Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho*
You already know my feelings on Chris Jericho (my favorite all-time wrestler, now favorite podcaster, new rock singer, cruise ship host, and tag team partner?) and Todo O Nada Naito is in my current Top 5. But HO-LEE SHIT was this great. Seeing how their last scrap at Dominion was excellent, I knew this would be just or nearly as good. 4-Bible quality. But, man, this was a NO DQ Classic. In a switch of roles, Naito got the jump on Jericho, at one point even hitting Jericho with a piledriver on the entranceway, which followed a ton of kendo stick spots and a scary spiked DDT to Naito on a table. All this time off proved Jericho well, as he hit a high cross body, Lionsault and top rope-to-the-apron dropkick. Y2J, beer gut aside, didn’t look one bit 48 last night. Chris continued the punishment, trying to put away the L-I-J leader time and time again with the Walls of Jericho. Naito escapes with a Kendo and does his best Barry Bonds with a few hardcore whacks of his own. His stance was priceless. There were several great false finishes here to have you thinking “hey, Jericho might just pull this off!” before Naito hit a second Destino following a belt swipe to the skull. To me, this was on par with Jericho/Omega from Wrestle Kingdom 12. 4.75/5
**IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE**
*Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi*
If you combined the movesets of Omega and Tanahashi in this match you’d get.. Finn Balor? That’s right, the guy so utterly underutilized by WWE in the past year was set as the inspiration for this contest. I’m kidding, of course, but you can see what type of greatness the ‘E has in their clutches, seeing Omega and Tanahashi hit a series of slaps, dragon screws, slingblades, and double foot stomps in this title match. But back to the matter-at-hand. This was an amazing main event, one so great even watching at 4 in the morning on 2-hour sleep from the night before and a failed pre-show nap had no affect on me. Omega was ultra aggressive, working tirelessly to put the old Ace away with everything he had: moonsaults, apron suplexes, kotaru crusher (face plant bulldog), Terminator con Hilo, snapdragon, V-Triggers (mind you, Omega doesn’t overuse it this time). Kenny even hit Tana with Tres Omego’s (three amigo powerbombs)!?!! Just before that, Tana attempted a high fly flow and “died” onto one of those ugly wooden tables. In a match of several great moments, including a Tanahashi Styles Clash(!!), Ace kicked out at ONE to Omega’s own high fly flow. Another was Tanahashi’s insane kickout of the first One Winged Angel into a RANA. He’d later kick out of another following an Omega super snap dragon. Thankfully, Tana fell on his face instead of his neck. It seems like everyone on the card worked really safe tonight. The Ace finally rounds out a wonderful past year with a second High Fly Flow to defeat Kenny. New champ, new era! 5.5/5
Overall = 4/5 Bibles
Another great Wrestle Kingdom! Even if you could predict all the outcomes (I only really thought Ishii had a chance among the losers), everything was good-to-great (hey, Cody/Juice would’ve been a fun TV main event for Raw, but yeah this isn’t Raw). Moving to two days at the Dome next year is an excellent choice, not only because yours truly intends to be there, but because now everything will have a chance to shine. Many of these 7-11 minute long undercard matches deserved better. They still came off as tasty appetizers for our three main courses, three classic/near classics to close the show. And it would have been four had Ospreay and Ibushi went on later. Kushida had a cool entrance and Omega got the big video game-inspired introduction he always dreamed of. Seems like “The Cleaner” character is gone forever. The Best Bout Machine came out as the One Winged Angel and had really intense black and neon green tights. It was a good look that could also be his grand farewell. Where will Omega land next? That seems to be the question overshadowing another tremendous Tokyo Dome event.