Welcome to King of Pro Wrestling, one of NJPW’s biggest shows of the year. The card looked stacked but was unfortunately hit by some unfortunate news early on. Because of the Typhoon that hit Japan earlier this week Jon Moxley and Zack Sabre Jr were unable to make the show. This meant that Jon Moxley was stripped of the IWGP US Title. A new match was set that we will see later. We here at Steel Chair wish everyone in Japan our thoughts and hope that recovery and rebuilding efforts happen in a speedy manner. For now though, let’s focus of the positives and review one of the biggest shows of the year.
El Desperado Comeback Match: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru defeated SHO and YOH via Pinche Loco to SHO
El Desperado made his entrance in the very bloodied shirt that Jun Kasai broke his jaw in… Can we just take a moment to appreciate how bad ass that is? I wish he had worn his specialised death match mask too but hey, the little things. He was warmly welcomed back from injury but didn’t let that stop him acting like a heel dick, attacking before the bell and faking an injury for Kanemaru to storm the ring. This was mostly just a nice, easy match to come back to as the heels were arseholes and Roppongi 3K came back before getting slapped down with Pinche Loco. Welcome back El Desperado!
Hiroshi Tanahashi Anniversary Match IV: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma defeated Togi Makabe & Toru Yano via High Fly Flow to Yano
Tanahashi was accompanied to the ring by Wataru Inoue, a wrestler who debuted at the same time as Tanahashi and who defeated Shibata in his debut. It was a nice touch and a good reminder of the history of Tanahashi. Tanahashi looks good for having twenty years in the business and is having the final commemorative match against his debut opponent, Togi Makabe. As for the match, it was an exercise in keep away as Makabe and Yano worked to bully Honma until Tanahashi the hot tag. He managed to match Makabe and kept giving Yano a taste of his own medicine. He eventually won with the High Fly Flow. Fun match, but not a lot to report.
Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito defeated Taichi & DOUKI via DQ
This match was more a vehicle to build towards Taichi/Naito than anything else but also nicely served DOUKI with a platform to show off a bit as he and Taichi got to work over Shingo. It was an odd sight seeing Shingo worked over by a junior but hey, he was one not too long ago. It was a fun match to watch but there was nothing too special going on. Taichi got himself DQ’ed by using the mic stand on Shingo and attacking the ref after. Naito and Taichi brawl after the bell with Taichi standing tall. He grabbed a mic after the beatdown, calling Naito weak and making his own challenge to be a double champ. Finally, a double champion we can all root for…. Right?
Minoru Suzuki defeated Jyushin Thunder Liger via Gotch Style Piledriver
Finally, the blood feud of the year came to a head. We got the singles match between two men who have been intent on killing each other for the past few months. The violence between Liger and Suzuki became so fierce that it even awakened the great Kishin Liger, an event that made Suzuki laugh. This became one of the most hyped matches on the card through sheer opposing forces. Liger is on his retirement tour and no opponent would mean a bigger win for the retiring legend than Suzuki. Unfortunately, he lost but he lost in strong fashion. He kept his honour and was offered respect. Liger came ready to fight and really did go to war with Minoru Suzuki, using the same submission and brawling technique Suzuki often utilises.
Even the referee fell victim to the accumulating violence and hatred between the pair. There were strikes galore as Suzuki kept trying to fire up his opponent and push him to hit him. In the end, Suzuki delayed hitting the Gotch, giving Liger the chance to respond one last time before finishing him off. Suzuki surprised everyone post-match, he’d grabbed a chair and was battering the Young Lions before looking to turn the chair on Liger but instead, dropped to his knees and bowed to his fallen opponent. That is probably the ultimate sign of respect, right there. Suzuki then rushed off before anyone could dwell on it. Liger left under his own power to the cheers of the crowd after a heartfelt thank you to Suzuki.
Will Ospreay defeated El Phantasmo via Storm Breaker
Before the match, El Phantasmo turned away his Bullet Club help and even offered Ospreay a handshake. He seemed to be a new man, well less of a dick anyway. It started slow with Ospreay out-doing Phantasmo and succeeding in a test of strength. It was an interesting dichotomy as Ospreay was the more aggressive out of the pair, completely untrusting of Phantasmo’s “clean” persona. Of course, he was right to as Phantasmo showed his true colours after about 5 minutes. He still wouldn’t benefit as about two minutes later, Ospreay threw Phantasmo into Gino Gambino. The pair even took the fight to a ledge in the stands. It was Chaos.
The pair went hell for leather in beating each other down and smashing the other up. This was nearly half an hour of hard shots, flippy sh*t and excellent chemistry. Love him or hate him, Phantasmo is great at what he does and Ospreay is without a doubt, the super junior of the company. The pair played off each other perfectly with Phantasmo winding Ospreay up and Ospreay making him pay for it. We even got a little action from Ishimori and Eagles at the 20-minute mark. Ospreay has retained his title is strong fashion. I’m pretty sure he killed Phantasmo with that Top Rope Powerbomb. What a match.
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI defeated Jay White, KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi via GTR to Takahashi
Decent enough tag match focusing on all the Bullet Club vs Chaos feuds going on at the moment. A drastic change of pace from the previous match and probably a tad boring to some but it seems to be strongly building to White/Goto at Power Struggle for the IC Title. There were some excellent exchanges between Ishii and KENTA and a motivated Goto is a good Goto but other than that this rung a bit flat to me.
Lance Archer defeated Juice Robinson via EBD Claw to become the 7th IWGP US Champion
Goddamn has Lance Archer had a bit of a resurgence. He was out with an injury then managed to comeback, enter the G1 with a new look and revamped move-set and now has a singles title to his name. it’s all looking up for the Suzuki-Gun giant. Juice Robinson confused me before the bell by wearing some odd entrance gear that made him look more prepared for an Arctic Expedition than a wrestling match. Archer kept the no DQ rules promising Juice would die. That’s just what happened. We got about 15 minutes of hardcore brawling with Archer being mostly made to look like an invincible giant. He nearly took Juice out early by chokeslamming him through the timekeeper’s table. From there we got a back and forth bout of table spots, chair shots and a deliciously deadly Blackout onto a pile of chairs. Juice didn’t die quietly as he got a bunch of punches in, knocked Archer down with the Left Hand of God, twice and nearly won with a Juice Box. He fought till he was knocked silly and then kept going, finally succumbing to the EBD Claw for the three count. After the match, Archer tried to administer more punishment but ended up summoning a returning David Finlay who came to defend his FinJuice partner. He scared off Archer with a pair of Stunners but it would be Archer who stood tall at the end of it all as he left the arena mostly unphased by the returning Finlay’s attacks. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes next given it’s an incredibly on the fly situation NJPW have had to adapt to.
Kota Ibushi defeated EVIL via Kamigoye
Kota Ibushi continued his streak of avenging his G1 losses by beating the next guy who had beaten him. EVIL looked set to be the one to upset the contract holder as he had beaten him on the way to King of Pro Wrestling. He even had his number throughout the match using a bunch of technical and power-based moves to run rings around Ibushi. Of course, this would not last and Ibushi would start getting his wind back. Then EVIL did his famous chair shot and smashed a chair into him. He really seemed to be getting the better of Ibushi at almost every turn. Ibushi had to rely on his speed to reclaim the momentum in the match. It got incredibly brutal as the match went on with Ibushi hitting his Inverted Dudebuster on EVIL’s head. Though it would be the extreme number of Lariats that really added to the potential concussion factor. In the end, Ibushi persevered and came away with a much-deserved win. I did find myself rooting for EVIL for a lot of the match. A contract change never happens but I wanted to hope. I love Ibushi but EVIL was putting on the fight of a lifetime.
Kazuchika Okada defeated SANADA via Rainmaker
We get the next chapter in the Okada/SANADA saga as the pair have dubbed each other rivals. The match was made after Okada survived his Royal Quest encounter with Minoru Suzuki. The pair put on excellent matches in the past but did anyone really believe that SANADA could finally pull the win off? I wanted to believe but just couldn’t see SANADA doing what he had found mostly impossible. The only win in the series SANADA had was in the G1. It would be an amazing match none the less as the pair seem incapable of putting on anything less but still, the result was as expected, a Rainmaker ended it. A hot start with a flurry of finisher attempts soon descended into the methodical matches we are used to, interlaced with the tension of whether SANADA could finally win the big one. It was long, well-paced and intense near forty-minute bout with more ups and downs than a roller coaster.
Both men were battling to hit their greatest hits and set up for either the Skull End or the Rainmaker. There were dragged out Skull Ends, surprise Rainmakers and more in a match that should be seen rather than described. SANADA brought the best out of Okada once again, forcing him to take it to the next level. I do genuinely feel quite sad for SANADA because I struggle to understand what he does next. That crying seemed to perfect illustrate how most of his fans probably feel right now. The fact Okada wants to do it again sometime reminds me of the Joker and Batman, “you and I are doomed to do this together.” SANADA has lost so many title bouts now that he has to be out of contention. Despite his best efforts he seems to have been doomed to always be the bridesmaid never the bride. Maybe this is setting up to something in the future? The rival that never quite got the win but will come back stronger. I hope so, there has to be some eventual pay off for SANADA right?
So, there you have it, King of Pro Wrestling reviewed for your reading pleasure. It was a mostly enjoyable show with the lowest points being throwaway tag bouts but even they held some purpose. I want Taichi/Naito to happen, the cruiserweights killed it in a near half hour slug-fest, Suzuki and Liger gave us one of the most satisfying conclusions to a blood feud in what feels like forever and we got El Desperado back! Obviously, the main event was great and everything in between was mostly great. I am looking forward to the rest of the road to Wrestle Kingdom and the build can officially begin to Okada/Ibushi. Oh and Jr Tag League/ World Tag League is coming up, that’s something to be excited about. Isn’t it?
Images courtesy of njpw1972.com