DESTRUCTION ‘08, 10/13/08
review by Mike Campbell
My quest to review the major shows of 2008 brings me back to New Japan, where much hasn’t changed since April. There’s still plenty of interpromotional fun going on, with Masato Tanaka defending his ZERO1 MAX Title, Keiji Mutoh defending the IWGP Title, and Kojima and his F4 crew challenging GBH. Tenzan looks for revenge against Iizuka in a chain match, Goto looks for revenge against Giant Bernard for turning on RISE, and No Limit finally gets the gold!
Hirooki Goto... continues to disappoint by putting in a mediocre performance in a match that was intended to keep him looking strong
MINORU TANAKA/PRINCE DEVITT © vs. TETSUYA NAITO/YUJIRO
The idea here, ostensibly, was to finally show the world that No Limit has risen beyond Young Lion status in New Japan. Maybe the simple fact that they won the titles accomplishes that, or the fact that Yujiro won the match for his team by pinning Tanaka, who’s been on top of the junior division since the early part of the decade. But, to me, they don’t accomplish that feat as well as they could have. The main reason is that there just isn’t a whole lot of offense that the challengers get in. It’s not that they don’t have it. Things like Naito killing Devitt with a German suplex, Naito’s corkscrew body block, their double flapjack, and Yujiro’s Intercollegiate Slam that gets the win are proof No Limits have offense at their disposal. But virtually every near fall for the challengers is on the heels of a flash pin or some type of counter into a cradle.
In addition to No Limit rolling out more offense to control action, it’d have also helped if the champions (mostly Tanaka) had done more throughout the match to make the underdog challengers not look so much like underdogs. But Tanaka doesn’t seem to want to give them too much offense, or to make much of it count. At one point, Naito surprises him with two surprise cradles in a row, instead of using facials or body language to show that he was outsmarted, Tanaka counters into an armbar. A bit later on the challengers hit a double team onto Tanaka and Yujiro goes up for a moonsault and Tanaka gets his knees up. Tanaka winds up being countered into a cradle by Yujiro right afterwards, so there wasn’t any reason why Tanaka couldn’t simply let him hit the moonsault and give him a near fall from it. Devitt also had his own similar moment when he gives Naito an airplane spin, and then both put over the dizziness, but then he sidesteps a charging Yujiro and quickly dispatches him. Letting Yujiro surprise him like that would have said a lot for No Limit’s aggressiveness and willingness to do whatever it takes to win the titles.
The big saving grace to this is No Limit’s fluidity and the timing of all four. The execution is great for the most part, and all four are in the right place and the right times to make the various spots and exchanges come off well. And considering that this is pretty much a ten minute sprint, it’s that much more impressive that nothing winds up being outright blown or comes off badly due to them not being on the same page. If Tanaka and Devitt were more able or willing to help give the new champions some rub, this could have been an excellent opener. Instead, its still fun, but it’s got room for improvement.
GEDO/JADO/LOW KI vs. JYUSHIN LYGER/KOJI KANEMOTO/TIGER MASK
Aside from giving Ki (IWGP Jr. Champion at the time) a pinfall win over Lyger, there doesn’t seem to be much other purpose for this. Ki and Tiger (the former champion) have a quick scrum to start things off, with Tiger looking for revenge on the man who took his title. The middle portion is carried by Kanemoto being in trouble, but he’s not exactly great with seeming like he’s in trouble. There’s a nice moment when he catches Ki with a surprise kick and goes to tag, and then stops to hit Gedo and Jado with a double dropkick, and then tags in Lyger. Lyger seems to fall way too easily, he only really takes two kicks from Ki, and the Ki Krusher puts him down. It didn’t help that six wrestlers only got seven minutes, but Koji spending the bulk of it accomplishing nothing special, and then Lyger going down far too easily only makes it that much worse.
SATOSHI KOJIMA/KAI/YAMATO vs. TOGI MAKABE/TORU YANO/TOMOHIRO ISHII
This actually makes for a decent continuation of the Tenzan/Kojima vs. Makabe/TARU tag from the All Japan 8/31 show. The wrestling isn’t always as good as it could be, because GBH is more concerned about working the style of match as opposed to the story of a match. Their control segment on KAI is a good example of this, GBH shows plenty of evil intensity, but they don’t really *do* much, it’s a lot of punching and kicking stuff. When GBH comes up with something original, like Yano choking him with the tape, or slamming him into the exposed turnbuckle, KAI really puts over the punishment. But they don’t do things like that very often, so KAI doesn’t have a whole lot to work with.
Kojima also looks pretty good in his role as the fired up hot tag. The match is too short to pull off everything as well as they could have, but there is one great moment from Kojima. He ducks a Makabe swing and plants him with a reverse neckbreaker. Kojima crawls over like he’s going for the cover, but opts to reign down on Makabe with fists instead of trying for a pin. There’s another nice part toward the end, when Kojima avoids a charging Yano in the corner and levels Makabe with a lariat. Then Ishii hits Kojima with a chair to make him tag in Yamato, and things break down to leave Yamato with Yano and Yano finishes him with the Oni Koroshi. It almost seems odd that they don’t need any cheating or shady tactics to do so. It makes sense, with Yano being half of the tag champions and Yamato being so inexperienced, but GBH has shown before that they aren’t above doing something like that for any other reason than because they can. If they had another five or ten minutes to work with, or maybe throwing in Tenzan and Iizuka to make this an eight-man, this could be pretty neat.
MASAHIRO CHONO/HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. MANABU NAKANISHI/YUTAKA YOSHIE
I’m not a huge fan of making declarations that someone “needs” to retire, but, if this is any indication, Chono ought to hang it up. He uses next to no offense other than Yakuza kicks and “Shining” Yakuza kicks (which don’t look very good) and watching Nakanishi and Yoshie trade strikes with him is a sad sight, they look like they’re trying to not scuff their boots when they kick. Chono is responsible for the funniest moment of the match (although I don’t think it was intended to be a comedy spot) when Yoshie was throwing his weight around and hit Chono with a big splash, only for Chono to kick out at one. Yoshie’s time away from New Japan doesn’t seem to have done much for him, he doesn’t do anything vastly different here than he was doing in the last four of five years, aside from slapping his belly like Kamala while no-selling Tanahashi punching him in the stomach.
I guess this deserves a little bit of credit for trying to tell a story, although it’s not the most logical one. The idea seems to be that Tanahashi and Chono can’t get along, which makes enough sense, but the show it by having Tanahashi jumping the gun several times and getting his team in trouble, something that would be expected from one of New Japan’s rookies, not a nearly ten-year veteran and two time IWGP Champion, but that’s how it goes. Chono gears up for another Yakuza kick and Tanahashi hits the ring and gives Yoshie a flying forearm, Chono looks at him in disbelief and Yoshie attacks Chono from behind. After getting tagged in later, Tanahashi gets into trouble and gets an opening and chance to tag when he ducks a charging lariat and Yoshie and Nakanishi hit each other. But instead of tagging he presses his advantage and loses it again when Nakanishi hits a Polish Hammer. Yoshie keeps Chono at bay and Tanahashi is finished off with a Doomsday body press from Yoshie and Nakanishi’s Hercules Cutter. With Tanahashi headed stateside, it made sense for him to be the one laying down, but there had to be a way of getting from points A to B without making him look so inferior to the other three.
HIROOKI GOTO vs. GIANT BERNARD
As good as Goto looks for parts of this match, namely in how believable he is as the young kid fighting from underneath, some of his limitations are also fully on display. It probably helps that Goto is working with Bernard, who, between his stints in WWE, All Japan, and now as part of GBH, has the monster heel role down cold. Bernard knows what to do to keep the fans behind Goto. Bernard focuses on Goto’s body with a sick powerbomb that dropped Goto perpendicular on the apron, and then he continues working it over with a big splash, a body scissors, and it put that much more meaning into the Baldo Bomb, which wound up as a hot near fall. Unlike his match with Mutoh from August, Goto did a very nice job at getting over the story of his midsection being hurt, it wasn’t on the level of a Kawada or Ohtani, but he was more than able to get the point across.
However, just like the Mutoh match, Goto quickly forgot about being hurt when it was his turn to go on offense. There were several instances where Goto’s ribs being hurt could have explained a kick out or Goto being unable to do something, but instead they were just ignored. A good example of that is Goto’s near fall off the German suplex, it’d make sense that Goto would be unable to hold the bridge, but he does so just fine and Bernard kicks out. The ribs would also explain why Goto cannot lift him for the Shouten. Instead it’s just a case of Bernard being too big and Goto not being strong enough. Goto’s comeback on Bernard is also hampered because Goto doesn’t seem to have much offense to work with. The only lead-in to the German suplex was a charging lariat. Granted, Bernard was distracted because he’d nearly punched Karl Anderson, so it made sense that it took more out of him than usual, but Goto should have done something more before going for the move, especially with it being such a close near fall for him. The only time it legitimately looks like Goto is going to pull off the win is the Cobra Clutch, because it’s something that Goto can believably do to someone so much larger than he is, and it was done out of nowhere. The layout of the match, and the ending with Anderson’s interference allowing Bernard to get the win with the Bernard driver, were clearly done to keep Goto looking strong, Bernard knew what to do to accomplish that, it’s just too bad that Goto didn’t seem to know.
HIROYOSHI TENZAN vs. TAKASHI IIZUKA (Chain Death Match)
Like any match that features the combatants being attached together, this is quite limited in the wrestling department, but there’s no shortage of blood and hate to be found. Tenzan and Iizuka both add a few smart touches to the match. The bulk of things is made up of Tenzan and Iizuka punching or choking each other with chain, far from interesting, but the blood and the intensity is quite welcome. What makes this stand out are the smart touches they both add in, such as Tenzan being stuck in Iizuka’s sleeper hold and escaping by charging backwards and slamming Iizuka into the exposed corner (Iizuka and GBH had removed the pad), and Tenzan’s moonsault attempt after Iizuka’s lengthy time spent in the Anaconda Vice, and Honma causing the distraction to prevent Tenzan from doing the move, which keeps it protected to an extent.
Some might complain about the GBH and F4 interference, but it works perfectly fine in the context of the match. Aside from Honma’s distraction to prevent the moonsault, there’s GBH’s assault on the floor that triggers Tenzan’s gusher and gives Iizuka his control segment. Considering that Iizuka was already bleeding and that they were attached, they needed something to give Iizuka a believable break, and the mass brawl on the floor fits the bill. Another good moment is Yano more or less being a decoy to get Kojima into the ring to intercept him, and leaving Makabe in the clear to hit the chain lariat, which allows Iizuka to nail Tenzan with the glove and then choke him out with the chain. The chain stipulation alone qualifies this as something with room for improvement, but it was nice to see that Tenzan and Iizuka tried to work around the limitations instead of just throwing their hands up in the air.
MASATO TANAKA © vs. YUJI NAGATA (Zero1 MAX World Heavyweight Title)
Take away the chain, and this is how Tenzan/Iizuka should have been, nothing cute, nothing fancy, just a good old fashioned heated fight! If one’s idea of good wrestling is strictly within the realm of body part psych and pre split All Japan level storytelling, then this won’t score very high. Everything is secondary to the task of beating the tar out of each other. Nagata lets loose with the kicks to the chest, Tanaka has his elbows, and a chair shot, and they trade off slaps to the face several times. It also helps that the crowd is rabid in their support of Nagata. A fairly good description of this match would be that it’s more about being flashy than substantive, but the flash is done so well that they’re able to get by on minimum substance, the substance in this case being a couple of very well timed spots and some killer facials and selling by Tanaka.
Not to say that this is perfect, I’ve always been critical of Nagata for getting goofy during a match, and this isn’t an exception. His biggest offense in that regard is his comeback. He takes several forearm shots from Tanaka, culminating with a charging one, and Nagata charges for a knee strike after the running one. It doesn’t even matter because Tanaka just sucked up the knee, and then charged for a second elbow, and then charged into another Nagata knee. Nagata may as well have just sold the running one, and then hit the knee when Tanaka charged. Nagata also gets planted with a suplex and then sits up like he’s about to make a comeback, and then changes his mind and flops back down again. I’ve never been a fan of rolling out finishes multiple times when the person doing them isn’t winning, which is what happens with the Sliding D. Nagata kicking out of the first one works because Tanaka didn’t really get it all, the third has Nagata’s awesome counter, but there isn’t any good reason for the second one, Tanaka hit it perfectly (Nagata gets busted open from it) and Nagata just kicks out. This is the move that’s been putting down everyone from New Japan that stepped into the ring with Tanaka, and Nagata just kicks out like it wasn’t enough.
Thankfully, the goofiness is counterbalanced by the good things they both do. Nagata gets a couple of fabulous counters, that turn the tide of the match much more believably than his idea of blowing something off to do something else. The best one is the third Sliding D, which Nagata counters into an armbar. There’s another good one a bit earlier, when Tanaka attempts the Tornado DDT and Nagata blocks it, places Tanaka on the ropes and does Mutoh’s Dragon screw neckbreaker (which makes me wonder if that’s going to be the new Shining Wizard in regards to everyone stealing it). Not to be outdone, Tanaka his own great counter when Nagata’s attempt at an Exploder off the second rope winds up as a sunset flip powerbomb. There’s also some good selling, more from Tanaka than Nagata, but Yuji has his moments, such as his nearly being counted out after the brainbuster on the floor, and his reaction to the Diamond Dust. But Tanaka’s is beautiful, especially toward the end. The look of desperation on his face when Nagata hits the first backdrop is breathtaking, and more than a bit ironic given the way he’d been running through New Japan wrestlers all year, and his attempts to reach for the ropes are that much better, but Yuji isn’t to be denied and the bridging backdrop is finally enough to knock down the wall that was Tanaka. This isn’t perfect, there’s no question that things could have been done differently, the bulk of which are Nagata’s nutty tendencies, and little things like finding a different way to get Nagata out of the second Sliding D, but even as it is, this is still a damn fine match. I just wonder if it’s a compliment toward Tanaka or an indication of the New Japan roster that this spanked everything that preceded it on the card. ***1/2
KEIJI MUTOH © vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (IWGP Heavyweight Title)
The best description that I can come up with to sum up this match is that it’s like an extended dance re-mix of their match from April where Mutoh lifted the IWGP Title. The early stretch is very similar to their first match, after the prerequisite feeling out portion on the mat Nakamura starts to work over Mutoh’s arm, but Mutoh outsmarts him and catches him with a Dragon screw and then proceeds to wear down the knee with the usual stuff. The moves are what’s different here though, the opening for Nakamura is a missed elbow drop, and instead of baiting Nakamura into a dive, Mutoh catches his leg on an attempt to kick the arm to hit the Dragon screw. It’s a new dance, but it’s still the same song so it tells the same story with the same ending, Mutoh winning the match by outsmarting the young Supernova.
The most (or least, depending on your point of view) fun part of this is watching Mutoh constantly show that he’s one step ahead of Nakamura. Nakamura shows that he’s clearly prepared for the match and tried to learn from the mistakes that cost him the title, but Mutoh still winds up outsmarting him. The first time Mutoh catches Nakamura’s leg, Nakamura knows what’s coming and springs with a knee to the face. Nakamura thinks that the knee will be enough to distract him and goes for another kick, and Mutoh once again catches the leg and hits the Dragon screw. A bit later on Mutoh back drops Nakamura onto the apron and Nakamura realizes that he’s in position for the Dragon screw neckbreaker. He tries to hurry up and get into the ring, but Mutoh stuns him with a Shining Wizard while he’s getting in, and then hits the Dragon screw neckbreaker. The finish is the same principal at work, Mutoh survived the Landslide and Nakamura survived the moonsault, Nakamura went for a second Landslide and Mutoh stunned him with a knee to the face (and being so late in the match the knee has the effect needed) and Mutoh hits a simple Frankensteiner and gets the win out of nowhere.
For the first fifteen minutes, this looks just like your usual Keiji Mutoh match. He attacks the knee with the usual stuff, does the Shining Wizards and then does the moonsault which will surely take things home. But again, there’s a couple of twists involved, the best one being Nakamura’s juji-gatame counter to an attempted Dragon screw, and Mutoh’s powerbomb counter to the Shining Triangle. The biggest shocker was that Nakamura kicked out the moonsault. It makes sense for them do it since that’s what put Nakamura away the first time, and the idea is to show that he’d gotten better, but that he still wasn’t good enough to beat Mutoh. But that’s where the match goes downhill because Nakamura seems to be out of good ideas. It’s not too bad because there isn’t a lot of time between the moonsault the finish. Nakamura’s kneebar attempts are okay in the context of him being a genius on the mat, but they get zero crowd reaction and I’m at a loss for any time that he’s won a match with a kneebar. One could argue that he was doing it since Mutoh’s knees are shot, but if that’s the case, he wasn’t very interesting about it. He goes back to the armbar, which get a huge reaction, but is also a real waste of the move. Nakamura applies it. Mutoh flails like a fish out of water, and winds up crawling across the ring to get the ropes to break the hold. It’s just like the Sliding D in the previous match, why even use it if it’s going to be treated like that? Nakamura then goes to the Landslide and the kick out makes sense since Nakamura had survived the moonsault, and Nakamura’s second Landslide attempt leads to his undoing. Maybe it’s newfound motivation from getting to wrestle younger guys or just being back in New Japan, or maybe it’s a career resurgence, but either way, I’m liking this Keiji Mutoh. ***3/4
Conclusion: Take a very fun, and solid, undercard and combine with main events that actually deliver in the ring, and you’ve got one of the best shows of the year! I don’t want to say it’s better than All Japan, only because I don’t follow New Japan as closely as I used to, and it’s All Japan’s booking that keeps me interested, but it’s probably not a stretch at all to say that. Either way, huge recommendation for this bad boy.
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