WRESTLE KINGDOM III on 1/4/09
review by Mike Campbell
New Japan’s annual Tokyo Dome show pits New Japan against The World! CMLL, NOAH, Zero-1 Max, All Japan and TNA all have people in the Dome. Mutoh defends against Tanahashi! Lyger celebrates the big 2-0! Kurt Angle doesn’t make me angry! And Tanaka/Nagata bring the goods again!
The Motor City Machine Guns.... came into the Tokyo Dome ready to impress and left as new champions
MISTICO/RYUSUKE TAGUCHI/PRINCE DeVITT vs. AVERNO/GEDO/JADO
There isn’t much point to this aside from Mistico showing off what he can do, and, boy, can he do a lot. His flying and speed make him seem more at home in Dragon Gate against someone else freakishly fast like Masato Yoshino, but his big star aura is perfect for the Dome. Mistico is clearly the showcase here, although his partners also do some flying around, including a sweet somersault senton to the floor from DeVitt that makes me proud to be Irish. The heels get a little control segment when Gedo cheap shots DeVitt, but there isn’t anything notable from them aside from a brutal powerbomb from Averno. After the mandatory dive sequence leaves the two Luchadors alone, Mistico makes short work of Averno. Averno gets a moment of hope when he escapes an attempted La Magistral and does one of his own, but no dice, and Mistico finishes him off with La Mistica (satellite head scissors into Fujiwara armbar). The perfect way to introduce Mistico to the NJPW fans, and NJPW is showing their smarts by bringing him in sporadically for their bigger shows.
In true TNA fashion we go to the parking lot! A black hummer pulls up, and a noticeably winded Riki Chosyu gets out, followed by Masahiro Chono, Kurt Angle and Kevin Nash. Chono and Nash reminisce about the old day of nWo Japan with their clique signal, and then Chono and Kurt hug.
JYUSHIN LYGER/TAKUMA SANO vs. WATARU INOUE/KOJI KANEMOTO
Why is Inoue in this match? Sano and Lyger had a huge rivalry in the early ‘90's and Lyger and Kanemoto are former rivals and partners in the ‘90's and ‘00's. It seems like Lyger’s twentieth anniversary match should have someone else paired with Koji who has history with Lyger (Ohtani, El Samurai, Kikuchi). Sure, Koji and Inoue are partners, but they’re not exactly a rousing success. This also really isn’t the sort of match that this milestone deserves. The layout works good in theory, Koji and Wataru attack before the bell and act all dickishly, and then Lyger and Sano get grumpy and hand it back to them en route to winning, but the road to the finish has some bumps.
The main one is that Sano doesn’t appear to have anything else to do other than the rolling Savate kick to the gut. It’s been quite an effective strike in NOAH for him, but it doesn’t do much to Koji and Wataru, and while they could have stood to put it over better (especially after Wataru takes a diving footstomp to the midsection), Sano could also have found something else to do and not continually allowed his big move to be devalued so much. The other is that Inoue doesn’t seem to be very confident, it really comes off like he’s just following Koji’s lead. Issues, aside, Lyger is able to salvage this and make it at least watchable. It starts when Koji gears up for his boot scrape and Lyger springs out of the corner and shotei’s him in the mush (and looks to bust him open a little bit), Lyger and Sano then do a rolling kick/shotei combo. Sano takes care of Inoue on the floor while Lyger looks to finish off Koji. Koji gives him a bit of fight, rolling out of the Lygerbomb and avoiding the brainbuster, but Sano lends a hand and Lyger finishes off Kanemoto with the brainbuster off the top. Again, this really isn’t the sort of match that Lyger’s anniversary deserves, I can understand the respect involved in doing in the Dome (which was where Lyger was born in 1989) but doing it on a smaller show with a hotter crowd, with a better looking match would be much more fitting.
YUJIRO/TETSUYA NAITO © vs. ALEX SHELLEY/CHRIS SABIN (IWGP Jr. Tag Team Titles)
Like their title win from October, this was a fun little sprint, although it was more of an exhibition of Sabin and Shelley. It makes sense though, the fans aren’t familiar with them or their style, and winning the titles means they’ll have to come back and defend them against other NJPW teams. It doesn’t make No Limit look too good, but there’s no shame in losing to a more experienced team from across the pond. The only real weakness here was the Guns’ control segment on Naito. Sabin and especially Shelley were both very good, at playing to the crowd and trying to get them behind Naito. There was a really good moment from Shelley when he took Naito down and then started raking his eyes with his boots and soaking up the fans’ jeers. What drags it down is that Naito wasn’t too good with getting the fans behind him, he was far too stoic when the Guns’ were working him over and it didn’t do much to rally the fans.
After Yujiro’s hot tag it’s clear sailing though, they both roll out double teams, including a great save from Shelley when Sabin was about to get planted with their double swinging slam, Sabin and Shelley take to the air, and the execution of all four is spot on. I’d have personally liked to see more storytelling and less of an exhibition, but it was a necessary evil because of getting the Guns over quickly, so there isn’t much meaning to anything, and the finish is just Naito getting hit with Made In Detroit (Shelley does a Shiranui while Sabin does a powerbomb), but, like everything else, it was gorgeous. If nothing else, you can walk away from this looking forward to seeing some of their title defenses. ***
LOW KI © vs. TIGER MASK (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title)
For a title match, this is way too short (around eight minutes), but it’s probably for the best. I’d guess that instead of slowing things down a bit with the match they had, they’d probably try to cram more in. They start off hot and heavy with Ki attacking TM at the bell and hitting the Ki Krusher about one minute in, they go to the floor and Ki dropkick him into the guardrail, almost like the Jon Woo (SUWA represent!). Ki tries to continue the punishment on the floor, but TM counters him with a tombstone on the ramp and Ki barely beats the count into the ring. The match goes downhill after that. They don’t do anything to follow up other than both of them looking groggy, and they don’t seem to know where they’re taking things, so TM hands things back to Ki after a reversed whip and Tidal Krush, but Ki is more or less out of stuff to do other than his big move arsenal, so just he sticks with basic strikes and a couple of whips to the corner.
Tiger seems to finally get things going again after a missed charge from Ki and a big dive to the floor. But, again, he hands things over to Ki too soon instead of building up any momentum. Ki with a near fall after the Warriors Way. Then Tiger Mask decides he’s ready to end it, and muscles out of a Dragon sleeper and starts to unload with suplexes. Millennium suplex, Tiger suplex, and a second Tiger suplex with a modification so that one of Ki’s legs is also hooked is enough for the win. The build to TM needing to do something new was nice, but it’d have been nice if he’d gotten in some actual offense during the match other than the occasional big spot, and TM could also done to not devalue Ki’s finisher by going on offense almost right after Ki hit it, or at least finding a better transition than the one they used. But I’m used to being disappointed in Tiger Mask.
MASAHIRO CHONO/CHOSYU/KURT ANGLE/KEVIN NASH vs. IIZUKA/ISHII/GIANT BERNARD/KARL ANDERSON
Like the previous match, this is held back due to its short length, but its more acceptable here because this isn’t serving any purpose beyond setting up a future match between Angle and Bernard (which is accomplished when Bernard attacks Angle and gives him the Bernard driver afterwards). The match isn’t anything special, everyone just pops in to do their stuff, and nobody outside of Anderson is shown to be any sort of weak link. There’s an unintentionally funny moment when Chosyu asks Nash to tag and Nash shakes his head (Chono was supposed to be tagging in but he wasn’t on the apron at the moment). Nash and Bernard have a big man showdown, and Iizuka and Ishii fight unusually clean. GBH all take turns charging at Chosyu in the corner, but Anderson eats boot and then the Riki Lariat. The MEM/Legend team takes care of the rest of GBH and Angle gets a quick submission from the Ankle Lock, without having to use it twenty times and Anderson escaping or countering. Will wonders never cease?
YUJI NAGATA © vs. MASATO TANAKA (ZERO1 MAX World Heavyweight Title)
Okay, take all the intensity and hatred of the Nagata/Tanaka 10/13 match, and now add blood! I’ve used the analogy before, but it rings true here, this match is more or less an extended dance re-mix of their previous match. A lot of the same spots, a few things changed up, and the same end result, Nagata winning the bridging backdrop. Some of their changes are good, such as the sequence where Nagata shrugs off a running elbow and hits a knee kick, instead of being done in the middle of the match, it’s done at the very beginning, so it’s not a big deal to see Nagata blow off the elbow. Sadly, Nagata’s swank armbar counter to the Sliding D isn’t present, but Tanaka makes up for it with his escape of Nagata’s attempt at the backdrop and hitting a Sliding D to his back. And, Tanaka’s selling and grabbing for the ropes as Yuji puts him away is back, and it’s still awesome, and Tanaka, again, falls to the bridging backdrop.
The downside of the re-mix is that there’s still Nagata’s goofiness to deal with. No, Nagata’s swank armbar counter to the Sliding D isn’t here, it’s replaced with a much more mediocre one, where Nagata takes the Sliding D, and then kicks out, and does the armbar. Nagata’s shots to the post that open him up are also pretty weak, he looks like he’s trying to not mess up his hair. I can understand protecting yourself, I certainly don’t want him to concuss himself (he’d already had a brain injury scare earlier in the year), but at least try to make it look good. Nagata also loses his mind at one point, when he jumps up at Tanaka, all fired up, and then flops back down after he hits him. But, just like their other match, there’s enough good (and hate) from them both that it counterbalances Nagata’s missteps. ***
MANABU NAKANISHI vs. JUN AKIYAMA
I can at least say that I wasn’t disappointed with the match, because that would imply that I had expectations going into it. If you’re a fan of chops and slaps to the face then this isn’t something you’ll want to pass up, of course the chops and slaps don’t have any sort of discernable purpose or meaning beyond “NJ and NOAH don’t like each other” and Nagata/Tanaka kills this six ways from Sunday for getting that point across.
Other than surprising the hell out of me with a pescado onto Akiyama, Nakanishi is his usual self. He had an opportunity for a good spot when he ducked Akiyama’s lariat and grabbed him by the throat, but instead of a chokeslam or something that we don’t expect from him, it was just another lariat. This, ladies and gentleman, is a future IWGP Champion. Akiyama is a bit better, he’s good at taking openings and making the most from them. He puts the breaks on what looked like a Northern Lights suplex, turned it into a front choke and then planted him with the Exploder. He catches Nakanishi sleeping on the top and hits an Exploder from there (and sells the effects much better than Nakanishi, which shouldn’t be the case). And when the regular Exploder doesn’t put him away, Jun levels him with a knee to the head and the Exploder ‘98 for the win. Akiyama is also good when Nakanishi catches him in the Argentine Backbreaker, he tries to escape by grabbing a sleeper, but the pressure it too much for him to take and he has to let go. So yeah, Jun has his moments, but this is still forgettable.
TOGI MAKABE/TORU YANO © vs. BROTHER RAY/BROTHER DEVON (IWGP Tag Team Titles)
I can respect the mentality of changing the titles here, but Makabe and Yano deserved better. Aside from his embarrassingly short diving headbutt, Devon isn’t too bad, but Bubba is awful. Bubba can’t be bothered to do much of anything to make the champions look good. Team 3D guzzle them to start, and it’s only due to the plunder they bring into play and use on Devon that they can control things, but even that’s far too short. Again, Devon is good, he sells well for them and is able to get the crowd into it, but Bubba tanks it. Yano tries to knock him off the apron, and Bubba not only doesn’t go down, but he jumps in and attacks both Makabe and Yano, and then starts to rally Devon to tag.
After Bubba tags back in this turns into your average WWE hardcore match, tables and trash can lids for all. Bubba takes a shot from each of the champions and then no-sells to double lariat them. He does take one bump, when Devon gets the tables, but Bubba is the one to take the first plunge. There isn’t much of note beyond that though. Makabe accidentally hits Yano with the chain lariat and eats 3D through a table to crown new champions. Again, I can understand the mentality with the title change, it gives Team 3D another title to add to their list, and allows for some fresh title matches, but it’s too bad that GBH’s eleven month reign ended on such a whimper.
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA/HIROOKI GOTO vs. MITSUHARU MISAWA/TAKASHI SUGIURA
I need to see a Goto/Sugiura match yesterday! They brought all the hate and intensity of Nagata/Tanaka and also worked a few fun sequences and made this a blast to watch. Misawa and Nakamura weren’t bad, but it was disappointing to see Goto outworking Nakamura, given that Nakamura has been the unofficial torch bearer of the next generation of NJPW wrestlers, he really should have been the one stepping up and taking the fight to the NOAH guys and he didn’t. There’s not much than one can, or should, expect out of Misawa, but he worked his grumpy role very well. The Misawa/Nakamura exchanges mostly featured them trading elbows, which everybody knows that Nakamura is going to lose, but he tries to go toe to toe with Misawa anyway. Nakamura doesn’t win an elbow exchange, but does wind up winning a strike exchange when he dodges an elbow and takes down Misawa with a spinning kick to the face, and also got the last laugh by planting him with the Landside. Misawa also has a nice moment when Goto kicks him off the apron. It’s a standard spot for these sorts of matches, but the way he put it over was very nice, and it was cool to see him dig out the frog splash for the first time in recent memory, when Sugiura held Goto in place for it.
The action is with Goto/Sugiura, they’re both fired up and they both bring the hate. They seemed to understand that they weren’t the ones that the fans were going to care about, so they both tried that much harder and wound up becoming the focus of the match anyway. Sugiura outsmarts him early on by baiting him into the NOAH staple of trading strikes in the center of the ring, after a couple of exchanges, Sugiura sees Goto coming for another kick and plants him with an overhead belly to belly. Goto avenges that a bit later when they work a sequence of reversed whips into the ropes, and avoiding each other, until Goto wins with a lariat to Sugiura. Goto has the grapefruits to even cheap shot Misawa on the apron before diving onto the floor onto Sugiura.
Sugiura is easily the MVP of the match, also working some nice spots and sequences with Nakamura, especially the Ankle Lock spot, where they also manage to not devalue the hold, with Nakamura and Sugiura making a show out of Nakamura’s struggle to break the hold by getting the ropes. I could have done without the simple of kick out of the Olympic Slam, it really didn’t add anything to the match, and Sugiura’s second attempt is met with the Nakamura’s armdrag counter, so they could have just done that without having to discredit the move itself. I could have also done without Nakamura doing a Misawa-like (and that’s not a compliment) no-sell of the German suplex, which led to the attempted lariat and Nakamura countering to the armbar for the submission. The finish itself is so well-done that it leaves a great impression, but the German no-sell spot leaves a bit of tarnish on it. Still, as long as future NJ/NOAH matches are more like this, and less like Akiyama/Nakanishi, then this will be a very fun feud. ***1/2
KEIJI MUTOH © vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI (IWGP Heavyweight Title)
If they’d either varied up their offense a bit or chopped five-ten minutes off, then this would probably be an easy contender for the match of the year. There’s no question that this has the right atmosphere (Tokyo Dome) and storyline (Tanahashi bringing the IWGP Title back to NJPW and wrestling his former mentor) to be remembered for a long time to come, but some of the work drags this down. It should have been obvious that this was going to be a very knee-oriented match, Mutoh’s whole strategy has been to take down his opponents at the knee, Mutoh has a long history of bad knees, and their thirty-minute draw in the 2008 Champions Carnival featured them sharking the hell out of each other’s knees. And shark each other’s knee is what they do, as soon as they get the mandatory feeling out portion on the mat out of the way.
Tanahashi strikes first blood, and he’s surprisingly aggressive about it. He puts the boots to the knee, he uses the post, and even the Mutoh staple, the Dragon screw. There’s a great moment where Tanahashi is stomping at the leg and stops for a split second to think about what he’s doing, and then resumes it. Mutoh gives him about five minutes to wear down the knee all he can, and then it’s payback time. Mutoh with Dragon screws and dropkicks to Tanahashi’s knee. Mutoh Dragon screws him off the apron, whips him into the guardrail for a Shining Wizard and then Dragon screws him over the rail. This is where going for so long become a problem. There’s a lot to be said for sticking with a story, which they certainly do, but watching Mutoh dropkick and Dragon screw over and over gets tiresome. The figure four helps a bit, but Mutoh isn’t exactly Flair for showing how much pressure he’s exerting. Maybe he doesn’t have to, part of the buildup for this included a video of Mutoh beating Takada in ‘95 with the some hold. Mutoh does at least try to vary up the Dragon screw a bit, by doing it off the apron, over the ropes, over the rail, and even off the top. But he’s still just doing the Dragon screw. Their little ode to the NOAH strike exchange by exchanging dropkicks to the knee was cute though.
Where this winds up scoring major points, however, is in their selling, and some of the smarter spots that Tanahashi comes up with. His best one is shortly after breaking the figure four, he slaps Mutoh away from going for his leg and winds up with a waistlock. Tanahashi tries for a German suplex, but Mutoh blocks, so he chop blocks him to take him down. Mutoh reverses an Irish whip a bit after that and hits another Dragon screw and goes into his Shining Wizard trifecta (front, back, and front again), but Tanahashi blocks the third, hits Mutoh in the knee and then goes for the Texas Cloverleaf, which works the knee and is something that he’s used to win matches before. There’s also a great near fall where they play off of the second Mutoh/Nakamura match, with Tanahashi in the Mutoh role. Mutoh with the Dragon screw neckbreaker and charges for a Shining Wizard, only to be surprised with a jumping Frankensteiner. It’s not like this a one-man performance, Mutoh makes some smart contributions of his own, most of which are just ways he cuts off Tanahashi and nails a Dragon screw. Yes, they’re smart, but it’s tiring watching him do it over and over again. And when compared with the aforementioned spots from Tanahashi, and things like losing the bridge on the German suplex because of his knee, and being smart enough to block Mutoh’s second Dragon screw neckbreaker and actually give Mutoh his own big move, it’s safe to say this is Tanahashi’s match, and given that it’s his big win, it should be.
I’ve never been a fan of Tanahashi’s repeated High Fly Flow finishing sequence, and this is no different, except that they try to make it different by combining it with Mutoh’s history of falling back on the moonsault for the finish. Tanahashi hits the first one and misses the second, Mutoh sees the opening and goes up for the moonsault. Tanahashi avoids the moonsault and pounces with his two High Fly Flows for the win. Tanahashi had long since set the precedent for that kind of thing, but it’s still frustrating to watch, even something small like trying a cradle after the missed moonsault or going for the pin after the first splash would have helped. Quirky finish aside, this is still a very strong performance from Tanahashi and it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain the momentum throughout his title reign. ***1/4
Conclusion: New Japan is off to a hella fun start in 2009 if this is any indication, the tag titles match and the Akiyama/Nakanishi match are the only real black marks, and they’re both counterbalanced with the other title matches and the other NJ/NOAH match. Definite recommendation to pick up this show.
For more of Mike Campbell's reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com