Welcome, cats and kittens, to yet another installment of the only reviews that take 2 months to get Japan and back, Cewsh Reviews! We have a special treat for you tonight, as we travel back to Japan for what has become easily the second largest and most significant event of the wrestling year, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom VII. Over the past few years, New Japan Pro Wrestling has transformed itself from the least rotten apple in a rotten bunch of Japanese promotions to I don’t even know man. Some kind of super apple? An apple stuffed with diamonds or something? I’m not Dr Analogy, guys. Anyway, New Japan has been on a roll completely unmatched by any wrestling company since the Attitude Era, and now we’ve come to their version of the Rock vs. Steve Austin at their version of Wrestlemania. Yeah, it’s that on. Okada and Tanahashi are going to meet tonight in one of the biggest and most important matches of this decade. But hey, that’s only one match on one of the most stacked cards of the year. Want to see if this is all just empty hype? Well then read on, boys and girls. You won’t be disappointed.
Now we recommend watching the show alongside the review so you can see for yourself what we’re talking about, and you can do that by going over to our friends at Rudo Reels and scooping up a copy for 4 measly bucks. Just click on this dramatically oversized banner before you go on any further, grab the show, (in DVD or Download form,) and come back when you’re ready to hit play. Or just read up and investigate later. We’re pretty confident you’ll want to after you read what lies ahead.
He showed up on talk shows, every product you can imagine as a spokesman, and became the first black IWGP Heavyweight Champion along the way. This is like if Lawrence Taylor were wrestling Yokozuna in a random tag match on the undercard in the 90s. Which is insane to think about, but somehow works here.
Defrost: Now the match is no good, but it is fun as hell even as Bob Sapp wanders around the ring aimlessly and no one has any idea what is going on and Announcer Nogami throws the worst clothesline of all time.
As bad as it is it is fun to watch. Maybe in a car crash sorta way. Maybe as a New Japan fan it is possible to feel that way while someone just parachuting in would just see a shit match. But it had a goofy charm to me.
Defrost: NEVER stands for New Blood, Evolution, Valiantly, Eternal, and Radical. Ah, Japan.Engrish everybody. So anyway this New Blood title is held by 40 year old Masato Tanaka. And he’s defending it here against a guy who has been in the business for over 10 years. Methinks someone is confused on how to use this title.
Cewsh: I’m guessing that you haven’t been watching Ring of Honor for the past few years, since you probably aren’t an immediate family member of someone on that roster. As such, you may not have seen Shelton Benjamin since he left WWE, but it’s likely that you can close your eyes right now and picture a Shelton Benjamin match. Go ahead and give it a try, I’ll wait here.
Doop doop doop.
Okay, you have it? Great. Now, did that match involve Shelton doing all manner of athletic things, like jumping straight to the top rope from the ring, and doing his big flippy to the outside?
Yep, that’s what I thought. But despite the exciting athleticism, did the match leave you oddly bored and unattached, like something in it just didn’t click right? Yes, that too? Well blow my doors down, I must be a psychic! Or, more likely, I also just finished watching a Shelton Benajmin match, and am having that exact same reaction to it.
It really isn’t that this match is BAD persay. Benjamin and Tanaka don’t really have BAD matches. Everything here is crisp, well executed, and moves along at a pleasant clip. But just like nearly every singles match I have ever seen Benjamin compete in, in just feels soulless. He does his spots, paints by the numbers, and then we’re off to the next match. It never engages, and tries it’s best to remain unnoticed, like a hipster at a metal concert. If a Shelton Benjamin match is the worst match on your card, then you’ve probably got yourself a pretty damn good show. If it’s the best match on your card, you probably should have just aired 3 hours of your wrestlers fighting each other with puppets. Luckily for this show, we’re only two matches in, and things seem to be on the side of good.
70 out of 100
Defrost: This is the worst match on the show. I’m not a big Shelton Benjamin fan, and the match is short with a ton of interference and everything about this one is just blah. Crowd was uninterested. A chinlock in a 6 minute match. Had a shit finish. Felt like watching Raw.
Segment 4 – IWGP Tag Team Championships – Killer Elite Squad (c) (Davey Boy Smith and Lance Archer) vs. Sword and Guns (Hirooki Goto and Karl Anderson)
Defrost: This match is a rematch from the main event of the previous NJPW PPV where Sword and Guns, Hirooki Goto representing the Sword and Karl “The Machine Gun” Anderson representing the obvious, defeated the Killer Elite Squad to win the World Tag League tournament and earn this shot at the IWGP Tag Titles.
So I take it El Hijo Del Davey Boy Smith and TAKA Michinoku can’t ride bikes since only Archer entered the arena on a motorcycle. TAKA is in the Suzuki-Gun stable with Smith and Archer and comes to the ring with them for all their matches.
Cewsh: First of all, let’s just all stop and take a moment to enjoy the fact that there is a tag team in the world named Sword and Guns, so named because the guys involved carry a sword and fire imaginary guns respectively.
It’s the most literally appropriate team name of all time and for that I salute them.
On the other hand, their opponents, and the defending champions here, are the Killer Elite Squad. But before they were named like the most generic first person shooter of all time, they were WWE jobber Vance Archer and WWE Tag Team Champion/jobber DH Smith. There’s really no story behind their random decision to team up beyond the fact that they’re two big white guys in New Japan, and that’s good enough to make you a strong heel tag team in Japan. There’s a long proud history of American, (and Canadian,) wrestlers coming to Japan to act as monster heels for the heroic Japanese defenders to defeat and that trope will end right around the time that WWE pushes a black guy without referring to him as being “from the streets.”
Now I’m going to ask you to forget anything that you may know about those two guys as performers prior to this match, because up until this current run in Japan they were both equal parts green and douchey, with not a lot in between to mistake for actual talent. But somehow teaming together has really brought out the best in both men, and as a result, they are absolutely killing it as two monster shit kickers all of a sudden. This match is a great illustration of that too. Hirooki Goto is an established star in New Japan, on par with a guy like Daniel Bryan in WWE at this point, and Karl Anderson winds up getting a title shot at the very next pay per view, so they aren’t facing two nobodies, but they plow through them like sumo wrestlers at a buffet. They even take the time to mock the fans and show some really unexpected charisma along the way, which is something I really never thought I’d have to type during a Lance Hoyt match. Especially one where he shows up on a motorcycle while being dressed like some kind of menstruation demon.
In the end, the bad guys waste Anderson and Goto with their huge mega powerbomb finisher, even giving it twice to Goto, and the match ends with these two looking like a completely unstoppable force. So much of tag team wrestling is really built on top of establishing a relationship between the two guys and giving them an archetype to fit for easy consumption, and New Japan has outdone themselves in both respects here. Down the line, the team that beats KES will get one hell of a match out of them, and this is a big honking step along the way.
Defrost: This was a good match especially in the finishing stretch. I like the Killer Elite Squad way more than I ever expected to given that both Smith and Archer were such duds in the USA. Also Archer has a tramp stamp. They’ve shown a ton of charisma I did not know they had, I’d put Archer ahead of Smith on that account, and they work really well together hiding things that may pop up in singles.
Goto and Anderson of Sword and Guns can go, so put that together and the match was going to be fine. I think it benefited from being shorter than their previous match which being a PPV main event went around 20 minutes which is too long for this match up and because of that felt padded whereas the padding was gone in this one. Good match and the start of a streak on this show.
Defrost: This is their third singles match at the January 4th Tokyo Dome show. Their first was in 2007 when Minoru Suzuki successfully defended the Triple Crown, All Japan Pro Wrestling’s version of the World Heavyweight Title, and 2011 where Nagata picked up the victory. This match came about with Nagata having issues with Suzuki-Gun especially Taichi who seconded Suzuki in this match.
As great as this match is the best part is easily Minoru Suzuki’s entrance. As a matter of fact as great as this entire show is, and it is quite great, Minoru Suzuki’s entrance is the best part of it. Minoru Suzuki has arguably the best theme song in wrestling. The song is performed by Ayumi Nakamura who was a huge deal when Minoru Suzuki broke into the business. His big goal as a wrestler was to have her sing his theme song. Fast forward a few years later and Suzuki meets Ayumi Nakamura. He asks her to make a theme song. She goes to a few Pancrase shows, Pancrase was a shoot promotion founded by Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki, and wrote his theme song. She performed it on this show. It was awesome.
Cewsh: One of the things that people seem to know about Japanese wrestling, even if they know little else, is that it involves people hitting each other really hard. This prevalence of “stiffness” (HEYO) has been held up as both a major pro and con of Japanese wrestling to people becoming newly acquainted with it. The basic idea is this. In Japan they never really had a big hokey promotion like WWE come along and rub your face in how not real everything is, and it is a culture heavily centered on respect for the warrior spirit and toughness in general. So while it is understood that wrestling is predetermined, there remains a serious focus on wrestlers showing that they’re crazy tough bastards who can take dumptrucks full of punishment and dish it right back out. The resilience to pain, and the fire inside that keeps wrestlers going despite being dropped on their heads is called “Fighting Spirit” and it isn’t just a big deal in Japan, it’s basically the gooey chocolate center of every significant match you will ever see.
Now this isn’t as foreign a concept as you might think from hearing about it. When John Cena gets murdered by Brock Lesnar and desperately fights back while feeding on the crowd, that’s Fighting Spirit. It’s a central concept to wrestling. It’s just that in Japan they have a tendency to express it by HITTING EACH OTHER IN THE FACE AS HARD AS THEY CAN.
The reason I’m bringing this up now is because this is a match between a genuine MMA badass, (Minoru Suzuki,) and a man renowned for his technical prowess and tough bastardry, (Yuji Nagata.) So when I tell you that these two beat the fuck out of each other, well…
But this isn’t done just for the sake of it. These are two of the most respected and credible badasses in Japanese wrestling, and they’re having a match to determine who is king shitkicker here. Arm drags aren’t going to play a major part.
They start out trading blows the likes of which are more commonly associated with Norse gods who carry hammers and date Natalie Portman. Suzuki, for his part, plays the same role he plays in every match he’s in. He is a supremely gifted fighter who is dangerous both standing and on the mat, and he’s so good that he actively mocks his opponents the entire time he’s beating them up and they are powerless to stop it. Basically, he’s Anderson Silva with wacky hair. Plus, he has his douchey sidekick hitting everything that moves with a chair on the outside of the ring, and takes full advantage of that to deal some more heinous damage.
But Nagata is too damn good for Suzuki to play that game with, so instead Suzuki switches to trying to get a submission and a great deal of this match takes place on the mat as Suzuki grinds Nagata’s bones to dust to make his bread. But if you read how this match review began, you probably have an idea of where this is going. Nagata summons all of his badassious powers, launches and devastating comeback that Suzuki has no answer for, and locks in his famous arm bar which is always accompanied by a look on Nagata’s face somewhere between the Undertaker and me 12 seconds into sex with Salma Hayek.
Game over doesn’t even fully say it.
This is one of those matches that may be an acquired taste for a new puro watcher. Without knowing why these guys are fighting, or what their characters are, it may well come off as two dudes slapping each other in the face apropos of nothing, and then sitting on each other for 15 minutes. But like a lot of things, once you delve deeper and become familiar with the characters and the Japanese style, this transforms into an epic match between two titans who throw boulders at each other until the good guy emerges victorious. It’s a great story and a very good match. So if this is your first Japanese show, make a note of this one and come back to it later. There might me more here for you than you could begin to guess.
80 out of 100
Cewsh’s Seal of Approval
Defrost: Great match. You know what you’re getting from these two. They can bring the hate. The bring the showmanship, they bring the workrate, you name it they can bring it. You have Taichi getting involved and hitting everyone in the Tokyo Dome with a chair. Nagata getting his revenge on Taichi. Nagata overcoming Suzuki, and taking their series 2-1. Unless there is a fourth match someday. Who knows. Match ruled go watch it.
Defrost: For the better part of a two years these three have traded the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title back and forth among each other. Devitt beat Ibushi. Then Ibushi beat Devitt. Then Low Ki beat Devitt. Then Ibushi beat Low Ki. Then Low Ki beat Ibushi. Then Devitt beat Low Ki. After that last one Devitt proposed this three way match at the Tokyo Dome to settle things once and for all. This is the first time the IWGP Jr Title was ever defended in a three way match.
Cewsh: If you are watching this show as your first entry into Japanese wrestling, this will be your favorite match. I say that with absolute confidence.
Defrost already explained the basic build to this match, but let’s be clear. This isn’t just about a feud between these three men. This is merely the tail on a mega feud involving these three, Rysuke Taguchi, Kenny Omega, Davey Richards and Rocky Romero that has been raging for years now. Somewhere around the time Jado and Gedo took over booking New Japan, a great amount of attention was paid on this competition between this new crop of Junior Heavyweights to determine who was the King of Flips. They phased out the legends like Jushin Liger to smooth the way for this enormous game of King of the Mountain to consume the undercard of event after event. It involved tag teams, alliances, and more great matches that I could begin to discuss. But at the end of it all, these were the three standing at the top of the mountain. So this match isn’t just about the title or about the rivalry. This match will determine once and for all who the Junior Ace of this generation is.
If it takes you awhile to adjust to a crusierweight match having this kind of actual significance on a show, I don’t blame you.
But who are these men competing for the throne? Well let’s meet them.
First we have Low Ki.
If you’ve followed the American independent scene at any point in the past decade, watched New Japan in the past half decade, or watched TNA or WWE in 2007 or 2010 respectively, you’ve seen him before. And if you’ve seen him once, I doubt you’ll forget it. He kicks like a freight train and is perhaps the most intense wrestler to ever live. Appropriately, he dressed as a video game character for this match. But since he chose the emotionless assassin Agent 47 from the Hitman games, it still suits.(Get it? Suits! AHAHAHAHA.)
Then we have Kota Ibushi.
Now aside from being the cover of Tiger Beat magazine, Ibushi is primarily known for being very likely the finest high flyer in professional wrestling. He’s in rarified air up there with guys like PAC and AJ Styles, and in recent years he’s changed from a simple spot monkey to someone who has grown up into a serious threat right in front of our eyes. He also works for DDT, which means he sometimes wrestles invisible people and washing machines.
And then there’s our champion, Prince Devitt.
Devitt is Irish, and is one of the most successful gaijin, (foreign worker,) of this era. He barely speaks, comes out to “You’re The Best Around” by Joe Esposito, and is the best all around performer of the three. He’s also been the unofficial face of this division for years and is trying to make that official here in this match. He once had a match with Naomichi Marufuji that was so good I put down a sandwich to applaud my computer monitor. A goddamn meatball sub for fuck’s sake.
So mix all of these ingredients up into a big bowl and what do you get?
Defrost: This is the best three way match I have ever seen. It is amazing how they flowed from one spot to another so seamlessly with such complexity and screwed nothing up. Especially astounding since one of them was wearing a suit the entire time.
For whatever reason Low Ki worked the entire match dressed as Agent 47 from the Hitman video game series. What also stands out is that for at least two of the three this is not a normal match. Low Ki’s experience with this type of match is well known beginning with the famous main event on the first Ring of Honor show against Christopher Daniels and Bryan Danielson. As for Ibushi DDT has all manner of wacky matches, but I can find no three way match for him, and unless Devitt worked one in Ireland he was new to this too. So that this worked out was a testament to the talent involved.
Cewsh: The first minute of this match will take your breath away. The speed and precision these guys have is so completely above and beyond anything going on in mainstream wrestling right now that it’s absolutely stunning to see it in action. After that they settle in to your usual triple threat tropes, like one guy being outside the ring at a time, but what is going on inside the ring is so entirely spectacular that it’s hard to even take notice of anything else.
Now Lo Ki is the heel here, so to a large extent, this match features him getting his ass kicked by the other two until we can sneak attack his way back into things and obliterate people with his feet. And, just in case you already forgot that picture up there, I want to make it clear to you that Low Ki does some of the most athletically impressive things you’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring while wearing a FULL FUCKING SUIT. He doesn’t even take off the jacket until about 10 minutes in. So yeah, he’s pretty awesome. Not to be outdone though, Devitt and Ibushi start competing for the awesomesauce award by busting out inventive and beautiful moves all over the place to the increasingly loud OOOOOOs of the crowd. Of course, if we’re talking spectacular moves, then we’re talking about an arms race that Ibsuhi is going to win walking away.
I could keep kissing these guys asses all day, but the secret of this match isn’t in the moves or even in their amazing chemistry and skill. The magic comes from the fact that it just doesn’t fucking let up. This is 15 straight minutes at 110 miles per hour, and while that might otherwise be exhausting, the sheer aesthetic appeal and the constant theme of one-ups-manship makes it impossible to be bored. Every time you think you’ve seen the best thing you’ll see all night they top it, until finally Devitt finishes the whole thing with a move so beautiful that it makes for the only possible appropriate ending. The Super Bloody Sunday.
The Junior Generation Ace is crowned, the pretenders have been dismissed. Done and done.
This match is pure spectacle. These three had the usually reserved Japanese crowd going wild, which is not common for matches of this kind at all. These three all made stars out of each other, and with this match they put the cap on the greatest era of crusierweight wrestling since the late 90s. You might find this match a bit spotty, you might find the storytelling a little lacking, and hell, you might think that Hitman is a stupid game. But if you can’t find anything here to entertain you then you don’t have a pulse.
90 out of 100
Cewsh’s Seal of Approval
Defrost: This match was originally slated to be Daichi Hashimoto’s debut in New Japan but a week before the event he broke his arm and was replaced with Otani. Shinjiro Otani was a mainstay in New Japan in the 1990s before heading over to Zero-1 so you have a throwback 1990s thing going on here up to the inclusion of Hidekazu Tanaka who was the ring announcer during the 1990s boom period. Think Howard Finkel but Japanese.
Cewsh: One of the things that has made New Japan one of the great wrestling success stories of our generation is the luck/intelligent design behind having so many incredible legends still hanging around, ready and able to deliver a match when called upon. By placing matches like this with such amazing established Hall of Fame talent on a card, you ease the responsibility on the younger guys to carry all of the weight, and this is a major part of what allowed Hiroshi Tanahashi to develop to the point where he could become the single greatest draw not named The Rock in the wrestling world. The match quality might not be anywhere near where it once was, but there will always, always, always be a market for a match between great all time legends. And this is the equivalent of Shawn Michaels and X-Pac against Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, (which would be weird and would make Triple H feel super left out.) Whatever their issues and whatever their status, when that match gets announced, you perk up. And so it is here.
The match is the kind of match you get when a bunch of charismatic old timers come together and have their weaknesses hidden well. It was fun, the crowd loved it, and it satisfied an eternal need to see our favorites in whatever way we can get them. Works just fine for me.
77 out of 100
Defrost: I sorta feel like I say the same thing every year. Keiji Muto is 50 years old as has no knees. Big moves from the Takada match. Etc. The thing is, in this environment it does work. Are there diminishing returns on the 97th Shining Wizard? Yes, but the crowd is into these three guys and their stuff. All four know how to work within their limitations because they’re smart wrestlers. Asking Muto to work half an hour in a singles match last year was not the way to use him even with someone as great as Tetsuya Naito. This was the perfect spot, the perfect matchup, and the perfect place for this. A smartly worked match by four veterans that was more than enjoyable; it was pretty damn good. The real complaint in this match is the terrible camera direction going on. The choice of shots they go to is random and a lot of the time they miss the action. This is the only match that happens on, and really I have no memory of it on a New Japan show going back many many years. Weird.
Defrost: Ah, now we reach this point of the card. As interesting as the stuff on camera is, the stuff behind the scenes is far more compelling. Takaaki Kidani, owner of Bushiroad, (parent company of New Japan Pro Wrestling,) hired Katsuyori Shibata and Kazushi Sakuraba without the knowledge of anyone else in the company not even bookers, Jado and Gedo. Now a bit of context in regard to Mr. Shibata. In the early days of the last decade New Japan wanted to recreate the Three Musketeer concept that had brought them so much success in the 1990s, (Cewsh Note: The original Three Musketeers were Masahiro Chono, Keiji Muto and Shinya Hashimoto and are not to be confused with All Japan’s Four Pillars of Heaven.) The three wrestlers pegged for this new role were Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Katsuyori Shibata. When years of mismanagement brought New Japan perilously close to the end, Shibata was off trying to be the Ace of wrestling promotion startups that quickly died; and was busy getting his ass kicked over and over again in MMA fights.
So when business turned around and Shibata oh so conveniently walked back through the door, you can guess how Tanahashi and Nakamura, who have spent over half a decade rebuilding the place, reacted. They did not want him there at all. Now, in Japan the top guys are the leaders of the locker room; a tradition that goes back to Rikidozan and can be seen most glaringly with the All Japan/NOAH split where Mitsuharu Misawa quit the company and 95% of the roster went with him. So Tanahashi and Nakamura being against the hiring means everyone is against the hiring, and the way Kidani went about it to begin with was a mess too. But his involvement is another chapter to the story.
Cewsh: So what happens when an entitled dickhead with freaknasty fighting abilities goes up against an angry bear of a man with violence on his mind? You can probably rule out picnics and anything to do with flowers.
Now on the surface, this appears to be a mismatch. Makabe has about 4 inches and 50 pounds on Shibata, and all 50 of those pounds are made out of aggression. But Shibata didn’t become the third Musketeer by being a pushover to guys bigger than him, and the second the bell rings, he goes after Makabe like the man just ate the last Choco Taco in the world. And the best thing about it all is that neither man has any desire to cheat or take shortcuts to this asskicking. When they run into each other outside the ring, they each gesture to the ring and climb in together before continuing to administer facial pain that would have made a medieval surgeon jealous.
Before long, Makabe is tumbling around, having been knocked loopy by some incredibly stiff kicks from Shibata. Makabe keeps firing up in his tough bastard way, but he seems dazed and confused by the complex brian surgery that Shibata is performing on him with his feet. But then, well, you’ve watched enough wrestling matches to know how this is going to go. Makabe catches Shibata’s boot on one of it’s blurring cranium orbits, shoots Shibata one of the great “you’re nicked, chum” looks of all time, and proceeds to get do some stomping until Shibata is ground up into paste.
THEN he powerbombs Shibata right through a table onto his neck.
But fuck that, man. Shibata didn’t arrive out of obscurity to be pushed around big a big ape with chain fetish. Makabe started hitting Shibata with his sturdiest lariats, but the seemingly over matched Shibata stands strong and refuses to go down again and again as the crowd “Oohs” and “Aahs” their excitement.
But even the hardest men can’t last forever, (no there’s nothing sexual about that sentence,) and Makabe wears Shibata down with blow after blow. Shibata manages to lock on a desperation Rear Naked Choke hold, but by now Tyrannosaurus Togi is in full swing, and he bulldozes his way out of it, drops Shibata with one more lariat and hits the King Kong Knee Drop from the top rope to win the match.
Much like the triple threat match, this thing is a downhill sprint from start to finish. The match doesn’t last overly long, but they still managed to say everything they need to say while condensing it down to the simplest possible match they could do. As a result, in less than 10 minutes they made Makabe look like a heroic beast of a man, made Shibata look even more credible in losing than he did coming in, and had themselves a great match in the process. Some people can’t do it in 20. They did it in 10. Not too shabby.
Cewsh’s Seal of Approval
Defrost: This ruled. This felt intense. This felt like a fight.
You could feel the hate. The crowd was awesome. Makabe was awesome. Shibata was awesome. They play their roles so well. They tell an entire story in less than 10 minutes, it is easily in the top 10 sub 10 minute matches I have seen, where the shortness helps pack so much in that it intensifies everything and creates such an amazing atmosphere. The crowd hates Shibata so much and loves Makabe so much and there is a big fight feel to this that I cannot gush enough about. Love this match. And good for Shibata bringing it like this under the circumstances, which one would not expect given his history.
Defrost: And now for the rest of the Kidani story. Kidani seconded Sakuraba in this match. Word is that Kidani wanted both Sakuraba and Shibata to go over and become the leaders of an invading heel MMA stable. This did not happen and Kidani resigned his post in the company. To understand this meltdown you have to go back to why New Japan was in such dire straights in the mid 2000s. In the late 90s, Antonio Inoki fell in love with MMA and brought in MMA fighters to beat pro wrestlers in shit wrestling matches and sent wrestlers off to the slaughter in MMA fights with the likes of Cro Cop and Fedor. So when the creepy doll kissing guy pops up proposing an MMA invasion and MMA guys going over, the New Japan crew started having ‘Nam style flashbacks and all manner of disarray started going on backstage. To top it off, Kidani’s great idol in wrestling is, of all people, Eric “2 successful years out of 25 and most of that was lifting Zane Bresloff’s ideas” Bischoff. You can see the issue. And now you know the rest of the story.
Cewsh: I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t have much interest in MMA, so I went all the way until this year before finding out who Kazushi Sakuraba was or why he was important. But when I did hear his name, the words I kept hearing were “Gracie Hunter”. Since even people who actually do live under rocks know who the Gracie family is, I wondered who this guy was who was enough of a badass to be considered a scourge on the entire family. And then I found out.
Now the story behind this match is that Nakamura wants to prove himself against the best. Sakuraba invaded his company, and Nakamura is putting aside his usual shenanigans to prove that this is his house and he’s every bit as good as the great Sakuraba. So Nakamura engages Sakuraba on the mat and tries to show his MMA prowess, but it quickly becomes clear that this is a path destined for disaster. Sakuraba is just way too experienced at that, and he presses the advantage at all times, leaving Nakamura at a severe disadvantage for much of the first half of this match. But while Sakuraba has the clear advantage on the ground, they’re near equals at striking, and most importantly, Nakamura knows professional wrestling. In trying to adapt to wrestling in his first singles match in years, Sakuraba looks uncomfortable and confused by Nakamura’s wacky antics. It isn’t enough to put Nakamura out in front, but it creates a stalemate that goes back and forth as the match goes on.
Finally, after a struggle that was exhausting just to watch, Nakamura manages to find his way through all of Sakuraba’s submissions and sneaks a gigantic Boma Ye, (running knee strike to the face,) in between Sakuraba’s defenses. Then, one more thunderous Boma Ye later, we have a winner. Swag style.
I know my write up has completely undersold this match because I just don’t have a knowledge of MMA deep enough to give you an impassioned write up of the fluid holds and reversals and changes in control that were packed into this match right on top of each other. MMA fan or not, though, this was an incredible display that really showed what a worked MMA match can be when executed properly. To make something as dry as 10 minutes of mat work this thrilling is an accomplishment, and to do it all so smoothly is something rare and great. This isn’t my favorite match on this card, but for a certain type of fan, it may well be the best.
Cewsh’s Seal of Approval
Defrost: For my money, this is the match of the night on the best wrestling card of all time. Shoot style match. Old UWFi throwback. Not really a fan of the style personally to be honest. If I want to see a shoot I’ll watch UFC. If I want to watch wrestling someone best be jumping off something. That said this match is great. Very great. Who would have thunk it that Kazushi Sakuraba would be in a pro wrestling MOTYC in 2013? The big spots of the match involved Sakuraba trying to get Nakamura into the Kimura, (the arm submission that made Sakuraba legendary in his fights with the Gracies,) and Nakamura fighting him off. Not only that, but Nakamura busted out the Landslide a move he hasn’t used in years and I am a mark for stuff like that.
I did not see this level of quality coming. Just an amazing match.
Shinsuke Nakamura Over Katsura Shibata Following A Boma Ye.
Defrost: The Ace of the Universe vs. The Rainmaker. One year in the making in the Big Egg Dome. One year to the day Okada returned from the hellscape known as Total Nonstop Action to begin his ascent as the quickest rising star in wrestling. One year to the day Okada first confronted Hiroshi Tanahashi to demand a shot at the IWGP Title. 11 months after Okada ended Tanahashi’s 404 day reign as Champion. 6 months after Tanahashi got that title back. 4 months after Okada won the G1 Climax. 1 month after Okada was named Tokyo Sports 2012 MVP. This is the match that drew the biggest crowd for New Japan since 2003. This is the main event of the best show I have ever seen.
Cewsh: No pressure though, right? It’s only the titanic clash between the premier wrestler of our era and his greatest rival, a man who is so awesome his pose has magical control over the zoom lens of any camera.
You might recall that earlier this year in my year end awards, I declared this as the best feud of 2012. It really wasn’t a hard decision. As so many of the classic storylines in wrestling go, the whole thing is very simple. Hiroshi Tanahashi is the face of New Japan, it’s top babyface and the most charismatic draw they’ve had since the 90s. Okada is a guy who toiled in obscurity before bursting into the public consciousness with a moment of pure transcendence that catapulted him to the top of the company and made him a permanent thorn in Tanahashi’s paw. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it actually kind of mirrors the way the John Cena/CM Punk feud developed, except that in Japan, CM Punk wouldn’t have been considered cool for disrespecting the champ. When Okada tried it he got booed out of every building he walked in to until in became clear to everyone that there was something magical here.
So Okada beat Tanahashi, Tanahashi beat Okada back, and now after Okada won the G1 Climax, (a tournament with a title shot to the winner at Wrestle Kingdom like a mashup of King of the Ring and the Royal Rumble,) they’re on the fast track to the rubber match of the decade. There are only two ways this match can go. Either Okada wins and he becomes cemented as the next big thing once and for all, or Tanahashi wins for the happy ending the fans badly want. Takes your sides and place your bets. It’s main event time.
You know what, this time around I think I’m going to skip the play by play and go straight to the platitudes. This match is fucking fantastic. It has literally everything that a main event match should have. A responsive audience, a heated rivalry, some brawling, some matwork, plenty of fan service, some cool spots, great counters, all of the finishing moves and even a little high flying where appropriate.
I’m not going to talk you through this match move by move because frankly that would steal away from part of what makes this match so great. This match changes styles minute to minute and it creates an incredible hybrid experience, almost summarizing the entire rest of the show up to this point. And when this match comes to an end, and the King wears his Golden Abs proudly, it goes without saying that that is a title that is not only well earned, but all the more prestigious for having been defended in this fashion.
Here’s your friendly courtesy reminder. Hiroshi Tanahashi has never gotten less than a 90 in any singles match of his that we’ve reviewed. Do you really think he’s about to start now?
Cewsh’s Seal of Approval
Defrost: This is a great match that I would rate 2nd among their 3 title matches.This is a match that would could be called the best match on just about any card and no one would bat an eyelash. There are great shows you could parachute this into and have it be the best match. On this show you could argue it was fifth best. Just an amazing show. Now I do a little thing where I review series of matches, and the last one I did was Tanahashi and Okada. In that review, I speculated that this match would come down to the Rainmaker, which no one has kicked out of, and the Tombstone Piledriver. It did. To be fair it was an easy bet seeing as how great these two are they would not leave continuity to the wayside. By the way, as an experiment to see if Cewsh actually reads what I write he can insert a link to said review if he likes
(Cewsh Note: I totally do. Tanahashi vs. Okada In Three Acts)
One other thing I have to mention is the commentary. For the entire show a girl from AKB48 is on commentary. I can’t even begin to explain AKB48 that’s some shit you gotta Google. From everything I know she actually is a big wrestling fan. I want that stated before I make fun of her. Also during the main event Daigo, the lead singer of the band Breakerz, which performed before the main event, joined commentary. Now again, from what I can tell the AKB48 girl is really into wrestling. If thrown out there I’d probably say the same three things over and over too. But I know just enough Japanese to make it comical. She says, “Sugoi”, (which roughly translates as “Awesome”,) about 978 times over the course of the show and half of those are during the main event. Just something I felt the need to bring up.
Cewsh: Have you ever watched a wrestling show that was so good that you actually felt worn out afterwards? Where the emotional roller coaster ride that the show took you on was so thorough and substantial that you buzzed about it for days afterwards? Yeah, this is one of those shows for me. In fact, this review is so damn late simply because it took me a month to come up with the words to put it all into perspective, because it’s a hell of a lot better review when I explain to you why things are the way the are rather than me just yelling WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO and giving every match a 100. I don’t have a ton of credibility, but even I would lose some after that.
So here it is, the perfect show to begin your trip into the strange and wonderful world of Japanese wrestling. It may be unusual, it may be overwhelming and it may be hard at first. But if you take our hand and let us guide you through the veil into the gumdrop mountains beyond, I promise you that it will be worth your while. Use this review as your guidebook and watch this show. If you find nothing for you, you can feel free to call me an idiot. But when you want to join the Tanahashi Fan Club (Charter #12876) I’ll be right here waiting.
Cewsh Note: This score makes this the third best reviewed show in Cewsh Reviews history. Trailing only TNA Destination X 2011 (82.2) and WWE Summerslam 2002 (81.8).
Defrost: I have watched wrestling all my life. I have watched WWF, WCW, ECW, AAA, CMLL, New Japan, All Japan, Dragon Gate, NOAH, etc. I have been to Wrestlemania. I have seen Wrestlemania X-7, the first Super J Cup, Dreamslam. If you were to ask me I would tell you this is the greatest wrestling show of all time. Even with the lackluster NEVER Title match there is no show to the quality of this one. Hell, even the concert didn’t suck and those always suck on wrestling shows.