King of Pro Wrestling 2017 Review: Everything Is Rainmaker

I am SO happy to have New Japan back in my life after a two-week hiatus. It was getting taxing having to turn to WWE for my wrestling fix for a while there (though I’ll admit, Hell in a Cell exceeded my expectations). NJPW came out swinging with another big show that, while far from their best of the year, still delivered on their usual level of great in-ring performances and left us with a lot to unpack. With Power Struggle on the horizon in November, where are we headed from here?

Striking Down The Gatekeeper: Tetsuya Naito def. Tomohiro Ishii to retain the G1 Climax Briefcase

Naito may have more momentum behind him than any other wrestler in the world right now. I think the guy is the bee’s knees, and even I forget how over he is sometimes…but the crowd was quick to remind me from the moment his music hit. Ishii, on the other hand, is in kind of a weird spot. He’s also in the middle of the best run of his career, but as fantastic as his work is, it’s pretty clear that he’s just about hit his ceiling. There’s no denying that he’s one of the best workers in NJPW, but having yet to hit perennial main event status at 41 years old means there’s very little chance of him getting there. He may have had Naito’s number on two separate occasions this year, but on this night, his destiny was Destino. The briefcase would not, could not, change hands.

This match was every bit as good as I expected it to be, far better than their previous two bouts. This was the first time I’ve ever seen anyone attack Naito during his signature Tranquilo pose, and Ishii never let up with the viciousness, as is his MO. My favorite thing about this match is how beastly the Stone Pitbull looked even in defeat. Naito bumped like a boss for him, and Ishii no-sold some devastating offense, including that sickening back-of-the-head top rope dropkick that I wish guys in this company would stop using (seriously, their main event guys are all going to need neck surgery at some point). Fantastic stuff, easily the second best match of the night.

The Record-Breaking Champion: Kazuchika Okada def. EVIL to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title

Some people might get upset at me for saying this, but despite putting on yet another technically excellent match, I couldn’t get as invested in this as I was in their G1 match, for two reasons. For one, this had to follow some unbelievable matches that I was admittedly way more hyped for in KUSHIDA vs. Ospreay and Naito vs. Ishii. For two, the finish here felt even more certain than the battle for the briefcase that preceded it. Not only did an Okada win here lock in the absolute money Tokyo Dome main event of Okada and Naito, but it meant Okada breaking Shinya Hashimoto’s record for single longest IWGP title reign, something Gedo no doubt wanted to further cement the already-legendary career of the (still very young) new face of his company. And who can blame him?

Despite my unfortunate lack of hype, this match still delivered even if it didn’t have the same level of excitement and intensity that EVIL’s upset over the champ in the G1 did. The spot where a running Okada ducked a chair being thrown at him and then jumped the guardrail to crossbody EVIL into the first row of seats was a great callback to the flying chair to the head that connected in their previous showdowns. That Okada got booed while putting the boots to his downed challenger also speaks volumes about how much EVIL’s stock has risen this year. The finish here may not have been in doubt, but don’t be surprised if the LIJ member breaks from the faction as part of a big singles push next year.

The post-match promo was pretty standard stage-setting for the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom main event. Gedo says EVIL never had a chance of beating Superman and calls out Naito. Naito comes out, cuts a short babyface promo before Okada heelishly cuts him off and tells him to leave, and Naito complies (which I’m not a fan of; I get it’s Tranquilo, but shouldn’t he have given him a little more attitude back?). Okada cuts a cocky promo saying that he can’t wait for the Tokyo Dome and he will make it rain on January 4th. The hype begins!

Aside: thanks to The Lion Marks for the promo translations! They have English transcriptions up for a great deal of NJPW content shortly after it goes out for us gaijin marks. Check em out at http://www.thelionmarks.com

Match Of The Night: Will Ospreay def. KUSHIDA for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title

My. God. This. MATCH!!!

KUSHIDA has been on such a tear this year that any time he’s in a title bout, it’s pretty much must-watch. And even though I’m not the biggest Will Ospreay fan in the world, there’s no denying that these two guys absolutely tore the house down. Incredibly fast paced straight out of the gate, even for a juniors match, before KUSHIDA slowed it down with grappling to make the story all about Ospreay’s high-flying offense and incredible agility against KUSHIDA’s constant attempts to ground, pound, and submit him. He even busted out a gross-looking Cattle Mutilation variant that got a Bryan Danielson reference out of commentary. The pace quickened again leading into the final ten minutes, and KUSHIDA kicked out of a reverse 450 splash that I thought for sure was the finish. When KUSHIDA reversed an OsCutter attempt into the Hoverboard Lock, THE CROWD COMPLETELY LOST THEIR MINDS. AS DID I. When Will finally got the pinfall to win his first title in New Japan, the pop was enormous. Seriously, if you only watch one match from this show, make it this one. Words don’t do it justice.

Hiromu comes out to interrupt the victory celebration, but once again, before he can get a word in on the mic, Marty Scurll attacks him and breaks his fingers! Scurll issues the challenge to Ospreay, and it looks like we have our Junior Heavyweight Title bout set for Power Struggle! As bad as I feel for Hiromu, this has to be leading to a big match for him at Wrestle Kingdom, right?

…right?

Roppongi Nights, Roppongi Lights (Em Up): Roppongi 3000 def. Funky Future for the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles

I was way, way off on my prediction on this one. The people who called that Rocky Romero was bringing in a team to manage rather than just getting a new tag partner were spot-on; no Jay White, no Sami Callihan, it was former Young Lions Sho and Yo returning from excursion to challenge the champs. So how was their (re)debut?

Pretty good. I’ve never seen any of their work before, but they seemed quick and crisp with all of their offense, and there’s no doubt that Ricochet and Taguchi are great opponents to have for your first big match back. I recall the match being entertaining, but I don’t remember all that much as far as specific moments go, so it clearly got overshadowed by the bigger contests on the card. Roppongi 3K picked up a big win over the champs with a modified 3D called…

…wait for it…

…the 3K. Kind of adorable, I have to admit. I chuckled.

This is just one match though, so we’ll see how the rookie champs do going forward. Particularly with the Super Junior Tag Tournament right around the corner!

Everyone Dies: Killer Elite Squad def. War Machine and Guerrillas of Destiny in an elimination match to retain the IWGP Tag Team titles

This one went just about the way I expected it to. No Suzuki-Gun interference, but this was a brutal match with weapons galore that saw GoD get eliminated first so we could all focus in on the current beef between KES and War Machine. There was a spot where each team hit their finisher on a member of an opposing team that got kickouts all around that I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about. Makes the individual guys who kicked out look strong, but years of watching WWE have gotten me REAL jaded on spamming finisher kickouts. The reliance on weapons also made this feel a little like a late 90s WWF hardcore match in places, albeit without any of the comedy. If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m actually not. My misgivings with certain spots aside, I appreciated how different this was from every other match on this show. A hard-hitting, beef-slamming-into-beef affair that dig drag a little in spots, but was decently entertaining overall. KES retains.

All The Rest

Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, & SANADA def. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, & Leo Tonga

It took a while, but in the opener, Hiromu Takahashi finally got his revenge against Bad Luck Fale for killing Daryl a few months back! Don Callis even explained Daryl’s sudden return to this mortal coil by saying he got “reconstructive cranial facial feline surgery”. That’s just great stuff. LIJ got the win when Fale picked up BUSHI for the Bad Luck Fall, but Hiromu taunted him with Daryl to get him to come after him, setting the trap. Some mist from BUSHI and a roll-up later, this mini angle was paid off at last! Really fun way to kick things off!

Toru Yano & Hirooki Goto def. Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.

I must have misunderstood something during the build to this, as I figured Goto was going to be Suzuki’s next challenger for the NEVER Openweight belt. Nope, looks like it’s Yano! A fun little semi-comedy match, commentary talked up how Suzuki still held a grudge against Yano for sneaking victories over him in the past. Unfortunately for him, his attempts to tie up and torture the trickster outside the ring backfired when the sneaky bastard low-blowed him and rolled back into the ring for the countout victory! To add insult to injury, Yano ran off with the NEVER title and Suzuki took out all of his considerable anger and frustration on the hapless Young Lions around the ringside area. Suzuki vs Yano, huh…? I’m actually looking forward to that one!

Marty Scurll, Cody, & Kenny Omega def. YOSHI-HASHI, Baretta, & Jado

I went in annoyed with this one. Yes, I’m still upset that YOSHI-HASHI is next in line for a shot at Omega’s US title. No, the fact that this match was actually enjoyable won’t placate me. But it helped a little, I guess…

A bit of comedy from the Bullet Club trio in this one, with a funny little spot where Scurll and then Omega tell their partners to put an increasingly large number of their boots up for facefirst turnbuckle smashes only for it to ultimately backfire on them, to their over-the-top chagrin.  Scurll ultimately gets the submission on Jado with the crossface chickenwing to set him up for the challenge he issued to Ospreay later in the evening. Not too shabby, but I’m still gonna keep pouting about the US title situation until this dumb feud is over with. *hmph*

Juice Robinson & Kota Ibushi def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe

Much to my surprise, this was my least favorite match of the night by a long-shot. Ostensibly set up to build to Ibushi vs. Tanahashi for the Intercontinental title at Power Struggle and keep Juice strong going forward, this never really got out of first gear. A shame; I’m a massive Kota Ibushi fanboy, but this didn’t feel like it accomplished too much. Juice hits Makabe with Pulp Friction for the pinfall, possibly setting him up for an IC title bout at Wrestle Kingdom? I’m calling my shot.

Conclusion

A solid show, not the best one New Japan has put out this year by a long shot, but they continue to live up to the expectation of quality in-ring action. The big matches all delivered (with Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA doing so in spades), but there was definitely something missing. As good as most of the actual wrestling was, the final two matches lacked a sense of drama given the near-certainty that we were getting Naito vs Okada as our Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event. Given that, it’s hard for me to give King of Pro Wrestling top marks even though I enjoyed the hell out of it. The verdict?

Final Grade: B+

If nothing else, Power Struggle is beginning to take shape, and there are already some enticing matchups forming. We already have Tanahashi vs. Ibushi for the IC title, Ospreay vs. Scurll for the Junior title, Suzuki vs Yano in a bullrope deathmatch for the NEVER belt, and the finals of the Super Jr. Tag Title tourney confirmed, and that’s a hell of a start! Now to figure out what to do with myself until the Road To shows start next week…