Was it worth waking up at 3 a.m. on a Thursday for New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 12 show?
For those wondering why we're covering a NJPW show live, Wrestle Kingdom 12 has an absolutely stacked card that has a potential to develop a couple of legit Meltzer 5 Star matches. Those new to Japanese pro wrestling, I hope you enjoy the hard-hitting action, brooding and hard kicks. Switch back and forth between the English and Japanese commentary to get a feel for both. I watch English because I speak English and it's 4 a.m.
This is NJPW's WrestleMania for the U.S. fan needing a comparison, and this card had me feeling good in my happy parts. Okada and Omega built the momentum of surge into the U.S. audience, and Chris Jericho came in and unprecedentedly kicked in even harder. Also, this isn't the fucking "minor leagues" for those clamoring that horseshit.
This show moves fast between matches so buckle in for hours of action and not hours of celebrities and concerts you don't want to see. There is no added nonsense, it goes from match to match so you're actually watching five hour of wrestling and just two hours on a six-hour show.
Some of these faces will be recognizable for mainstream audiences from Ring of Honor, the WWE Cruiserweight Classic like Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr, old faces like Taka Michinoku, Jericho, Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Cody (Rhodes).
Also, Masahito Kakihara won the New Japan Rumble.
To watch the show, sign up for a month of New Japan World for around $9 it gives you a monthly subscription package akin to the WWE Network. Let's get to it:
IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship -- Roppongi 3K (c) vs. The Young Bucks:
Load up on those Hot Topic shirts, because this show opener was exactly what a show opener and big show tag team championship match should be. It's a perfect mix between wacky outside action with Rocky Romero (3K's director/manager) to heavy kicks, illegal twin switches, those beloved weird-fast combo moments the Bucks are known for and some damn good selling.
The Bucks win by submission to become 7-time tag team champs in a fun NORMAL match that highlighted the Internet T-Shirt darlings and some blossoming young studs. Hang those jerseys, boys.
NEVER 6-Man Tag Team Championship -- Bullet Club (c) vs. Chaos vs. Michael Elgin & War Machine vs. Suzuki-gun vs. Taguchi Japan:
Once you figure out what the hell is going on, this match was a decent enough of a ride that did its service in getting a bunch of guys on a big card. After a couple of two quick eliminations and some drawn-out entrances, this match levels out into some solid action.
Some fun spots with Sabre Jr., the ring corner pad, and a big-man suplex. Barreta hits the Dudebuster to make the card two-for-two in title changes.
Cody vs. Kota Ibushi (special singles match):
Very excited heading into this one with Cody blossoming into an international superstar and one of the most impressive hands in the business in Kota Ibushi. If you don't know Ibushi, search YouTube and hit up the WWE CWC matches. Ibushi *returned* to NJPW in 2017, and this is one hell of a way to come back to a WK card.
When I think of the best pure performers in the world, Ibushi is one of the guys I think of and he delivered on a big stage against a hot name. These two went at it and nailed some tasty spots between the patented triangle springboard moonsault, last-ride powerbomb and one hell of a Cross Rhodes off the apron. Ibushi took it all and sold the count out like a legend.
There was a little too much Brandi going on in this one as she dictated Cody's pace and offense, which really took the spotlight off of Cody in this one. Ibushi wins with a nasty Phoenix Splash as he firmly puts himself in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
This one might not have been the classic some were hoping for, but it did its job on this place of the card as a special singles match. It will be interesting to see what happens with Cody moving forward after two high profile losses.
IWGP Tag Team Championship -- Killer Elite Squad (c) vs. SANADA & EVIL:
A throwback tag team match, in the sense that the big boys dominated for 15 minutes, with Davey Boy Smith Jr. wearing jeans like his dad in his weird 1999 WWF run and the longest-tenured tramp stamp in pro wrestling Lance Archer (Hoyt) defending the belts against EVIL with hair styled by Nia Jax and Sanada.
We get nearly all KES offense in this match, as Davey Boy beautifully suplexed people and Archer attempted chokeslam after chokeslam. There were some fun dominating moments (and an awesome fake tap out bit) in this match with the Killer Bomb almost ending it in seconds and the outside destruction, but all in all the quick, unexpected (the bad kind) finish left me wondering what the story was and why we got to see basically nothing from Sanada in this match on this stage.
A Magic Killer and then Moonsault wins it for SANADA and EVIL. For the fifth year in a row, the IWGP belts change hands and we've already got three title changes by 4:50 a.m. ET.
NEVER Openweight Championship (Hair vs. Hair Match) -- Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto:
It's two terrible haircuts on the line in this one between Suzuki and Goto. I love hair matches, throwing that into a title match is the definition of an entertaining special attraction.
My main takeaway is that Suzuki is an absolute badass. He chokes Goto out with a hanging sleeper in the corner and nails a stiff Okada-esque dropkick later in the match that made me verbally react at 5:08 a.m. ET. Goto takes a damn beating throughout this match and Suzuki goes without needing to catch a breath even after taking an Avalanche Ushigoroshi.
I enjoyed the story told in this one as Goto, bleeding from the mouth, gets the win over Suzuki. It's always fun to see a hair shaving, especially after a solid contest like this one. We had impressive striking, near choke outs, faux finishes and a well-placed high-risk spot.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship (4-Way Match) -- Marty Scurll (c) vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi:
If you weren't aware of these guys before taking a try on Wrestle Kingdom 12, I hope you were ready for this one. I was able to see all of these guys live back on the ROH/NJPW tour for the first time, so seeing this guaranteed insane four-way match for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship had me hyped.
This felt like the perfect mix of talent between the joint-twisting Scurll, the insane parkour enthusiast Ospreay, all-around Kushia and simply interesting Takahashi.
Scurll, as he does nearly every time he's involved, was somehow once again the standout of this match between three high spot machines. Between his amazing "Superkick .. just kidding" bit to the pitch-perfect Crossface Chicken Wing catch, his "screw you" break a finger spots, this guy is a superstar. I mean, he even hit an Oscutter to perfection. All of this is, of course, without mentioning his neat entrance with wings and an umbrella specially made for WK12.
KUSHIDA performs a dangerous as hell jump to the outside off the top rope on all three men over the outside barricade. I say dangerous because the door was open, and the TIme Splitter jumped over that area moments before Ospreay jumps off the stage pillar on all three men.
Other standout moments include seeing The Villain having his fingers snapped on each hand by Ospreay and KUSHIDA, the latter's insane flipping avalanche armbar and a powder in the face spot! Takahashi flies back in after being taped to the gate on the outside with two sequential sunset flip bombs to the outside and then a time bomb before Ospreay and Scurll team up in a weird/cool sight.
Ospreay wins in an awesomely executed wrap up sequence that has you thinking Takahashi is going to win one moment, Scurll the other only before Ospreay grabs the belt in yet another title change.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship -- Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Switchblade Jay White:
I enjoy the classic wrestling storyline of young, rising talent against an established legend who can still go with the best of them without question in Tanahashi. White looks great, Tanahashi has natural swagger and these two put on an excellent match in what was the latter's first time not in one of the final two matches at WK in sometime.
White focuses on the knee, hits a versatile range of moves (including his dope finisher) and Tanahashi sells the hell out of the leg and hits a beautiful twisting suplex off the top rope. The NJPW crowd still pops like crazy for every Tanahashi offense.
Tanahashi wins in a fantastic ending sequence with a killer High Fly Flow to a still standing White and then racing to the top to hit his patented High Fly Flow to retain the Intercontinental Championship and end his three-year WK losing streak.
IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship (No Disqualification Match) -- Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho:
Damn, that was one hell of a vignette that gets me even more hyped for this dream match, yes dream match, in the Tokyo Dome. Seeing the old New Japan footage from both men's careers, and then the bloody beatdowns preceding this match, I'm more sold on the idea to this match. It's why most of you care about this show, and that's OK because I know the WWE product is a lot to follow right now with so many shows and it's own network. While this match is worth the hype, I'm glad it's bringing so many people to NJPW for a card like this and the crucial for so many people, English commentary.
An absolutely amazing match that told a violent, classic wrestling story with some crisp action from both men. These guys beat the hell out of each other, and this had exceeded high expectations very early on. Omega takes an insane leap of faith to the outside and crashes through NJPW's Spanish announce table -- the English tale. Jericho throws a temper and shoves the ref and then puts his son in the Walls of Jericho on the outside.
These two Canadians went, and they went hard. I'm blown away at the level of violence, storytelling and impressive spots took place impeccably. Omega hit the One Armed Angel but Jericho grabbed the rope. After some hard-hitting back and forth, a successful Japanese table spot and a One Armed Angel on the chair, and Omega had won. This match exceeded the hype, and managed to bring a fantastic NJPW card to mainstream U.S. while showcasing Omega as the potential best in the world.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship -- Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito:
For those not in the know, Okada probably just had one of the best years in wrestling history. He's been IWGP Heavyweight Champion for 500+ days and he is one of the most impressive performers in the world. This was his fourth straight Wrestle Kingdom main event, and his first while wearing shiny pants.
As for Naito, i personally fell in love with him after seeing the amazing entertainer live while on tour with Ring of Honor. He has swagger for days and will win the heart of the crowd from the moment his music hits and he does that slide and pose under the ropes.
-- FULL DISCLOSURE THAT I NEEDED A ONE HOUR NAP TO TRULY ENJOY THIS, SUE ME --
Okada is easily my favorite wrestler in the world outside of the WWE, and every single one of those reasons is on display with the complimentary explosive and charismatic Naito. These two kicked the hell out of each other from the get-go on the inside of the ring and outside of it. Naito hit everything, including the best top rope reverse hurricanrana I've ever seen, and Okada countered it with his beautiful drop kicks and smooth reversals. Not to mention that these two -- and so many others on this card -- are the most believable strikers in the industry.
These two had fought each other for the belt on big stages before, and that comfort and chemistry shined throughout the main event. What a way to end this insanely long, in-ring action focused card.
The go home sequence of this match took a page out of the Shawn Michaels-Undertaker book as it was one of more back and forth I have no idea what is about to happen endings in recent memory. Counter on counter on counter before Okada nailed a filthy Rainmaker to hold the belt.
Watch out for a podcast breakdown on this show on Thursday or Friday. Fantastic show, this is what a mega wrestling card is supposed to be.