Imp’s NJPW Adventure
King of Pro Wrestling 2019
It’s been a while since I’ve written about New Japan Pro Wrestling, instead jumping head first into the new exciting era of choice over in the States. So it’s been nice to jump back in, with the road to Wrestle Kingdom well and truly kicking off tonight in Tokyo.
The break is something I do most years with Japan’s top promotion, for the past two I’ve watched every single G1 Climax show and written about them in some manner (this year pumping out a weeklies with SirSam). But after the gruelling tournament I just check out, the mixture of G1 blues and wrestling fatigue kick in simultaneously. I love New Japan, but I simply just need a month off.
Conveniently it ends just in time for me to jump in around SummerSlam, this year with me sticking around to spend a month getting my column all set and sorted for that first week of the new era with AEW’s debut and WWE’s billion dollar move to FOX. Although come October… man, I’m desperate for some New Japan! Then comes around King of Pro Wrestling, at the absolute perfect time to act as my wrestling anecdote. It was only a month, but the promotion’s absence from my schedule was truly felt!
First off, thoughts with everyone across Japan who’s been affected by the devastating Typhoon Hagibis. For obvious reasons this card was massively effected, with travel issues meaning both Zack Sabre Jr and Jon Moxley were unable to make the journey. However those wrestlers in Japan were just thankful they were able to bring us a show at all, given cars on streets were submerged, the NJPW dojo flooded and Kota Ibushi nearly got blown off his hotel balcony.
Lessons were learnt, don’t go out on your multi-story high balcony during a typhoon.
In consequence Mox was stripped of his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship, with Juice now facing the impressing Suzuki-Gun big man Lance Archer for the vacant title. No this kind of stripping of a championship isn’t unprecedented in NJPW, as Chris Charlton explained on commentary, with being unable to make an appearance for whatever reason can result in a vacation. See Togi Makabe getting the flu in 2015 and losing the NEVER Openweight Championship.
Grander picture wise, King of Pro Wrestling is the point where we really start looking towards January 4th. The destination at the end of the road finally in sight, everything driving in the direction of the Tokyo Dome. Final challengers getting their opportunity before the ultimate reveals are made for the big show, where will all your favourites fall? Who will this those new card spots given the event will for the first time take place over two days?
There’s still a lot of questions surrounding how Wrestle Kingdom will play out, but there’s one thing that’s for certain though, New Japan Pro Wrestling know how to put on one damn entertaining show. Which was perfectly showcased on this night! Emotional final appearences, amazing matches, bouts building tension in these final months as 2019 comes closer to an end, rivalries that little bit more heated.
And I think it’s fair to say no contest was more heated going in than our first one I’ll be talking about!
Special Singles Match
Jyushin Thunder Liger vs Minoru Suzuki
The face Suzuki pulls when he genuinely respects someone.
Ah, the heated feud between two legends of Japanese wrestling. With Liger set to retire at Wrestle Kingdom and Suzuki rumoured to potentially leave NJPW shortly after, this feud somewhat feels like a last hoorar for both men on this stage. Previously Suzuki has attacked and provoked the beast, accidentally on one occasion bringing out Kishin Liger, the violent alternate. A side only brought out extremely rarely over the years, turning it into a damn special occasion.
Tonight however Liger came for a fight, this time it was Battle Liger was the beast standing across the ring. And JESUS is that man ripped for 54! This feud has kind of become a run of ‘The Best of Liger’ and letting us relive all of his greatest forms, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before full on dark/dressed head to toe in black Liger says hello for a night.
This match wasn’t quite the sport of blood some had predicted, but it was still just as shoot as Liger had promised. Not a fancy contest of showcasing athleticism like the match that would follow, simply an out and out ugly fight. Suzuki tried to rip off Liger’s mask, attempting to reveal the man underneath. But in the end it was reality that hit Liger the hardest, his body collapsing beneath him as he struggled to exchange blows with The King.
Before that moment it really was a fight, but Liger simply wasn’t able to keep up with Suzuki. It’s almost as if a man set to retire really would struggle to keep up with one of the most respected vets of the day. An end that made sense, but also one that brought the emotion from the crowd as they realised what this signified. It really was the last time they’d see Jyushin Thunder Liger wrestle in that building.
After the match Suzuki paid the ultimate respect, on his knees bowing down to the legend. Liger left the Ryogoku Kokugikan under his own power, with people the crowd crying and everyone in unison, thunderously chanting his name, “Liger! Liger! Liger! Liger!”
A moment to remember, if anything this was the show where it really started to sink in. Liger really is retiring in a few months, we’re seeing his last dance.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs El Phantasmo
Headbang Club? Pfff, Elevate’s back babay!
I still don’t know how Will gets that sword through customs.
Phantasmo was in the NJPW when it flooded, spending his Saturday wading through the water trying to save all the memorabilia. He tweeted out the next day how the whole ordeal had humbled him, how watching the videos of the New Japan legends that came before had made him realise he hadn’t conducted himself like a man deserving of the name ‘champion’.
The challenger sent his Bullet Club amigo Ishimori to the back, a sign of respect that these two would ba- oh it was just a bit to trick Ospreay, yeah it didn’t last for long. I guess it was nice for everyone to get along for that short while! Even if it wasn’t real.
With that turn the Junior champion took things really well and they brawled into the crowd, Ospreay launched ELP into Gino on commentary, “Where’s my ice pack, Kevin?” They brawled up on top an unused entranceway, Phantasmo knocked down the champion, then launched himself, sending his body flying 10 feet down onto Ospreay! Mad man! Well, with Ibushi in this company we know an actual mad man would have moonsaulted.
Back in the ring it was the champion doing his best to fight back into the match, the death defying flight had taken a lot out of ELP so there was a chance. Also meaning when Ospreay eventually did he was relatively able to assume control and… cue lots of flips and kicks and fancy tricks! The point the Junior match truly showed off its style.
Both men know each other so damn well that they were dodging and countering three out of four moves. A cutter on the outside seemed to really swing things in Ospreay’s favour, however Ishimori pulled the ref out before attacking the champion and that was our final proof of Phantasmo never having any agenda to play nice. Ospreay’s Birds of Prey tag partner Robbie Eagles fought off the invader, but the interference had swung back momentum. It had worked and ELP was on top once again, Ospreay’s efforts completely reset.
However Phantasmo was possibly too desperate to win, pulling out the finishers of Bullet Club leaders past to no avail. Hitting the Styles Clash, attempting a One Winged Angel. Then at the end ELP’s desperation reared its head again, with him going for a top rope Frankensteiner to destroy Ospreay. But the champion countered into an absolutely devastating Power Bomb that nearly put the man through the mat!
One Hidden Blade and a Stormbreaker later and that was it for El Phantasmo. To no one’s surprise a bloody excellent match, with Ospreay showing how wise a competitor he’s become in the face of a name from back home that still throws caution to the wind a little too often. ELP was the master of his own downfall, but the number question has now shifted to asking who will be the man to defeat Ospreay?
It wasn’t Shingo, it wasn’t Phantasmo and it wasn’t Ishimori. There aren’t many names left, well… I can think of one… get on up, it’s DOUKI-O DOME time!
Vacant IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Juice Robinson vs Lance Archer
My God, what an outfit, Juice.
In spite of the sans-Moxley situation, this was still an absolute brawl. Ringside chair shots and tables from the get go! And when I say tables, bloody hell did Archer send Juice crashing down with force. Yeah, yeah take your time removing every corner pad, decorating the ring with more chairs & tables, Lance. Juice’ll need a second to recover from that Murder Chokeslam!
Ryogku became the ‘Murder Hawk Mansion’ as Archer donned it, taking it turns destroying each other, sending the other man crashing through tables before immediately searching for that next weapon. At one point with both men looking under the ring launching chairs into the ring for the next upcoming battle of steel.
Somehow Juice just never bloody stayed down. No matter what Archer threw at hit him (often times literally in the case of chairs), with the former US Champ even kicking out of a Blackout onto the mass pile of chairs. It took the follow up Claw to finally get the win for the man who’s been nonstop impressing since the Killer Elite Squad split, essentially draining the life out of Robinson and sending him into an unconscious state. Everybody dies!
Absolutely deserved for Lance Archer, he’s been kicking ass ever since his split from Davey Boy Smith thanks to the Canadian-Brit’s departure. An outstanding G1 run, followed by a strong undefeated streak on tour and suddenly we’ve got ourselves a genuine rising star. Note to NJPW, lock this man down ASAP. This man is gaining traction fast, don’t be surprised if those Western promotion come calling sooner rather than later.
After the match the Suzuki-Gun man was seemingly about to cause more damage, when the return no one was talking about surprised us all. David Finlay returned after months out with a shoulder injury and FinJuice are back together! The Irishman appears to be in the best shape we’ve seen him in,
G1 Winner’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship Right To Challenge Contract
Kota Ibushi (G1 Winner) vs EVIL
Ibushi’s road to the main event of Wrestle Kingdom looks to be bumpy as hell. May I just say, Ibushi somehow looks even more ripped every time I see him. How?! He was like a chiselled statue of perfection before!
A somewhat similar pattern to the Opsreay/ELP in ring moments, with the challenger being the one seemingly throwing more in the way of desperation. But it meant he was also the one elevating the violence, he was the one instigating that next sequence of offence. With Ibushi fighting back for pretty much most of the match, countering when most vital and just surviving getting hit with EVIL’s most devastating moves.
It was one of those matches though where you really didn’t feel like EVIL ever had much of a chance of actually winning, Ibushi’s going to have many more bumps to overcome after this. Even though that desperation to win meant that the LIJ man was one step ahead of the G1 winner, he never really came close to hitting that move where you suddenly think a surprise result might be on the horizon.
The Ryogoku crowd got right behind EVIL when he built up momentum, getting damn loud after he kicked out of the first Kamigoye knee strike. As Kevin Kelly said, not even realising the top notch pun, “Everything except win.” Now Ibushi has avenged both of his G1 losses however, without those defeats hanging over him finally able to look ahead to January. Start those preparations to main event the Tokyo Dome!
Well, hopefully maybe perhaps main event the Tokyo Dome. There’s a lot of cards at play right now in terms of how the two nights will actually play out.
Also not forgetting that once again EVIL and SANADA are both the semi-main and actual-main event of an NJPW show. The future’s creeping closer and closer for those two.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs SANADA
The Cold Skull versus The Rainmaker once again for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Already facing each other twice before, but it wasn’t until their match in the G1 Climax that SANADA proved he could actually beat the champion. The question is could he do it with the title on the line and without the factor of the wear of a gruelling tournament?
They’re both at a point where they know the other so well that they’re constantly countering each other’s offence. Okada halting the springboard dropkick, SANADA reversing Okada’s Tombstone Piledriver into one of his own. They know what to expect now, so the two of them had to come up with ways to catch them off guard or inflict enough damage before to hit them on the groggy. For example it was that Tombstone reversal that finally gave SANADA the opportunity to lock in Skull End and drain the energy out of The Rainmaker. However when Okada broke free, the Cold Skull wasn’t able to simply lock in the hold again and faced the lariat consequences for his error.
A back and forth match that had the Tokyo crowd right behind the challenger, 37 minutes of constant counters and creating that feeling that SANADA really might do it. Really it was the exact thing missing from the last match, the challenger not just on top but SO on top that you genuinely start to believe. Encapsulated perfectly by the fantastic closing minutes with both men countering absolutely everything and sweating their balls off.
It took something new from Okada to beat him when another tombstone attempt was in danger of turning into a Skull End, instead he caught SANADA and drove him down with one hell of a Michinoku style driver. With that the champion was finally able to hit a proper Rainmaker Clothesline with the full rotation, torque and put everything behind it.
In each of their title matches SANADA has come closer and closer to winning, this one the tightest of them all. After the match it all poured out of him, the fact he’d spent all of his energy and still lost. The challenger bent over, crumpled on the mat crying. Whilst the champion sat upright next to him kinda awkwardly holding a thumb up, Okada’s a man who’s been in that situation himself be it in even greater fashion after losing the main event at the Tokyo Dome.
Potential good news for SANADA fans though, Okada came back and won the next year. So the light of LIJ looks to yet shine brighter! Maybe, unless the darkness has something to say… I was wrong with my G1 predictions, I’m gonna keep calling SANADA vs EVIL as the future until it happens dammit! That’s how creative process works right? You look up what a random bloke on the internet is banging on about and just book that.
Anyway, after the match Okada gave his respect to SANADA and thanked him for yet another hard fought championship bout. However the main reason for him addressing the crowd was to actually call out Kota Ibushi, they had some January 4th business to formally write in books!
Ibushi outright said he wanted to be both IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion, so with the statement all the pieces start to fall! Now the two are set to face one another on January 4th, just as the G1 winner’s contract dictates. No change of date, the holder of that case gets a Heavyweight Championship match on January 4th. As for the 5th? Well, Jay White didn’t come out, neither did Naito, but you have to assume with everything said here that the ultimate final Wrestle Kingdom contest is well and truly going to be for it all.
In somewhat of a mini-tournament, with both titles defended on Night 1 and then on the second show we get a winner takes all affair. Certainly an interesting way to build between the two nights rather than having them essentially be one mega show split in half. I also like how the terms in the contract haven’t changed all because Wrestle Kingdom itself has, it says your shot is on January 4th so that’s exactly what will happen.
How things actually play out come January however? Who will be the Intercontinental half of the equation? Is it still good to call this Naito’s year? One can hold hope, the man’s almost entirely out of it right now, but I’m not letting go of the Ingobernable dream dammit!
Whatever happens, once again NJPW has me invested. This Wrestle Kingdom looks set to be the true crowning of the stars of this generation all main eventing against each other. Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and sure why not Jay White, the latter being proof that the next young generation are already biting at the heels of the present. If anything they’re the two notes played by King of Pro Wrestling 2019: the present is getting its moment to shine, but the future is already here.
Feels great to write sentences like that.
And now we can get hyped for the road to Wrestle Kingdom! What did you make of King of Pro Wrestling? Comment below, I’m always popping in trying to respond to everyone.
This Thursday Imp will be joined by SirSam on LOP Radio to talk NJPW King of Pro Wrestling, if you have any questions comment, below, tweet, what have you, before Tuesday 10am GMT.
Toodles chaps, assen na yo.
Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday! Last week talking Hell In A Cell after a few days to think about it.
Imp’s most recent columns:
NJPW G1 Climax Finals Review – Top 5 Matches & MVP feat. Imp & Sam
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Dominion 2019 Review + G1 Climax Surprises
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Best of the Super Juniors 26 Final: Moxley’s Debut & Ospreay vs Shingo
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe