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NJPW blew everyone out of the water, once again, with an incredible offering from the Tokyo Dome on Jan 4th.

Not only was the show littered with the genre-defining matches that have become a stable of NJPW’s product, but the level of presentation and pageantry was reminiscent of the heyday of PRIDE Fighting Championship.

Huge pyro, a gigantic entrance stage and superb video packages all contributed to a memorable night.

The 45-year-old Japanese promotion made a huge show of force, despite losing key players to WWE after Wrestling Kingdom 10.

This is how it broke down…

 

NEW JAPAN RUMBLE
The now-traditional pre-show battle royal wasn’t quite on the level of last year’s offering. However, it still featured some great performances, and nice surprises.

Billy Gunn looked a million dollars. As he did in recent Chikara appearances. His work was intelligent throughout and showed his vast experience of the Rumble format. He also looked huge in comparison to the modern wrestlers on show. Dwarfing even powerhouse, and eventual winner, Michael Elgin.

Cheeseburger returned for his second consecutive NJ Rumble. He miraculously became the ironman of the match and almost won it, before succumbing to a powerbomb combo from Elgin. Burger got a mindblowing response from the Tokyo Dome crowd.

The match also featured an nWo reunion. As Hiro Saito, Tenzan and SCOTT NORTON joined forces. Norton, much like Billy Gunn, showed huge presence, leaving the crowd awestruck.

Winner: Michael Elgin via Turning Powerbomb

 

TIGER MASK W vs. TIGER THE DARK
This was a nice light-hearted opener to the main show.

The match, designed to promote the new ‘Tiger Mask W’ anime, featured Kota Ibushi and ACH under the masks of the face and heel characters respectively.

ACH threw himself wildly to the outside, on a Fosbury Flop, at one stage, setting the tone for the night’s action.

Winner: Tiger Mask W via Tiger Bomb

 

RPG VICE vs. YOUNG BUCKS
The Bucks showed up dripping with gold. Rancho Cucamonga’s finest brought the ROH, PWG and IWGP Jr. Tag titles to the ring with them. They were also carrying newly minted vanity belts.

Sound psychology in this one. Roppongi’s long teased split was played upon, as Rocky Romero was able to prove that he wasn’t the weak link of the team by getting the finish.

Beretta almost died on a flip senton to the ramp, that was reminiscent of Undertaker on cameraman Simm Snuka…only 10x crazier and with no opponent to break his fall.

Winner: Roppongi Vice via Flash Pin

 

NEVER TRIOS GAUNTLET
The six-man belts were up for grabs in this four-team match. CHAOS, BULLET CLUB and Los Ingobernables were all represented, along with the reigning champs Kojima, Ricochet and Young Finlay.

YUJIRO came to the ring with a string of females, including Mao in a catsuit that has to be seen to be computed. Another one for the highlight reel.

Ospreay and Adam Page showed uncanny chemistry with some fantastic sequences. ROH would do well to book them together in future.

There was significant overbooking; with ref bumps and plunder, initiated by the LIJ team. This all led the 3rd entrants to be victorious over both BULLET CLUB and the champs.

Winner: Los Ingobernables de Japon via EVIL STO

 

CODY RHODES’ NEW JAPAN DEBUT
In a match-up of Dusty Rhodes proteges, Cody Rhodes and Juice Robinson showed good chemistry in working a colourful American-style match.

Rhodes showed the kind of character work chops that can, at times, be lacking in Japanese wrestling. Along with a decent in-ring work.

At one point he used a bizarre submission, similar to the Haas of Pain, before countering an Unprettier to win.

Post-match, he furthered a potential feud with Dusty’s former rival Steve Corino.

Winner: Cody via Crossrhodes

 

ROH WORLD TITLE
Cole and O’Reilly renewed acquiantences that hark back to the days of Gabe Sapolsky’s DG:USA pre-shows.

Cole showed disrespect for the Code of Honor off the bat. Later he used a steel chair to gain the advantage. Despite working as a heel, his catchprase was very over with the Japanese public.

In the end, multiple finishers put O’Reilly away. Making Cole the first ever 3x ROH Champ and paving the way for O’Reilly’s rumoured move to WWE.

Winner: Adam Cole via Last Shot

 

IWGP TAG 3-WAY
The CHAOS unit of Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii were a late entry to this match, following a card reshuffle.

The match itself was chaotic, with the main selling point being the interactions between eternal rivals Ishii and Tomoaki Honma.

Haku’s sons, The Guerillas of Destiny, ultimately dropped their titles to Yano & Ishii.

Winner: CHAOS via. Roll-Up

 

IWGP JUNIOR TITLE
‘Time Bomb’ Hiromu Takahashi fulfilled his destiny of putting an end to the title reign of ‘Time Splitter’ KUSHIDA. Hiromu, AKA Kamaitachi from CMLL and ROH, targeted KUSHIDA from day one of his return to NJPW.

Takahashi is one of a number of former young boys that have gone away on excursions only to come back as huge assets to their Japanese parent promotion.

Hiromu showed Pillman-esque charisma throughout and continued the theme of people throwing themselves around wildly, on the night. Not least when he hit a crazy senton on his standing opponent, from the top to the floor.

KUSHIDA was his usual Ricky Steamboat babyface self. He showed excellent selling throughout.

A mid-air armbar, as Takahashi jumped from the apron, was one of KUSHIDA’s highlight reel counter offensive moves.

More unique and dangerous offense peppered this sleeper Match of the Night Candidate before Hiromu initiated yet another title switch.

Winner: Hiromu Takahashi via TIME BOMB

 

MEIYU TAG COLLIDE
Another reliable pair were booked together by NJPW here. Childhood friends Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto went to war over the increasingly prestigious NEVER title.

Needless to say, the match was stiff and intense, featuring straight punches and headbutts.

Shibata frequently looked to make use of a sleeper, on his former partner. Goto, however, was able to withstand the incessant physicality and win his first World Title, after failed title shots running into double figures.

It was a classy gesture from Shibata, to put his lifelong friend over in the Tokyo Dome.

Winner: Hirooki Goto via GTR

 

TANAHASHI vs. NAITO
My personal favourite match of the night (and probable match of the year) came, as Naito and Tanahashi absolutely tore the frigging house down.

Tanahashi, sadly, debuted his new theme beforehand. Dropping the popular ‘High Energy’.

This match had a huge big fight feel before the bell had ever rung. The fans at the Dome were coming unglued in response to both guys. Huge desperate cries of “TANA” were a feature of the whole contest. The ever-growing popularity of Ingobernables merch was also evident.

Veteran Tanahashi risked life and limb in his quest to take the Intercontinental Title from Naito. He hit a soaring High Fly Flow to the outside, after destroying Naito with a Slingblade on the ring apron.

The two men traded mat work and impact moves until, eventually, to a massive reaction, Naito hit a third and final Destino DDT to retain the gold.

Winner: Tetsuya Naito via Destino

 

THE MAIN EVENT
And then came the main event…

A match which started 5 HOURS into the show, gained, perhaps, the most critical acclaim of any of the 11 contests at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom.

Multiple wrestlers, from New Japan and other promotions, raved about this performance during and after, via social media.

It was preceeded by an incredible, high-budget Terminator-themed entrance from the Canadian Kenny Omega. The BULLET CLUB member carried A LITERAL GUN to the ring.

Bell-to-bell the IWGP Heavyweight Title match lasted around 45mins. The pacing was perfect as it built up from slow and steady to knocking chunks out of one another.

There were tons of tasty callbacks and references in this one. Not least tantalising moments where Omega used the moveset of his former partner Kota Ibushi. Perhaps foreshadowing one of the most anticipated matches in modern wrestling.

Okada was shown to be losing his cool early, in the face of Omega’s mindgames, attempting to introduce a table into the proceedings. All of Gedo’s management acumen was required to keep the champ on the straight and narrow.

Okada took numerous significant blows to the head, neck and spine in this match. One of the most sickening of which was a missile dropkick from Omega. The move was basically a man jumping on another man’s head from 10feet in the air. After the event, Okada said he had a near death experience during this match, and that dropkick probably triggered it.

Omega eventually went through the table, that had been left hanging around at ringside, on an absolutely massive back body drop from Okada. Omega sailed high, HIGH over the ropes and completely vapourised the piece of furniture on contact.

Later Okada took more punishment with a top rope, snap Dragon Suplex. Absolutely chilling neck bump.

Tombstones and Rainmakers were the order of the day as the match reached an eventual conclusion. Okada was able to solidify himself as the Ace of New Japan by eventually putting away Omega, who was turning purple by the end of this unbelievably grueling match.

It will be fascinating to see how Dave Meltzer rates this one.

STOP PRESS: Meltzer just gave it SIX STARS. Done.

Winner: Kazuchika Okada via Rainmaker

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