The legendary Ryogoku Sumo Hall will play host to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual event, King of Pro Wrestling, where three championships will be decided, the challenger for January’s Wrestle Kingdom event will be confirmed, and a grudge match 17 years in the making will be settled once and for all. “Tokyo is LIJ country”, as they say, so IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, may be in for the fight of his life against Los Ingobernables de Japon member, SANADA. After defeating Okada in the G1 Climax in August, SANADA has had this title match on his horizons and it is sure SANADA will not let it slip past without giving it his all. With Jon Moxley unable to make the event, he has been stripped of the IWGP United States Championship and the now vacant belt wil be contested by Juice Robinson and Lance Archer in a huge No Disqualifications match. The IWGP Junior Heavyweight title will also be contested as current champion, Will Ospreay, seeks to defeat the perennial thorn in his side, El Phantasmo, the latter of whom who has had a change of heart of late, dealing with the typhoon season across Japan.
With no title on the line, Minoru Suzuki and Jyushin Thunder Liger will be battling for something far more personal: pride. After an embarrassing loss in a 2002 Pancrase fight, Jyushin Liger told Minoru Suzuki to give him some time, and Liger would come back and fight Suzuki again. Now almost 17 years later, en route to his retirement at Wrestle Kingdom, Liger is ready and willing to give Suzuki that second fight. The bad blood between these two has stirred for years, and it was only a month ago that Liger’s alternate ego, the deadly Kinshin Liger, made a rare appearance to challenge Suzuki to this match at King of Pro Wrestling, with the promise that this was not a wrestling match, but instead a fight, and someone might die.
+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs SANADA (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): this started off as essentially just another long-form Okada-style title match, but it eventually changed into something a bit more unique. It’s almost a given in an Okada title match that you have to see all of the big moves (the neckbreaker, tombstone, dropkick, rainmaker) before the end, so it is a welcome change when that is not the case. The audience was going absolutely nuts in the final moments of this match, and to be perfectly honest, so I was I
+ Lance Archer vs Juice Robinson (No Disqualifications match for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): with Moxley’s inability to appear, this was probably as good a substitute as you could hope for. These two went really hard to try and get a match heated up quickly, in the way Mox/Juice definitely would have been. Archer has certainly earned some singles credibility following his KES partner’s departure, and this was a good match for both men, given the circumstances
+ CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs Bullet Club (Jay White, KENTA, & Yujiro Takahashi): I love KENTA; he is such a giant asshole, and I need KENTA/Phantasmo as a tag team some time soon. It was KENTA and Ishii whow ere the main focuses of this match, but that didn’t mean that the other wrestlers did not get a chance to shine, with only YOSHI-HASHI being the standout as not up to the rest of them. White is a big star, in my view, and his recent feud with Goto has done them both wonders. Yujiro was also here, but at least he had Pieter with him
+ Will Ospreay (c) vs El Phantasmo (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): this was really great for a few reasons, such as just how talented both men are, but at the same time it felt almost like a parody. Such huge amounts of punishment from one guy to the other in particular followed by constant kickouts meant not only did the match go on that little bit past its peak, but also make the attacker come across weaker than intended. Still, I liked this
+ Jyushin Thunder Liger vs Minoru Suzuki: if there was ever a perfect wrestling match, I think this was it. Upwards of 15 years’ worth of history were the backdrop for this, not least of all the recent Kinshin Liger appearance, a smoking hot crowd and some of the best commentary I’ve heard from the English team meant this was absolutely one of the matches of the year, and that’s without even mentioning the post-match shenanigans
+ Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi) vs Suzuki-gun (DOUKI & Taichi): dammit if Taichi doesn’t work me something fierce. Whenever I am ready to call him a waste of a roster spot he has such a good showing that I become his biggest fan. In this instance I don’t mean in terms of in-ring acumen, but this was such a good character match for Taichi and Naito (and Takagi, because everything Takagi does is incredible). DOUKI is also cool, but he was not the star here
– Kota Ibushi (holder) vs EVIL (Tokyo Dome IWGP Heavyweight Championship Challenge Rights Certificate): I hate to even say it, because I love both of these guys, but this match never really clicked for me. Surprisingly, it was only a pair of half-and-half suplexes right at the end of the match which gave me that familiar ‘Ibushi is dead’ feeling, but otherwise this was standard; not bad, just disappointing
– Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma (w/ Inoue Wataru) vs The Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe & Toru Yano): with Wataru at ringside, this double decade of Tanahashi celebration was… fine. My feelings on Tana should be clear, and frankly with the inclusion of Honma (injury and comeback) and Yano (comedy style), this did very little for me
– Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru): my boy Despy is back, but this match was nothing special. Originally announced as a six man tag, I kind of wanted to see DOUKI and Despy in the same match (between you and me, I’m not convinced they aren’t the same person). I’m glad Despy/Kanemaru are back together, but I feel like they’ve been fighting R3K for two years straight now
Should you watch this event: Whilst I am disappointed in myself that I felt nothing for Ibushi/EVIL, the rest of this card was pretty good. Once the preliminary tag matches were out of the way, most everything was well worth seeking out, especially Liger/Suzuki, which may have jumped its way into one of my favourite wrestling matches of all time.