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    Thursday, January 7, 2016

    Cafe Puro (1/7/16): The Official Smark Henry Wrestle Kingdom 10 Review


    Another year, another Wrestle Kingdom in the books!

    The 10th installment once again showed why New Japan Pro Wrestling is the global standard of excellence in terms on in-ring value, with over 5 hours of non-stop action. As a matter of fact, 3 of the 10 featured matches have the right to be considered match of the year contenders!

    Match 0: Jado wins this year's New Japan Rumble in the pre-show

    The NJ Rumble rolls through its second consecutive year, featuring everyone who was not booked in the main show. And like last year, we saw a ton of surprise entrants, notably King Haku (Tama Tonga's father, and The Rock's uncle and latest feel good story), the legendary Shiro Koshinaka, and even ROH's Cheeseburger, who provided the laughs and the goods! But in the end, it was Jado (who had the support of Momoiro Clover Z idol Momoka Ariyasu) who finally eliminated Ryusuke Taguchi and became the second winner of the NJ Rumble.

    It is one of those matches that you either love it or hate it. In this case, you love it for its novelty and significance, or hated it because it's practically filler before the main show. Nonetheless, it served its purpose and set the tone for the rest of the event.

    Rating: 1.5/5

    Match 1: The Young Bucks wins the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship in a four-way tag team match featuring reDRagon, The High Flyers, and RPG Vice

    Despite the inclusion of Cody Hall in the match, providing BC-standard interference, the four-way match was an excellent way to start the event. Including The High Flyers, Sydal and Ricochet, was a blessing, giving the bout a much needed increase in adrenaline that helped make the match the best opener in a long time. And let's face it, having Ricochet at any show will always be a good thing.

    While a spotfest by definition, the match had everything fans of these teams can ask for, from superkick parties to Rocky Romero's seemingly infinite forever clotheslines. Kyle O'Reilly and Ricochet were particularly impressive in the match, and Trent seems to be thriving in the bright lights of the Tokyo Dome. Styles make fights, and the tag opener exemplified that.

    While it was a surprise that the Bucks won the titles for the 4th time, the junior tag team picture has been shaken up, and the next few months should be interesting to see. Congratulations to all of the participants involved.

    Rating: 4/5

    Match 2: Toru Yano and the Briscoe Brothers defeated Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Yujiro Takahashi) to become the first NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions

    It was a long time coming from the Briscoes, who haven't been in Japan since touring with NOAH years ago, but they finally found their way to the Dome and teamed up with the most unlikely of allies, Yano, to shut down Bullet Club and win the titles on their first NJPW outing.

    It was a typical Yano match, with the master of DVD sales acting as both the conniving heel and the struggling hero against the BC trio. And when the Briscoes come to the ring, the action becomes energentic and frantic, with Mark showing off his redneck kung fu and Jay showing why he was a former 2-time ROH World Champion. A well-placed chair shot by Yano and a Doomsday Device on Tonga spelled the end of the BC combo and a title win on their resumes.

    You have to give it up to Bullet Club for taking one for the team as it felt like they were finally getting their due in today's New Japan. But it seems as though they will be waiting for another time as the ROH-NJPW relationship rolls on.

    Rating: 3/5

    Match 3: Jay Lethal defeated Michael Elgin with a Book of Truth shot followed by the Lethal Injection to remain ROH World Champion

    For a match pitting two relatively uncertain faces at the Tokyo Dome for a title not sanctioned by New Japan, they actually did a pretty good job making a first impression to the casual fans. The match was classic David vs Goliath, with Goliath being able to let loose and hit some pretty rough shots against his opponent. That's what happens when you get influenced a bit by New Japan's style. The fans were 100% behind Elgin, whose power won the praise of the Japanese faithful.

    Look, it was pretty evident that Truth Martini was going to pull off his usual schtick, so if you were expecting a straight up one on one battle, it wasn't there. Regardless, Elgin and Lethal showed everyone why they deserve to represent ROH in NJPW's biggest show of the year when given the chance. Lethal's guard rail dive was particularly scary. Huge props for Martini being able to heel it up like usual and getting the fans' attention all throughout.

    While the ending to the match was questionable, especially when you have too much interference in one show, it served a purpose of continuity that can reach its conclusion during ROH's Japan tour in a few weeks.

    Rating: 3/5

    Match 4: KUSHIDA defeated Kenny Omega with a roll-up counter to the One-Winged Angel to become the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion

    This match.

    This fantastic match!

    Not only is this match way better than the Omega vs. Taguchi match last year, but in a storyline perspective, this is better than their first two encounters!

    The beauty of this is how much these two were able to accentuate their strengths in the biggest match possible, fitting of a conclusion to their 3-match series. KUSHIDA showed that he is the hybrid submission expert of today's Junior division, while Omega proved to everyone why he is, pound for pound, the strongest member of the New Japan roster (that one-armed powerbomb!). And while these two men faced each other previously, they were able to mix it up and present what feels like a new dynamic to their final chapter. The fantastic roll-up finish was the best way to end the match, as it shows that the match could have gone either way and only strengthens their characters moving forward.

    It was a smart move for KUSHIDA to win as he can now properly represent what Prince Devitt used to represent: the face of his division. Omega has nothing else to prove, and it is time to move his energies to new opportunities in the future.

    (P.S. Ryusuke Taguchi makes a perfect Doc Brown)

    Rating: 4/5

    Match 5: GBH defeated Bullet Club's Guns and Gallows to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship

    Everyone knew this was going to happen, and it was magical. For Honma to finally win his first title alongside his best friend, Makabe, in front of Japan's biggest audience is the payoff years in the making.

    Anderson and Gallows once again displayed the tag team dominance that made them the face of the tag team scene since 2014, which fits perfectly with the never-say-die personality of Honma and the aggressive fire shown by the popular Makabe. And when GBH was in control, the fans ate up every moment, knowing they were close to finally seeing the best underdog in the business pull off the impending victory. All four men managed to keep the suspense in check, up until the final moments of the match when they managed to set up Gallows for the Kokeshi-King Kong Knee Drop combo and give everyone the payoff Honma deserved.

    If this is indeed Guns and Gallows' final WK, then they left knowing Honma became a star and Makabe remained strong in the eyes of the fans. Indeed, #GoodBrothers.

    Rating: 3.5/5 for the match, 5/5 for the Honma payoff

    Match 6: Hirooki Goto defeated Tetsuya Naito with the Shouten Kai

    Realistically, this match served two purposes:

    1. To raise the stock of Los Ingobernables de Japon

    2. To drive home the point of Naito's new personality

    Now, as a match, it was not going to be as special as Naito's previous bouts at Wrestle Kingdom. We know Goto was going to bring his samurai code of honor in the match, and that's why he fits perfectly with Naito. Naito is like the Joker to Goto's Batman in the sense that he doesn't really care whether or not he wins. All he wants to show is how screwed up the New Japan system is, how Goto justifying his issue with Naito is irrelevant after getting lost in the shuffle, and how much he hates the fans after all the work he's done. No wonder fans were supportive of Naito this time around. He's practically Chris Jericho, heel mode!

    Goto winning at the expense of overcoming one of the hottest acts in pro wrestling in a 3-on-1 scenario was odd. Goto can take a loss under the circumstances, and Naito certainly needed the win to bring up Los Ingobernables de Japon, who were gaining momentum. The match itself was fine for what it is, that much is a positive. But Naito deserved to end his losing streak at Wrestle Kingdom. So as far as raising Los Ingobernables de Japon's stock is concerned, they may not have achieved that. But they solidified Naito's new character throughout the match in front of the biggest crowd, even giving a sinister smile after the match. Half of the mission, accomplished.

    Rating: 3.5/5

    Match 7: Katsuyori Shibata defeated Tomohiro Ishii with the PK to win the NEVER Openweight Championship

    Before the event, many people were calling this the match of the night, and for good reason.

    They may have faced each other before, but they officially outdid their first encounter years back with the level of brutality no human being should ever endure. The intensity of the match and the realism of their strikes harkens back to the days of old when the stiff fighting style was the norm, so for many casual fans of pro wrestling, this will leave an uneasy feeling. But for those who are used to the stiff style of puroresu over the years, this is most likely a dream come true. And the fact that the NEVER is on the line in the company's biggest show, there's no reason for the two warriors to give anything less than 110%. Punches, elbows, kicks, rider kicks, and headbutts you can actually hear, you name it! Seriously, just watch the match. Their actions do more justice than words ever could.

    Shibata winning his first wrestling title is defined by redemption after his failed MMA career, a feeling that must feel so good for him. The Wrestler's win will freshen up the NEVER title scene, with some fantastic matches and dream bouts now made possible.

    Again, watch this match!

    Rating: 5/5

    Match 8: Shinsuke Nakamura defeated AJ Styles with the Boma Ye to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

    For a match touted as a dream match, they certainly lived up to the hype in so many ways.

    Last year, Nakamura overcame Ibushi to retain the IC title in a five-star classic, and this year, you can say lightning struck the same place twice for the King of Strong Style! And with an opponent he's never faced before in the form of AJ Styles, no less!

    The bout had intensity, passion, and world class athleticism that only a few can mimic, with Styles' unique offense mixing up with Nakamura's aggressive fighting style. The fans knew that something beautiful was happening in front of their very eyes, and the quality of wrestling showed was something only two legends of the game can deliver. It was a close battle, with even a unique armbar counter to the Styles Clash, leaving many fans worried of a Nakamura arm injury. But in the end, Nakamura drove his knee to Styles' skull to end another match of the year candidate.

    Their current status may be in uncertain waters right now, but this image will forever burn in the minds of those who left it all in the ring in what may be their final Wrestle Kingdom:

    Rating: 5/5

    Match 9: Kazuchika Okada defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi with the Rainmaker to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

    If Ishii vs. Shibata was about sheer brutality, and Styles vs. Nakamura was about phenomenal wrestling (no pun intended), then the final chapter of Okada vs. Tanahashi was all about the grandeur of storytelling.

    A rivalry that began in 2012, the record stands at 3-3-1, with this match serving at the final battle to see if Okada truly deserves to be known as the new ace against the gold standard of pro wrestling in Tanahashi. And the amazing thing about this match is the fact that for every match they have been, they managed to tell a different story each time. For the final round, the stakes have never been higher as the future of the company is at stake.

    It's like they learned from each other's encounters, and found ways to counter their signature moves while being able to counter their counters. In essence, it felt like more of a chess game and, as Matt Striker may put it, the one who can outcounter the other would win the title. And this time, it is Tanahashi who is the establishment while Okada is the man with everything to prove. This, my friends, is the evolution of a story that speaks the universal language of pro wrestling. Nothing is ever the same, and everything reaches its given conclusion sooner or later, but not without giving everyone a story that resonates to the entire audience. This is wrestling done right, and wrestling people should be exposed to as much as possible.

    And in a match when they brought everything they could deliver, and then some, the most powerful images are the little things. And when Okada refused to let go of Tanahashi's hand in the former's attempt to hit the Rainmaker, you know that many people could relate to how Okada is feeling. It is the feeling that others must be going through in real life: that you cannot let go of the goals in front of you, and you must do everything in your power to get it. It may be cheesy, but again, the little things make a huge difference.

    Okada may have successfully defended the title against Tanahashi in the biggest match of the Rainmaker's life, but in truth, this is a victory for pro wrestling as an art. If this is the kind of wrestling we will see from New Japan for years to come, then rest assured, the future is in good hands.

    Rating: 5/5

    It is not even a debate: WK10 is one of the greatest January 4 shows of all time, and an early favorite for wrestling event of the year. Even after 11 months, we will still be talking about how fantastic the event is, and how the top three matches will fit in the discussion for match of the year.

    Here's to Wrestle Kingdom 11! You have your work cut out for you!

    Images from NJPW

    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (1/7/16): The Official Smark Henry Wrestle Kingdom 10 Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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