4CReview: NJPW’s ‘Wrestle Kingdom 8’

by Billy Carpenter & Sam DiMascio

On January 4th, New Japan Pro Wrestling presented their biggest show of the year as ‘Wrestle Kingdom 8’ emanated from the Tokya Dome. This year’s version featured a double main event and also was the first time that fans were able to vote on the match that would be closing the show. With the bar being raised so high last year with their flagship show, how would NJPW cap off their historically great 2013? Sam and I share our thoughts as we recap…

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Pre-show: Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tomoaki Honma, Captain New Japan & BUSHI vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Super Strong Machine, Jushin Thunder Liger & Yohei Komatsu

Sam: *1/2

You don’t have to do a lot on these pre-show matches to at least put together something fun. You’ve got eight men out there and that they probably hit the bare minimum of what I would expect out of these matches. I so badly wished Tenzan stopped entering the ring. He really offers next to nothing there. Nakanishi is rarely anything special but he moving in slow motion during points in this match which made things looks embarrassing. Honma can be really good but he really wasn’t able to do much in there outside of his odd head-butts. I like that the young lion got some time in there but that’s about where my joy stopped.

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IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Title Match: Young Bucks (c) vs Forever Hooligans vs Time Splitters vs TAKA/Taichi

Billy: ***

First off, KUSHIDA driving the DeLorean and dressing up like Marty McFly was the first of many cool entrances on the evening and this one sorted my Halloween costume for this year. This match was fast paced and featured fun spot after fun spot. The Bucks pick up the win in their first Dome show after hitting More Bang for Your Buck, continuing their great run since joining NJPW. Keeping in mind that I haven’t seen the 1/5 show yet, I believe this was also the last show for TAKA who announced he was leaving the company prior to this review. We’ll see where that leaves Taichi and as for the match, could the Bullet Club continue their winning ways as the show went on?

Sam:**3/4

This was the definition of mindless fun. Nothing really good but enough wacky stuff going on to be fun. Sadly, this match features the only four regular junior teams in NJPW so it really goes to show where that division is. This was never going be super great with some of the elements in play. Young Bucks being in NJPW is awesome but NJPW juniors aren’t moving at the insane speeds that the Young Bucks work best at. Hooligans are talented but they aren’t necessarily the fastest kids on the playground. Love me some Taka and Taichi but they are more fun characters than anything. After all the highspots in this match Taichi ripping off his pants was probably the best part of the whole thing.

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IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title: KES (c) vs Luke Gallows/Karl Anderson

Sam:**1/4

I had high expectations of this one and it didn’t reach them at all. They start off with some swell bomb throwing between Archer and Gallows but that’s probably where it peaked. You never want to peak ten seconds in. It’s poor form. This match was rather monotonous going forward with really nothing standing out. Despite Gallows being one of the best brawlers on the planet, and he was the best out there, he couldn’t really help this match become a big man brawl that could have been something swell. Tama Tonga’s interference surely didn’t do this match any favors. He looked absolutely ridiculous out there.  The ending stretch annoyed me more than anything has in a while. Both teams set up their finishers only for the partner to break it up and go into their finisher. It looked silly and didn’t really show anything other than each team’s intelligence by not removing the other partner before their finisher. I still feel these guys can put together a really good match but they certainly didn’t prove it here.

Billy: ***

I was actually kind of surprised that my fellow recapper didn’t like this match more. I thought it was a pretty good match and I’m looking forward to the rematch. I noted on Twitter just how much I’ve loved Archer since coming across seas–he’s just gotten better and better and is one of the best big men in the game right now. Where Sam and I agree though is how annoyed I was with Tama in this match. To me, it felt like he was playing ‘Syxx’ to Gallow & Anderson’s ‘Hall & Nash’ and I’m just not into it. Back to the match, it was a fun, brawling style match and has me wanting to see not only the eventual rematch but Archer vs. Gallows as well. Finish saw KES go go for the Killer Bomb on ‘Machine Gun’, Gallows making the save and then Gallows & Anderson eventually hitting the Magic Killer to become the new champs. Bullet Club continues their winning ways on the big show and secure the tag titles for the stable.

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NWA World Heavyweight Title: Rob Conway (c) vs Satoshi Kojima

Sam: ***

I’m gonna let you in on this little secret and say I’m a big fan of the Conway title defenses in Japan. Love me some heel American in foreign country and Conway does it well. To boost that up we have Tharpe, NWA President, in his corner and does a super fantastic job pre-match and post-match. Once against Conway’s antics were great. Probably the best part of the match is when Conway hits Tenzan’s Mongolian chops and then goes for Kojima’s lariat. Someone forgot to tell Rob Conway that you don’t mess with Kojima who was fiery on offense and looked like he was fighting for a worthwhile title which is harder to do then some would think. This is exactly what I expect from these NWA title defenses, FUN!

Billy: ***

Harley Race! Love seeing Harley even though he seems to be in worse shape every time I see him. Him being there added some more prestige to the match though, I felt. As for Bruce Tharpe, how entertaining is he? He plays his role so good and has been the star of this NWA ‘invasion’. While I’m still not as big on Conway as Sam is, he’s raised his stock with me over the course of this angle. Great heat segment was the highlight of the match, with Conway using Tenzan’s Mongolian chops to big time boos before Kojima hits the lariat a few minutes later to win the title. Fun match, nothing that’ll blow you away but it was good. I’m a Kojima fan so I like seeing him win the belt to continue things. Afterwards, Race presents the 10 lbs. of gold to Kojima at ringside.

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Yuji Nagata/Kazushi Sakuraba vs Daniel & Rolles Gracie

Billy: *

I liked nothing about this. This is that hybrid sort of match that I normally can’t stand and this was no exception. It was EXTREMELY boring and just not good at all. This worst part? They set up a rematch with the finish and the post-match stuff.

Sam:*1/2

This match could have been worse. Maybe. Like not much worse but still worse. The Gracies were as bad I should have expected. For some reason I had this hope that they had been getting some great wrestling training in before this match so they could look competent. Nope. This is why the phrase, “He could have a good match with a broomstick,” makes no sense because the broom stick is still gonna make everyone else look bad. Gracies=Bad Brazillian Broomsticks. I can’t figure out why Nagata was working most of the match. This match featured some Gracies against THE GRACIE HUNTER! Why isn’t that the dynamic? Instead Nagata is out there having an offensive push exchange with someone who shouldn’t be in the ring. I’m probably a bigger fan of shoot style-esque bouts than the majority but there’s certain things on a basic level that should work and this didn’t have them. Terribly set up submissions, less grappling on the ground and more rolling, and weak looking strikes.

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Toru Yano/The Great Muta vs Minoru Suzuki/Shelton ‘X’ Benjamin

Sam:**1/4

Why did this have to be a thing? I found this to be similar to watching paint dry. I like Yano, I think he is an enjoyable comedy act in NJPW which has little of that aspect. Suzuki is one of the best wrestlers on the planet. Muta can’t move well at all anymore. Shelton Benjamin is Shelton Benjamin. None of these elements should really be meshing here. Yano and Suzuki’s feud has ran its course at this point and really should stop going forward. Despite that those were the best parts of the match by the virtue of the other combinations just being worse. Minoru Suzuki could have been put in an awesome high profile bout yet he’s stuck in here doing nothing more than a filler contest to say “Hey, it is the Great Muta!” This is less an offensive contest than simply boring.

Billy: **1/2

Cool entrance by Yano & Muta. I’m a noted Muta mark, despite the fact that his offense consists of nothing but shining wizards & dragon screws at this point. Either way, not as fun as I thought it could be and the big draw to this match for me was the potential Muta/Suzuki interactions. They interacted, but it was brief and left a lot to be desired. The finish looks like it might leave the possibility of a one-on-one match between the two to happen at a future show. Decent enough but not what I hoped for.

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‘King of Destroyer’ match: Togi Makabe vs Bad Luck Fale

Billy: ***

Not as bad as I had thought it would be, although it felt slow & plodding at times. Togi is always fun in these types of matches but Fale is…well, Fale. Togi took quite the beating during this, including the Bad Luck Fall. He was able to fight back though and damn near killed Fale with a botched power bomb through a table on the outside. A King Kong Knee finishes things soon after. Bullet Club eats their first loss of the night and I’m placing bets that Fale’s head is still ringing.

Sam: **3/4

I went into this one for some reason thinking it could be one of the top matches of the night. Apparently I completely forgot who Bad Luck Fale is cause he totally is a wrestling turd. To be fair this was the kind of match that would play Fale’s strengths. Still doesn’t change the turd-ness. I’m not saying Togi is wrestling God or anything but he tends to be able to work these New Japan type brawls rather well, last year against Shibata being a good example. Looked like this was the best we were going to be able to get from Togi. We got Togi’s table spot and Fale got MURDERED with his head hitting the ramp when going through the table.

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Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata

Sam: ***

If you look at super stiff wrestling then you’ll probably enjoy this. This match started off oddly where it was wrestled really smart with each having a defined roll. Shibata was murdering Goto and Goto was working from beneath. Didn’t take too long for this match to break down into a NJPW stiff fest sadly. This match ended being a whole lot of no-selling moves, kick outs at one, and double knockdown spots. While fun to see them kill each other it isn’t captivating in a “Wow, this is great,” sorta way. Shibata was particularly devastating in his offense throwing elbows straight at Goto’s recently fractured jaw with such force that it looked like Shibata was trying to destroy the side of the jaw that Goto didn’t have fractured. Could have lived without all of Goto’s moves onto his knee cause it simply felt like it was being fancy for the sake of being fancy. Starts off very interesting but then sorta settles back into what the Tokyo Dome wanted which is fun and all but doesn’t bring me into the “Wow this is really great” sorta mind frame.

Billy: ****1/4

Loved, loved, loved this. Stiff, brutal , violent–and it all worked wonderfully. Shibata looked especially nasty, rocking Goto with ferocious forearms in the corner that looked like they might re-break Goto’s jaw. But for all of Shibata’s striking, Goto was willing to give it right back. They traded big moves and pulled out everything in order to put one another away. Goto finally finishes Shibata with the Shouten Kai to close out this chapter of their story. They help each other out of the ring and this show really turned the corner starting with this match. Here’s to both of these men moving on to big things this year, especially Shibata. I’d love to see him move into a feud either champion at some point in 2014.

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IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Prince Devitt (c) vs Kota Ibushi

Billy: ***3/4

I know it’s only January, but you’re going to be hard pressed to find a better entrance in 2014 than Prince Devitt’s on this show. As for the match, it was really hampered by the Bullet Club’s presence on the outside but once they left this picked up nicely. If they’d have removed the BC a little earlier, this probably would’ve gotten bumped up a little higher. Ibushi survives a Bloody Sunday in the final stretch before getting the upper hand and hitting the Phoenix Splash for the win. El Desperado shows up to deliver a bouquet of black roses to Ibushi following the match. Looks like a new challenger has emerged just in time for FantasticaMania.

Sam : **3/4

I probably should start this off by saying Bullet Club is one of the worse devices that NJPW has used in recent times. It is solely a group to interfere and do so at the expense of the match. I can’t truly fathom why they are so loved. I’m not a Devitt fan to be truthful. I don’t see anything he does that really separates him from most juniors. Nothing here disproves my beliefs. Ibushi is someone who can be exceptional but at others fall into certain traps of the current junior style with big flashy moves with not a ton of flow. Ibushi was almost forced into not selling well in this getting the piss kicked out of him on the outside by Bullet Club and still kicking out of big moves. Not saying he couldn’t have done better, he really could have, but the way they layed it out was bound to force these issues. After Bullet Club got ejected from ringside this got better but still it was a junior big move stretch so it was only going to get so much better. Still like the opener I found the stretch to be mindless fun.

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IWGP Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito

Sam: ****

On first watch I thought this was just okay but on rewatch this was certainly better than I had thought. I guess that is the problem with watching wrestling on three hours of sleep and over four hours into a show. This felt like a big title match which it should have. This wasn’t on the level of their MOTYC in 2012 but not many matches are. This match was slow going until the finish but that gave this a nice build. Naito’s selling didn’t take anything away from this. Okada showed some fire despite not really loving him doing it. Both men really need to eliminate their submission “finishers” from their repertoires. Want to know how much it means to me that Okada’s submission got more of a reaction from the crowd than Naito’s? It doesn’t mean a single thing. If my enjoyment of a match was solely based on the live crowd’s reaction then there might as well be a Cheer-O-Meter in each venue that tells me how each moment is supposed to make me feel. The finishing counter stretch was super well done and given the slow build it needed to be. If it weren’t then the whole match would have fell flat on its face. It didn’t though and we got a great match worthy of a main event.

Billy: ****1/4

This was a great match and definitely could’ve closed out the card. As a matter of fact, I’ve made my point time and again about how I feel the main title should be in the main event of any promotion’s show but that’s another discussion for another day. Like Sam said, this match continued to build & build and the story was fantastic. Okada is of course the best in the world today but Naito was excellent here. Tremendous sequences down the stretch and Okada kills him dead with the Rainmaker to retain. Main event worthy.

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IWGP Intercontinental Title: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

Sam: ***1/4

This match suffers from the same issue that came about from Tanahashi’s match against Okada at last year’s Invasion Attack. Tanahashi does a decent job of working a limb to the point his opponent should totally sell it AND not use it for the base of their offense. Okada broke the second part consistently but still sold it just as consistently. Nakamura on the other hand sold it when he chose and still used the worked over leg for the base of his offense. That is a super major flaw in my eyes which makes this good at most. In theory, Tanahashi taking out the opponent’s biggest weapon is smart but it really is nulled when his opponent doesn’t allow it to become part of the narrative. Nakamura was in his swag character for most of this which isn’t my favorite version of Nakamura. My favorite version of the man is when he is a brutal man who destroys others with strikes. We get a glimpse of that which was complete awesome sauce but not nearly enough. Tanahashi is a man that I feel is overrated solely by how highly praised he is. He’s certainly good, possibly very good, but calling him one of the greatest of all time is a stretch in my view. Here he is certainly good but he can’t make up for Shinsuke not selling his leg. To sum this up and not ramble anymore, this was voted to be main event but really didn’t show that it should have been. Really did have some good moments between Nakamura cutting the shtick and doing some killing and Tanahashi busting out a sweet Texas Cloverleaf Styles Clash which were both times well. With a rematch coming up in February it feels even worse that NJPW would have this as the main event for Wrestle Kingdom 8.

Billy: ****1/4

Stan Hansen! The guitarist from Megadeath! Strippers! Nakamura and Tanahashi both had awesome entrances, which was the theme of the show. As for the match, I thought it was fantastic. Nak came with the brutal knee strikes and Tanahashi countered by attacking the leg. They traded finishes and Tanahashi locked on a painful looking Cloverleaf. It was a cloverleaf/liontamer looking hybrid and looked like it was super painful. They continued to go back and forth before Tanahashi hit a pair of High Fly Flows for the win to become the new IC champ. Nakamura had a great run with the title but I’m ready for him to move up and maybe challenge for the big belt soon. As for Tanahashi, I could see Prince Devitt gunning for him now that the Jr. title is seemingly in his rear view. Great match to close out the show.

OVERALL

Sam: When I purchased Wrestle Kingdom 8 I had high hopes on to the last two matches. Anything else would be gravy. I didn’t get much gravy on this show sadly but that was okay because the last two matches seemed near locks to deliver. Trust me when I say I was disappointed. Naito and Okada put on a great match but Nakamura and Tanahashi left a lot to be desired. Where this Dome Show lacked in the match quality it more than made up for in the spectacle of the whole thing. Every entrance on the show felt big and gave this a whole event a major league feel. While the matches didn’t quite live up to certain expectations the idea that this was NJPW’s WrestleMania in regards to being a spectacle it definitely did.

Billy: This show felt bigger than last year’s WK. While last year’s was better from an in-ring standpoint this one came across aesthetically as a “big” show. The entrances were something else and are going to be hard to top. The first half of this show was fairly pedestrian but from Shibata/Goto and on, there was a string of awesome matches. We got some new champs that’ll freshen things up a bit and it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the company coming off their unprecedented 2013. All in all, a great show to kick off 2014.

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