The three NJPW Destruction shows in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kobe this year formally introduced what the 26th G1 Climax flirted with: New stars at top billing. Kenny Omega walks around with a guaranteed Heavyweight title shot at the Tokyo Dome main event, a territory where gaijins are very rarely seen, Jr. Heavyweights begin to punch up above their weight limits, YOSHI-HASHI main evented an entire show, cats and dogs fall from the sky and catch one another in triangle chokes.
King of Pro Wrestling 2016, however, involves those new stars making themselves comfortable.
Gedo undoubtedly rolled the dice when he began furiously making new stars after the exit of AJ Styles, Nakamura, Gallows and Anderson. As it stands, though, his gamble seems to have paid off, as KOPW saw an attendance of 9671 at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan ready, willing and able to accept people who were formerly midcarders, afterthoughts or Jr. Heavyweights as their future main event players. With only two months until Wrestle Kingdom 11, New Japan looks to be revitalised, with some of the best young talent in the pro wrestling business today.
- TIGER MASK W VS RED DEATH MASK (GWM)
This was simply a dark match meant to advertise the “Tiger Mask W” anime that premiered at the beginning of October. Cartoons about wrestling have been done well in the past, Kinnikuman being the example that comes to mind immediately, but it can be hard for a team of TV writers, rather than bookers, to properly balance an episodic storyline with the pageantry and showmanship that distinguishes wrestling from its peers within the entertainment industry. From what I’ve seen, “Tiger Mask W” seems perfectly fine. The art style is pretty to look at, the inclusion of actual New Japan stars will bring more eyes to the shows, and the stories seem simple enough that the wrestling doesn’t seem out of place, or sloppy.
I was wondering if they’d use Tiger Mask IV here, so seeing Kota Ibushi come out for a cheeky little return match under the Tiger hood was a great surprise. Also of note is that most sources report that Cody Hall, the Bullet Club young boy who was injured back at Invasion Attack in April. Hall was coming along nicely as a guy who was pretty solid when it came to the fundamentals, so I’m definitely excited for him to return full-time to the roster.
The match itself was nice and short. One always has expectations of a clear advertising match that are different from normal matches. For example, you would be forgiven for thinking that Dolph Ziggler dressed up as Colonel Sanders is not about to pull off a four-star performance. However, these two guys didn’t really hold back, or compromise the quality of the match for novelty’s sake. Ibushi did a fine job of acting as Tiger Mask, even if he pushed it a bit by doing his signature Triangle Moonsault to the outside. After some back and forth, including a really nice Alabama Slam by Red Death Mask, Tiger Mask won in 07:25 with a strange-looking Tiger Driver, which appeared to be Ibushi trying to do a Last Ride variant of the double underhook powerbomb. RDM landed a bit awkwardly, but no one appeared to be hurt. Overall, a fun match that warmed up the crowd. **1/2
- YUJIRO TAKAHASHI, BAD LUCK FALE & ADAM COLE (BULLET CLUB) VS WILL OSPREAY, YOSHI-HASHI & TOMOHIRO ISHII (CHAOS)
Adam Cole seems to be getting more popular the more he shows up. The crowd enjoys singing along with his “Bay Bay” shtick, even though I’m quite sure the intro of his theme was meant purely to annoy everyone.
Bullet Club attacked CHAOS before the bell, with action spilling to the outside quickly. Cole threw a stomp at Ishii, who didn’t sell it. As in, he didn’t move, or even try to psyche up. It looked funny. One of the main stories in this match was that YOSHI-HASHI was able to really take it to Bad Luck Fale. YOSHI seems to still be pretty over with the audience, which is a good sign because it was a possibility that his popularity might peter out after his loss at Destruction in Hiroshima. He’s been working really hard this year, from the matches with SANADA in late Spring, to his amazing performances within the G1, YOSHI-HASHI is talented enough to be one of the future prospects that simmers in the pot, ready to get elevated whenever they’re needed, so it’s good to see that people are still getting behind him.
Cole starts exchanging holds with YOSHI, and it’s here where I notice just how smooth he is with his offense. He’s able to go from a reversal to an offensive move in one fluid motion, without a lot of delay, and with a nice snap to everything he does. This is multiplied twofold when Ospreay gets tagged in, as they both just land kicks and standing aerial attacks with sheer efficiency. It’s able to impress you, without necessarily taking away from the match. Will pulls off a standing corkscrew splash, which makes Milano Collection AT on commentary say “Woah shit” in full English, which is a big stamp of approval in my book.
Soon, Ishii gets a hot tag, and he comes in with a lot of fire. Even when he’s relegated to doing two minutes in a tag match, Ishii is still able to be really freakin’ good in the ring. He brings the same intensity to beating up Takahashi here as he does to facing Okada at the G1. Speaking of Takahashi, Bullet Club manage to get the advantage back by taking turns charging Ishii in the corner, and the Tokyo Pimp manages to hit a Fisherman’s Buster. I’m convinced that it’s in Takahashi’s contract that he must hit at least one every match, because unlike all the other signature moves done in New Japan, it’s not memorable, it’s not over, nor is it done particularly well, so the only other reason I can think of is that they’re obligatory, and he’ll be fired if he doesn’t hook that leg.
The finishing sequence is pretty great. Takahashi goes for his DDT on Ishii, but Ospreay comes in with a kick to break it up. Adam Cole comes in to kick Ospreay, but then YOSHI-HASHI enters and hits his big lariat on Cole. Fale runs in, but gets tripped over the ropes by YOSHI, and then Ospreay hits a plancha on both Fale and Cole on the outside. Ishii grabs a hold of Takahashi and gives him a big Brainbuster. Cole tries to break it up, but in a great visual, YOSHI has a death grip on him, stopping him just enough that Cole is just a couple of inches away when the 3 count is registered at 08:40. CHAOS looked great as the scrappy babyfaces, just clawing with all their might to get the win, and you really got the feeling that either team could’ve got the victory here. YOSHI and Fale argue with each other post-match, so be on the lookout for that as a program coming up for two guys who otherwise aren’t occupied. Overall, this was a really fun match that I would recommend watching if you have the time. ***1/4
- TOMOAKI HONMA, TOGI MAKABE (G.B.H), BOBBY FISH (REDRAGON) & RYUSUKE TAGUCHI VS JADO, ROCKY ROMERO, BERETTA, TORU YANO (CHAOS)
Taguchi’s shirt looks awful. He’s mocking the pose of a guy who’s been gone for just about 9 months. Think about that, 9 months Shinsuke Nakamura’s been gone. That’s the amount of time it takes for a sperm cell to grow into a fully formed baby, yet he’s still doing shtick that should’ve ended a long time ago. It ain’t good.
Anyways, onto the match. It is always a good thing to see Jado and/or Gedo wrestle. Not only because they’re amazing, but because you can sense why they were put in charge of the booking. Jado has amazing timing, as shown by the slow, comedic Flair-flop sell of a boot to the face after coming off the top rope, and he can get the crowd in the palm of his hands at a moment’s notice. Yano is very much the same, although it’s likely less appreciated by some, especially the more dutiful of us, as we’ve watched him do the rope break spot on basically every single day of the G1. Nonetheless, both are pretty great in this match. Yano starts poking Makabe from the start of the match by squirting him with his water bottle, so Makabe spends most of his in-ring time going after him. It’s a bit of a strange direction, because Makabe seemed like he was being primed to feud with Tenzan, based on the undercard tag matches at the Destruction shows. Perhaps the recent NOAH Navigation event featuring New Japan stars vying for the GHC Tag Titles made everyone remember that G.B.H. hasn’t been doing much lately, and we’ll see them face Yano and Marufuji at Power Struggle.
The rest of the people in the match don’t really do much that is notable, going through their signature spots. Bobby Fish called Beretta a dummy before he got caught with a tornado DDT, but other than that, there’s not much that you’d really be missing, other than the parts where Jado wrestles. Honma manages to pin Romero with the top-rope Kokeshi in 08:10 to continue the apparent dissention of Roppongi Vice. **1/2
- MAYBACH TANIGUCHI, MASA KITAMIYA, GO SHIOZAKI & KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA (NOAH) VS HIROYOSHI TENZAN, SATOSHI KOJIMA, YUJI NAGATA & MANABU NAKANISHI
A question that Trent Breward asked in his preview of KOPW was about the next step in the NJPW/NOAH feud. The 8-man tag at the G1 finals was an amazing bout, with a crowd so hot that it likely ignited within some of us the nostalgia of competition within wrestling, the loyalty one develops towards a specific company or product. Visuals like Shibata cracking his own head open with a headbutt, or Nakajima standing on the turnbuckle with middle fingers surrounding him, were vastly improved by how lively the crowd got during and after the match. Indeed, the question of where this feud goes next was on everyone’s mind, but another question to be considered was if a rematch that subbed in Satoshi Kojima for Shibata would be as good as that fateful encounter.
After watching this match, I’d say that the answer to that question is yes. The very basic idea of heels and babyfaces being decided by what company they come from still works like a charm. The old guard of New Japan get roaring ovations, almost defiant in nature, getting behind the stars that have stayed with them for so long in the face of the arrogant invaders who think they run the place. It is an absolutely infectious atmosphere.
From the very start, Tenzan grabs the enemy by the throat, immediately provoking an all-out brawl. From there on, everyone starts going through their spots with gusto. Nakajima does some kicks, Nagata locks in Shirome for a bit before it gets broken up, Nakanishi goes “hooooo” and does a big lariat, so on and so forth. The crowd just reacts to every single thing so strongly, that everything becomes a lot more meaningful. Kitamiya isn’t just stopping Kojima from hitting his flying elbow, he’s standing in the way of a New Japan legend. Nakajima isn’t just taking out people on the apron, he’s being a cheeky bugger and booting Nagata in the face to piss him off. Shiozaki isn’t just doing a brainbuster, he’s taking the time to sneer at the rabid NJPW fanbase before he drops Nakanishi down. There’s more gravitas to everything simply by virtue of the level of noise in the arena. Shiozaki gets the win with a lariat on Nakanishi after the brainbuster in 12:49, leaving the score 2-0 to NOAH in recent inter-promotional battles. ***3/4
After the bell, Nagata walks into the ring, and within seconds, is trying to slap the smug smile off of Nakajima’s face. A good multi-man pull-apart brawl is hard to top, and what happened here was indeed a good multi-man pull-apart brawl. Based on the aftermath of the NEVER title match, I have to assume that EVIL is facing Shibata at Power Struggle, while Shiozaki is being saved for Wrestle Kingdom. They did a really good job of re-establishing Go Shiozaki for the NJPW audience, especially with people who’ve gotten onto the product only in the last 2 or so years and thus aren’t familiar with his prior appearances, so if a push for him is the main purpose of the NOAH/NJPW feud, I’m all for it.
- IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: THE YOUNG BUCKS (BULLET CLUB) VS DAVID FINLAY & RICOCHET
The main concern people had with David Finlay teaming with Ricochet, especially when it comes to working as a proper tag team rather than just as a trio with Kojima, is that his not being Matt Sydal would really show when he’d be wholly unable to keep up with Ricochet’s high-flying style. Basically, he’d have his weaknesses exposed, and his strengths would thus be muted.
If this match served as a test run for this team, then I think those concerns can be put to rest.
I thought this was a great match. It made the Young Bucks more legit as Jr. Tag Team champions by simply having them hold onto the belt instead of hot potato’ing it, it acted as a big step in Finlay’s graduation from Young Lion to fully-fledged member of the roster, and we saw how Ricochet is able to operate with a chemistry based upon a contrast of wrestling styles.
Most of the stuff Ricochet did here was what you’d expect. He landed on his feet a couple of times after trying to fly out of the ring onto the Bucks, he used Matt Jackson like a human parkour course, he did a huge Shooting Star Press with impeccable timing. Meanwhile, Finlay stayed mostly to the mat. While Ricochet wowed the audience, Finlay received a lot of trash talk from the Bucks. Not only did they insist on still calling him a young boy, but they also said his father sucked at wrestling before spitting in his face. He wrestled this match with a fire that betrayed his need to prove that he belonged anywhere near the championship scene. Every time he kicked out of a Swanton, or some variation of Driver, it meant something, he was showing a determination to not give up, even when everything seemed to tempt him to do so.
There was a really fun spot leading to a hot tag made to Ricochet where Finlay landed on his feet from a back suplex from Nick, then landed on his feet from a back suplex from Matt. Then, they tried giving him a double back suplex, and he rolled out again, using the momentum and positioning to make the tag. If Finlay could just do that every single match, I would be a lot more hesitant to pair Sydal back up with Ricochet once he returns.
The Bucks were great here. As demonstrated above, they were great at being heels here, managing to come off like cocky, mean-spirited goofballs who you wanted to see get beat up. It’s interesting to compare the very frantic, spot-based style of the Ladder War that they worked just a couple of weeks ago at ROH All Star Extravaganza VIII to this match, which (relatively, in Young Bucks terms) was a lot more based around a psychologically sound story. The most dangerous thing either Jackson did in this match was probably take a bump when the Meltzer Driver got intercepted, while with the former, they were flying through tables and falling off ladders, risking their bodies each time. It is a useful thing to be able to pull off both matches. It’s safe to say that you have a longer career if you have that ability.
Ricochet got taken out of the match after the aforementioned SSP. Finlay hit the rolling Fireman’s carry slam on Matt, and by the time they hit the mat, Ricochet was already rotating. Even so, Matt instantly got his knees up, and Ricochet got blasted out of the ring. After a hope spot where Finlay almost got the win with a Schoolboy, he got pinned in 12:47 after the Young Bucks hit multiple moonsaults on him. ****
Post-match, people applauded Finlay, who was selling the beating that he took near the finish real well. There’s a Young Lion taking it to an established guy, and then there’s Finlay almost winning the Jr. Tag Championships. It is safe to say that he has fully shed the label that the Bucks so disparagingly mocked him with.
- IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: THE BRISCOE BROTHERS VS GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (BULLET CLUB)
Guerrillas of Destiny isn’t really working well. It’s Tanga Loa’s fault. I know this, because I will swear up and down that Tama Tonga is a talented worker who will really be something one day. The former Camacho really struggles at times to effectively gel with people who are working the house style that’s often faster and more intense than he is.
With this in mind, G.O.D. is getting better. I think.
What comes to mind is the thing that Gorilla Monsoon used to say about Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. He’d say something like “It takes him about twenty minutes to get warmed up.” The point being, regardless of the actual numbers involved, that he gets better as the match goes on. I’m pretty confident in saying that Tanga Loa got better as time went on. His offense didn’t seem rigid, he acclimated well to the pace and explosiveness of the closing moments, and it could be seen in how the crowd was beginning to come a little bit alive for the match. I never take joy in disliking a wrestler, so I hope this is a sign that Loa is improving day-by-day.
The Briscoes, as always, tried hard to get the crowd involved when they were dead. It’s a bit of a bum deal how they came along when the title scene for heavyweight tag teams was so dire. Even them against, perhaps, Gallows & Anderson would be better than the defences they’ve made against teams like G.O.D. and Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page, A.K.A the 2nd Coming of the Ultimate Maniacs, where they just try their best stuff against people that the crowd don’t care about. They did the same here. Jay Briscoe pulled out the WWE 2K version of a suicide dive. You know, that one move where you get a guy up against the ropes, then there’s the animation of you throwing the guy out and then doing the dive. I had never seen someone execute that move in such a way, where they specifically threw a person out to do a dive, rather than it just being something they decided to do in the heat of the moment.
As mentioned, the match gets good when people start attempting their finishers. The Briscoes go for a Doomsday Device on Tama Tonga, but Loa intercepts by spearing Jay, releasing Tama from his grip. Then, later, the Briscoes try again for the Doomsday, and they actually hit it, but Loa is there to catch Tama so that he doesn’t fall to the ground and get the brunt of the damage. After that, G.O.D. get a hold of Mark Briscoe and give him a double-team DDT for the win and the championships in 13:57. If your first reaction to a G.O.D. match is “ugh”, then I don’t think this match will necessarily change your mind, but it does give me optimism for the future. **1/2
Young Bucks come out to beat up the Briscoes after the match, and then Ishii runs in to try and make the save. Hopefully, now that Goto isn’t involved in the main event storyline, he and Ishii team up for the G1 Tag League this year. Just based on their recent tags since Goto joined CHAOS, they’d be able to breathe new life into the heavyweight tag division.
- EVIL, BUSHI, SANADA & TETSUYA NAITO (LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON) VS JAY LETHAL, KUSHIDA, MICHAEL ELGIN & HIROSHI TANAHASHI
Tetsuya Naito’s level of popularity with the crowd is truly amazing to see. The guy’s theme music hits, and people are already going nuts, like we’re in North America. What’s also amazing is just how good a mind Naito has for wrestling. Everything he does, the way he walks, where his eyes are headed, how he kicks around his newly-won Intercontinental Title, how he steps on it, all contributes to the atmosphere of any given match that he’s in. Things feel huge when L.I.J. come around, and one of the main reasons for that is Naito, no question about it.
Onto the actual match, which was fun if you enjoyed the tag team matches featuring Los Ingobernables de Japon on the Destruction tour. The main change is the inclusion of Jay Lethal, who recently got excommunicated from L.I.J. on ROH television. Perhaps you can sense the problem in that sentence. Unless you were keeping up with ROH, which not many Japanese fans would do, you would have no idea why Lethal, who was last seen teaming with Naito and co., suddenly trading forearms with him. There’s no clear indication of how the split came about, not even of when Lethal pinned Naito clean at ROH’s All Star Extravaganza VIII PPV recently. It really only serves to harm Lethal, who’s not had the best run in NJPW to begin with.
The match continued the rivalries that have been developing for a while, including SANADA vs Tanahashi. Both men traded Dragon Sleepers in what was a strange sight to see. Meanwhile, KUSHIDA and BUSHI kept fighting it out over the Jr. Heavyweight Belt. KUSHIDA seemed to hurt his wrist after eating a backstabber, although I’m unsure as to how legitimate the injury was because Naito and EVIL had no problem kicking the shit out of him after the fact. Once Elgin got the tag, he ran wild, ragdolling most Ingobernables in sight. He managed to hold Naito in place to get hit by Jay’s Lethal Injection, then hit him with the buckle/sitout powerbomb combo for the win, likely setting up an IC title rematch for Power Struggle. Elgin suffered a facial fracture somewhere during this match, which explains why he was touching his eyes concernedly. If he’s still okay to wrestle, I look forward to Big Mike wearing an eyepatch. ***1/2
- NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: KATSUYORI SHIBATA VS KYLE O’REILLY (REDRAGON)
This match reminded me, first and foremost, the value of a wrestler who doesn’t appear all the time. If Shibata hadn’t been trying to nurse his injury, we would’ve seen some of this match get exposed in opening tag matches, it wouldn’t feel as special once they do both butt heads inside the ring. As it is, Shibata returning from thoracic spine hell in an attempt to strike down Kyle O’Reilly felt massive. The crowd obviously missed him, as did I.
Even with the injuries that Shibata had looming over this match, this lived up to expectations and then some. It presented a mix of the styles that guys like O’Reilly and Shibata know how to do best: Shoot-style, mat-based submission wrestling, and breakneck, teeth-gritting, head-dropping fighting spirit New Japan main event style. At once, they can make you yearn for them to kick his opponent’s face in, while also making you want to see them grab for an arm when applying a chinlock so that they can transition into a cross armbreaker. That is indeed one of the many signs that a wrestler is special, when they can get both a wristlock and a piledriver over to the same level.
The way both men act during the grappling portion of the bout is just impeccable. Shibata, all too aware of his ailments, scrambles for the ropes like a madman when O’Reilly shoots for a submission on the taped-up shoulder. Both men have great facial expressions. O’Reilly’s very animated face is great at showing signs of frustration, while Shibata adapts to a style of match where he needs to sell more by looking pissed at himself that he’s letting Kyle get in this much offense.
Kyle getting that much offense is an important part of the match. One of my favourite spots here was when O’Reilly went for a brainbuster, but Shibata slipped out behind him and grabbed him by the temples. As anyone who watched the G1 finals or Destruction in Tokyo’d know, this means that Shibata’s about to headbutt his opponent and bust himself open. O’Reilly, though, sees this coming, and reverses by driving a big high knee right into Shibata’s mush. He then hits a dangerous looking exploder suplex, successfully hits the brainbuster, then immediately transitions to a triangle choke when Shibata kicks out at 2.Yet, despite O’Reilly seeming perfectly prepared for him, Shibata ekes him out in terms of spirit. He tips the scales in his favour, just by catching a running O’Reilly with an ungodly slap to the jaw and locking him in a sleeper hold. Kyle is powerless to get out. Bobby Fish on the outside screams “BITE THE HAND” to no avail, as he sees his partner gradually lose consciousness. Shibata lets go to hit a penalty kick before re-applying the hold, and in a stunning visual, O’Reilly’s mouthpiece evacuates his mouth, signalling that he’s unable to continue. The bell rings in 18:09 as Shibata, against odds that would scare off most reasonable men, once again retains his NEVER Openweight championship.
He goes over to O’Reilly, helping him up to his feet. They butt heads once more, this time not with hatred, or with intent to injure, but with a type of respect that can only be forged through the fires of war. ReDRagon and Shibata beat the living hell out of each other in order to make sure that they were cool with each other. ****3/4
As mentioned above, Go Shiozaki comes out to hint that he wants a shot at Shibata, who basically tells him to fuck off by not only waving him off, but by also throwing his wrist tape at him as he leaves. The animosity between NJPW and NOAH is pure money, I’m telling ya. Then, EVIL comes out of nowhere, wanting a reward for that victory in the G1, and lays out Shibata with his self-titled STO. Both matches have me pretty excited, to say the least.
- WRESTLE KINGDOM 11 TOKYO DOME MAIN EVENT CONTRACT: KENNY OMEGA (BULLET CLUB) VS HIROOKI GOTO (CHAOS)
The main thing with this match, which had a pretty obvious outcome, was that it acted as another stage in the evolution of Hirooki Goto’s character. The last time we saw the fire that we saw here in this match was when Goto was feuding with Okada at New Beginning earlier this year. Except, instead of it being an awkward, aimless anger like it was against Okada, Goto’s attitude here against Omega is laser-focused and efficient. Instead of just frowning uselessly as Omega walked around with his big fancy briefcase like he might’ve in the past, Goto just straight up grabs it out of the referee’s hands, brains Omega with it, DDT’s his head into it, then kicks the broken-up pieces out of the ring. It is an amazing way to start an amazing match, something almost uncharacteristic of the Goto we used to know.
From then on, the match is fast-paced and action packed, with little acting as pause. Within just minutes of getting viciously assaulted with his own contract, Omega is pulling off missile dropkicks that snap Goto’s head forward, bringing out tables for attempted out-of-the-ring powerbombs, as well as all the high-flying offense he’s been able to retain since moving up to the Heavyweights. Make no mistake, Goto is no tank either. One of the best spots in the match is when he manages to hit a beautiful looking sunset flip powerbomb off of the top rope. Kenny begins seizing, his eyes going into the back of his head. For some, this may look cartoonish, but for me, it looked so cool.
After a cavalcade of great moments, table spots, signature moves, finisher attempts, Omega manages to hook Goto up for the One-Winged Angel. Goto, still well-minded enough to know what’s going on, tries desperately to punch Kenny’s head until he lets go. In what I thought was a great way to end the story as well as the match, Goto was just a sliver away from surviving for a little bit longer, as Omega manages to hit the One-Winged Angel despite his grip lessening with every shot Goto delivered. Omega retains the title shot in what was a pretty electrifying 21:52. Kenny Omega continues to be consistently high-quality as a worker, with the same being said for Goto as well, who has pulled off a lot of great matches just this year. ****1/2
- IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: KAZUCHIKA OKADA (CHAOS) VS NAOMICHI MARUFUJI (NOAH)
What I loved about Okada and Marufuji’s encounter in the G1 was how Marufuji’s superiority as a wrestler was so well established. His approach was so meticulous, surgical, that Okada’s comebacks seemed to but delay the inevitable.
In a way, this aspect is brought back here in the big rematch, althought it’s more like the makeup of the rematch is influenced by that aspect. I noticed this in how visibly confident Okada would get when he seemed to have Marufuji where he wanted him. For just a second, he no longer was constantly under the thumb of that other company’s Ace, he was able to stretch his legs and dictate the pace himself, he was able to be the Rainmaker!
Then Marufuji drives his jaw into the barricade.
Despite that instance, the rematch is definitely structured a lot differently from the first time around. While Marufuji’s chops are always lethal, (note how Okada will hit 5 or so forearms and barely move Marufuji, while just one chop sends Okada into conniptions) he began to need more firepower. Okada took any opportunity he could to hit something like a dropkick, or a reverse neckbreaker, so soon, Maru had to pull out some stuff he likely didn’t count on using. For example, A PILEDRIVER ON THE APRON.
Yet, Okada gets back in the ring. He’s hurt, he’s breathing heavy, but he’s still moving. He’s still able to pull off a flapjack from out of nowhere. Marufuji starts to lose his strategic mind, opting to just throw as many bombs as he can at Okada. He tries for a Shiranui, gets countered. Tries again,hits it, but Okada is able to kick out. He tries to go for the Emerald Flowsion that sealed the deal on that 1st day of the G1, but then Okada is able to hit it on him instead.
If Okada/Marufuji I is a case for why mind can beat heart, Okada/Marufuji II is a case for the exact opposite. Okada, like a champion, (as the commentators will often mention) just keeps taking everything that Marufuji dishes out, asking for more. Then, when he gets the slightest inch, he takes a mile, trying to turn every waistlock into a Rainmaker. Soon, akin to Okada’s career-defining matches with Tanahashi, both men are reduced to frenzied attempts at moves. Plans are out the window. Strategy is out the window. All that is left is the fighting spirit that rages within them. Okada goes for a Rainmaker, Marufuji counters with a knee. Marufuji, with sweat flattening his hair, goes for the Shiranui again, but Okada catches him with a Rainmaker. As mentioned, he hits the Emerald Flowsion, after Marufuji tries to wriggle out of a tombstone. Then, he sits, with his opponent’s prone body in front of him.
Okada, the new ace of NJPW, still scraping to keep his place at the top of the mountain, throws out his arms, bares his teeth, and lets out scream that goes beyond business, that goes beyond promotions, beyond sport, or society, that harkens back to the primal aggression that ultimately brings us all to professional wrestling. He picks up Marufuji, twists him around, and destroys him with a Rainmaker, for the victory, and the retribution in exactly 28 minutes.
And after a quick exchange between Okada and his Tokyo Dome challenger, Omega, so ends King of Pro Wrestling 2016. A strong candidate for show of the year, with very few skippable moments, and a lot of great, state of the art pro graps matches. On we go, down the road to Power Struggle!