The second night of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom show is already the best wrestling event of the year. NJPW wasn’t happy having one show with MOTYC-level contests, so they pulled out all the stops on this night. This led to one of the best wrestling shows in many years, complete with a litany of great wrestling matches. Not only did this show surpass the first night’s overall quality by a huge margin, but this show very well might end up being the best wrestling show of 2020 once the calendar year ends.
Why was it so good? Read on…
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi) defeated The Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi, CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi, and Robbie Eagles) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, and Yujiro Takahashi) and Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) to become the new NEVER Openweight 6-man Championships
This was a much better match than I thought it would be. The crowd was into the near-falls and every wrestler got the chance to showcase what they can do. The momentum shifts and confrontations were well-structured, which made sequences feel natural and not rushed.
Of all the wrestlers involved, Shingo Takagi got the most time to shine. He had some great near-falls and got to do more than anyone else. He’s one of the men to watch in 2020, so be sure to check him out when you can.
Ryu Lee and Hiromu Takahashi defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano
This was Liger’s final match, and it was way better than it had any right to be. Liger did some good mat wrestling to start, and actually held his own against his two younger opponents quite well for a 55-year-old man. As for Sano, I was worried he would worsen this match, but he didn’t. He knew his limitations and did what he was best at, which is a handful of big spots while leaving the bulk of the work to Liger. I also loved the symbolism used throughout the match, especially when Hiromu applied a Fujiwara armbar as Liger’s mentor Yoshiaki Fujiwara watched from ringside.
The fans were very into this match, and made plenty of noise throughout its entirety. There’s this old cliché in American wrestling where fans chant ‘you still got it’ to an old timer. Well, Liger always had it. He never faltered in this match and hardly showed his age. He even no-sold a German suplex from Hiromu at one point and survived several double-teams. Hiromu had to bust everything out to pin the legendary Liger, so Liger can rest assured that he went out with a bang instead of with a whimper.
Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) defeated Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo) to become the new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions
Here we had another cruiserweight match, and boy was it fun. These were four of the most agile wrestlers in New Japan going a mile a minute with innovative, lightning-quick maneuvers. That said, Ishimori and ELP did use some comedy wrestling that didn’t fit right in the match.
At one point, El Phantasmo tried to punch Sho in the groin but hurt his hand as Sho revealed he was wearing a protective cup. This felt out of place and weakened the otherwise serious tone of the match. Ishimori and ELP are above this as performers, so while it might get some chuckles, it wasn’t really necessary in this contest.
Zack Sabre Jr. defeated SANADA to retain the British Heavyweight Championship
This is what Daniel Bryan could do if he had no restrictions on him. ZSJ is basically a British Daniel Bryan who specialized in being able to hit quick pinfalls and brutal submission holds out of nowhere. That philosophy was on full display in this match.
Even though it went only twelve-and-a-half minutes, it felt like almost double given how much they did. There were so many incredible reversals, clever escapes, and lightning-quick transitions that made this one of the most unpredictable midcard matches I have ever seen. They even managed to add some psychology with SANADA attacking ZSJ’s leg, which made it harder for ZSJ to capitalize on his kick-based strikes in later parts of the match. If this match went another five minutes it would’ve stolen the show. Unpredictability is one of the most important parts of a wrestling match because it’s always better when viewers can’t tell when or how a match would end.
ZSJ and SANADA exemplified that perfectly here. And I wish they got more time to showcase their technical skills.
Jon Moxley defeated Juice Robinson to retain the IWGP United States Championship
This was not on the same level as the Moxley/Archer match from the night before. While Robinson did try his best to make this into something special, it didn’t click. Now, this wasn’t a bad match; it was just average and lower quality compared to everything else on the card.
They did try some hardcore wrestling, like Robinson throwing a chair into Moxley’s face and then punched the same chair when Moxley tried to swing it at Robinson. But this was basically a standard match without anything exciting.
But all of that changed in the post-match segment.
As Moxley was celebrating, out came Minoru freaking Suzuki, who attacked Moxley and laid him out. He then announced that he was the King of pro-wrestling and wanted to become king of the United States.
A feud between Jon Moxley and Minoru Suzuki? And a possibility that MiSu could return to the United States? HELL YES!
6.5/10 (match) 10/10 (post-match segment)
Hirooki Goto defeated Kenta to become the new NEVER Openweight Champion
This was a great match with lots of back-and-forth action, great drama, and believable near-fall sequences. The final two minutes were especially great, as Goto and KENTA had great chemistry with each other. It felt like a classic ROH match with lots of brutal strikes, unpredictable near-falls, and signature moves built on top of one another in a logical way.
I have no idea why the crowd didn’t make more noise in this match. Maybe they were tired from singing Suzuki’s entrance music. Whatever the reason, their silence didn’t do this match justice as it was very good.
Although I initially thought that Goto winning would feel hollow, I (and everyone else watching) knew exactly why this happened later on.
Jay White defeated Kota Ibushi
This was a rematch from the 2019 G1 Climax final, and it too was a great match. It was the most ‘Americanized’ wrestling match on the card. There was a ref bump (which isn’t common in Japan) and White’s manager Gedo got involved several times, attacking Ibushi when the ref was down, and even dragging the referee out of the ring when Ibushi had the match won.
If this match took place in the United States or otherwise in front of an English-speaking crowd, they would’ve booed louder and cheered wildly when Ibushi got his revenge on Gedo. But these Japanese fans barely responded, likely because they don’t like dirty/underhanded wrestling in the first place.
But if you ask me, that ‘dirty’ wrestling helped the wrestlers. Jay White got ridiculous heat from the fans because they booed him much more than they would have if he had wrestled this match alone. And Ibushi now has an out because he lost in controversial circumstances and not cleanly.
I also think that Ibushi did a great job of showcasing his dynamism in this match. He has this great ability to move like a cruiserweight and strike like he’s genuinely trying to murder his opponent. That ‘fugue state’ gimmick was used to perfection here as he looked like a remorseless killing machine at one point. This was a great performance from both wrestlers, and hopefully will lead to a rematch down the road.
Chris Jericho defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi
Once again, Jericho proved why he’s arguably the best active wrestler in the world today. While he didn’t wrestle at the same pace as the cruiserweights or with the same fluidity as ZSJ and SANADA, he made every move he did feel important. He acted as the perfect heel, flipping off the crowd, mocking Tanahashi by calling him in an idiot (in Japanese, baka = idiot, so ‘Baka-hashi’ makes sense here), and showed his underhandedness by brutalizing Tanahashi’s knees. He worked the crowd better than anyone else on the show, getting the people to love Tanahashi that much more.
he ending was especially great, as Jericho made Tanahashi submit with the Liontamer, after initially locking the move in Boston Crab-style. As I mentioned on the first night’s review, the Boston Crab is a rookie’s move, so Tanahashi tapping to a variation of this move is especially poignant. Tanahashi rarely taps, and here he tapped to what is basically a rookie’s move.
How this will impact Tanahashi’s career going forward remains to be seen, but this will definitely be a huge feather in Jericho’s cap for 2020.
IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada to win the Double Gold Dash
This is why I love Japanese pro-wrestling: they tell incredibly long stories, and when those stories conclude, you have an overwhelming sense of satisfaction you rarely get anywhere else.
In this case, Naito’s dream finally came true. After a crazy, back-and-forth contest with Okada, Naito finally won the big one. He finally won in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom and made history by becoming the first-ever dual champion in NJPW. He had to overcome not just a mountain of an obstacle in Okada, but had to survive his own limitations. Okada, like Jay White the night before, targeted Naito’s knee like it had a bull’s eye drawn on it. but despite that vulnerability, Naito persisted and kept going.
That’s why the crowd was so behind him. Not only were they hoping Naito would finally get his big win, but they booed Okada loudly when Okada had the gall to attack Naito’s knee. That effectively turned him into a true heel, and he was getting booed as loudly as Jay White, Gedo, and Jericho.
They even went a step further with the callbacks in a way that reminds me of King’s Road matches from AJPW and NOAH. Two years ago, when Naito faced Okada in the main event of WK12, Naito went for the Stardust Press, a diving move off the top rope. In that match, the move failed Naito and cost him the match. So when he went for it in this match, everyone was going nuts, because they knew if he did it again he’d be wasting time (allowing Okada to recover) and it could cost him the match again.
But this time, Naito landed the move perfectly, which sent the crowd (and commentators) into a frenzy. And when Okada kicked out of the Stardust Press, they were even more frenzied. That sort of storytelling is why NJPW is so good right now. They make the small stuff mean so much so that older matches have historical meaning and future rematches become more symbolic and unpredictable.
Unfortunately, Naito’s moment of glory, that which he had been seeking for at least six long years, was cut short by KENTA, who appeared and attacked Naito during his celebration. The fans and the commentators were furious, and KENTA became the most hated man in the company and in the Tokyo Dome. He even sat Shibata-style on Naito’s chest with both belts in hand. The fans sounded so angry there could’ve been a riot in the Tokyo Dome.
Overall show rating: 10/10
This show was fantastic, top to bottom. There wasn’t a single bad match on the card, and the worst match was average, not necessarily bad. The gauntlet match was solid because everyone involved got enough time to showcase what they can do. Liger’s final match was a lot better than I was anticipating, and had a great combination of great in-ring action and an emotional post-match segment. The junior heavyweight tag match was your typical ‘spot-fest’ match that made for great wrestling for those that like high-flying craziness (though seeing Canadian Destroyers thrown around like candy is an annoying trend, to be sure). ZSJ and SANADA had the most technically-graceful match on the entire card and it would’ve stolen the show if they had gotten more time. The Moxley/Robinson match was OK, nothing special, but the post-match between Moxley and MiSu was a welcome surprise.
Goto and KENTA had a great match that got an unusually small reaction, despite being exciting and brutal. Kota Ibushi and Jay White had the kind of match that would main event any American show and the fans would love it here. Jericho and Tanahashi had an awesome match for two great grapplers past their primes. And the main event. My God, the main event. That was wrestling storytelling at its best with Naito and Okada. A long, complex, emotional story had finally concluded, only for a new one to start between Naito and KENTA. Who knows where things are going now.
I think that NJPW has set the bar incredibly high, and I doubt anyone will be able to reach them this year.