So the other night like many other wrestling fans, I ordered New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9. After catching a series of awesome hype videos from Matt Striker, and watching the buzz mount on the Internet, I thought… “Hey what do I have to lose besides $34.99?”
Up until this point my experience with Japanese Wrestling had been very minimal. We’re talking Liger (who was like nothing I’ve ever seen), Kaientai a joke, Tajiri (good hand) and all those guys Sonny Onoo brought to fight at Starrcade 95. Thankfully, there was no CHOPPY CHOPPY PEE PEE.
For years, like many others I scoffed at the notion that Japan was producing the level of wrestling Dave Meltzer was rating it on. As these match of the year lists came and went each year, there would be something from Japan that was present. These factors and a stagnant main land product led me to give this Wrestle Kingdom thing a shot. And Jim Ross was announcing what may be his last wrestling show ever? I’M IN!
It should be mentioned, I was playing “the bad defense” when it came to being impressed by New Japan. For those not in the know, “the bad defense” refers to someone who makes no secret of his or her desire to be impressed by the opposite sex. The first guy I saw on the hype videos was Shinsuke Nakamura, and it was like I was a 7-year-old kid watching Shawn Michaels on his road to WrestleMania 12. I was hooked.
With his impeccable swagger, heart pounding music, and his Michael Jackson influenced jackets, “The King Of The Strong Style” now had another loyal follower. Pairing him with Kota Ibushi was pure magic. On Sunday, he came to the ring while wearing a crown and red cape that was something out of a movie. He looked like the final boss you got to at the end of the video game.
These two men pounded each other at a level not seen by most Americans in their match at WK9 and the one they had last summer. I was impressed with Ibushi’s insane athleticism, motor and toughness. Good lord were these guys stiff. They would spend entire sequences palm striking and kicking each other in the head, all with solid contact. I found myself being engulfed by the action when suddenly it me…
This is how wrestling used to make me feel.
Now, I don’t want to be one of THOSE guys who is murdering WWE at every turn for a few months of suspect television, but how New Japan treated everything with importance, and didn’t insult my intelligence once hit me square in the heart as a serious wrestling fan. The 4 hours of action went by at an accelerated pace, as we went from fatal 4 way tag matches, to MMA/Pro Wrestling hybrid matches, junior heavyweight matches and the top 3 matches.
Nevertheless, each of the final bouts, while epic in their own right, were classics that all felt like different matches. Tanahashi and Okada in a sense felt like an ode to the rivalry that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had. Where the greatest of all time is exerting dominance over the entire sport, when this young lion shows up in the middle of his prime and just starts kicking his ass out of nowhere.
While Tanahashi unleashed finisher after finisher, I found myself drawn to Okada. It was clear Tanahashi was going to defeat him after a certain point but I kept waiting for the big move from Okada that never came. Okada may have the greatest dropkick I’ve ever seen, with all respect to Young Randy Orton. While I was unclear on face/heel dynamics most of the night, I got the impression that New Japan didn’t operate squarely on that premise. Okada’s tears in defeat just drew the whole arena in…until it was time for Tanahashi to play air guitar.
I didn’t feel qualified to write a review of the event due to my admitted lack of knowledge of the product, however I did want to share my initial impressions of a product which I will now be following closer than ever to see the progression of men like Nakamura, Okada, Kenny Omega, Tanahashi, The Youngbucks, Ibushi, Ishii, and Makabe.
Favorite Match : Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi
Most Dramatic : Tanahashi vs Okada
Most Impressive : Makabe vs Ishii
Thanks to technology, New Japan has finally found a way to shrink the globe. I’ve never felt their wrestling was as accessible as it is now. What happens from here is anyone’s guess but, the competition for hardcore wrestling fans is heating up. Feels like Nitro in 1995. Just imagine if CM Punk showed up in New Japan?
In a non related story, I just payed my 9.99 in Yen.