Wrestling Review: Wrestle Kingdom 12

Wrestle Kingdom 12 had a ton of big buildup for it this year, particularly with the fact that Chris Jericho (who is still under WWE contract) was going to be taking on Kenny Omega. I’m doing a prose review because the last time I did a video Wrestle Kingdom review I got a copyright strike.

Commentary team is Lucha Libre USA and ROH alum Kevin Kelly and Don Callis (aka Cyrus the Virus from ECW). Their dynamic is exactly what you’d expect – Kelly is regular play-by-play, Cyrus is the heel commentator (which gets occasionally lewd).

The New Japan Rumble (Winner: Masahito Kakihara)

Backstory: This happens pretty much every year. There are no real stakes and this is basically a fun curtain jerker.

High Points: I didn’t quite notice this until it was called out on commentary, but the ref for this match, Tiger Hattori, is 72 years old and still doing ref work. Props.

Also, I love to see Delirious work. This isn’t quite comparable to his Chikara fare (which is where I prefer him), but I still mark out for him. Speaking of marking, Jushin Liger’s entrance music still gives me chills. Also, it’s great seeing Tenzan again.

Kakihara is an UWF-i alum (and wearing the UWF-i tights) and just recovered from cancer, so seeing him get the win is pretty cool. Also shout-out to the Hybrid Shoot blog if you want to learn about the UWF-i. Plus, the final between Kakihara and Cheeseburger was great.

Low Points: The stipulations for the New Japan Rumble are a bit much – new entrant every minute, and elimination by pinfall, submission or being ejected over the top rope – and that’s where things get overcomplicated. At least with the Royal Rumble, there’s only one way out, and it’s pretty straightforward in terms of officiating and terms of keeping track of what’s going on.

Don, Kev, Liger’s had his mask removed before. It doesn’t humiliate him or take him out of the fight – it turns him into Kishin Liger. It’s not his power source, it’s his limiter. Ripping Liger’s mask off is like threatening children in front of Kenshiro – you just don’t do it.

I get doing the Samoan/Maori headbutt thing in the US, but in Japan? Really? I’m assuming that’s something that they imported from the US.

Also, this sounds silly, but a half hour break between the New Japan Rumble and the start of the show? Is there a logistical reason for that? Because, otherwise, you’ve pumped up the crowd and helped them get hyped, and then let the hype die down.

Rating: 3/5 – Good fun to open up the show. Also, I need to get that Takiyamania shirt to help support his medical treatment.

The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) defeated Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) (c) (w/ Rocky Romero) – for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship

Backstory: Sho and Yoh (formerly known as Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu) came back from an overseas tour rebranded and managed by Rockey Romero. They won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, leading to a challenge from the Young Bucks (who had feuded with Romero’s previous team – Roppongi Vice).

High Points: Contrived tag maneuvers get some crap for being, well, contrived, but I generally think they’re fun – and we get some great tag team stuff early on in the show.

Japanese wrestling shows tend toward the quiet – but this is the first show I’ve seen where I’ve seen active chanting.

Great selling of the back injuries, and I’m glad they incorporated them into the finish.

Low Points: There are some nasty back bumps in this match, which look kinda legit. Matt & Nick aren’t twins, why are they doing Twin Magic – or are we working on the narrative convention that to Japanese all white guys look alike?

The ring is also overly miked – and those kicks to the head look a little too stiff.

Some of those movies should really have been match enders (especially the Swanton onto a suspended Yoh – who injured his back early in the match, as did Matt not long later).

Rating: 4/5

Chaos (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c), Michael Elgin and War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe), Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka and Zack Sabre Jr.) (with El Desperado, Taka Michinoku and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) and Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe) in a Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship

Backstory:  Bullet Club beat Los Ingobernables de Japon (IdJ) for the titles in December after the IdJ also won the 2017 World Tag League (meaning that they had a IWGP Tag Title shot). Their first defense would be a gauntlet match at Wrestle Kingdom.

High Points: War Machine are some very agile hosses. I’d comment about WWE bringing them in to NXT, but Paul Ellering is already managing the Authors of Pain, and James Mitchell has retired.

Sabre choking out Rowe works well for protecting the team, while still making Sabre look good – Sabre shows he was able to out-maneuver Rowe, without out-powering or out damaging him.

Yano vertical suplexes Bad Luck Fale, who has a lot of weight and some height on Yano.

Low Points: Chaos out shenanigans-ing (new word) Suzuki-gun feels a bit rough, especially since they do it so fast.

Speaking of which, Chaos really comes in too early – considering they win.

Rating: 4/5

Kota Ibushi defeated Cody Rhodes (w/ Brandi Rhodes)

Backstory: Cody Rhodes challenged Kota Ibushi at NJPW Power Struggle, in what was originally planned to be a match for the ROH World Title, until Cody lost the belt to Dalton Castle at Final Battle 2017. During the build-up, Rhodes called Ibushi the “Brutus Beefcake” to Omega’s “Hogan” – the inferior tag-along, so Ibushi has something to prove. So, this is now the “Handsome Battle”

High Points: I like the execution of Cody’s western-style heel shenanigans. It’d be cartoonish under normal circumstances, but due to the tone of puro, it becomes even more over the top in a fun way. In particular, Cody’s taunting providing Ibushi a chance to recover from a Cross-Rhodes from the apron to the outside.

Low Points: The semi-subversion of “female ringside heel manager takes a bump, face drops everything to check on said manager” was nice, but I could just as easily gone without it.

Ibushi’s win feels less like “a slow gradual recovery” and more like “I’m going to stop selling and win now” – though that’s more of a general problem with some modern Puro than with the match in particular.

Rating: 4/5

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada) defeated Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer) (c) for the IWGP Tag Team Championship

Backstory: The IdJ won the 2017 World Tag League, getting a shot at the champions at the Tokyo Dome.

High Points: Evil’s entrance attire is kinda out there.

Good on IdJ’s Young Lion entourage for slowing and directing Sanada’s fall so he didn’t hit his head on the security railing.

Low Points: K.E.S’s offense is just so powerful and dominating early on, that it makes IdJ’s victory extremely difficult to buy, to the point that it hurts K.E.S.

Rating: 3/5

Hirooki Goto defeated Minoru Suzuki (c) in a Lucha de Apuestas & No Seconds Deathmatch for the NEVER Openweight Championship

Backstory: Immediately after Suzuki won the NEVER Openweight Championship, Goto challenged him. Suzuki refused. They then ended up fighting each other in the World tag League, and Goto pinned Suzuki in their match, leading to another challenge, and another refusal. Then Goto wagered his hair, leading to Suzuki attacking Goto and trying to cut his hair (without success). Finally, after Goto pinned him again in a subsequent match, Suzuki accepted, with the the No Seconds Deathmatch stipulation.

High Points: Considering the stipulation, this match is much more of a brawl (though a conventional one instead of a hardcore brawl) than a real match, and it works.

Suzuki haves his own head, which is kind of a nice touch. It’s very different from how it’s done in the US, when the loser is forcibly shaved by his opponent.

Low Points: I know this sounds petty, but Suzuki doesn’t exactly have much hair to lose. As with the last match, Suzuki has far too dominant offence at the start of this match for this finish.

That Super Reverse Ushigoroshi should have been a match ender.

Rating: 4/5

Lots of video games sponsoring upcoming events (including what appears to be Pokemon, Fire Pro Wrestling on the PC, and a mobile game?

Will Ospreay defeated “The Villain” Marty Scurll (c), “Ticking Time Bomb” Hiromu Takahashi, and “Time Splitter” Kushida in a Four-way match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Backstory: Kushida is the former champion, and Takahashi was going to challenge him in September. Instead Ospreay knocked out Takahashi, challenged Kushida, and beat him for the title. Takahashi then went to challenge Ospreay, only to get attacked by Scurll, who broke Takahashi’s fingers, challenged Ospreay, and then won the title. Following that match, Scurll and Ospreay argued, before Kushida came out wanting a shot, followed by Takahashi in a helmet and gloves (demonstrating that he is a true player character of the “Loonie” variety), also demanding a title shot. Scurll decided that he would take on all three.

High Points: Coming to the ring with a stuffed cat mouth is good shorthand for being kinda deranged. Also, apparently the cat has a name. The fact that he left the cat with the Japanese announce team makes me wish that the I had the option to listen to the Japanese commentary (and spoke Japanese). Speaking of cool ring attire, Marty Scurll comes out in a plague doctor’s mask, a top hat and, for some reason, wings (presumably because someone pointed out that Japanese audiences might not be familiar with Plague Doctor masks).

The moment where Osprey decides to channel New Jack (and I don’t mean coming out to “Natural Born Killaz” and with a shopping cart full of plunder.) Kevin Kelly: “Sure, why not?”

They do protect finishers here, which I appreciate – kick-outs from finishers are because someone else breaks up the pin, someone pulls the ref out of the ring, or because the opponent is stealing the finisher (so it’s not being done “right”)

Low Points:  Scurrl calling his moves like an anime character starts out cute, then gets silly – especially since he’s a heel.

Randy Orton is very good at getting a RKO/Cutter out of nowhere in any situation, and making it look really good. It’s not as effective when it’s done here – and especially when people kick out of it.

Rating: 5/5

“The Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) defeated “Switchblade” Jay White for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Backstory: Jay White has been under a sort of dual contract between NJPW and ROH for about a year, before White returned, challenged Tanahashi for the title at WK12, and attacked him. Tanahashi is coming into this bout with an injured knee.

High Points: Good storytelling in this match – with White initially refusing to engage with the injured knee, in order to keep this an honorable fight, until finally after he can’t win honorably, he just goes for it and starts actively working the leg, through straight cheating, strikes, and holds.

Low Points: Again, this is an issue that’s come up before in Puro matches – people sell until they don’t, with no real transition period, and that really comes up here with Tanahashi’s knee, where it’s sold until it’s not, and he’s able to do a frog splash without any problems.

Rating: /5

“The Cleaner” Kenny Omega (c)  defeated Chris Jericho in a No Disqualification match for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship

Backstory: In November, Y2J showed up in NJPW and called out Omega. Omega accepted, and have been in a war of words since then, before Jericho attacked Omega and a few other people at a show in December.

High Points: So, in NJPW, is the US announce table the equivalent of the Spanish Announce table, in the sense that it’s the announce table that inevitably ends up eating shit? Also, Chono’s on Japanese commentary, which kinda makes me wish I understood Japanese to I could listen to his commentary.

Jericho puts a lot of work into making sure that while Omega’s part of Bullet Club, he’s the heel here – beating up the ref, assaulting the ref’s son (a Young Lion) in front of him, etc. Consequently, we get a bunch of calls of “Y2J” clearly from the international fans, the Japanese fans are clearly calling for “Kenny”.

Again – finishers are generally protected – Jericho breaks the pin on the One Winged Angel by reaching the ropes. Omega kicks out of the Codebreaker because it takes Jericho too long to capitalize, and gets out of the Walls through using the ropes, cold-spray, and other sources of leverage to get out.

Jericho still comes out of this match looking really, really strong. Since he’s currently 9as of this writing) feuding with Naito, that’s good, because it helps the buildup for that match by a lot.

Low Points: Well, we know there are US fans in the audience, because there’s a “Woo” accompanying the chops.

For a No DQ match, why is there count-out?

Rating: 5/5

“The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada (c) (with Gedo) defeated Tetsuya Naito for the for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Backstory: Naito won a shot at Okada at the belt in the G1 Climax back in 2014. however, Naito wasn’t that over yet, so a fan poll lead to their match at Wrestle Kingdom 8 getting bumped down in favor of Nakamura vs. Tanahashi. Naito went to CMLL, turned heel, and joined Los Ingobernables. Naito came back, still as a heel, and started a Japanese branch – Los Ingobernables de Japon. This lead to Naito winning the title in Spring 2016, and Okada taking it back that summer. Naito won the G-1 Climax again in 2017, and this year he’s in the main event.

High Points: Really good opening wrestling between the two, admittedly heels (or a heel and an antihero), feeling each other out, and with Naito playing some mind games.

Okada kinda makes the leg-drape DDT work in a way that Randy Orton doesn’t – in part because Orton does it as a reversal between the top and middle ropes, while Okada deliberately sets it up as a move on the outside, involving the barricade.

Props for Kevin Kelly for the “Desti-No!” as Okada reverses the Destino into a Rainmaker.

Low Points: The rapid camera pull out when Okada signals for the Rainmaker is really annoying.

After several matches of well protected finishers, this match is very much not the case. I realize this is the main event, but the earlier matches did a good job of creating situations where there is a reason for why those finishers didn’t end the match for some reason or another. Here the Gloria, Destino, and Rainmaker don’t lead to a finish.

Rating: 5/5

Well, I’m strongly considering picking up New Japan World now – particularly with Jericho’s new feud with Naito.