Wednesday, April 22, 2015

WWE vs. NJPW Supercard

Welcome to very special WWE vs. NJPW column, here at Enuffa.com!


Today I'll be discussing something we as wrestling fans haven't really had the opportunity to ponder in a long time - the interpromotional dream match.  Back in the olden days, ya know when there were two major North American wrestling companies, we could pontificate and debate who would win various fantasy matchups.  In the 80s it was matches like Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior vs. Sting, Randy Savage vs. Lex Luger.  In the 90s it was Steve Austin vs. Goldberg, The Rock vs. Booker T, etc.  Then the Monday Night War changed everything, as wrestling stars jumped back and forth between companies and some of the big dream matches actually came to fruition.  In 2001 Vince McMahon bought WCW and eventually signed all their top stars, and even more of these types of matches happened.  While it was a great time to see top bouts we could previously only fantasize about, an unfortunate side effect was that many major PPVs were now built around one-time dream matches that served no long-term purpose, thus hurting the drawing power of the full-time roster.  Not to mention some things are just better left to the imagination (**ahem** Sting vs. Triple H).


While North America still only has one big game in town, its Japanese counterpart New Japan Pro Wrestling is beginning to gain traction here in the States, and is already hugely successful in Japan.  With the advent of a weekly show on AXS TV, plus NJPW's answer to the WWE Network (NJPWWorld.com), American fans can now watch current PPV events and also catch up on the company's rich history (the NJPW online library goes all the way back to 1972).

For anyone who hasn't yet familiarized themselves with NJPW, I can't say enough good things about this product.  Where WWE has long strived to redefine iself as "not pro wrestling" and treated that phrase as a four-letter word associated with dingy, smoke-filled arenas and toothless hicks, New Japan embraces the idea that professional wrestling is a sport contested by colorful, talented, dignified athletes.  The booking is simple without insulting anyone's intelligence, the characters are easily identifiable as protagonists and villains, and the wrestling......sweet, delicious Jeezus the wrestling.....  At its best, NJPW's in-ring product is two wrestlers, one ring, and as much time as it takes to tear the house down.  Japanese megastars Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, high-flying marvel Kota Ibushi, IWGP World Champion AJ Styles (remember him?), and my personal favorite, IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura, plus a host of other Japanese and American stars make these shows a joy to watch.  For an excellent starting-off point, look no further than this past January's WrestleKingdom 9 PPV.  All of NJPW's major talent was showcased, and the last six matches on the show range from very good to spectacular (Nakamura vs. Ibushi is a top MOTY candidate right now).  Dammit, just go watch it!

Now that I've shilled enough for New Japan I'd like to present my WWE vs. NJPW Dream Card!



10. Neville vs. Kenny Omega


WWE's newest main roster member is one of the most exciting additions in quite some time.  "The Man Gravity Forgot" had a long run on the indies before being scooped up by NXT, and has brought with him a spectacular aerial moveset unequaled in WWE.

Kenny Omega, the current IWGP (that's International Wrestling Grand Prix - a fictitious governing body that sanctions the major championships in NJPW) Jr. Heavyweight Champion and member of NJPW's top heel faction The Bullet Club, is a flamboyant bad guy with a balanced air and ground game, who isn't afraid to take shortcuts to victory. 

Being a Jr. Heavyweight Champ, Omega is no stranger to wrestling smaller high fliers - check out his recent defense against Mascara Dorada at Invasion Attack 2015.  After about ten blazing minutes of action, look for Omega's cunning heel tactics to get the better of Neville.




9. Sheamus vs. Bad Luck Fale


The recently-returned Sheamus is one of my favorite big men in the business.  His offense is stiff and credible, and he moves like a much smaller man.  I'm very pleased the Celtic Warrior has finally gone back to being a heel.  It's a much more natural character fit for him, and he can just be an ass-kicking bully who picks on smaller wrestlers, rather than trying to be a jolly Irishman.

Bad Luck Fale is the big Tongan bruiser of The Bullet Club, whose offense is not unlike Sheamus's; stiff and intimidating, and capped off with a crucifix power bomb.  But where Sheamus likes to propel himself off the ropes, Fale tends to just stand there and toy with smaller opponents as they try in vain to knock him off his feet.  He is the classic immovable villain.  For a recent highlight, look up his Invasion Attack 2015 match against Okada.

This match would be a classic Battle of the Bulls, with each man meeting their physical match.  Given the brutality involved I can't see this going much past the eight-minute mark.  In the end I see Sheamus's more diverse offense toppling the massive Tongan.




8. Rusev vs. Tomohiro Ishii


WWE's Bulgarian tank, the former US Champion Rusev has developed into a formidable top heel.  Upon his debut I had doubts that he'd ever rise above midcard status, particularly in light of how much his gimmick reminded me of 80s midcard foreigners.  But Rusev has consistently strived to improve both in-ring and on the mic, and is now on the verge of breaking out as a WWE Title contender.

The NEVER Openweight Champion Ishii is one of the toughest scrappers in New Japan.  His matches routinely escalate into full-blown slugfests involving viciously stiff forearm shots to the jaw.  While Ishii has never risen to full main event status, he is a consistently convincing upper midcard champion who can easily give the top guys a run for their money, and deliver excellent results.  Check out his match with Tomoaki Honma from the recent New Beginning in Osaka show.

This match would feature bonechillingly unforgiving offense, as both men specialize in standup strikes aimed at knocking an opponent's head off.  Ultimately, after about eleven punishing minutes, look for Rusev to outmuscle Ishii and get the submission with the Accolade.




7. Dean Ambrose vs. Minoru Suzuki


Dean Ambrose brings a crazed unpredictability to his character in the vein of Roddy Piper and Brian Pillman.  His unhinged brawling style lends a tremendously entertaining aura to his matches, where literally anything could happen.  In late 2014 Ambrose seemed on the verge of becoming WWE's new breakout star, but company priorities being what they were, he has unfortunately not won a major match since the demise of The Shield.  Hopefully WWE can refocus on making this gifted, charismatic athlete an honest-to-god top babyface very soon.

Minoru Suzuki is one of NJPW's elder statesman.  Debuting in the late 80s, Suzuki has wrestled for promotions all over Japan, as well as enjoying a nine-year MMA career.  His pro wrestling style is very MMA-influenced, featuring hard strikes and airtight submissions.  For a 46-year-old, Suzuki is still one of the most believable challengers for any of the top champions.  Watch his G1 Climax match against AJ Styles from 2014, which was voted Match of the Year by the readers of Wrestling Observer.

This match would be an absolutely crazy war of attrition, with each man willing to absorb as much punishment as they dish out.  Ambrose would have the advantage of youth, but make no mistake; Suzuki's in-ring ability wholly defies his age.  At the 13-minute mark look for Ambrose to pay for a high-risk mistake, allowing Suzuki to lock in a painful submission that causes Ambrose to pass out (Clearly Dean taps for no one!).




6. Cesaro/Kidd vs. Young Bucks


Cesaro and Tyson Kidd have quickly become one of the best mongrel teams in several years.  Once seemingly poised to break out as an uppercard babyface, Cesaro was yet another victim of unfocused WWE booking which led to him floundering in midcard hell.  Tyson Kidd on the other hand was one of those untapped talents the company just ignored, until a brief NXT run revitalized his career.  Pairing these two superb workers as an unlikely tandem was a stroke of brilliance, and they're currently enjoying a solid Tag Title run.  Hopefully they can help restore the belts to a position of prominence and get the chance to steal several PPVs with full-length tag bouts.

Bullet Club members The Young Bucks are probably the hottest team in the Indies.  I'd liken them to an obnoxious heel version of The Hardy Boyz, with oodles more promo charisma.  Matt and Nick Jackson specialize in impossibly complex tandem moves and chickenshit heel tactics (such as pretending to walk out of a match to draw their opponents into a chase, only to hit a double superkick in the aisle and run back to the ring to try for an easy countout win).  The Bucks are one of NJPW's most consistently entertaining acts, bringing fast-paced action and great old-school heat to every match.

This match would easily be a potential showstealer with quick tags, non-stop movement, inventive offense, and quickly-escalating oneupmanship.  It would be a modern-day Hart Foundation vs. Rockers kinda match, and as with its 1990 counterpart, I'd go with the more well-rounded team to get the duke, Cesaro's incredible strength being difference-maker.  Cesaro/Kidd after 12 minutes.




5. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kota Ibushi


Dolph Ziggler is consistently one of WWE's most criminally underutilized talents.  He's super over, his workrate is stellar, and he could deliver his end of a main event on any PPV on the calendar.  How this man hasn't seriously injured himself given his penchant for bouncing around like a ping pong ball I'll never know.  Like many fans I'm still waiting for the Zig-Zag Man to finally get a major sustained push.  And a better finisher.

Kota Ibushi is one of the most exciting aerial masters in the business.  Once regarded as exclusively a Jr. Heavyweight, Ibushi has been repackaged as a top Heavyweight contender, challenging both Nakamura and Styles for their respective Championships in 2015 (and delivering two of the best matches so far this year - the first took place at WrestleKingdom 9, the second at Invasion Attack).  Unlike many Cruiserweight-style wrestlers, Ibushi resists the temptation to just go out there and recite a spotfest night after night, instead picking his moments and making his big moves count.  This guy is one of my favorite talents working today.

Ziggler vs. Ibushi would be off-the-charts electrifying.  Both guys seem to float around that ring as though weightless, and can hold a crowd in the palm of their hand.  I'd love to see this match go twenty-plus minutes, but given the pace it would realistically be more like fourteen.  Ibushi wins with a 450 Corkscrew.




4. Randy Orton vs. Kazuchika Okada


Randy Orton is one of those talents I resisted for a long time, feeling his push was both premature and the obvious result of being a third-generation star and Triple H's protege.  He always had a great look, but I wasn't sold on his wrestling ability being much above journeyman status until about 2009, when he added the icy "viper" persona to the mix.  At that point he became a truly gifted performer, with the ability to make the most rudimentary offense look like the calculated cruelty of a professional sadist.  Few performers in the business possess the pure acting ability of Randy Orton.  Over the years Orton has amassed an incredibly diverse moveset and turned an otherwise tired finisher into an unpredictably exciting weapon.   

Upon seeing Mr. Okada wrestle for the first time my initial thought was "he looks like a Japanese Randy Orton."  Boasting a similarly lean build and economy of motion, "The Rainmaker" is poised to become Tanahashi's heir as the top draw of New Japan.  His moveset is almost exclusively targeted at the head and neck of his opponents - bridging German suplex, Emerald Fusion (think Sheamus's White Noise) onto a knee, modified STF, Tombstone piledriver - and it's all to soften them up for his Rainmaker short-arm clothesline.  It sounds like a simple finisher, but it's been so well-protected that, although opponents will often counter the move, once Okada hits it, the match is over.  Period.  Okada is becoming one of my favorite New Japan guys to watch, and at 27 years of age, his best years are likely still to come.  Seek out Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki from Wrestling Dontaku 2013.

Orton vs. Okada would be a highly cerebral contest featuring no wasted movement and lots of great counterwrestling.  Both men would largely focus on the head and neck, and the finishing sequence would likely involve some sensational counters to their respective finishers.  At the 16-minute mark look for a Rainmaker reversed into an RKO reversed into a Rainmaker blocked and countered with an RKO.  Winner: Orton.




3. John Cena vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi


What more can be said about John Cena?  If you had told me in 2005 that Cena would a) become one of the most enduring top stars of all time and b) develop into one of the best performers on the roster, I'd have punched you square in the junk.  I'll never consider myself a John Cena fan, per se, but I have nothing but total respect for him.  Over the past decade he's been one of the hardest-working men in the entire business and constantly upped his in-ring game despite not really being required to.  Like Sting for example, Cena could've gotten by solely on his charisma and his ability to connect with younger viewers.  But that wasn't good enough; he wanted to be one of the company workhorses too.  In spite of what roughly half the audience routinely chants at him, Cena definitely does not suck.

Hiroshi Tanahashi is Cena's NJPW counterpart in terms of being a top draw year after year.  Like Cena he's a white-meat babyface whose career began in 1999, and he's grown into one of the most reliable talents in the company.  Also like Cena, Tanahashi isn't my favorite by any means, but the man is basically incapable of having a bad match.  His style is reminiscent of Shawn Michaels (whom he cites as a major influence) and Ricky Steamboat, and his finisher, the Hi-Fly Flow, is a super-stiff Frog Splash that he can hit no matter what his opponent's position.  Lying, standing, sitting, it's all fair game for the HFF.  For an introduction to Tanahashi, check out his epic match with Okada at WrestleKingdom 9.

This would undoubtedly be a clash of styles, but both Cena and Tanahashi have made careers of being able to adapt to a variety of movesets.  The star power in this match would be palpable and both men would pull out all the stops.  After a 17-minute war, look for SuperCena's brawn to shine through as he reverses a HFF attempt into a quick AA/pin combination.




2. Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles


WWE Champion Seth Rollins has become the MVP of WWE.  For the first time in years, WWE finally has an old-school top heel who is perfectly fine with everyone in the audience completely loathing him.  Unlike so many modern day villains, Rollins doesn't try to be cool or come out of every situation smelling like a rose.  He's perfectly content for his character to take the easy way out of every situation and exploit as many shortcuts as possible.  Sadly WWE decided to take away his unique finisher and replace it with yet another tired DDT variation.  I hope that changes very quickly, because Rollins deserves a signature move no one else uses.  I love watching this guy.

Speaking of wrestlers I love to watch, IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles has been one of my favorites for over ten years now.  He went from being the cornerstone of TNA and for a while a Ring of Honor mainstay to the top free agent in wrestling, and has been able to pioneer a viable career alternative to working exclusively as an "independent contractor" for the 'E.  Styles bounces back and forth between New Japan and ROH mostly, and is apparently doing quite well for himself financially.  I'm hoping some of the other top non-WWE wrestlers are able to do the same, as it would create some much-needed competition for their services.  As the leader of The Bullet Club, Styles is NJPW's #1 heel and can always be counted on to deliver amazing main events showcasing his dazzling moveset.  There are literally dozens of great AJ Styles matches out there - pick any of 'em.

It's WWE Champion vs. IWGP Champion, and this would be unbelievable.  Both heels are staggeringly athletic and will stoop to rulebreaking whenever it suits them.  This would be a blinding display of aerial tactics, cheap heel moves, backpedaling, and hotshotting, and I'd love every second.  Look for AJ to nail the Styles Clash at the twenty-minute mark for the win.




1. Daniel Bryan vs. Shinsuke Nakamura


In the main event it's I-C Champ vs. I-C Champ.  Arguably the two best wrestlers on the planet going head-to-head.

Daniel Bryan needs no introduction - he's the internet darling who was never supposed to make it in WWE.  Bryan toiled in the Indies to become the best talent and greatest Champion in Ring of Honor history, and had his success stopped there that would've been quite a career.  But WWE ended up signing him in late 2009, and after a shaky start on Season 1 of NXT, Bryan's Cinderella story took him to the US Title.  Had that been his WWE plateau that would've been quite an accomplishment for a guy who was never supposed to make it to WWE.  Then he won Money in the Bank and successfully cashed in to become World Champion.  Had that been the limit of his WWE success, that would've been quite a career.  But an ill-concieved 18-second loss at WrestleMania galvanized the fanbase around Bryan and he was now officially a cult hero, for whom the fans would not accept Head Office apathy.  Three WWE Championships later and Bryan became the hottest star in wrestling.  After a heartbreakingly-timed injury Bryan returned at the end of 2014 and went on to win the I-C Title, with the hope that the once-proud secondary Title could be made relevant again in the hands of WWE's best and most popular talent.....

Just like New Japan's I-C Title became equally as prestigious as their Heavyweight belt, in the hands of their best talent.  Shinsuke Nakamura debuted in 2002 and after several years and a brief MMA career, reinvented himself as a cocky, theatrical anti-hero with a rockstar persona.  Nakamura is one of those rare talents where everything he does is so compelling you can't help but be transfixed whenever he's onscreen.  He dubbed himself "King of Strong Style," adopting an MMA-infused striking arsenal mixed with crisp submission holds.  His finisher, the Boma Ye knee, is simply a bone-shattering lunging knee to the face that looks like it would dislocate a person's jaw.  Nakamura has elevated the I-C Title to the point that it frequently headlines PPV events, and he is considered by many to be the finest wrestler in the world today.  For a demonstration, look for Nakamura vs. Ishii at last year's G1 Climax.

This would be one of the greatest matches of all time.  There's simply no question about it.  Both men possess impeccable striking games, as well as diverse submissions acumen.  After twenty-five minutes of absolutely magnificent action, look for a barrage of spinechilling back-and-forth strikes ending with Nakamura creating a two-second break - just long enough to hit the Boma Ye for the win.



And there you have it - the official Enuffa.com WWE-NJPW supercard.  I daresay without the slightest hyperbole this would be the greatest night in the history of professional wrestling. 

What would your dream card be?  Who would win?  Sound off in the Comments section below!

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