Thursday, December 19, 2019

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK2)

NJPW teams with TNA for their second WrestleKingdom card...

WrestleKingdom II - 1/4/08

(Note: Apologies for my WK2 coverage, as NJPW World unfortunately doesn't have it in its entirety due to TNA's involvement; any match featuring a TNA-contracted wrestler at the time is missing.  A couple of these matches are clearly no big loss - Bernard & Tomko vs. The Steiners for example - but the two openers, AJ Styles/Christian Cage/Petey Williams vs. Devitt/Minoru/Milano Collection, and Wataru Inoue vs. Christopher Daniels, are two matches I was excited about.  I was able to track down the semi-main event, Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata, on YouTube, so at least I got to see the most important of the TNA matches.  Anywho, this piece will only cover half the card.)

The second show on paper appeared to be a much more fitting lineup for the biggest PPV of the year, and even featured several top TNA stars.  As with most WK shows the lower card guys were crammed into multi-man tags, but at least this time those matches were spread out a little so they'd stand out more.  Plus the main event was actually a singles match for the IWGP World Title.

Due to the lack of TNA matches on the network, we'll pick up in match 4, as Katsushi Takemura, Masato Tanaka, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Yutaka Yoshie faced Koji Kanemoto, Ryusuke Taguchi, Takashi Iizuka and Tiger Mask.  This was a decent 8-man spotfest.  Tiger Mask especially looked good, and there were some fun exchanges between Tanaka and Kanemoto (who looks like and uses some of the same offense as Shibata).  Solid but forgettable.

Next was Legend (Akira, Jushin Thunder Liger, Masahiro Chono, Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami) vs. Yasshi, Gedo, Jado, Shuji Kondo and Taru.  This was another clusterfuck 10-man with the action spilling out all over ringside.  Not much memorable here but it was reasonably enjoyable for seven minutes.

Skipping down the card, we have Hirooki Goto vs. Great Muta, which was a pretty good upper midcard match.  Goto attacked Muta during entrances and had the upperhand until Muta came back with the mist, and then used a ladder and other weapons to bloody Goto.  Keiji Muto looked slimmer and in better shape than the previous year, and his diminished mobility was somewhat hidden by the smoke and mirrors of the Muta character.  A little on the slow side but a fairly entertaining match.

Nagata doesn't quite nail the Crossface.

The co-main event was Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata.  A very well-worked technical match, reminiscent of Angle-Benoit.  The grappling early on was crisp, as is to be expected with Kurt Angle, while the second and third acts featured good submission reversals and counters.  From a pure wrestling standpoint this was the best match on the card.


In the main event we had Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.  Nakamura was still the pure babyface, while Tanahashi was the cocky heel Champion.  Interesting to see each of these guys playing the opposite of what they are now.  Tanahashi actually made a pretty compelling bad guy, who seemed to lord his experience advantage over the underdog Nakamura.  Also Nakamura's offense was much flashier in 2008, as he utilized top rope moonsaults and the like.  Nice storytelling throughout this match, with Tanahashi working Nakamura's leg and then later his injured shoulder.  While not as technically sound as the Angle match, I liked this match just slightly better overall due to the storytelling aspect.

Much flashier finisher than the Boma Ye

From what I saw (and how the rest looks on paper), WK2 was a quantum leap over the first edition.  The IWGP Title match was in the main event slot, and both top matches delivered big.  There were multiple clusterfuck tags on this show but at least they weren't all presented in succession, so they didn't blur into each other so much.  The format here was closer to the recent WK shows, where the card built slowly to a peak that left the viewer fully satisfied.  It's hard to rate a show I've only seen half of, but I'll do my best in the blurb below.

Best Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura - I liked this better than the Angle match just by a hair, but both were easily in 3.75-star territory.
Worst Match: Of the five matches I saw I'd put the 10-man match here.  There just wasn't much memorable action.  I'll bet the Steiners match was worse though.
What I'd Change: Well for starters I'd have included all ten matches on the network!  Otherwise not much specifically.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the 8-man could've been longer and more structured.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Tanahashi working heel.  He's such a straightlaced hero now I wouldn't have pictured him as a convincing villain, but like everything else, he was really good at it.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 based on what I saw.
Better than WrestleMania XXIV? - No


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