Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK4)

WK4 was easily the best of the early editions.....

WrestleKingdom IV - 1/4/10

Here at last is a WrestleKingdom show that's consistently entertaining and also has multiple 3.5-4 star matches.  The stars were beginning to align for New Japan, as the notable talents were falling into their respective current roles and spots on the card.  WK4 also featured a New Japan vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH rivalry, as four second-half matches comprised a card-within-a-card.

A quick six-man kicked things off, as Mitsuhide Hirasawa, Super Strong Machine and Wataru Inoue faced Jushin Thunder Liger, Kazuchika Okada and Koji Kanemoto.  This was an okay opener but far too short to amount to anything.  It was very weird seeing a 21-year-old Okada, who carried himself completely differently back then.  Brief but inoffensive.

The show picked up big with the second match, as Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi) defended the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight straps against Averno and Ăšltimo Guerrero.  This was a highly entertaining Cruiserweight tag match, with Devitt in particular shining like the rising star he was, displaying spectacular offense and a great ring presence.  On a more streamlined card this match  would've been the hot opener.

The Heavyweight Tag Championship was next, as Team 3-D defended against No Limit (Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro) and Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) with Hardcore rules.  A decent enough garbage match, and light years better than the previous year's Team 3-D bout.  No Limit and Karl Anderson brought enough workrate to compensate for the other three guys.  The hardcore stuff was very played out even in 2010 and they weren't doing anything groundbreaking.  Also the tables and chairs in Japan are pretty flimsy-looking so none of the big hardcore spots looked all that dangerous.  The whole "Get the tables!" bit clearly doesn't play in Japan, as the crowd was apathetic.  But this match was fine.
As with many WK shows, this one had a flurry of tag matches early on, and the fourth consecutive one was Masato Tanaka and Tajiri vs. Akebono and Yuji Nagata.  Pretty entertaining little match.  All the stuff between Nagata and Tanaka was energetic and crisp.  Akebono moved pretty well for his size but at the same time he always looked uncomfortable, like everything took a lot out of him.  Not unlike Yokozuna in that regard.  It was fun seeing Tajiri wrestle again.  He was one of many talents WWE failed to use well.  The finish was pretty clumsy with Gedo distracting the ref on the outside but sorta being in the way of Tanaka's finisher.  Otherwise this was certainly watchable.

Speaking of watchable, this next match wasn't.  In fact it was pretty awful.  Manabu Nakanishi, Masahiro Chono, Riki Choshu and Terry Funk vs. Abdullah the Butcher, Takashi Iizuka, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano.  First off, just too many guys for the match length and way too many old-timers (Chono was 46, Choshu was 59, Funk was 65, and Abdullah was 69!).  Abdullah could barely walk and everything he did looked terrible (not to mention his sideboobs hung down to his waistline.  Eww.).  Late in the match Abdullah accidentally hit Iizuka with a throat thrust, sparking some fisticuffs between the two and eventually leading to The Butcher turning on his team and costing them the match.  Pretty pointless and not much fun.

The first singles match of the night broke out in slot 6 - Togi Makabe vs. Muhammad Yone.  This was also the beginning of the NJPW vs. NOAH mini-card.  Decent while it lasted but not long enough to be memorable.  Yone attacked Makabe on the ramp and they jumped right into the fighting.  A good five-minute match but not much more.

I'll say that up to this point I was not overly impressed with WK4.  But then everything changed in a big way, with a one-two-three punch, followed by a solid finale.  Hold on to your butts.....

Naomichi Marufuji vs. Tiger Mask for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Goddamn this was good.  One of the best Cruiserweight-style matches I've seen in a long time.  These two displayed tons of innovative offense without the match devolving into a spotfest.  I first became familiar with Marufuji in 2007 when he started appearing on ROH shows but wasn't blown away by his stuff at the time.  By 2010 though he'd improved immensely and I've really enjoyed the New Japan stuff he's been involved in.  Tiger Mask possesses a great mix of the Luchadore and Strong styles.  This match was almost balletic in its intricacy.

Holy shitballs!

This next match had a tough act to follow, but the two guys involved did just that.  Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Go Shiozaki was a superb match that could easily have been the main event.  Things started out with fluid mat wrestling (which I love to watch) and escalated into an all-out fight with both guys playing the heel at times.  They both broke out some super-stiff moves in the later stages and after nearly 20 minutes Tanahashi took it down with two consecutive Hi-Fly Flows.  There was no one better in New Japan at this point than Tanahashi.

The forearm shots are just brutal.

The GHC Title was on the line next, as Takashi Suguira defended against Hirooki Goto.  The first ten minutes were a bit lackluster and plodding, and I feared this would be very anticlimactic.  Then the second half totally made up for it.  The final ten minutes were amazing, and featured suplexes and reversals galore.  At one point Suguira German suplexed Goto into the turnbuckles, which despite the corner padding, looked devastating.  Suguira's two finishers are directly lifted from Kurt Angle, but he delivers his anklelock by rolling into it, which is a nice visual and sets his version apart from Angle's.  As with most Angle matches there were multiple suspenseful anklelock spots, which ramped up the drama.  This match started out in two-star range and finished near four stars.


The main event, for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, was Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Yoshihiro Takayama.  This was a bit of a letdown after the previous three matches, but still a pretty good main event.  The action was brutally stiff, which made up for Takayama's lack of mobility.  He was 43 at the time and kinda moved around like a 60-year-old, but his offense looked punishing, partly due to his size and partly due to Nakamura bouncing around like a ping-pong ball to sell it.  Really, Nakamura made a pretty awkward challenger look like an absolute monster.  Also Nakamura had by this time evolved into the cocky anti-hero character he is now known for, which made this match more compelling than it would've been a year earlier.  Takayama seemed an odd choice to be in the main event, but this was a solid match to close what turned out to be a pretty damn good show.

Well, this series keeps getting better and better.  WK4, while not as consistent as its predecessor, improved on WK3 by featuring three matches in or around the 4-star range, plus a couple decent undercard bouts and a solid main event.  We are now entering New Japan's must-see phase.....

Best Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Go Shiozaki - Dammit Hiroshi, give the other guys a chance!  He's 4/4 thus far.
Worst Match: The 8-man.  Nigh unwatchable, that one.
What I'd Change: Lose the 8-man and give more time to the opener and the Makabe match.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Makabe vs. Yone
Most Pleasant Surprise: The second half of the show.  After the first six matches this appeared to be a middling PPV, but the last four matches elevated it huge.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XXVI? - As an overall show, yes.  Nothing on this show touches HBK-Taker II, but this was more consistently good

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