Friday, December 29, 2023

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK7)

Alright folks, this is where it really gets good.  The next seven installments of WrestleKingdom are about as good as any consecutive editions of any PPV I can recall.  

WrestleKingdom 7 - 1/4/13

What a splendid show this was.  From start to finish, WrestleKingdom 7 delivered at about the highest possible level, including an instant classic main event, an unexpectedly great IC match, and one of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.  New Japan was in the midst of a wrestling renaissance, my friends.

The show started with an amusing opening match designed to ease the crowd into it: Akebono, Manabu Nakanishi, MVP and Strong Man vs. Chaos (Bob Sapp, Takashi Iizuka, Toru Yano and Yujiro Takahashi).  This had a lot of kinda goofy spots, like the babyfaces all hitting corner avalanches on all four heels.  I think they did that spot two or three times actually.  Anyway the match was inoffensive but felt like a throwaway.

The proper start to WK7 was Masato Tanaka vs. Shelton Benjamin for the NEVER Openweight Title, in what was pretty damn good for a six-minute match.  Four more minutes and this would've approached three-star territory.  Side note: Shelton should go back to being a babyface, as his style was much more exciting that way. 

Next up was KES (Davey Boy Smith jr & Lance Archer) vs. Sword & Guns (Hirooki Goto & Karl Anderson) in a surprisingly good Tag Title match.  I didn't think I'd be all that impressed with KES, but they've made a solid top team.  Seeing Karl Anderson as a babyface was pretty weird - he even wore light-colored gear.  This was full of action and fun tandem offense.

The first classic of the night was next, between Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki.  This was their third WK match together, and this blew the other two out of the water.  Really hard-hitting action as usual but this match felt much bigger and got the time it needed.  Nagata finally got the win with the Backdrop Hold after some amazingly stiff wrestling.


The show stealer of WK7 was in the center of the card: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Low-Ki for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Just an amazing, amazing match, and seriously one of the best of its kind that I've ever seen.  These three managed to make a 3-way match flow totally smoothly, where it wasn't just two guys fighting while the other sold on the outside.  And when that did happen, the third guy would show up out of nowhere with an insane spot.  At multiple points, Wrestler A would hit a big move on Wrestler B, only for Wrestler C to immediately follow it up with some huge move on Wrestler A.  Just a breathtaking match you should go out of your way to see.  Low-Ki by the way was able to wrestle at this level while wearing a full suit (in tribute to the videogame Hitman), which is insane to me.
Next up, Keiji Mutoh renewed his WK rivalry with the team of Tencozy, by tagging up with Shinjiro Otani.  This was fine but I didn't have much interest in it.  Mutoh's matches now consist of the same stuff over and over (seriously, how many Shining Wizards can a guy hit in one match?).  Otani was fun to watch and it was interesting to see him use the Facewash (I assume Samoa Joe lifted it from Otani?), which was over huge.  Kojima has grown on me, though his rapid-fire chops aren't nearly as painful-looking as Kenta Kobashi's.  Execution-wise this match was perfectly entertaining, it just felt out of place so late on the card.  Maybe this should've been fourth or so.

The last three matches are a helluva triumvirate, starting with Togi Makabe vs. Katsuyori Shibata.  This was loads better than it had any right to be given the short length.  Both of these guys are known for incredibly stiff fights, and this was no different.  Not at the level of Makabe's matches with Ishii, but this was a wild slugfest that felt much bigger than its running time would indicate.

The semi-main event was Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazushi Sakuraba for the Intercontinental Title.  What a unique, fascinating match this was.  As pro wrestling/MMA hybrids go, this was about as good as it gets.  It kicked off with totally credible ground grappling (to be expected given both of these guys were MMA fighters) which then led to stiff wrestling offense (At one point Nakamura ran into a vicious knee to the face and I can't believe he wasn't legit knocked out).  Sakuraba dominated by working Nakamura's arm, but Nakamura fought through and managed to hit the Boma Ye for the win.  This bout was just about perfect for its spot on the card.

One of the best dropkicks in the biz.

The main event was an early entry in the now-legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada rivalry.  There was no more fitting NJPW main event in 2013 than this epic bout.  These two pulled out everything over 33 minutes and delivered an absolute war.  That Tanahashi and Okada achieved a four-plus star match here and would later top themselves multiple times (at Invasion Attack, King of Pro-Wrestling, and WK9 & 10) is remarkable.  This clearly isn't my favorite episode of this feud but make no mistake, it was an eminently worthy WrestleKingdom main event, and easily the best of the series so far.  Tanahashi stood tall after two brutal Hi-Fly Flows, but Okada would dethrone him at Invasion Attack three months later.

WK7 was quite obviously the best edition as of 2013.  With only 9 matches over four hours, this show was streamlined and almost devoid of filler, with a massive headlining match, a short but exceptional MMA-style semi-main, and a mindbendingly awesome Jr. Heavyweight bout.  And what's crazy is this show would be totally overshadowed two years later.....

Best Match: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Low-Ki 
Worst Match: The 8-man - if this is your worst match, you've assembled a helluva show
What I'd Change: I'd have cut the Mutoh bout down to 11 minutes or so and given that extra time to Benjamin-Tanaka.  But otherwise there's not much you could improve about this PPV.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing.  Nothing at all.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I wasn't expecting Nakamura-Sakuraba to be anywhere near as good as it was
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XXIX? - You bet your sweet bippy

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