Sunday, April 23, 2017

WWE vs. NJPW Supercard III

Welcome to the 3rd Annual WWE vs. NJPW Supercard, here at!  In 2015 I came up with the bright idea to imagine what would happen if the two biggest wrestling companies in the world went head-to-head (Read the 2015 one HERE).  By 2016 both rosters had undergone massive changes so I revisited the topic and made it a yearly thing (Read that one HERE).  So here's the third edition - WWE currently sports the most stacked roster it's had in years, while NJPW took a difficult transition period and managed to flourish, filling its lineup holes with a host of new and growing stars, and their product is as strong as ever.  But which roster looks better now?  I've booked eleven fantasy matchups and given my picks for who I'd pick to win.  

Let's get to the matchups!

Neville vs. Hiromu Takahashi

After a terribly uneventful year on the main roster as a one-dimensional babyface, Neville suffered a leg injury in early 2016 that put him on the shelf for 8 months.  But it was a blessing in disguise; the time away allowed him to overhaul his character and he returned as a bitter heel with his sights set on destroying the new Cruiserweight division.  Neville won the CW Title in short order and has been a fantastic centerpiece ever since.

The former Kamaitachi returned to New Japan in 2016 after a three-year absence, with a new villainous persona aligned with the roguish Los Ingobernables stable.  His first act was to challenge the Jr. Heavyweight Champion Kushida to a match at WrestleKingdom 11, where he captured the title in a blazing 16-minute contest.  Takahashi has already carried himself like a major star and been a huge asset to the wildly popular stable.

This match would be fast and furious, with stunning aerial moves and lightning-fast counterwrestling.  Neither man would be afraid of taking shortcuts, but in the end Takahashi's pals on the outside would be a difference-maker.  Look for Takahashi to take the match in 9 minutes after a Time Bomb.

Winner: Hiromu Takahashi

Dean Ambrose vs. Katsuyori Shibata

Ambrose has had a pretty successful year, winning Money in the Bank and cashing in the briefcase for a WWE Title win the same night, and later capturing the Intercontinental Title.  While not perceived at quite the same level as his two former Shield-mates, Ambrose has nonetheless become a reliably prominent star and gotten plenty of the company's focus.

Shibata spent most of 2016 as the centerpiece of the NEVER Openweight division, delivering multiple strong style classics before finally dropping the belt to his old friend Hirooki Goto at WrestleKingdom 11.  Since then he's moved up the card, winning the New Japan Cup and challenging Okada for the IWGP Championship in an epic war.  Shibata's future is up in the air after the Okada match, but we're all hoping he's able to get back in the ring (minus the shoot headbutts of course).

This would be an insane war of attrition, with both men quick to engage in a slugfest and neither wanting to back down an inch.  Ambrose would be very comfortable taking the fight to the floor, while Shibata would prefer a straight-up in-ring battle.  At the 12-minute mark Ambrose would go for Dirty Deeds, but Shibata would push him into the ropes, Ambrose would go for a pendulum clothesline only to walk into a Shibata headbutt to the chest, followed by a choke and the PK for the win.

Winner: Katsuyori Shibata

Kevin Owens vs. Hirooki Goto

Kevin Owens had a tremendous 2016/early 2017, rekindling his blistering feud with Sami Zayn before capturing the new Universal Championship and forging an uncomfortably close friendship with Chris Jericho.  Owens was the main focus of RAW after the new brand split, until he turned on Jericho and lost the Universal Title to Goldberg.  But he rebounded at WrestleMania 33 by defeating Jericho for the US Title.  Owens remains one of the best heels in the company and isn't afraid to make the fans hate him.

Goto once again had an up-and-down year in 2016, falling just short of the IWGP Title AND the G1 Climax tournament, but began 2017 by dethroning his old friend Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Title.  Thus far his run has been quite dominant and he continues to deliver the goods between the ropes.

This match would be rugged and intense, with Goto's no-nonsense style clashing with Owens' surprising agility.  The striking would be brutal and I could see this devolving into dueling forearms and headbutts to the chest.  Owens would be quick to try to find shortcuts, while Goto would be full-steam ahead.  Owens would escape the Shouten-kai and counter the GTR by turning over, shoving Goto into the ropes and hitting a lightning-quick Pop-up Powerbomb for the win at 13 minutes.

Winner: Kevin Owens

Roman Reigns vs. Michael Elgin

Roman Reigns continues to be WWE's most controversial star.  The company still sees him as the heir to John Cena, while 80% of the fanbase resents and despises him.  Regardless though, Reigns has delivered in-ring most of the time, with two classics against AJ Styles and solid bouts with Rusev, Owens and Braun Strowman over the past 12 months.  Reigns would do well to simply turn heel and be the villain everyone wants him to be, but who knows if WWE will ever see it that way?

Michael Elgin has made an excellent transition from ROH to New Japan over the past 18 months, becoming one of the most beloved North American stars in the company.  With two solid G1 tournament performances and an IWGP Intercontinental Title run under his belt, Elgin is becoming a pretty stalwart semi-headliner who probably still hasn't even peaked.

The match would be pure power vs. power.  The explosiveness of Reigns vs. the awesome raw strength of Elgin.  There would be few slow moments in this bout and loads of clotheslines and suplexes.  After eleven punishing minutes, Reigns takes a buckle bomb but punches his way out of the hold, nails a Superman punch, and levels Big Mike with a match-ending spear.

Winner: Roman Reigns

AJ Styles vs. Zack Sabre jr.

AJ Styles has had one of the best debut years in WWE history, racking up no fewer than a dozen ****+ matches, multiple wins over John Cena, and a four-month WWE Title reign.  Not to mention he stole the show at WrestleMania this year in a match against a non-wrestler.  Over the past five years Styles has aged like a fine wine, building on his already stellar 2000s resume with a litany of in-ring masterpieces against an incredible variety of opponents.  For my money AJ Styles is one of the best two or three wrestlers in the world at this moment.

English sensation and newest member of Suzuki-Gun, Zack Sabre brings an unparalleled technical aptitude to the ring, bewildering opponents with his smooth, effortless counterwrestling.  Every Sabre match seems to introduce holds we've never seen before and it becomes the quintessential human chess match.

These two masters would put on a dazzling display of technical and aerial wizardry, the bout taking numerous unexpected left turns.  Sabre would frustrate AJ with his grappling, but AJ would eventually break free and unleash his top rope arsenal, capping off a sensational twenty-minute five-star affair with a 450 splash, followed by the dreaded Styles Clash.

Winner: AJ Styles

Anderson & Gallows vs. Young Bucks

Former Bullet Club founding members Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows have had mixed success since jumping to WWE in early 2016.  Initially they were paired back up with AJ Styles and seemed to gain some traction from the association, but when the brands were split, so were The Club.  Since then A&G had a brief run with the WWE Tag Team Titles and remain a fixture in the RAW tag division.  Time will tell if they're able to catch on in WWE as they did in NJPW.

The Young Bucks are one of the most accomplished teams in the world, with multiple championships in 2017 alone.  They're still easily NJPW's most popular tandem and can always be counted on to deliver a memorable, innovative match.  Matt and Nick Jackson recently put a feather in their caps with a major Ladder Match win over Matt and Jeff Hardy, and once again stand atop Ring of Honor's tag division.

This match would've been a natural in early 2016 just before Anderson & Gallows left New Japan, but sadly we never got to see it happen.  Look for both teams to cut a blazing pace, taking out a full year of resentment on each other.  A&G would have a big size and power advantage, but in the end the Bucks would prove too slippery and conniving, finishing off Karl Anderson with More Bang for Your Buck at the ten-minute mark.

Winner: The Young Bucks

Samoa Joe vs. Tomohiro Ishii

The Samoan Submission Machine took a very long time to get to the 'E, but 2015 saw Joe finally arrive in NXT, where he had a dominant run as a two-time Champion before being called up this past January.  Joe is now Triple H's asskicking enforcer and by all rights a Universal Championship reign should be in his future.  Over the past two years we've seen a reinvigorated Samoa Joe, after TNA wasted his potential for years.  This extraordinary big man has adjusted beautifully to life in WWE and should soon become a main event fixture.

Tomohiro Ishii continues to be one of NJPW's best assets, delivering classic after classic and embodying the strong style philosophy more than anyone not named Shibata.  After moving on from the NEVER division, Ishii has had prominent, epic battles with Tetsuya Naito (during Naito's IWGP Title run), his stablemate Okada (in a G1 show stealer), and most recently Kenny Omega (as part of the New Japan Cup tournament).  For years Ishii has seemingly been on the cusp of becoming a main event guy and I think it's only a matter of time before he captures a much-deserved IWGP I-C Championship.

This match would be a stiff, brutal slugfest, reminiscent of Joe vs. Kobashi.  Both men would likely be covered with raw, fiery welts; the chop battles would be cringe-inducing.  So too would be the barrage of jaw-rattling forearms thrown.  Look for Joe's size and submissions acumen to be the difference-maker here though.  After withstanding Ishii's sliding clothesline, Joe would counter a brain buster by slipping behind and locking in the rear naked choke for the win at 16 minutes.

Winner: Samoa Joe

Seth Rollins vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

It's been a roller coaster ride for Seth Rollins over the past year - he returned from knee surgery as essentially a tweener, captured the WWE Title briefly and was then screwed out of becoming Universal Champion by his mentor Triple H.  This led to a rather tepid babyface run before Seth sustained a second knee injury that nearly derailed his WrestleMania match again.  But just before facing Triple H at The Show of Shows, Rollins cut a soul-baring babyface promo that finally seemed to connect with the audience, and he now seems on track to be RAW's most popular star.

The former Ace of New Japan has taken a step back from the top tier, after years of nagging injuries finally caught up with him.  Tanahashi is still heavily featured on the roster, but more in the vein of Shawn Michaels circa 2009.  He can still deliver excellent matches, but his career is clearly winding down and his schedule has been much less grueling.  His time lately has mostly been spent in multi-man tags feuding with Naito's LIJ group and it's probable he'll never again hold either of the two big IWGP belts.  But he's proven the skeptics wrong in the past.

This would be a balletic contest, the aging phenomenon against the youthful superathlete.  The match would be a spectacle of movement and grace, with slingblades being countered by slingblades, frog splashes being given out like candy, and the odd Phoenix splash providing a highlight reel moment.  In the end look for Rollins' youth to win out as he counters a Hi Fly Flow with raised knees and hits his new Rainmaker-inspired finisher (wrist lock into a high knee) for the win after 17 minutes.

Winner: Seth Rollins

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kenny Omega

By all rights we should've seen this match last year just before Nak left New Japan, but it was not to be.  Instead we can only speculate on what would be an absolute masterpiece.

Shinsuke has thus far done exceedingly well in transitioning to the 'E, with a very successful year in NXT before his recent main roster call-up.  Time will tell if Smackdown creative uses him well, but he's already got a built-in audience and should hopefully follow in AJ Styles' footsteps on his way to a WWE Title run.

Kenny Omega stepped up huge in 2016, filling the NJPW void left by his Bullet Club predecessor AJ Styles, becoming one of the company's MVPs, winning the G1 tournament (a first for a gaijin), and headlining WrestleKingdom 11 in what was widely considered one of the greatest matches of all time.  A run with the IWGP Heavyweight Title seems inevitable within the next six months, and Omega has truly taken the industry by storm over the past year.

This would be an epic, dazzlingly innovative clash with incredibly high energy and tremendous counters.  After 23 minutes of crisp back-and-forth action, look for Nak to go for the Kinshasa only for Omega to leapfrog over him, hit him with his own running knee, and land the One-Winged Angel for the pinfall one year in the making.

Winner: Kenny Omega

Randy Orton vs. Tetsuya Naito

The current WWE Champion missed most of 2016 due to injury and then got steamrolled by Brock Lesnar upon his return.  He would then feud briefly with Bray Wyatt before joining the Wyatt Family unexpectedly, win the 2017 Royal Rumble, and reveal his true intention to challenge the newly crowned Wyatt for the belt at WrestleMania.  Orton regained the Title decisively and looks to make 2017 a return to form.

Tetsuya Naito has become one of New Japan's biggest box office draws, with his gang of anti-heroes Los Ingobernables frequently running amok and making life difficult for the various babyface contingents.  Naito briefly held the IWGP Heavyweight Title in 2016, nearly won the G1 Climax tournament, and finally unseated Michael Elgin to capture the I-C belt and more or less take over Shinsuke Nakamura's former role in the company.  It's a virtual certainty that another run with the Heavyweight Title is in Naito's future, but for now he's content to make the #2 belt an equally sought-after prize.

This match would be methodical and full of cerebral oneupmanship.  Both Naito and Orton are known for toying with opponents to try and throw them off their game.  Look for LIJ to get involved early on before being ejected by the official.  Orton takes control of the match with several nearfalls but eventually Naito's cunning overcomes even Orton's, and he counters an RKO with a handful of tights, before nailing the Destino for the 17-minute victory.

Winner: Tetsuya Naito

Brock Lesnar vs. Kazuchika Okada

The Beast had kind of a mixed 2016 in that he destroyed nearly all his opponents (the infamous 90-second Goldberg squash excepted) but failed to really capture anyone's imagination in terms of match quality.  He's become very reliant on the Suplex City gimmick and for me it's been detrimental to the bouts themselves.  But Lesnar did once again capture WWE gold at WrestleMania, making quick work of the aforementioned Goldberg, and will likely have a stranglehold on the Universal Title until at least SummerSlam.

In the past year Kazuchika Okada has become one of, if not THE, best wrestler on the planet.  After knocking Tanahashi off the mountaintop as the company Ace in 2016, Okada lost and quickly regained the IWGP Title and went on an absolute tear of bell-to-bell masterworks.  His match with Omega is already in the conversation for best match ever, his grueling war with Minoru Suzuki redefined Okada as an unbreakable iron man, and his all-out back-and-forth assault with Shibata reached new levels of strong style brutality.  Okada is only 29 years old and outworks 95% of the wrestlers out there, and it's almost unfathomable that he probably hasn't even peaked yet.  NJPW is in good hands with Kazuchika Okada as its Ace.

Our main event pits the unstoppable monster WWE Universal Champion against the nearly superhuman IWGP Champion.  Lesnar would gain an early advantage with his usual barrage of German suplexes before Okada slid out of the ring to catch a breather and strategize.  He would then need to hit and run to stay out of Lesnar's expansive reach, striking Brock's head and neck to slow him down and snaring various submission holds.  Lesnar would muscle out and go back to his power gameplan, landing more suplexes before hitting the F5.  But to Lesnar's shock, Okada would kick out.  Lesnar would wrench him up and hit a second F5 but Okada would nudge his shoulder up again at the last instant.  Enraged, Brock would pick him up for a third, only for Okada to slip behind and hit a half-power Rainmaker but maintain a grip on Lesnar's massive wrist.  Both men would slowly get to their feet and Lesnar would try to shake him off, but Okada would twist Brock's arm and deliver another Rainmaker, this time more forcefully.  A dazed Brock would again try to wriggle free, but Okada would spin behind Brock, spin him back around, and level the giant with a third Rainmaker, then a fourth, then a fifth, for the upset win at 17 minutes.

Winner: Kazuchika Okada

Thus concludes the 3rd Annual WWE-NJPW Supercard!  Comment below with your thoughts, and thanks for reading!

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