Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK10)

NJPW followed up the near-perfect WK9 with another near-perfect show....

WrestleKingdom 10 - 1/4/16

Wow.  New Japan Pro Wrestling did it again.  They were tasked with living up to the transcendent WrestleKingdom 9 and somehow they managed to do just that.  WrestleKingdom 10 set the bar VERY high for all other wrestling shows in 2016, it was no stretch to say the Best PPV of the Year Award was already decided as of January 5th.  There was literally not one bad match on this show.  It started off incredibly fun and with almost no wasted time in between matches the pitch never dropped below "neato."

The opener was predictably wild and innovative, as reDRagon, The Young Bucks, Roppongi Vice, and Aerial Dogfight (Matt Sydal & Ricochet) tore it up with crazy tandem moves galore.  After nearly 17 minutes of non-stop offense Matt & Nick Jackson regained the Jr. Heavyweight straps.  Great way to kick things off, as usual.

Next was the NJPW debut of The Briscoes, who teamed with Toru Yano against Bullet Club members Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Takahashi.  This was probably the weakest match of the night, but only by default.  For twelve minutes these six put on a helluvan entertaining little show, culminating in Yano and the Brothers winning the brand-new Six-Man Championship.

For the first time ever the Ring of Honor World Title was defended in the Tokyo Dome as Jay Lethal and Michael Elgin delivered a fine undercard match.  While a bit underwhelming for a major title bout, this was still very solid stuff.

Moving right along, the hits kept racking up with Kenny Omega vs. Kushida in the rubber match for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  While not as strong as their previous two bouts (understandable given the time constraints), this was still easily a 3.5-star affair and told the story of Kushida defying the odds to regain the Title.  It also served as Omega's swan song in the Jr. division (as we'd see the following night).  Damn good stuff.

Traditionally the weakest part of most New Japan shows is the World Tag Title match, as their Heavyweight Tag division is paper thin.  But this match was an exception thanks to a massively over set of challengers in Honma and Makabe.  Obviously this was no five-star classic, but the hot crowd and Honma's energetic offense, coupled with a slimmed-down, motivated Karl Anderson added up to a fine bout.  Finally the perennial underdog Honma got his first taste of gold, and the audience loved it.

The final undercard match was next as Hirooki Goto sought revenge against hated rival Tetsuya Naito.  This had a lot of outside the ring shenanigans to kick things off, but once it settled down it became a very worthy bout.  Shockingly Goto withstood interference by Evil and Bushi to get the win, elevating him back into Title contention.

Now just looking back at that undercard, that in and of itself is a rock-solid lineup.  Nothing below 2.5 stars in the first six matches.  But it was the triple main event that launched WK10 into the stratosphere.

The NEVER Openweight Title showdown between Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata was seventeen minutes of sheer brutality.  As expected, these two sluggers beat the bejeezus out of each other, at least equaling the brilliant Ishii-Makabe match from last year.  In the end fan favorite Shibata finally won a singles championship with the Penalty Kick, for the next year becoming the new standard bearer for the NEVER Openweight division.  Excellent match, but we hadn't seen anything yet.

The semi-main event went to the much-anticipated Shinsuke Nakamura-AJ Styles dream match, and it did not disappoint.  If Styles was still suffering from his recent back injury you wouldn't know it by watching this.  Aside from toning down his aerial assault AJ wrestled a near-perfect 25-minute match and even worked his back injury into a "goldbricking" spot.  Nakamura was amazing as always, and these two A-plus players put together an instant Match of the Year contender that built to an incredible pitch and one of the most brutal-looking Boma Ye knees I've ever seen.  The two WWE-bound combatants shared a fist bump afterwards, capping off their joint New Japan swan song.

Okada vs. Tanahashi.  Undoubtedly the greatest feud in New Japan history up to this point.  Just when you think two guys have done everything they can possibly do in the ring together, you get a match like this one.  Thirty-six minutes of epic, World Class pro wrestling by two bona fide main event athletes.  The jury's still out on whether this surpassed their amazing effort from WK9, but there's no doubt this match roughly equaled that one.  Okada and Tanahashi pulled out every stop imaginable, trading finishers, stealing each other's moves, and somehow creating suspense where none reasonably existed.  Everyone knew full-well Okada would win this, but there were several points during the match where even I gasped.  What else can be said?  This was just about perfect.

Holy goddamn this show was amazing.  It's a tough call which was better, WK9 or 10, but it's splitting hairs.  Both of them are perfect 10 PPVs and belong high on anyone's all-time list.

Best Match: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles, just by the smallest of hairs
Worst Match: Probably the six-man tag by default.  And that was easily a **1/2 match.
What I'd Change: Only the over-reliance on run-ins and pre-match shenanigans.  Otherwise not much at all.
Most Disappointing Match: Jay Lethal vs. Michael Elgin was underwhelming for an ROH Title match, but again, we're talking a **1/2 match at worst.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Tag Title match
Overall Rating: 10/10
Better than WrestleMania 32? - Ummmm, yeah.

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