Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK3)

It's a generational battle/passing of the torch in the main event.....

WrestleKingdom III - 1/4/09

The third edition of WK was most definitely a consistently good overall card.  As usual there were multiple six-plus-man tags but they were mostly different degrees of fun, and a few of the top-billed matches rose to 3.5-star territory or better.  Despite the involvement of TNA talent in several matches I was actually able to track all of them down, so unlike WK2 this review is complete.

To kick things off we had Místico, Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Averno, Gedo and Jado in a very fun opening match showcasing Mistico, the future (and now former) Sin Cara, whose offense was flashy and hyper-agile.  How he's able to land on his feet after a hurricanrana I'll never know.  Anyway, good stuff to kick off the PPV.

Next was the Motor City Machine Guns vs. No Limit.  This was a typical but highly entertaining Jr. Heavyweight tag match with pretty continuous acton throughout and tons of creative spots.  Nothing wrong with that.

The Jr. Heavyweight action continued with Low-Ki vs. Tiger Mask IV.  This was a solid match but never seemed to get to the next gear.  The early going was fairly slow but it picked up later on.  Strangely methodical for such a short match.

The first miss of the night was next, as Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash, Riki Choshu and Masahiro Chono faced Giant Bernard, Karl Anderson, Takashi Iizuka and Tomohiro Ishii.  There didn't seem to be much point to this one, and the match wasn't long enough for everyone to get their shit in.  Why was Nash even here?  I'm not sure he ever got tagged in.

Jushin Thunder Liger and Takuma Sano vs. Koji Kanemoto and Wataru Inoue was in the fifth slot.  Another fast-paced, enjoyable tag match.  The Liger-Kanemoto stuff was very crisp and engaging.  Liger won the match with a superplex - a rarity these days.
Time for the first standout singles match of the night - Yuji Nagata vs. Masato Tanaka for the Zero-1 World Championship (which is actually just the 80s AWA belt).  This bout was a really good, stiff slugfest.  Both guys bled early (Tanaka broke a chair over Nagata's head and then Nagata took some really weak-looking post shots) and ramped up the snug offense throughout.  These two managed to make an eleven-minute match feel like much more.

These two beat the piss out of each other.
Another rugged match followed, as Jun Akiyama faced Manabu Nakanishi.  I'd never seen Nakanishi before, but he's a beast!  This almost seemed like a showcase for him, as he dominated much of the match before Akiyama made his comeback.  The finish was pretty anticlimactic (Akiyama won with a back suplex), but this was another intense, no-frills fight.

I'm not sure why this next one was placed so late on the card, but the only real stinker of the night came just before the two main events.  Team 3-D vs. Togi Makabe & Toru Yano got over fifteen minutes of a hardcore match, which featured sluggish action and pretty soft-looking big spots.  The Japanese tables look especially flimsy, with cardboard inside.  Bubba and Devon looked fairly unmotivated.  Easily the least-entertaining match, and the crowd didn't seem into Team 3-D's shtick at all.

The semi-main slot went to Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto vs. Mitsuharu Misawa and Takashi Sugiura.  This was a well-worked good tag match with a big-fight feel and no wasted time.  It was cool to see Nakamura vs. Misawa face off, and these two had some nice exchanges.  Sugiura must be a huge Kurt Angle fan as he uses both the anklelock and the Angle Slam.  Nakamura eventually got the submission victory on Sugiura, and sold the win like it was the greatest moment of his life.  It's refreshing to see a wrestling company treat wins and losses like they mean something.

Finally the main event was Keiji Mutoh vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.  Pretty epic headliner with some refreshingly great mat grappling in the early minutes, before both guys pulled out the big moves.  Mutoh looked much more limber here than at the first WK show, though he relied a little too much on the Dragon Screw and Shining Wizard.  The match probably could've been five minutes shorter, but this was still a helluva Title match with a nice passing of the torch.  Tanahashi was just becoming the company MVP at this point.


If WK3 just had one 4-star match I'd say it was easily the best of the series thus far, as all the NJPW-centric stuff was good or very good, and a couple of the TNA matches were fun too.  But WK2's double-whammy main events put it just above this card.  WK3 was missing that one must-see match, but overall it was a consistently watchable show with almost no bad matches.

Best Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Keiji Mutoh
Worst Match: Gotta go with the Team 3-D match, as it was a chore to get through.
What I'd Change: Give Angle a one-on-one match if you're gonna use him here.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Team 3D vs. Makabe/Yano - All four guys seemed to be going through the motions so there wasn't much urgency.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Akiyama vs. Nakanishi - This wasn't amazing by any means but it was an intense little slugfest.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better Than WrestleMania XXV? - It's a more consistent card, but since it was missing a truly great match I'll say not quite.

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