Thursday, December 28, 2023

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK5)

Tanahashi faces another old-guard NJPW star.....

WrestleKingdom V - 1/4/11

WK5 was similar to WK3 in that it was a consistently watchable show but was missing a must-see match.  Still there was a lot to like about this show and a ton of great talent showcased.  WK5 was the final event in the series to feature TNA talent.

There were two preshow matches but only one really stuck out - Koji Kanemoto and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Kenny Omega and Taichi.  This was a very well-worked tag match with tons of spectacular offense.  Omega was clearly the star here, and it's easy to see why he'd soon become a top Jr. Heavyweight player (and of course a main event star later on).  I would've loved to see this as the hot opening match.

The first official PPV bout was Bad Intentions vs. Beer Money vs. Muscle Orchestra for the IWGP Tag belts.  Quite a car wreck of an opener, with 2-3 guys in the ring at a time while everyone else sold on the outside.  This match had decent energy, like all six wrestlers wanted to set the pace for the show.  The most memorable visual was Strong Man gorilla pressing the 330-pound Matt Bloom.  Totally forgettable but on ok opener.

Next up was an incredibly fun Lucha tag match - Máscara Dorada and La Sombra vs. Jushin Thunder Liger and Héctor Garza.  Even at forty years old Garza still looked great, and Sombra displayed some amazing top-rope dives.  Pretty short, but a really exciting aerial bout.

The first semi-miss of the night was next: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Takashi Iizuka in a Deep Sleep to Lose match (meaning you had to put your opponent away with a sleeper hold).  This was a fairly plodding affair and the sleeper stipulation made for a very anticlimactic finish, but this wasn't all bad either.  Just not something I'd ever watch again.

Rob Van Dam vs. Toru Yano was next.  Entertaining, but outside of a few painful-looking spots this was your garden-variety garbage match.  For what it was it was well-executed.  The crowd was into RVD much more than they'd been into Team 3-D the previous two shows, even chanting his initials along with him.  This was fine but approaching filler territory.
The first important match was fifth, as Yuji Nagata renewed his rivalry with Minoru Suzuki in a stiff, no-frills fight.  This is what I was hoping for in their WK1 match.  Lots of grueling standup strikes and multiple submission attempts from both guys.  A real battle of super-tough veterans.

Did you just slap me?

Now we're talkin'.  Next up was Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Just a magnificent match, that started out methodical before Ibushi's breathtaking offense took over.  This match had at least 3 or 4 legitimate "holy shit" moves.  Ibushi dominated much of the action until the final minutes when Devitt made a comeback.  This was a really dazzling match and these two are such natural opponents I could watch them wrestle each other all day long.

Super Bloody Sunday!

A surprisingly good tag match broke out next, as Takashi Sugiura and Yoshihiro Takayama faced Hirooki Goto and a repackaged Kazuchika Okada.  Not knowing anything about this feud, I was still able to feel the intensity of this grudge match, which illustrates both the universality of the language of pro wrestling but also the quality of the talent involved here.  That I was able to follow the story they were telling without having seen any of the buildup is pretty remarkable.  This was brutally hard-hitting and the animosity was palpable.  Okada was almost unrecognizable, sporting a slightly bulkier physique and samurai-inspired gear.  Very good stuff.

Here's a pretty foul affair: Jeff Hardy vs. Tetsuya Naito for the TNA Championship.  Jeff looked awful here, moving really sluggishly and seeming barely motivated.  Welcome to Botchton, Messupchusetts (sorry, had to do it).  Of course two months later was TNA's Victory Road PPV, where Jeff showed up pilled out of his mind and they sent him to the ring anyway to lose to Sting in 90 seconds.  So clearly this wasn't a good period in Jeff's career.  Naito wore a T-shirt throughout this match which was odd.  Anyway, this was not good.

Next up was Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Go Shiozaki, which on paper looked like a surefire Match of the Night.  This was slow at first but picked up in the second half.  Despite Nakamura having fully become the anti-hero persona by 2011, Shiozaki played the heel here, taking out Nakamura's leg early in the match.  Nakamura eventually came back to win with the Boma Ye.  This ended up a very solid match, but a little underwhelming given how good these two are.  Still a good 3-plus stars.

The semi-main slot went to Togi Makabe vs. Masato Tanaka, in a good smashmouth brawl with some hardcore elements.  I liked that they didn't go crazy with the hardcore stuff, just a few big spots, so it was more like a regular match with hardcore sprinkled in.  Nothing amazing but quite entertaining.  Again, the hardcore stuff is so played out by this point, none of it has the impact or realism it had in the late 90s.

Finally we arrive at the main event: Satoshi Kojima vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.  Very solid main event that was just missing that little something to put it over 4 stars (Actually this was a good representation of the whole show - almost everything about it was good but it didn't quite make it to the next level).  Kojima played a good salty heel Champion, working Tanahashi's leg for a lot of the match.  Tanahashi really is incapable of sucking - he's either delivered a show stealer or come damn close on almost every show I've seen.  I went into this match less than pumped for it (mostly because I'm not that familiar with Kojima), but it ended up probably the second-best match of the night.

Wait, it's a Sharpshooter?  Ring the bell.  RING THE FUCKING BELL!

WrestleKingdom V was one of those shows that's perfectly satisfying but doesn't stick with you beyond the initial viewing.  There were several good or very good matches but none that made this a can't-miss event.  A worthy entry in the series but not a great one.

Best Match: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi
Worst Match: Jeff Hardy vs. Tetsuya Naito
What I'd Change: TNA's involvement in these shows, while a smart way to attract more American eyes to the product, didn't do much for the quality of the PPVs overall.  Yes there were a few little gems involving TNA talent but overall they didn't add much.  A partnership with ROH starting in 2008 would've been more appropriate I think.
Most Disappointing Match: This was by no means bad, in fact it was a good 3-plus stars, but Nakamura vs. Shiozaki should've been a show stealer.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I wasn't expecting much out of Suguira/Takayama vs. Goto/Okada but it was a well-executed tag bout.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania XXVII? - Definitely.  WK5 lacked a MOTY candidate, but it was unwaveringly enjoyable and had a couple matches nearing 4 stars.

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