Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK8)

Probably the weakest of the great WrestleKingdoms, but still a helluva show....

WrestleKingdom 8 - 1/4/14

We're officially in the middle of a streak, as NJPW followed up the excellent WK7 with an almost-as-great WK8.  This show was a bit of a donut, with a good beginning and a great end but not much of a middle.  But that's okay, the good stuff far outweighed the bad.

Kicking things off was a 4-way for the Jr. Heavyweight Tag belts: The Young Bucks vs. Forever Hooligans vs. Suzuki-gun vs. Time Splitters.  This was a crazy spotfest with a lot of comedy mixed in, such as Taka and Taichi spending the first three minutes at the commentators' table.  The action was pretty much non-stop and a lot of fun.  Young Bucks won with the amazing More Bang for Your Buck (I won't attempt to describe this move as it's too complex - just Youtube it).  Even more amazing was the announcer calling the move: "MORE BANG-UH FOR YOUR BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK-UH!"

The World Tag belts were up next, as Killer Elite Squad defended against Bullet Club members Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows.  This was an energetic Tag Title match where the Bullet Club guys outheeled Smith and Archer and therefore took the belts.  Interesting to see KES become the de facto babyfaces.

In the third slot was the NWA Championship: Rob Conway vs. Satoshi Kojima was surprisingly good, with Kojima carrying most of the workload and the crowd responding well to everything he did.  Nothing mindblowing but a good little match.

The first low point was fourth, as Kazushi Sakuraba & Yuji Nagata faced MMA fighters Daniel & Rollie Gracie.  New Japan has done some excellent faux-MMA matches, but this wasn't one of them.  The Gracies, talented fighters though they may be, don't work well in a pro wrestling format, partly due to their basically being devoid of charisma.  Not terrible, but not good either.

The obligatory Great Muta match was next as he teamed with Toru Yano against Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin.  A pretty good tag match, largely because of Suzuki and Benjamin's heel shenanigans keeping things fun.  Yano, ever the cheater, managed to play a sympathetic character while still using underhanded tactics.  Muta once again used way too many Shining Wizards.
A "King of Destroyer" match was next: Togi Makabe vs. Bad Luck Fale.  Traditionally the Last Man Standing gimmick is my least favorite type of match, but in New Japan the refs don't overuse the ten-count, and count much faster than their US counterparts.  So this was an okay fight that didn't rely too heavily on bells and whistles.  In fact most of the big spots just involved the wrestlers' signature moves, and Fale got put away after Makabe's King Kong Knee Drop.

Up until this point WK8 was a fairly lackluster card, but as has happened many times before, the last four matches totally made this show.

Hirooki Goto faced Katsuyori Shibata in a really amazing fight full of jaw-rattling strikes.  These two beat the snot out of each other in a match that featured traded forearms, palm strikes, back suplexes, and even Goto's finisher, the Shouten.  This nearly stole the show.


The Jr. Heavyweight Championship was next: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi.  Fantastic match that played out more like a World Title bout.  They saved the big crazy spots for the second half and concentrated on telling the story of Ibushi being outnumbered at ringside by Devitt's Bullet Club stablemates.  For once the repeated outside interference enhanced the story.  Then after the Bullet Club was ejected from the premises, things got down to business and Ibushi and Devitt delivered like they always do.

How boss is this body paint?

The first of two co-main events was for the IWGP World Title.  Kazuchika Okada faced 2013 G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito in a marathon World Title match that was not quite on the level of Okada-Tanahashi, but still very good.  Given who the challenger was, there unfortunately wasn't much suspense over Okada possibly losing the Title.  This seemed more like a big match designed to help Okada stand on his own as a top guy, apart from his feud with Tanahashi.  The closing stretch was great and full of innovative reversals.  Overall the match was good but not excellent.

As voted by the fans, the Intercontinental Championship took the main event slot, as Shinsuke Nakamura defended against Hiroshi Tanahashi.  This was a tremendous main event with both guys playing their roles to perfection and delivered probably their best match together (until G1 25 anyway).  They played off their knowledge of each other's big moves, so each knew how to counter the other.  Really crisp, athletic contest resembling the ol' "human chess match."  Tanahashi eventually got the duke after two HFFs.

The main event was all this and much more....

WK8 was a very worthy followup to the awesome WK7, with an absolutely brilliant second half that never let up.  I'd call the Nakamura-Tanahashi main event the third-best in the WK pantheon.  But New Japan wasn't done yet - their unquestionable masterpiece was yet to come.....

Best Match: Nakamura vs. Tanahashi
Worst Match: Sakuraba/Nagata vs. The Gracies
What I'd Change: Dump the whole Gracie angle
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really
Most Pleasant Surprise: Conway vs. Kojima
Overall Rating: 9/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX? - Not quite, but it's close.

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