By Graham "GSM" Matthews
IWGP Tag Team Champions reDRAGON def. Time Splitters, Forever Hooligans and The Young Bucks in a Fatal 4-Way Match
You knew this was going to be a crazy match going in given who was involved and it definitely lived up to expectations. It was't too epic to the point where it would have overshadowed everything else on the show, but it was the perfect fit in the opening slot and the action was highly entertaining. Although this is my first Japanese pay-per-view, I was already familiar with most of the tandems involved through Ring of Honor. reDRAGON especially impressed me at the end and I would love to see them spotlighted on a bigger stage.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Tomoaki Honma def. Jeff Jarrett, Yojiro Takahashi and Bad Luck Fale
I was surprised Jeff Jarrett was able to use his old entrance music from TNA. Does he own the rights to it or something? Anyway, the match was kept short and sweet. As noted, I know next to nothing about about NPJW, so I had no idea Homna was an underdog for his team, but Jim Ross and Matt Striker got that story across nicely on commentary. Global Force Wrestling wasn't really represented in a big way other than a slight mention. Wasn't this supposed to be their "coming out party" so to speak?
Naomichi Marufuji, Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste, and Toru Yano def. Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer, Shelton Benjamin, and Takashi Iizuka
It was cool to see a match between two rival promotions. It didn't feature the biggest stars from each respective company, but it was fun for what it was. Benjamin was the only one highlighted for his team. Archer, who I always thought was misused in WWE, had his moment and I had completely forgotten Smith was even in this match until I wrote that result up above. Still, though, it gave Pro Wrestling Noah a nice rub and everyone involved got their moment to shine at one point or another.
Minoru Suzuki def. Kazushi Sakuraba
As a casual fan of MMA, I enjoyed the submission/knockout style of this match. It was something different and it was a nice change of pace for even the non-MMA fans after several tag matches early on in the show. They also told a solid story and the commentators once again did a superb job of informing new viewers such as myself of they history. It may not have been the most exciting matchup, but it was unique (as described by Jim Ross) and separated itself from everything else on the show.
Togi Makabe def. Tomohiro Ishii to Win the NEVER Openweight Championship
Needless to say, this was easily the most physical match up to this point. The hard-hitting styles of both guys made for a brutal bout and it fit within the context of a championship being up for grabs. Similar to the previous contest, it was something very different from everything else on the card and it stood out asa result. The championship changing hands also made for a cool moment on such a big stage.
Kenny Omega def. Tyusuke Taguchi to Win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
I don't know what it was, but there was just something about Omega that drew me to him. Perhaps it was the "x-factor" he seemed to have. One of the commentators called him an enigma during his entrance and that essentially summed him up in a nutshell. For that matter, the same can be said for the rest of the Bullet Club. As for Taguchi, I really liked the story told that he was after the Bullet Club after Fergal Devitt (now known as Finn Balor) turned on him. I'm no fan of interference and obviously it's not a custom the Japanese audience is used to, but it was thankfully kept a minimum from The Young Bucks. The finish was well done and the title change puts Taguchi in chase mode going forward.
Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata def. Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson to Win the IWGP Tag Team Championship
Gallows and Anderson have such great chemistry together. They both have similar builds and their tag team maneuvers made them feel like a real tandem. Moreover, Goto and Shibata didn't feel like a duo that was thrown together. Jim Ross did a hell of a job putting over how they've been friends forever and that really added to the moment when they captured the gold. It was the epitome of what tag team wrestling should be, everything from the dynamic between the two teams to the enjoyable action itself.
A.J. Styles def. Tetsuya Naito
I found it interesting the commentators acknowledged how the Styles Clash has seriously injured several wrestlers in the last year. I don't know if it was wise to tie that into the storyline, but it absolutely added to the story of the match and Styles going for the move right from the get-go was a very nice touch. They also put over how Styles was in must-win mode after losing the IWGP Heavyweight title back in October and Naito was looking to secure himself the fourth top spot on the IWGP totem pole. The finish with Styles nailing the Styles Clash off the second rope was fantastic and it was a necessary victory for Styles if he'll be getting back into title contention in the near future.
IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kota Ibushi
In all honesty, they lost me early on. I wouldn't even call what they were doing boring, I just wasn't invested. But as the match progressed, I really got into it and the live crowd did as well. Thus, in retrospect, it was wise for them to build up to that point instead of going all out in the first portion of the match. There were a lot of strong nearfalls and they connected with the crowd on a number of levels. Most importantly, they made me care. I think that's the key to any big match, especially for someone such as myself that isn't all that familiar with the product. They told a stellar story and Ibushi, even in defeat, was put over in a major way.
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Kazuchika Okada
This match was every bit as amazing as people I talked to about it before I saw it for myself made it out to be and nothing I write will do it justice. Once again, a good first portion of the match was all mat wrestling, but it was well timed and calculated. Each guy utilizing the other's taunts was excellent considering how big of rivals they are. The constant finishers didn't get to the point of being too much at all. It only added to the excitement and the unpredictability of who was going to win. They took some major risks (the frog splash over the barricade from Tanahashi was my personal favorite) and they paid off. The emotion Okada showed after losing really played into how much the match and the championship meant to him and this iconic rivalry as a whole. A phenomenal way to close off the show.
If you couldn't already tell, I'm not a regular viewer of New Japan Pro Wrestling. In fact, this was my first Japanese pay-per-view as a fan (and no, I don't count Bound for Glory 2013 or any of their One Night Only events). However, after seeing this, I just might have to tune in more often. I don't know if they just went all out because it was their biggest show of the year or if the wrestling is this fantastic all the time, but it certainly seems like it. Everything about the event, from the stage setup to the big screen to the lights, was extremely well done and made it feel major league. And of course, Jim Ross and Matt Striker did an exceptional job on commentary. They really did their homework on all the matches and competitors and made me care about each of them significantly more knowing the background. The first half of the show felt slightly rushed and they could have done without one or two of the multi-man tag team matches, but it was still enjoyable. It gave the main event matches in the second half even more time and I was glad it played out that way. The last three matches were extraordinary and were well worth the price of the pay-per-view alone, but I'd strongly suggest watching the show in its entirety. It was highly entertaining and the four hours absolutely flew by. Any real wrestling fan owes it to themselves to see this show.