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Views from the Hawke’s Nest: NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2013

January 29, 2014 | Posted by TJ Hawke
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Views from the Hawke’s Nest: NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2013  

This is somewhat of a special show for me. It signals one year of watching the majority of important NJPW shows for me. I expect you all to celebrate accordingly.

October 14, 2013
Tokyo, Japan

CHAOS (Gedo, Jado, Takashi Iizuka & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Super Strong Machine & Tiger Mask
This was the dark match, Iizuka need to fight a Taipei Death Match. I need that. The match started as a brawl. Things quickly settled down though. CHAOS cheated to get the advantage. They choked Liger with rope. He eventually broke free and tagged in Tiger Mask. Tiger Mask made a comeback. Nakanishi tagged in and got cut off. Yes, this dark match needed TWO heat segments. Nakanishi came back. He gave Jado a lariat and then a middle rope diving claw attack? Sure, let’s go with that: 1…2…3

I love Manabu Nakanishi like he was my grandfather.
Match Rating: *

Forever Hooligans© (Rocky Romero & Alex Koslov) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) [IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships]
The Time Splitters were supposed to be getting their title shot here, but Alex Shelley got injured. Suzuki-gun just lost to the Splitters at Destruction, which I guess made them the number one contenders by default or something. Personally, I would have made this a non-title match.

Koslov sang the Russian anthem. They convinced Taichi to sing the Japanese anthem, but they attacked him right before he started. Koslov gave TAKA a drop toehold, and TAKA sold it like a separated shoulder. He was pretending though. I guess both teams are going to be rudos. TAKA put on Koslov’s hat and then did the kicks dealio. Suzuki-gun then did Rocky Romero’s corner lariats dealio. This is a weird match. Koslov came back with a couple of gamengiris. Rocky tagged in. The Hooligans made a comeback. They hit dives on Suzuki-gun. The match just kept going and going. They went back and forth some more. There was even more gaga. Taichi kicked Rocky in the balls and rolled him up: 1…2…3!

The fans were pretty into this match, but neither team does much for me. I’m ready for some fresh blood in this division. The Young Bucks can’t get here fast enough.
Match Rating: **3/4

Minoru Suzuki vs. Toru Yano
These guys had a swell match in the G1 and a boring match Destruction. A year ago, Suzuki had the MOTY with Tanahashi. Seems worth noting.

I really do not need another singles match between these two. They brawled a lot. Yano did some of his usual shenagigans. They played off the finish of their last match by having Suzuki handcuff him to the barricade. Yano managed to escape though. He must have had the key. Suzuki then handcuffed Yano in the ring. Yano stayed in the match for a bit, but the handcuffs were too much of a handicap. Suzuki eventually gave him a very delayed piledriver: 1…2…3

This feud MUST continue (for just ungawdly reasons). As you can tell, I did not care about this in any way, shape, or form. A year ago, Suzuki had the MOTY. Now, he’s in an undercard program that has gone on way too long.
Match Rating: *1/2

Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Takaaki Watanabe vs. Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer)
My expectations for this match are so low that it almost has to overachieve. KES cut off Watanabe and worked him over for a while. Watanabe eventually broke free and tagged out to Tenzan. Tenzan came back for a while until the KES cut him off. Tenzan and Archer botched an Ace Crusher. The teams went back and forth. Tenzan saved Watanabe from the Blackout. KES hit stereo powerslams. Watanabe then ate the double powerbomb: 1…2…3

KES attacked Tenzan, Watanabe, and Satoshi Kojima after the bell. KES then cut a promo about how they are going to take back the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.

This was unremarkable, as you would expect. Both teams being over with the crowd certainly helped, but these wrestlers are just not that good. I’m tired of watching them.
Match Rating: **

The BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Karl Anderson & Prince Devitt) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) & Kota Ibushi
This is Ibushi’s first match since he signed contracts that allow him to be a regular part of NJPW and DDT. I suppose those contracts could be a kayfabe deal obviously. I have no idea. Regardless, it’s great for him and both companies. I’m pretty crushed that Ibushi did not reunite with Kazushi Sakuraba and Akebono for this matchup.

The teams went back and forth for a while. Honma was isolated by the Bullet Club and worked over for a while. I’m really starting to dig Honma. I want to see more of him. Makabe tagged in and made a comeback for the tecnicos. Makabe sort of got cut off, and Ibushi then made a proper hot tag that the crowd loved. Ibushi got a couple of nearfalls on Devitt. The teams went back and forth. Honma went for the falling headbutt on Anderson, but Anderson rolled out of the way. Anderson gave Honma a TKO: 1…2…NO! Honma then ate a proper Gun Stun: 1…2…3!

This match was a ton of fun, and I don’t have much more to say about it. Three hated rudos and three beloved tecnicos had a really good trios match. It was everything you would expect, and that’s not a bad thing.
Match Rating: ***1/2

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii
These two had what some called a MOTYC (or even the MOTY) during the G1. I thought it was a great match but not quite at that level.

As you would expect, they came out hot and heavy. Ishii had the Delayed Corner Dropkick of Death and Destruction scouted. They took turns accepting shots from the other one. They then went back and forth without consent from their opponent. Shibata managed to hit Ishii with the Delayed Corner Dropkick of Death and Destruction on his second try. Shibata then hit did a Pedigree/butterfly suplex combo for a nearfall. Ishii seemed to be fading, but he came back with a couple of Germans. Ishii started building some momentum. Shibata fought back, and they went back and forth. They traded strikes until Ishii hit a folding powerbomb for a nearfall. Shibata reversed a brainbuster into a sleeper. He transitioned that into a reverse DDT. They went back and forth some more until they collapsed. Ishii avoided a GTS attempt and hit a headbutt. Shibata avoided a brainbuster and hit a headbutt. Shibata then hit a DVD on the knee and the Penalty Kick: 1…2…3

When it comes to Shibata’s matches with Ishii and Hirooki Goto, we have officially started getting diminishing returns. I’m thankful that the matches don’t go on for an unnecessarily long time, but the style is just overkill for me at this point. I definitely enjoyed this match for the majority of the time, and the crowd was way more into it than I was. That’s how I came up with that rating. Star ratings are weird.
Match Rating: ***1/2

Tiger Mask, a guy in a Tiger Mask costume that looked like a Power Rangers villain, and some guy came out for a promo. I had no idea what was happening until they cut to a trailer for what looked like a Tiger Mask film. Synergy.

Daniel Gracie and Rolles Gracie came out to cut a promo. They laid out a challenge for Wrestle Kingdom. Wet fart level reactions from the crowd. They then went to sit in the crowd. Hey, what a coincidence, Kazushi Sakuraba, “The Gracie Hunter,” came out for his match!

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Yuji Nagata
Hopefully these two do not get too heavy into the faux MMA at the expense of entertaining everyone.

Nagata took Sakuraba down initially, and Sakuraba retreated to the floor. Sakuraba went for submissions. Nagata was close to a kimura, but Sakuraba got to the ropes. Nagata got in some big strikes that caused Sakuraba to stay in the ropes. Nagata caught him in the balls. Sakuraba came back with a guillotine. Nagata managed to toss him away and then delivered a series of knee strikes. Sakuraba caught him with a high kick to the head and a double stomp to the head. Sakuraba then got a submission. Nagata got to the ropes. Sakuraba went for a cross armbreaker, but Nagata kept his hands together. Just as Sakuraba got his hands separated, Nagata reversed it into the eye rollback armbar. Sakuraba survived, but Nagata hit a saito suplex. Sakauraba caught him with a kimura. They rolled through. Nagata went for a pump kick, but Sakuraba reversed it into a sleeper. Nagata reversed it into a bridging saito suplex: 1…2…3!

After the match, Nagata called the Gracies into the ring. He challenged them to a match. Sakuraba, “The Gracie Hunter,” wanted to be his partner. Nagata agreed. Then they posed together for photos. This would be a five star moment if I didn’t already know this would lead to one of the worst matches of 2014.

This match was a bit more enjoyable than I expected. Sakuraba is definitely not someone that works in a lot of situations. He really needs to find a way to add some emotion to his matches. Nagata broke his arm earlier in the year, and both men were somewhat clowning around in the ring. If this match had any intensity whatsoever, there could have been so much drama to be had.

Also, one of my problems with faux MMA in wrestling is when they work it as if to convince us that it’s a MMA match. In other words, they’ll do a bunch of random strikes and submission attempts with seemingly minimal attempt to tie it together into a story. At the moment, Sakuraba works far better as a wacky tag team guy than a singles competitor.
Match Rating: ***

Tetsuya Naito© vs. Yujiro Takahashi [NEVER Openweight Championship/ / IWGP Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership Match]
One year ago, Yujiro put Naito on the shelf for nine months in a match at this show. Now, they meet for the right to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom.

Yujiro attacked Naito before the bell. Yujiro went to use a chair on the surgically repaired knee of Naito, but the referee took it away. Naito then dropkicked a chair in Yujiro’s face. Naito ran through him for a bit until Yujiro managed to cut him off. Yujiro worked him over for a while until Naito caught him with a tornado DDT. Naito made a comeback. Yujrio managed to cut him off again, and he then took Naito out with a tope suicida. He was trying to win via countout. It did not work. Naito managed to catch him with the Koji Clutch. Yujiro survived, but Naito then hit a super ‘rana and a missile dropkick. They did a nifty sequence that ended with Yujiro hit a bridging German: 1…2…NO! Yujiro then hit a buckle bomb/bridging German combo: 1…2…NO! Naito came back with a sliding kick. They traded slaps. Yujiro hit a big lariat for a nearfall. Naito avoided the Dominator and hit a variation of the koppou kick. Yujiro kicked out of the bridging Dragon. Naito hit Gloria and then the Stardust Press. Naito locked in the Koji Clutch for good measure. Yujiro had to tap out.

At the risk of sounding repetitive about these two, this match lacked the emotion and selling necessary to be considered much more than average. They went a long time, and while I was never bored, the extended length did not make me care much more than a much a shorter match would have. This was perfectly fine, but given Naito’s push and the position of the match on the card, it was underwhelming.
Match Rating: ***1/4

Shinsuke Nakamura© vs. Naomichi Marufuji [IWGP Intercontinental Title]
This is the first Marufuji match that I have seen in years. The last one I can remember watching was the Final Battle 2008 match with Nigel. It’s possible I’ve seen a NOAH match or two from him since though, but I genuinely have no memory of it.

They were feeling each other out at the start. Nakamura buried his face in Fuji’s bewbs. Fuji hit a piledriver on the apron. I don’t recall everyone freaking out when this happened like they did when Mike Bennett and BJ Whitmer did it. Fuji got a nearfall with a nifty slingshot backstabber. Nakamura finally slowed him down an enzuigiri. Nakamura made his typical comeback. Marufuji got the advantage back. Marufuji hit a superkick, but Nakamura avoided two Shiranui attempts. Nakamura came back and hit a Funplex. Marufuji avoided a Boma Ye, and Nakamura avoided the Coast-to-Coast. Nakamura managed to catch him with a diving Boma Ye. Nakamura went for the proper Boma Ye, but Marufuji reversed it into a Shiranui: 1…2…NO! Nakamura avoided a bunch of strikes and caught Fuji with a roundhouse. Fuji came back with a First Flash and a roundhouse of his own. Fuji nearly stole the match with a small package. They traded more kicks. Nakamura hit a Boma Ye. He then hit another Boma Ye: 1…2…3!

Wow, this was super nifty, and a great match to right before the main event. Something about working with Marufuji seemed to motivate Nakamura to not just do the usual. (Granted, the “usual” from Nakamura is generally better than the great majority of wrestlers in the world.) I’m suddenly way more interested in the possibility of Marufuji doing stuff for NJPW more often next year. I’m not sure if that is going happen, but I’m definitely game for it.
Match Rating: ****

Minoru Suzuki and the rest of Suzuki-gun came out after the match. He seemingly challenged Nakamura to a title match for the next show.

Kazuchika Okada© vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [IWGP Heavyweight Championship]
There was a great video package summing up the rivalry between these two. In early 2012, Okada won the belt Tanahashi in a truly shocking move at the time. Tanahashi won it back a few months later. At Wrestle Kingdom, Tanahashi shockingly retained the title despite it seemingly being set up for Okada to win it. Okada then defeated Tanahashi a few months later for the belt. They were 2-2. During the 2013 G1, they wrestled a 30 minute draw. Every single match they had was great. Tanahashi has vowed to take himself out of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship picture indefinitely if he loses this match.

Things started slowly with neither man getting an advantage or doing anything too risky. Okada hit a slingshot senton because why not. Tanahashi’s right knee got injured. I hope Naito and Kota Ibushi start watching Tanahashi for the rest of the match. Tanahashi was actually faking it and caught Okada with a dropkick to the knee. Tanahashi then started doing some air guitar solos to emphasize how not injured his knee was. Yay! This is the Christmas of wrestling. Tanahashi started to go after the Rainmaker arm. After Okada avoided a senton, he caught Tanahashi with a dragon screw to slow him down. Okada made a comeback. Okada was in full control for a while. Tanahashi finally came back and hit a dragon screw. Tanahashi then went back to working over the Rainmaker arm. Okada tried to come back, but his right arm was useless. He couldn’t lock in Red Ink. Okada came back with a big boot and a one-armed Air Raid Crash on the thigh. Okada then got a nearfall with Heavy Rain. Okada hit the Hail to the King, but he damaged his right arm in the process. He couldn’t even do the Rainmaker pose. Tanahashi avoided the Rainmaker and almost stole the title with a pinning combination. Okada came right back and nailed a Rainmaker out of nowhere! Wow! His arm hurt too much though for him to cover right away. He eventually crawled over, but Tanahashi kicked out after two. Okada managed to get the Red Ink. Okada struggled to hang onto it though, and Tanahashi made the ropes. Tanahashi dropped Okada on his motherfucking head with a release Dragon and then hit the Sling Blade. Tanahashi hit the High Fly Flow on a standing Okada. Okada rolled to the floor before Tanahashi could hit it in the ring. Okada initially seemed safe, but Tanahashi promptly adjusted and hit a High Fly Flow to the floor! That was the best use of that spot that that I have ever seen. Tanahashi dragged Okada to his feet, but Okada then hit a tombstone on the mat. This match. Okada barely got back into the ring. Tanahashi made it in right after 19. They struggled to their feet. Okada went for the head. Tanahashi went for the right arm. Okada is being offensive, whereas Tanahashi is being defensive. Okada hit his perfect dropkick twice in a row. Tanahashi avoided the Rainmaker and then hit one of his own: 1…2…NO!!!! Tanahashi then hit the Styles Clash and called for the High Fly Flow. He hit it to the back of Okada! He went for another one, but Okada JUST got his knees up! They reversed each other’s tombstone attempts until Okada finally connected. Okada then went for the Rainmaker again, but Tanahashi avoided it THREE times until Okada could finally connect: 1…2…3! Match of the fucking year. One of the best matches of all time.

What more is there to say about these two? They always manage to find new ways to change up their sequences while remaining true to their characters and strategies. Tanahashi may have faked a knee injury, but it wasn’t a change in character. Tanahashi always does what he needs to win. Okada didn’t panic when his arm became useless. He knew the Rainmaker was his key to victory and devoted all of his offense to injuring Tanahashi’s neck. They did fantastic nearfalls and reversals that all made sense. It was just a thing of beauty to watch. I think this was a perfect match, and it may have just knocked Taker/Michaels from Mania 25 off the top of my list of greatest matches all time.

It seems impossible that two men could be so consistently great together over multiple matches and somehow remain fresh opponents for one another. Despite this being the perfect conclusion to their six match rivalry, there is not a doubt in my mind that they still have room for more matches down the line. I’m not saying I even would need one in 2014, but whenever these two lock up again, I will stay up to the wee hours of the AM to see it live.
Match Rating: *****

The Bullet Club came out after the match. They attacked Gedo and Okada. Karl Anderson will get the next shot at the belt. Anderson gave him the Gun Stun on the IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt.

The 411: If you take off the first four matches from this show, King of Pro Wrestling instantly becomes the best show of 2013. As it is, it's just a slightly flawed show that is undoubtedly one of the top five shows from 2013. The main event is absolutely that everyone needs to see right now. However, it's far from a one-match show. Marufuji and Nakamura delivered a very strong semi-main. Shibata and Ishii did their thing. The Bullet Club had a really strong trios match. Nagata/Sakuraba and Naito/Yujiro were both flawed, but they also certainly added depth to the card. NJPW provides something for everyone in the least cliche way possible. Very high recommendation.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.3   [  Amazing ]  legend

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