New Japan Factions

At New Year’s Dash, the faction Suzuki-gun returned to New Japan after spending the last two years in Pro Wrestling NOAH. The sudden influx of an entire faction has inflated the New Japan roster, so I thought I would write up a bit about the different factions currently in NJPW, both for my benefit and that of anyone reading.

Plus, what else am I going to write about, the Royal Rumble? The Rumble could be interesting, but most likely the most boring wrestler with the most boring story is going to win, so I’m not going to waste time predicting interesting scenarios. So New Japan factions it is. I’ll be listing them in order of current power and strength, based on recent major wins and losses and titles held.

Leader: Kazuchika Okada
Key Members: Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano

CHAOS is the largest and most powerful faction at the moment. They hold the IWGP Heavyweight title, the NEVER Openweight title, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles, and the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Titles. They have several auxiliary members they can call in time of need such as Will Ospreay and Roppongi Vice to raise their numbers. They won four matches at WrestleKingdom, including the main event, putting them firmly as the most powerful faction in New Japan. (more…)

WrestleKingdom 11 Preview

*blows the dust off this blog*

Well, November and December were… interesting months. Not in wrestling, of course, but a lot of things kept me away for a while. Two things have brought me back. The first was being bored last weekend, and finding the Match of the Year 2016 collection on the WWE Network. It was great because it reminded me that hey, wrestling doesn’t always suck, even on the most boring company in the world. The second is the upcoming show on January 4th, WrestleKingdom 11. So let’s preview the first major show of the new year, and take a look back at the year that was in New Japan.

New Japan Rumble

This is just the hodgepodge, preshow match to get everyone on the card. Last year it was won by Jado of all people, and featuring surprise entrants like King Haku and Cheeseburger. So who the hell knows what’s going to happen here. But it will be a fun, harmless outing. Prediction: This is pretty much impossible to guess, so, uh, Jushin Thunder Liger. Why not?

Tiger Mask W vs Tiger the Dark

This one is going to take a bit of explaining. So there’s a new Tiger Mask anime this year, featuring characters from New Japan. Tiger Mask W, the anime version of Tiger Mask, had a match at an earlier New Japan show, which was then incorporated into the anime. Tiger Mask W was portrayed by Kota Ibushi in that match. Yes, the MVP of the Cruiserweight Classic would rather pretend to be a cartoon character then work for WWE full time. Can’t say I blame him. Anyways, it will presumably be Ibushi under the mask again, though the identity of his opponent is mostly still a mystery. Prediction: Tiger Mask W.

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta)

This is a rare 2v2 Jr Tag match. Most of the time, these titles are defended against multiple teams, and it shows. Champions rarely defend the titles successfully. Though out of all Jr teams, it’s hard to argue against the Young Bucks being the most successful. Earlier this year they even challenged the Heavyweight Tag champions, which is mostly unheard of in New Japan. Meanwhile, RPG Vice has been on the ropes for months, teasing a break up for a while now. But they managed to pull together and win the Jr Tag Team Tournament, earning themselves a title match. Predicting this one is hard as it could easily go either way, but betting on a title change is always a safe bet when it comes to these titles. Prediction: Roppongi Vice.

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet, & David Finlay (c) vs Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay, & Jado) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, & BUSHI)

Forget the New Japan Rumble, this is the match where we are just cramming people onto the card. Normally, I would say that there’s no way a team with Jado or Hangman Page were winning a title match, but the NEVER 6-Man titles are completely unpredictable. Just looking at the teams though, LIJ have to be the favorites. They’ve been teaming in trio’s matches all year, and LIJ needs a win on the biggest show of the year. Plus, if they’re the last team in the gauntlet and can prey on a weaker team, it keeps up with their theme of winning only when they have the advantage. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon.

Cody vs Juice Robinson

After having four of their top stars leave New Japan for WWE, this match is New Japan flipping the finger across the Pacific. This match is showing that there is an alternative for unhappy WWE wrestlers, and it shows more then one way to get there. Cody Rhodes is easily the biggest name WWE name New Japan has snagged. Leaving WWE earlier this year, Cody has been a master of self-promotion, and has in front of him one of the biggest matches of his career. Juice shows us the other way to get there. Lounging in NXT which little hope of upward mobility, Juice came to the New Japan dojo and put in the work. And boy has it paid off. Juice is easily one of the most improved wrestlers at a major company, and proves that an under-utilized wrestler can come to Japan and make it happen. This match is just as much a reward for him as it is a debut for Cody. But it’s going to be Cody getting the big push in 2017, so New Japan can point to him and say, “See? This could be you.” Prediction: Cody

Ring of Honor World Championship: Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs Adam Cole

The ROH title doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation in New Japan. Former champion Jay Lethal never connected with the Japanese crowd, and that hurt the matches a lot. This match should not have that problem. O’Reilly has been in New Japan for years as part of ReDragon, and while Cole doesn’t have the Japanese resume that O’Reilly does, he quickly got over with the crowd with his charisma. This could very well be the best ROH title match New Japan has ever seen, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but still. Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match: Guerilla’s of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa) (c) vs G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) vs CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)

This is a very eclectic match. Makabe and Honma won the Tag Team tournament for the second year in a row. Last year, they took the titles at WrestleKingdom from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, and held them until Tama Tonga brought in his brother, newcomer Tanga Roa. The two teams then proceeded to stink up the summer in a series of boring match, mostly due to Roa looking completely out of place. However, something seemed to click with him in the later months of the year, and their team really took off. GoD and GBH had a great match in the finals of the Tag Team tourney, and this looked to be a rematch until Toru Yano inserted himself into the picture by sheer annoyance upon his return from Pro Wrestling NOAH. Yano was a tag champion in NOAH, so perhaps he thinks he will have the same luck in New Japan. It’s hard to say he picked a wrong partner, but Ishii and Yano make one of the odder pairings CHAOS could give us. Prediction: Ishii and Yano.

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi

Hiromu is the former Kaimaitachi, who had several amazing matches in Mexico during his excursion. Since his return as the “Time Bomb,” he has targeted KUSHIDA and the Jr title, and joined Los Ingobernables in the process. KUSHIDA has been fighting LIJ all year it seems. KUSHIDA works best when he has a strong heel to go against, and Hiromu should be just the opponent to prove himself against. This is another hard one to prediction, because while KUSHIDA is positioned as the Ace of the Jr Division, he loses quite a bit. Another loss might be too much. But on the other hand, we don’t want Hiromu to lose his first major match either. Either way, this should be a crazy good match. Prediction: KUSHIDA.

NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto

Out of all the title matches on the card, this one interests me the least, because Goto interests me the least. I just don’t find him a compelling character. His story should resonate with me, it just doesn’t. Earlier this year he hit rock bottom, falling short in his IWGP title match against Okada (again). Then he joined CHAOS after failing to win the New Japan Cup, and rejuvenated his year, reaching the finals of the G1 Climax before losing another big match. Meanwhile, Shibata has been NEVER Champion for almost the whole year, baring a month or two. His story has been much more entertaining for me, as he had to earn the respect of the New Japan older generation by kicking it into them, and they made him respect them too. Anyways, Goto needs a win, so he probably wins, but man, I just do not care about Goto. Prediction: Hirooki Goto.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

This is easily my most anticipated match on the card. It has the best story of any match on the card, and really one of the best stories of the year, in any promotion. Naito is the arrogant champion who doesn’t even care that he is champion. Naito’s goals have nothing to do with holding a title, but he has the belt anyways, because he’s that damn good. Tanahashi meanwhile, sees the disrespect Naito has for the title and the whole company, and has promised to bring honor back to the IC championship. This of course, feeds right into Naito, who is really just trolling people at this point. Naito is getting under Tanahashi’s skin. He knows it bugs Tanahashi that he’s not in the main event this year, and has gone out of his way to rub it in his face, even refusing to allow a fan vote that might give them the main event spot. That’s championship level trolling right there, for so many reasons.

It’s been an incredible year for Tetsuya Naito. His faction, Los Ingobernables de Japon, really took off. He won his first IWGP Heavyweight title after years of trying as a good guy. He had one of the best matches of the year against Kenny Omega in the G1 Climax. The IC title for so long was tied to Nakamura. Despite the belt being around the waists of Tanahashi, Kenny Omega, and Michael Elgin this year, Naito is really the first one to hold that belt and make it his own. Looking ahead to 2017, his stock is only going to keep rising. But while his star is rising and Tanahashi’s is falling, it’s tough to pick against the Ace of New Japan at the biggest show of the year. I think Tanahashi wins, and Naito gets put back in the main event scene sooner rather then later. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega

No one has benefited more from the exodus of talent at the beginning of 2016 more then Kenny Omega. Stuck as the Jr. member of the Bullet Club, the departure of AJ Styles left some big boots to fill, but Omega has filled them and more. He won the IC title and brought the ladder match to New Japan before accomplishing something no one else has managed to do: become the first Westerner to win the G1 Climax. Omega annoys me sometimes. I don’t always get him and his goofiness. But there’s no doubt he’s set up to succeed in New Japan in a way that no Westerner has been in a long time.

Okada meanwhile, has been champion almost the entire year, with Naito derailing him slightly, but only slightly. He’s had a great year which has gone somewhat under the radar with the rise of Naito and Omega. How someone can be under the radar after having so many great matches and one of the best feuds of the year with Naito, I’m not sure, but people continuously underestimate Okada. Okada is the man in New Japan, and everything revolves around him. But New Japan has a chance here to make something really special happen. New Japan has made a lot of noise recently about competing with the WWE and reaching a Western audience. A win for Omega here could go a long way to making inroads in the United States. It’s a really tough match to pick, but I think New Japan is looking long term in 2017. Prediction: Kenny Omega.



Top Ten

6. Wrestling has been getting me kinda down lately. It seems like I don’t have time to watch the stuff I really want to watch, and instead get stuck watching WWE just because it’s the most convenient. In an effort to bring some positivity to my viewing habits, I’m going to list a Top Ten performers on Raw and Smackdown right now. Even if the rest of the show sucks, these guys will at least make me pay attention.

10. Braun Strowman: I can’t help it. Deep down, don’t all of us love watching big dudes beat the crap out of little dudes? His performance this week on Raw really got him a spot on this list. His little backstage vignette with Jericho made me chuckle, and his utter dismal of Sami Zayn was perfect. There’s issues going forward, but if he can have a good match with Zayn, he might move higher up the list.

9. Heath Slater: He’s got kids! Easily the most entertaining Slater has been in years. Slater has always been an under the radar guy, who can kill 10 minutes and be inoffensively entertaining. The brand split has been kind of him, and being in a featured role on Smackdown has been a treat to watch.

8. The Uso’s: The Uso’s were growing stale as a tag team at around the time the Shield broke up. Think about that for a minute. It’s been what, two years, and the Uso’s have been the same the entire time. A heel turn was the best thing to freshen them up, and American Alpha’s are a great team to oppose them. I hope the Uso’s keep their new attitudes for a while.

7. Sheamus: Sheamus gets a bad rap, but it’s been years since he was actually a bad wrestler. He has improved so much that it just doesn’t get noticed, which is weird to me. He’s a great brawler, and works so much better as a heel bruiser then as a babyface. His series of matches with Cesaro were all very good, and he finally has someone who really compliments him in the ring.

6. Cesaro: Cesaro ranks higher then Sheamus because, well, because Cesaro is a better wrestler. He’s been rejuvenated this year since returning after WrestleMania, and seems to have found a character that works for Raw. He remains the fantastic wrestler he was before his injury. I think the rest of this year has big things in store for Cesaro.

5. The New Day: These guys remain the brightest spot on Raw. In what is usually a three slog, the New Day provide some fun in every segment, no matter the situation. It’s like a fresh breeze when these guys come on. Some day, perhaps soon, this group will lose the tag titles, and Big E is going to be a big star.

4. Becky Lynch: I have no scientific measurements to back this up, but Becky might be getting louder cheers then anyone else right now. While the women on Raw are “making history,” as we are reminded over and over again, Becky is taking the Smackdown brand on her shoulders. She cuts a fiery promo, and her in ring skills are obviously exceptional. As the only Horsewoman on Smackdown, she’s got heavy expectations, and she is living up to them.

3. Chris Jericho: I don’t even have enough words to compliment Jericho. He had a rough start this year, with a feud against AJ Styles that felt like he was struggling to stay relevant. His heel turn helped so much in that. And now he has The List, and is probably the most popular person on Raw. While that’s sad in it’s own way, there’s no denying Jericho is entertaining.

2. The Miz: There is no better heel right now then The Miz. He gets more heat then anyone else on the roster. I’m disappointed he didn’t keep the Intercontinental Title, but whatever he’s doing or whoever he’s fighting, you know he’s going to be the douchebaggiest person around. Having his hot wife around only makes everyone want to hit him more. He’s been brilliant this year.

1. AJ Styles: But no one has had a better year then AJ Styles. Starting with his awesome match against Nakamura at WrestleKingdom, debuting at the Royal Rumble, fighting Jericho at WrestleMania, giving Roman Reigns two of the best matches of his career, beating John Cena at Summerslam, then finally winning the WWE Championship. AJ Styles is WWE Champion. That still feels incredible to say outloud. No one is having better matches at a more consistent pace than AJ Styles. The one knock against AJ has always been that he’s not a great character, but he’s taken to the WWE’s more character driven product like a natural, and is a way better heel then I figured he would be. AJ is easily the best thing going in WWE right now.


The Cruiserweight Classic

First of all, I meant to write this up, like, a week ago. My bad. Second of all, I’m writing this at 3:00 AM on my phone, so please forgive any incoherence. 

One reason it took me so long to write this is because the CWC was almost too good. Like, what can I even say about it? Gran Metalik, Zack Sabre Jr, Kota Ibushi, and TJ Perkins put on one of the best hours of wrestling you’ll see this year. The entire tournament was phenomenal. It gave guys a platform on the biggest stage in the world, and increased visibility for some of the best wrestlers in the world. Heck, Ibushi got name dropped half a dozen times on Raw, and he didn’t even make the finals. WWE signed a great core group of these cruiserweights, and guys like Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher will get over regardless what happens.

But my excitement is tempered based on how Raw went. The CWC showed us how high quality the Cruiserweight division could be. Monday reminded us that it’s still going to take some work. The inaugeral cruiserweight match was good, don’t get me wrong. And having Brian Kendrick win makes sense using WWE logic. Fans who didn’t watch the CWC may at least be familiar with him. 

But how do you not have your newly crowned champion there? He should have had an exhibition match so people could see what he could do. He should have been at ringside during the four-way. How is it that the only screen time Perkins got was on a WWE.com exclusive? This was such a huge omission that it baffles me how it happened. 

Introducing four new wrestlers (well, three, but, you know, no one’s seen Kendrick in years) is a hard thing to do. Raw should have shown their CWC video packages, and highlights from their tournament matches, all through the night. Not only would this have given the audience some valuable personal information, but would have built up the four way through the whole show.

The match was good, and the four talented wrestlers worked hard to get the crowds attention, but they shouldn’t have had to. They were not set up well to suceed, and it may be a while before WWE understands what makes these guys special. Heck, it took almost a year for the “Diva’s Revolution” to not be pure cringe. I hope WWE gets it right quicker this time. 

CruiserWeight Classic Night 8 & 9

It’s the quarterfinals! And with this post, I’ll be all caught up in time for the live finale. The CWC has been really special, and news broke this week that at least 10 of the guys have been signed for the “Cruiserweight Division” on Raw. My fingers are crossed that they get the respect they deserve on the flagship show.

Gran Metalik (Mexico, lucha libre) vs Akira Tozawa (Japan, technical): One of the great things about this tournament is the incredible clash of styles in some of these matches. They’re even on the mat early on, neither able to get advantage while they exchange holds. They exchange armdrags, then dropkicks, showing how even they are. Metalik finally gets advantage with a dropkick into the ropes, putting Tozawa on the defense. That’s a dangerous way to play against Metalik though, as he goes diving through the ropes, taking Tozawa out. (more…)

CruiserWeight Classic Night 3

Hey, remember that other awesome tournament that happened to be taking place during the last two months? Somehow, I’ve only seen the first two nights, and that is changing immediately. So here we go. Let’s catch up on the CWC.

Zack Sabre Jr (England, technical) vs Tyson Dux (Canada, technical): Zack Sabre Jr is one of the four or five guys that could realistically win this tournament, and is my pick to advance to the final four from his corner of the bracket. He has the same buzz about him that Bryan Danielson used to have. Tyson Dux is… a guy. I know the name, but have never watched him. He’s probably fine. The real star here is ZSJ though.

Mauro drops a World of Sports reference in describing ZSJ, which is pretty cool. Bryan meanwhile sounds like he’s orgasming every time ZSJ counters a hold. While both are labeled technical wrestlers, they are extremely different in the ring. Dux is labeled as master of the basics, and keeps it simple but effective with things like a fireman’s carry. ZSJ though is twirling around limbs, going from hold to hold, attacking almost casually. Dux is getting frustrated, and plants Sabre with an awesome Fisherman’s Buster. It’s hard to describe ZSJ’s offense. He transitions from one hold to another so smoothly. Sabre wins with a unique omoplata armbar. *** (more…)

G1 Climax 2016

Well, I didn’t make it. In retrospect, vowing to review every match of a 19 day tournament when I had a freaking wedding in the middle of it was probably not my brightest idea. Ah well, maybe next year. I’m still working my way through the events, so will have a comprehensive list of matches that need to be checked out, but for now, let’s just talk about the winner of the G1 Climax: Kenny Omega.

There’s a lot to talk about in regards to Omega winning the tournament. The first being that he is the first gaijin to ever win, and only the third to reach the finals. That’s a HUGE accomplishment for Omega. That’s up there with, say, Brock Lesnar ending the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, or Chris Jericho becoming the first ever Undisputed Champion. It’s an accomplishment that could define Omega’s career. He could retire tomorrow, and still be the first and only foreigner to win the biggest tournament in wrestling. (more…)

G1 Climax Night 4

Night 4 of the G1 Climax is a B Block night, and on paper there’s no stand out match ups. The highlight might end up being a hopefully comedy filled match between Toru Yano and Kenny Omega. Omega has a tendency to do too much comedy when it’s not needed, but against Yano he can run amok to his heart’s content.

Tomoaki Honma vs YOSHI-HASHI: Both these guys have been on the losing end of a lot of matches for a couple years now, but both got bigs wins in their first matches. Honma set himself up to challenge Shibata for the NEVER title with his win, while YOSHI got his first major single’s win against Kenny Omega. The win streak will continue for one of these unexpected victors, but which? (more…)