NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam: Tanahashi vs. Ibushi, Wrestle Kingdom news

Originally published at NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam: Tanahashi vs. Ibushi, Wrestle Kingdom news

By: Mark Buckeldee

Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome Day 1. This is the first New Japan show in this venue since the final of the 2014 G1 Climax, an event that I saw live. The venue, then known as the Seibu Dome, is a 30,000+ capacity Baseball stadium in Saitama prefecture. This show had an announced attendance of 2,047 and begs the question of whether they should have used a smaller venue.

  1. Stardom offer match: Maika & Lady C vs Saya Kamitani & Momo Watanabe – A good tag match showcasing Lady C & Kamitani, a fun introduction to Stardom without them going all out using their biggest stars.
  2. Tiger Mask & Robbie Eagles vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi – A good opener centered around Eagles and Takahashi.
  3. Yoh vs Sho – A good post-feud match with aggression that established Sho’s new attitude. A little too long at times.
  4. Chase Owens (c) vs Toru Yano – A basic 2000-2001 WWE hardcore match that had WAY too much time. It was nearly 30 minutes long! – AVOID
  5. Kazuchika Okada vs Jeff Cobb – A good match that suffered due to being too long, with slow pacing and a cold start.
  6. IWGP US Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kota Ibushi – A good match with a much quicker pace than expected. The finishing stretches focused more on drama than action. Not up to their usual standards, but interesting – RECOMMENDED

Stardom offer match: Maika & Lady C vs Saya Kamitani & Momo Watanabe

This was the first time that a Stardom pre-show match has been available to watch on the New Japan World stream. Maika, Lady C & Saya Kamitani all debuted in 2019 or 2020 and they are already in a match designed to introduce new viewers to Stardom. In contrast, the most inexperienced wrestlers on the main card are Yoh & Sho. They debuted in 2012.

The early goings saw the Queens Quest duo of Kamitani & Watanabe isolate Lady C. Maika made the hot tag and showed off her power by suplexing both her opponents. The much more experienced Watanabe soon took control of Maika with kicks. Kamitani tagged in and the pace increased, with a nice period of speed vs power between Maika and Kamitani. The finishing stretch pitted Kamitani against Lady C, who got a near fall with a Chokeslam. Watanabe kept her team in it, but Lady C got another near fall with a second rope Brain Chop. Kamitani countered a top rope Chokeslam attempt with a Hurracanrana and got a near fall of her own with the Star Crusher (Ki-Krusher). Eventually, Kamitani won the match after a double team top rope knee strike and a Phoenix Splash.

Saya Kamitani pinned Lady C via Phoenix Splash (12:02)

This was my first time seeing any of these wrestlers. It was a good introduction, with a different pace and style than the rest of the card. This was a good, entertaining little match that focused on showcasing Lady C and Kamitani. Lady C’s move set was very reminiscent of Giant Baba & Akira Taue, which was unexpected. Kamitani’s fast pace and aerial prowess stood out and I can see why she is gaining a lot of momentum in Stardom. There were signs that many of these wrestlers are at the start of their careers, but it was a good choice for an opener and one of the bigger positives on the show. It also served to highlight the difference between New Japan’s approach to young wrestlers and Stardoms.

Tiger Mask & Robbie Eagles vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi

This was a buildup match for the next day’s IWGP Jr Heavyweight title match between Robbie Eagles and Hiromu Takahashi. Those two started things off with a fast-based, counter-heavy sequence showing their familiarity with each other. The LIJ team ambushed Eagles and they managed to keep the advantage, isolating Tiger Mask. Takahashi mocked Eagles by putting Tiger Mask in Eagles’ Ron Miller Special, but Tiger Mask managed to reach the ropes. A flurry of offense let Tiger Mask tag in Eagles, who unleashed a flurry of his own on Takahashi.

It was all Eagles until BUSHI tried to interfere. The exchange between Eagles & Takahashi ended with a series of counters before Takahashi tagged in BUSHI. LIJ’s masked man was fresher against Eagles, getting a near fall with a DDT. A BUSHI tope let Takahashi get involved with Eagles, but the Australian won the ensuing strike exchange. Soon after that, Eagles won the match with the Ron Miller Special.

Robbie Eagles submitted BUSHI via Ron Miller Special (11:40)

This was a good, fast-paced tag match designed to get you interested in Eagles vs Takahashi. The exchanges between them were quite good, although they were a little counter-heavy at times. It was a simple tag match formula, but it did the job. It was funny though how formulaic and familiar this match felt thanks to the Stardom match that preceded it.

Yoh vs Sho

Following months of speculation, Roppongi 3K finally fell apart on August 16th. After their 4th successive loss as a tag team, Sho gave up on Yoh during a match against El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru. After the match, Sho hit his former partner with the Shock Arrow piledriver. These two have spent most of their career as a tag team, first teaming up in 2013. In 2016 they became the first New Japan tag team to go on excursion since No Limit (Tetsuya Naito & Yujiro Takahashi) did back in 2009. Their foreign excursion saw them spend two years together in Mexico and the USA before returning to New Japan in October 2017. Now both men sought to prove that they are their team’s Naito. No one wants to be the Yujiro.

Sho came out to a heelish remix of his entrance music, and his black leather jacket with purple piping immediately made you think of EVIL. Yoh immediately attached Sho as soon as he entered the ring. This had a nice sense of animosity to it, with Yoh clearly wanting revenge. Sho got the upper hand, throwing Yoh around ringside and using the ring post and guardrail to attack the arm. Back in the ring, Sho kept cutting off Yoh’s comebacks and targeting the arm. Sho also used shortcuts like closed fist punches and eye rakes. Eventually, Yoh fought back with a dropkick and a series of running forearms. Yoh kept up the aggression, constantly kicking and stomping his opponent before hitting a Tope con Hilo to the outside. Sho hit the Power Breaker and followed it up with a series of German Suplexes. Yoh tried to fight back with a Dragon Screw, but Sho went back to the arm.

After trading jumping knees, Yoh hit a German suplex, but Sho had enough strength to hit a Lariat. Yoh locked in a Calf Crusher, but Sho eventually managed to grab the ropes. That was followed by Yoh hitting a German suplex in the corner. They traded forearms on the mat, which Sho had seemingly won before Yoh fought back with a big flurry of elbows. Sho used a series of Lariats before Yoh floored him with one of his own to a massive pop. A Dragon Suplex got Yoh a near fall and then Sho caused a ref bump. Sho missed a chair shot and begged off to stop Yoh from hitting one of his own. A Direct Drive attempt by Sho was countered by a low blow and Sho hit a chair shot to the head, before pulling Yoh up from the 3 count. He then locked in a modified head and arm submission and Yoh passed out.

After the match Sho put on a Bullet Club shirt, formally joining the Bullet Club by too sweeting EVIL, Dick Togo & Yujiro Takahashi. Sho’s new nickname is the “Murder Machine”, and this part of the Bullet Club is now called the House of Torture. Insert your own jokes here.

Sho submitted Yoh via head & arm submission (24:41)

This was a good match, but it could have been better. It was let down by the length and pacing, which made it feel slow and plodding. The aggression and sense of anger were good, although it could have been more intense. Things picked up towards the end, but the now-familiar ref bump-based finish was disappointing. I wasn’t overly impressed with Sho leaning into the heel tropes as much as he did, but he looked good aside from that and the attitude suited him. Yoh showed a nice bit of fire, and the crowd was very loud at times, especially when Yoh hit a Lariat. Ultimately this is a little disappointing as it felt like they were repackaging Sho as EVIL-lite, but it was a good start to the feud.

No DQ I Quit match for the KOPW2021: Chase Owens (c) vs Toru Yano

New Japan has faith in Chase Owens. He gets a spot on the MetLife Dome shows ahead of many beloved stars and he makes his G1 Climax debut in two weeks’ time. Personally, I don’t know why they have faith in him. For many fans, Toru Yano’s KOPW antics have been a lowlight of COVID era New Japan.

Toru Yano had dyed his hair blonde (well, ginger) and brought out his parasol, trademarks from his GBH days. Owens and Yano fought in the entranceway before Owens threw powder at Yano. I wonder if it was some leftover “Italian Powder” from Dick Togo’s DDT days as part of the Italian Four Horsemen. Yano returned the favor by throwing a trashcan at Owens. This was a typical early 2000’s WWE hardcore title plunder match. My favorite moment of the whole match was when Owens was stuck in a trashcan with the microphone. The echoey cries of pain honestly made me laugh.

Owens fought back with a suplex on a trashcan. Yano was strapped to the turnbuckle and attacked Yano with a Kendo stick. For some reason, Owen freed Yano BEFORE he had finished setting up a 6-foot-tall ladder. After threatening to do things for many minutes, Yano hit Owens with a ladder, which sent him crashing through another ladder. The spot looked worse than it sounds.

Tables were set up, and a table spot was teased before Owens found some handcuffs. Yano backdropped Owens on the exposed floor and the crowd came alive for that. Owens then hit a Package Piledriver on the tables and the tables refused to break. I think they were offended that the match had gone over 20 minutes at this point. Yano was handcuffed to the guardrail and Owens whipped him with the strap. It turned out that Yano had a handcuff key hidden in his wrist tape, which let him hit Owens with a low blow. Yano then handcuffed Owens, whipping him with the strap and giving him an Oni Koroshi powerbomb through a table. Owens said I Quit after Yano threatened to gouge his eye out with scissors.

Toru Yano beat Chase Owens when Owens said I quit (28:03)

This was the worst New Japan match that I have seen for a long time. It felt like an early 2000’s WWE plunder match, down to the choice of weapons. Except it went at least 5 times longer than those matches usually went. This match should not have been this long. It shouldn’t have been over 10 minutes long. It wasn’t that this match was full of bad spots, even though most of the spots were poor. It was just a dull walk and brawl that spent way too much time setting up spots and was nothing that we hadn’t seen before. The big payoff spots were lackluster, and the biggest moment was Yano having a key in his wrist tape. I highly recommend avoiding this.

Instead of the expected G1 Climax lineup announcement, A video aired announcing that Wrestle Kingdom would again take place over three days. In addition to events at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th and 5th, they also announced Wrestle Kingdom in Yokohama Arena on January 8th. This feels like a bad idea as Yokohama is very close to Tokyo and running 3 big events so close together risks eating into the attendance numbers.

Kazuchika Okada vs Jeff Cobb

Kazuchika Okada is undefeated against Jeff Cobb in singles matches. In fact, outside of the G1 Climax, Jeff Cobb has a losing record of 2-5 in singles match on Japanese soil for New Japan. With Cobb becoming the figurehead for the Undisputed Empire with Will Ospreay staying in the Western Hemisphere, I expected things to turn in Cobb’s favor here.

The match quickly turned into a brawl on the outside, with Okada getting the better of Cobb. The tables turned when Cobb hit a big overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Cobb repeatedly cut off Okada’s momentum with big power moves while he worked over Okada’s midsection and back. Okada tried to fight back, eventually hitting his trademark neckbreaker to gain some space. This was followed by a trio of DDTs by Okada. The Money Clip was locked in, but Cobb easily reached the ropes. Okada’s running crossbody over the guardrails was caught by Cobb, who turned it into a suplex on the floor. That suplex leads to a count-out tease, with Cobb hitting the Oklahoma Stampede and a standing Moonsault when Okada made it back into the ring.

Cobb caught an Okada Plancha, but Okada reversed it into a DDT on the floor. Okada landed a big missile dropkick, a standing dropkick, and a Tombstone Piledriver. The money clip was locked in, and Cobb again managed to reach the ropes. Cobb fought back with a forearm to the spine which let him his a nice-looking Piledriver. Both men were staggering during a forearm exchange before Cobb hit his big charging elbow in the corner and an impressive spinning back suplex. Cobb hit a dropkick and a Tombstone Piledriver, trying to win the match with a Rainmaker style Tour of the Islands. Okada escaped and hit both a dropkick and a spinning Tombstone Piledriver. A series of counters ended with Cobb on the top rope. Okada looked for a super Tombstone but instead, Cobb hit a second rope Tour of the Islands, followed by a normal Tour of the Islands to win the match.

Jeff Cobb pinned Kazuchika Okada via Tour of the Islands (27:41)

This was a good match, with a good story and a good finishing stretch but it was easily at least 10 minutes too long. It took me a while to get into this match, as the start felt cold. That was probably due to the last match and the lack of atmosphere. It was a good structure to the match, but it just failed to be engaging. Cobb seemed to be visually tired at times, although his execution was great from start to finish. Yet again, it felt like New Japan’s need to fill time hurt a good match.

IWGP US Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kota Ibushi –

This was the first defense of this title in Japan since the much-loved match between Jon Moxley and Minoru Suzuki back in February 2020. Tanahashi is the first Japanese wrestler to hold this title, and this is the first IWGP US Heavyweight title match between 2 Japanese wrestlers. The last time these two wrestled for a title, Tanahashi retained back in November 2017.

Ibushi looked emotional before the match. Tanahashi and Ibushi traded holds on the mat, showing off their prowess when it comes to trading holds. Ibushi looked in control until Tanahashi targeted the knee, forcing Ibushi to crawl to the ropes to escape a Prison Lock. Ibushi tried to fight back with striking, but Tanahashi had the right answers. That was, until Ibushi nailed a dropkick.

Ibushi relied on fast-paced kicks and a standing Moonsault, and the pace was noticeably faster than the other matches on the main card. Ibushi nailed the Golden Moonsault and followed it with a springboard dropkick. Sadly, a middle kick was caught and Tanahashi hit a Dragon Screw to derail Ibushi. After some slightly clunky and hokey-looking simultaneous forearms, Ibushi downed Tanahashi. A Kami Go Ye attempt was countered into a Twist and Shout, followed by a Sling Blade. A second Sling Blade was botched so Ibushi made up for it by bumping hard on his neck when they re-did the spot.

Ibushi got his knees up for the High Fly Flow and hit the Kami Go Ye, but he was too tired to make the cover. The challenger hit a Boma-Ye and looked for another Kami Go Ye. Tanahashi tried to escape it by standing up, but Ibushi hit a standing knee. Tanahashi kept fighting, crossing his arms to block the move before he countered with a Sling Blade, with Ibushi landing right on his neck. A Dragon Suplex got a near fall before Tanahashi hit 2 High Fly Flows to win the match.

Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned Kota Ibushi via High Fly Flow (17:47)

From the start of the match, the pacing felt like this was going short by New Japan. From my perspective, it looked like they had a shorter than usual match due to concerns about Ibushi’s stamina after his bout of pneumonia. There were more botches than you would expect between these two, and that was understandable considering Ibushi’s illness. He was clearly very emotional both before and after the match, which begs the question of whether he should be wrestling right now. My favorite part of the match was how Tanahashi and Ibushi built drama around the Kami Go Ye while mostly standing still. The crossed arms idea worked very well.

Based on these limitations they did a great job. Ibushi tried to make up for things by bumping super hard, especially on the Sling Blades. This was the kind of the main event that made me a New Japan fan back around 2007-2008: a sub-20-minute match with lots of action, a fast pace, and little filler. It was not perfect, being one of the weaker matches that these two have had but I must praise them as it was clear to me that they were working around Ibushi’s limitations. The big question to me is, should Ibushi have been asked to wrestle in the first place.

In the end, this was a good match that could have been much better in different circumstances. I would recommend this match simply to see an example of a short New Japan main event and to respect the work that Tanahashi did with the drama around the Kami-Go-Ye.

Show Summary

Like most big New Japan shows, this was essentially a 1 match show saved by the main event. Except, in this case, the main event was not up to the standards of Shingo Takagi’s efforts this year. I could be projecting and making false assumptions, but I think that Ibushi’s bout with pneumonia had a big part to play in that. The main event’s short length also explained to me why 3 undercard matches all went over 24 minutes.

Ultimately this show felt like they had to compensate for the short main event by making the other matches longer. The problem is, instead of making the matches better, the extra time only managed to drag things down. Most matches suffered from an aimless, plodding pace in the early goings. There was a tangible sense that wrestlers were filling time in their matches. The biggest positive coming out of the show might be the Stardom opener, which felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the usual tropes or stifling match lengths. If someone wanted me to pick one show that summed up New Japan’s current problems and mindset, it would be this show.