What’s that famous quote about how insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? *Pauses writing to google famous quote* Oh, it’s pretty much exactly what I just wrote. It’s funny because in New Japan’s case, they’ve been doing the same thing again and again and expect the same result. New Japan’s 2015 has felt very samey. Don’t get me wrong, New Japan has provided some of the best matches of the year, but it has also been a year of familiar faces in familiar places. Little has changed in the hierarchy of talent, or in the major title pictures. What has changed are the crowd numbers compared with 2014. And not for the better. But then there’s Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto, who, as far as good years go, had a pretty impressive one in 2015.
Tetsuya Naito’s slow, deliberate character transformation from “Stardust Genius” to “Ingobernable” is hands down one of my favourite things to happen in pro wrestling this year. While the Bullet Club continued to channel the NWO and strengthen their forces by adding such world renowned superstars as Chase Owens, Okada continued to make it rain, Tanahashi continued to play air guitars and give sweaty towels to fans, and Nakamura continued to gyrate, Naito was bringing something new to the table. He embraced the hate and turned his back on the ungrateful fans. And it was brilliant.
Meanwhile, Hirooki Goto managed a rare singles title reign in his 2015. Goto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestling Dontaku 2015 for Nakamura’s IC title, and held it for a total of 147 days. A reign that was impressive in length, but not quite memorable in execution. After winning the title, Goto only successfully defended it a single time in a rematch with Nakamura at Dominion in Osaka before eventually losing it back to Nakamura at Destruction in Kobe. So in 147 days, Goto only defended the title against one person. Having said that, the matches with Nakamura were all very good. So while it was not the most memorable IC title reign, it was a step up from Goto’s usual spot on the card.
But now that Goto’s out of the title picture, he’s right back to where he was before. And despite Naito’s fantastic character development, he’s failed to elevate himself to the top of the card. And so, the two will meet at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in singles competition. No titles at stake. Just a good old-fashioned grudge match. SInce late 2015, Naito & EVIL and Goto & Shibata have been at odds. It seemed like Naito and Shibata were heading towards a match at Wrestle Kingdom, but Shibata unexpectedly decided to go after the NEVER Championship, putting his beef with Naito & EVIL on hold. I was expecting Goto to face EVIL after their last singles match ended in a DQ when Naito interfered, but it looks like EVIL will end up in the New Japan “Rambo,” leaving us with Goto vs. Naito.
It’ll be a good match, but I can’t help wishing they were doing something that had a little more gravity to it, particularly Naito. But it is was it is. Besides, if my brain is right, which it rarely is, this match may just be another chapter in the Goto/Shibata/Naito/EVIL story. I’m expecting some interesting developments in the next chapter. All I say for now is never say never.
Jay Lethal vs. Michael Elgin for the ROH World Championship
Also on the stacked Wrestle Kingdom 10 card is an all ROH match, with Jay Lethal defending the ROH world Title against Michael Elgin. I have not been keeping up with ROH in 2015, so I’ll keep this preview brief. From what I’ve gathered and the bits and pieces I’ve seen, Jay Lethal has had quite the year. He’s currently the ROH World Champ and was the TV champ for something like a billion days, give or take. He even held both titles simultaneously for a while if I’m not mistaken, a feat flagrantly replicated by Seth Rollins in WWE.
Michael Elgin made his long desired debut in New Japan this year with an impressive G1 tournament. Elgin, a total stranger at first, won the New Japan fans over with his impressive power game. Elgin obviously impressed the right people within New Japan too, as he was invited back as Hiroshi Tanahashi’s partner for the World Tag League (#GetHuge).
Normally, an all gaijin match at Wrestle Kingdom might cause some concern. It’s tough for the non-native workers to get over on such a huge stage when they’re relatively unknown to the native fans. In this case, with Big Mike being tried and tested, the match at least has a chance of getting over with the fans. I’m guessing the Tokyo Dome will also be Jay Lethal’s biggest show to date, so there’s no question he’ll be bringing his “A” game. In the end, it should be a very good match, let’s just hope the crowd doesn’t sleep on it, or during it.
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Toru Yano & The Briscoe Brothers vs. Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi
Yano and “Those” Boys. Um…yeah, so that’s happening. Yano’s annual Wrestle Kingdom thing is to now invite wrestlers from another promotion for a match against whoever he’s been feuding with at the time. At Wrestle Kingdom 9, Naomichi Marufuji and TMDK from Noah joined Yano to take on the Suzuki-gun B-Team (Minoru Suzuki alone is the A-Team). This time, the Briscoes from ROH are joining Yano to take on the Bullet Club B-Team (for real B-Team this time).
Originally, I expected this to be a typical Yano/Bullet Club match, meaning ref distractions, nut shots, chair shots, speedy corner pad removals, plus the things that the Briscoes do. Some form of southern style martial arts? But literally as I was putting the finishing touches on this preview, New Japan announced on their website that this match would be for the newly created NEVER 6-Man/Trios Titles, or whatever the heck they’re calling them. So now, it will still be all those things I mentioned before, but for titles.
Interesting move by New Japan to introduce trios titles. I would have thought they had enough championships as it was, but at least these new titles might give some added importance to all those multi-man matches that are so very common place on New Japan cards. Plus the mixing of Heavyweights and Junior Heavyweights teams might be pretty cool.
New Japan Rambo (Rumble)
Ah, the Rambo. What can I say? It’s great to see guys like the Young Lions get to work on the biggest show of the year. And the surprise entrants, like Kabuki and Fujiwara at Wrestle Kingdom 9, are a lot of fun to see. The match itself though, yikes. Not great. Maybe this year will be an improvement in terms of match quality. If not, it will still be worth it for the Young Lions and the surprise names. Plus it’s called the Rambo Match, so that’s pretty great.
And with that, the Wrestle Kingdom undercard is a wrap. Stay tuned for more in the Wrestle Kingdom 10 Preview Series as we take a look at the top of the card.