KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
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JANUARY 5, 2015
Ryogoku Kokugikan Part 3 & Hakata Starlanes
By R.W. Andrews, PWTorch contributor
Pain Game: A NEVER Openweight Love Song
I mentioned last week that I came running back to NJPW with an already established group of names in my head of who were the standouts in the company. One thing I knew for sure, at least at the time, was that Katsuyori Shibata was THE MAN. In my mind, his stranglehold on the NEVER Openweight Championship was Gorilla Glue tight. But that’s when I was fresh out of the package. Now I know better. I was, however, right about one thing. The NEVER Openweight Championship is the crown jewel to some of the grittiest performances you will ever come across. It’s one of the reasons that I love Shibata so much. One AXS broadcast after another had inundated my senses with high drama centered around him. But the more I’ve watched and learned, the more a question kept popping into my head. What happened before him?
January’s New Year’s Dash made me pose that question. During an uber-loaded tag match, I watched two men square off and fight with a viciousness I had only seen when that title was on the line. Albeit the fight was brief, the wrestling fan in me picked up the scent of an issue not quite ready to die on the vine. Those two men were Togi Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii, and after turning back the pages of a long history book between them, I found a story of brothers in arms turned bitter enemies. But that’s a history lesson for after I’ve spent a little more time hitting the books. The beauty of pro wrestling done right is that you don’t need the full dossier if a singular event can throw all the fuel you need on the fire of a feud.
So let’s take a short trip back to the magical year of 2015. January 4th, 2015 to be exact. It is on that date where a love story began revolving two men whose sole passion is inflicting pain. And who better to inflict it on than one another? All they needed was a catalyst to keep that love burning. Enter the NEVER Openweight Championship. Coming into 2015, Ishii was the reigning NEVER Openweight champion in his second tour of duty, while Makabe was appointed the next man up. How fitting that the first chapter of a blood feud began on the biggest showcase of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 9.
MATCH 1: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makable – NEVER Openweight Championship Match – Wrestle Kingdom 9
Oh I’ve been waiting to watch this one. Two guys with a proclivity for punishment at Wrestle Kingdom 9 – the place where the flint of my interest in New Japan was first struck thanks to an AXS replay. The entrance to the Tokyo Dome rampway was decked out sublimely for the event – with a large screen set atop a row of three other screens, all of which dwarfing the ring set an acre away. The screens are affixed with spotlights above them while a ticker snakes underneath to scroll the names of each competitor in bright yellow font. It makes the entrances, and the setup of the event as a whole, look so slick.
When the gutty riff to Makabe’s theme hits, the screens unite like the Galaxy Alliance to create one super-screen displaying his entrance video while the lights sparkle in red and white. Makabe comes out with a thick chain draped around his neck, his expression menacing as he looks out to the crowd. Once he’s in the ring, the lights begin to strobe purple and white as the name “Tomohiro Ishii” scrolls across the ticker. Above it, a video package of violence ensures us that what’s to come will not be friendly fire. The NEVER Openweight title is snapped snugly around the Stone Pitbull’s waist as the champion’s succinct steps carry him down the ramp, his eyes focused on the path to the ring.
I’m without JR, Barnett, Kelly, and Corino on this one, watching it on The World with Japanese commentary. Truth be told, I love their main commentator’s voice. It’s shrill yet boisterous, delivering screams tunneling through my speakers with auditory urgency. His energy adds so much to each match, which in itself is a universal language.
Before the bell is rung, Ishii leans his stocky frame against the ropes to loosen up while Makabe cracks his knuckles. It is their only moment of peace before hell breaks loose. Once the bell tolls, Ishii races across the ring to belt Makabe in the chest with a clothesline, his arm cutting through the air like a sickle. They trade clotheslines, the force of which doing little to back the other man up. They quickly engage in a mini-Batsu that ends abruptly as Makabe bangs a succession of direct hits that stagger Ishii. Makabe runs for the ropes, but Ishii recovers quickly and gives chase. He connects with a blistering clothesline on the rebound before hitting a sneaky fifth gear towards the opposite ropes that would be terrifying to be in the way of. Ishii bounces back to use his shoulder as a battering ram to knock Makabe over, but the challenger simply shrugs it off. Ishii growls in retort before hitting the ropes again, but again his shoulder-tackle is absorbed comfortably by Makabe. As is the next. Makabe shows him how it’s done, driving his shoulder into Ishii with enough force to make him hunch over.
Makabe takes his turn at running the ropes, but on the way back finds his body snapped around swiftly from a powerslam. Makabe pops right back up! Ishii hits the ropes, only to fall victim to a powerslam. He pops back up! Both men stare at one another for a beat, then collide with dual clotheslines. The impact sends Makabe reeling on his heels while Ishii falls back into the ropes as the crowd explodes with applause.
Recovered, both men walk to the middle of the ring and jaw at one another. Batsu game! Chop to the chest by Ishii, punch by Makabe, chop by Ishii, overhand right by Makabe, another loud chop by Ishii, overhead by Makabe, chop by Ishii, a nasty overhand by Makabe that makes Ishii grab his head, BIG chop by Ishii to keep the game alive. And another, waxing Makabe in the windpipe! Game over as Makabe falls to the mat clutching his throat.
Ishii lunges his forehead into Makabe’s skull thrice to keep his challenger at bay. A little dishonor between gladiators as Ishii brushes the back of Makabe’s head with his boot, taunting him to rise and fight. Makabe throws some bass right back at Ishii from one knee as a swift ridge-hand swings into camera view to shut him up. Makabe finally manages to rise, his chest the victim of two wickedly loud chops. He retaliates with two overhand rights before Makabe-ing up as Ishii tries to keep the momentum. The pendulum swings in Makabe’s favor as his fist rocks Ishii back into the turnbuckle pad. Makabe throws Ishii into the opposite corner and charges with a clothesline across Ishii’s chest. He steps away for a moment, laughing maniacally to the crowd before stuffing Ishii into the turnbuckle pad with another stiff clothesline.
Makabe climbs onto the second rope, casting a shadow upon Ishii as he rains down right hands. The crowd counts with each swing as Ishii’s hand flippantly rises as if to say to them, “THIS is all he has?” When Makabe hops down, Ishii steps forward and smacks him across the face. Makabe chops him in return, his hand connecting somewhere between Ishii’s dense traps and whatever neck those traps allow to be put on display. Ishii gestures to the point of impact, asking for another. Makabe is more than happy to oblige. The two unleash a flurry of wild hooks to each other’s head, pinpoint accuracy be damned as their arms work tirelessly to make the other quit. Makabe’s endurance allows him to hang in longer, throwing a shot that stuns Ishii long enough for him to shoot in and hit a bridging Northern Lights Suplex. The ref flops down to count the pin, but Ishii is out at two.
Ishii drags his body to the corner and tries to steady himself on noticeably wobbly legs, but Makabe decides that his foe has rested long enough. He serves up a slew of right hands to keep Ishii tucked into the turnbuckle padding. As Makabe keeps swinging, there is moment where Ishii’s eyes dart up. Makabe keeps connecting to an unamused face as Ishii rests his hands on the ropes while Makabe tires himself out. He defiantly walks through Makabe’s offense to back him into the corner. Ishii pops Makabe’s jaw with a solid forearm before nearly breaking his chest cavity with a clothesline. Makabe drops to one knee as Ishii, spent from absorbing shot after shot, drapes his body against the top rope.
Ishii is first to recover, hoisting Makabe onto the top turnbuckle before climbing after him. He lifts Makabe’s body vertically, holding his weight for an eternity before falling back and rumbling the ring with a suplex. He quickly collects Makabe off the mat and gives him a powerbomb, packaging him up for a near fall. Ishii runs toward the ropes as Makabe recovers in his absence, met by a clothesline when he returns. Ishii tries for a headbutt, but it’s blocked. Makabe tries for a clothesline, met by a clubbing double axe-handle to the arm. Ishii goes for a clothesline, his forearm bristling the top of Makabe’s blonde scalp as he ducks out of the way. Makabe emerges to hit a lariat that turns Ishii inside-out!
Makabe takes control, lifting Ishii up and planting him down with the King Kong Powerbomb that he holds for the pinfall. Ishii kicks out, making Makabe’s brow furrow in disbelief. Makabe gets in a waistlock as Ishii furiously tries to back-elbow his way out. It’s for naught as Makabe drives his heels into the mat and bends back to stick Ishii’s neck and shoulder blades to the mat with a bridging German Suplex. The impact alone should have knocked Ishii out, but he wriggles free again!
Makabe punches Ishii into the corner, the exhausted champion falling chest-first into the turnbuckles. Makabe picks him up like he’s going to backdrop him, but instead sets Ishii up top before heading up and hooking his legs in the ropes for the Spider German Suplex. Ishii back-elbows him in the face, providing just enough time to navigate the tight space between Makabe and the ring post to sit facing the challenger. He levels him with a lariat, snapping Makabe back as his feet hooked in the ropes stall his fall. Makabe pops back up! He unloads on Ishii’s face with a forearm as the commentator shrieks. In that brief moment of disorientation, Ishii gets thrown onto Makabe’s shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Makabe falls back and breaks his fall with Ishii’s body as the ring tremors from the impact! Makabe covers. 1, 2, kickout! You can see the frustration grow in Makabe’s face as he glares at the ref.
As Ishii struggles to his feet, Makabe rushes in and connects with a lariat that ejects a line of spit from Ishii so long that you could ride a log flume on it. Ishii stumbles back, but refuses to go down. Makabe hits another lariat, but Ishii counters with a leaping enzuigiri! It’s blocked! Makabe plants another lariat on Ishii that sends him airborne before crashing down! Beautiful sequence! So frantic! Makabe covers again, and again Ishii kicks out with inches to spare! Makabe goes for another lariat, but Ishii reverses and hits a release German Suplex! Oh my God these guys are incredible! Makabe pops right back up and screams before getting blown up by an even harder lariat! Ishii covers, but Makabe kicks out at one!
Both men rise at opposite ends of the ring, giving each other a knowing nod before racing forth for a dual clothesline. They trade clotheslines again. Makabe hits a chop on Ishii, which is countered by a headbutt that drops him. Ishii quickly picks up Makabe so he’s seated on the mat and hits the ropes for a sliding clothesline that whips Makabe’s body to the mat. He goes for the pin, but can only get a two. He tries for a brainbuster, but Makabe blocks it. Ishii strikes back quickly, smacking Makabe in the temple with an inebriating enzuigiri that causes him to convulse before crumpling to the mat. Ishii covers, but Makabe kicks out at two. Now Ishii’s face is draped in frustration.
Ishii hits the ropes and clotheslines Makabe in the back of the head. He heads for the opposite side of the ring, but is met by a Makabe clothesline. Ishii glowers at Makabe and drops him with a clothesline. Ishii sprints back to the ropes, but his offense gets gobbled up as he’s spun around and dumped to the mat with a Dragon Suplex! Makabe holds him in place as the ref slides in to count, but Jesus Christ, Ishii kicks out!
Both men struggle to rise, trading forearms from the time they get to their knees to the time they find solid footing. It’s incredible. They scream at one another, with Ishii hitting a succession of quick forearms before dazing Makabe with a headbutt. Makabe wobbles back, but thrusts his forehead into Ishii, connecting with a thud. Ishii stumbles backwards before charging into a spinning double axe-handle. Makabe hits another, sending a gob of spit flying from Ishii’s mouth. Makabe hits another lariat, cementing Ishii to the canvas. He covers, but Ishii kicks out AGAIN! How in the hell does he keep going!? Makabe steps outside to the apron and climbs to the top rope to leap off for the King Kong Kneedrop. Both of his knees come crashing down on Ishii’s head, rendering the champion motionless and unable to kick out for one last gasp of heroics.
Winner: Togi Makabe to win the NEVER Openweight Championship
(Andrews’ Analysis: Jesus Christ! This was an amazing match from start to finish. I just witnessed two men beat each other up nonstop, both coming back for more just to get knocked out again. They started at a hectic pace, and although they tired throughout the course of the match, the sheer violence kept it relentless. I thought the “charge!” to start the match was a brilliant tone setter. And could it end any more violent than jumping off the top ropes and driving both knees into someone’s head at maximum velocity? And yes, I think ending it with a chair shot would have done nothing. Men like these don’t flinch at the steel whistling towards their face. For them it’s a chance to catch their breaths. I’ve seen wars in the ring before…but this!? This was a damn crusade to see who could make the other stop breathing. Unreal! If you’ve seen it already – and I’m sure most of you have – watch it again. Hell, watch it once a year just to pay homage to what these two guys put themselves through on that night.)
***Breaking News: Togi Makabe forced to relinquish title after illness***
Oh what a terrible twist of fate. Togi Makabe, with only a month of holding such a hard fought strap, had it stripped right off his waist after being deemed unable to defend it due to a serious flu. That title would be handed to one man – Tomohiro Ishii – who had to go through Tomoaki Honma to get it. But you can’t keep a good man down. And in April, that man would come knocking on Ishii’s door to reclaim what was rightfully his.
MATCH 2: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makable – NEVER Openweight Championship Match – Wrestling Hinokuni
The NEVER Openweight division: You win some, you lose a lot, and without the belt you need to chase after it just to satisfy that love of inflicting pain. The first match was great, so let’s see if the rematch can top it.
The lighting in the arena is so telling. A darkness is set upon the crowd, matching the intentions of the men preparing for combat. First out is Makabe, adorned as usual in that thick chain and understandably pissed expression on his face. Ishii comes to the ring in similar fashion, booting it down the aisle with his head low and the belt clenched tight in his grasp.
With both men in the ring, Red Shoes takes the title and displays it to the crowd. The bells tones out, but instead of a mad rush for blood, the bitter rivals stare one another down. In a complete change of pace from Wrestle Kingdom, they actually tie up to start the match. Ishii strikes first, locking in a side headlock that takes Makabe multiple attempts to pry out of. The two collide on a shoulder block, stare at one another, and the words start flying. Here we go again. They bash their shoulders into one another multiple times, but neither man is willing to budge. With both men using the ropes to build up steam, Makabe finally connects solidly enough to take Ishii down.
Makabe shoves Ishii in the corner and slowly works him to the mat with a steady string of forearms. He slaps Ishii in the neck before Ishii cocks back and swings a chop that sends Makabe to the mat holding his throat. Ouch! Red Shoes shows his true allegiance early after Ishii plants a ridge-hand into Makabe’s chest, stepping between them to warn Ishii not to hit Makabe’s throat. How, Red Shoes!? Ishii was no closer to Makabe’s throat than I am now. God damn narc, this guy. Ishii makes sure to lay the next three chops right to the B-cups, and right in front of Red Shoes.
Much like the match before, Ishii feathers the back of Makabe’s head and barks marching orders for him to get up and fight. Makabe slowly rises and they exchange forearms before Ishii buckles him into the corner with three consecutive shots, slumping him down on the fourth hit. Ishii stays on the attack, chopping and dive-bombing forearms to Makabe’s jaw. Ishii steps away, almost as if Makabe is a shell of the warrior that beat him only four months earlier. But again, you can’t keep a good man down. Makabe crawls towards the center of the ring, waving Ishii back. Ishii catches the gesture in his periphery, turning to Makabe’s presence with a taunt for the challenger to meet him dead center of the mat.
Makabe tries to mount a comeback, but a thick Ishii headbutt drops him again. Ishii tries to get Makabe up for a vertical suplex, but Makabe drops his weight down to keep Ishii squatted low. Ishii tries again, but again Makabe holds him down. Makabe, in a sudden show of fast twitch muscle, closes the gap with a short hop to hit a snap-suplex. Finally showing signs of life, Makabe sends Ishii coast to coast with clotheslines in the corner and scales the ropes to hover over Ishii and drop some fists down. Ishii catches Makabe off-guard and grabs him, heaving his challenger straight down with a nasty powerbomb that bounces the back of Makabe’s head off the mat. He goes right back to brushing the back of Makabe’s head with his boot, riling the ex-champ back to his feet.
Makabe braces himself for incoming chops, absorbing every single one aimed right at his chest. Ishii hits the ropes, but is countered with a powerslam by Makabe on the trip back and gets smooshed into the corner with a clothesline. Makabe scales the turnbuckles again, earning every single roar from the crowd as his ten-punch connects. As he hops down, he takes Ishii with him and hits a bridging Northern Lights Suplex for two. Makabe gets another powerslam and immediately tries for the King Kong Powerbomb. Ishii labors Makabe over and dumps him off with a backdrop. Ishii sends a forearm at Makabe, but Makabe fires back one of his own. Flash knockdown!!! Ishii’s body buckles from a stiff as F- forearm before falling in a heap! But Makabe doesn’t cover, instead choosing to hover over Ishii as he struggles to the corner. Makabe NEEDS to inflict pain dammit. It’s in his genetic makeup. He picks Ishii up and delivers a forearm that dumps the champ right back to his ass.
Its Ishii’s turn to brace for impact as the crowd beings chanting his name. Makabe hits him repeatedly with forearms – each forearm waking him up like shots of Espresso. He leans into the onslaught, fortified by a bulletproof body to make Makabe backpedal. Ishii hits a huge forearm that sends Makabe staggering back before absolutely MOWING him down with a shoulder-tackle! Powerbomb by Ishii, stacking Makabe’s torso up for two! Ishii hooks both of Makabe’s arms back and pulls, trying to get a man who had never strung the words “I” and “quit” together to do so for the first time. After a long struggle for the ropes, Makabe is forced to painfully work his way back to his feet. Ishii, showing so much finesse, transitions into a Tiger Suplex! He sets up Makabe for a diving clothesline, but Makabe leans back to let Ishii’s arm buzz past his eyelids. Makabe goes for a waistlock, but Ishii throws his head back and thumps Makabe in the face to break free. The blow sends Makabe backpedaling to the corner as the announcer screams, “Gwaaaaaah!” Ishii stays in tight Josh Norman coverage, pummeling Makabe before he can even clear his head. Ishii perches Makabe on the top rope, climbs up after him, and hits a stalling vertical suplex. He covers, but Makabe narrowly beats the three count.
Makabe recovers enough to go for a waistlock, with Ishii elbowing his way out. In the skirmish to escape, Ishii leaves himself wide open to get LEVELED with a lariat to the back of the head! Brutal! They deliver dual clotheslines, daring the other to fall first. They scream at each other, both knocking themselves stupid with another thunderous dual clothesline. Ishii finally knocks down Makabe, but Makabe pops right back up and drops the champion with a clothesline. Ishii bounds back to his feet, but gets rifled in the throat with a lariat! Both men fall to the mat next to one another from exhaustion and pain! So much drama!
Makabe is the first one up and hits the King Kong Powerbomb, but Ishii kicks out. He blocks an Ishii enzuigiri, hitting the ropes and coming back to a slap in the face. They exchange Batsu-style double slap/double jabs on a continuous loop before Ishii hits a lariat of his own. Ishii covers, but Makabe shoves him off at one. They scream at one another again, with Makabe hitting Ishii with a double axe-handle. Makabe hoists Ishii’s heft up and hits a bridging German Suplex, but Ishii kicks out at two. Makabe points to the corner as the crowd switches sides and start chanting his name. He swats Ishii’s wide back with a clothesline and lifts him up to the top rope. Makabe climbs up, hooks his feet in the ropes, and tosses Ishii with a Spider German Suplex! I…love…that…move. Makabe hastily rolls himself up and settles himself for the King Kong Kneedrop, but Ishii rolls out of the way at the last possible second.
Ishii hits a standing dropkick on Makabe and both men are back down, rolling slowly to their sides in search of a stimpak as the crowd cheers. They resort back to forearms, both men barely standing on visibly shaky legs. Makabe sneaks in a shot that causes Ishii to scream, spitting fire throughout the crowd that causes them to pop. Ishii suckers Makabe into a German Suplex, but Makabe pops back up and roars to the crowd. Ishii hits a leaping enzuigiri on Makabe, who shakes it off and points at Ishii. Running headbutt by Ishii! The thud! Ishii connects with a sliding lariat, but Makabe kicks out at 2. Ishii can’t believe it!
Makabe knees out of a brainbuster attempt and clubs Ishii in the back of the head. Ishii back-elbows out of a waistlock, but gets nearly snapped in half on a counter Dragon Suplex! They trade lariats AGAIN! THE THUDS! Makabe hits Ishii with his hundredth lariat of the night, this one hitting hard enough to make Ishii’s eyes roll into the back of his head. His body drops lifelessly to the canvas as Makabe covers for the win. But Ishii kicks out! He fights back, lunging his head straight into Makabe’s! He peppers Makabe with forearms that spin him around, but on the backswing gets nailed with a counter lariat! And another, this time with Makabe charging off the ropes to tee off on Ishii’s head! He covers. 1, 2, kickout! Makabe ushers Ishii back to his feet and hits armor-piercing double axe-handles until Ishii finally drops. Makabe goes all the way up top…and jumps. He comes down knees-first right as Ishii begins to rise. Makabe’s double-kneedrop envelopes Ishii’s head, forcing it to the mat with violent force! He covers. 1, 2, 3!
Winner: Togi Makabe to recapture the NEVER Openweight Championship
(Andrews’ Analysis: Oh my f****ng God! This was another hard fought war, but one of a different caliber. Instead of the all-out assault of their previous match, this one was more measured at the beginning, giving way over the course of fifteen-plus minutes to a damn crime scene back-loaded near the final bell. Both guys varied up their offense enough to make the rematch feel different from the previous encounter. Now granted, both men are going to get in their signature hardnosed style, but the addition of the submission hold and the meticulous pace at which they worked in the beginning made it feel fresh. Yes, this match is a serious recommend. Yes, you will enjoy it. And yes, please pay homage to these two warriors. They deserve nothing but the utmost respect for putting their bodies through such blunt force trauma just to ignite a spark of electricity within anyone who lays eyes upon their work. Just incredible!)
So what’s a guy to do after vindicating the relinquishment of his first title reign? Defend it to prove that he is a God of War of course! His first defense was a win in the rubber match with Ishii, finally vanquishing his rival. But how would he do against another opponent that he might not have such a string of good fortune against? When I saw the name of who stepped up to the plate, I knew immediately that it was going to be all hands on deck. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present…
MATCH 3: Togi Makabe (c) vs. Kota Ibushi – NEVER Openweight Title Match – Destruction in Okayama
Now THIS is the way to see Kota Ibushi! Like I mentioned during my Wrestle Kingdom 11 review, I’m sure donning the Tiger Mask W mask is a cushy gig, but I want to see the Kota Ibushi who went through hell with Nakamura and dazzled in the CWC. That being said, I’m not so sure how that dazzle is going to sit with Makabe. I’m really hoping this isn’t going to turn out to be a match where Makabe swats the NEVER Openweight interloper away like a pesky fly, only to grow tired of edging his sadism and just squishing the poor guy.
All the house lights in the arena are beaming down on the ring while the crowd is completely blacked out. It pulls full focus on the action in the ring, which is a very good look. Ibushi comes out first with a pensive look on his face, taking heavy inhales as he prepares to deal with an extreme weight and strength disadvantage favoring a monster unchained. When the hard guitar riff of Makabe’s music hits, he storms into view to a raucous reception. The title is strapped around his waist, the chain proudly sported around his neck. And the look on his face? It’s as if he just found out that Ibushi called him the C-word backstage and he finally gets to clear him up on it. “He may be a walking slobberknocker, Ladies and Gentlemen,” remarks JR on commentary. Oh, did I not mention that I’m watching this on AXS? Chewie…we’re home.
Ibushi stretches before the bell rings while Makabe paces in his corner. As Red Shoes takes the belt over to Ibushi, JR gets a little nasty towards the champion, saying “Makabe’s face looks like it caught on fire and someone tried to put it out with a rake.” Offsides, Sir!
When the bell rings the crowd gives Makabe a little home cooking by chanting his name loudly, no doubt entering Ibushi’s ears and turning his legs to Jell-O. He immediately finds himself in a Batsu game with one of the greats, winding up in a daze of well-seasoned forearms. Ibushi gets lured into ANOTHER Batsu, losing yet again, but hits a standing dropkick after an Irish Whip reversal. Ibushi stays on the champion, blasting him in the chest with three hard kicks. “Man, those are toxic,” exclaims JR. Makabe’s done messing around, shooting low to take Ibushi down and rain forearms. But Kota rolls him over, getting in the mount to drop some forearms of his own. They reverse positions again, getting closer to the ropes as Makabe is in position to strike. ANOTHER reversal, but this time Ibushi gets sucked outside with Makabe.
They trade forearms before the guardrails get into the action – holding steady to greet Ibushi’s back, then sternum. Makabe, pleased with the amount of punishment delivered thus far, rolls inside and waits for Ibushi as the count gets close to twenty. Ibushi beats Red Shoes’ count, but more forearms are in his immediate future. Makabe’s shots back Ibushi into the corner where he finally slumps to the mat. He’s valiant though, pulling himself back up to stiff Makabe in the jaw with a forearm. It’s not a desired result, as Makabe just looks at him before saying, “Ehh?” He levels Ibushi right back and slams him to the mat.
Makabe hits a snapmare on Ibushi and locks in a reverse chinlock. The hold is broken at the ropes, with Makabe staying on offense with a vertical suplex. He then locks in a half-crab, sitting back as Ibushi screams en route to the ropes to break it. As Ibushi is left close to comatose on the canvas, Makabe looks at Red Shoes and raises his hands as if to ask why the match is still going on. Red Shoes isn’t ready to call it a night, so Makabe lifts Ibushi to his feet and sends him to the ropes. Ibushi counters, springing back to life with a swift kick to the chest! Finally finding a semblance of offense, Ibushi lays in a flurry of forearms, the aftermath of which sees Makabe simply growling at him. The cameraman is set up perfectly, capturing Ibushi’s teeth clench tight as Makabe’s retaliatory forearm strikes. Ibushi has to rely on his smarts, baiting Makabe into a Batsu where he feints a forearm to stall Makabe just long enough to stutter-step back and land a spin-kick to the gut.
Makabe charges, but gets punted in the chest to send him to the mat. Ibushi pivots into position and lands a picture perfect standing moonsault for two. He sprints to the ropes, but Makabe cuts off whatever he was thinking with a powerslam. The champion is fuming as he lifts Ibushi up and drives him down with the King Kong Powerbomb. He holds for the pinfall, but Ibushi kicks out! Makabe is beyond pissed at this point, damn near running Ibushi through the turnbuckle pad with a charging clothesline. He climbs over Ibushi for the ten-punch, but Ibushi sneaks out from under his legs to hit a Pele kick to the back! Amazing desperation escape! With Makabe still perched up top, Ibushi jumps up after him and hits a top rope Frankensteiner for 2 ½. They smack into one another with dual clotheslines, resulting in Ibushi falling to one knee as Makabe wobbles ever so slightly. Yeah, Makabe is pretty pissed. He gives Ibushi two middle fingers and lobs out an obscenity before heading to the ropes to finish Ibushi off with a clothesline. Ibushi strikes first, decking Makabe with a lariat of his own! They both fall to the mat as the crowd showers the ring with applause.
Makabe rolls outside. Ibushi chases after him, only to get reversed on an Irish Whip and sent into the guardrail. He gets launched into the opposite rail, yet again crashing sternum-first. Makabe snatches a table from the stash spot and sets it up near the guardrail. He lifts Ibushi up for a powerbomb, but Ibushi slips out and counters with a lightning quick kick to the head. Ibushi continues to use agility over brawling, hopping the guardrail to use it as a launch point to hit a hurricanranna to the floor. He then repositions the table, eliciting a stir in the crowd. He rolls Makabe onto the table before heading back inside where Red Shoes tries to have a sidebar. Ibushi shrugs him off before heading waaay up top to leap outside and onto Makabe’s sternum with a double stomp! The table stays intact, which Barnett notices and quips, “If you’re in need of a table I’d suggest that one.”
Ibushi tries to get back inside to beat the count, but Makabe reemerges stage right like a slasher flick villain to grab him back. Startled, Ibushi turns quickly and kicks Makabe in the chest to push him back before racing inside to beat the count. Makabe staggers after him and gets in the ring nineteen. Ibushi is waiting for Makabe to get up, hitting two loud palm strikes and a kick to the neck. Makabe drops to his knees before Ibushi scoops him up and hits his beautiful sit-out powerbomb. 1, 2, kickout! Ibushi heads for the turnbuckles, but Makabe grabs him to halt his progress. Ibushi spins in Makabe’s grasp to kick him in the head, forcing the champion to let go. With Ibushi heading up top, Makabe gets to his feet and charges, chasing down Ibushi with a clothesline to the back that leaves him draped over the ring post. Makabe goes up with him and smacks Ibushi’s head against the post. He wraps up Ibushi’s waist and locks his feet in the ropes, launching Ibushi overhead with a Spider German Suplex. But Ibushi flips out of it and onto his feet! Makabe sees it and tries to roll his body back up before Ibushi can take advantage of his precarious positioning. He’s too late! Ibushi catches up to him and sinks in a waistlock, dragging Makabe off the ropes and holding him mid-air before hitting a bridging German Suplex! 1, 2, kickout!
Ibushi sees daylight, heading back to the top and hurling his body skyward for the Phoenix Splash! Makabe rolls out of the way, too savvy to get caught by Jet Grind aerialistics! But he’s also too exhausted to get to his feet first, allowing Ibushi to stand and deliver a straight right to Makabe’s jawline. Makabe wags his finger at him from one knee, waving his challenger to bring him some more. Ibushi kicks him in the chest, hard, but Makabe keeps rising. Finally to his feet, Makabe gets attacked with a kick and lariat combo, but comes right back with a clothesline that stunts Ibushi’s offense. “He’s drunk on damage!” screams Barnett. They trade really, really, REALLY nasty clotheslines, each one more painful looking than the next.
They clutch onto one another and trade forearms, but Ibushi’s stamina helps him get the advantage. He manages to land multiple uncontested punches that finally drop Makabe. It’s a fleeting breather, as Makabe gets right back up and punches him in the face. Ibushi strikes back with a right hook that connects so solidly that it sounded like a damn gun went off! Makabe is down, but Ibushi doesn’t cover! He pulls Makabe back to his feet with his hand cocked back. It’s a terrible decision that results in Makabe belting him with a lariat. Makabe covers, but Ibushi kicks out. Jr is still buzzing from Ibushi’s punch, gushing, “Man what a shot! Echoing throughout the arena here!”
Makabe manages to daze Ibushi and perches him back up top, yet again throwing his challenger’s head against the top of the ring post. Ibushi refuses to get Spider German Suplexed, so Makabe snatches him up in a full Nelson and lobs him backwards, sending Ibushi crashing straight down on his head! The cameraman gets another gold star as he’s set up to catch Makabe’s satisfied reaction as he watches Ibushi’s crash landing. The crowd rumbles at the impact as Makabe rolls himself back up and rearranges his position to leap out and drive his knees down on Ibushi’s prone body! “Big time King Kong Kneedrop!” bellows JR as Makabe covers for the win.
Winner: Togi Makabe in 18:41 to retain the NEVER Openweight Title
(Andrews’ Analysis: That was freaking amazing. I really got a good look at what Makabe brings to the table when he’s not tussling with Ishii. With the way Ibushi was outmatched physically, Makabe looked like an absolute monster. It was awesome seeing his diminutive foe escape the onslaught of violence only to have Makabe reappear in various camera shots right when Ibushi thought he was safe. And that camera shot on the release Spider Dragon Suplex! The look on Makabe’s face when Ibushi hit was superb. It was one of those expressions that confirms Togi Makabe’s love for inflicting pain.
Kota Ibushi came off really well in this match. He was outweighed and outmuscled, but used his speed to garner most of his offense. Don’t get me wrong, the man stayed as toe-to-toe as you can get with Makabe, but ultimately had to rely on his quickness to even have a prayer at survival. From the very start of the match when Ibushi had that “how the hell did I get myself into this” look on his face, to the mad flurry at the end to try and stop Makabe cold, he morphed into an absolute warrior. What a transformation. It makes me not want to go back and see their earlier match in the G1, just in case it reveals that this was a carbon copy of that one. I’m more than happy living in a headspace where this is a one of a kind matchup.)
After the match, a familiar face stomps down the aisle. It’s Tomohiro Ishii! He gets in the ring and goes nose to nose with Makabe. They exchange words before Ishii leaves just as quickly as he came in. Makabe grabs a mic and says to the crowd, “You saw me just win! And Ishii came to challenge me? Of course I’ll take it!” The crowd, as expected, roar at the acceptance of the challenge.
What? You didn’t really think Ishii was going to bow out that quickly did you? It wouldn’t be much of a tale if he just LET Makabe walk away with a pint of blood left in his body. Oh no, no, no. This is story about two men who love inflicting pain. What better reason to reunite than to fight over the NEVER Openweight Championship? It’s like a dog whistle for the macabre.
MATCH 4: Togi Makabe (c) vs Tomohiro Ishii – NEVER Openweight Championship Match – King of Pro Wrestling
How great is Ishii’s entrance video? It’s a masterclass in Batsu. The Stone Pitbull walks to the ring with purpose as JR says, “This will not be a pretty, catch as catch can, scientific wrestling match, Ladies and Gentlemen.” You got that right. Makabe is out next, his expression screwed on tight as he’s ready for business. JR regales us with the tale of Makabe and Ishii’s NEVER Openweight Title match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 where they were, “…basically in just a backyard brawl. It reminded me of a bar fight in Muskogee, Oklahoma on a payday Saturday night. Two rednecks just beating the hell out of each other. Not that these Gentlemen are rednecks. And not that there’s anything wrong with that by the way.” THAT is just a sample of why I love having JR in the driver’s seat for these matches. What in the hell was that all about?
Red Shoes displays the belt and it’s on. They tie up to start, with Ishii backing Makabe into the ropes to give him a slap. Makabe backs Ishii into the ropes, but Ishii meant what he did a moment ago and slaps the piss out of Makabe again before bowling him over with a shoulder-tackle. Makabe strikes back, hitting a clothesline that dazes Ishii before hitting a shoulder-tackle of his own. JR tries to get back on track, stating “I don’t think either of these two men could be intimidated by anything with a heartbeat.”
Makabe chucks Ishii outside and sends him into the guardrail. He tries to go coast to coast, but Ishii sends Makabe into the rail stomach-first. They race towards one another, connecting with dual clotheslines that have zero effect. They wind up and collide again, ending with both men screaming at one another and pointing to get back in the ring. The interaction makes the crowd chuckle before breaking into a round of applause as they take it back inside. Both men get in the starting blocks – which in this case are corners of the ring opposite one another – and explode out to connect with a dual clothesline that leaves them both shaken. And another. And ANOTHER, but this time Makabe goes down. He pops right back up, decking Ishii to the mat with a lariat. Ishii pops right back up, then goes right back down from an even more potent shot. Awesome stuff! JR: “This is the epitome of the strong style in New Japan. Beat the hell out of your opponent and apologize later.”
Makabe backs Ishii into the corner and begins laying in forearms, met by Ishii saying something with a swoop of his finger. Makabe keeps swinging. Ishii keeps yelling at him before addling Makabe with a heavy-hitting forearm. He smacks Makabe with a thick paw to the chest, pasting the underside of his skin in burst blood vessels. With Makabe down to a knee, Ishii yells at him and gives him a swipe to the back of the head. Ishii scores with a vertical suplex, then hovers over Makabe to smack him in the face. This freaking cameraman! There’s another timely shot zoomed in tight on Makabe’s face as the slap wakes him up and he begins screaming at Ishii.
As Makabe tries to rise, Ishii paintbrushes the back of his head with his boot. Ishii lays in more chops to a now standing Makabe, each one causing the champion to growl vitriol. Ishii hits the ropes, his snub-nosed frame scooped up and power-slammed with a snap on the way back. Makabe sends Ishii to the corner, but Ishii sprints back and hits a forearm. He sends Makabe to the ropes, who comes back with a shoulder-tackle. Makabe clotheslines Ishii in the corner, peppers him with a ten-punch, and laughs just like Sagat before hitting a Northern Lights Suplex for two.
Ishii chops Makabe, Makabe punches Ishii, and Ishii chops the s- out of Makabe to send him to a knee. Ishii hits a backdrop, then chops Makabe so flush in the corner that he instantly clutches his chest like he’s having a heart attack and drops. Ishii props Makabe up top, climbs to the second ropes and hooooolds that big bastard up for a vertical superplex. God almighty, Ishii! Ishii covers, but Makabe escapes at two and change. Ishii runs into a side lariat and gets his shoulders pressed to the mat from Makabe’s bridging Northern Lights Suplex, but kicks out at two. They’re reading from the same playbook, colliding with more impact than Anthem to make both men shutter. Makabe leans into the ropes and comes back with a HARD AS F- clothesline that makes Ishii scream as he struggles to keep himself upright. Makabe winds up and hits him again, this time aiming for Ishii’s neck. But Ishii stays on his feet! Makabe gives him a nod, takes off for the ropes, and comes back with a HARDER THAN HARD AS F- clothesline that snaps Ishii to the mat! Holy S-!
Red Shoes checks on Ishii, who just flops his arm around to show that he’s still breathing. Makabe scoops him up for the King Kong Powerbomb…and connects! 1, 2, nooo! Close, close, close, two count. Makabe tries to lift Ishii – who is spitting up on himself at this point – and backs away so Red Shoes can check him. Red Shoes decides that he wants to see more, so he drops down to urge Ishii to get up. Ishii needs the ropes to do so, leaving himself wide open to get strapped up by Makabe. Ishii fights out of a waistlock with a baker’s dozen of back elbows, but Makabe clotheslines him in the back. Makabe sprints to the ropes and races back with a HARDEST OF ALL F- lariat that makes Ishii’s body shiver before he falls to his back! Makabe covers, but Ishii kicks out again, leaving the champion looking annoyed with Red Shoes for the pacing of his count!
Makabe perches Ishii up top, hooks his legs in the ropes, but Ishii fights him off before liftoff. Makabe is still hooked, giving Ishii an inch of room to maneuver around and unload a four-pack of forearms. The two look at one another, still perched high above the ring, and exchange words and forearms. Makabe unhooks his feet to gain leverage, but Ishii’s forearm whips around to strike him clean in the face. An Ishii headbutt leaves Makabe dizzy as he loses his footing and falls to the mat. Ishii…goes to the top turnbuckle! What??? He dives off, crooking his knee to drop it straight down on the back of Makabe’s head!
The crowd stirs loudly as Makabe slowly rises and Ishii hits the ropes. The two men smack into one another, then bang forearms against each other’s skull. Makabe’s shot lands cleaner, giving him the opportunity to snatch Ishii in a waistlock. Once again Ishii fights out with a back elbow, this time coming back with an enzuigiri on the way out. He lunges at Makabe with a clothesline and flattens him to the canvas. Ishii covers, but Makabe kicks out. He sits Makabe up and runs to the ropes for the sliding clothesline, but the champ gets to his feet. Ishii changes his trajectory and throws out a high clothesline, but Makabe ducks and catches Ishii spinning back around with a huge lariat as the crowd applauds wildly!
Makabe and Ishii run into each other again with dual clotheslines, their heads shaking violently from the force. They won’t go down, instead engaging in a smorgasbord of right hooks and slaps to the face. Ishii gets the better of it, landing two smacks to the face for every Makabe hook. But Ishii is spent – his volley slowing to the point where Makabe can lob a right hook that grinds across the top of Ishii’s head to put him down. Makabe pulls Ishii back to his feet, but is caught off guard by a headbutt. Ishii hits another, but gets a chop to the side of the neck on a third attempt. The force spins Ishii around and in perfect position for Makabe to grab him and hit a bridging German Suplex for two.
Makabe hits a running clothesline in the corner before clubbing Ishii with a double axe-handle for two. He hoists Ishii up and sets him on the top rope. Ishii’s back is to Makabe, his near lifeless body dangling over the top of the ring post. Makabe climbs up after him, hooks his feet in the second rope, and lobs Ishii’s body to the mat with a Spider German Suplex. Makabe goes to the top and leaps off for the King Kong Kneedrop. Ishii rolls out of the way! As both men rise simultaneously, Ishii torpedoes the crown of his head at Makabe’s face. Ishii races to the ropes and zips back with a lariat that levels Makabe back to the mat. He covers, hooks the leg, but Makabe kicks out with Ishii still hanging onto his leg for dear life. Great visual!
Makabe goes for a clothesline, but Ishii ducks and dumps him on the back of his head with a Release Dragon Suplex. He sets Makabe up in a seated position, hits the ropes, and dives down with a big clothesline that jolts Makabe’s body back to the mat. He hooks the leg again, and again Makabe kicks out! Ishii screams in frustration, lifting Makabe up for a brainbuster that he holds before spiking the champion’s head straight into the mat! Ishii covers. 1, 2, new champion!
Winner: Tomohiro Ishii in 17:54 to win the NEVER Openweight Championship
(Andrews’ Analysis: What a culmination in an almost year-long battle for the NEVER Openweight title. This match was just as hard hitting as the others, but with the pace of the Wrestle Kingdom war. I have an intimate knowledge now of the exact shade of pink both men’s chests display after an expansive series of chop-fests. The crowd was expecting a war and they got one. Hell, I was just hoping for something close to their prior matches and they exceeded my expectations easily. This match did not disappoint, with the outside spat and the constant banter between the two being an exceptional delight. And seeing Ishii go up top and take the leap is a sight to behold. He’s a man who should never be up there, but when he does, you know something big is coming. Makabe was terrific in defeat, taxing Ishii at every corner with nasty strikes and showing off some unreal feats of strength. As always, this is a must-see match. Going forward, whenever I see these two in their respective tag teams I’ll think back to their battles waged over the NEVER Openweight Championship and pay homage by rooting for both equally. They demand it after all.)
After the match, Tomoaki Honma – who in a way reminds me of Hardcore Holly – races to the ring and dives in right as Ishii is getting out. He grabs a mic and says in his gravely tone, “Yo, Ishii! I’m up next!” As he throws the mic down, Ishii rolls back inside the ring and gets right in Honma’s face. “What’s your problem?” Ishii woofs. “Bring it on! You only get a single chance! I’ll beat you up bad! Bring it on!”
“Honma gettin’ a little frisky here!” exclaims a fired up JR at the prospect of Ishii’s next challenger.
And so it’s set, Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma for the NEVER Openweight Championship, inked in the spittle of violent intentions only mere seconds after the clock struck on the champion’s fourth reign.
Such is life when you’re true love is inflicting pain.
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