NJPW WRESTLEKINGDOM 18 REPORT (1/4): Lansdell’s report on Sanada vs. Naito, Okada vs. Danielson, Ospreay vs. Finlay vs. Moxley, more

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch Contributor


January 4, 2024

Announcers: Walker Stewart and Chris Charlton

(A) NEW JAPAN RAMBO – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2024 Contender Match

The final 4 men in this match will compete tomorrow at New Year’s Dash to crown the provisional 2024 King of Pro Wrestling. The Ranbo is a battle royale format, with pins and submissions (in addition to the traditional over-the-top-rope method) used to determine eliminations.

Chase Owens and Great-O-Khan were the first two men out, with a surprise appearance by the legendary Tiger Hattori as the referee. Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin were the next two out, in order, and they worked together to beat down the other two men. Kidd in particular was particularly aggressive while waiting for his partner. Jeff Cobb came out at five to a nice reaction but he too was quickly beaten down by the Bullet Club tandem. Number six was Henare, and his presence allowed the United Empire trio to take control. Henare and Cobb eliminated both Kidd and Coughlin to stand tall.

Tomohiro Ishii came out, and he and Henare made a beeline for each other and started beating away as if their last match had never finished. Ahh, I love the smell of high physicality in the morning. Mikey Nicholls came out at seven followed by Shane Haste at eight, and at this point the order of entry felt anything but random. Cobb has Ishii on the verge of elimination a couple of times before abandoning the effort to go after Haste. Number nine was Yujiro Takahashi, unfortunately. TMDK took down O-Khan and eliminated Cobb with a low bridge. Master Wato made his entrance as number ten while Henare got thrown out by TMDK.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru made his way to the ring at 11, joining a crowded ring and going straight for Wato. TMDK and Ishii all applied a submission hold on O-Khan simultaneously as Yoh made his entrance…in a track suit and slip-on shoes? Someone forgot his gear. TMDK beat him down with his own shoes. Ishii once again avoided elimination as lucky number 13, Sho, came to the ring. Yoh ran up the ramp to attack the new entrant, but Sho had his wrench and choked down his former partner.

With those two still fighting on the ramp, Fujita Jr. Hayato made his entrance. He’s currently a free agent making an appearance, and he dragged Sho and Yoh to the ring with him. Number 15 was Taiji Ishimori, who took his sweet time getting to the ring. Meanwhile Ishii ducked a charging Mikey Nicholls, who connected with his own partner and eliminated him. Ishii then took out Nicholls, and Kanemaru eliminated Ishii. Wato then got wiped out of a slingshot and was eliminated. Douki came out at 16 and went after Ishimori and Hayato. Hayato applied a guillotine choke to Douki but both men got dropkicked over the top and eliminated. Yoh was draped over the top rope in the corner, having been crotched at some point, and appeared to be having a nap.

Toru Yano was entrant 17, but was reluctant to actually enter with Ishimori and Owens threatening him. The countdown started again and…oh my word it’s Takashi Iizuka! Everyone, including a gentleman sitting in the VIP section at ringside, looked terrified. Iizuka bit the forehead of basically everyone in the match except House of Torture, who tried to get him to join the faction. He did briefly don the t-shirt, before chowing down on Sho and Takahashi. He locked in a sleeper on Kanemaru but got beaten down by House of Torture.

Number 19 was Taichi, the former guardian of Iizuka, and caretaker of Iizuka’s metal gauntlet. Oh that’s handy, he brought it with him. Taichi slid the gauntlet to Iizuka and took down Sho and Takahashi with a double clothesline. Iizuka nailed all of House of Torture with the gauntlet! Yoh pinned Sho, O-Khan pinned Takahashi, and Taichi pinned Kanemaru to eliminate them all. Taichi offered his hand to Iizuka, who shook it…and then bit Taichi on the forehead. All the remaining competitors joined forces to eliminate Taichi and Iizuka.

O-Khan, Yano, Ishimori, Owens and Yoh were the final five. Owens and Ishimori tried to eliminate O-Khan. who fought them both off. Ishimori got thrown over the top, but skinned the cat. Yano and Yoh tried to dislodge him, while Owens and O-Khan fought on the apron. Owens missed a knee lift and was eliminated by O-Khan moments before Ishimori lost his grip.

WINNERS: Yoh, O-Khan, Yano, and Ishimori in 34:00. (**)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A fun battle royale without any real standout spots. Seeing Iizuka again was a nice surprise, and I am looking forward to seeing the final four face off tomorrow as it’s quite the eclectic bunch.)

–  Rocky Romero joined the commentators for the main card.

(1) BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Clark Connors & Drilla Moloney) (c) vs. CATCH-22 (Francesco Akira & TJP) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match

Francesco Akira came out decked in druid robes to stand by a coffin, which opened to reveal TJP in a mask and conical hat. This played off the coffin match that TJP lost a couple of weeks ago.  Walker Stewart told us that TJP was now The Aswang, a Filipino spirit that preys on farmers. Cool look for sure. Bullet Club came out in all white, with new white straps on the title belts. TJP took off his hat when the bell rang, and boy is that mask gruesome.

The match quickly went to the floor and into the crowd. Connors choked TJP with a dog collar and chain, and Moloney threw Akira into the barricade. The latter two made it back to the ring, and we saw that Moloney was bleeding from his nose. Bullet Club made quick tags to beat down Akira while TJP was outside recovering from the onslaught. Akira was able to fight back and make the tag to TJP, who had made it back to the ring.

TJP hit a capture back suplex on Connors and a running facewash kick in the corner on Moloney. A stomp off the top rope got a two-count. Connors broke up the Catch-22 finisher, and Moloney hit the Drilla Killa on TJP. In a unique way to escape a pin, TJP caught the referee’s hand on the way down for the three. An impressive spear got another two, this time with a conventional kick-out. Buller Club went for Full Clip but Akira broke it up. TJP bit down on Moloney while Akira hit a Spanish Fly off the top rope on Connors. TJP sprayed Moloney with the mist! Catch-22 hit the Two by Two and picked up the win!

WINNERS: Catch-22 via pinfall in 8:00 (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A quick and exciting opener that seemed to finish suddenly. I know it’s the first match and they don’t want to steal spots from later on, but it did feel like they cut themselves short. TJP’s Aswang look and personality is a big shift but it works. I’m kind of surprised at the way Bullet Club lost here, but it was a good way to whet the appetite.)

(2) ZACK SABRE JR. (c) vs. HIROSHI TANAHASHI – NJPW World Television Title Match

President Ace came out in a very Ric Flair-esque robe. ZSJ was accompanied by his stable, including of course Ichiban Sweet Boy Kosei Fujita who always deserves his own mention. We got a shot of Mayu Iwatani who had joined the Japanese commentary team. As with all TV title matches, this one has a 15-minute time limit.

As you might expect, these two started off by exchanging holds. Tanahashi has started to transition to a more mat-based style as he gets older, but against ZSJ that seems a poor strategy. An early Zack Driver attempt was countered into a pair of Twist and Shout, and a Slingblade for an early near fall. Tanahashi went up top and hit a crossbody, then went back up for High Fly Flow…right into the knees of ZSJ. The European clutch only got a two-count for the champ. Tanahashi blocked the PK attempt and connected with a dragon screw. He tried to lock in a cloverleaf, but ZSJ countered with a triangle choke. Tanahashi escaped and turned it back into a cloverleaf. ZSJ escaped that and applied an armbar. He switched sides, then flipped Tanahashi over and tied him up in knots. Tanahashi made the ropes at the 5-minute mark.

Tanahashi escaped an abdominal stretch and applied one of his own. He turned that into a rollup for a two, but ZSJ turned a kickout into a submission. Tanahashi turned that into a high stack for another two. Both men got to their feet and slugged it out mid-ring. They traded near falls with a Euro clutch and an O’Connor Roll before ZSJ was able to apply the Octopus hold. Tanahashi tried to counter with a dragon screw but ZSJ blocked it and wrenched Tanahashi’s neck twice. ZSJ went for the PK and connected this time. A Zack Driver was countered, and the two worked a series of rollup counters. Out of nowhere in the middle of that sequence, Tanahashi secured the win!

WINNER: Hiroshi Tanahashi via pinfall in 9:00 to win the NJPW World Television Title. (***1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: These matches normally feel like sprints, but this was a little slower than we’re used to seeing. It was still a well-paced match and they worked a lot of innovative counters. That said, the finish did not seem like it was planned. The commentators and even the wrestlers seemed taken aback, but that could have been intentional. I wonder if this signals an elevation up the card for ZSJ? Tanahashi wrestling fast-paced 15-minute matches is an interesting choice, but if it means main event ZSJ I am all for it. President Ace is now a double champ.)


A showdown between two Young Lion classmates, in a rivalry which has been decidedly one-sided. Uemura has not really clicked yet since returning from excursion, while Tsuji has had a world title shot and has an infectious smile that oozes charisma.

After the early exchanges, Tsuji took control by spearing Uemura out of a leapfrog attempt and out to the floor. He followed up with a tope to the outside, then rolled Uemura back in. Tsuji connected with a slightly awkward electric chair drop for a near fall. He paced around the ring and played to the crowd, which allowed Uemura to hit a deep arm drag into a cross armbreaker. Tsuji quickly escaped and stomped away at Uemura to regain control. Tsuji blistered the chest of Uemura with a chop and ran him over with a shoulder tackle for a near fall.

Tsuji hit a silky-smooth arm drag and a stiff kick to the head before once again playing to the crowd and taunting Uemura. This time it backfired, as Uemura fired up and hit a series of crisp arm drags and a big dropkick. A bulldog got a near fall. Uemura connected with a back suplex and went up top for a high crossbody. Tsuji ducked under it, Uemura rolled through but then charged into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker.

Tsuji hit a running corner splash and set up for a superplex. Uemura pushed him off, but Tsuji landed on his feet! Uemura came off the top for the crossbody but ate a superkick and a brainbuster bomb for a near fall. Tsuji measured Uemura for the spear but Uemura countered with an armdrag. Tsuji was able to hit the curb stomp, but a second attempt was blocked. Uemura hit a snap German suplex and a uranage, then a dragon suplex for two as we passed the ten minute mark. Uemura maintained the pressure and connected with the Deadbolt suplex! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Yuya Uemura via pinfall in 11:00 (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: My predictions are not going well. In hindsight Uemura really needed this win to avoid being relegated to the bottom of the heap of the new generation, but Tsuji needed a win too. It was a good match, it told a good story of Tsuji’s hubris and Uemura’s determination, but once again it finished suddenly and felt a tad too short.)

(4) KAITO KIYOMIYA (w/Ryohei Oiwa) & SHOTA UMINO vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Evil & Ren Narita)

Two feuds combine into one match here as Kiyomiya has a vendetta against House of Torture, and Umino still has not got revenge on Narita for his turn and beatdown during World Tag League. In fact those two have faced off a few times in tag matches since, and each time Narita has avoided a fair fight with Umino. I expected that to continue here, saving that showdown for a singles match eventually. Umino came out on a motorbike, which is all kinds of fitting. The entirety of House of Torture came out together, with Evil cutting up a Pro Wrestling Noah shirt on the ramp before coming to the ring. Edgy.

The shenanigans started nice and early as House of Torture tried to jump Kiyomiya. He was able to fight them all off with a series of dragon screws, and soon after the bell rang he locked in the figure four on Evil. The bell rang, and Kiyomiya thought he had won…but of course it was Yoshinobu Kanemaru. One ref bump later and the gang beatdown was on. Dick Togo hit the flying chop to the groinal region of Kiyomiya, which got a two-count as the referee recovered.

Narita tagged in and immediately ate a high knee from Kiyomiya, which allowed Umino to get his hands on Narita. He hit a slingshot DDT over the top to the apron, which was a new one on me. Umino avoided a House of Torture blindside before rolling Narita back into the ring and hitting a missile dropkick and a Final Cut for a near fall. Umino called Kiyomiya into the ring and they hit a series of double-team moves on Narita. Evil broke up a pinfall at the five-minute mark by choking Umino with a t-shirt.

Kiyomiya connected with Everything is Evil on Evil, but Evil returned the favour and both men went to the floor. Narita and Umino exchanged reversals before Umino nailed a pair of half-and-half suplexes for a near fall. Yujiro Takahashi got on the apron and distracted the referee, which allowed Narita to waffle Umino with a push-up bar and then hit the Double Cross facebuster for the win.

WINNERS: House of Torture via pinfall at 8:00. (*3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Well we all knew what the match would be like, but I hoped it wouldn’t lead to the finish. I suppose it was inevitable as we need that hook for the singles match when it finally happens, but…ugh. At least the action we did get was good, and the teases of Umino-Narita that we got here did make me want to see the singles match even more. They need to be careful not to drag it out too long though, lest we lose interest. Poor Kaito Kiyomiya just cannot buy a big win in NJPW.)

(5) SHINGO TAKAGI (c) vs. TAMA TONGA – Never Openweight Title Match

We have reached the “meat slapping meat” section of the card. Both men came out firing with forearms and shoulder tackles. Tama got the better of that opening salvo with a dropkick. He hit a corner clothesline but an attempted exploder was blocked. A few reversals later Tama was able to connect with an exploder but Shingo popped right up again. A second exploder was more successful, but that success was short-lived as Shingo hit his straight right hand into left-arm clothesline combo. They exchanged reversals and counters again until Tama was sent to the floor and Shingo hit a tope con hilo over the top to the outside! Not something you see every day from Shingo.

Back inside, a vertical suplex got a two-count for Shingo. He tried to position Tama for a superplex but Tama fought out of it and hit a flying neckbreaker from the middle rope at the five-minute mark. Tama hit the rolling Death Valley driver and went up top for Supreme Flow, but was cut off by Shingo. Once again Shingo went for the superplex, and this time he connected. A sliding lariat followed, but Tama blocked Made in Japan and countered a Death Valley driver into a Tongan Twist. Supreme Flow connected! 1…2…no!

Tama measured Shingo for the Gun Stun, but Shingo blocked it. They ran through a series of escapes, with Shingo coming out on top with a powerbomb for a near fall. He followed up with a sliding forearm and Pumping Bomber, then hit Made in…Gun Stun reversal by Tama! That was smooth and beautiful. Tama could not slide over for the cover, but as we reached ten minutes he connected with Bloody Sunday for…a one count? Shingo is angry now, but ate a lariat anyway.

Tama went for DSD but Shingo reversed into a jackknife for a two-count. A second DSD attempt was countered by a huracanrana. Tama stayed in control and went for Gun Stun, only for Shingo to counter with a Gun Stun of his own. Made in Japan…connected! 1…2…no! Shingo called to the crowd and went for Last of the Dragon, but Tama blocked it. Shingo laid in a series of alternating strikes, and went for Last of the Dragon again. Tama countered into a Styles Clash! Gun Stun by Tama! 1…2…no! Unperturbed, Tama hooked up the DSD and this time connected for the win.

WINNER: Tama Tonga via pinfall in 14:00 to win the Never Openweight title. (***1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: Definitely the match of the night, and probably the right result as it allows Shingo to move up the card. Tama Tonga never feels like he’s going to be exciting, but he seems to deliver against the right opponent. Shingo is one such opponent, and their back-and-forth with this title continues. So far none of the champions have retained, and with four more title matches to come we have two guaranteed new champions…I wonder what that will mean for the main event?)

– In quite possibly the most random and unexpected happening I can imagine, Nick and Ryan Nemeth came to ringside to watch the tag title match. Well then. Someone’s no-compete must be up.

(6) BISHAMON (Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi) (c) vs. GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) (c) – IWGP Tag Team / NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Title Unification Match

This is a rematch of the World Tag League finals, which was an absolute classic of a match that went 40 minutes. Although we knew going in that we wouldn’t get a repeat in terms of length, hopes were high that the quality would hold up. Chris Charlton reminded us that the IWGP tag titles have changed hands at WrestleKingdom every year since 2013, and nine out of those times it was the World Tag League winners who took the titles. Of course the champs won WTL this year, so that can’t continue today.

The referee sold being overburdened by the four tag title belts that were up for grabs, as the two teams showed their respect for each other. Yoshi-Hashi and ELP got us underway, with ELP getting the early advantage. Goto tried to stem the tide but that brought Hikuleo in to suplex both men. Hikuleo connected with a DDT to Goto, and ELP set himself for Sudden Death. Goto avoided the shot and hit a spinning heel kick in the corner on both men. The referee finally managed to get the extraneous men out of the ring…briefly. Goto came back in and Bishamon hit a neckbreaker/Russian leg sweep combo for a near fall.

ELP avoided a charging Yoshi-Hashi, then leapt up top to hit a huracanrana on Goto sending him into Yoshi-Hashi. Hikuleo tagged in and took down both men with a double clothesline. ELP tried a Sudden Death but Yoshi-Hashi blocked it, then escaped a chokeslam from Hikuleo. He pushed Hikuleo into the Sudden Death from ELP, and then tagged in Goto. Shoto connected for Bishamon, but Hikuleo broke up the cover before being clotheslined over the top rope.

ELP escaped a double-team move by once again using a huracanrana to send Goto into Yoshi-Hashi. Hikuleo tagged in but ate an ushigoroshi and a rollup for a two-count. ELP came out of nowhere to hit Sudden Death on Goto, then flew to the outside to take out Yoshi-Hashi. Godsend chokeslam to Goto! Super Thunderkiss ’86! 1…2…no! I don’t believe anyone has kicked out of that before. Wait…Hikuleo is going to the top? This cost them in the finals. Super Duper Thunderkiss 86…connects! 1…2…3!

WINNERS: Guerillas of Destiny via pinfall in 10:00. (**1/2)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: It was never going to be as good as their last match, but this was a real letdown in my mind. There was never a flow to the match, it felt like they were rushing to get everything in and that led to a clunky contest. Bishamon deserved better in my mind. I guess if the Brothers Nemeth are coming in, it makes sense to give them the English-speaking team. Still, a surprising result and a surprisingly short match.)

(7) HIROMU TAKAHASHI (c) vs. EL DESPERADO – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match

Hiromu’s outfit tonight was even more unhinged than normal. He’s gone full beholder at this point.

Somewhat surprisingly, Desperado hit a tope con hilo during Hiromu’s entrance, then rolled him inside and hit a back suplex for an early near fall. He followed up with a fireman’s carry slam and went to the top, but Hiromu avoided the attack and hit a low dropkick to take control. Desperado went to the floor and Hiromu followed with a tope of his own, then hurled Desperado into the barricade. Back inside, a falcon arrow got a one-count for Hiromu. He followed up with a Death Valley driver into the corner pad, but then ate a spinebuster. Desperado locked in the stretch muffler, and Hiromu scrambled to the ropes for the break.

As we crossed the five-minute mark, Desperado went to work on the leg of Hiromu. A blue thunder bomb got a two-count for Desperado. Hiromu fought off a Pinche Loco attempt and backdropped Desperado before hitting a flatliner out of a wheelbarrow position. Hiromu sold the damage to his leg, Desperado sold his left eye. Interesting story being set up there. Hiromu hit a rebound German suplex and went for Time Bomb, but Desperado countered into the stretch muffler. Hiromu somehow countered into a Canadian Destroyer before leveling Desperado with a lariat.

Hiromu connected with Time Bomb for a near fall, but could not immediately follow up due to the damage to his leg. He went for Time Bomb Two but Desperado managed to escape by pushing back into the corner and sitting on the top rope. Hiromu followed him up and tried to huracanrana him off the top but Desperado blocked and hit a suplex off the top. Both men were down as we hit the ten-minute mark.

Desperado ducked a superkick and starched Hiromu a series of stiff forearms. Hiromu ducked the straight right hand and hit two superkicks and a lariat. A Time Bomb Two attempt was countered into an Angle Slam by Desperado. Pinche Loco connects! 1…2…no! Reversal after reversal after reversal led to Desperado getting the upper hand…Pinche Loco driver! Desperado held on, and hit Pinche Loco! 1…2…3! Another new champ!

WINNER: El Desperado via pinfall in 15:00 to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title. (***)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I am trying to keep an open mind about Desperado, but that match just did not feel good to me. They tried to tell a story but it didn’t really play out, and the match didn’t go long enough for either injury to matter. These two men have had some classics, and this was far from one of them. Was it bad? Absolutely not. It just felt disjointed and, again, a little rushed.)

(8) JON MOXLEY vs. DAVID FINLAY (w/Gedo) vs. WILL OSPREAY – IWGP Global Heavyweight Title Match

Walker Stewart reminded us of the deal struck between Ospreay and Moxley for the first five minutes of the match, a truce that presumably would see them beat up Finlay for five minutes. Ospreay’s entrance video started with a retrospective of his career highlights in NJPW as he came out in a video-game-inspired costume. He definitely got the loudest pop of the night so far and seemed very fired up.

Indeed the match would begin with Ospreay and Moxley pounding on Finlay. He tried to bail to the floor but ate a boot from Ospreay on the outside as both his opponents followed him. All three men went out through one of the entranceways as Moxley and Ospreay took turns throwing Finlay into the barricade. Finlay countered one such whip, sending Moxley into the barricade, and then managed to drop Ospreay’s throat over the barricade. Moxley then hit a suplex on the floor on Finlay, before setting up a table at ringside. Ospreay and Moxley dropped Finlay through the table, and then entered the ring to call an early end to their truce by mutual agreement.

They exchanged back suplexes and reversals as we hit the five-minute call, with Moxley hitting a second back suplex to get control. He pounded on Ospreay in the corner , but Ospreay slid free and hit the Cheeky Nandos kick. Moxley blocked the Os-Cutter but ran into a Spanish Fly…and held on to apply an armbar! That was a very smooth sequence. Moxley transitioned into a triangle choke. Ospreay fought to his feet and hit a buckle bomb, but Moxley shrugged it off and flattened Ospreay with a lariat.

Both men went to the apron and teased a big move, but Finlay blindsided Moxley and shoved him into the corner post. Ospreay escaped a Razor’s Edge on the apron and hit a hook kick. He set up for an Os-Cutter on the apron, but Finlay had retrieved his shillelagh and blocked the attempt with a choke. Moxley, who was shockingly bleeding for the first time (in 2024) came back into the fray but was quickly beaten down by the ascendant Finlay. Moxley came back with a release suplex but the comeback was short-lived as Ospreay took out both men with a handspring kick as we reached ten minutes.

A bleeding Moxley hit a tope to the outside on Finlay, and Ospreay followed up with a moonsault from the top rope to the floor that almost missed both opponents completely. Moxley rolled back inside, Ospreay went for the springboard forearm but got his clock cleaned by a right hand from Moxley for a near fall. Moxley locked in the bulldog choke, but Ospreay was able to escape. Finlay came in and was immediately kicked in the gut by Moxley, who then piledrove him into Ospreay. That’s a new spot.

Moxley went outside and started throwing chairs into the ring. One of them nailed Ospreay, which looked inadvertent. Moxley got in the ring and threw a chair at Finlay, for balance. He did some interior design with the chairs, and was promptly hoisted by his own petard as Finlay dropped him with a uranage onto the chairs. Finlay followed up with a Dominator on Ospreay, dropping him on Moxley. Ospreay countered the Into Oblivion into a Stundog Millionaire, but could not capitalise. Hidden Blade connects on Moxley! Into Oblivion on Ospreay! Death Rider on Finlay! Another Hidden Blade on Moxley! Finlay rolls on top of Moxley and gets a very near fall. I’m already out of breath.

All three men traded blows in the middle of the ring. Finlay seemed only to be irritating the other two, who then took turns smacking him about a bit. Ospreay set for the Hidden Blade, but Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin hit the ring to take out Moxley and Ospreay. I’m sorry did we stumble into a House of Torture match? Two more tables were set up on the outside as Kidd choked out Moxley. War Dogs went for the spike tombstone but Moxley fought it off. Ospreay came out of nowhere to hit a springboard lariat at the 20-minute mark.

Moxley positioned both interlopers on the tables, and Ospreay hit a gorgeous senton from the top rope through both men. Back inside Finlay used the shillelagh to take Moxley down, but Ospreay broke up the pin. Moxley hit a pair of DeathRiders on Finlay! Hidden Blade connected flush by Ospreay on Moxley! Stormbreaker! Finlay broke up the pin! He rolled Ospreay through…Into Oblivion! Finlay has done it!

WINNER: David Finaly via pinfall in 22:00 to win the IWGP Global Heavyweight title. (****)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: It’s not often I give a match this high of a rating and still feel like it could have been better. This had the potential to touch five stars, but for me it fell short because of the interference. There was so much happening here that it was hard to keep up, but that is far from a complaint. I didn’t expect Moxley to eat the pin here, but Finlay winning seemed the wise choice as he’s the only one under contract with New Japan. I may have to revisit the rating on this one at some point, it’s a tough one to rate as there was so much to follow at some stages. Sometimes that can be a drawback. Regardless, this was the match of the night so far.)

– After the match, David Finlay got in the face of Nick Nemeth, which naturally led to fisticuffs. Well then, I guess we know where that’s going.


Here we go. Okada came out first in a new robe (I wonder if I can get his old one…), then stopped mid-entrance as his music cut off. A light bar came down and scanned over Okada’s robe, changing the design on it. OK that was very very cool. That said, he is wearing white and everyone but David Finlay who wore white has lost tonight. Danielson did not come out to Final Countdown, sadly. Chris Charlton pointed out that the last time Danielson wrestled in New Japan, he was the Junior Heavyweight tag champion with Curry Man in 2004. That’s a bit of a shift.

After both men went after the arm of their opponent, Okada got control of the match with a DDT for a near fall. He hit a sliding dropkick to the injured eye of Danielson, sending him to the floor. Okada followed him out and hit a DDT on the floor. He took a running start but charged right into a high knee from Danielson at the five-minute mark. Still on the floor, Danielson attacked the right arm of Okada. Going into the match he had promised to break the arm of Okada to take away the Rainmaker.

Back inside, Danielson continued to attack the arm. A hammerlock northern lights suplex secured a two-count for Danielson. He locked in a modified Fujiwara armbar while kneeling on the head of Okada, then transitioned to a modified kimmura. Okada made the ropes to break the hold. Danielson positioned Okada in the corner, shoulder draped over the ropes, and delivered a pair of basement dropkicks. Okada came back with a big boot, and was able to hit the air raid crash to give himself some breathing room as we passed ten minutes.

Okada bodyslammed Danielson and went up top for the elbow drop, but Danielson intercepted him and went up with him for a butterfly superplex. Danielson floated over into the Lebel Lock but Okada quickly scrambled to the ropes. Both men went to the apron, where Okada reasserted himself with a tombstone on the apron. But…that’s the hardest part of the ring! Okada stomped away at the injured orbital bone of Danielson. He ripped off the eyepatch and laid in some more shots. A trademark Okada dropkick connected, followed by a bodyslam. From the top…elbow drop connects! Okada used the injured arm though, and he’s hurting as we hit 15 minutes.

Danielson was able to take advantage of the delay and reversed the next move into a crucifix for a near fall. He followed up with a pair of head kicks, and the laid in a succession of elbows to the side of Okada’s head. Okada fired up and escaped but ate the running knee strike for a near fall. Danielson immediately applied the Lebel lock. Okada tried to roll through but Danielson kept going into a modified crucifix for a two-count. Danielson transitioned into the combo arm lock that he used to tap out Okada at Forbidden Door, almost a version of the Rings of Saturn. Okada looked to be on the verge of passing out when he managed to make it to the ropes yet again.

Danielson slowly took hold of both of Okada’s arms, and stomped away at his eye. Literally an eye for an eye situation. He tried to transition back to a submission hold but Okada connected with a desperation Rainmaker! Both men went down, and when they got to their feet Danielson had a series of round kicks for Okada. Okada tried to come back with a German suplex, but Danielson shrugged it off and hit the running knee. He tried for a third, to the back of the head this time, but Okada ducked. Cobra Flowsion by Okada! Sitout Death Valley driver! Rainmaker! 1…2…3!

WINNER: Kazuchika Okada via pinfall in 23:00. (****1/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: I don’t think this was quite as good as the first match, but my goodness it was still phenomenal. Sometimes two men who are otherwise great cannot manage to have great matches with each other. I worried that would be the case with these two, as their usual styles don’t exactly mesh well. The thing is, they are both so great that they can just adapt. Danielson had his moments of technical dominance, but Okada held his own on that front. Then Okada got the upper hand with his impactful style, and Danielson was able to hang. The eye injury played a part, as did Danielson’s promise to go after Okada’s arm, but my only gripe here is that Okada still won with the Rainmaker. I would have liked him to have to find another way to win, but honestly that isn’t a major complaint. This edged the triple threat as match of the night for me…so far.)

– After the match, both men bowed deeply to each other before shaking hands. The commentators floated the idea of a rubber match, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say “Yes please.”

(10) SANADA (c) vs. TETSUYA NAITO – IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match

The Naito chants started almost immediately when his music hit, suggesting it would be a very anti-Sanada crowd. He came out in a fetching burgundy suit and a stylised mask, and seemed to be more emotional and fired up than I can remember seeing him. Sanada…well, he just looked like Sanada. And if that isn’t an encapsulation of the issues with his title run, I don’t know what is.

Naito quickly took Sanada down and tied him up with a short arm scissors. Sanada broke the hold and the pair exchanged escaped. Naito spit on Sanada, which enraged the champ, but Naito escaped to the floor to avoid retribution. On his return to the ring Naito took control with a kick to the gut and his trademark wrist-control elbows to the side of the head. At the five-minute mark Naito connected with a hip toss across the knee and a basement dropkick to the back of the head.

Naito again dropped Sanada neck-first across his knee, and locked in a leg full nelson. Sanada made it to the ropes, but Naito forgot how to release the hold. Understandable, it did look pretty complicated. With both men on their feet Sanada tried to fight back with some chops, but Naito went back to the elbow strikes. Sanada avoided a charging Naito and connected with a back suplex to leave both men down.

A dropkick by Sanada sent Naito to the floor. Sanada followed him with a slingshot plancha, then rolled him back inside. We’ve had ten minutes now, and it has flown by. A TKO connected for Sanada for a near fall, and then he hooked Naito into Skull End. He dropped to the mat and hooked the legs around the body of Naito, who eventually found the ropes for the break. Sanada hit a backbreaker and then went to the top for the moonsault, which Naito avoided. Sanada landed on his feet but Naito swept his legs and then dropkicked him off the apron to the floor.

On the outside, Naito sat Sanada on the barricade and then dropped him with a neckbreaker. Naito rolled back inside and the referee started the count. Titles can change hands on a countout in New Japan, unlike in North America. Sanada rolled back in at 18, right into another hip toss over the knee. Naito followed that with a top-rope Frankensteiner, but his Destino attempt was countered with a dropkick. Naito tried to stem the tide of Sanada’s comeback with a tornado DDT, but Sanada had it scouted and turned it into a magic screw. Poison rana by Sanada! Shining Wizard! Sanada went to the top for the moonsault…into the knees of Naito!

Naito was first to his feet and again went to the reliable elbows. He positioned Sanada for Esperanza, which connected. Destino! Naito elected not to go for the cover and instead tried a second Destino, which was reversed into a TKO by Sanada. Ahh, hubris strikes again. As we reached the 20-minute mark, Sanada hauled himself to the top rope…moonsault to the back connected! A second moonsault attempt…also connected! 1…2…no! Deadfalll…countered into a NASTY German from Naito! Spinebuster from Naito, he went for Destino again but Sanada blocked it. Both men were spent and staggering mid ring….Destino by Naito! A second one sort of connected, and got a near fall for Naito. That was ugly.

Naito got caught in two minds and Sanada connected with Deadfall! Both men were down and the referee started the double count. Both men got up at the count of seven, and stood in opposite neutral corners. Sanada charged into a boot from Naito, followed by an enzuigiri. Sanada hit his own Destino! Naito fought through it and hit the rolling capo kick, but Sanada came back with a rollup for a near fall. Shining wizard by Sanada! He tried for Deadfall, but Naito blocked and hit his own Deadfall at 25 minutes.

Naito locked Sanada up and hit Valencia. Destino in the middle of the ring! 1…2…3! Tokyo Dome exploded with the ring bell as we had a new champion!

WINNER: Tetsuya Naito via pinfall in 26:00 to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. (***3/4)
(Lansdell’s Analysis: A much better effort from both men than I feared we would get. Main event Naito always delivers, but Sanada has been hit or miss sometimes. This was comfortably third in the match of the night rankings, but only because the two prior matches were stellar. I feel like this was also pretty short for a Tokyo Dome main event, but I could be wrong there. The result was never really in doubt, as the match was built almost entirely around Naito having one last shot to win the main event at Tokyo Dome and finally get to do the LIJ roll call. The predictability also factors into the rating here, although not as much as it usually would because there were a couple of points where I genuinely thought Sanada would win it. In the end they got to the inevitable result but made us work for it.)

– After the match, Evil and Dick Togo attacked Naito and denied him his roll call moment that was the entire focus of the build to the main event. The Tokyo Dome erupted in a chorus of boos, so unusual for a Japanese crowd. Evil said he would not let Naito have his roll call, and since Naito was so against the IWGP world title existing, Evil would gladly take it from him. The diatribe was cut short by Sanada, who took out both Evil and Togo. Sanada got to his feet and flipped off Naito, then vacated the ring to let Naito have his moment.

– Naito took the mic and thanked Sanada before thanking all the fans. He completed his roll call and sank to his knees, then to his back as emotion got the better of him. He went up the ramp dragging the belt with him a pyro went off to celebrate his win.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This honestly felt like a somewhat disappointing WrestleKingdom. It seems ludicrous to say that about a card with two four-star matches and one more that almost reached that mark, but there was a lot of middling stuff on this card. The tag team title match and the junior heavyweight title match both underdelivered, and a couple of matches felt like they were cut short. I am used to WrestleKingdom being memorable for multiple matches and spots, but this show fell short of that. The triple threat was memorable, Okada and Danielson was memorable, but other than that the biggest moment was a roll call. That’s not how we expect New Japan events to play out. I do think a lot of the decisions tonight were made with an eye to the future, taking titles off Shingo and Zack Sabre Jr. in order to move them up the card and continuing to develop the next generation of stars. I think that closing angle with Sanada taking out Evil also went a long way towards winning the fans back over to his side. Look for a Naito/Sanada tag team tomorrow in the main event. If you look at the event without all the history of the WK brand it definitely holds its own as a standout big event, but in the lofty heights of WrestleKingdoms past it does not crack the top 5.

You can contact me at lansdellicious@gmail.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Join us tomorrow as we bring you the always fun, always unpredictable New Year’s Dash. Thanks for stopping by!

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