Figure Four Weekly 1/9/2017: Chris Hero's unlikely road back to WWEBy Observer Staff | email@example.com | @WONF4W
Chris Hero returned to NXT as Kassius Ohno last week after a little over three years away from WWE developmental. All that happened in between is that he became arguably the best professional wrestler in the world.
It's not that Hero didn't enter developmental in 2012 as an excellent performer. He was a genuine independent wrestling star even then, having worked for Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and seemingly everywhere else across the globe. He had developed as an elite in-ring talent by utilizing a unique style that was shaped by those experiences and his knowledge of pro wrestling history.
But Hero reenters WWE better than he has ever been because of how he has further dedicated himself in the ring since being released. And he does so after having had more outstanding matches than anyone else did in 2016.
A lot of that is because of opportunity. By not getting locked down with any one company, Hero was given the opportunity to work almost anywhere he wanted against such different opponents. He worked across the United States indie scene while finding homes in its most popular promotions. He went overseas and toured Europe while being just as welcomed in their top companies.
That led to Hero working more diverse matches than anyone else did last year. He elevated every EVOLVE card that he was on while giving many of his peers their best match of the year. He was Timothy Thatcher's opponent in his best title defense of the year, along with being involved in the promotion's best tag match of 2016 as he teamed with regular partner Tommy End against frequent rival Zack Sabre Jr. and Sami Callihan.
Hero's two matches against "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams brought out the best in Williams, and his trilogy with Matt Riddle helped cement the former UFC fighter as the clear top star in EVOLVE as it enters a new era.
Hero teamed with End against Pentagon Jr. and Fenix in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla over Battle of Los Angeles weekend, with the contrasting styles of the teams (even though Hero did show that he's adept at lucha in the match) producing one of the best tag matches of the year.
Across the pond, Hero had stellar matches in PROGRESS with Marty Scurll and Mark Andrews, along with another great match with Scurll in Revolution Pro Wrestling. Hero's involvement with RevPro led to him getting to wrestle in two dream matches at their co-promoted shows with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He faced off against Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata on the two shows, with the Ishii match especially showing that Hero is the best in the world at his bruising, strike-heavy style.
And that brief list doesn't even come close to doing justice to the year that Hero had. He was the top star on the indies and made every show that he was on -- regardless of size -- feel like a big deal.
Other capable indie workers will be given the chance to step up as we get deeper into 2017, but no one person will be able to fill Hero's spot. No one else has the combination of longevity, knowledge, and experience working so many different styles that Hero has.
But the indie scene's loss will be NXT's gain. And NXT has never needed Hero more than they do right now.
As NXT has strived to become a brand, it feels like it has lost an identity. The need to fill moderately sized buildings on the road and the reliance on stars who have already made their names on bigger stages elsewhere has made NXT feel less like the distinct product that it used to be.
Of course, NXT has always relied on already established talent. It's never going to be a promotion that solely features developing wrestlers. Finn Balor was a ready-made star when he stepped foot into developmental. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were stars in ROH, PWG, and many other promotions before coming to WWE. But those three wrestlers fit into the product that NXT was trying to produce far more seamlessly than Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and Bobby Roode have. They were talents obviously motivated for the opportunity ahead of them and out to prove themselves.
Established stars will always be needed in NXT. They'll help sell tickets, draw viewers to the WWE Network, and work with younger talents. But Nakamura, Joe, and Roode as the top male stars seems to have fundamentally changed what NXT is.
Nakamura has seen far bigger stages than Full Sail University. And he was a legitimate top star in NJPW in a way that Balor never was. He's 36 years old with a lifetime of pro wrestling wear and tear on his body. Even in NJPW, he got by on charisma and only gave everything he had when it mattered most. He's had a couple of standout matches since signing with WWE, but it shouldn't be surprising that he's picked his spots up to this point.
Joe and Roode are even older with just as much mileage on their bodies. And both former TNA stars have already experienced what it's like to work on television.
Some of the identity that NXT lost was inevitable. They've understandably been unable to adequately replace Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch. And with WWE now a legitimate place to watch high-end women's wrestling, NXT has lost a lot of what made it special.
SmackDown has also made NXT's place in the weekly WWE product less clear. NXT used to exist as a shorter and easier to watch alternative to Raw that had logical booking and storytelling that built to their big shows, but SmackDown has done all of that better than NXT has since the brand split.
Adding another star well into his 30s shouldn't feel like something that will rejuvenate the brand, but Chris Hero has proved in his three-plus years outside of the company that no one is more motivated than he is to consistently put on great wrestling matches. He also comes back to NXT with something to prove after previously being released.
Whether Hero ultimately has main roster success remains to be seen. There are obvious obstacles that stand in his way, with his physique always going to be a talking point. But he was released when he was near the best shape of his life and comes back to the company with officials obviously knowing what he looks like.
Hero is getting an unlikely second shot at wrestling for the biggest company and on the biggest stage possible. If he does eventually find success in WWE, it will be because of how he dedicated himself to becoming maybe the best in-ring wrestler in the world during his time away.
In the world of Mexican wrestling, AAA is just about ready to commence its 2017 season. With the financial struggles it has had to face last year not yet fully resolved, this, their 25th anniversary year, is one of the most important years in their history. On January 20th, they will run their first big show of 2017, the annual Guerra de Titanes, a show that would appear to be on its surface basically a bigger-than-usual TV taping, all in the service of preparing for this year's TripleMania. We'll have a full preview, with predictions, in next week's issue.
As AAA gears up, CMLL is gearing down, at least for a few weeks. Between last Friday's 1/6/17 show at Arena Mexico, about which more in a moment, and the 1/27/17 show, many of their top stars will be away from Arena Mexico and working in Japan on the annual FantasticaMania shows. The Japan shows are a great chance for the wrestlers to earn money from both salaries and merchandise sales that they would not earn in Mexico, and a chance to work with some talent they would not otherwise meet this year. The Japan cards are all solid, with title matches and singles matches worth looking forward to, all in the service of a good time being had by all. My hunch is that those matches in which Hiromu Takahashi, ex-Kamaitachi, is booked will turn out to be the most remembered on the tour.
Still, having just said that CMLL is dialing down a bit, I would still expect the 1/20/17 show to have a solid main event and/or semifinal. AAA's Guerra de Titanes will be held on a Friday night in Mexico City, at the Juan de la Barrera gym, and CMLL's experience with AAA running Friday nights in Mexico City has my hopes up that they might try to fight that with a bigger-than-usual show. On the other hand, maybe not. AAA is coming in very cold (one new TV show in the past two months) with a card that doesn't inspire hopes of a big gate or crowd.
As for the CMLL show last Friday night 1/6/17, it came off as I expected. It was a great advertisement for the product and had not one bad match nor one mind-blowing match. The theme was sort-of a "Best of 2016" recap show, and there was some of that, which turned out to be part of the card's strength and part of its weakness. They held seven matches highlighting the major feuds and stars of last year, but really didn't do anything to further anything for the year just started. The heels won the first two matches and the faces won the final five. I had a few main takeaways. The limitations of Valiente as a main eventer, even with a win, really showed through to me. Rey Cometa and Barbaro Cavernario had another good match, and boy do I wish somehow this would help Cometa one step up the ladder on cards. The match that I got into the most was the trios match between the Casas Dynasty and the Panther Dynasty, headed by wrestlers who will complete their 38th and 39th year in the business in 2017. In my perfect world that will never happen, this would be one of many two big show, that is, Anniversary or Dos Leyendas, main events for 2017, with the two teams meeting in a mask/mask/hair vs. mask/mask/hair match. One can dream. The other, obvious main event would be the one that sure appears to be a given, that being Caristico's betting his mask versus the hair of Ultimo Guerrero. The timing is right, and the way the two have worked of late, and the way the crowd has reacted to them of late, I for one sense that this is a done deal and everyone is psyching themselves up for that match. No moonsaults, please, Caristico.
PROGRESS make their debut in Birmingham this week with Chapter 42, marking the fourth city they've run after London, Manchester and Sheffield. After the events of Unboxing Live on New Year's Eve Eve, PROGRESS now have two top heel groups, with Will Ospreay turning heel and reforming the Swords of Essex with Paul Robinson. The pair attacked Jimmy Havoc after Ospreay's loss to him in the main event, releasing a year of frustration for Ospreay after failing to win a single match in PROGRESS in 2016. They join British Strong Style as the top heels of PROGRESS, but apart from Robinson, none of BSS or the Swords have been announced for Birmingham. Personally, I was looking forward to the unique atmosphere that could have been created with Brummies Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate and Wolverhampton native Trent Seven competing in front of the home crowd, but obviously, WWE has come calling for them this weekend for the UK Championship tournament, which rather dampens the hype for the show.
So while star power is down for the debut at Birmingham, the announced card consists of some unusual but interesting matchups; a Rampage Brown Atlas Championship Open Challenge, Alex Windsor's return to PROGRESS for the Natural Progression Series against Livvii, and a very intriguing tag team match between Ringkampf and the London Riots, which should have implications for the wXw/PROGRESS weekender at the end of the month.
Speaking of that weekender, much of the card for the Saturday 28th January wXw-branded show has been announced, with Axel Dieter Jr. defending his Unified World Wrestling Championship against Marty Scurll in a rematch of the impromptu title change match at the end of the 16th Anniversary show, as well as A4 defending the Tag Team Championships against Moustache Mountain. wXw are putting some big matches on their London show, showing that it means a lot more than just a tour stop for them. With Ringkampf working the PROGRESS Birmingham show, it will be very interesting to see how the two companies co-promote over the next few months, ahead of the PROGRESS-branded show in Oberhausen on the Shortcut to the Top weekend.
NWA Championship Wrestling (1/10/87)
Show opened with the Rock & Roll Express out for a promo. It was January, and they were in big poofy jackets. Robert looked very much like Andrew Ridgely, and BOY is that an appropriate comparison.
Jimmy Garvin vs. Keith Vincent. Garvin was wrestling in the sequined tights this week. Like most Garvin squashes, this was boring, though Vincent's refusal to sell didn't help. Garvin won with the brainbuster.
Bill Dundee came out to cut a promo celebrating his new Central States championship. He was happy he had a belt and Dusty Rhodes didn't then he listed real Central States contenders like Doug Pederson and Italian Stallion.
Schiavonie interviewed Jim Cornette and his crew. This was clearly taken from another show. There was some dispute about who had won more Bunkhouse Stampedes, Big Bubba or Dusty Rhodes. Jim Crockett explained that Bubba and Rhodes had won the same number of Stampedes. Cornette claimed Bubba had won more money. Crockett proposed a ONE-ON-ONE CAGE MATCH BATTLE ROYAL for the Stampede championship in February. Cornette was fine with this because it gave Bubba a chance to take Dusty out and signed right away.
Brad Armstrong vs. Tommy Angel. Angel looked like, well, like Brad Armstrong. Two muscular white dudes in trunks and boots with curly, dirty blonde mullets. Brad Armstrong was the best wrestler who did the worst squashes. Headlocks. Armbars. Terrible chain wrestling because Tommy Angel couldn't keep up. Hiptoss for a nearfall (seriously) and then more headlocks and armbars. Schiavonie was so bored he talked about the Russians instead. Eventually Armstrong won with the legsweep.
Ronnie Garvin and Barry Windham came out for a promo. Garvin, I think, said all the heels were scared. Windham said he had stuck his nose in the Horsemen's business, but they had tried to take him out of wrestling forever.
Bill Dundee vs. Randy Barber. This was the shortest, skinny-fattest match of all time. This started as a very bad wrestling match, and then turned into the worst boxing match of ALL TIME. Dundee eventually won with a top rope kneedrop.
Cornette came out for another promo. He plugged STILL MORE SCAFFOLD MATCHES. He said again that Big Bubba should have won the Stampede championship, and eventually left.
Dusty Rhodes came out for a promo in a Mick Foley classic red plaid flannel. He hyped up the cage match against Bubba, Nikita Koloff's title defenses, Ric Flair's title defenses, and said hello to his babies in North Carolina. Yes, that includes Cody.
Nikita Koloff vs. Larry Stephens. Nikita ran through this geek like a freight train and pinned him with a sickle in 20 seconds.
Tully Blanchard vs. Alan Martin. Yes, this was a TV title match. Tully beat him up for a while. He actually gave Martin a big no-selling comeback, but just so he could cut him off with disdain and win with the slingshot suplex.
Ric Flair came out for a promo. He talked about how great the Horsemen were, showed off his suits, said the Horsemen drew fans to the buildings, because they were champions. He ran down Nikita and Dusty for a while.
Tully Blanchard came out for a promo. He talked about how great the Horsemen were, then ran down Dusty Rhodes, who was getting a TV title shot that night in Philadelphia. He talked about fighting Tim Horner and laying out Barry Windham last week, leaving him begging for mercy. They cut him off almost midsentence.
Rock & Roll Express vs. Allen West & Eddie Roberts. West was actually a big dude. He looked like the mean jock in every terrible 1980s teen movie. This went through a commercial. This fucking thing went on FOREVER. This had to be longer than Okada-Omega. They actually got the heat on Morton for, oh, a minute, then the Express won with the double dropkick. "That was a very good match," Schiavonie lied.
Schiavonie interviewed Dick Murdoch. He said he had had a party and the kids liked the Road Warriors. I bet they did. He went on about how great all their shows were, and what a great champion Tully Blanchard was, and how great a champion Ric Flair was, and what great champions Rude & Fernandez were, but they all wanted the world title. He had to have been drunk here.
Road Warriors vs. Ray Aaron & David Isley. Aaron was another skinny-fat guy, and of all the gear he could have picked, he went with the singlet with maximum flabby pec exposure. Then Isley flinched on a dropkick and left Hawk out to dry and Hawk was PISSED. He threw Isley into the corner, and I mean THREW him into the corner. Then he tried a gutwrench suplex, but Isley didn't know how to take it, and Isley was hanging upside down and screaming, and finally Hawk dropped to his knees and dropped him to the mat. Then he picked him up and gave him a shoot gutwrench suplex. Animal pinned Isley with a top rope powerslam. The Road Warriors then cut a promo that wasn't nearly as entertaining as this match was.
Barry Windham & Ron Garvin vs. the Mulkeys. Highlight here was Ronnie putting a Mulkey in a facelock and slapping his back repeatedly. Yes, that was the highlight. Mulkey then became the second straight geek to fail to take a gutwrench suplex. Is it that fucking hard to GET SUPLEXED? So Garvin hit a backslide, and I mean HIT IT, driving this Mulkey's head into the mat. Barry won with the lariat shortly thereafter.
Ivan Koloff came out for a promo, saying Nikita was hiding from Vladimir Petrov. They had clips of Petrov squashing Tony Zane when Ivan attacked the ref, then holding Zane so Petrov could hit a diving lariat. They showed this in slow-mo. It was a bad lariat.
Vladimir Petrov vs. Vernon Deaton & George South. He sickled them both at the same time, then tried a diving choke, and fucked it up. Oh god, help me.
More Cornette. He was ready to bury the Road Warriors, wanted the Midnight Express to get a US tag title shot against Windham and Garvin. He spent a long time talking about taking Garvin out once and for all.
Ivan Koloff vs. Zane Smith. I guess Petrov didn't hurt Smith too bad. Petrov interfered some. Vladimir Petrov is a bargain basement version of the Warlord, and I didn't think that was possible. Fans were chanting "U-G-L-Y YOU AIN'T GOT NO ALIBI YOU UGLY!" There was a long standing facelock and I thought Ivan might win with it. Hey, it's a guillotine. I saw Great Sasuke beat Dirtbike Kid with one once. I did enjoy Ivan hitting a series of hammerfists to the top of the head. He finally won with a driving knee to the back off the top. WOW.
Nikita Koloff came out for a promo. He promised to take Ric Flair's world title, then called out Petrov and Uncle Ivan. This took a while.
Dick Murdoch vs. Brodie Chase. Murdoch did some cool hammerlock spots. He hit the funniest backdrop ever. Chase flew high into the air and Chase came down right on his ass, landing in a full pike position. Murdoch won with the brainbuster.
Ivan cut another promo about Nikita being afraid of Petrov.
WWE Monday Night Raw (1/2/17)
Mick Foley opened the ring for a promo with a horrible new haircut that might still be an improvement. He made fun of himself for getting the city wrong last week and plugged the shark cage when Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho interrupted. A few minutes of stand-up comedy ensued. Foley booked Owens in a talk show for later with Goldberg as his guest. Steph came out because, well, I don't know. She booked Roman Reigns vs. Jericho, and then said the following words: "To ensure there is a decisive winner, should Roman Reigns be disqualified or counted out, he will lose the United States championship." Um, doesn't that make it MORE likely that there will be a cheap winner? Have I lost my mind or is this show so illogical that I can no longer follow it any more. Everyone shouted at each other and I was sick of it and Steph was too. She actually mentioned that Smackdown got better ratings last week. GEE I WONDER WHY. So she booked Owens vs. Rollins for tonight with the loser being barred from ringside for the Jericho-Reigns match. So effectively, the winner gets to interfere. I already hate this show.
Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens. Since October, between Raws and PPVs, Kevin Owens has had two matches that did not involve Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. On October 3, Jericho & Owens lost to New Day. And on December 5 he beat Sami Zayn. Yes, we do see the same shit every week. Owens got disqualified for using a ring bell, so Rollins gets to be in Roman's corner later.
Braun Strowman-Sami Zayn hype video. They did show that Sami was on the verge of winning in their last match when the time limit expired.
Goldberg-Lesnar hype video.
Sami Zayn vs. Braun Strowman in a last man standing match. Sami worked him over with a stick early. Cole said this strategy could be effective. Yes, hitting a guy with a stick is a strategy. Well, it was effective. He tried his through-the-corner DDT but Braun cut him off with a punch for a ref count. It was all Braun lumbering around after that, and Sami would get a ref count after every strike. They were brawling on the stage when they came back from break. They went backstage and Sami used various weapon spots. I like when Braun hit a biel onto a stack of boxes that was higher than his own head. Sami fell literally zero inches there. Then they went back to the stage and did basically the same thing. Braun did THE WORST JOB of teetering on the edge of the stage and Sami hit a bodypress through some kind of platform. Fans were chanting that this was awesome, and you know what? They weren't wrong. Braun hit a Davey Boy slam on the floor at ringside. Well I bet that sucked. This actually would have been a great finish, but Sami just barely got up. So Braun killed him more, hitting another powerslam. Announcers were begging the ref to just stop the match and save Sami from himself, and from Braun. And finally the ref counted 10 with Sami on the floor and Braun standing above him not even breathing hard. FUCK YES. First, this was a really good match. Seriously. Second, I don't even care that the wrong guy won, for once they picked a guy and said "this dude is fucking WINNING and coming out loooking STRONG," no 50-50 bullshit or going halfway with things. They're fucking TRYING for once. For that reason alone this was the best Raw segment in a long time. Because for literally the first time in many weeks I didn't feel like they were just filling time on this show. Braun knocked Sami off the stretcher afterwards and threw him into the barricade.
New Day came out for a promo. They announced they would be entering the Royal Rumble. They were about to make some New Year's resolution when they were interrupted by Titus O'Neil doing their entrance spiel. He did a fine job, actually. He said the New Day needed a new member and tried to do their catchphrases. He got in the ring and reminded me how enormous he is. He danced for them but they were unimpressed. So he reached for the trombone, but New Day were having none of that. So he blew a whistle and twerked. New Day said he blowed and that everyone hated him and he was ugly. Titus called Woods the weakest link in the New Day. So Woods challenged him to a match. Titus decked him and bailed, but then accepted the challenge.
Titus O'Neil vs. Xavier Woods. They had a fun little match and Woods won when he turned a fallaway slam into a sunset flip for the pin.
Bayley met with Stephanie McMahon backstage. She wanted to know how Dana Brooke could have been the special ref in her rematch with Charlotte. Steph blamed it on lawyers, then said she never wanted Bayley on Raw and she wanted Charlotte to be the face of the women's division. OH BOY! A PLUCKY UNDERDOG BABYFACE FIGHTING AGAINST MANAGEMENT AND THEIR CHOSEN CHAMPION! HERE'S A NEW AND ORIGINAL STORYLINE I HAVEN'T SEEN 75,000 TIMES! Bayley gave a wooden speech about being good enough for herself and chasing dreams. Steph gave her a top contender's match and Bayley was SO GRATEFUL FOR THESE CRUMBS TOSSED DOWN FROM UPON HIGH! Her opponent was Nia Jax, of course.
Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho. Roman's last Raw/PPV match that did not involve Jericho and Owens was a mixed tag with Sasha Banks against Rusev & Charlotte on October 10, my birthday. Before that he had a singles match with Rusev, and before that he had a singles match -- with Kevin Owens. Jericho ripped off a turnbuckle pad and then tried the Eddie Guerrero move of tossing the belt to Roman and then pretending to be knocked out. Ref was not fooled, but it distracted Roman, and Jericho hit a codebreaker for a nearfall. They wrestled a bit and Jericho hit his own exposed steel and was then speared and pinned. OK, that was great.
Bayley vs. Nia Jax. They were having a terrible match when Sasha made her return to distract Nia and Bayley hit an avalanche belly-to-Bayley for the win.
They said Undertaker was RUMORED to be in New Orleans next week, but Shawn Michaels would be there FOR SURE.
Time for the Kevin Owens Show. Highlight of this, by far, was the KEVIN OWENS SHOW sign hanging over some guy's face, and this guy just had to stand there in the middle of the set. This was goddamn hilarious and got funnier the longer he was out there. Owens introduced his guest, giving him a long list of platitudes, and then introducing Jericho. We got jokes about the list. Jericho announced he would be the third entrant into the Royal Rumble match. Guess he didn't watch the New Day bit earlier. Owens was upset, but Jericho said look, if I win, we wrestle at Mania, and WE are still champion. This went on in a goofy manner for a while until THANK GOD Goldberg just came out on his own. He declared that Jericho was first. Owens stepped in to make peace and asked Goldberg to take a seat in a lawn chair. Goldberg responded by tossing the chair up the aisle. Jericho threatened to put him on the list but Goldberg yelled at them to shut up. Owens tossed some furniture to show he wasn't scared, and he and Goldberg got in each other's face until Paul Heyman interrupted. So silly to see Owens act like this after being totally impotent since, well, since he won the title. He ran his mouth for a while, then Roman Reigns came out. He quickly got in Goldberg's face and they had a hell of a staredown, but then Braun Strowman came out. He said he would win the Rumble and got in the ring. Roman and Goldberg nodded at each other and dropped Strowman with a double spear. And then Roman left and Goldberg posed on the ropes and that was it. Well this was a waste of Goldberg.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Highlights (1/4/17)
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kushida. Kushida opened with a bunch of crazy dives but got cut off and was down on the floor being checked on for a while. Takahashi was just sitting in the ring, chillin'. Eventually the match continued, and Takahashi then proceeded to try to kill himself or Kushida or both. First he did a wonky double rolling German suplex, which wasn't terribly dangerous, but was ugly. Then he tried a diving rana that would have taken Kushida from the ring to the floor, but something went terribly wrong and he almost snapped Kushida's neck across the rope instead. THEN, he tried a senton from the top rope to the floor, and Kushida did barely anything to slow him down and he basically flat-back bumped to the floor. Jesus Christ. They tried another spot where Takahashi would come flying off the apron, but Kushida caught him in midair with an armbar. So they both crashed to the floor. Takahashi has great facials, whether it was the arrogant smile he was flashing earlier or the agonizing pain he was in now. Kushida did a cool headscissors into a kimura and they worked that for a few minutes, with Takahashi occasionally escaping and Kushida just going right back to it, including one where he grabbed the arm and almost did a cartwheel to crank it into position. That was awesome. We got Takahashi getting suplexed into the corner, then coming back and hitting a top rope rolling bodyscissors. He followed with a fireman's carry slam into the corner, then something like a DVD to win the match and the title. Finish kind of felt out nowhere, and the whole match layout felt kind of random to me, but definitely good stuff. (***1/4).
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto. This was immediately different from the prior match, as we got a couple of kicks and headlocks, but the two men were very cautious, as if one mistake might lead to certain doom. This is why almost every NJPW show is better than almost every WWE show, because the matches are different and you don't feel like you're watching the same match six times in a row. This was followed by a short-arm scissors, about as old school as wrestling can get. They transitioned from there to various jiu jitsu holds. Goto finally put a stop to that with a big lariat and a series of strikes, and they went back and forth a bit, both frantically fighting for control. I like where Goto started throwing kicks to the chest and Shibata just sat on his ass and absorbed them, then fought to his knees and absorbed them, then got to his feet and blocked a kick and hit one elbow that made it clear he would NOT be taking anymore. Then he hit some stomps in the corner that had me questioning whether they had smartened him up yet. We got another fighting spirit spot where they traded kicks and clotheslines, then traded suplexes. Shibata smelled blood and started going for a sleeper to finish things off. Goto started fighting back with headbutts, but Shibata didn't like that and kicked him in the face. Goto hit a DVD onto the knee, then a sitout suplex-slam for a nearfall. And suddenly both guys fired up and started throwing elbows and headbutts with nobody blocking anything. Goto hit a DDT onto the knee, then a reverse DDT onto the knee for the win. This was a goddamn FIGHT it was it was, and Goto took it right to Shibata and beat him at his own game. (***3/4).
Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Naito's purple suit and skull mask sure made for a dope entrance. Naito was being a total sleazeball early, so Tanahashi was hitting stomach punches and hairpulls to make it clear he was willing to fight dirty. Naito cut him off and attacked the leg for a while. They were doing a fighting spirit elbow exchange, and when Tanahashi braced himself for an elbow, Naito would just kick him in the knee instead like a dick. Really, this is all Naito did: be a dick, and kick the knee. Also, spitting in Tanahashi's face. Finally Tanahashi caught him with a dragon screw in the ropes. He somehow hit a sling blade on the apron, which seems literally impossible. He followed that with a high fly flow to the floor. They started doing spots in the ring, and it was awesome because they were running all over, but both were limping all over. Naito hit a German suplex for a nearfall. They started trading knee-based submission attempts. Tanahashi hit a standing high fly flow, but when he tried one as a splash, Naito rolled out of the way. He hit a destino, but when he tried another one Tanahashi hit a neckbreaker for a double-down. Place was going APE SHIT by now. Tanahashi's hair was all fucked up and he looked like a totally different person as he snarled to his feet, like Dr. Jekyll was gone and he was Mr. Hyde now. They had an epic exchange of elbows, then started trading kicks to the knee. Naito kicked out of a dragon suplex, but Tanahashi hit a high fly flow to the back, then tried one as a splash, but Naito got the knees up. Naito hit a swinging reverse DDT. Ref counted one, counted two, then Tanahashi barely kicked out and the ref had the best reaction ever, turning his back and shrugging to the sky like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Naito finally hit a destino for the win. Great, great, great match. So in the last three matches, we had seen two crazy small dudes flying around, a sporting-style fight, and a blood feud between two guys who wanted not just to win, but to look good doing it. So awesome. (****1/2).
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega. They had a video for Omega where he was the Terminator, warping nude into an alley and stealing some gut's clothes. Then he came out in a Terminator half-mask, carrying a shotgun. Well there's an entrance you won't see in the U.S. soon. Then Okada got a video that suggested he had arrived to the Tokyo Dome from outer space. Match started at 9:58. Okada, when the bell rang, looked half asleep and disinterested. His hair wasn't even bleached all the way. For about five minutes it was all very basic stuff. Then Okada tried the dropkick in the corner and Kenny tried the one-wing angel, and Kenny spat in Okada's face, then bailed to hand out with the Young Bucks on the floor. They brawled on the floor and Okada hit a draping DDT off the guardrail. The brawl continued and Okada hit a running dive over the guardrail. Somewhere in here I think Okada set up a table. They got in the ring and did stuff for a while. Omega sure does a lot of whacky celebrating of very minor victories. Like, one knee to the gut. He hit a a big flip dive onto the entrance ramp. Back in, he hit a missile dropkick to the back of the head for a nearfall. This looked very painful live, and much worse on replay. OW. Okada made a comeback and spiked him with a DDT. 20 minutes in, he hooked an STF, but Omega got the ropes after a long struggle. Okada hit a schwein onto the knee and tried a top rope splash, but Omega got the knees up. He threw Okada outside and hit a sliding dropkick to the back, and again this looked like it really sucked. Omega followed with a running top rope quebrada over the guardrail. Jesus Christ. Okada sold this forever, and when he was finally able to drag his carcass over the guardrail, Omega put a table on top of him and hit a footstomp off the apron. Back in, he hit a kneeling powerbomb for a nearfall. He followed with a sitout powerbomb for another nearfall, this time pausing in the middle and then herking him up. OK, HERE was where the Young Bucks set up the table at ringside. Kenny tried a dive, but the ref stopped him. Okada made a brief comeback, but Omega caught him with a rolling fireman's carry and moonsault for a nearfall. There was a long gash on Okada's back. Okada finally caught him with a dropkick in the corner, and Omega tumbled out of the ring and off the platform. That looked VERY uncomfortable. They teased moves off the apron through the table, including a one-winged angel, but none were delivered. And then Omega charged, and Okada backdropped him, and Omega went flying through the air, and through the table. Keep in mind this was all on the platform, with an edge like the one that ended Rick Rude's career (and like the one that nearly ended Shawn Michaels'), and Omega had to take this so he went through the table and then rotate more so he landed sitting on the edge, not taking it in the small of his back. So completely insane. Back in, Okada got his receipt dropkick and I laughed. He called for the rainmaker, but Omega avoided it. They fought up top, and after a long struggle Omega hit a dragon suplex off the top rope. Okada landed right on his head. FUCKING OW. He somehow survived this, so Omega hit a convoluted brainbuster onto the knee. Okada dodged a charge and hooked him for a German suplex, but Omega avoided the rainmaker. At this point, a legit 38 minutes into the match, Okada hit his awesome dropkick for a nearfall. He tried a rainmaker, but Omega fought it off and hit a series of knees and a reverse rana for a nearfall. Undeterred, he hit a running knee and tried the one-winged angel, but Okada escaped and hit a tombstone for a nearfall, then the rainmaker for NOT THE FINISH. Okada hit a VERY violent dropkick into the corner, and Omega nearly broke his neck flying backwards into the turnbuckle. He tried a tombstone, but Omega turned that into, well, a head-dropping thing for a nearfall. They traded elbows from their knees, then on their feet. They did the BOO! YAY! spot except the crowd cheered for both men, then Kenny whipped out a dragon suplex and running knee for a nearfall. He tried the one-winged angel, but Okada escaped and hit something like a rainmaker. Kenny scored a series of kicks and knees, but Okada was holding his wrist the whole time, and popped off a rainmaker out of nowhere. They traded finisher attempts until Omega hit a dropkick and the rainmaker pose. He did a rainmaker into a kneestrike and tried the one-winged angel, but Okada escaped, and finally hit the rainmaker for the win at a legit 47 minutes. Women in the crowd were legit weeping. (*****)
Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson & Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe & Yuji Nagata vs. Kazuchika Okada & Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay
So this is apparently a big ol' ten-man tag the night after Wrestle Kingdom? I think? Bryan just put it on and said we were watching it. So we got Ospreay-Shibata one-on-one, then Yano-Nagata. The latter was some quality comedy. Honma came in and hit the falling headbutt for the first time for once, which was a pleasant surprise even for himself. Soon everyone was brawling everywhere. That settled down and guys just started tagging in and out and doing stuff. Honma and Ishii had a quite awesome chopfest. They followed that with an epic battle for a suplex. Finally Makabe tagged in and ran wild a bit. We had various guys coming in and doing stuff. I forgot Juice Robinson was in this match. He still pretty much sucks. He got a nearfall on Okada, which is a travesty. OK, he did take a great bump for Okada's white-noise-onto-the-knee move. He pinned Goto with about the worst killswitch you ever saw, and looked moved, like he knew this was the biggest win of his career. All his partners celebrated with him. Suddenly there was a great ovation, and a crew of men in black and white outfits hit the ring and killed everyone. Killer Elite Squad were among them, and they destroyed Yano with a double-team powerbomb. Gedo ran out and got his ass kicked. Okada tried a comeback and was doing well for a while, but Minoru Suzuki caught him with a sleeper and finished him off with a package piledriver. Suzuki then cut a promo. There were four or five other guys in his group I didn't recognize. He did say that Suzuki-Gun was Ichiban. Then his cool music played.