It all comes down to this! The epic conclusion of the first-ever two-day Wrestle Kingdom has come and gone and goodness gracious it most certainly did not disappoint. It was an honor and a privilege to witness so many amazing moments and incredible matches live and I can’t wait to talk about all the events of this wonderful show…
NEVER OPENWEIGHT 6-MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH/GAUNTLET MATCH
Shingo Takagi, Bushi, & EVIL def. Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano, & Togi Makabe via pinfall @ 6:08 w/ a Takagi ‘Made In Japan’ on Taguchi
As I discussed in my Night Two preview, this felt like a bit of an odd choice. It seemed like mostly just a ploy to get all the wrestlers who weren’t on the show a spot—and also to get the NEVER 6-man belts on it, because NJPW seems to put exactly zero thought into these titles—and it showed. It was fine as a garden variety NJPW multi-person match—even quite fun for stretches—but my biggest complaint about the two-day WK format is that instead of taking what was nearly a 7-hour show, adding one or two things, and breaking it up into two sleek four-hour shows, they turned it into a nearly 11-hour extravaganza at over 5 hours per night with a bunch of matches that felt like they belong on “Road To” shows. I get that they want to give people their money’s worth on both nights but I have to wonder if it’s really worth it. But on the bright side, Shingo Takagi has a title again. I mean it’s a NEVER 6-man title but it counts!
JYUSHIN THUNDER LIGER RETIREMENT MATCH II
Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee def. Jyushin Thunder Liger & Naoki Sano (w/ Yoshiaki Fujiwara) via pinfall @ 12:16 w/ a Takahashi ‘Time Bomb’ on Liger
Wow, what a moment! I don’t think my brain was ever fully wrapped around the immensity of this moment. One of the true icons of this sport hanging up his boots once and for all. THE Yoshiaki Fujiwara (yes, THAT Fujiwara) at ringside. The announce team does a good job of putting over the idea that this is not just a formality, this is a real, serious wrestling match because that’s the way Liger wants it—and major props to Takahashi and Lee for illustrating that early on when Takahashi tags in Lee only to knock Sano off the apron and double team Liger. The crowd boos but this is exactly what Liger wanted and there is no greater tribute to the man than that.
The match is excellent but it’s kind of a blur. The important thing here is that Liger passed the torch to Takahashi, knowing full well this kid is the future of the junior heavyweight division and that Liger leaves the division in extraordinarily good hands. After the match, Lee bows to Liger in the utmost sign of respect and Liger thanks the crowd profusely. Truly an incredible moment and one that no one who was part of it live (even just to watch it on NJPW World) will ever forget. #ThankYouLiger
IWGP Jr. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Roppongi 3k def. El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori via pinfall @ 14:08 w/ ‘Strong X’ (Shock Arrow/Top Rope Double Foot Stomp Combo) on Phantasmo
You have to give all four of these guys massive props for stepping into the mother of all death spots and absolutely killing it. I mean the crowd was SILENT when Liger’s retirement match ended and these guys brought them back to life admirably with a typically awesome, incredibly well-pieced-together, fast-paced tag match full of creativity and impressive flurries of offense—something we’ve all pretty much come to expect from all four of these guys.
If I have any complaints about this match they’re very minor ones: for one, I feel like sometimes NJPW tag matches don’t put enough time and effort into building up those REALLY hot tags that are a trademark of North American tag team wrestling; also, it’s hilarious to me that it took this long for someone to come up with “cup” as the solution to El-P’s constant dick-punching. That was a great finish, though, especially with R3k pulling out a new twist on the Shock Arrow. That was definitely a running theme of Wrestle Kingdom that I really liked—guys busting out new moves or variants to win matches.
BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Zack Sabre, Jr. def. SANADA via pinfall @ 12:32 w/ a European Clutch (★★★★¾)
This, to me, has to be the best midcard match of the entire weekend, hands down. I only give star ratings to potential match of the year candidates and it’s really tricky giving midcard matches that distinction when they’re not really *designed* to be MOTY candidates but I also think it’s important to primarily rate matches based on how they accomplish their stated goals and by that measure, you’d have a hard time finding a better non-main-event match on Wrestle Kingdom 14 than this one.
The chain wrestling between these two is incredible, especially at the start of the match, and their overall chemistry is top notch. Honestly, I feel like ZSJ brings out the best in SANADA just as much if not *more* than Okada because he forces him to work hard with the way he treats every second of all his matches like a real fight. Also I literally yelled “OH MY GOD” out loud at ZSJ catching SANADA’s *arm* out of a standing moonsault. Just unreal stuff. The match ending with a call-back to the roll-up exchanges the two had been having on the Road to Tokyo Dome shows at Korakuen Hall was perfect. My only (highly subjective) beef is that I would have liked to see SANADA take the title to springboard into what will hopefully be a 2020 that will be more like the 2019 we all expected out of him but I’m sure there are logistical reasons why he didn’t and I have no problem with that.
IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Jon Moxley def. Juice Robinson via pinfall @ 12:48 w/ ‘Death Rider’
I have kind of a weird relationship with Juice Robinson. Every time I see him wrestle, I enjoy his work. I appreciate what he does and how he does it. I find his character work entertaining. But for whatever reason, I never find myself caring that much about him overall. This match was no different. It was a perfectly cromulent wrestling match with lots of great stuff by both guys. I especially liked the fact that both men approached the match as though they had actually watched each other’s matches the night before and done their homework—which the announce team adeptly pointed out. And I LOVED Moxley’s double-arm DDT with the roll-through into the Death Rider, that was sick as hell. But nothing about this got me 1/10th as jacked as MOXLEY/SUZUKI. I marked out so hard for this I damn near broke my caps lock button. Can. Not. WAIT.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Hirooki Goto def. KENTA via pinfall @ 16:12 w/ ‘GTR’
I really, really liked this match. I especially liked it as this sort of clash between the embodiment of honor and the embodiment of dishonor. Goto is the most fighting spirit ass motherf***** on the planet, we all know this, but KENTA’s character arc since arriving in NJPW has been kinda fascinating to me. He returned from the U.S. for what he kinda seemed to be hoping would be a warm homecoming welcome from Japanese fans after his legendary run in Pro Wrestling NOAH but NJPW never really seemed to accept him. Throughout the G1 there was this sense that he was fighting to earn respect and to earn his place here. He beat Tanahashi but Tana refused to shake his hand. He went toe-to-toe with Okada and lost but he won Okada’s respect—and yet the NJPW fans *still* would not be won over. So what does he do? Tells everyone to go screw and joins Bullet Club where he doesn’t have to give a crap about anyone’s respect.
This whole match is basically Goto’s fighting spirit vs. KENTA’s total lack of respect. KENTA spends most of the match in total control, tenderizing Goto with brutal kicks and then toying with him and insulting him and stepping on him. But what’s really great about it is that by the end, *both* men are fighting tooth and nail for their pride in an intense, dramatic climax. I was really hoping KENTA would retain here and hold onto the belt for a good, long time to build the fans’ frustration into a huge blow-off when someone finally took back the strap but that’s splitting hairs a bit. Especially considering what happened to close the show…
SPECIAL SINGLE MATCH
Jay White def. Kota Ibushi via pinfall @ 24:58 w/ ‘Bladerunner’
If anyone is still unconvinced that Jay White is one of the best wrestlers in the world after his performances on both nights of Wrestle Kingdom, I just don’t know what to tell you. His character work (especially in-ring) is some of the best in the business, his counter/defense game is incredible, his quickness, his athleticism, his creativity, his feel for in-ring drama, his attention to detail. I don’t know what else to say about this guy.
The chemistry with Ibushi is, once again, off the charts and I love how both men take so much punishment and work really hard to illustrate how much they’ve been through this weekend. You really get a palpable sense that both guys are running on fumes by the end of this match and it’s pitch perfect. I like all the extracurricular stuff a lot, too, actually, because it creates great drama *and* it allows Ibushi to look like clearly the stronger of the two without making White look excessively weak in victory. Plus it gave us the glorious moment of Gedo flipping Ibushi’s switch with a chair shot and then getting shoot murdered with a vicious palm strike (and what a beautiful sell by Gedo).
SPECIAL SINGLE MATCH
Chris Jericho def. Hiroshi Tanahashi via submission @ 22:24 w/ ‘Walls of Jericho’ (★★★★★)
This honestly may have been the best Chris Jericho has looked since Dominion 2018 against Tetsuya Naito. Beyond the amazingly ridiculous opening video package (and “F*CKAHASHI” lmao), both of these guys turned in performances for the ages and the result was a sight to behold. Listen to the Tokyo Dome during this match. No flips (ok technically one flip), no spamming a million moves, no meaningless no-selling, just an absolute clinic in drama and brilliant fundamentals by two of the greatest of all time. A symphony of old school meets new school and an incredible clash of fully defined, polar opposite characters—no bells and whistles, just great wrestling and psychology. To me this has to be considered pretty high on any list of either Jericho OR Tanahashi’s best matches of their career considering the stage of their careers they’re in and the magnitude of the moment and how much they were able to do with such simple ingredients. Incredible.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT AND IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL DOUBLE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Tetsuya Naito def. Kazuchika Okada via pinfall @ 35:37 w/ Destino (★★★★★★)
This was an out-of-body experience. Hands down one of the greatest wrestling matches I’ve ever seen in my life. The journey it takes you on and the story it tells, so full of history and drama and emotion, is so beautiful. It starts with Naito breaking tendency and starting out tentative—perhaps a mind game, perhaps not—so Okada breaks tendency in kind, catching Naito off guard by quickening the pace to gain control so he can slow things down. Naito sees what’s happening and abandons the methodical approach to quicken the pace again bringing the advantage back to him. That’s largely how the match plays out as a whole: Both guys seem very cognizant that they cannot afford to get too far in a hole to where they have to fight from behind and are desperate to break any momentum the other man starts to build which is just excellent storytelling.
Then, about halfway through the match, Okada starts seeing his title reign flashing before his eyes and goes after Naito’s knee. This is highly significant. Okada is definitely not a guy who goes after a body part very often, especially not this tenaciously. At this point in the match he is definitely *already* beginning to sense that this is a different Tetsuya Naito and he needs to do whatever it takes to hold onto his title. The announce team does an incredible job of laying out the stakes for Naito: this match is all about whether or not he believes in himself; when the moment of truth arrives, will he hesitate, or will he act swiftly and confidently?
By the end of the match, Naito is desperately summoning every scrap of confidence he can to match Okada’s towering bravado. Both men are fighting like their careers are on the line because, in some important way, they are—especially for Naito. The drama is at a fever pitch. Naito goes for Destino but Okada reverses it into a tombstone and hits Rainmaker and NAITO JUST BARELY KICKS OUT. Okada tries to finish Naito off but Naito spits in his face—more defiant than ever after kicking out of the one move NO ONE kicks out of—and Okada just destroys Naito’s leg—and it’s so out of character and antithetical to the spirit of this epic battle that the crowd actually *boos* Okada. Naito finally hits Destino but there’s a slight hesitation—not due to confidence but due to injury—and Okada kicks out. Naito goes up top for the Stardust Press and the announce team is begging him not to but there’s no hesitation in Naito. He hits it for a very close nearfall. Okada blocks another Destino but Naito immediately hits him with Valencia and then nails Destino for the win.
What else can I say about this? A legendary performance by two all-time greats with an endlessly captivating story that leads to the perfect ending. Wrestling perfection.
And as if *that* weren’t enough, KENTA—this *unbelievable* asshole—interrupts Naito’s celebration at the end with a GTS, unceremoniously and unambiguously declaring his intentions to be Naito’s first challenger. ::chef kiss:: C’est magnifique!