By Will Pruett
Alright folks, since I spent six hours and about 6,000 words talking about Wrestle Kingdom 12 last night, it’s all I’m thinking about. As I turn it over in my head, I’m thinking I should write about what I loved and not-so-loved about it, so here y’all go…
What I Loved About Wrestle Kingdom 12
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito in the main event – My goodness was this a match! It built perfectly. The final minutes would have had me on my feet had a laptop not been holding me down. This was a pure burst of adrenaline that almost made it hard to sleep even though it was 5:30am when it ended. Both men killed it in the ring.
More interesting to discuss is the result. It felt like this was Naito’s time and, in a way, reminded me of Wrestle Kingdom 9 when it felt like Okada’s time. Okada lost that match to Hiroshi Tanahashi, but came back a year later to win. When he won, it felt like a foregone conclusion and for some it came too late. Did NJPW miss the peak popularity of Naito? Will it matter?
Worth noting: this was the fullest the Tokyo Dome has been in quite a while. This is on the backs of Naito and Okada. I’d say United States subscriptions of NJPW World could be credited largely to Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, but domestic draw is Naito and Okada.
Instead of giving Naito his huge moment, NJPW made the call to further cement the legendary title reign of Kazuchika Okada. It’s the longest ever. He’s had some of the best matches ever defending his title. With this match, any argument about this being the greatest title reign in wrestling history must end. It is. End of story. Does this justify Naito giving his all and losing? Will Naito still be as beloved when he comes back for another shot? What does Okada do if he ends up waiting?
There are a ton of questions coming out of this match for both men, far more than there would have been with a Naito victory. Hopefully this is the sign of good booking and not milking a chase for too long.
Cody vs. Kota Ibushi – This was the most surprising match of the night. I didn’t expect it to be bad, but I also didn’t expect storytelling magic. It was my second favorite match of the night. Ibushi is always good for a big match, but Cody more than rose to the occasion (and beyond it, since this was the 3rd match of the night).
This match also added nicely to the most interesting story in wrestling: Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi’s cross-promotional narrative. Cody’s “He doesn’t love you like I love you” was brilliant drama and it capped off a career performance. A bonus shout out to Brandi Rhodes for playing a great part in this one as well.
Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho – This match never felt as epic as most of Omega’s big matches do. It had big moments though. Jericho hid some of his weaknesses as a performer well while playing to his strengths. This match was also unlike anything on the show, which I believe helped it a ton. It had the intensity Jericho and Omega set up in the build.
The question now is who challenges Omega in the future? Jericho feels like he was a one and done. The US Championship challengers have disappointed me thus far (Juice Robinson and Beretta). Is this a main event or a mid-card title? This was the first main event-feeling match for Omega with this belt. What does NJPW set up for the March show in Long Beach?
Minoru Suzuki and Hirooki Goto’s post-match – Hey, the match didn’t grab me, but the drama of Suzuki returning to the ring and shaving his own head did. Nice stuff from both men.
Will Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Marty Scurll vs. Kushida – This was a fun and crazy match. Much like cotton candy, it wasn’t filling or effective, but it was delicious and left me with a decent sugar high. All matches should be compared to carnival food now.
Most of Kevin Kelly and Don Callis’ work – I am a skeptic of english commentary on NJPW’s shows, but I needed a little backup to cover the show. Kelly and Callis received a lot of praise when they started working together last year. This was my first experience with them. They did well. Kelly had one of the best night’s I’ve heard from him and it couldn’t have been easy over the almost six hour show.
Something Less Than Love About Wrestle Kingdom 12
All those tag matches – The opening couple hours of this show were occasionally rough for me. The Young Bucks vs. Roppongi 3K match was good, but the six man title gauntlet and IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title match combined with the opener was all too much. I would have loved some more variety in the first couple of hours. This did help elevate the quality of Cody vs. Kota, but that match was going to be great no matter what. The combination of all of these matches in a row felt like too much.
All those apron spots – I know the apron is the hardest part of the ring, but did every wrestler over the course of five hours have to die on it?
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. “Switchblade” Jay White – This match had an alright flow, but in the end it felt utterly pointless. Jay White is playing at this “Switchblade” character and it’s not clicking. It was a big risk to put him here, but putting him here and having him take a loss hurt. White could have used a slot more like Cody had last year than a semi-main event with Tanahashi.
Hiroki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki – I didn’t dislike this match, but I didn’t love it either. It was just there for me. The mega-strong style matches don’t grab me like they grab others. I’m a weirdo.
Star Ratings Talk and Pervy Color Commentators – There were two things Kelly and Callis did to bug me. They had a long discussion of star ratings at the top of the main event, which was super unnecessary. Movies shouldn’t talk about criticism in the middle of their plot. Wrestling shouldn’t talk about match quality in the middle of an athletic contest. It didn’t feel right and hearing that there was an over/under of five stars didn’t add to the match. Callis also channeled his inner Jerry Lawler whenever a woman was around and it was annoying as heck.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.