Cubed Circle Newsletter Issue #201 – Vacate All of the Titles!
In this week’s newsletter we (Ben), look at the status of the WrestleMania and WrestleKingdom 2016 directions, numerous injuries and title vacations, New Japan Power Struggle in-depth, RAW from Manchester, a somewhat noteworthy SmackDown, and Mid-South from 1982 with the Roope/DiBiase programme heating up!
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
The Pro-Wres Digest for November 7th – November 14th 2015.
Seth Rollins underwent successful knee surgery on Tuesday 10/11 in Birmingham, AL at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Centre to repair his torn ACL, MCL and medial meniscus. As noted last week, Rollins is expected to be out 6-9 months and will definitely miss WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, which if you add to Vince bumping Undertaker/Lesnar III up to Hell in a Cell means that the top matches for Mania have been completely scrapped. Rollins vs. HHH was clearly the direction for either the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania, but with that out the window the pickings for a big enough opponent for HHH are very slim indeed. Last year they teased HHH vs. The Rock on TV, however the Observer reported this week that creative has been told that Rock is currently unavailable for WrestleMania. The story is that Rock is having some sort of “insurance issue” due to the movie he will be filming next year not covering him if he got hurt during a pro wrestling match, which is exactly what happened in 2013 when Rock was filming Hercules and he tore his abdomen in his match with John Cena. It is not out of the question that Rock appears in a non-wrestling role, but the chances of him coming in to work with HHH look very slim right now.
Meltzer also reported that Ronda Rousey is not going to be available to appear at WrestleMania either, so that angle they shot this year in San Jose, while fun and exciting, is not going to lead to anything in terms of Ronda performing in any capacity for WWE. I mean really, if you thought Dana White would let his cash cow go make money for another company on a PPV you were living in a dream world. Apparently the plan before Rollins went down was John Cena vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE title at Mania, however this week rumours began to emerge about Cena potentially working the Undertaker, which would have been one of the only times in history the fans could have believed that someone had a chance of breaking the streak, but of course that is irrelevant now.
That would leave Reigns free for a potential rematch with Brock Lesnar since their WrestleMania 31 match ended with Seth Rollins running in to cash in Money in the Bank. Regardless, it appears that the company, i.e. Vince McMahon, are determined to make Mania 32 Roman Reigns’ coronation as the top superstar in the company so expect Reigns to be in and around the championship mix no matter what. Then there is of course the situation regarding Daniel Bryan, who still apparently cannot get cleared to wrestle. The latest is that they are awaiting the results of a third doctor’s opinion, as WWE’s head of medical, Dr. Joseph Maroon, has already ruled that due to Bryan’s history of concussions it would be unsafe for him to wrestle again. Bryan went to the Arizona Cardinals doctor and was given the all-clear due to his brain testing above the average for his age group, so it seems like the third doctor will have the deciding vote in the matter. If Bryan is eventually cleared then bringing him back before the Royal Rumble would be the worst thing WWE could do, as we’ve seen over the past two years that anything less than Bryan winning the Rumble just isn’t going to get over with the live crowd. I know they are desperate for stars at the moment, but the best thing to do might be to hold Bryan off until after WrestleMania, providing he can come back of course, because unless they have something big planned for Bryan then Roman Reigns’ crowning moment as a babyface is going to be a very hard sell indeed. It’s almost like talk about
Bryan and the Royal Rumble is becoming a yearly tradition at this point; I just hope for all our sakes that WWE have learned their lesson after two disastrous Rumble matches. The Rumble is supposed to be one of the biggest and most enjoyable shows of the year, not the platform for the disenchanted fan base to voice their indignation about the state of the booking.
As anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of how Vince McMahon operates suspected, Alberto Del Rio will in fact not be going back to AAA to drop the Mega Heavyweight Championship. Dorian Roldan announced on Busted Open Radio on 9/11 that the title is now considered vacant and emphatically stated that Del Rio would not be returning to Mexico for any of his advertised dates. AAA will be holding a tournament to crown a new champion over the next few weeks, which means that the WWE, TNA and now AAA World titles are all vacant and will all be decided via a tournament. If AAA had not been shafted enough by WWE, it appears that Del Rio will be going to Puerto Rico for WWC for a match with Ray Gonzalez. WWC TV aired an angle with Del Rio showing up at their training facility and he ended up bad mouthing Ray Gonzalez Jr and beating the crap out of him. According to Dave Meltzer, the angle was shot before Del Rio returned to WWE and Alberto is being allowed to work the match due to the relationship the WWE has with WWC. Carlos Colon, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last year, is the local WWE promoter in Puerto Rico and his son & nephew, Primo & Epico (Los Matadores) are given a certain number of dates they can work for WWC per year. Additionally, in what would be another big blow for AAA, Cibernetico announced on his Twitter that he is leaving AAA to join Lucha Libre Elite.
Billy Gunn (Monty “Kip” Sopp) was fired by WWE on Friday 13/11 for a PED failure. The 52 year old was popped during a powerlifting meet back on July 25th and when WWE finally got wind that one of their Performance Centre trainers was loading up on the gas, they released Gunn of his duties. Just to be clear this was not a WWE implemented drug test; Gunn had been competing in powerlifting for a couple of years, something the WWE apparently had no idea about. His T/E level at the powerlifting deal back in July came in at a 37-1 testosterone/epitestosterone ratio, which is ludicrously above the 4-1 limit, and he was banned from competing in powerlifting for four years. Gunn has already been announced for a couple of independent dates in 2016 and will be working for Preston City Wrestling in the UK on 5/2 & 6/2.
5 Star Wrestling announced on 9/11 that Rey Mysterio will face AJ Styles at their January 14th show at the Sheffield Arena in England. It is quite the ambitious move by 5 Star Wrestling, as the Sheffield Arena is a 8,500 seat building which WWE often runs during their UK tour and has even hosted RAW and SmackDown tapings too. I actually attended my first ever live wrestling event there in April 1999 for a WWF house show headlined by Steve Austin vs. The Rock. It seems highly unlikely to me that Rey vs. AJ will even come anywhere close to selling the place out; they will be lucky to get 4,000 people, never mind double that. 5 Star also announced they Rey Mysterio had signed to appear in their 2016 video game, “ReGenesis” which will be Rey’s first post-WWE video game deal. 5 Star will also be running the Metro Arena in Newcastle on 13/1, an 11,000 seat building, with the top two matches of AJ Styles vs. John Morrison and Rey Mysterio Jr v. Jay Lethal. How on earth they expect to draw even a respectable crowd is beyond me since ROH, New Japan and Lucha Underground don’t air on TV in the UK.
It seems every week the situation with the Rizin shows on 29/12 and 31/12 changes somewhat. Last week it was all-but made official that Tsuyoshi Kosaka was going to be the opponent to get smashed in Fedor Emelianenko’s return fight. Well, things seemed to have changed again, as Kosaka appears, for now at least, to be fighting on 29/12, the same show as Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinya Aoki, against an unmanned opponent. We noted last week that Antonio Inoki’s IGF New Year’s Eve show would feature Shinya Aoki vs. Montanha Silva, but that isn’t the only competition Rizin will face on NYE as Kyokugen are in fact running a third MMA show in Tokyo on December 31st going head-to-head with Rizin and IGF. On November 1st, Akebono lost the Triple Crown Championship to Jun Akiyama and quit All Japan so he could reportedly work one of the New Year’s Eve shows in a rematch against Bob Sapp. Akebono and Sapp’s first fight in K-1 on 31/12/2003 is the highest rated fight the history of Japan, doing a monstrous 42.5 rating with 54 million viewers. The Observer reported that Rizin and Kyokugen are both currently trying to sign Akebono and we’ll no doubt have an update in the coming weeks if, and where, this atrocity of a fight will take place. Kyokugen have also signed Kid Yamamoto vs. Masato II in a K-1 rules match, which is a rematch of the second highest rated fight in Japanese TV history. Rizin also announced that an eight man Light Heavyweight tournament would take place over their two shows, with King Mo Lawal announced as the Bellator representative and taking the pro wrestling count, for now, up to four. Additionally, Asen Yamamoto, the 19 year-old nephew of Kid Yamamoto, has been booked against Kron Gracie (27), the son of Rickson and grandson of Helio Gracie, for one of the Rizin shows. Crazy promoter Nobuyuki Sakakibara, has been pushing the idea to the Japanese press of the top New Japan stars, including, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada & Kota Ibushi , coming over to Rizin to compete in MMA. Unsurprisingly Sakakibara is getting a lot of heat from those in pro wrestling, because it has taken New Japan nearly a decade to recover from Antonio Inoki allowing pro wrestlers to get obliterated by real MMA fighters. Perhaps most notably was poor Yuji Nagata, who lost his debut fight on 31/12/2001 to Mirko Cro Cop in 21 seconds then on New Year’s Eve 2003, while Nagata was still the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, he was slaughtered by Fedor Emelianenko in 1:02. I don’t suspect for one minute that Gedo, Sugabayashi or Kidani would be stupid enough to allow the same thing to happen again, but all this talk of freak-show fights and pro wrestlers doing MMA is really something to behold in 2015/16; it is like PRIDE never died and we’re picking up where things left off in 2007. On a related note, Bellator announced on their last show that Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie III will be happening on February 19th 2016 in Houston, TX. Will the madness never end?!
The start time for the NXT Takeover: London live Network special has been made official by WWE. The show will air at 3pm Eastern on December 16th from the SSE Wembley Arena, which is 8pm UK time, and will also feature the usual 30 minute pre-show deal. No card has been announced yet, but from the direction on TV it is clear that Samoa Joe will be challenging Finn Balor for the NXT title. Apollo Crews vs. Baron Corbin and Asuka vs. Emma also seem to be on the cards. Dash & Dawson won the NXT Tag Team titles on TV this week so they will also likely be on the card, hopefully defending against Jason Jordan & Chad Gable. There is also no opponent lined up for NXT Women’s champ, Bayley, who on TV next week is defending against Alexa Bliss. There is always the Eva Marie threat, however the fact that they don’t trust Alexa Bliss to work on a live special tells me that they aren’t as stupid as to throw Eva in front of a crowd that will absolutely hate her in a live setting that cannot be edited after the fact.
Classic Wrestling Revolution released a trailer for their new product last month which featured Shane Douglas narrating some hot garbage about not having scripts and whatnot. The start-up group is owned by Bill Thompson, a social media guru who had a hand in building the Lycros search engine, and according to the Observer, Kevin Sullivan has signed on as booker and Jake Roberts will be a trainer. Other names like Joe Laurinaitis and Mister Saint Laurent from MLW Radio are also linked to the promotion. Apparently the TV shows “focus on real life competition, athleticism, music and lifestyle centred around a pioneering approach to Reality Sports” and “in-your-face excitement of reality-based professional wrestling that millions of fans flocked to in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.” CWR plan to launch in January with Las Vegas as their home base and the claim to have “170 committed athletes.” It will be hard to find guys not under some sort of existing contract with ether ROH, TNA, Lucha Underground or even New Japan, to work the shows on a regular basis, however the trailer featured Rocky Romero so I guess it is all up to the parent companies if they allow their talent to work on a different promotion’s TV; of course, just like Global Force, CWR would actually have to get a TV deal first.
Jerry Jarrett is also reportedly working on some kind of new wrestling venture. The Observer described the product as, “a talent search type of reality show […] described as a cross between America’s Got Talent, The Gong Show and Tough Enough.” As terrible as that sounds, it gets even worse as Jarrett is hoping to produce a 13 episode season made up of complete unknown indie workers with the eventual goal of touring with the successful guys and girls who try out for the show. The concept seems doomed for failure, however if it turns out anything like Jarrett’s last concept then he will probably find a money mark who will keep the thing running in spite of them haemorrhaging money hand over fist for 14 years.
Once again the RAW ratings set a new record low, with the third hour being the lowest non-holiday viewed hour in modern history. The show did a 2.22 rating with 3.16 million viewers, down from last week’s 3.24 million, which is a damning indictment of how little the WWE World title actually means. First hour did 3.48 million viewers, hour two did 3.18 and the third hour did an abysmal 2.86 million. With Roman Reigns wrestling in the opener and no big stars in the WWE title tournament bracket, viewers turned off in droves as there was no reason for them to stick around. Undertaker no doubt would have kept some viewers, however WWE didn’t even bother advertising him so they have nobody to blame but themselves for another new record low. House shows are also down 10.1% from 2014, as the average paid attendance for a WWE live show was 4,111, down from 4,575 in September 2014.
Naomichi Marufuji won Pro Wrestling NOAH’s 6th annual Global League tournament when he defeated Shelton X Benjamin in the final at Korakuen Hall on 8/11. I haven’t seen the match yet, but it was said to be very good. I have seen the Sugiura/Tanaka match from night two which was awesome and I’m working my way through some of the other nights that have surfaced online. Marufuji gets another shot at Minoru Suzuki and the GHC Heavyweight title on 23/12 at the Ota World Gym in Tokyo. There are rumblings that Go Shiozaki has quit All Japan and will be coming back to NOAH sometime soon. This has led to speculation that Marufuji, the Vice President of NOAH, is apparently unhappy about Shiozaki coming back and claims are being made that Marufuji is threatening to leave NOAH if Shiozaki is brought back in. Please keep in mind that I have yet to find a credible source to back any of this up, the only thing I can say for certain is that Shiozaki has quit All Japan. If Marufuji beats Suzuki for the title on 23/12 then Shiozaki would make a good opponent for him when the Suzuki-gun invasion is finishes up. Alternatively, Suzuki, who didn’t lose a single match in the Global League and only suffered two draws against fellow Suzuki-gun members, Takashi Iizuka & Shelton Benjamin, could maintain his unbeaten record for 2015 by defeating Marufuji and potentially defend the GHC title at Wrestle Kingdom 10 on 4/1. Shiozaki, a former protégé of Kenta Kobashi, would fit into the “saviour” of NOAH role quite well and would seem to be the only real credible challenger for Suzuki if he beats Marufuji on 23/12. Again, nothing is clear at this point so we will assuredly have an update in the coming weeks about everything that is going on with Shiozaki and NOAH.
On a sad note, Don Kalt, who most notably worked as Don Fargo as part of the original Fabulous Fargos team, and as Don Stevens along with Ray Stevens as the Stevens Brothers, passed away at the age of 85 on 8/11.
New Japan’s World Tag League tournament gets underway on 21/11 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, with the finals on 9.12 in Sendai. The teams announced are as follows:
A Block: Tanahashi & Elgin, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi, Okada & Yoshi-Hashi, Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba, Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga and Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian.
B Block: Goto & Shibata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima, Naito & Evil, Nakamura & Ishii, Styles & Yujiro Takahashi, Anderson & Gallows and ROH tag champs Michael Bennett & Matt Taven.
New Japan also announced a couple of matches for the Wrestle Kingdom 10 show at the Tokyo Dome on 4/1. Hiroshi Tanahashi challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP title was officially announced and added as the semi-main event is AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP IC title. Also, Ricochet & Matt Sydal, Roppongi Vice and the Young Bucks will challenge IWGP Jr Tag champs, reDRagon in the now customary junior tag four-way at the Dome. There were some teases on the Power Struggle show, which we have coverage of in this issue, and Hirooki Goto, Katsuyori Shibata, EVIL & Tetsuya Naito will all be involved with each other in some shape or form, either as a tag or two singles matches. Tiger Mask vs. Jushin Liger for the NWA Jr title was set up, but that could happen before the Tokyo Dome on a Korakuen show or something. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows will also likely defend the IWGP Tag Team titles against the winners of the Tag League on 4/1.
Lucha Underground will begin filming season 2 at the Temple in Boyle Heights this weekend on 14/11 & 15/11. They have already begun shooting backstage stuff, but this will be the first time matches will be taped for the new season which is set to air in January 2016. Dave Meltzer noted that the idea for season two is to go in more of a “supernatural” direction than the first season and to try create a super babyface and monster heel that will be able to spin off into movie roles like Santo in the 50s & 60s. Rey Mysterio would be the obvious choice for the face role and Pentagon Jr, who was the star of season 1, could easily become the promotion’s top heel.
On a brief note, I watched the Rush vs. La Sombra main event from Arena Mexico on 13/11 and the two had an excellent match which Rush won two falls to one, pinning Sombra clean in two consecutive falls. They did some crazy stuff in the match, even stealing the Ishii ramming headbutts spot; Rush also hit one of the stupidest missile dropkicks off the apron you will ever see. He basically just ran and took a huge back bump on to the floor off the apron with no concern for his own well-being; he seriously would have been safer if Sombra had just powerbombed him on the floor. After the match the two hugged and said they were still the best of friends; it was almost like a scene from a US Indie show where one of the top guys is leaving and puts over the guy staying then they have a love-fest afterwards. Interestingly, Cubsfan noted that Sombra did an interview on the CMLL Aztec TV show about the rumours of him going to WWE. Sombra said he would be open to going to the WWE one day and would want to be a star if he did go. Aztec pushed the segment as “Sombra on the road to WWE”, which is a much more definitive statement than Sombra made himself. According to the Cubsfan, Sombra wasn’t happy about the way CMLL pushed his interview on TV and he clarified on Twitter that he doesn’t think he is going anywhere just yet.
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Power Struggle” – November 7th 2015
Osaka Prefectural Gym, Osaka, Japan.
The last real big show before Wrestle Kingdom 10 at the Tokyo Dome on 4/1 was a very enjoyable 4 hours of the usual good-to-great New Japan wrestling with a few angles thrown in to build towards January 4th. Most notably was a heated pull-apart brawl between Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada after their tag match which lasted for a good five minutes or-so. Tomohiro Ishii & Tomoaki Honma stole the show with an absolute blow-away, match of the year candidate, which saw Ishii retain the NEVER title, although they took things a little too far with a spot that saw them butt heads like two crazed rams. It’s hard to say without going back and re-watching their previous two encounters this year which one was the best, the G1 match at Korakuen and the February match in Sendai were both outstanding, however their third bout here had a lot of cool spots and reversals that played off the other two matches nicely. Nakamura & Karl Anderson had their work cut out to put on a main event that could follow the Ishii/Honma madness and the Okada/Tanahashi brawl, but they worked their asses off to have an excellent match with Nakamura predictably retaining the IC title then being challenged by AJ Styles for the Dome.
Jushin Thunder Liger, Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask vs. David Finlay, Jay White, Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu. –Liger, Dorada, Taguchi & Tiger Mask over in 7:46. For the second big show in a row we got all the Young Loins teaming up and it is a pretty cool dynamic having them all work together to battle the New Japan Army. Match wasn’t much, we’ve seen much better YL matches, especially from Tanaka & Komatsu, who surely are due to be sent on an excursion of Mexico anytime now. There was a series of dives before the finish, which was Tiger Mask pinning Finaly with a double underhook superplex. Afterwards, Liger challenged Tiger Mask for the NWA Jr title and Tiger accepted. It wasn’t clear if the match is going to take place at the Dome. (** ¾)
Bullet Club (Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Cody Hall) vs. Captain New Japan, Juice Robinson & Togi Makabe. – Bullet Club over in 7:53. Going in, this match looked like a hodgepodge of leftover guys with nothing else to do, and that’s pretty much what it turned out to be. Crowd was dead until Makabe ran wild on the Bullet Club. Juice looked fine, but still is missing something when it comes to adapting to the New Japan style and connecting with the crowd. Tama Tonga pinned CNJ with his double arm DDT. (**)
Hirooki Goto vs. EVIL (Takaaki Watanabe) – Goto over via DQ at 8:52. This was Watanabe’s first match back in New Japan in two years and they tried to make it into a big deal with a wacky video package designed to get over his new EVIL gimmick. Watanabe’s nickname is now, “Mr NABE, the King of Darkness” and he came out in a Grim Reaper outfit, complete with campy looking scythe and laser fingers. Match was fine while it lasted, EVIL just beat up Goto for the most part. Goto managed to hook a shoulder lock but Tetsuya Naito came out and attacked him for the DQ. Naito then went on a rampage and killed everyone from referees, to the young boys, and even cameramen. Katsuyori Shibata ran down to make the save and he sat in the ring and stared down Naito & EVIL. – It’s tough to rate a match like this, as it was really just a prolonged angle to introduce a new character and to set up whatever they have planned for Wrestle Kingdom. The post-match deal got over really well; I would prefer another Naito/Shibata singles match, but I suppose Goto & Shibata vs. EVIL & Naito wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, although I was hoping Rush & La Sombra might be brought in for the Dome. Watanabe was fine in his role and changed his style to a more methodical pace, which fit right in with Naito’s “Tranquilo” ethos. (**)
Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson & Chase Owens) vs. reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) & Time Splitters (Alex Shelley& KUSHIDA). – reDRagon & Time Splitters over in 8:53. This was all teams eliminated from the Jr Tag Tournament thrown into an eight-man and it was fun while it lasted. They had to condense everything into 9 minutes, so there wasn’t any room for storytelling. 100mph stuff with a million fast paced spots and well-timed moves. Finish saw Kushida tap-out Chase Owens with the Hoverboard lock. Kushida and Omega faced off afterwards, presumably to set up a match at the Dome where Kushida is once again anointed as the new face over the Jr division. (***)
2015 Super Junior Tag Tournament Final: Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero). – Sydal & Ricochet won the match & tourney in 16:05. Really good stuff, as you would expect and everyone looked great. Trent did a fabulous job of selling his knee, which reDRagon worked over in the semi-final, early on. Rocky was his usual, consistently solid and entertaining self, and Sydal & Ricochet got to show off a lot of their big spots. Ricochet hit his big springboard Shooting Star to the floor on Trent. Rocky ate the Benadryller then Sydal & Ricochet hit simultaneous Shooting Star Presses to get the win. Sydal & Ricochet were presented with two enormous trophies with nothing on them other than the word, “VICTORY” in huge letters. Awesome. After the festivities, reDRagon & the Young Bucks came out and everyone made a claim to get the next shot at reDRagon for the Jr Tag titles. RPG beat reDRagon in the semi-finals, Sydal & Ricochet beat RPG here, and the Bucks are the former champions, so we’re clearly getting another four-way at the Dome. (*** ¾)
Bullet Club (AJ Styles & Bad Luck Fale) vs. Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI. – Bullet Club over in 9:02. This was much better than I expected, mainly because AJ worked hard to make it a good match and showed very little signs of his back injury, as he was taking big bumps and moving pretty fast. I’m sure he was hurting afterwards though. Yano did all his usual comedy stuff, which never EVER fails to pop my girlfriend, Bev. AJ pinned Yoshi-Hashi after the Pele, Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash. (***)
NEVER Open Weight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (C) vs. Tomoaki Honma. – Ishii retained in 17:26. There was a great video package beforehand with Honma decorating some kokeshi dolls. Excellent, MOTY-level stuff; I think I preferred their match from February and the G1 match at Korakuen when Honma finally won in the tourney, but this was still a super match. They smashed into each other and threw a million chops and forearms. Ishii controlled early until Honma hit his diving kokeshi off the post to the floor which was insane. They tried to give each other CTE and rammed their heads into each other while they were on their knees; it was pretty gross as you could hear the dull thud of skulls smashing together. Ishii did his next-level selling after a DDT and played up that his neck was seriously injured. Ishii countered a flying headbutt by headbutting Honma in mid-air. Crowd went insane for Honma’s near-falls and badly wanted him to win. Finish saw Ishii counter another diving headbutt in mid-air, this time with a forearm to the head then Ishii followed up with a big lariat and the Brainbuster to get the pin. – I have no idea who Ishii could face at the Dome, as this seemed to be the blow-off with Honma and he came out on top of his year-long feud with Makabe. I just hope they don’t throw Sakuraba in with Ishii since Ibushi is off the show and Sakuraba is now without an opponent. (**** ½)
Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Katsuyori Shibata. – Tanahashi & Shibata over in 15:33. Really solid match with a great angle afterwards to set up Tanahashi/Okada at the Dome. Tanahashi has been accused in the past of phoning it in during tag matches, and considering how beat up his body is you can’t really blame him, however he was on top form here and everything was set up to make you excited for Wrestle Kingdom. It was also cool to see Shibata & Okada go at it and a singles match between them in 2016 would undoubtedly be phenomenal. Tanahashi hit Sakuraba with the HFF and Shibata followed up with the GTS for the definitive clean pin on Sakuraba. Post-match saw Tanahashi cut a promo on Okada and he said the IWGP title was in his reach. The commenced a 5 minute pull apart brawl, with referees and young boys trying, and failing, to keep apart. Okada grabbed the mic and yelled at Tanahashi to take the title if he had the guts and they brawled some more. Okada teased hitting a tombstone on the floor like he did before last year’s Dome match and he used the G1 briefcase as a weapon to lay Tanahashi out. Tana got back to his feet and sprinted to the back to try and get his hands back on Okada. It was really well done and got a lot of heat. I don’t know about you, but after this I am hyped for another Okada/Tanahashi Tokyo Dome main event. (*** ¾)
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (C) vs. Karl Anderson w/the Bullet Club.- Nakamura retained in 21:37. These two were in a tough spot trying to follow Ishii/Honma and the heated Okada/Tanahashi angle, plus nobody could have possibly believed that Anderson had a chance of winning here. Regardless, they had a top-notch match, possibly the best these two have had together. There was an awesome, fast-paced opening sequence, which set the pace for the rest of the match. The usual Bullet Club interference led to Anderson getting the heat; thankfully there wasn’t too much interference following this spot. Anderson looked strong since he was losing and got a bunch of near-falls, with a Gun-Stun off the ropes and a Bernard Driver. Finish saw Nakamura counter the Gun-Stun into a rolling armbar then he landed a Boma-Ye to get the pin. There had been speculation about a “surprise” opponent coming out to challenge Nakamura for the IC title at the Dome, an outsider perhaps. Instead, they set up the match that makes the most sense for business and the match that a lot of people have wanted to see for some time: AJ Styles vs. Nakamura. AJ got in the ring and faced-off with Nakamura, who closed the show by saying he had been waiting for this and he signed off with a “Yeoh!” (****)