This past week, two of Ring of Honor’s most popular athletes made the long jaunt to compete in Japan’s, 21st annual, ‘Wrestle Kingdom’ event. Dave Wood has the details.
NJPW ‘WRESTLE KINGDOM VI in Tokyo Dome’
4th January 2012
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
No Remorse Corps (of Davey Richards & Rocky Romero) ©
Apollo 55 (of Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi)
ROH World Champion, Davey Richards was afforded the honour of opening Asia’s answer to Wrestlemania, as this year’s January 4th Dome Show got underway, in front of a capacity crowd of 43,000.
All of the stops were pulled out, on the night, in terms of razzamatazz. Devitt & Taguchi came into the arena first, making a special entrance to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Playing off their tag team name, the Irish-Japanese combination wore spacesuits, that recalled the classic Stanley Kubrick film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. As strange as the spectacle seemed at first, the surreality only grew once Devitt’s ‘Karate Kid’ theme music replaced Strauss’s classical piece.
Going into the contest, Apollo 55 were looking to regain possession of the International Wrestling Grand Prix gold for the 4th time. The fan favourites have engaged in an extended rivalry with fellow Juniors, the No Remorse Corps, in both tag team and singles competition.
The NRC are known as a pairing of two very distinct personalities. Davey came to the ring with an old-school ROH NRC shirt on. Romero, true to form, stood out in an extravagant robe.
The American odd couple wasted no time in setting the pace of this match. They jumped Devitt & Taguchi on the “B” of the bell. Quickly they attempted symmetrical maneuvers, only to be met with stereo offense from their opponents. The gaijin duo immediately returned the favour, cutting off Apollo 55’s attempt at a pair of dives, to hit two identical dives of their own.
Although the first pinfall attempt went to Richards, Apollo 55 were the first team to a true rhythm in the match. Innovated offense allowed them to isolate Romero. An extended period of focus on the former Rottweiler’s arm was only brought to an end by an NRC gear change. The champions upped their levels of aggression, showcasing their educated feet with a flurry of strikes.
Both teams showed great cohesion as the momentum began to swing to and fro. Apollo 55 would find a way back into the match, after an impressive springboard back elbow from the unorthodox Taguchi. Devitt, fearlessly seizing his opening, began to take on the Champions at their own game. Trading running corner-to-corner strikes with Romero.
Romero was driven to the floor as the Junior singles Champion Devitt got the better of these exchanges. As Devitt looked to take to the air, once again, Richards attempted to cut him off. Devitt was able to retaliate with a stiff chop that knocked Davey from the apron to the outside. A charging Romero was then thrown over the top onto his partner, finally creating enough separation for Apollo 55 to hit the double tope that they had been looking for earlier.
As the end drew nearer, Romero was barely able to avoid Devitt’s Bloody Sunday, after being softened up by a tandem lung blower. Subsequently, a flurry of activity would leave all four men laying, as the 10 minute mark approached.
When the smoke had cleared, a strike battle, between Richards and Taguchi, broke out. The American Wolf’s prowess led him to come out on top and, at this juncture, the NRC were almost able to take the spoils with a knee-strike Doomsday Device. Only a top-rope double stomp from Devitt was would save his partner from being pinned.
The lionhearted Devitt was then able to neutralise Romero, crotching him on the ringpost, which allowed Taguchi to bravely stage a comeback, against Richards.
With the wind now in their sails, the challengers looked to end the contest with a pair of top rope moves on Davey. Somehow the NRC were able to cut them off, sending them crashing from the top, to the mat.
Davey was able to parlay this momentum shift into a pair of near-falls, from separate power moves. Taguchi showed great staying power and, when his partner thwarted a springboard attempt by Romero, the man from Miyagi Prefecture was almost able to end the contest, with a flash pin.
The Champions’ striking ability came back into play, Davey regaining his advantage with some signature head kicks. When it looked like he had Taguchi beaten, Richards, in a fatal error, lifted the man off the canvas, looking to end with a flourish. Taguchi was able to counter Davey’s powerbomb, to make Apollo 55 the 30th IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
Ryusuke Taguchi pinned Davey Richards via Rolling Cradle, in 12:44.
This frenzied bout both opened the spectacular Wrestle Kingdom VI event and closed a chapter in Junior Heavyweight wrestling history. As NJPW’s season came to an end, the heroic New Japan Dojo products were, ultimately, able to triumph over the marauding gaijins.
Nevertheless, 2011 goes down as a landmark year for both Richards and Romero, in Japanese competition.
Fans can watch Davey’s match here:
MVP & Shelton Benjamin vs. Complete Players (of Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi)
The athleticism of, recently deposed former ROH World Tag Team Champion, Shelton Benjamin lit up this, otherwise, unspectacular affair.
Wrestling in New Japan for the first time, the veteran Benjamin rolled back the years, with a series of incredible maneuvers. His partner on the night, MVP, however, looked out-of-shape and a yard off the pace.
The gimmick of the US duo’s opponents, Complete Players, is patterned after that of former ECW tag team The Impact Players. Brandishing a Singapore Cane, Masato Tanaka recalled his extreme past, throughout this match.
Like Tanaka, Yujiro Takahashi also spent some time working in North America. He wrestled alongside former partner Tetsuya Naito, in TNA, as part of the NO LIMIT combination.
As the bell rang, the all-American team cleaned house on their opponents with MVP hitting both Tanaka and Tanahashi with a pair of vintage Ballin’ Elbows. Despite the fact that, at the age of 38, MVP’s physical ability is beginning to elude him, his ‘all-star athlete’ schtick is still, undeniably, over.
Shelton’s first major flourish of the match then came, as he escaped from a Yujiro suplex attempt, to land on his feet and execute a reverse neckbreaker
In addition to his Kendo Stick, Tanaka also brought a table into play, in the course of the match, driving MVP through it, with a top rope splash to the floor. This was a key turning point in the match, as it allowed Complete Players to focus their attack on the injured ribs of MVP.
After weathering the storm, for an extended period, MVP was finally able to hit a DDT and get the hot tag to Benjamin. The proverbial house of fire re-entered the fray with a series of big moves, including a Stinger Splash, a Samoan Drop and a trademark spinning Enzuigiri. These moves were enough to raise the noise level, in the customarily reserved Japanese audience.
Subsequently, just as it looked as though Takahashi might regain some ground, Shelton was able to avoid a clothesline and execute a huge flip dive onto Tanaka & Takahashi’s CHAOS stablemates Jado & Gedo, at ringside.
MVP then capitalised with a trifecta of German suplexes, one of many homages to his mentor Chris Benoit that have become typical of his Japanese work. The victim, Takahashi was barely able to escape a subsequent Playmaker attempt, by using a thumb to the eye.
With the match now breaking down, Tanaka hit a lariat, followed by a brainbuster, for a two-count. Yujiro then scored with an impressive deadlift German Suplex on MVP.
Somehow MVP was able to escape, coming back to execute a tired Playmaker. He followed up with a crossface submission. His partner, Benjamin, was able to neutralise any threats, with more of his uncanny athleticism, and the legendary official Tiger Hattori signalled the end.
MVP submitted Yujiro Takahashi, via Irreversible Crisis, in 9:41.
This contest played out at a slower pace than the Davey Richards match, unsurprisingly, due to the size and age of the majority of the competitors involved.
Shelton Benjamin, nevertheless, looked extremely motivated and as a result shone. There’s no doubt that he’s a big match performer and seemed to relish being back in front of such a huge crowd.
Fans can watch Shelton’s match here:
In other selected results from New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 40th Anniversary celebration:
– ROH alumnus Jushin Liger led his team-mates Tiger Mask IV, Mascara Dorada and KUSHIDA to a victory, over the combination of Atlantis, Valiente, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi, in 8-man action.
– Former ROH regulars Go Shiozaki & Naomichi Marufuji defeated Shinsuke Nakamura & Toru Yano, in tag team competition.