Tim watches the wor… THE BEST of January 2017!
No, the title is not a swerve. Believe it or not, I do actually love pro wrestling and watch good pro wrestling whenever I can find it. And man, did January 2017 deliver! I decided, late in December, that for the first time in my life I was going to keep a spreadsheet with my match ratings for the year. Imagine my surprise when I opened the spreadsheet last night to add the last match I had watched in January and saw 14 matches from the month that were over ****, and a handful that were over ****1/2. Aside from recent Wrestlemania weekends, I can’t recall a month with as many top level matches as this. So, with no further ado, let’s take a look at what was great in January 2017!!
What would be the best way to start the year?
The show of the year, early in the year.
I don’t think its hyperbole or overstatement to say that New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 is probably going to win a lot of Show of the Year awards. Everyone points to the top half of the card, and we will get there, but I think discounting the undercard on this show is doing the guys on the card a major disservice. Aside from the New Japan Rumble, which is meant to be a nostalgia/comedy match to warm up the crowd and not a serious match, there wasn’t a match on the show I would rate under *** stars. The NEVER 6 man gauntlet mess was probably the worst match on the show and I would still put that right at *** for the whole thing. The JR Tag match between the Young Bucks and RPG Vice was right in the ***1/2 range, which is a place that a lot of WWE PPV matches have trouble reaching. The ROH title match between Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reily and the IWGP Tag Team three way were right in that same range, and the Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger the Dark and Cody vs. Juice Robinson matches were just under that at ***. A full wrestling show with three ***1/2 matches and three more *** matches is a damn good show.
So of course this show turned it to 11 and popped off four straight matches that topped ****1/2. The amazing run started with KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi wrestling for the IWGP Jr title. If you watch ROH or CMLL, you will know Takahashi as KAMAITACHI. This match was all out from the opening bell, and in a rarity for a Tokyo Dome Jr match, they kept the crowd engrossed the entire time. Takahashi came in and looked like a star and the people reacted to him as such. Kushida is one of the best wrestlers in the world today with regards to making everything in his match matters and he tells a great story in all of his matches. His finish is an arm lock, so he focuses his attack on the arm. Kicks the arm, beats on the arm, works the arm the whole time and tries to put his opponent away with his arm hold. It sounds simple but it really is a lost art now a day. Guys work a neck to finish with a leg lock. Or a guy works an arm to win with a suplex. It’s infuriating. You don’t see that with Kushida. So these two went out there and told a great story, had some great action and the right guy won. Takahashi is the new guy they want to get over and build the Jr division around, so he won in a decisive manner. This was pro wrestling 101. The match came in at just over 16 minutes too, so there was no filler and no wasted time or effort. And they left enough on the table for the fans to want to see a rematch. Kushida never locked in his move, so they can come back and say “all I need to do is put on my Hoverboard Lock and I will win the belt” and build the rematch around that. This was an easy ****1/2 match and really laid the ground work for the future of the Jr division.
If the jr title match was a fast paced high flying sprint, the NEVER Open Weight title match was an out and out fight. Shibata and Goto have had a storied history. They were friends before they got into the wrestling business, and that friendship has played into their story and their careers for the last few years. They feuded as bitter rivals before teaming up to win the tag team titles and now they entered this match not as rivals, but as competitors looking to beat their opponent. There was respect between the two, but both men were willing to destroy their opponent to win the match, and they went all out. Goto won,another in a line of somewhat big wins from the man who can never win the big one, and in a lot of ways actually set Shibata up for a better run in the year 2017. This was another match that I rated at ****1/2 and was completely different than the match before it.
The first thing that needs to be addressed when talking about the IWGP IC title match is Tanahashi’s new music. It is awful. Changing the music was an all-time bad decision. Thankfully the guy coming out to the music is still a legendary professional wrestler, and he was in there with one of the best big match wrestlers in the world today, Tetsuya Naito. Of the four big matches, this was the most traditional pro wrestling of the four. Naito and Tanahashi went out to tell a clear story. Tanahashi is the veteran who fears he might be reaching the end of this line as the “Ace” of the company and Naito is the brash young kid who just wants to build his own legacy. And at the end of the match, he did. The younger Naito took everything that Tanahashi had and it wasn’t enough. This is another match where they went all out but still left some bullets in the gun to bring it back down the road and tell another story. Tanahashi hit every big move in his arsenal with the exception of the High Fly Flow. He can say “it took your big move to beat me, and you had to hit it twice. It will only take one High Fly Flow for me to beat you.” Make no mistake, though, unlike the last match where Shibata won by losing, the winner of this match was Naito. This was an obvious and deliberate changing of the guard, right down to the post-match where Naito symbolically stabbed Tanahashi in the heart. ****1/2 again, but easily the best of the three matches to this point.
I am going to be brief here with regards to Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada. What more can be said about the match that many experts claim to be the greatest match they have ever seen? I agree with that estimation. This was everything I want in a professional wrestling match, and it’s sad to have the match of the year take place on the 4th day of the year. Everyone else is really competing for second. I think the only match that could possibly top it would be a rematch between the two at Dominion and Omega hitting the One Winged Angel (there’s that story again: guy hits everything except the big move) to win the title. And then they could top that at the Tokyo Dome by Okada finally kicking out of the move. See what happens when finishers aren’t used EVERY match and kicked out of EVERY match. It makes the little things, like Omega kicking out of a Rainmaker here, mean that much more. Easily a ***** match (or ****** if we are using the new scale) and a legendary match.
So there it is, the best wrestling show I have ever seen. I don’t know if we will ever see another show with four matches at or above ****1/2 and nothing under ***. New Japan usually slows down from the 5th of January through the beginning of February, but there was one other match that I think deserves mention from the company. Every January, in order to help get through that slower period, NJPW teams with CMLL to put on Fantasticamania, a series of shows that sees the luchadors from CMLL come to Japan to do a lion’s share of the in ring work. This gives the NJPW regulars time to recharge after the biggest show of the year, and it also gives the fans a unique show. The shows have grown in popularity every year, and the third night at Korakuen Hall is always one of the most fun and easiest to watch shows of the year. This year was no exception, and the main event of Ultimo Guerrero vs. Volador Jr was a spectacular match that reached the ****1/2 mark again for me. I am a big lucha fan, and make an attempt to catch the Arena Mexico shows every Friday, so this match was right up my alley. Great flying by Volador and Ultimo is the best luchador in the world when it comes to being a base for high flyers, so this was a great match that could have main evented a big show in Arena Mexico and won a lot of praise.
That covers what happened in New Japan Pro Wrestling in January. Hopefully February and the New Beginnings shows bring similar results. Join me later for a look at WWE in January and even some Evolve action too! It’s time for me continue to watch crappy wrestling, but I am happy to know that the industry continues to put on excellent shows as well. If there’s anything you think I missed that I need to see, hit me up on twitter @OMGlancy and let me know!