NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX-MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP #1 CONTENDERSHIP GAUNTLET:
Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay Jr. vs. Marty Scurll, Adam Page & Yujiro Takahashi vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & Best Friends) vs. Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki & K.E.S.) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano, & Togi Makabe - 5.75/10
This wasn't ever bad until the babyfaces cheated to win at the end, but it really wasn't much other than a couple of eight-minute trios matches, either. If you're going to do a gauntlet, try to work out some sort of story that can run throughout or use it to have some assort of advancement of a storyline. Doing it to fit more people on the card is just a waste of time. The only real news here (aside from Makabe, Yano, & Taguchi winning) was that Chase Owens interfered to try to help his Don't Call Us Bullet Club Anymore pals win but it didn't work, and Page was angry with him afterwards.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kota Ibushi(c) vs. Will Ospreay - 9/10
This was insane! Both guys brought the expected athleticism, but also lots of intensity. Both guys worked the head and neck, and the match was filled with big individual moments that just kept building the intensity up from one to the next. Ospreay landing on his feet out of Ibushi's deadlift German in the ropes made me flash back to Ricochet landing on his feet to counter Ibushi's Super Hurricanrana at Dominion 6.21 back in 2014 as a moment where it felt like everything changed in that instant, and between that and his victory here (Ibushi even did a stretcher-job), I can definitely see that being the case for Ospreay as well. To expect an even better year from Ospreay in 2019 than he had in 2018 seems almost unreasonable, but much like Okada's 2018 following up on his amazing 2017, I wouldn't be surprised to see him at least come close (especially with New Japan having shown a willingness over the past few months to stick him in big-time main events on "Road to..." shows).
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)(c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & BUSHI) vs. Roppongi 3K - 6.75/10
Suzuki-Gun jump the bell on their opponents. There was a lot of action here, but that was about it.
RPW UNDISPUTED BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Tomohiro Ishii(c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (w/TAKA Michinoku) - 5.5/10
I was very disappointed in this match. The parts where Ishii were throwing Zack aground were great and I enjoyed Zack's submission work, but Ishii was constantly forgetting to sell Zack's work on his limbs. I also DESPISED the spot where Zack got up from the Avalanche Ishii Driller to do a leg twist and then sold. I hate that type of spot with any Superplex, but with a finisher it's even worse.
IWGP TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Guerrillas of Destiny(c) (w/Bad Luck Fale & Jado) vs. the Young Bucks vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & Sanada) - 7.25/10
A bunch of action. It was entertaining, but they didn't really give me a reason to care about any particular team winning. They did a ref bump so that they could have Fale stop Jado from hitting one of the Bucks with a Kendo Stick, only to then attack the Bucks himself. It was pointless and idiotic.
IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Cody Rhodes(c) (w/Brandi Rhodes) vs. Juice Robinson - DUD!
The match started off with Cody trying to use a weapon right in front of the referee, then Cody faking a knee injury to get an advantage, and then, when Juice got the advantage back, Brandi getting into the ring and lying on top of Cody to stop Juice from hitting a top rope move, followed by Brandi buying Cody a long time to recover because the referee is making absolutely zero effort to get her out of the ring. This is probably one of Cody's last matches in New Japan, so of course he had to run through his greatest flops.
Cody got some offense in by running Juice's shoulder into the post, then grandstanded for a while. Then he grabbed the ref so that Brandi could interfere. If the point of the opening spot was Cody trying to get disqualified to keep the title then why did he feel the need to distract the referee here? Why didn't Brandi just run in right away and cause a DQ? The referee got loose and saw Brandi punching Juice but just ejected her from ringside instead of calling for a DQ.
Cody yelled at the referee for ejecting Brandi from ringside, distracting himself long enough for Juice to recover. Juice went for Pulp Friction but Cody countered it into the CrossRhodes for a nearfall. Cody countered another Pulp Friction and went for another Cross Rhodes but Juice reversed it into his own CrossRhodes for a nearfall. Then Cody went for a Disaster Kick that Juice ducked but Cody wound up hitting Juice with Pulp Friction but Juice kicked out.
Cody then whipped Juice with his weight belt. This happened right in front of the referee, who only ordered Cody to remove the weapon from the ring, and Cody complied. WHY? The point of using the weight belt as a whip was either to get DQed and keep the title, or to gain an unfair advantage by using a weapon. If Cody keeps hitting Juice with it and the ref DQs him then he's accomplished the former goal, and if he keeps hitting Juice with it and the referee doesn't DQ him then he's accomplished the latter. Obeying the referee and throwing the weight belt away does neither.
Juice fired up and they traded strikes. Juice countered a Disaster Kick with a big punch to face, then threw another, then hit two Pulp Frictions to put Cody down. This match was 80% finishers and stupid sh*t. Yes, I know Cody's knee is hurt and he is about to go in for surgery, and under normal circumstances I would be perfectly understanding of such a thing. The problem with Cody, though, is that there really wasn't that much a difference from his matches when he has been injured (this one here tonight and against Jay Lethal at Final Battle 2018) than the sh*t he has done in these situations when he has been healthy. This was just one last sh*tty Cody singles match full of cheap heat and shortcuts rather than actually building and telling an exciting story. As I said in my Final Battle review, good riddance, Space Clown.
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
KUSHIDA(c) vs. Taiji Ishimori - 7.75/10
The match was really, really, really, great, but some of their stuff looked a little off at times, and it was surprisingly short for big title match with the top stars in the division on the biggest show of the year.
KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. JAY WHITE (w/Gedo) - 8/10
This was an excellent babyface vs heel grudge match. I do have to complain about the refereeing seeing Gedo attack Okada but there was no DQ and them being on the outside forever without being counted out. Other than that, though, this rocked, which was particularly amazing because they actually seemed like they were holding back for a bigger match down the road.
NO DISQUALIFICAITONS MATCH FOR THE IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Chris Jericho(c) vs. Tetsuya Naito - 9/10
While the previous match might have been an excellent grudge match, this match was one hell of a brawl! Naito jumped the bell on Jericho during Jericho's entrance as revenge for all of the times that Jericho has jumped him and his LIJ comrades from behind. These guys fought all over the ringside area, hit each other with whatever they could get their hands on, and just kept going at it. They kept the intensity up the whole time, and Jericho always brings a special "this is a fight" atmosphere with him, which we saw on full display here. The false finishes were believable, the hatred was tangible, and the crowd was on fire. This beats out Ospreay vs. Ibushi for Match of the Night so far.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kenny Omega(c)(w/the Young Bucks) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - 9.5/10
Kenny worked over Tanahashi's midsection while Tanahashi worked over Kenny's knee and tried to win with the High Fly Flow. Both guys sold well, they told an additional story about Tanahashi being able to avoid the One-Winged Angel, and almost everything they did looked crisp and built very well. This was, in essence, your standard epic Tokyo Dome main event. The only two strikes against it for me were the fact that they were allowed to spend forever on the outside, and the fact that the match never quite gripped me the way a 10/10 match does. Perhaps my confidence in the outcome was part of that (and, for a kicker there, I was wrong), but I also think part of it is that, much like with All Japan in the late 90's, the expectations of the match meant that everyone knew it wasn't going to be over until we each guy attempted his big, rarely-kicked-out-of finisher at least once, and so no matter what else they did, the match didn't feel like it could end until we had seen at least one High Fly Flow and one big tease of the One-Winged Angel.
This was a pretty awesome show from New Japan, even if it didn't quite reach the level of the past few years. I disagreed with a lot of the booking, but I can't say that any of the outcomes didn't make sense. As for where New Japan goes from here, we'll find out tomorrow at New Year Dash.