// 2018: YEAR OF THE WOMEN // WRESTLE KINGDOM //
NEW! TOP 10 WRESTLERS OF THE MONTH Scan to order in print
ALPHA TO OMEGA
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA FOR NJPW January 2018
// ISSUE 20
GREATEST EVER ROYAL RUMBLE MOMENTS
// WILL OSPREAY // BRAUN/KANE/LESNAR //
"I BELIEVE I’M ONE OF THE BETTER WORKERS IN THE WWE"
THE LEGACY OF WWE MUSIC DIRECTOR JIM JOHNSTON
WELCOME WELCOME FROM THE EDITOR t’s hard to argue that this month belonged to NJPW. With the huge success of Wrestle Kingdom, we had to pick it as our event of the month and this issue includes a review, feature and also a look at Will Ospreay who came home with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion (and topped our newlook Wrestler of the Month list).
WRESTLERS OF THE MONTH Page 12
As we approach the Royal Rumble we take a look back at some of our favourite moments from past events.
We’ve much more including our chat with cover star AJ Styles!
David Garlick @davidgarlick
David Garlick Editor / Design firstname.lastname@example.org
KOTA IBUSHI EDITORIAL
Bradley Tiernan + James Toal Review Editors
Copy Editor Cover photos AJ -WWE / Jericho NJPW
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WORDS: STEPHANIE FRANCHOMME
TUNING THE CHARACTER THE LEGACY OF WWE MUSIC DIRECTOR JIM JOHNSTON ast December, Jim Johnston, the man behind the greatest entrance music in WWE, quietly left the company. For more than 30 years, he had given WWE Superstars a sound that breathed life into their entrances. A way to connect with the fans and help them to be instantly recognized, loved or hated by them.
If you hear the sound of the bell tolling, you know The Undertaker is about to come to the ring. Glass breaking, The Rattlesnake is here. In just a second, people know and are ready to buy into what the performer is trying to make them believe. Here are 10 themes composed by Jim Johnston that have become so iconic they embody the Superstar they accompany.
10. FANDANGO The gimmick of the flashy dancer was not supposed to be the most credible one, or one most appreciated by the fans. But Johnston created a Cha-cha-cha sound and suddenly the crowd was roaring, singing along to the sound of the brass line. The composer himself couldn’t explain the success of this entrance theme. Fans not only loved it, but made it
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their own. Tons of videos emerged on social media, showing bunches of people dancing and singing the Cha-cha-cha.
9. ULTIMATE WARRIOR Warrior was frenetic and electric. The music that became his entrance theme was meant to be frenetic too. Johnston turned the energy of the wrestler into an iconic guitar riff that would perfectly fit The Ultimate Warrior. Like him, the music was running through the ring, shaking the ropes, energising the crowd. This entrance was enough to let the fans think something exciting, frantic, maybe even crazy, was about to happen in the ring. The wrestler embodied his entrance, from the beginning to the end. The connection between The Warrior and that theme was just perfect, and it will remain perfect for as long as fans remember The Warrior.
8. CHRIS JERICHO When the Countdown to the Millennium came to an end, Jericho made his debut accompanied by a cool, cutting-edge vibe that seemed to have been custom-made for the man. In fact, that was not the case. Johnston wrote the song way before Jericho made his debut with WWE. He was inspired by a
simple sentence from Clark Gable in the 1934 movie, “It Happened One Night”. Gable was building his Walls of Jericho, thanks to a blanket, to have his own intimacy in the room he was sharing with a woman. Gable broke the walls down. So too did Jericho. Even if he confessed he never fully understood the sense of the lyrics, Jericho broke down every possible wall in WWE fuelled by the power and mystery of this music.
7. TRISH STRATUS In order to become the legend she is today, Trish Stratus needed a theme that would represent the wrestler she was aiming to be. To get rid of the cliché of the eye candy/valet, she worked with one of her idols, Lil’ Kim, to create music and lyrics that reflected the wrestler she was striving to be recognized as. When Lil’ Kim left stiletto heel prints in Johnston’s studio, Trish Stratus’ career exploded thanks to a theme that was fully fitting her energy and charisma. Just the sound of her laugh and the crowd was on fire. It was time to rock ‘n’ roll in the ring, time to show women could wrestle and become undeniable Champions.
One of the most iconic, funny and unapologetic stables in the history of WWE needed a theme that reflected their raunchiness. It started out with a simple funk groove, the absolute opposite of what D-X would go on to represent. But Johnston invited his friend Chris Warren to add something to the tune. The song became an invitation to be rebellious, be different. The “Break it Down” intro helped win over Triple H and Shawn Michaels. But Johnston added his special touch, “You think you can tell us what to do? You think that you’re better?” an anti-establishment anthem was born.
5. MANKIND How to tell the story of a screwedup man with music? Try to unravel the mystery of a disturbed mind? Johnston thought about two pieces of music, one to explore tragedy and sadness on the way to the ring, the other to express the joy and happiness after his match had finished. Mankind was meant to release his anger and explore the mystery surrounding it in the ring. A character in the mould of Hannibal Lecter, being in the ring was a way to satisfy his aggressive behaviour. In the history of WWE, Mankind is the only character to have a different entrance and exit theme. Mankind was that so unique he was the only one to have this privilege.
4. THE ROCK This was another example of a simple tune that turned a man into a Megastar. Johnston tried to tell the story of a different guy, with multicultural roots. Rock music was
not working, neither was orchestral. What did work was a bass line, so simple a bass line it made the music and the wrestler memorable. In this tune Johnston was able to show both the good and the dark sides of The Rock. But the wrestler made it something way bigger than it was. The electric guitar part reflected the electricity The Rock represents. The more he was fuelling the tune with his energy, the more the emotional connection with the fans worked, and is still working today.
himself how to reflect the gimmick of a wrestler you didn’t want to screw with. A violent glass breaking sound and a heavy guitar were enough to drive the fans wild. As the man was supposed to march to the beat of his own drum, be driven without being frenetic, so the music followed the man’s pace. Stone Cold was about going fullforce, expecting the unexpected and plotting his own course. When the music hit the arenas, people knew absolutely anything could happen in the ring. More than 20 years later, it still has the perfectly desired effect.
3. TRIPLE H Johnston wrote multiple themes for Triple H. The snobbish harpsichord tune, a reflection of the blueblood Hunter Hearst-Helmsley gimmick. “My time” for when his career reached new heights. And then, “The Game”. To reflect the aggressive and powerful side of his character, Johnston capitalised on the fact that Triple H had become great friends with Lemmy from Motorhead, a band he was a fan of. The whisky-soaked voice of Lemmy Kilmister and the ruthlessness of the band’s music was the perfect recipe to be sure it was time to play the game. Lemmy and his mates gave to the original sound Johnston developed the strength he was looking for at first. Johnston appreciated the fact that a band as famous as Motorhead was recording a song for the company, and the band would eventually record two other themes for WWE, Evolution’s “Line in the Sand” and “King of Kings”, both as iconic as “The Game”.
2. STEVE AUSTIN
1. THE UNDERTAKER You can’t describe a man that is supposed to be dead with a funk tune. The sound has to be sad and mournful, as if you’re saying good-bye to a friend. Johnston started with a delicate and simple piano tune. But it was not enough. To embody the legend of the Deadman, Johnston added the organ and bells that turned the song into the Graveyard Symphony. The opus has followed the legend of The Undertaker for more than 25 years. Just the sound of the bell toll and the thunder are enough to make you feel the coldness of death The Undertaker has represented. The opus was so perfect no wrestling fan will ever forget it. The music fit the wrestler perfectly, fit his gimmick perfectly, and shaped an extraordinary connection between ‘Taker and the crowd.
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How to add more darkness to a dark character? Johnston asked
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INTERVIEW: AJ STYLES WORDS: JAMES TOAL | PHOTOS: WWE head of the WWE Live tour of Europe, we managed to talk to the ‘Phenomenal’ one himself, AJ Styles, and ask a couple of burning questions that have been on our minds recently. During the teleconference, here is what we managed to get from the current WWE Champion on possible dream matches.
Despite what people might say about AJ being called the best wrestler in the world, AJ commented on how he feels about himself being given that label. He came across as humble, claiming he didn’t know that if he was the best in the world, but feeling like he’s one of the hardest workers. “I take a lot of pride in what I do. I try to perfect everything. But, being the best? That’s up for discussion. There are a lot of great performers out there, and you never know which one is going to be the next top guy. If you’re asking me if I think I’m the best wrestler in the world? I’d say I’m not.” One rumour that sparked the interest of the online community was a possible match between AJ and the legendary Shawn Michaels. One thing we wanted to know was whether he has a dream opponent in mind. AJ divulged to us that he knows just what to say whenever a question like this comes up. “When it comes to dream opponents that’s not up to me, that’s up to the WWE fans,” Styles said. “What do they want to see and how can we make that happen?” He continued “I just want to give the fans what they want to see. At the end of the day, they’re the ones paying to see it, so let’s give them what they want to see.” With the WWE looking to expand their branding into the UK once again, we wondered if there was any talent from here that had caught his eye or anyone that he would love to face in a ring. Unfortunately, due to the balance of work and home life, AJ doesn’t have much time to look at what others are up to.
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Watch the royal rumble live on the wwe network January 28th “I’ve definitely seen some guys I’ve liked,” AJ stated, “but the opportunity of being able to watch them is just difficult. When you’re in the WWE you have to stay focused on what you’re doing. With me, staying focused on when I get home I got to push that out of my head to be a father and be a husband. I literally have no time do anything else, I haven’t even had the opportunity to watch anything else.” He continued to praise what the WWE UK stars have been doing, specifically from the UK championship tournament and working in NXT. “I’ve had some opportunities to watch these guys and interact with them, but I haven’t been able to watch it for what feels like a couple of months.” We asked AJ some of his thoughts on WWE 2K18. What stood out to us was AJ’s rating standing at an overall 90, compared to The Undertaker who currently stands at 89 at the time of writing. When asked for his opinion on towering above superstars like the Deadman, AJ seemed surprised. “I don’t know how a former world champion, including The Undertaker, gets moved down to an 89. I’m glad they moved me up to a 90, but if you have too many guys above AJ Styles, then something’s wrong here. I believe I’m one of the better workers in the WWE and that the ratings should reflect that...As far as the game goes, I think it looks really good.” Finally, to end our time with the Face that Runs the Place, we asked about when he finally gets to play the game with his children, will they be playing as their dad? Or will they be playing as other superstars to face their dad in the virtual ring? AJ remarked that his kids like playing as their dad, whereas the character that Styles will always go for, is the WWE Hall of Fame legend Sting. “He’s a buddy of mine and I’ve always liked his character.” AJ reflected, then moved back to his children. “They’re just really good at that game, and I’m not very good at all.”
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WORDS: MAT LINDSAY | PHOTO COPYRIGHT NJPW
ALPHA TO OMEGA: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA FOR NJPW hris Jericho has a habit of showing up in unexpected places, and I should know, as he just so happened to walk into a pub in the middle of my hometown one random Saturday night, right into the middle of the annual Christmas party held by our local, small-time wrestling company. I honestly don’t know who was more surprised, the local workers at the fact a genuine superstar of their industry had materialised out of the ether (he hadn’t, obviously, as Fozzy had been playing the rock club just down the road that same night), or Jericho himself to have been thinking he was stepping into a quiet backstreet pub and instead being confronted by forty plus awestruck fans.
The feeling was similar upon first seeing the announcement that Jericho would be facing Kenny Omega at NJPW’s annual showcase event, more so that their no disqualification match for the IWGP US Championship would share main event status at Wrestle Kingdom 12 with the confrontation between Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada for the far more venerable and storied IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. New Japan certainly wanted to create controversy with this move, even going so far as to stage physical confrontations between Jericho and Omega in the run up
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to the event, and having Naito (for whom this would be his first Wrestle Kingdom main event) kayfabe state that he was disappointed with the equal billing for the two matches, feeling NJPW was “pandering” to the foreigners. But while Naito was speaking in character at the time, his words go against one of the most constant and successful elements of professional wrestling in the that part of the world, namely the creative and extremely lucrative booking of foreign talent against native workers and even against each other in front of a native audience. If you want a concise history of the relationship between US and Japanese wrestling, then you’ll find one in my article on the subject a few months back, and there’s no need to recount the entire story here, save for reminding yourself that professional wrestling was imported from the United States to Japan, finding its driving force in the person of Rikidozan, who’s JWA had a close relationship with the NWA, which continued with his protégé Giant Baba and AJPW. Baba based his own booking model on that prevalent in the US territories for most of the twentieth century, strong babyfaces involved in long-term feuds with equally formidable heels, the top talent on the roster rarely losing by pinfall
and usually ending their matches with a count-out or draw, so that being pinned was a significant and decisive conclusion to a match. Into this mix he added US talent that were available to him thanks to All Japan’s membership of the NWA, and the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Gerald Briscoe, Harley Race and many others soon discovered that the tours of Japanese venues on which Baba wanted to book them were sure to result in performing before eager crowds and for a very lucrative payoff as well. A shrewd businessman and a legendary performer in his own right, Baba demanded the very best from his talent, and so the gaijin he hired soon learned to give their very best in order to keep being brought back again, which of course meant that the matches they were involved in tended to be compulsive viewing for fans who appreciated the art of professional wrestling and knew the true quality of what they were seeing. Another factor that worked in Baba’s favour was that up to the mid-eighties, US territories did not regard television as being central to their booking strategy and saw ticket sales for live events as central to their profits, so they would televise house shows and squash matches, but keep encounters between major stars and the blow-
offs for storylines and feuds for live events that were not filmed, meaning that many fans could not see big names meet in the ring unless both happened to be working in a territory where they could physically travel to the appointed venue. In All Japan there was no such arrangement, and Baba was sure to book his gaijin imports against one another, as well as against the natives on the roster in matches that were regularly taped for broadcast, not only in Japan, but also for a weekly NWA compilation show that was shown in the US as well. Of course the result was that American fans were suddenly exposed to a television show that featured a myriad of familiar names in matches that would never have reached the small screen had they taken place on US soil, all of whom were working their socks off to impress Baba in order to be brought back and also mixed in with impressive and exotic Japanese talent that were their unquestioned equal in the ring. This is at least part of what made Japanese wrestling the cult dreamland of the sport that it is to this day, the fact that it took something fans already loved and then seemed to elevate it to a higher plateau of respect and legitimacy – those fans had always wanted to believe that professional wrestling wasn’t just a hokey sideshow attraction, and the Japanese take on it made it all the more easy to buy into its tough men being truly tough and its matches gruelling competitions between rival gladiators. In contrast, Antonio Inoki’s NJPW
(All Japan’s only ever true rival), took a more nuanced approach to booking gaijin talent, using many notable names such as Tom Billington, Mark Rocco, Tiger Ali Singh and the original Sheik, but doing so in a specific role, such as to form parts of the lightheavyweight division in the case of the former pair and indulge in bloody confrontations with Inoki himself in the case of the latter. At the same time, New Japan favoured a model of booking more based on the idea of promoting the Japanese style of pro wrestling as a worked martial art, “Strong Style” as it would become known (“King of Sports” still forms the motto used on the NJPW logo, which hardly makes any concession to the modern trend of embracing the more obviously predetermined aspects of the business), and did not follow the US style of booking so closely. Baba’s seemingly magical formula could only work so long as there was a steady supply of gaijin talent available for his multi-week tours, and with the collapse of the territory system and the rise of the WWF in the late eighties, signing a very generous contract with Vince McMahon and working short squash matches in the US became infinitely preferable to taking months at a
time in Japan, being brutalised from one end of the archipelago to the other every night and all for less money at the end of it. Through the nineties and noughties, Japanese wrestling transitioned from being the place where major talent went to make money into the cult attraction that it mainly remains to this day, with talentswapping relationships between US and Japanese companies lasting for wildly varying lengths of time and yielding the occasional decent run and the even rarer sensational breakout of a talent from one country in the other (such as The Great Muta in WCW, or Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Jericho himself in NJPW in the mid-nineties). It was only when Inoki’s reign came to an end and the new leadership at NJPW chose to put the (at the time) unlikely duo of Jado and Gedo in the position of bookers that things began to change in terms of gaijin talent within the company, and though they also nurtured many incredible native talents, their own admitted obsession with the former US territories (such as the AWA and Nashville in particular) seemed to ground them in the art of storytelling in wrestling, rather than aping MMA, and foreign names from the New Japan dojo such as Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor) and
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NJPW workers with extensive experience in smaller Japanese companies like Kenny Omega began to come to the fore. In many ways it is impossible to compare the likes of Devitt and Omega to the gaijin of the previous era, mainly because while their predecessors were already most often well-rounded performers when they arrived in Japan, this new generation came up through systems in place in the country itself, their talents, gimmicks and attitudes to the sport therefore having been shaped primarily by that style of working and the culture which surrounds it. It’s for this reason that I believe the Jericho/Omega match at WK12 does not represent a return to the glories of the previous era, but actually the evidence of an entirely new one – Omega personifies the modern style of Japanese wrestling, the one which attracts the modern fans that many like to call “smart marks” (or “smarks”) in a derogatory manner, the guys that wear Bullet Club t-shirts, watch PWG and generally don’t appreciate whatever the WWE happens to be doing at any given time. Jericho, in contrast, had last wrestled in Japan in 1998 and nowhere but the WWE since 1999, so who better than a former world champion and genuine stalwart of mainstream US wrestling to stand across the ring from Omega? If anyone could stand up to the swaggering confidence of the Bullet Club Elite, and personify the feelings of the old-school fan of US wrestling that finds the fuss about New Japan a bit baffling and alien, then it was Jericho.
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Building the match with traditional challenges, press conference outbursts and surprise in-ring ambushes proves that booker Gedo, Jericho and New Japan know what they’re creating here, and that’s a bridge between themselves and fans in the US – not the ones that already subscribe to NJPW World and follow the product, but the ones that don’t, the ones that need a connection to help them make the leap across the continental divide to become invested in the New Japan product. I admit to being a little puzzled by the creation of the IWGP US Heavyweight Title last year, sure it was being competed for in a tournament on American soil, but the addition of a new heavyweight belt alongside the World and Intercontinental ones seemed to crowd the title scene at the top of New Japan, rekindling memories of the execrable WWF European Title, a belt which was supposed to open doors and yet just became meaningless trash. But if the IWGP US Title is to be used as a means to set up feuds of this kind, then it all starts to make a great deal more sense, as if Omega goes into a long-term program someone the likes of Jericho and actually drops the belt to him, the hope must be that the mainstream fans New Japan wants to attract will see this as a bloody nose for the arrogant Bullet Club Elite, and compel those same fans to tune in for the next match in the series. On the night, Jericho/Omega arguably stole the entire show, overshadowing the Okada/Naito main event thanks to its unique composition and no DQ stipulation
allowing the added element of jeopardy as both men brawled around ringside and used foreign objects to expertly conceal the fact that the veteran Jericho could not have kept up with the kind of frenetic pace that Omega managed against Okada the previous year on the same event. This was not the comedy character that Jericho had become during his last WWE run, the grand scale of Wrestle Kingdom allowing the full range of his arrogant, egotistical rockstar persona to come out and play off against Omega’s affected, videogame-influenced hitman gimmick, and the two seemed hellbent on proving their own unique style superior at the expense of the other man’s body. Despite Omega claiming the victory and the claims that this was a onetime deal, reaction on the night and afterwards means that all parties involved would be foolish to keep it so, and the prospect of Jericho having a return match and even capturing the title would be enough to attract eyes to the other major NJPW shows scheduled for 2018, as would the veteran taking on other well-chosen Japanese talents as well. If New Japan book the feuds and storylines surrounding the IWGP US Title in 2018 as well as they did the build-up to Jericho/Omega, it could well see the title established as truly important, a gateway for the return of already mainstream American talent into the upper echelons of the NJPW title scene and serve to promote names such as Omega and newcomers like “Switchblade” Jay White in return.
NJPW WRESTLE KINGDOM RESULTS
WRESTLER OF THE MONTH WILL OSPREAY WORDS: JOZEF RACZKA | PHOTO: OLI SANDLER
ill Ospreay, the Aerial Assassin, probably the best thing to come out of Havering (I know what you’re thinking, yes, even better than Romford Market), a two-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and the first person to be called our Wrestler of the Month in 2018.
Obviously, we could talk just about his superb fatal four-way at Wrestle Kingdom 12 where Ospreay managed to exorcise the demon on his shoulder that is Marty Scurll as well as besting KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi to win his second championship in New Japan but even this early into the year, Ospreay’s done so much more. He made his return to Progress (after losing a Loser Leaves Town match but let’s not get into that), putting on barnstormers with Travis Banks and Adam Brooks, he made a surprise appearance at Attack Pro against Wild Boar and for IPW, he faced Pete Dunne, putting on the first match between an NJPW and a WWE champion since Hogan v Muta 25 years ago. Will’s had a good start to 2018, let’s see where it goes from here.
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WORDS: JAMES TOAL | PHOTOS COPYRIGHT NJPW
NJPW WRESTLE KINGDOM 12
t’s almost an insult to call Wrestle Kingdom a ‘Japanese WrestleMania’. It’s an event so massive that it could even become a rival to WWE’s current product. But that’s the last you’ll hear about THAT company, we’re here to recap and discuss what went down in Wrestle Kingdom 12. How did it all go? Let’s take a look.
NEW JAPAN RUMBLE (WRESTLE KINGDOM ANNUAL BATTLE ROYAL) This was a decent start to Wrestle Kingdom 12, plenty of surprises thrown in to keep you entertained but not too much to overshadow anything later on in the show. Possible unmaskings were teased with the likes of Tiger Mask, Thunder Liger, and Desperado. But luckily, they were able to keep their identities hidden, although Desperado did have his ripped off as he got eliminated. Since it wasn’t focussed on, we can assume that this was a freak accident.
The rumble came to an end once Cheeseburger was eliminated by Masahito Kakihara to become the winner. Congratulations to him and let’s roll on with the first big match of the show. WINNER: MASAHITO KAKIHARA
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IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: ROPPONGI 3K (C) VS. THE YOUNG BUCKS
We kicked off excellently with some entertaining coordinated spots from both Roppongi 3K and The Young Bucks as they interlinked and created a fun sequence for the opening of Wrestle Kingdom. For added measure, shutting up Rocky Romero with a running powerbomb to the ramp was just the icing on the cake. The Young Bucks took control, slowly putting pressure on Sho and Yoh. Their overconfidence soon changed the tide for Roppongi, however, after a misstep by Matt and Nick Jackson, leaving The Young Bucks open for assault and bringing Roppongi the momentum they desperately needed. Back-and-forth action took place as superkicks, german suplexes, and clothesline came fast and hard. But, Sho and Yoh did not
quit, even after a devastating Swan dive/DDT combo from The Young Bucks. A single leg crab on both the Jacksons couldn’t keep them down, so the strikes kept coming and coming. It was all over once The Bucks hit the Meltzer Driver and topped it off with a sharpshooter to steal the Tag Titles. A solid match for all Bucks fans and a brilliant showing from Roppongi Vice who you can bet will want to reclaim their belts sooner rather than later. WINNER: THE YOUNG BUCKS
NEVER OPENWEIGHT 6-MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP GAUNTLET MATCH:
Predictably, Elgin and War Machine dominated in the first stage of the gauntlet match. For as tough as they were, Sabre, Taichi and Iizuka were all put in their place by these huge monsters. While they did seem to gain momentum for a few moments, War Machine crushed and destroyed. Fortunately, Lady Luck smiled upon ZSJ as he managed to choke out Hanson in a triangle hold and was able to advance to the next stage.
EVENT OF THE MONTH CODY (W/ BRANDI RHODES) VS. KOTA IBUSHI Next out was Chaos as Beretta, Ishii, and Yano were assaulted before they even got to the ring. Yano managed to roll up Taichi and moved their team forward to the next stage of the gauntlet. Taguchi Japan came down as Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe. Yano became the punching bag for Taguchi Japan, at least until his teammates came to his aid. Unfortunately, Taguchi getting overconfident and impersonating Shinsuke Nakamura led to him getting rolled up by Yano and causing his team to be eliminated. Lastly came Bullet Club, represented by Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. The battle peaked with Ishii facing off against Fale in a scene reminiscent of a giant monster movie. Ishii managed to suplex Fale with superhuman-like strength, but Bullet Club gained momentum and soon took control of the ring. In the end, Beretta secured victory for his team and became the new NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions.
Ibushi got the match started by running rings around Cody, which if you’ve learned from watching anything Cody has been involved with is the worst thing you could do. With his ego slightly damaged, Cody sought to achieve momentum by any means. This even meant letting his wife fake an injury in order to keep Ibushi’s guard down. His tactics didn’t get him far, as Ibushi soon bounced back. What brought Cody back from the brink was his Cross Rhodes onto the outside which was probably as painful as it looked. Cody proceeded to dominate. But, after reversing a second Cross Rhodes, Ibushi was back on top and fought back valiantly. Finally, Ibushi achieved the win with a Phoenix Splash. Even though it’s their first match of 2018, I’ll call it as one of the best matches they’ll have this year. High flying moments accompanied by gritty hard hitting action made this one of the highlights of this Wrestle Kingdom event. WINNER: KOTA IBUSHI
IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: KILLER ELITE SQUAD (DAVEY BOY SMITH JR. AND LANCE ARCHER) (C) VS. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (EVIL AND SANADA) It seemed over from the start as Killer Elite Squad immediately went on the offence and almost finished EVIL - they would have if Sanada hadn’t interfered. Smith and Archer utterly eviscerated their opponents, barely giving them a chance after EVIL had been chokeslammed off the apron onto bystanders. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, EVIL and Sanada regained some ground and brought out their big guns. Sanada brought his A-game, but he wasn’t able to knock Smith down. A Magic Killer wasn’t enough, but thanks to one moonsault, Sanada stole the win and became IWGP Tag Team Champions with EVIL. It took a while for Los Ingobernables de Japon to come back, maybe a little longer than it should’ve, but in the end, it was an entertaining bout that brought our heroes to victory. WINNER: LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON
NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP LOSER HAIRCUT AND NO SECONDS DEATHMATCH: MINORU SUZUKI (C) VS. HIROOKI GOTO The feud that made the Hair vs Hair match relevant again finally took place, and intensity filled the room. Goto won after a hard fought battle with his patented GTR, becoming the new Never Openweight Champion. But, leaving
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NJPW Minoru Suzuki with one last task to complete. He defiantly grabbed a chair of his own and went to town removing hair from his head. If you ever wanted to take the Hair stipulation seriously, you couldn’t ask for two more amazing performers to achieve that for you. These men took their conflict to breaking point and it excellently culminated in a perfect ending. Goto got his win, leaving his enemy defeated and running with his tail between his legs.
it was Ospreay moonsaulting off the supports outside the ring, Kushida Swan Diving from the top turnbuckle, or all four men taking each other out with clotheslines that flip you back onto your front. Every wrestler got a decent spotlight to shine in, the match could’ve easily become weighted towards one competitor, but was presented as anyone’s game. Any one of these men could’ve taken the title, they just had to be quick enough to seize it.
WINNER: HIROOKI GOTO
It all came to a head once Will Ospreay gained the advantage, hit the Oz Cutter and pinned the champion Marty Scurll to become the winner. Ospreay became the new IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion in a well-earned victory. A match with an unpredictable outcome, out of nowhere spots, and plenty of excitement to keep you hooked throughout.
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR-WAY MATCH: MARTY SCURLL (C) VS. HIROMU TAKAHASHI VS. KUSHIDA VS. WILL OSPREAY
WINNER: WILL OSPREAY
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: HIROSHI TANAHASHI (C) VS. JAY WHITE
If you counted how many times the phrase ”Oh shit” came out of my mouth throughout this match, you’d be shipping me off to a convent. Every moment had something big to show off, whether
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Immediately you could feel the hatred Jay White emanated towards Tanahashi. Taking his knee and working on it every second that he could. Which is why when Tanahashi fought back, he brought it with higher intensity than White would anticipate. You try fighting back from a Frog Splash off the top turnbuckle to the outside, after all. The match went back and forth, seemingly getting closer and closer to White to achieving victory, but Tanahashi would always be there to stop him dead in his tracks.
The match ended with Tanahashi hitting the Frog Splash and retaining his IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Jay White got a decent showing in this match, managing to get some offence in and seem to be a genuine threat to Tanahashi’s title. All in all, a decent match and an excellent springboard for White to leap from in his New Japan career. WINNER: HIROSHI TANAHASHI
IWGP UNITED STATES HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH: KENNY OMEGA (C) VS. CHRIS JERICHO
We got full-on rage to kick off with as Omega and Jericho went at it, refusing to hold back and wanting to fully destroy each other. The first big highlight to take away from this match is how Jericho has handled his character in New Japan. This Chris Jericho is the biggest bastard you will have come across tonight, slapping the referee and putting another member of staff in the Walls of Jericho, and stealing a camera to take pictures of his middle finger to the crowd is a definite way to avoid making friends. It’s an understatement to say that Jericho is a genius with this persona, and it massively gives Omega a boost in his already
The momentum would change when Okada managed to slide in a move like a DDT off the barrier, or reversing into a flapjack. Okada struggled to keep on top of Naito, attempts at a Rainmaker failed and even holding a submission wasn’t enough to get the job done. But in turn, a Reverse Frankenstiener from the top turnbuckle wasn’t able to take out Okada. They were down, but resilient in order to win that belt.
popular and successful career. Omega has been given the ultimate bad guy to take on, overcoming him will be his biggest challenge thus giving the audience a reason to cheer as loud as we possibly can. Jericho took advantage after smashing Omega’s head onto a chair, causing him to become busted wide open. While Omega tried to fight back, Jericho continued the assault. Eventually, Omega would fight back, but all it would take to keep both men down would once again be a steel chair. Both men fought on, getting battered, bruised, and exhausted trying to secure the win. Even when you think it’s all over and Omega finally hit the One Winged Angel, Jericho grabs the ropes. You’re begging for Omega to get some retribution. Finally, Kenny Omega got the win after hitting his finisher onto a steel chair and retaining his belt. What a match, it lived up to the hype and made a statement to the world that Kenny Omega is THE guy in the wrestling world today. WINNER: KENNY OMEGA
MAIN EVENT: IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: “RAINMAKER” KAZUCHIKA OKADA (C) VS. TETSUYA NAITO What started with a sportsmanlike and civilised beginning soon turned sour as Naito struck first. The battle ensued, with each move feeling extra forceful as Naito looked to take out Okada early on. Okada strived to get on top throughout the beginning, Naito decided that he was going to keep on Okada and refused to let him get a single foothold in the match.
We thought it was all over as Okada hit the Rainmaker, until a last minute kick out from Naito kept Okada from retaining his belt. The tension rose, could Naito steal it all? Naito executed the Testino, but the exhaustion had got to him and couldn’t even capitalise on the situation. The fight waged on as strike after strike hit, all ending in a disrespectful slap by Naito. Even if these two fought until the end of time, I bet the audience would want an encore as they managed to pull out all the stops to make this an instant classic. In the end, Okada managed to retain his belt with one final Rainmaker and remain as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. WINNER: KAZUCHIKA OKADA
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THE UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP IS GLORIOUS WORDS: BRADLEY TIERNAN | PHOTO: WWE fter Dolph Ziggler shockingly vacated his United States Championship, SmackDown Live general manager, Daniel Bryan announced there would be a tournament to crown the new champion. The WWE Universe were delighted to see Bobby Roode come out on top a week earlier than the originally scheduled match at the Royal Rumble.
The Glorious One has hardly set SmackDown alight since his 2 out of 3 falls match with Ziggler, so it came as something as a surprise when he saw off former United States Champion, Baron Corbin in the first round. The one-time NXT Champion then put an end to the push of Mojo Rawley in the semi-final and was set to face Jinder Mahal in the final at the Royal Rumble. That was until the Maharajaâ€™s minions attacked Roode and Jinder began to cut a scathing promo about how he will be the next champ. Then, Daniel Bryan interrupted and scheduled the title match to take place that night on SmackDown Live. The two head honchos of SmackDown Live were both at ringside for this match and, interestingly, the Singh Brothers were barred. It was a slow burner that, at one time, looked as though Jinder would be taking the gold. Yet, as the modern-day Maharrrrrrrrrajah went for the Khallas, Roode reversed and hit the Glorious DDT to claim the vacant US title. This marks Roodeâ€™s first title run on the main roster since he won the NXT Championship.
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Watch the royal rumble live on the wwe network January 28th
ROYAL RUMBLE: ALL BRAUN WORDS: JOZEF RACZKA | PHOTO: WWE id you know that Brock Lesnar has a Triple Threat match at the Royal Rumble? Did you also know it involves Kane? You might not, if you live your life as facetiously as I begin my articles as the build to the Universal Title match has been literally all Braun Strowman, even when Kane attacked Lesnar and the two had a hellacious (pun very firmly intended) brawl, it still felt like the big question being asked was ‘why isn’t Braun Strowman involved?’
Somehow, this is the blessing and the curse of Strowman, they’ve built him up so much that his antics, flipping trucks, pulling down rigging, eating cake, have been so entertaining and oddly believable for the Monster Among Men that we can’t get enough of him but at the same time, so entertaining is he and so dominant a figure over the entirety of RAW that he’s starting to become WWE’s Poochie where everytime he’s offscreen, you feel like someone’s asking ‘where’s Braun Strowman, where’s Braun Strowman?’ Still, if nothing else can be said about the situation, did you think you’d be this interested in a Kane match in 2018? Even if it’s nothing to do with him.
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WORDS: VICTORIA TEZANGI | PHOTOS: WWE
2018: YEAR OF THE WOMEN ver the past five years women’s wrestling has been going through a revolution. Slow steps forward have allowed female wrestlers to have a more equal and fair wrestling career in comparison to male talent. However, there is still a lot of progress to be made and as we start a brand-new year it’s time to take a look at just how much more can be done to take women’s wrestling to the next level in 2018.
Late last year it was announced on an episode of RAW that a women’s Royal Rumble will be taking place, also that thirty percipients will be competing on the night. This is a huge step forward in women’s wrestling.
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The fact WWE have reached a stage in which the division is so big a thirty women Rumble can even be considered is a huge measure of just how far things have come. Yes, this is a match that fans have wanted for quite some time, however it’s only now the WWE are in a position to host it. The numbers are there, the demand is there and even greater than ever before and there is no denying this is an important step forward in changing things for the world of women’s wrestling. This match really does do a lot and open doors: returns, debuts, and surprise entrants are almost guaranteed giving a buzz and an unpredictable aura that we haven’t got from the division in a long while, and it’s very exciting.
What this Rumble match also suggests is that WrestleMania is just as important for the female superstars on the roster as the men, allowing a bigger Mania for the division than possibly ever before with the road to it being just as eventful. This however must remain a recurring factor. There are plenty of big pay per views still set to come throughout the year and after the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank match taking place, the division needs more history making matches to take place, matches that prove the women really can do everything the male talent are doing.
However, with the WWE putting great emphasis on the road to WrestleMania being equally as big and important for its female talent, there is no excuse as to why this match cannot take place this year, especially considering the possibility of new faces making their arrival on the night of the Rumble. When looking at women’s wrestling across the whole spectrum, there is still a common issue and that of
to happen, small changes along the way need to be made. This includes holding more female wrestling matches on weekly basis, regular segments to build a more diverse, interesting and entertaining division and storylines, and pushing women’s wrestling to a stage where the demand is even bigger and matches/championships feel equally important. And finally, take a risk! There are still fans and critiques who will suggest certain stipulations and matches should be kept for male talent, but 2018 must be the year of taking a risk. Women in the industry from day one have been working to prove they can hang with the men and do it all and so give them opportunity in which to do so. Extreme Rules, Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, these women can do it and simply need to just be given the chance. Will it always go right? It’s unlikely but what these risks allow is growth. It puts fans in a position to want more!
This brings me onto the Elimination Chamber: another big step on the road to WrestleMania this year will see the stars of RAW take the pay per view and I say it’s about time the women get their chance to shine in this huge stipulation match. Barbaric, intense, and a key step in WrestleMania season, this is a match many fans expected to take place last year and were left rather disappointed when It wasn’t booked.
course is the lack of female main events. In 2017 the first Women’s Main event for Progress Wrestling took place when Toni Storm faced off against Candice Le Rae as well as women main eventing occasional episodes of NXT, RAW and Smackdown LIVE. But we’re still in a position where male talent hold the main event spot far more often, and in 2018, this is something that slowly needs to change. But in order for this
Of course, one of the biggest issues over the years has been storylines and segments. Once those are right things will set into place. All these women are more than capable of delivering a fantastic match but without a consistent, strong, and entertaining storyline there’s also nothing there. Once those segments, promos, and storylines are consistent, entertaining and match what we see from male talent things will change drastically and women’s wrestling as a whole will most certainly be taken to a brand new level.
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INTRO: STEPHANIE FRANCHOMME
GREATEST EVER ROYAL RUMBLE MOMENTS s there a more iconic annual single match in WWE than the Royal Rumble? Every year 30 superstars head to the ring in an attempt to be the last man standing,pointing at the WrestleMania sign. It’s the moment for Superstars to shine, come back or make their debut. It’s also a time for legends to appear, and for underdogs to reach new heights. The match is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, with the first-ever All Women Royal Rumble. Here, we pick some of our favourite moments.
THE THREE FACES OF FOLEY Chosen by Lee Hazell Mick Foley wasn’t just one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era. He was three of them. Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love; and in the 1998 Royal Rumble, all three made an appearance. Taking the No.1 spot as Cactus Jack, he was eliminated second by his own tag partner Chainsaw Charlie. Foley would get his revenge as entrant No.16, Mankind. He chucked his mentor over the top rope, only to be ousted by Goldust. In the 28th spot, Dude Love charged his way down to the ring for Mick’s third and final time. Too bad he was eliminated by the eventual winner
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Steve Austin. Regardless, even if the three faces of Foley had their ambitions thwarted, Mick himself met his: he wanted to make sure the audience went home happy.
VINCE MCMAHON WINS THE 1999 ROYAL RUMBLE Chosen by Erin Dick Imagine your boss creates a job promotion, and offers you a shot at a direct route to all the glory you’ve ever desired. He gives you the opportunity, amongst 29 other men, selected at random to fight for this promotion and all its benefits. Then, imagine he himself is thrown into the mix by the commissioner and claims the promotion for himself. That is exactly what Vince McMahon did, when he entered at number 2 in the 1999 Royal Rumble, to win the WWF Title. The Rumble served as an arena for the raging Stone Cold-McMahon rivalry, with Austin appearing at number 1 and the pairs’ tension dominating the drama of the event. From a disgruntled commentator, to the villain, this was a key moment in the development of the iconic Mr. McMahon character.
AJ STYLES DEBUT Chosen by Victoria Tezangi The Royal Rumble is the perfect night for debuts and returns and in 2016, we got one of the best debuts in recent WWE memory, the arrival of AJ Styles. While fans at home were given a confused looking Roman Reigns on their screen those in attendance gave a reaction that to this day gives me goosebumps as the words “I am phenomenal” appeared. After well over a decade of owning his craft, building a loyal fanbase, and earning the right to be named one of the best of this generation Styles had finally arrived in the WWE and what better night than the Royal Rumble! A historic moment, this was noted as the highlight of the match, night, and year by many and one of my personal all-time favourites favourite Royal Rumble moments.
AUSTIN + HART’S FEUD Chosen by Steph Franchomme At Survivor Series 1996, Hart and Austin built the foundations of a war that would last until Hart left WWE a year later. Hart pushed Austin to his limits in their #1 contender match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship,
but if a bloody Austin tapped out to the Sharpshooter and lost a battle that night, he wasn’t ready to lose the war. At Royal Rumble 1997, Austin was the fifth entrant and waited for Hart patiently, eliminating wrestlers one after another, having the ring for himself for long moments. Until the 21st entrant arrived. When Hart’s music hit, Austin was ready to brawl. Austin was thrown out of the ring by Hart, something the referees didn’t notice. So he reentered the ring and eliminated Hart. Austin won the second battle. But the war was just beginning.
out comes Kane, Carey tries bribery, when that doesn’t work, out comes Raven, saving Drew, giving him the opportunity to climb out and leave on his own two feet. As far as celebrity appearances go, it can’t really be bettered, it’s quick, it’s effective and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. What more could you ask for?
Chosen by Jozef Raczka Drew Carey was in the 2001 Royal Rumble. Even as I write these words, seventeen years on, it still seems strange. The host of Whose Line Is It Anyway could have gone to WrestleMania, it was beautiful. As we experience Round X of Hardy vs Hardy, in comes Carey, at Number 5, giving the crowd the full Carey show, as the Hardyz eliminate each other. Without even throwing a single punch, Carey is closer to Mania than Bull Buchanan. Then
ALMOST SANTINO Chosen by Oli Sandler This will forever be my greatest Rumble memory, as nothing will ever beat the time I was stood in that bar in Shepherds Bush with my best mate and we both looked at each other with hope in our eyes and said ‘They wouldn’t…would they?’ In the moment that Santino looked like he might win, anything
was possible. The 15,000 strong crowd are firmly behind Santino Marella to win the biggest Royal Rumble of all time. In what might be some of the best swerve booking in wrestling history, this ultimate underdog to end all ultimate underdogs looks like he’s about to achieve the entirely unachievable. As Del Rio is comprehending that he’s not the winner, as the music stops and as the crowd swells Santino staggers himself into a frenzy and crosses himself. He picks Del Rio up, aggressively and deliberately, and runs with him to the opposite side of the ring to throw him out. However, as the final cruel, but somehow inevitable, twist in the story Del Rio reverses at the last possible second and dumps Santino to his destiny and goes on to WrestleMania.
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WORDS: ALAN BOON
GO-HOME SHOW ey guys, at the risk of incurring a lawsuit from Bruce Buffer, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” * Long time readers will know that it’s my favourite WWE PPV of the year, one that I kept watching even when I wasn’t really watching wrestling, and I’m no less excited for this year’s edition, which comes in two exciting flavours!
The Royal Rumble became an annual event at the urging of Pat Patterson, who was working backstage for the then WWF after a long career as a headlining attraction in the US. He’d spent his happiest days in San Francisco, where they had their own annual tradition of a spectacular Battle Royal, and he adapted the gimmick for use in New York. You only have to wonder what might have happened if Patterson’s salad days had been spent somewhere else, and whether a spell in the UK might have meant that every January we would gather to watch old men in massive pants grunt and groan through several tedious rounds in search of two falls, two submissions, or a knockout? Instead we get the treat of a timer counting down from ten to one, falling behind the live crowd whose timekeeping surely must be more accurate than an actual clock, heralding the arrival of a mystery combatant. Exciting! Well, mostly, *CENSORED!
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because sometimes it’s just one of those guys you see every week who has zero chance of winning the thing, and even less chance of entertaining you on the way to his eventual disposal. When it does work – when it’s a serious contender (other than Roman Reigns, because he’s like one of those cards in the Top Trumps pack that you have to remove because if you don’t the person who ends up with him is probably going to win), or that guy with the party trick that’s wheeled out every year (Kofi Kingston, finding increasingly dangerous ways to avoid his feet touching the floor, which will surely end with him surgically-removing them – without anaesthetic – and winning for the first, and presumably last, time). The best times are when it’s an actual genuine surprise, which usually means someone who’s been away for a while and wasn’t expected back, or someone new who Dave Meltzer told you was coming in but who he’d also been bribed
by with sweets to stay quiet as to actually when, or a Beloved Figure From The Past. Remember the pop for John Cena’s surprise return from injury in 2008? Or for AJ Styles making his WWE debut in 2016? Yeah, they were pretty special, even if the director did focus on Roman Reigns’s stupid face for the best part of the AJ Styles reveal, but nothing really matches those BFFTPs. Even that was much more fun Back In The Day, when those figures were colourful and cartoonish and we weren’t all afraid that they would any day be fingered in an historic sexual abuse allegation, but they can still have an impact even now. Most recently, we’ve seen Bubba Ray Dudley, The Boogeyman, and
to shine in a 30-woman affair. Because there aren’t enough women on the active roster – especially when you have to keep out both brands’ respective champions – we are sure to get some surprises, with a handful from NXT, some old friends, and maybe a very special debutant.
Diamond Dallas Page in 2015 – with Dudley going on to stay around for a while, alongside his “brother” D-Von (who wasn’t available for the Rumble and how they must wish they hadn’t grabbed the nearest black wrestler to do his spots…) – but nothing since. Hopefully this year’s edition will put that right, with cameos by MVP, Bobby Lashley, and Mr Kennedy, or whatever nonproblematic equivalents can be found. And, of course, we’ve got double the chance, because this year will see the very first women’s Royal Rumble match! Yes, after years of lingerie battle royals, and eliminations through the middle rope rather than over the top, the distaff section of the WWE roster gets its own chance
Most of the top NXT prospects have already been called up of late, but you can imagine some fresh faces from Orlando taking that bump to the floor, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Ronda Rousey, now done with fake fighting in UFC and rumoured to be coming to the only real sport, pops up to stare down Asuka at some point. That leaves the Beloved Figure From The Past, and already Michelle McCool (which surely must win Worst Name Ever) and Ashley Massaro have been rumoured to have been contacted, along with the Bella Twins, who probably need a bit of a fame bump after being away for almost a whole year. Me? I’m hoping for Cherry, or Tiffany, or even recent departee Cameron, but only in the hope that she’ll try and pin someone the wrong way round. Enjoy the Rumble, whether you watch it with friends, playing guessing games as to who’s next (maybe even do a sweepstake with a humiliating forfeit for the loser?), or watch it alone because those friends are not willing to book the next day off work or are too grown up to go into said work on a few hours’ sleep because of professional wrestling. I’ll be doing the latter, so join me, dreaming of surprise returns, big name debuts, and – yes – those Beloved Figures From The Past.
MATCHES OF THE MONTH
KENNY OMEGA VS. CHRIS JERICHO NJPW WRESTLE KINGDOM
Alpha vs. Omega, the match everybody has been talking about for months was outstanding. Despite the pressure, despite all the stakes of the match, Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho had a fantastic match. This was a violent and intense match right from the moment the bell rang, a mix of blood, chair shots and fantastic wrestling. At that time, it was supposed to be Jericho’s only match with NJPW so it was not a surprise to see Omega win. But things have changed ever since…
CODY VS. DALTON CASTLE ROH FINAL BATTLE
Dalton Castle decided to prove Cody hadn’t beaten everyone like he was claiming. In doing so, he put an end the 175-day reign of Cody as ROH World Champion. That night Dalton Castle was better than Cody, despite the referee being bumped and distractions from Brandi. This pretty good match led to an unexpected twist and a unique celebration that only Dalton Castle could do. ROH’s leader is now a Glowy Fancy, instead of an American Nightmare.
OKADA VS. TETSUYA NAITO KAZUCHIKA OKADA
Okada has been the longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion with a 580+ days Reign. The storyline between Okada and Naito is a nearly 5-year long quest for the belt. Having the task to follow the Omega vs. Jericho match that set the bar extremely high for Okada and Naito. But they managed to surpass it. They could have gone back to their previous match-ups but they tweaked things to make sure the audience was still surprised. A classic and brilliant bout.
WORDS: STEPH FRANCHOMME
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