Kazuchika Okada’s current IWGP Heavyweight Championship run is the greatest title reign of all time

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Kazuchika Okada has been champion since June 19th 2016 and when Wrestle Kingdom 12 takes place in January he will have amassed over 550 days as champion. He has easily surpassed Shinya Hashimoto’s record of 489 days and is now the longest reigning IWGP champion is history, winning some of the finest matches the sport has ever seen en route. All of this has seen him become a recognised name across the wrestling world and he has played a huge role in helping New Japan achieve its second most successful financial year ever.  

Longevity is one aspect to having a memorable and legendary reign; but that quantity must contain quality if fans are to hold it in the highest esteem. After all, who wants to watch an incredibly long title run full of poor stories and dull matches? Getting that balance just right is very difficult, but Okada has done it. 

Okada has obliterated the expectations which fans usually have, producing a stream of wondrous matches that may never be equalled. Here’s a rundown of all the best bits, and why you should tune into Wrestle Kingdom 12 on January 4th when his record run may finally expire at the hands of Tetsuya Naito.  

The Kenny Omega trilogy 

Wrestling is very subjective, but so many fans would agree, the Okada versus Omega storyline produced three of the best matches you will ever see. It all started at the Tokyo Dome earlier this year when they broke the wrestling world and glued eyes to the Japanese product. Dave Meltzer added to the fanfare by awarding the bout six stars, putting it on a new level which was unlikely to ever be topped. 

The 46 minute colossus produced some insane moments of suspense and danger. Kenny setting up a table before taking a hellacious back drop through it, the perilous dragon suplex from the top rope which saw Okada crunch straight onto his skull, and of course all of the finisher teases. 

To many a viewers’ surprise, Okada won the emotional rollercoaster contest – topping off a perfect Wrestle Kingdom event and kicking off 2017 in style. Instantly it became my favourite match of all time and I still haven’t found a hangover cure like it; naturally people were sharing their elation and talk quickly shifted towards a rematch, after all, Omega never landed the One-Winged Angel… 

 

Kenny took a break from NJPW before returning for the New Japan Cup. He was the favourite going into the tournament but crashed out in round one at the hands of Tomohiro Ishii whilst Okada was busy defending his belt against new challengers, leaving us wondering, would we get the rematch we desired? 

Well what seemed a lifetime away was actually right around the corner. After the main event of Wrestling Dontaku, where the CHAOS leader defeated Bad Luck Fale, Okada took to the microphone and hand-picked Omega as his next contender. Okada knew fans wanted to see it, and so at New Japan’s Summerslam equivalent, Dominion, the main event was set. Okada versus Omega II. 

How could they possibly live up to the bar set by the first contest? Especially so soon after the fact. Well, by having New Japan’s first hour time limit draw in 12 years, that’s how.  

 

Once again the pair turned the ring into a ballroom, filling the mat with sumptuous wrestling. We saw a whole host of Rainmakers, V-triggers and Cody Rhodes coming down to tease throwing in the towel to salvage Omega’s career. My spot of the year also occurred, as Kenny, exhausted from the war, collapsed to his knees underneath Okada’s Rainmaker attempt, it was a simply beautiful moment to behold.  

In a hark back to the Tokyo Dome match, Kenny actually hit his finisher and looked certain to become the IWGP champion, but savvy Okada got to the ropes, saving his skin and his belt. The match concluded with Omega’s Bullet Club colleagues stunned on the outside whilst Okada hit a final Rainmaker but couldn’t reach for the cover before the bell sounded. 

I loved this match just as much as the first. It had fewer insane spots but the tension and drama was dancing through the air as they concluded another sensational New Japan PPV – but we weren’t done here, we needed a conclusion, and the trilogy would be finalised at the G1 Climax. 

 

Okay, so this one wasn’t for the title, but it is still an important part of Okada’s lengthy grasp on the strap. After a stonking G1 the final day pitted Kenny versus Kazuchika one again; the prize for the victor, a spot in the prestigious G1 Climax final versus Tetsuya Naito. 

Kenny Omega won. A super quick paced and thoroughly entertaining battle ensued. Each flew out of the blocks and launched warheads at one another, bringing all of their biggest and most brutal moves out of their arsenal. Omega nailed his One-Winged Angel in the middle of the ring, finally overcoming Okada and heading into the final with an extremely important win over his impossible rival under his belt.  

After this, the two went their separate ways again, but were sure to see more in the future. These matches were the biggest of Okada’s title run, but the champion did way more than battle Kenny Omega over his 500 days, and put all other challengers away too… 

 

Shibata’s swansong 

Every good champion, needs a equally enthralling challenger. In Shibata, Okada had exactly that. Their story stretches way back to when Shibata confronted Okada after the champion defeated Hirooki Goto at New Beginning in 2014 – Okada told The Wrestler that he had to win the New Japan Cup if he wanted a shot at the belt, and three years later, Shibata did just that. 

So it was Gedo’s golden boy versus the man who left New Japan in the darkness. It would be Shibata’s first shot at the IWGP Heavyweight title since his return in 2012, and as a result of Okada’s bulletproof nature and Shibata’s self-destructive offence, it would seemingly be his last… 

The match was a violent dance of destruction, as Shibata left literally everything in the ring. After surviving a tirade of vicious kicks, strikes and a disgusting headbutt though, Okada was able to pin his challenger with a rainmaker and continue his stranglehold on the belt.  

Okada concluded a lengthy dramatic story with an equally tense match. The champion proved his point from three years prior, that Shibata was a great fighter, but couldn’t be the IWGP title holder. However, the real talking point following the match was that, whilst Okada would march on strongly, Shibata would collapse backstage, becoming paralysed on the right hand side and requiring emergency surgery.  

Shibata bowed out in exactly the way he would want to – violently throwing everything he had into the match to try and win the title. After all, if he didn’t give everything he had, he wouldn’t be true to himself. All of this simply added fuel to the fire of Okada’s amazing reign; showing that not only is he the top performer in New Japan, but he’s also the best wrestler. 

 

The best of the rest 

As well as the two defences against Omega and the stonker against Shibata, Kazuchika Okada has also successfully put, Marufuji, Suzuki, Fale, Cody and EVIL to the sword as part of his record-breaking tenure. All of these matches delivered in some way or another, but a few in particular stand out as the ripest of the bunch… 

 

Noamichi Marufuji 

After getting systematically schooled by Marufuji in 2016 G1 Climax, Okada simply had to avenge his loss and get his victory back against one of NOAH’s top stars, with the IWGP Heavyweight title on the line. 

Just like at the G1, Okada has his back firmly pressed against the wall after Marufuji dominated New Japan’s new ace with the most accurate and destructive kicks imaginable. Marufuji’s assault may have been powerful but again the champion wouldn’t be topped and battled back with his own impressive strikes, signature drop kicks, tombstone and a rainmaker. The Marufuji-shaped bump in the road had been overcome, but the journey was only starting to accelerate at this point.  

 

Minoru Suzuki 

Following the longest match in Wrestle Kingdom history on January 4th, Okada ran into a brand new roadblock a day later, at New Japan’s New Year Dash event. Returning from NOAH came Suzuki-Gun, and maniacal leader, Minoru Suzuki. He battered Okada and left the champion sprawled in the ring with serious damage to his knee, which he would continue to attack on the road to the next PPV. 

Suzuki would get his title opportunity at New Beginning and the entirety of the match would revolve around his previous game plan – an all out assault on Okada’s knees and legs. Heel hooks, knee bars an figure fours were constantly applied to prevent any sort of momentum being built up – how Okada survived the 30-minute plus onslaught I do not know, but he overcame the adversity and remained the champion. 

The match wasn’t to everyone taste, with some (like me) loving it. It was all on the mat and showed that Suzuki would still be a major player in New Japan, keeping Okada down for the most part, but falling just short. It also proved Okada could do it all, no matter how dirty you play. He is simply the best. 

 

Cody 

It would be fair to say that some people were disappointed when they saw that Okada would be defending his strap against Cody Rhodes at New Japan’s G1 Special in Long Beach, California. In reality though, the main event of the first night was a great success, and had a wonderful dramatic feel to it. Everyone hated Cody, and everyone loved the man himself, Kazuchika Okada. 

Cody really took the fight to the champion and the story of the match was incredibly well played out. Omega came down to the ring and teased throwing in the towel, much like Cody had done to Kenny at Dominion. He pulled out some tasty tricks but would ultimately fall short at the finale of Cody’s best match post-WWE, sending the fans home very happy after a splendid first night in America for NJPW. 

Where do we go from here? 

With Wrestle Kingdom 12 right around the corner and the interstellar rise of Tetsuya Naito being seemingly unstoppable, it appears that it is almost closing time on Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight title stranglehold. The main event is sure to be a storming send-off for the record title reign and it’ll be a crazy ending to the show no matter what. I’ll be incredibly happy to see Naito get a run with the belt that he deserves but a part of me will be sorry to see the end of what was, in my mind, the undisputed greatest title reign of all time. 

Okada and the IWGP Heavyweight belt are like bread and butter, salt and pepper, fish and chips – they’re harmonious and it’ll be so odd to see one without the other. But all good things must come to the end, so be sure to remember it all fondly. 

Not only did Okada help New Japan rise to incredible new heights, he reliably put on the best match on the card, no matter his opponent, validating the title each and every night. Furthermore, he’s the ultimate babyface; he plays by the rules, always gives everything for the fans and epitomises everything that makes pro-wrestling such a joy. So all that is left to say is, thank you for the title memories, Kazuchika. 

Everton’s disastrous managerial search – a timeline

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Ronald Koeman was sacked by Everton on 23rd October following a 5-2 dismantling at the hands of Arsenal. Following the most ludicrous transfer window in the club’s history he left the club in 18th place in the Premier League, following a run of just 2 wins in 9 games.

Before the season began everything was looking rosy for Ron, but the failure to address the loss of their top goalscorer combined with some of the worst defence in the competition gave the club no choice but to let him go.

Caretaker manager David Unsworth took to the helm but other than a surprising comeback to beat Watford 3-2, they’ve been equally abysmal, particularly in the Europa League, where they’ve had one of the worst showings ever by an English side in Europe.

Embed from Getty Images

Surely there were no more trimmings to add to this shit sandwich, Everton fans must have thought. But lo and behold, the club have managed it, and their managerial chase has unquestionably been a nightmare journey, without any sort of clear direction in mind.

It reminds me of Palace at the start of the season, swapping new breed De Boer for old school Hodgson, but at least Palace acted fast, because Everton’s month has dragged and dragged and dragged… Here’s a handy timeline for you.

 

23rd October – Unsworth took the helm and threw his blue blood-stained hat in the mix but reports told that the club were setting their sights in two drastically different directions, with Champion’s League winner Carlo Ancelotti and Championship winner, Sean Dyche on the menu. No disrespect to Dyche, but putting these two in the same pool was a bit of a stretch. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/everton-next-manager-carlo-ancelotti-sean-dyche-search-for-replacement-koeman-a8015761.html

Later that day, Head of Sport at the Daily Mail seemed sure that Dyche was destined for the job, but since he’s still in charge of Burnley, it is safe to say that didn’t happen. https://twitter.com/LeeClayton_/status/922446876745625601

 

24th October – Highly experienced manager and all-round top bloke Ryan Giggs declared his interest, looking to jump right in at the top of the managerial tree like any level-headed chap would.

http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/11095502/ryan-giggs-interested-in-everton-and-leicester-managerial-vacancies

As well as Unsworth and Giggs, Phil Neville also wanted to drink from the poisoned chalice, reported the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/41733364

A man with genuine experience, former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, didn’t rule himself out, but nothing rose from it, perhaps the memo didn’t arrive at Goodison?

http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11671/11096384/thomas-tuchel-open-to-an-approach-from-everton-over-managerial-vacancy

Marco Silva was very high on Everton’s hitlist too. At Watford he had introduced some very attractive football, so understandably, he was a lovely prospect. However, Watford would have none of it.

https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/watford-to-block-any-approach-for-marco-silva-as-everton-and-leicester-circle-a3666501.html

Embed from Getty Images

 

26th October  – Dyche was flattered by the link to Everton, but largely dismissed the situation, saying: “There’s no story, it’s other people’s stories. It’s not mine, but it’s right that I get asked about it.”

https://www.fourfourtwo.com/news/everton-not-my-story-says-burnley-boss-dyche

 

27th October – BIG SAM ALERT. The man who left Crystal Palace with no interest of returning to management quickly couldn’t resist the attraction of perhaps joining the blue side of Liverpool for another relegation battle. Contact was seemingly made between the parties, presumably over a pint of wine, so we will be hearing more from him later…

https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/sam-allardyce-would-consider-becoming-everton-manager-if-approached-36274021.html

Embed from Getty Images

 

1st November – The list is getting longer! This time an approach was made for Nuno Espírito Santo of Wolves. Some say that they can still hear Paul Merson cursing the idea in the distance. Santo’s side we’re sitting top of the Championship at the time, and they’re 4 points clear at present, but was Nuno still leading the pack?

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/nov/01/wolves-nuno-espirito-santo-everton-manager-offer

 

2nd November – Yea he was. He mugged Everton off in the only way to do so in this modern age, by tweeting a wolf emoji. Class.

https://twitter.com/Nuno/status/926106104416874496

 

7th November – Why stop at Wolves’ manager? Let’s have Atletico’s! Simeone arose at the ‘top target’ for Everton, but I don’t think anyone was ever truly jumping on that crazy train – you can’t fault their ambition, I guess.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/everton-new-manager-latest–13870132

 

 

14th November – The Ev seemingly didn’t hear Watford’s comments earlier in the window and went big for Silva, offering £8.5 million (a large amount for a manager) for the Hornet’s man. They were stung though, as Watford stuck to their guns and rejected such compensation.

https://twitter.com/TimesSport/status/930418430838272000

 

15th November – No time wasted, second bid, £10 million. REJECTED. The Watford are not for turning. Silva though, was not playing down the chance of moving to the North and so fire of this story would continue to burn.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/11/15/everton-fail-move-lure-marco-silva-watford/

Embed from Getty Images

 

17th November – BIG SAM ALERT. He’s ruled himself out, much to the confusion of David Unsworth. Sam was unhappy with the lack of decision by Everton. I’m sure that’s the last we will see of the former England manager then…

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/david-unsworth-surprised-sam-allardyce-13917119

 

21st November – Who’s that Pokemon?! Its Louis Van Gaal. The man with the mighty bollocks said: “I’ve not yet been asked” when speaking about the job, seemingly writing his own name on the list. His experience could be an attractive prospect, but we’re the board interested? The answer to that question is superfluous as he was apparently never actually interested and probably just wanted to somehow piss off Ronald Koeman.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-5105231/Louis-van-Gaal-confirms-no-contact-Everton.html

https://twitter.com/CarrieBrownTV/status/933048205301907456

 

23rd November – Everton at this point were like a scorned lover, refusing to give up on their one true love. Their final price for love, was £20 million, but Watford said no again and thus ends the tragic saga of Silva and Farhad Moshiri. Fair play to Watford for sticking to their word here, because £20 million is a simply insane amount for a manager, hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite them.

http://www.hertfordshiremercury.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/marco-silva-watford-everton-820964

 

24th November – Unsworth seemingly finds out he is out of the running for the managerial role via TalkSport. Poor David has not had a very fun month has he.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/nov/24/everton-owner-caretaker-david-unsworth-farhad-moshiri

Shareholder Moshiri claimed the club were close to finalising their appointment, with fans wanting off his wild ride.

https://twitter.com/JimWhite/status/934003634098135040

Embed from Getty Images

 

27th November – BIG SAM ALERT. Present day, Everton have apparently re-opened talks with Sam Allardyce and supporters are surely furiously banging their head on the wall. If they get Sam, he will probably keep them up, but why in the piss didn’t they sort this a month ago when he was interested? A complete and utter farce from start to finish.

https://twitter.com/SkySportsNews/status/935167840621158401

 

Surely were approaching the end of this saga now. Coming into the Christmas period in already dangerous waters, they simply have to take action to steady the ship before it is too late.

They’re only out of the relegation zone at the moment because everyone around them has been equally shite and I sympathise with Everton fans because this is beyond a joke now and the club are at real risk of going down.

Some of these reports were simply rumours and some had a little more flavour to them, so

As it stands Big Sam is the favourite at 1/8, but who knows what the future hold for the Ev, is that Marco Silva available perhaps?

Rugby League’s Million Pound Game is a Danger to Mental Health and must be Scrapped

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State of Mind

Catalans Dragons triumphed in the Million Pound Game this Saturday, as a result they survived relegation and sent Leigh Centurions crashing back down to the National League after just a single season in Super League.

Whilst the concept is highly marketable and an exciting situation on paper (a one-game shoot out to see who stays up) this season’s Million Pound Game should be the last.

Many players and fellow Rugby League figures have taken a negative stance towards this weekend’s massive contest. Immediately following the game on the Sky Sports live broadcast, Catalan captain Sam Moa condemned the idea.

‘This isn’t a concept that we enjoy to play in as players,’ stated Moa, who also offered his condolences to the dejected Leigh side as many of the players’ contracts will now be up-in-the-air. Not exactly the reaction one would expect from a player who’s side had just secured their Super League status.

Resting the pressure of players’ livelihoods, mortgage payments and jobs on a single 80 minute match is an absurd, dangerous and irresponsible action from the RFL. How can anyone be expected to perform at their best under such circumstances?

To put it simply, this cannot continue.

 

Tears from both sides

There is absolutely zero joy in watching somebody emotionally break down on national television.

Micky Higham gave the most upsetting interview I have ever seen in the sport following his side’s defeat. In a river of tears and understandably unable to compose himself, he said ‘I can’t put it into words and feel like I’ve let everybody down.’

On the flipside there were tears from the French side’s players too. ‘There’s lots of tears in the dressing room’ told coach Steve McNamara, who added they were tears of relief due to the huge amount of tension and pressure surrounding the contest.

Clearly this has far more impact than a simple case of surviving relegation and can cause a great deal of emotional stress on both players and coaches alike.

A game that reduces both teams to tears is uncomfortable at best; and such tension may have been a factor as to why Leigh crumbled in the second half. They made multiple errors, gave away penalties and seemingly could not get their heads back into the game.

 

State of Mind

Rugby League’s ‘State of Mind’ programme was introduced in 2011 following the shocking suicide of retired Great Britain international, Terry Newton.

The programme was introduced with the aim of improving the mental health of Rugby League players and ensure the wellbeing of anyone in the Rugby League community. The tagline on the rugby-league.com webpage for State of Mind is, ‘working to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working life of our rugby league players and communities.’

A bit hypocritical don’t you think?

Leigh head coach Neil Jukes addressed this on Saturday too, ‘this is hypocritical of what we stand for’ said Jukes, and when asked would he like the concept to be scrapped he responded, ‘100%.’

Likewise, Ben Cockayne talked about the game before his Hull KR side were relegated against Salford in 2016. He rightly spoke out against the match, stating that it was ‘dangerous’ to mental health as it could leave some players with the massive stress of not having a job come the Sunday morning.

How can the RFL stand by and watch these professionals fear their entire lives may be completely changed for the worst, based on a single 80-minute performance, whilst claiming to be helping to improve players’ mental health?! It’s a disgrace, a shambles, and has been going on for too long already.

 

The Numbers

The biggest of killer of men under 45, is men under 45.

Suicide at this age for males is not a main cause of death, it is the single most common cause of death in this category.

5,668 suicides were reported in Great Britain in 2016, and of this number 76% were males. However, 1 in 8 males have a reported common mental disorder, whilst 1 in 5 women have a reported CMD.

These statistics are unacceptable.

It is time to start talking about mental health in order to ensure that our peers aren’t suffering in silence and instead get the help and support they deserve.

 

To Conclude

The Million Pound Game clearly has a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of the players and coaches involved, as expressed on Saturday. The State of Mind programme means nothing if the RFL put more stress and pressure on players than they have ever experienced before; and ultimately, nobody wants to see another Rugby League player contribute to the statistics effecting men under 45.

Game promotion and viewership is a miniscule price to pay to be sure that professionals do not have the ridiculous and harmful stress applied to them from this single, lifechanging match.

We’ve seen 3 years of this game and, whilst it has produced some good moments from a viewer perspective, 3 years have already been too much. Coaches and players do not enjoy the atmosphere of the concept and the potential ramifications are not worth the risk.

Now it is up to the Rugby League players, coaches, referees, owners and even fans to take a stand against the game and protect the mental health of those involved, before it becomes too late.

Premier League Transfer Window Round-Up – Part 1

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Premier League Teams 2017/18

We’re a week removed from the craziest transfer window that will ever live. Drama was the dish of the year as Donnarumma, Ronaldo, Mbappe and Van Dijk we’re all involved in insane transfer tales, only to be trumped by Neymar, who broke the world-record fee and blew all of our minds. Now that the dust has settled, how did each Premier League team fare in the marketplace this summer?

 

Arsenal

What they needed: Solidity in the centre, and to keep hold of their top stars.

We begin with Arsenal, who started their transfer activity brightly as Lyon hitman Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac both arrived and looked as though they would slot seamlessly into the first 11. Everything looked on the up for the Gunners, but then the season began with 2 losses in 3 games, including a humiliation against Liverpool and everything was suddenly fucked, with little time left for further business.

They dug their heels on the Sanchez front despite a flurry of interest, most notably from Manchester City, and seemingly nobody was interested in the prospect of signing Mesut Ozil, so they did manage to attain their big names. But fragility reigns over the defensive unit as injuries and departures have left Arsene fielding a makeshift defence, something that was not patched up in the final days of the window.

Overall, the window itself wasn’t awful for Arsenal. Sanchez stayed, Lacazette joined and they secured a tidy total for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenals woes – outside of the lack of CB options and Thomas Lemar turning them down due to a lack of Champion’s League football (ouch!) – seem to lie on the pitch, and after just 3 games many fans are already tired… Robbie.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Roman Reigns – Started well with some flashes of brilliance, but some bad mistakes have go the fans turning on them.

Bournemouth

What they needed: Upgrades on last season’s players to ensure safety again.

I’ve often been one to criticise Eddie Howe for his dealings in the transfer window as he seemingly has a tendency to overpay for unproven talent or dire players, see: Jordan Ibe for £15 million and Lewis Grabban for £7 million. Christ.

Something different must have been in the south coast water this summer though as ‘England’s next great manager TM’ executed some smooth and efficient purchases. Impressive loanee Nathan Ake returned on a permanent basis, fellow Chelsea man Asmir Begovic joined to provide experience between the sticks, and Jermain Defoe arrived to provide some extra firepower up top – successfully strengthening the spine of the team throughout.

Josh King, who was outstanding for the Cherries last campaign also signed on for 4 extra years. So even with Howe missing out on Demarai Gray, who he has not-so secretly admired for some time, this window looks a successful one and survival is not only achievable, but should be expected.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: The Usos – Sometimes you forget they are even there because everything is done so fast and with such efficiency. Solid, with just the right amount of excitement.

 

Brighton & Hove Albion

What they needed: Premier League quality and cutting edge.

A large portion of Brighton’s squad are Premier League newbies or haven’t seen too much success when stepping into the world of the Barclays. Rather than bringing in bodies with experience in England’s top flight however, they’ve opted to pull in players from all across Europe in an attempt to survive their initial Premier League season, so if you listed really closely you can hear the sound of steam resonating from Paul Merson and Ray Wilkins’ ears.

Now I’m not going to pretend to know all about Brighton’s new boys and bullshit you all. But I do know that Matthew Ryan can be a solid replacement for David Stockdale in the sticks, that Davy Propper looks like he could produce that extra quality needed to break up tight games and that Izquierdo performed well during his stint in Belgium with Club Brugge.

Adaption will be key then. Their business looks fairly effective but inconclusive, as it all rests on whether the players who faired so well in the Championship can step up and mesh with those new arrivals like hand in glove. Only time will tell for Chris Houghton’s side.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Rusev – Looking to the evil foreign lands rather than opting for some hyper-expensive British talent. How dare they!

Burnley

What they needed: Players that will work hard and fit their system.

Sean Dyche and Burnley had a wonderful 2016/17 season and proved many doubters wrong; they avoided relegation thanks to their outstanding home form and defensive capabilities. This year looks tasty for them too as they have already amazed fans by taking points from Stamford Bridge and Wembley in the initial 3 weeks of the season.

In the window itself they’ve been very effective too. Walters and Bardsley are limited players but look like they will operate well under Dyche, and young Charlie Taylor could really blossom into a fantastic defender under his new gaffer too. Taylor’s Leeds teammate Chris Wood also joined later in the window, admittedly he is inexperienced at the top level but he has arrived in a rich veins of scoring form and looks to be a direct replacement for Andre Gray, who left for Watford. Jack Cork becoming a Claret was the move that tickled my fancy the most however. The midfielder is a gifted distributor of the ball and could work wonders when combined with the big men Vokes and Wood up top.

Burnley’s only downside from the window is admitted a large one. Michael Keane’s slot has not been filled which, should anything happen to the equally impressive Ben Mee, could leave them high and dry in arguably their most important area of the pitch.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Big Show – Steady, safe and reliable despite getting on a bit and not providing too much excitement.

Chelsea

What they needed: World class reinforcements, perhaps a RWB upgrade.

Champions Chelsea have has a rollercoaster window not at all befitting of their league-winning status. We had the Diego Costa ‘seasono’ saga, questions over Conte’s leadership and some key targets slipping through their fingers, most notably of all, Romelu Lukaku, who opted to move to Mourinho’s United side instead.

Several youngsters, such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek Tammy Abraham and Kurt Zouma, we’re loaned out and other commendably bit the bullet and called time on their Chelsea careers, most notably Chalobah and Solanke, who linked up with Watford and Liverpool respectively. However, it was Nemanja Matic who got alarm bells blaring as he left for close rivals Manchester United at an arguably cheap-for-this-market £40 million.

So who were the replacements? Well, Bakayoko and Drinkwater – the powerful Monaco midfielder seems like a good plug for the midfield hole left by Matic and the heroic duo of Drinkwater and Kante may sink right back into the groove if necessary. Despite missing out on the aforementioned Lukaku, Chelsea managed to claim Alvaro Morata who appears to be settling into Premier League life nicely and will be expected to weigh in with the goals that were formerly the responsibility of Costa. Finally, they got some defensive cover in the form of Rudiger and Zappacosta, who will challenge for spots in the first team at the very least, meaning Chelsea have an ultra-competitive squad across the board, which will surely motivate players to perform to their best every single week. Sure, it may not have been the smoothest transfer window, but they got a fair bit of effective business done and look set in decent stead to defend their trophy.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Brock Lesnar – Even they were wounded they bounced straight back and snapped up some targets. No chance they will release their title without a war.

Crystal Palace

What they needed: Player to help establish Frank De Boer’s new tactics.

Palace seemingly cannot catch a break. First, stability under Pulis, then turmoil under Pardew, stability again under Big Sam before launching right back into turmoil after the end of the season. Following survival Sam left the club and in came an entirely new philosopher, Frank De Boer. Given that these 2 are polar opposites on the tactical scale, surely the Palace board would need to invest in some shiny new goods, right?

Wrong. Palace were the 5th lowest spenders in the window and until they finally liberated Mamadou Sakho from his Liverpool-shaped hell, they had only spent £8 million on new signings. Sakho will bring certain stability and leadership to a backline lacking in confidence, just as he did during his previous loan spell. Loftus-Cheek, who arrived on loan from Chelsea, could provide some game changing quality further up the pitch if the new system clicks.

Ultimately that is a big ‘if.’ Riedewald looks solid on the ball at the back but many others will take time to relax into the new passing style, which cannot be afforded given the cut-throat nature of the Premier League. A clear cohesive plan was required before the season started but instead there has been little backing and the club’s direction is all over the place. I quite like Palace and hope they ride out the storm, but times are worrysome.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Dolph Ziggler – Directionless. Everything keeps changing too fast for anyone to invest into.

Everton

What they needed: A squad ready to perform in the Europa League.

Here comes the money! Everton and Koeman wasted little time this summer and made big moves throughout the window, enhancing their squad for a Europa League scrap, which is probably their only route to the Champion’s League. Long game are the days of cash-strapped Everton, who will look to claw above 7th place if at all possible this season.

Michael Keane, Davy Klaasen and Jordan Pickford quickly arrived at £20+ million fees; top signings, with an eye to both the present and the future, as the trio could be mainstays in the first 11 for years to come. Other attacking midfield options Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney are very much transfers for the now with both expected to contribute large numbers towards the goal and assist tally of the Toffees.

Even with these additions however, it looks like scoring goals will be a key issue for the blue side of Liverpool. Top scorer Romelu Lukaku was replaced by the exciting but unproven Sandro Ramirez at a surprisingly cheap £5.3 million. If they can find a focal point of their attack they may manage to break into the top 6, but Romelu’s boots are huge ones to fill and a lot of hope rest on the shoulders of their new mercenaries.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Shane McMahon – They have the money and the style, but do they have the finishing touch required to beat the very best? I’m not so sure.

Huddersfield Town

What they needed: To keep Aaron Mooy on the books and add some extra quality around him.

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The ultimate underdogs, Huddersfield Town, are in dreamland. David Wagner has worked wonders and bought the Yorkshire club for average Championship finishers into the land of the giants.

Simply making it to this stage doesn’t appear good enough for them either, as they have followed up their promotion miracle with some smart dealings in the window. Wagner has been savvy and loaned in keeper Jonas Lossl, right back Florent Hadergjonaj and Kasey Palmer from Chelsea – all of whom will be challenging for spots in the starting line-up, producing some healthy competition in the squad. Tom Ince arrived permanently from Derby, and despite the days of him turning down Internazionale being long gone he’s still a canny operator and can provide fruitful service to fellow new forward, Steve Mounier.

Aaron Mooy signing on a permanent basis at £8 million is their cherry atop the Huddersfield cake and could well be the signing of the window if he leads them to safety. The Australian was incredibly influential in their Championship run and is certainly Premier League ready, which could be the vital difference at the end of gameweek 38.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Daniel Bryan – It seems absurd that they are even mixing with the very best. They will be everyone’s favourite underdog and their dealings show they have the ability to keep up.

Leicester City

What they needed: To replace any key outgoings successfully.

After the ecstasy of the 2015/2016 season, a large portion of last year’s campaign was very much forgettable as they stumbled out of the blocks, sacked their legendary manager through the middle, before accelerating across the finish line.

Impressively, Leicester managed to keep a majority of their top talent again and have imporved the squad well. Danny Drinkwater was a final day departure but a replacement in the form of Iborra had already arrived in a £12 million steal. Missing out on Adrian Silva by 14 seconds sucks, but they should be fine without him until the winter should their appeal be unsuccessful.

Elsewhere Mahrez looked like her was going to go full Peter Odemwingie but in airport mode, as he looked to secure a deal in Europe, but he ended up staying put and will prove a valuable asset once again. Demarai Gray was subject to a few bids but will look to explode into the next level at Leicester instead and their talismanic striker, Jamie Vardy, also remains a fox. Ihenacho, Maguire, Jakupovic and Dragovic are all very nice signatures in my eyes, with Maguire and his England bin bags being the cream of the crop. A top half finish should certainly be achievable for Shakespeare and company thanks to their business.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Chris Jericho – They’ve become a household name again and have replaced their outgoings with some shiny new ideas, should be a fun watch on the pitch.

Liverpool

What they needed: A new centre back, a new left back, more players ready for the Champion’s League.

Liverpool’s transfer window shouldn’t really be described as bad, instead the adjective should be closer to baffling, or questionable. They were in clear need of certain resources but bolstered in other areas instead. Mo Salah is absolute wheels and has already impressed in a Liverpool shirt, and they did give themselves an option at left back with Andrew Robertson coming in from Hull.

Naby Keita joining in 2018 is an exciting preposition but ideally he would have been around for the current Champion’s League campaign. More sagas ensued too. Barca tried and tried to poach Coutinho with no luck and likewise Liverpool shot themselves in the foot by approaching Virgil Van Dijk by inappropriate means. Following such, they seemingly dropped their search for a centre back and sold Mamadou Sakho to Palace, leaving them very light at the back with zero chance of bringing somebody else in before the deadline struck.

Finally there’s the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain problem. Did they really need him? Is he another James Milner as he is a jack of all trades but a master of none? Or is he just a £35 million player who will provide cover? It seems clear that he isn’t wanting to play left or right back either, so his role is murky. Maybe I’m being a little harsh but simply put, it’s a move that raises more questions than answers problem for me.

If their transfer window were a WWE wrestler it’d be: Sami Zayn – Clearly have a ton of quality in their squad, but their usage and business has question marks all over it.

Part 2 should be up tomorrow, how do you feel the transfer window went for these clubs? Did they get what they needed? Or did they leave fans wanting more?

Un’Goro’s Quests in the Knights of the Frozen Throne metagame and beyond

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We’re 2 weeks into the Frozen Throne right now and it’s very clear that Druid is the granddaddy of them all as its various decks dominate large portions of the metagame, with Pirate Warrior, Murloc Paladin and Resurrect Priest just some of the other decks knocking about.

Hero cards are our exciting new toy this time out, but other than the Exodia Mage deck our previous gamechanger, the Quest cards, have been massively struggling as many received little support from the latest expansion, a highly disappointing scenario.

I was personally hoping Blizzard wouldn’t drop the quest archtypes like they have with other mechanics in the past such as Inspire, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. What is especially frustrating, is that they spent so long trying to make certain decks viable (Taunt Warrior being the prime suspect) only to leave them high and dry just a single expansion later. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what is the point in pushing a deck so hard if you’re just going to drop it as soon as it experiences some success?

Which Quests are Viable at the moment?

There is the aforementioned anomaly. Quest Mage has experienced an upsurge in viability, in large parts as the meta has slowed down, despite receiving only a few cards that would directly support the quest:

· Ghastly Conjurer – Adds a copy of Mirror Entity into your hand.
· Arfus and The Lich King – Both can add Lich King cards to your hand.
· Simulacrum – Copies the lowest cost minion in your hand and can be manipulated to get an extra Apprentice.

So even the most powerful quest in the current meta wasn’t given a handout by Blizzard and instead its success came from the pace of the overall expansion. The meta seems to have stabilised so Exodia Mage could remain a tier 1 deck, but of the next expansion produces a ton of new ideas and this deck gets no support, that may not continue.

Priest’s Awaken the Makers got a little bit of support with Obsidian Statue, Eternal Servitude and Shadow Essence, and other playable neutrals such as Skelemancer and Bone Drake – but these cards are playable without the quest and have done little in the way of pushing ‘Awaken the Makers’ up the ranks.

Outside of that most quests got next to nothing to help them. It could be argued that Ultimate Infestation helps out the Druid quest and the Blood-Queen Lana’thel helps the Lakkari Sacrifice but right now Druid is too powerful without another cook to spoil the broth and discard is still a downright dreadful RNG based mechanic which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

Are Quests a Dead Archtype?

They may be on the brink of extinction, but they’re not dead yet. It’s not worth writing quests off in their entirety until we have seen what another expansion has to offer up but given Blizzard’s track record of injecting life into previous ideas, there perhaps isn’t a lot to cheer about if you’re a fan of quests.

Using the previous expansions as example, we can determine a feature which was heavily pushed, that hasn’t seen much action since.

• GvG landed a bunch of Mechs into our collections, with Un’Goro and Frozen Throne producing just one between them of late. That one, Meat Wagon, which sees zero play outside of terrible meme decks.
• TGT introduced Inspire, no such cards have been released since.
• WOTOG unleashed the highly-popular C’Thun decks upon us but following the expansion dropping it was stated that no further C’Thun cards will be released in future.
• MSOG gave us tri-class cards, which have yet to show their face since.

Of course, I have to give credit to them for continuing to push the successful discover mechanic from LoE and the fact that a few viable dragons have been available following Blackrock Mountain. Clearly though, less has stuck that has dropped off.

The present issue however, is that a number of the quests require very specific cards in order to influence the usage of the quest cards.

Despite not getting too much support, Mage’s quest deck is in already in a very good spot and may see even more play if any Druid cards are neutered in future, but other than that, things aren’t looking promising.

Druid itself will always get some 5+ attack minions as they’re easily printable and non-specific and Paladin will likely see more buff spells appear over time, but the power level of these quests is just too low at present. Similarly, Warlock’s quest is simply too unreliable to run unless the discard situation is addressed and Rogue’s once-powerful quest is no more, having been nerfed into the abyss.

Priest has been dealt a strong hand of deathrattles in this expansion, but Anduin may not be so lucky in future as such powerful cards like this may not re-occur again. Perhaps worst of all though, Warrior and hunter got no class cards to help push their quest decks to the next level; with the only viable taunts introduced being The Lich King and Saronite Chain Gang and the only neutral 1-drop of note being Arherus Veteran. Likewise, Shaman only received one slighty playable murloc, Brrrloc, and a shaky draw in the form of Ice Fishing. Hopefully this isn’t a case of they simply don’t care for the archtypes anymore because all 3 of their quests are very interesting concepts.

To Conclude

So all in all, it seems that only Exodia Mage will keep the quest idea alive for this expansion, and without any specifically designed cards or mechanic reworks there’s a slim chance that things will improve moving forward. Personally, I’m sad to see that. Many quests have untapped potential because they didn’t see very much play during Un’Goro and treating these unique cards like an afterthought is a complete waste of a wonderful concept.

They’re extremely unlikely to ever buff the weakest quests, so many of them need a great deal of upkeep, but I don’t see why when a new door opens, we must close another. Hopefully Blizzard take a careful look into the situation and in future expansions they give quest cards a second crack of the whip as I would really love to see lesser seen quests such as The Marsh Queen and Jungle Giants find some kind of place within a future metagame as there’s some truly interesting decks that really deserve a boost.

Pokemon Go – Raids, Legendaries, and why I’m still Playing

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Cast your mind back to this time one year ago, Pokemon Go was in its infancy and had the world hooked. Every smartphone owner as far as the eye could see was glued to Niantic’s innovative new application.

The game suffered from unstable servers, a lack of features and the removal of key components (step counter died for our sins). But the world was entranced, it was like Pokemon-shaped crack, except legal, and everyone could get involved and you could jump ship anytime you so desired.

And jump ship people did. A serious lack of communication, updates and the novelty effect wearing off caused vast number of players to phase PoGo out of their lives. The fanbase was slashed – no longer were the street jam-packed with avid trainers – but despite all of this, many fans, much like myself, have stuck it out and Pokemon Go is in a true period of resurgence.

But was has changed in order to keep people on board? In short, quite a lot, so please allow me to elaborate on the details…

Updates that Scratched the Itch

Around the turn of the year Niantic released their biggest update to the game as generation 2 Pokemon were made available for capture. Suddenly players had another sizable sample of creatures to hunt down, powerful attackers to battle with such as Tyranitar, and new baby Pokemon to hatch from eggs.

Niantic also managed to wet our appetite with in-game events occurring at an increasing pace. Examples of such include the Halloween ghost event where more ‘spooky’ Pokemon appeared and more candies were awarded, or the Water Festival, where an increased number of water types could be found all over the globe.

Admittedly the experience grew stagnant, just like if you eat a delicious pizza every day for 6 months, the effect just isn’t the same, and the longer you go on without change, the worst it will taste. During this time the dynamic of the app changed; gym battles were no fun as most were filled with unstoppable Dragonites and Blisseys, so other than filling up your Pokedex there was almost nothing else to explore.

Pokemon Go therefore no longer felt like a game, in fact, it became little more than a glorified collection. But collect I did. Something extremely rare popping up, or hatching something cool after walking 10K kept me coming back for my PoGo fix, and I even managed to finish the EU 1st generation Dex – I was beaming when I finally caught the elusive Hitmonlee to fill the final piece of the first gen puzzle.

Tying in with this timeline, I has a personal boost in reason to continue playing. My Dad finally ditched his old useless phone in favour a of a shiny new iPhone and immediately caught the Pokemon Go bug. Watching his excitement as he captured more and more Pokemon reminded me of how wonderous the game was initially and it got me amped up to search for new Pokemon too. It really showed me the fun of playing Pogo alongside someone else, rather than slogging through a solo mission.

He’s still playing now, with my highlight of his tenure being in his Pokemon Go infancy as he didn’t realise he could tap the Pokemon on the map and instead thought his character had to bump into them, meaning he was clambering around in trees and bushes attempting to collect his first Hoothoot. What his plan was for those located in water, I do not know.

Aside from my Dad getting involved, the mild shake-ups from the events and updates (we’re talking Korma-levels of mild) meant that I, and many others, ferried through the storm. No longer would I actively hunt Pokemon like a wild caveman, instead I would simply keep an eye on the PokeWorld whilst out and about. However, then the Spring/Summer updates arrived.

Niantic Drops the Legendary Bomb

This summer Niantic and the Pokemon Go franchise delivered in a huge manner. Either side of an utterly disastrous Pokemon Go Festival in Chicago, they really managed to enhance the player experience and sailed the rough seas back to the top of the highest-grossing app list – have some of that Candy Crush!

First came the very much needed gym re-work. Gone we’re the days of 10 uber-powerful beasts, as gyms were edited to only allow for 6 Pokemon defenders, with each of these needing to be unique. This has led to increased diversity, faster gym turnover, and has even allowed the glorious Team Instinct player to take control of a few gyms too.

Honestly, I never cared for the gym battling aspect of the app, I found it primitive, boring and hollow. Now though, even if the combat remains monotonous, it is entertaining to tackle gyms. Seeing them flip control like pancakes gives the feeling that finally, you can challenge the highest-level players and you can earn coins for your efforts, even if your best Pokemon is more Caterpie and less Charizard.

As we sunk our teeth into the tasty new battle system however, a colossal addition was taking shape beneath the surface. The aforementioned catastrophe, Pokemon Go Festival, acted as a launching pad and BOOM, Niantic unleashed legendary Pokemon into our virtual stratosphere.

Legendary birds Lugia and Articuno (followed by Moltres and Zapdos) were thrust upon players and a wave of avid Pokemon hunters were back on the trail, desperately trying to get their hands on these new targets. Now I don’t need to tell you how Pokemon usually spawn in the game, but legendaries are obtained in a new and interesting fashion.

As opposed to locating critter on the map, Niantics freshly floated ‘Raid Battles’ became the sole method of capturing these magnificent flying types. Raid battles are similar to gyms in the sense that you battle to defeat a foe, with the task here being to topple the legendaries before you can even get an opportunity to capture them.

These aren’t your ordinary monsters though, they are incredibly powerful and one lone ranger simply cannot slay such as a singleton. Groups of up to 20 people are required, a decision which has been a large success on the developer’s part. Now Pokemon Go feels similar to those sweet, sweet first few weeks again; I’ve been playing with huge groups as we have collectively slain Lugias, Articunos and the like, leading to the sense of community in Pokemon Go to shine bright once again.

Raid battling together epitomises everything that made the app so successful in the short-term whilst injecting it with long-term nutrients, as trainers are actively going out and meeting up with others, all in an attempt to claim the rarest Pokemon available.

Currently I am sans-legendary despite my various attempts and victories when battling these challenging birds. Every time I’ve had an opportunity to throw my Pokeballs at them, they’ve fled, leaving me dejected and frustrated by the ordeal as the empty slot in my Pokedex taunts me each time I view such. The blue-balling that these legendaries cause is unlike anything else Pokemon Go has produced thus far and you can be certain that when I finally net a legendary I’ll be punching the air will glee.

Do you know what that feels like then? It feels like an actual, genuine, exciting, encapsulating video game. It is challenging, it is irritating, but most of all it is fun, really fun, the exact element that the game was sorely missing for months. Niantic have released the ‘glorified collection’ shackles and managed to capture the hearts and minds of players, and I’m thankful for that.

Whether they be veterans, returning, or even novices, Pokemon Go has got its mojo back and given that we haven’t even seen the likes of Ho-oh, Mewtwo or any of the further 5 generations yet the game looks to be riding the wave of success once again, with no signs of slowing down.

NJPW Dominion – A Primer for New Japan’s Massive Summer PPV

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Prepare your snacks, take refuge in your comfiest seat and switch your browser over to New Japan World as this Sunday one of the most stacked wrestling card’s you’re ever likely to see is taking place, NJPW’s Dominion.

Last year at the event we saw Kazuchika Okada defeat Tetsuya Naito to reclaim his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and they year before that, he defeated AJ Styles in the main event in order to win the same strap. Okada is rightfully main eventing against but this time he faces what I believe to be his toughest test yet, Kenny Omega.

More on that later though, as there is a whole card of pro-wrestling delight available for your viewing pleasure on Sunday, so let’s jump right in.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi and Satoshi Kojima vs. Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata

The main card begins with an 8-man that should warm your platter. It’s a bit like the small basket of bread you get at restaurants; you are happy to nibble on it but you know your bigger, better main course is just around the corner.

Those familiar with New Japan will know exactly what to expect here, it’ll be a standard solid tag match and everyone will get some shit in before the finish. There not really much for me to say about this one but given that Tiger Mask W has been heavily rumoured to be entering the G1 (which officially starts on July 17th) I would imagine that he will take home a victory here.

All in all, it wouldn’t be a disaster if you woke up late and missed this one but it’ll be a fun match nonetheless.

Predicted Winner: Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA) (c) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-Gun (Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi) – Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship

Wow, that title was a mouthful. Following the Gauntlet match for the same championship at Wrestle Kingdom back in January, New Japan have decided to host another, this time the team who won the original match are defending their straps.

The last match was far better than I anticipated but this certainly stinks of, ‘how do we get everyone on the card?’ With talents such as SANADA, BUSHI, Ishii, Zack sabre and Ricochet in there the gauntlet is sure to have some really great moments but I’d be lying if this was one of the matches I was super hyped for.

If I had to call it I would say Los Ingobernables will make it through Bullet Club and Suzuki-Gun before coming unstuck against Taguchi Japan due to their fatigue late in the contest, also, I feel Taguchi Japan having the belts will add to another member of the factions celebrating further through the show, but more on that to come…

Predicted Winner: Taguchi Japan

Roppongi Vice (Trent Baretta and Rocky Romero) (c) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match

The first of 5(!) Wrestle Kingdom 11 rematches taking place on June 11th. Roppongi Vice are in their 4th reign as Junior tag champs having lost and reclaimed the belts to Suzuki-Gun in Spring, whilst the Young Bucks are returning to New Japan for the first time in a while and will likely be at ringside during the main event of the evening too.

The Junior tag division is really floundering at the moment, there’s zero depth in talent pool and injection of new life is desperately needed. I really like both Roppongi and the Bucks but it does get a little tiresome seeing them play pass the parcel with the titles all the time. Personally, I loved the tag team of ACH and Ishimori and wish they would become a mainstay in the division and have a title run, just to see something new.

That said, the match will likely be superb. Expect fluid flips, high spots and dives galore as the two teams know each other extremely well and have collided a number of times. There’s unlikely to be much of a story running throughout the action but if you like insanely athletic wrestling then this is one for you.

Predicted Winner: Roppongi Vice

War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) – IWGP Tag Team Championship Match

War Machine have been on a decent tear since crossing the pond to Japan and it’s no surprise really, they fit the powerful, big-guy mould that New Japan fans love.

Having pinned TenCozy at Sakura Genesis to begin their first ever IWGP tag title reign, they then successfully defended their belts by pinning Tenzan in a triple threat tag match, much to the distain of fellow competitors, the Guerrillas of Destiny. Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa attacked the champion after said match, which prompted War Machine to challenge G.O.D to a face-to-face confrontation and thus, the Dominion tag match was announced.

G.O.D are so much better than they were a year ago so I’m very excited for this match. All four guys can really go and the power spots will be lathered all over the ring, so expect strong reactions from the crowd to all of those. Plus, whilst Hanson, Rowe and Roa are big hosses, they really can shift and will easily keep up with Tonga, who will surely be the wildcard in this match as his speed and precision could spell disaster for War Machine.

Though War Machine are really great I’m going to expect the Bullet Club boys to reclaim the titles and parade them around during the G1, with Tonga getting the pin. War Machine will be back though and already seem like a great shout to win the World Tag League, which occurs towards the back-end of the year.

Predicted Winner: Guerrillas of Destiny

Cody vs. Michael Elgin

Michael Elgin is back babyyyyyy! Good lord he’s so good and in the past year has turned me into a super-fan of his. Earlier this year he had a barn burning match and very nearly captured the Intercontinental Championship from Naito and now he has the chance to add another high-profile name to his victory resume, in the form of the American Nightmare, Cody.

After arriving in New Japan on January 4th Cody has been a part of many Bullet Club tag matches and most importantly, has secured singles victories over both Juice Robinson and David Finlay. Cody big bollocks took these wins as an opportunity to challenge NJPW to find him a tougher opponent, so they did, and big Mike will attempt to make Cody eat his worlds.

As for the match itself; I reckon Elgin will dominate a large portion proceedings and showing off to the fans with his impressive strength and vertical delayed suplexes before Cody manages to somehow pull a win out of the bag following a Elgin mistake. Maybe the big man will crash and burn following a top rope splash or maybe Cody will cheat the win with some shenanigans, but either way, I see Mr. Rhodes coming out the victor here.

Both should be in the G1 so it is likely that whichever of the pair takes it down, the other will win the return match, them being in the same block permitting.

Predicted Winner: Cody

Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match

Unless you’ve been under a wrestling rock for the past month or so, you’ll know that KUSHIDA is now a 2-time Best of the Super Juniors trophy winner having defeated Will Ospreay in a truly excellent final. The killed each other for half an hour before KUSHIDA broke out his new Back to the Future finisher to complete his redemption song.

The former title holder has been experiencing the worst months of his career in 2017 as he was beaten at Wrestle Kingdom and never got close to getting his strap back; with the worst of his losses coming in under 2 minutes against Hiromu. But he has earnt his final swing at the champion, much to the displeasure of Takahashi.

Hiromu (of Los Ingobernables de Japon) on the other hand has had arguably the best year anybody could ask for. His eccentricities have captivated fans and he loves his belt for than I love a good beer; but not only that, in the ring he has been dominant over all that have come before him. I’ve already mentioned his sub 2 minute win over KUSHIDA, but he has already defeated Ricochet, Taguchi and Dragon Lee in his inaugural reign and is already aligning the stars to become one of the finest Junior stars we have ever seen.

I expect nothing less than a beautiful car crash from these two, they really, really hate on another and will risk it all to stand tall following the carnage. Hiromu is a daredevil in the squared circle so you’ll be sure to see his apron sunset flip powerbomb, diving senton to the outside and maybe even a bloody Canadian destroyer! KUSHIDA on the other will look to slow the pace with his superior submission game but that hasn’t proved effective so far against Takahashi, so good luck to him on that front.

KUSHDIA is likely regaining the Junior belt here in order to give a feel-good ending to his rise back to the top but a potential Hiromu win has me very intrigued. Should he defeat his rival again he would be undeniably one of the most dominant champions the NJPW have ever seen and it could blast him even further than his current stratospheric heights.

Predicted Winner: KUSHIDA

Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto – Lumberjack Deathmatch for the NEVER Openweight Championship

Lumberjack Deathmatch?! Sounds like a recipe for bloody violence and disaster, doesn’t it? Well, if that’s what you’re into, don’t get your hopes up too much. There will likely be a small amount of weapons in play but not a massive amount; the more interesting part about the match is the lumberjacks as the ring will be surrounded by CHAOS and Suzuki-Gun wrestlers, all ready to get in a scrap.

El Desperado helped Suzuki wins the NEVER Openweight belt under very dubious circumstances and Goto repeatedly requested a refund after his loss. Suzuki then, being the mad bastard he is, challenged Goto and the entire CHAOS gang, erupting the sides into all-out war.

I would personally prefer to see this without the interference in a straight shooting singles match as I rate both of these men incredibly highly, they are both a sight to behold when they’re on song. But hey, this should be frantic fun and definitely will be a fresh matchup following a few non-stipulation matches in a row. And I’ll go Suzuki to retain, if only because I have no idea what to expect from these crazy rules.

Predicted Winner: Minoru Suzuki

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Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match

The first of 2 absolutely giant Wrestle Kingdom 11 main events see Los Ingobernables leader Tetsuya Naito come face to face with Hiroshi Tanahashi once again. Having defended his belt successfully against both Michael Elgin and Juice Robinson, Naito was riding high, though people were happy with his disrespectful treatment of the Intercontinental Championship.

Naito’s actions towards the belt got even more aggressive following New Japan’s introduction of the new IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship; he proclaimed that his Intercontinental it represented the same as his belt, making his title worse less than a ¥10 coin. Having become so disgruntled with the situation, he claims that if he wins at Dominion, he will vacate the ‘worthless’ championship.

Who else to step up and save the championship, than New Japan’s ace in the hole, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Initially Naito turned down Tana’s challenge but after seeing the belt’s peril increase to the point where it had actually been smashed, New Japan made the match official, and the floundering ace has chance to get back to the pinnace as, despite this being his return after injury, he feels his is fully ready to dethrone Naito.

I don’t need to tell you that 2 of the best wrestlers in the world are likely to put on a technical masterclass, because I’m damn sure they will, but instead, I will look more towards the potential result.

Based on the entire build you’d have to say that Tanahashi is the favourite; he’s going to be the friend the IC belt needs and finally claw it away from Tetsuya’s nasty grasp, with them potentially presenting him with a brand-new, squeaky-clean, non-smashed title belt upon getting the 3 count. My only doubt comes in the fact that Naito may win the match and vacate the belt a dominant, undefeated champion. Either way, this would then make Naito a shoo-in for winning August’s G1 Climax, propelling him into the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event.

Predicted Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega – IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match

Never before in my life have I been so excited for a pro-wrestling match. Okada v Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 was without a doubt my personal favourite wrestling match ever, and as much as I would love them to, I don’t think they, or anyone else for that matter, will top it. It’s basically ruined wrestling for me because I’m sad that I’ll likely never see another match that amazing again. After all, it got 6 fucking stars.

So how did we arrive at this rematch? Well, Kenny wants to be the champion when New Japan present their G1 Special shows in California at the start of July, but he failed to win the New Japan Cup to get a title shot and instead he had to avenge his cup defeat to Ishii before, following his victory against Bad Luck Fale, Okada finally called out Omega.

Okada nominated Omega as he felt he was the strongest potential challenger to the championship that has become synonymous with the Rainmaker, and he also pointed out that he wanted the match that the fans most wanted to see. You’re damn right we want to see it! And on Sunday, we get it, so get excited.

They’re surely going to go for a hell of a long time, and crazy spots will be littered throughout, just like in the first match where we had the Terminator dive, the table smash, the spinning tombstone, the moonsault over the barrier, the dragon suplex off the top, and more and more and more. These two mesh like hand in glove.

I’ll say it now, if Kenny hits the One Winged Angel, he will win the title. Okada didn’t get caught by it last time out so I’m almost certain that if he does this time, it’s all over for the champion. It’s his time, it’s his moment, and I’m 99% certain that Omega is going to take it.

Predicted Winner: Kenny Omega

So that’s the lot, be sure to enjoy the show and tune in on New Japan World, both English and Japanese commentary will be available on the site, which you can find here: http://njpwworld.com/

What is your stance on the CM Punk Chants?

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It is no secret that chants for former WWE champion CM Punk have been shouted loud and clear in 2017, with the name recently been blared during certain segments on Monday Night Raw.

Much discussion and debate has risen as a result and whilst some are against the chanting see for example, What Culture’s video on the matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHTfiXrUaRc others sit on the opposing side of the fence and are unfased by the noise of the fans in attendance.

What I was wondering though is how do people at home feel about it in general? Do you like or hate the CM Punk stuff? Or do is not bother you either way? I thought it best to present the case for and against, and try to allow everyone to discuss their standpoint accordingly.

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Prologue

99% of wrestling followers know exactly who the man in question is, but just in case you’ve been living under a wrestling rock the past 10 years, or you’ve not been into WWE for too long, let me quickly run down a brief overview of CM Punk.

Punk was a massive indie star before arriving in WWE and as a result, he almost always had the backing of the fans as he broke onto the biggest scene before exploding into the biggest star in the business after his infamous pipebomb promo.

After that he was on top of the world and held the WWE Championship for a massive 434 days, but after missing out on his dream of being in the main event of Wrestlemania to the Twice in a Lifetime matches between The Rock and John Cena, he left the company the day after the 2014 Royal Rumble. He was banged up and worn out but even in leaving his action paved the way for Daniel Bryan to take centre stage at Wrestlemania XXX, one of the finest moments in WWE history.

Because of his amazing promos, his fantastic matches (my personal favourites being against Jeff Hardy, Brock Lesnar and many times against John Cena) and his stratospheric popularity people want to remember him in WWE. A lot of people would also consider him their favourite wrestler, and rightly so, he was/is one of the best in the world.

Chants have really picked up in volume recently however as a fake AJ Lee was bought out on a dark segment at Raw, as part of the film WWE and The Rock are making based on Paige. During this thunderous rendition, Rocky called Punk and left him a voicemail, Punk duly responded with a grateful tweet: https://twitter.com/cmpunk/status/833905165145145344?lang=en

Since then they have continued; very notably so in segments involving the Raw women, Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins and HHH, which leads up to this discussion, what do you think about people chanting CM Punk? And why perhaps, do people continue to chant his name?

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For

Everything mentioned in the above introduction shows exactly why people want to chant for their hero, and since they’ve paid their hard-earned money for ticket to the show, why the fuck not? So long as no offence is being dished out and no harm is being done to anyone, then the fans are free to enjoy shouting about their favourite wrestler, whether they’re still with the company or not.

If you’ve ever been to a wrestling show of any kind you’ll also know that shouting together as a huge audience is really, really fun. This might not always project through the television screen but by and large people are having a laugh and getting involved with the show, rather than trying to kybosh it as some may feel.

Crowds also often chant CM Punk in the direction of heel authority figures, namely Stephanie, Hunter and even a while ago, Vince. Seemingly the Punk chant represents a sort of ‘fuck you’ to the authority, which is exactly what the man stood for both in the sense of kayfabe and reality; personally I find that all quite amusing and enjoyable, especially when it elicits a response such as Stephanie’s recent classic, ‘if you could keep that up for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, you’d last one second longer than Punk did.’

Oh and finally in this section, do you actually need me to explain why Chicago will forever chant for Punk after gifting them the best wrestling moment the city has ever seen? Nope, didn’t think so, cheers.

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Against
Here’s where things could get a little spicy… There are seemingly 3 primary reasons why people dislike the CM Punk chanting. Irrelevance, trying to make the show about the crowd rather than what is going on in-ring and, most pertinently, throwing off segments.

Firstly, the point of irrelevance. CM Punk, fantastic as he was, hasn’t been seen in WWE since the Royal Rumble in 2014 and with his name being all but blacklisted by the company, he doesn’t currently have any place on Raw and Smackdown. Hence then why people do not see the point in the fans in attendance shouting the former champion’s name throughout arenas; it’s seen in a similar vein to the ‘what’ or former ‘ECW’ chants as it is just unnecessary.

Show goers trying to make their presence felt at home and almost attempting to make themselves appear more important than the wrestlers is something that has raged on for a while, especially in NXT since Owens labelled them ‘the John Cena of wrestling fans.’ Some of the Punk chants have the same effect and whilst, as mentioned, it is fun to get a reaction, it can go too far and feel like the crowd just want to take over the show instead; making it very tiresome for many.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, throwing off and even ruining segments is something that really has got under the skin of fans when the CM Punk chants begin. Rollins’ segment a few weeks back really suffered as while he was giving an emotional speech the crowd seemed to ignore him and chanted for Punk instead. It took the shine off what was a crucial moment in the lead up to Mania and that really isn’t cool.

Conclusion

So I pose the question to you all again, what is your stance on the CM Punk chants? Do you mind them? Do you hate them?

Personally, I’m of the volition that it is all fine if the timing is right. During Steph’s promos it pretty fun because she bites back, but when Bayley is speaking or when someone like Rollins is stating something really important, Punk chants are something we could really do without. There really is a time and place for everything, even Punk chants.

Wrestle Kingdom 11 – A Beginner’s Guide to the January 4th Tokyo Dome Show

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2017 is all but upon us and New Japan will be there to kick of your new year off with a bang as Wrestle Kingdom 11 will be coming live on Wednesday 4th of January. Last year’s show was phenomenal as it featured AJ Styles’ last Japanese match against Shinsuke Nakamaura and was headlined by Okada versus Tanahashi in a blow-off match to top all blow-off matches.

Wrestle Kingdom 10 then will clearly be a tough act to follow but based on the card announced they will certainly be going all out in order to put on the greatest show possible. But what if you aren’t into New Japan? Or what if you’re just looking for a reminder as to what is scheduled for the show? Well, my friends, I am here to assist you and hope my handy guide gets you all excited for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s flagship showcase.

I’ll be running through the matches, give you context of the storyline and what to perhaps expect to see before rounding off with my prediction for each bout’s victor. So strap yourselves in because I’m about to beam some information into your eyeballs.

 

Tiger Mask W versus Tiger the Dark

So the first show on the main card is based on the Japanese anime show, Tiger Mask W. The Tiger Mask character has long a part of NJPW but this year the newest version of the anime series was launched, so much like WWE promoted 2K17 with Goldberg, New Japan are promoting the series with a match, albeit in a less high profile face-off the Goldberg v Lesnar.

It will be the second match in New Japan for the character who defeated Red Death Mask at King of Pro Wrestling earlier this year. Babyface Tiger Mask should easily topple the villain from the anime, Tiger the Dark in a short match that will likely get the crowd nicely warmed up with some playful flipping and won’t be taken too seriously by many.

Oh, and who is Tiger Mask W? Well currently it’s Kota Ibushi! It seems bizarre that he is taking on this persona rather than appearing in New Japan as himself but hey ho, we get an Ibushi match on the undercard. For reference, Tiger the Dark will be a masked version of ACH who should blend well with Ibushi’s style as he continues to work his way up the New Japan ladder having shone in the Super Junior Tag Tournament earlier in the year. Probably not one worth tracking down if you miss it, but it’ll be fun nonetheless.

Predicted Winner: Tiger Mask W

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) (C) versus Roppongi Vice (Trent Beretta and Rocky Romero)

New Japan have ducked what was seemingly becoming a tradition for Wrestle Kingdom – a Super Junior Tag Title 4-way of excitement and crazy spots – as this year the straps will be defend in a simple 2 versus 2 scenario. However, as big a fan as I am of that car crash style 4-way, this should still be an absolute Christmas cracker.

Roppongi obtained this Tokyo Dome opportunity as they overcame their differences in order to be victorious in the Super Junior Tag Tournament which culminated at Power Struggle in November, defeating the aforementioned ACH and Taiji Ishimori in a wonderful final match. They will be looking to begin their 3rd Junior Tag Title in January but it won’t be easy as they face the highly-regarded Bucks of Youth.

The Bucks haven’t had a high profile match in New Japan for a while and have instead been largely tagging with Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega to take on CHAOS, the Okada led group which Roppongi are part of. They have also been defending their ROH tag title over in America recently, so this match has taken a bit of a backseat but this tag bout will almost certainly turn some heads at Wrestle Kingdom.

Expect high energy, speed, dangerous spots and creative offence between the teams; they both know each other so well and their styles blend excellently for a high-risk, high-reward showcase. I also don’t feel one finisher will finish someone off here and suspect we will need a team to pull out a huge combination in order to go home with the belts. I see Rocky and Trent putting an end to the Bucks’ fifth reign with the titles and hopefully they will go on to produce some fresh feuds for the gold.

Predicted Winner: Roppongi Vice

 

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship – David Finlay, Ricochet and Satoshi Kojima (C) versus Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page) versus CHAOS (Jado, Will Ospreay and YOSHI-HASHI) versus Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA)

Well that title was a bloody mouthful! So remember that 4-way Junior tag match I mentioned earlier? Yea? Well, this appears to be replacing that in the insane, ‘get everyone on the card, good luck keeping track on the action’ match. It will probably be decent and wrestlers get to perform on the grandest stage in Japan but this is madness. At least it is a gauntlet so not everyone will be battering each other at once and a little cohesion will be present amongst the 12 fellas.

The champions are defending against the 3 main groups in company and despite having fun matches during their reign, I think is this the end for Finlay, Ricochet and Kojima. There’s no story behind this stage-by-stage contest so I would just expect the faction members with the most momentum behind them to rise above the others, and that to me is Los Ingobernables de Japon.

Following an above-average World Tag League performance by EVIL and SANADA I would imagine that they, along with BUSHI, have enough to win. Page and Takahashi also did surprising well in the Tag League but given that Fale stank up the league I wouldn’t give Bullet Club too much chance, but they are more likely to win than CHAOS who are all good workers but don’t really have the star power compared to the other 3. If I had to predict the order of elimination I would guess the champs begin against CHAOS, then take out Bullet Club before finally succumbing to Ingobernables.

If you can keep up with the action this one should be pretty enjoyable but fighters will likely be spilling all over the ringside area, so best of luck to yourselves. Everyone here will hopefully get a chance to shine, especially my favourites: Ospreay, Ricochet, HASHI and the Ingobernables boys, but as I have covered already, this is going to be a daft wreckage of action with everyone trying to get their party pieces in within their short stay in the bout.

Predicted Winner: Los Ingobernables de Japon

 

Cody Rhodes versus Juice Robinson

Cody Rhodes is about to become the first man to appear at Wrestlemania, Bound for Glory, Final Battle and Wrestle Kingdom within the space of 12 months as he makes his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut this January against fellow former WWE alumni, Juice Robinson, who was CJ Parker in NXT.

The ‘American Nightmare’ was introduced to the Japanese audience as the latest member of the Bullet Club and instantly had the wrestling world buzzing to the name of Cody and Bullet Club once again. A big, established name like Cody adds much needed freshness to the Bullet Club as the last few inductees haven’t exactly set the world alight with their presence; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in a co-leadership role (in a similar vein to Anderson under Styles) before too long.

Kicking his New Japan career off against Robinson is a smart move too. Our dreadlock-headed friend has really improved throughout the year having worked alongside top stars such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin, making himself a very good hand for anyone to work with. I would expect the match to be similar to most of Cody’s on the indies thus far, nothing too special, but certainly not bad; at the very least it will flow well and Cody will get to show off his arsenal to an untapped audience.

If Cody doesn’t take the win here I’ll eat my hat. It would make absolutely zero sense for Juice to go over someone who is destined to be in and around the main event scene in the next year; plus, given Cody’s now infamous list, a match with NEVER Openweight Champion SHIBATA surely isn’t too far in the distance.

Predicted Winner: Cody Rhodes

 

ROH World Championship – Kyle O’Reilly (C) versus Adam Cole

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I’ll be honest with you and say that I don’t know as much about this match compared to the others, as whilst I love to keep up with New Japan, I tend to skip weekly ROH television and only watch the PPVs. So this will be a brief overview of the big Ring of Honor title match which looks to become settling in as a staple of the January show of all shows.

Kyle O’Reilly, who New Japan are very big on right now, will collide with Bullet Club’s Adam Cole in a rematch of the Final Battle main event, occurring on December 2nd. The two had been clashing heads for some time and Adam Cole issued a great promo video to hype the match as he talked down O’Reilly as inferior to Cole and stated that Kyle would be unable to ever defeat the heel champion; obviously he was made to eat his words and now O’Reilly comes into the Dome as the defender.

Even though Adam Cole has a full-time New Japan contract and O’Reilly is still negotiating his between ROH and NJPW, I would imagine the latter would probably retain here given the recent change of the ROH title. Plus, whilst it is not their show, I doubt New Japan would want to make their partner company’s main show of the year feel redundant just a month down the line.

Predicted Winner: Kyle O’Reilly

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship – Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) versus CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) versus G.B.H (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma)

Well, what looked to be another standard tag match between G.O.D and G.B.H just got really, really interesting as just a few days ago, Yano returned from NOAH requesting to be added to this match with Ishii as his partner. Following that, the two CHAOS guys attacked the Tonga and Roa, stealing their belts in the process and as such, they have been added to this contest, making it a triple threat for the heavyweight gold, nice!

Bullet Club’s G.O.D have improved immensely throughout the year; their initial title reign was abhorrent but second time round they have had some quality matches, including at the Tag League final when they were beaten by Makabe and Honma. This is the second consecutive year in which G.B.H have won the league and will compete at the Dome again as a result, however this time, I can’t see them repeating their success.

A hard-hitting fight is on the cards here and I would especially keep your eyes peeled for Honma’s insane headbutts and Ishii’s seemingly annual ‘I’m going to headbutt you until we’re both concussed’ segment. Tonga will likely keep the action flowing too as he has become a real master of the tag match lately, whilst Yano will cheat and perform his usual comedy spots – so this match has a chunk of different and interesting offerings.

Before the adding of CHAOS I would have predicted that G.O.D were set to go from strength to strength and retain their title in another solid match, but now I would say Ishii and Yano are the favourites because whenever a new tag team appears NJPW love to throw the belts onto them. However, I would like the champions to continue their successful second reign; something I cannot believe I’m saying after watching the twosome earlier this year.

Predicted Winner: CHAOS

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – KUSHIDA (C) versus Hiromu Takahashi

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Oh man, there are so many reasons to be excited about this match. Ever since Hiromu Takahashi reappeared in New Japan when the timebomb went off at Power Struggle I have been hyped for these two throwing down at Wrestle Kingdom, and the Junior Heavyweight belt is set for another wonderfully entertaining January 4th match.

KUSHIDA has had a truly tremendous year in 2016 having really made the Junior belt his own collectors item in a bunch of top level matches against the likes of Will Ospreay and BUSHI amongst others. In 2017 I would really like to see him advance into the heavyweight scene and finally challenge for Japan’s most valuable prizes such as the G1 or the New Japan Cup; he’s definitely at their skill level so I just pray his size doesn’t hinder him in stepping up to the next stage.

The eccentric Takashashi returned looking like a Back to the Future character after travelling the world of wrestling under the alias Kamaitachi, most notably in CMLL and ROH, and at the Tag League final he joined the team that has been putting the boots to KUSHIDA all year, Los Ingobernables de Japon. So if there wasn’t enough beef between the two before, they will certainly want to beat the crap out of one another now.

This is probably the toughest on the card to judge so far as both have really good reason to win. Takahashi taking the belt would give him a real boost with the Asian crowd as he will look like an even bigger deal to them with a victory, similarly to how he is respected in the American and Mexican scene. KUSHIDA winning would continue his strong push towards the previously mentioned heavyweight roster, however, much like Omega did last January, he might be better dropping the title and then building afresh from the loss. If you held a gun to my head, I’d go with the new boy.

Predicted Winner: Hiromu Takahashi

 

NEVER Openweight Championship – Katsuyori Shibata (C) versus Hirooki Goto

Now you may have noticed that many of the matches so far are not so much storyline driven and are instead booked from wrestlers appearing in the company or straight up challenging someone for their belt. Shibata versus Goto still has elements of that challenger versus champion build but these two have been intertwined throughout their careers in New Japan and will come to violent blows once again at the Tokyo Dome.

The former classmates feuded when Shibata returned to New Japan in 2012 and then teamed together, evening winning the 2014 Tag League and IWGP Tag Team Championships, but earlier this year Goto finally jumped to CHAOS after being persuaded by Okada and their alignment permanently ended. Shibata was understandably pissed off and threw some shade Goto’s way, but everything was brushed under the rug until now.

After Shibata (with Nagata) pinned Goto at the World Tag League and Goto (with Ishii) returned the favour 5 days later, New Japan made the match official and we will get treated to an insane face-off for the NEVER Openweight title. Shibata has made the championship his own this year and, in my opinion, has been the best champion since the carnation of the belt after having stellar matches with many of the older hands in NJPW, EVIL and both members of ReDRagon, just to name a few.   

Another tough one to choose a winner for but I would lean towards Shibata retaining as he is a real favourite for the New Japan Cup which takes place in March; even if he doesn’t win that, a feud for his title against Bullet Club’s Cody Rhodes could well be on the cards. Hirooki Goto just wouldn’t gain as much by winning as Shibata would be retaining, but stranger things have happened in wrestling.

Predicted Winner: Katsuyori Shibata

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Tetsuya Naito (C) versus Hiroshi Tanahashi

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What a year it was for Tetsuya Naito; after navigating troubled waters in previous years he became a leading talent in New Japan and became only the 4th man in 5 years to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Now he is the Intercontinental Champion having crushed Michael Elgin in an insanely good match back at Destruction in Kobe, leading to this dreamy co-main event between the Los Ingobernables leader and the face of resurgence in New Japan.

There was talk of a potential fan vote for what would main event Wrestle Kingdom 11, which happened a few years back at WK8, seeing Tanahashi being pushed into the main event against Shinsuke Nakamura, whilst Naito went on second last against Okada; this has not come to fruition though and as a result, Hiroshi Tanahashi’s long streak of main eventing the Tokyo Dome comes to an end.

Naito has turned everything he has touched into gold this year and his Ingobernables stable is the most popular thing in New Japan right now. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he throws belts, he has incredible matches – the man can do it all, say it all, and winning against Tananhashi would be the perfect conclusion to what has been a wonderful story of redemption.

Tanahashi on the other hand, has stalled throughout 2016. He lost at the Tokyo Dome against Okada and was topped by Kenny Omega for the Intercontinental belt in February before suffering an awful injury which kept him out of the ladder match between him and Kenny. Aligning with Elgin, Kushida and company against Ingobernables (he beat SANADA at Power Struggle too) put him and his wonderful hair in the perfect position to attempt to bring down Naito, and with Tanahashi that is certainly possible, much like John Cena in WWE, he is the man in New Japan.

Further stacking the deck against the champion is the fact that he has never won a singles match at the January 4th show, having been defeated in 5 solo attempts, whereas Tanahashi often comes out on top. I would say that despite me wanting Los Ingobernables to take over the wrestling world and that I believe a victory would be most beneficial to Naito, I feel given the draw that Tanahashi is, the 40-year old will go over and begin his second IWGP Intercontinental Championship reign.

Predicted Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Kazuchika Okada (C) versus Kenny Omega

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Hold onto your balls and get your popcorn ready because this could well be the first 7 star Dave Meltzer match and the 2017 match of the year. If you have never seen either of these guys before let me tell you that Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada are two of the finest pro-wrestlers walking the earth today and both have potential to become the best of all time at just 33 and 29 years old respectively. Seriously, they’re right up there with AJ Styles.

So how did these two generals of pro-wrestling get to the main event of the 2017 Wrestle Kingdom? Well, Kazuchika Okada has been the top champion in New Japan for all but 70 days of the calendar year and has had another annum of incredible matches and stories against top talents such as: Tetsuya Naito, Naomichi Marufuji and Hiroshi Tanahashi. At the end of all of these mountains he has triumphed but at the Tokyo Dome he faces what may be his bigger threat of them all…

Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega has a defining year in New Japan and has been a fine leader for the prestigious faction since AJ Styles moved to the WWE in January. Not only did he claim his first IWGP Intercontinental Championship, he also put on some of the best matches you may ever see against Nito, Goto, Elgin and Tanahashi. But to top it all off, he became the first gaijin to win the G1 Climax in its current incarnation, granting him this title shot in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11.

Since his crowning moment in August Omega has successfully defended his main event briefcase against Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI and has been beating the snot out of Okada on the road to Wrestle Kingdom, standing tall over his foe at the final New Japan PPV of the year. Okada then will want to not only defend his Heavyweight belt but he will also want some revenge on the man and faction that have troubled him so much lately.

Okay, so who wins? Well, I really couldn’t call this one, it’s the hardest of the lot! Kenny Omega having his crowning moment after one of the best years possible in the sport would be both ideal and exciting for me but Okada, being the golden new boy of New Japan, could well retain his championship, just as he did a year ago. Screw it, I’m going to say Okada will win but honestly choosing is so hard.

Predicted Winner: Kazuchika Okada

 

So that’s your lot then folks, I’m sure many of you will agree there’s a selection of tasty matches to sink your teeth into and you can watch it all on New Japan World, which is available via the following link: http://njpwworld.com/ – if you have the time to watch it is certainly world the money, so treat yourself folks and Happy New Year!

FloSlam.tv – Can this new wrestling streaming service be a success?

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This Monday a new pro-wrestling streaming platform, FloSlam.tv, was announced and whilst details remain to be finalised there is a lot of interest surrounding this potentially game-changing service. Following the success of the WWE Network alternative streaming services appear to be the way forward for the wrestling distribution industry and the website already has people stirring about the potential behind this site and whether it will deliver a wrestling fan’s dream or an overly-ambitious nightmare.

At present the website is rather bland (almost like an illegal streaming website), but it is already clear as to some of the programming we can expect to see upon potentially signing-up to the service. WWNLive productions including Evolve, SHIMMER and SHINE appear to be the foundations of what will be offered, with further promotions expected to be added in future, as well as an archive of all WWNLive video dating back to 2003.

Getting to view these PPV’s live on what should be a more reliable webcast than is currently available – Evolve, for example, is sometimes difficult to watch live without a stream mishap – is so appealing as poor production quality often leads to viewer frustration and inevitably turns people away from something they will potentially adore.

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Furthermore to this large catalogue of content, we will also be getting treated to original documentaries featuring the very best wrestlers in the independent companies of the world and the number of companies involved in this program will hopefully increase rather quickly as FloSports are looking to add the very best from the UK and Japan to their network.

The company are apparently searching the globe for even more content from the pro-wrestling hotbeds, Japan and the United Kingdom. So being able to watch the aforementioned companies as well as potentially shows such as Progress, ICW, RevPro, Dragon Gate and more means this streaming system could be astonishing value for wrestling fans who are looking for a simpler, more streamlined way to view some of the leading and highly entertaining independent promotions that may not be easily available to them.

Ring of Honor has also been heavily linked to the FloSlam service so far and should they be a part of this venture it could gain some real momentum and their inclusion would likely be a fruitful way to assist subscriber numbers in taking flight.

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It all sounds very similar to the Network, wouldn’t you say?

Being similar to the WWE Network is certainly not a bad thing; after all, the service currently has just under 1.5 million paying users on its books. Hence why WWE have invested in this new streaming site. They clearly see the value in streaming wrestling rather than in the PPV purchasing system but is this new platform worth purchasing? On the other hand to the many positives listed above, there are some clear concerns.

For starters, PWG, whom many see as the best indie promotion currently running, have already turned down a deal with the site without even considering the move. They make a heap of their income on DVD Sales and removing their exclusivity would likely have a hugely negative impact on the number of discs they would ship after each event. On top of that, a lot of the talent they use may be restricted by TV deals meaning that, had they opted to move to the FloSlam system, some of the wrestlers may not have been available to work for PWG.

Secondly, Dave Meltzer has mentioned that WWE, despite being an investor, are unhappy with Flosports already. It is unclear as to why but one would imagine it has something to do with their partnership with Evolve – maybe they were looking to put some Evolve programming onto the Network rather than another streaming application? Or perhaps it is due to their lack of content control? At this point a concrete reason for their disappointment remains to be seen and all speculation should be taken with a pinch of salt and should be food for thought only.

Finally, we have to address the elephant in the room. The price. $20 per month, which is £16.64 for us British folk. Now if this service fails to deliver on its early promises it will almost undoubtedly not be worth you cash; a large catalogue spanning the world of quality independent companies is vital in the making or the breaking of the FloSports service. If they manage to get hold of ROH programming and beyond this could be an absolute revelation for independent streaming and lead to a lot more talent breaking through into the big leagues. So let the balancing act ensue.

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The ultimate question remains then, can this new FloSlam.tv streaming service be a success for independent wrestling? Yes, it can be a success if they manage to expand their catalogue of companies as speculated so far – and I really hope it does take off, an oasis of indie wrestling is something I am very interested in getting behind. Supporting your favourite wrestlers and promotions raises the game across the board and as a collective these companies could experience a real boom thanks to the new website.

However, I would wait before putting your hard-earned money on the line. $20 per month is pretty steep given the little content they have readily available and the fact that the WWE Network and New Japan World are both available at a much cheaper rate. But give it a couple of months and it could be the best thing to happen to the wrestling business in some time. I’m excited, and I hope you are too, FloSlam may be the one to watch for 2017.