Greetings everyone, and happy Independence Day to all of my readers in the United States! On this most festive of holiday weekends, what better way to celebrate the birthday of America than by waking up at the crack of dawn to watch a live pro wrestling event from Tokyo? (To be fair, I’m sure that the Japanese had a hand in helping us in the counterstrike against those dastardly aliens back in ’96.)
When it was announced that WWE was going to broadcast a live special from the legendary Ryogoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Japan on the WWE Network (which you can subscribe to for an undisclosed monthly sum), I was immediately excited. Japan has a rich history in the art of pro wrestling (or puroresu, if you will) and many of WWE’s biggest stars got their first break in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Let’s take a match-by-match look and see if “The Beast in the East” lived up to the hype.
Chris Jericho vs. Neville
The event started out with a great opening match featuring Chris Jericho taking on Neville. Jericho has a storied history with Japan (which you can read more about in his first autobiography A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex). The characteristically quiet Japanese audience made it known that Y2J was missed by giving him a raucous welcome home. Neville is also no stranger to the Orient, as he formerly competed in Japan under the ring name Pac. Michael Cole even acknowledged both men’s histories in Japan by name dropping the FMW and Dragon Gate wrestling promotions, which surprised me considering that WWE rarely acknowledges the existence of other wrestling promotions.
The match itself was a solid, back-and-forth contest featuring both wrestlers hitting all of their signature high spots. The match ended after Neville attempted a standing hurricanrana, only for Jericho to reverse it into the Lion Tamer (that’s right, the Lion Tamer, bitches) leaving Neville no other option but to tap out.
Diva’s Championship: Paige vs. Tamina vs. Nikki Bella
If you are a fan of Maffew’s Botchamania (and really, who isn’t?), you are probably familiar with the segment “Cena Talks Too Much”. Well, I’d like to propose that he add another segment dedicated to the U.S. champ’s wife called “Nikki Talks Too Much”. There were several instances throughout the match in which I could distinctly hear Nikki calling out various spots, which is starting to become a reoccurring theme in her matches.
The match itself was a decent Divas match that culminated in Tamina missing the Superfly Splash off the top rope, only for Nikki to capitalize on it with a running forearm to retain her title. All three women worked hard and the Japanese audience respected their efforts.
Kofi Kingston vs. Brock Lesnar
At last, the time had come for The Beast to make his return to the East, as Brock Lesnar wrestled in front of a Japanese audience for the first time since his match against Kurt Angle in Antoni Inoki’s IGF promotion. Again, I must give props to the announce team of Michael Cole and Byron Saxton for recognizing Lesnar’s history as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in NJPW.
This match was everything that you would expect after reading “Brock Lesnar vs. Kofi Kingston” on paper. Kofi tried to get some high-flying offense in early on in the match, but his attempts were no match for the brute strength of The Conqueror. Since Lesnar’s renaissance mid-last year, he has been booked very strategically. Having him compete in the occasional squash match by destroying people is always satisfying to watch.
After putting away Kofi with a devastating F5, Big E and Xavier Woods stormed the ring only to meet the same fate as their New Day brethren at the hands of The Beast Incarnate. I’d like to believe that there is still one lone fan left at Sumo Hall asking this question:
NXT Championship: Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens
In case you’re not familiar with Japanese wrestling or you haven’t been watching NXT for the past 3-weeks, Finn Balor is big in Japan. Competing under the ring name of Prince Devitt, Finn was one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most popular junior heavyweights and the architect of the hottest stable in pro wrestling today, the Bullet Club. Needless to say, this was a huge homecoming for Finn and the biggest match of his WWE career.
Balor made his awe-inspiring entrance into the hallowed grounds of Sumo Hall adorned in his demon paint, complete with Japanese characters painted on his back. In what was arguably the coolest moment of the night, the Japanese crowd welcomed their hero back home by showering him with the traditional multi-colored streamers in a show of gratitude.
Kevin Owens reinforced the fact that he is undeniably the best heel in WWE today, and possibly all of pro wrestling. An obvious student of the game, Owens has mastered the subtleties of what makes a great wrestling heel by doing things that are often overlooked in today’s climate, from verbally taunting his opponent in the ring to insulting the audience’s homeland mid-match. It is safe to say that Kevin Owen’s is going to be in a major program for WrestleMania season next year.
As Owens went to finish the match with his popup powerbomb, Balor countered and was able to hit his signature hesitation dropkick in the corner and defeat Owens with the Coup de Grace, becoming the new NXT Champion. Balor celebrated in the ring as Japanese legend and 2015 WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami came out to congratulate him on his victory, much to the delight of the crowd. Forever the consummate heel, Kevin Owens walked away in disgust without even so much as a congratulations to the new champ.
King Barrett and Kane vs. Dolph Ziggler and John Cena
When it was apparent that the NXT Championship match was not going to be the main event, I was a bit perplexed. “How could a throw-away tag match that we have seen on Raw 100 times be the main event for such a special event?” Suddenly, it hit me: the Japanese audience loves John Cena. It really should have come as no surprise, as another white meat baby face by the name of Hiroshi Tanahashi (heralded by many as the “Japanese John Cena”) is NJPW’s biggest star and a Japanese cultural icon.
As I alluded to above, the match itself was your standard Raw main event fare, and it felt to me liked it really dragged at some points. However, it served its purpose and sent the crowd in Tokyo home happy.
I enjoyed “The Beast in the East” significantly more than I did a lot of recent traditional WWE PPVs. Not only did it serve the purpose of making the WWE Network feel special, but it made the WWE feel like a truly global company again rather than just a strictly North American juggernaut. I hope that we see more live specials on the network from different parts of the globe in the future. Maybe one day we will even see WrestleMania emanate from the famous Tokyo Dome, but I would settle for a SummerSlam.
Follow Collin Miller on twitter: @collinMHW