This was for AJ’s WWE Championship. This was for AJ’s WWE Championship. It was a rematch from their rather beloved match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the 2016 Wrestle Kingdom.
While this was not the uninspired bore that virtually all of Shinsuke’s WWE matches have been (and the majority of his non-stadium/G1 Japan matches for that matter), this was also not the outstanding world title match you would want from these two on this stage.
Things initially looked optimistic for this one as both guys established a competitive, physical, and significant tone right from the start. They gave people an immediate hook for this match, as they conveyed everything you would want from a big match on the world’s biggest show.
Then their work slowed down for the worse. It’s not so much about the speed in which they were moving but instead the sense of urgency and tension. Things just progressively got less and less dramatic through the middle portion of the match, and they did not compensate for that with any nuance in-ring storytelling.
The match finally got intriguing in the final third as Shinsuke’s leg began to fail him after AJ’s work on it. That restored much of the match’s tension and gave them a new thread to follow. The action got tighter and more physical after that, and the initial tone established was returned.
Just as things got going though, AJ reversed a Boma Ye attempt into the Styles Clash to retain the title. This one succeeded overall through sheer force of will despite the dead environment they were in. (***1/4)
In a blessed moment, Shinsuke turned heel on AJ after the match. That is by far the most intriguing direction Shinsuke’s had in his WWE tenure.