JANUARY 4TH IS A DATE THAT GOES INTO EVERY WRESTLING FANS CALENDAR. JANUARY 4th IS THE DATE OF NEW JAPAN’S BIGGEST SHOW OF THE YEAR; WRESTLEKINGDOM.
The twelfth iteration of WrestleKingdom looks to be the biggest one to date with a double main event, some massive title contest and a dream match to boot. This one also has a lot of new eyes of the product, with a certain legend making his return to New Japan Pro Wrestling so if you’ve never seen New Japan before or even need a refresher course on how we got to these matches, do not panic. We’ve got you as we preview WrestleKingdom 12!
IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE – KAZUCHIKA OKADA © VS TETSUYA NAITO
The longest reigning IWGP Champion of all time against the winner of the 2017 G1 Climax Tournament. The face of the company facing arguably the most popular wrestler in the company. It’s amazing that a match this big has to share billing, but there are is extenuating circumstances. This match has happened at the Tokyo Dome before, at WrestleKingdom 8 for the IWGP Title. However, due to the fans rejecting Naito as a clean-cut babyface, the fans voted for the Intercontinental Title match to main event, leading to Naito’s change in attitude and ironically, leading him to become the most beloved star in the company. Another big part of this match is the new submission hold that Okada has been using, the Cobra Clutch as a way to negate Naito’s Destino finishing move. For me, it’s time for a changing of the guard. Naito is taking this one in a match that is going to be five stars minimum.
PREDICTION: Tetsuya Naito
IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE, NO DISQUALIFICATION: CHRIS JERICHO © VS KENNY OMEGA
The match that three months ago, would have only been possible on WWE2k18. ‘The Best In The World At What He Does’ versus ‘The Best In The World Right Now’. Alpha versus Omega. On November 5th, Chris Jericho shocked the world by appearing on screen and challenging Kenny Omega to a US Title match at WrestleKingdom. He then also appeared at the World Tag League Finals, beating and bloodying Omega and taking out several ringside personell, including long time friend and English commentator Don Callis. This then spilled out to the post-show press conference, leading to the no disqualification stipulation being added. This match has really cemented New Japan on the world stage and where as it won’t be a six star mega match like Omega had with Okada, this should be a phenomenal fight between both men. It makes sense for Jericho to put over Omega in this one.
PREDICTION: Kenny Omega
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE: HIROSHI TANAHASHI © VS JAY WHITE
Jay White is a product of the New Japan ‘young boys’ system, where he worked as ringside crew and paid his dues before heading on an excursion to Ring Of Honor. He then returned at Power Struggle in November as the reveal to the mysterious ‘Switchblade’ vignettes, to challenge Tanahashi to an Intercontinental Title match at the Tokyo Dome. Tanahashi is the veteran ‘ace’ of the promotion, multiple time world and Intercontinental Champion. He is however on his way down the card, not to mention he is carrying a legitimate knee injury into the contest. This should be a passing of the torch moment for Tanahashi, handing the gold over to the new generation as he goes into the ‘legend’ stage of his career. The second biggest title in New Japan is in very good hands however, as Jay White is extremely talented. Would be better if Tanahashi wasn’t injured, but it’s a difference between amazing and very good. Still enjoyable.
PREDICTION: Jay White
CODY VS KOTA IBUSHI
Originally for the Ring Of Honor title, this is now a dream match between two men looking to bounce back after high profile losses. Cody lost his ROH Title to Dalton Castle at Final Battle 2017 and Ibushi came up short in his claim to capture to Intercontinental Title from Tanahashi. New fans will remember both from times in WWE, Cody as a main roster members for a number of years and Ibushi from his time in the Cruiserweight Classic. An interesting thing to note is neither of these are exclusive roster members, as both are freelancers in the world of wrestling. Whereas Cody is due to have a big win in Japan, I feel that ‘The Golden Star’ will take this one purely because he is going to be about more in NJPW in 2018.
PREDICTION: Kota Ibushi
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLES: KILLER ELITE SQUAD (DAVEY BOY SMITH & LANCE ARCHER) © VS LOS INGOBRERNALES DE JAPON (EVIL AND SANADA)
EVIL and Sanada won the World Tag League at the end of the year, enabling them to earn a shout at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, Killer Elite Squad. New Japan shows that simplistic booking often is the best way to go. These two will beat the hell out of eachother in a real hard hitting tag team match. EVIL and Sanada should take the belts in this one, as it’s due to be a big night for L.I.J.
PREDICTIONS: EVIL and Sanada
NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE, HAIR VS HAIR: MINORU SUZUKI © VS HIROOKI GOTO
Suzuki and his ‘Suzuki-Gun’ stable made his return at New Year’s Bash on January 5th, 2017 and since then he has beaten everybody up. Literally everybody. Wrestlers, young boys, refs, staff – and he won the NEVER Openweight Title on the way. Hirooki Goto begged Suzuki for a title match and he refused as Goto didn’t deserve it. So Goto suggested he put something else up – his hair. The hair vs hair match is a unique stipulation to NJPW and whereas Goto is seen as the bridesmaid of the promotion (he is 0-8 in IWGP Title matches) I feel we will get the feel good moment of Goto holding the NEVER Openweight Title high and shaving Suzuki bald. This will somehow make Suzuki look MORE terrifying.
PREDICTION: Hirooki Goto
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH: MARTY SCURLL © VS WILL OSPREAY VS KUSHIDA VS HIROMU TAKAHASHI
Look for this match to steal the show. The last four Junior Heavyweight Champions in the ring all together as the title is defended for the first time in a four way contest. Will Ospreay is the first ever British-born Junior Heavyweight Champion, KUSHIDA is arguably the ‘ace’ of the Junior Heavyweight division, Marty Scurll is the villainous newcomer, bursting onto the scene following him joining the Bullet Club and Takahashi is the wild-card of the quarter, hence his nickname of ‘The Ticking Timebomb’. This is so hard to call, but for me, I’ve got to go with Takahashi, purely because I think L.I.J are walking out with all the gold.
Takakashi also has a stuffed cat called Daryl who is the heart and soul of us all.
PREDICTION: Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLES: ROPPONGI 3K (SHO AND YOH) © VS THE YOUNG BUCKS
A young up and coming tag team up against the best tag team in the world. However, the young up and coming tag team are the champions. Sho and Yoh came up as Rocky Romero’s protégés and immeadiately won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles from Taguchi Japan, followed by winning the Super Junior Tag Tournament the next month. The Bucks are looking for their seventh tag title reign, making this Roppongi 3K’s biggest challenge to date. This is going to be one for air traffic control (shocking) and I do think the Bucks will take this one.
PREDICTION: The Young Bucks
NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX MAN TAG TEAM TITLES, GAUNTLET MATCH: BULLET CLUB (BAD LUCK FALE AND GUERILLAS OF DESTINY) VS WAR MACHINE AND MICHAEL ELGIN VS SUZUKI-GUN (TAICHI, TAKASHI IIZUKA AND ZACK SABRE JR) VS TAGUCHI JAPAN (JUICE ROBINSON, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI AND TOGI MAKABE)
The six man tag team titles have been a bit of a mess since their inception, literally being thrown from team to team before L.I.J had a seven months reign with the gold. Bullet Club won the belts (conveniently leaving them free to go for the tag titles) and they head into a four-team gauntlet match. This match seemingly is a new WrestleKingdom tradition with it happening last year as well and where this could be a bit of a mess, I am really pulling for Juice Robinson and his team. Juice has had a mega year, and some gold to start 2018 is a good way to cap it all off.
PREDICTION: Taguchi Japan
Alongside that, we’ll have the New Japan Rumble in the pre-show which is always a barrel of random (last year saw Haku, Billy Gunn and Scott Norton enter the fray) and even though this is a full on five hour show much like WrestleMania, unlike ‘Mania this show does fly by.
Roll on the Tokyo Dome!