January 4th is a date in all hardcore wrestling fans calendar no one misses. When the eyes of the wrestling world descend towards the Tokyo Dome for what many call ‘the show of the year’ before the years even truly begun. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay- Never OpenWeight Championship Match
Result: Ospreay wins via pinfall- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: Well this was a bloody lovely opener eh?! One of the most anticipated matches of the night; it was clear that Ibushi and Ospreay didn’t leave anything in the back. High action, LOTS of flips and a ridiculously stiff match; this had something for everyone. The somewhat surprising aspect of the bout was that Will was, mostly, in control. Going into this, I had expected Will to be constantly up against it as Ibushi is, technically, in a higher weight class than him so the story would be that Ospreay is struggling in the new division. But clearly, 2019 has big things ahead of the Arial Assassin as he hit the Stormbreaker for the pinfall. The Kota situation was worrying (and since the show finished, we were notified he has sustained a minor concussion) so that dampened Will’s win a small amount but thankfully, it sounds like Kota’s injury isn’t too serious and we can get a re-match later down the line.
Kanemaru and El Desperado (c) vs Sho and Yoh vs Bushi and Shingo Takagi- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
Result: Bushi and Takagi win for LIJ- New Champions crowned
Thoughts: In my opinion, the weakest match of the card but still a lot of fun and it was always going to be hard following that opener. This entire match was all about Takagi; the newest member of Los Ignobernables de Japon and he absolutely shone. He completely dominated when he eventually got into the match and covered Roppongi 3K to win, starting off the night strong for L.I.J. Enjoyable definitely.
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr.- Rev Pro Championship Match
Result: Zack Sabre Jr. wins via submission- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: I thought this was fantastic. Zack matches have a tendency to go one of two ways; a bit too slow so people can become bored or have that realism about it that means you can’t take your eyes off of it. Thankfully, this match was definitely the latter. The stiff penalty kick Zack hit, to the intense headbutts of Ishii which culminated in the double octopus stretch ensured that Zack had an incredible display whilst also ensuring Tomohiro looked incredibly dangerous. Putting the Rev Pro belt on Zack makes a lot of sense and it will be interesting to see where both men go from here in their respective 2019’s.
Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c) vs Evil and Sanada vs The Young Bucks
Result: Evil and Sanada win via pinfall- New Champions crowned
Thoughts: Tama Tonga came out as Red Hood. He won in my eyes after that. The controversy going into this match was that The Young Bucks were placed into the match and, in the eyes of some, didn’t deserve to be. However; after watching the match, it is clear they were added in for their final appearance, for the foreseeable future, in New Japan and to eat the pin on their way out. As can be expected; this was fast-paced, high energy and the cchemistry all six guys showcased together was amazing. Tama consistently pushing this new ‘Good Guy’ gimmick whilst The Bucks had to contend with Bad Luck Fale etc before, eventually, Sanada picked up the win and another win for LIJ on the night. This marked the fourth title change in a row…a theme that would continue throughout the night. I found it great that Matt and Nick got to have one final match at the Dome before riding off into the sunset that is All Elite Wrestling.
Cody Rhodes (c) vs Juice Robinson- IWGP United States Championship Match
Result: Juice win via pinfall- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: Juice is just the most likeable wrestler in the world right?! After seeing the Bucks lose; it was clear that their business partner and friend was going to be losing in the next match as well. And whilst Cody did; he put on one of his best independent matches, for my money, so far in his career. Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t really react to Brandi being thrown out as the referee didn’t make a huge deal about it but the story allowed Juice to constantly be fighting against the odds and that made his eventual win, even better. The statement with him hitting two Pulp Frictions was made even more sweeter as retribution from this very event two years ago and I can’t wait to see what Juice Robinson does in 2019.
Kushida (c) vs Taiji Ishimori- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Result: Ishimori wins via pinfall- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: Continuing our trend of new champions being crowned; The Bone Solider defeated Kushida in his Wrestle Kingdom debut. First of all; the mask that kid in Kushida’s entrance had on was the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen and absolutely terrifying. But in regards to the match; Ishimori is absolutely the future of that junior division, especially with Hiromu out for the foreseeable future. He’s quick, not a movement is wasted, and is ridiculously talented in the ring. The finish came with Kushida hitting Back to the Future but, instead of going for the pinfall, went for a second which ultimately cost him. With all the rumours about Kushida going to WWE; I feel that this would be a relatively strong send off for him.
Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada
Result: White wins via pinfall
Thoughts: Only in New Japan could a wrestler reveal that they are wearing trunks and the entire internet go; ‘…oh my god, he’s winning this isn’t he?’. That’s the power of New Japan but, most notably, Okada. The old Rain-Maker was back at this show; old music, blonde hair and he finally got rid of the tights and reverted back to his trunks. Stiff kicks, hard hitting knees and rainmakers all over the place; this match was absolutely excellent and would put all the Jay White doubters to bed. I’ve been a HUGE Jay White fan ever since I saw him against Will Ospreay at War of the Worlds back in 2017 and was gutted when his match with Tanahashi at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom underwhelmed. Well, White has revolutionised himself throughout 2018 and looks poised for the biggest year in his career in 2019. I predicted White to win, as did quite a few people, but myself included didn’t expect Switchblade to win completely clean. A fantastic decision that showcases how high New Japan officials are on the Kiwi born athlete. With Okada; it’s going to be incredibly interesting to see where 2019 takes him and if it is further down this path of uncertainty.
Chris Jericho (c) vs Tetsuya Naito- IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Result: Naito won via pinfall- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: How Naito didn’t break his neck with that DDT on the announce table absolutely baffles me. He full on landed on his head and planked, in mid-air, for a solid two seconds. Unbelievable. But whilst this match was vicious; filled with guard rail attacks, kendo-stick and chair shots and the occasional grabbing of a ring-side camera- this was truly about the story. For those unknown about Naito’s story; he won the G1 Glimax several years ago but was not allowed to main event Wrestle Kingdom- that honour was given to the Intercontinental Championship. As a result, when Naito won that title later on, he treated the belt with distain; leaving it in the ring, trashing it and throwing it around. This time; he used the belt to defeat Jericho himself and he seems to, at least partially, care now. He has graduated from not caring about the belt at all to dragging it on the floor behind him. Character development that is so subtle; many would miss it. Jericho is an interesting situation; does he stay in New Japan? Does he go back to WWE with the Rumble coming up soon? Or does he go and join the Elite’s new promotion in order to publicly boost them as they just start out? SO MANY LEVELS. But yeah; this was amazing.
Kenny Omega (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi- IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Result: Tanahashi won via pinfall- New Champion crowned
Thoughts: And to absolutely no-one’s surprise; this was one of the best matches of the past few years, potentially decade. The Best Bout Machine Kenny Omega vs The Ace of New Japan Hiroshi Tanahashi fought in the main-event of the Tokyo Dome and absolutely tore the house down. The story was simple; Omega believed he was above The Ace and Tanahashi felt he had one more run left in him. The number of incredible spots in this match are too many to count but notable ones are; The guard-rail moonsault, Tanahashi through the table, Omega with a nasty landing after the Rise of the Terminator, Tanahashi kicking out of his own finisher at one, horrible to look at dragon-screw’s on Omegas legs and the eventual finish were all fantastic. Ace winning, whilst I would have preferred Kenny to retain, is fully deserved as the man carried the company on his back during their darkest days and is STILL putting out this level of match quality into his mid-40s. His post-match interview was incredibly emotional; especially with the mention of his friend Shibata and, by the looks of things, we’re going to be getting White vs Tanahashi which could be VERY interesting. The biggest talking point of this however is; what’s next for Kenny Omega? Will he stay in New Japan? Will he join his best-friends in All Elite Wrestling? Or…after years of speculation- will The Cleaner finally be making his way to Titan Towers? We will know, most likely, by the end of the month but it’s fun to speculate!
Overall Thoughts: It was just a brilliant show. Not a single bad match on the card and the last three matches are all legitimate MOTY contenders. With crowning eight out of a possible eight new champions; it’s clear that New Japan has been shaken up but it’s clear- whoever is on the top, the company is in capable hands with a roster this talented at it’s disposal.
Overall Grade: A