New Japan Pro Wrestling recently held its biggest extravaganza, the Japanese Wrestlemania if you want a comparison, in Wrestle Kingdom 14 this past week followed by an incredible New Years Dash.
Within this we saw some absolutely incredible matches including Jon Moxley vs Juice Robinson in a hard hitting Texas Death Match, a Double Gold Dash Match (unifying the Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships) and finally an incredible retirement for one of the most famous performers in Japanese history. This article helps to extend five key points to this past weekend’s event and what it means going forward for the company as a whole.
5. NJPW is taking its relationship with STARDOM very seriously
Despite this not actually being on the PPV due to an issue with TV Asahi (representing NJPW) and NTV (representing STARDOM), the women for Bushiroad’s newest acquisition opened the first night of Wrestlekingdom. In doing so the women’s match was actually the first event on the entire weekend of wrestling and showed the first steps towards potential mixed cards in the future.
Due to Japanese culture having men and women’s promotions, both have been separated heavily. The match of Mayu Iwatani and Arisha Hoshiki vs Hana Kimura and Giulia might have featured four women the audience in attendance may not have known previously but it certainly led to many people learning about the partner women’s promotion to NJPW.
Women have only featured a handful of times in NJPW in both a WCW/NJPW Collision In Korea event in 1995 and at the NJPW Toukon Memorial Day 30th Anniversary (the only Japanese show) in 2002. Joanie Laurer (Chyna in WWE) also had a series of matches in 2002 but these were all against male opponents. This marks the second women vs women match in Japan for this company’s 47-year history. Due to this fact, regardless of it was shown on PPV or not, showed that 2020 might be the start of mixed gendered cards in Japan.
4. The fact the show was over 2 days added for a lot of filler matches
When taking the time to look at the number of filler matches (preview tag matches for future main matches on the card), the amount for the entire first night was 6 out of a possible 11 matches, so over half the card. In comparison, the last event a tag team match that didn’t have title implications occurred was at 9 (with 2 matches) in 2015 and the last time any approached the level to what we had this night was at 6 (and admittedly at that point in time it had just finished a partnership with TNA so lost a large portion of its talent).
Despite the shows featuring some absolute classics in Jon Moxley vs Juice Robinson, Chris Jericho vs Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito vs Kazuchika Okada there needed to be a wait to get to this point. Start the show from halfway through Night One and this would be an absolutely classic card so don’t let this point take away from watching one of the biggest shows of the year.
The main events of night one (despite their amazing quality) also just felt like preview matches for night two as well. For one of the biggest shows of the year, it felt really diluted. I hope next year they move it back to one day as that would honestly take it up from an B- into an A+ show. The quality wasn’t at all at fault but for their being so much wrestling in the world nowadays, the expression less is more could easily be thrown at this show.
3. The animosity between AEW and NJPW seems to be lessening somewhat
Chris Jericho giving Hiroshi Tanahashi an AEW number one contender’s match (had he won) makes it seem like NJPW are finally getting on board with featuring references to the former Elite members newest promotion. Giving Jon Moxley a championship with the US belt also leads them to have faith, at least within those two performers.
Bryan Alvarez from Wrestling Observer Radio stated:
“Things have changed to the point where Tony Khan and AEW are allowing New Japan to use the AEW Belt on the show. ….. I fully expect that nothing substantial is going to be changing in the next couple of days, for the next couple of weeks, maybe ever.”
This shows that Tony Khan is at the very least well-wishing into what NJPW is as a company and sees that as a benefit to AEW also.
The previous reason for the two companies not working together is due to the original partnership with ROH, however, the last joint event both companies arranged to put on was the G1 Supercard on April 6th 2019. Since then the company had pulled out of the annual Global Wars PPV leaving ROH to work with CMLL. Due to this space had been occupied for NJPW to create its own American expansion and from the looks of things, this seems to incorporate AEW heavily.
2. NJPW might subtly be admitting they have too many championships
The main event of this year’s Wrestlekingdom was the unification of both the Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships when Tetsuya Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada in one of the best matches of the year (and yes it is only 10 days into the year, but it will stand as a modern classic already). The reasons for this unification might also come into the fact that the company believes there are too many Championships already though and that blending the two into one main title might be the best way forward.
This is a wait-and-see moment, due to the fact that Naito doesn’t have any title defences scheduled up till now; what will happen with either belt he holds and what will happen to the future of the companies main championships is yet to be determined.
Over the course of the past weekend though the company truly got behind Naito, taking him from the midcard of the company to holding the two highest accolades in the space of 48 hours. One can only assume both Jay White and Okada will be after revenge for the belts they both lost, but it can be seen that the future of NJPW rests on Naito’s shoulders. One he has worked for and earned the accolade of over his 14-year continuous history with the promotion, beginning his career as a Young Lion at the age of 23.
1. Jushin Thunder Liger is a true wrestling icon
One of the few memorable early show matches on the first night of Wrestlekingdom featured the retirement of Jushin Thunder Liger (a 35-year legend of the business). This blended company lines and featured presidents of rival companies such as Zero-1 (Shinjiro Otani) and wrestlers from other promotions such as MPW (The Great Sasuke) and. The second night, despite not featuring as many legends as the first also featured a one on one tag team with Liger’s legendary rival Naoki Sano.
This match was like the equivalent of Ric Flair retiring and him having everyone from Hulk Hogan to Bruno Sammartino to Triple H wrestling alongside him. It spanned the generations and for getting a history into classic Japanese wrestling you literally need to watch who appeared in the first nights match to see it in motion.
Countless articles are likely to be written about this great man for many years to come but for a wrestler to be retiring of this standard is something truly special. As Naito marks the start of a new era for NJPW this made for the last era of the company also. Watch the very start of New Years Dash and try to hold back the tears as the living legend thanks almost every wrestler alive that was important to his career and talks about what the company of NJPW truly means for Jushin Liger.
Overall what did the show mean?
Truly this show created great hope and a true sense of the future for NJPW. It marked the end of a career, the start of prosperous new promotions/links between promotions and it also made a future legend in the making. For someone getting into this company for the very first time, everything in the show displayed what is so special about NJPW.
From the endless tag team matches right down to what is so special about the company and why you need to be aware of this company if you even claim to care about wrestling outside of WWE. For a beginning viewer, this was something inviting and for long time viewers, it had conclusions that were satisfying and amazing to view. I would recommend watching the first match of the first night, skip to around 2 hours in (to the Jon Moxley match) and watch both together as past that point it’s magic.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @bradcassidy170. Thanks for reading!