Happy New Year one and all! As most of us emerge blearily from several weeks of excess, New Japan Pro Wrestling prepares for its annual January 4th spectacular from the Tokyo Dome. I’ll be reviewing the show on Wednesday, but for those of you interested in watching but unsure as to what to expect, here’s a primer…
This is the biggest New Japan Pro Wrestling show of the year, with every NJPW title (and the Ring of Honor world title) on the line. The show is headlined by Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi.
The event starts at 5pm JST (that’s 8am GMT, 3am EST, 12am PST), with the New Japan Rumble on the pre-show starting at 4.10pm JST. More convenient for me in Cardiff than for those of you in New York, but assuming you’ve not got work the next day, this is one show that’s worth staying up for.
You can watch Wrestle Kingdom live and legally on the NJPW World streaming service. It’s very good, costs roughly $8.50 a month, and can be cancelled at any time. Here’s the English sign-up page. If that’s not clear enough, here’s Okada showing Rocky Romero how it’s done.
There’s an English commentary option again this year, with Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino broadcasting from ringside, and AXS TV in the US will also be broadcasting the show in parts, starting January 13th, with Jim Ross and Josh Barnett on commentary duties.
Here’s the card:
New Japan Rumble
- Who? – Everyone who didn’t make the main show, plus some surprise old-timers.
- Why? – The third annual pre-show rumble, in which entrants can be eliminated by pinfall, submission or getting thrown to the floor over the top-rope. The inaugural Rumble’s winner, Yuji Nagata, went on to challenge for the Intercontinental title, and last year’s winner, Jado, went on to try and kill Pro Wrestling NOAH.
- Winner? – Ryusuke Taguchi. A complete guess, but assuming the Junior title changes hands later in the show, there’ll need to be challengers, and a win here would boost Taguchi’s credentials.
Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger the Dark
- Who? – Anime characters come to life, duh. Rumour has it that Kota Ibushi is donning the Tiger’s mask (surely not?), while former Ring of Honor wrestler and NOAH regular ACH has been mooted as playing Tiger the Dark.
- Why? – Ostensibly a real-life advertisement for the newest Tiger Mask anime series (in which these two are the main characters and arch rivals), New Japan has had some fun with regards to who might be representing the latest version of the legendary Tiger Mask. It’s a seasonally-appropriate pantomime of a match, though given who’s in the main event, it may well turn out to be more significant than expected.
- Winner? – Tiger Mask W
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta)
- Who? – You will no doubt be familiar with the Bucks and their Superkick Party ways. The Jackson brothers, who are members of the Bullet Club and also the reigning Ring of Honor tag champs, have held these titles since June, though have only defended them twice in that time. CHAOS representatives Roppongi Vice experienced a recent renewal during the Super Jr. Tag Tournament, working through a rough patch in their relationship to emerge as winners, with crowds much more enthused about them as a result.
- Why? – Roppongi Vice won the Super Jr. Tag Tournament final at Power Struggle on November 5th and challenged the Bucks the same night. This will be the first time since 2012 that the titles are defended in a 2-on-2 match at Wrestle Kingdom.
- Winners? – Roppongi Vice, if only because the Bucks have had the titles so long.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match
Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Jado) vs. Bullet Club (Yuriro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale & Hangman Page)
- Who? – Representatives from the three main factions in New Japan plus the current title holders.
- Why? – A ‘Get Everyone on the Card’ match, but since this is a gauntlet match it should be less of a clusterfuck than all those names suggest, and aside from possibility of the Bullet Club guys winning, it should be a crowd-pleaser. Were it not for Matt Sydal’s indiscretions, Finlay wouldn’t be part of the title-holding team, but he’s earned his spot, as have YOSHI-HASHI and Ospreay, both of whom were highlights of New Japan in 2016.
- Winners? – Los Ingobernables de Japón. The hottest stable in wrestling don’t need a group title, but I’d like to see it happen.
Juice Robinson vs. Cody Rhodes
- Who? – Juice Robinson is the former CJ Parker of NXT. He has improved hugely since debuting with New Japan in September 2015 and is rewarded with a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom (even if the spot likely would’ve gone to Michael Elgin had he recovered from injury in time). “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes was revealed as the newest member of Bullet Club in December, this following a heel turn at Ring of Honor’s Final Battle.
- Why? – This is Cody’s in-ring debut in New Japan and despite Robinson’s efforts since joining the company I don’t expect him to put up much of a fight against the relatively big-name Rhodes.
- Winner? – Cody Rhodes.
Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship
Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
- Who? – In New Japan terms, O’Reilly is respected foreigner who has recently moved up to heavyweight after several successful years as a junior, whereas Adam Cole is just some Bullet Club guy who shouts “Baybay!”, although this match could do a lot to raise his stock.
- Why? – I direct you to Rick Poehling’s excellent preview of Final Battle for a full recap of their feud in Ring of Honor, but this rematch marks the latest attempt to showcase the ROH title in New Japan. The hugely-popular Michael Elgin wasn’t able to rouse much interest in his match with Jay Lethal last year, but if anyone’s going legitimise another company’s title in the eyes of the New Japan fans, O’Reilly’s the one to do it.
- Winner? – Kyle O’Reilly (assuming he re-signed with ROH, that is).
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
- Who? – The much-improved current champions (anyone who bemoans their supposed lack of talent simply hasn’t been watching lately), the winners of the World Tag League – Honma and Makabe – who beat the champs in the tournament finals, and the recently-returned-from-NOAH trickster Yano with his CHAOS stablemate Ishii, who make for a potentially all-time great odd couple team.
- Why? – Great Bash Heel earned the title shot by becoming the first team in 22 years to win consecutive World Tag League tournaments. Yano and Ishii attacked both teams and stole the belts at the December 17th Road to Tokyo Dome show and were added to the match a few days later. Sometimes it helps to be friends with the booker.
- Winners? – Guerrillas of Destiny. The other teams winning would either feel a bit cheap (Yano/Ishii) or like a retread (GBH).
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
- Who? – KUSHIDA has been the ace of the juniors in New Japan this past year, consistently delivering top-class performances and raising the stock of the division at the same time. Hiromu Takahashi, the artist formerly known as Kamaitachi, returned to the company in November after a three year excursion to CMLL and Ring of Honor.
- Why? – When Takahashi returned at Power Struggle, it was as the “Time Bomb”, a suprise reveal to the countdown which had been running since the G1 Climax final. At the World Tag League Finals, he attacked KUSHIDA during a tag match, then accepted Tetsuya Naito’s invitation to join Los Ingobernables de Japón. Their interactions during the Road to Tokyo Dome shows were full of aggression and this has arguably the most heat of any match going into the event. It feels like a Big Deal.
- Winner? – Hiromu Takahashi.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
- Who? – Shibata’s nickname is The Wrestler, which pretty well captures his no-nonsense style and demeanour. He’s spent the year gaining respect and affirming his status as the figurehead of traditional strong style. Goto is a perennial nearly-man who was the losing finalist in both the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax finals in 2016. He is not the most inspiring wrestler, but he can bring it in the ring and tends to wrestle up to the standard of his opponent.
- Why? – Goto challenged and Shibata accepted. Beyond that, there was the hanging thread from early in 2016 of these two being former tag partners, and, when Goto’s half-baked “reinvention” failed to get results, he happily joined CHAOS to play second fiddle to Okada. Shibata wasn’t pleased and now has the opportunity to demonstrate that.
- Winner? – Hirooki Goto. The nearly-man has got to win a big match one of these days and, for once, I think Shibata will let emotion get the better of him.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Who? – Naito is the insolent and disrespectful leader of Los Ingobernables de Japón. Like any good heel he believes every word he says, but he backed it up spectacularly last year, and was recently named Tokyo Sports’ MVP of 2016. Tanahashi, the former Ace of the Century, on the other hand, has largely had a year to forget.
- Why? – In December, Tanahashi described feeling that one loss (to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10) was all it took for the company to move beyond him. More losses and a serious shoulder injury compounded the issue and it’s only after settling the score with LIJ’s SANADA that he sees fit to target Naito. Also, last June, the aforementioned injury prevented Tanahashi from taking part in a rematch for the Intercontinental title, so his claim is a legitimate one. To demonstrate his refusal to rely on past successes Tanahashi has even retired his High Energy theme music and goes into this match eager to reassert his status.
- Winner? – Naito. Believe it or not, he’s never won a singles match at the Tokyo Dome, so in this showcase encounter I really hope he wins clean as a sheet. I then anticipating he’ll be joined in his usual belt-throwing celebrations by the rest of LIJ, all of whom will end the night as title holders.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
- Who? – The young ace Okada has been champion several times over, but it was last January – when he finally beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom – that he truly became the No.1 man in the company. He’s a casually confident prodigy who’s responsible for and comfortable with leading NJPW into its next phase. Omega, meanwhile, is the brash and often bewildering leader of Bullet Club. Someone who revels in the theatre of wrestling, but can back it up with strength and technique. Last February he won the Intercontinental title and in August he became the first-ever foreigner to win the G1 Climax tournament (in his debut appearance no less). And if you need one more indicator of the kind of year it’s been for Omega, in exactly one year he’s gone from losing the Junior title to KUSHIDA to challenging for the Heavyweight belt in the main event.
- Why? – This is the first singles match between the two, and it had largely been sold on the premise of Best of the East vs. Best of the West. That is until December 18th, at the second Road to Tokyo Dome show, when Omega attacked Okada post-match, using his One-Winged Angel finishing manoeuvre to slam the champ from the apron through a table. The fake snow fell and the hubristic hellion celebrated with his stablemates.
- Winner? – My heart says Omega, but my head says Okada. Such a tough call. Business is good and getting even better with Okada on top, so why risk the change? Then again, after such sterling work has been done by both Omega and the company to bring him to this level over the course of 2016, it would be a shame not to put the cherry on top.
Final thoughts: Watch this show!
Back on Wednesday with the review. If you watch the show – enjoy! See you then.