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 Monday, but for those of you interested in watching but unsure as to what to expect, here’s a primer…
You can watch Wrestle Kingdom live and legally on the New Japan World streaming service. It’s very good, costs just over $8 a month, and can be cancelled at any time. This reddit post, via Señor Lariato, will show you everything you need to know. There’s also an English-language commentary option this year, with Kevin Kelly, Matt Striker and Yoshi Tatsu broadcasting from ringside, so if you’d prefer not to listen to unintelligible screeching you can stick to the Japanese feed.
The event starts at 4pm JST (that’s 7am GMT, 2am EST, 11pm PST), the first hour of which is pre-show. 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 for.
Here’s the card:
1) New Japan Rumble
A pre-show battle royal featuring those who didn’t make it onto the main card, as well as some surprise legends. Last year’s winner, Yuji Nagata, earned an IC title shot though it’s not been established whether that’s the case each time (this is only the second-ever Rumble). Announced so far: Tenzan, Kojima, Jado, Liger, Nakanishi, Taguchi, Kojima, Tiger Mask, and the aforementioned Nagata.
2) IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (c) vs. Roppongi Vice vs. Sydal & Ricochet vs. The Young Bucks
For the third year in a row, a four-way match for the Junior tag titles opens the show. This was set up in an incredibly awkward post-match confrontation at Power Struggle in November, but makes some sense given every team had a claim to a title shot. There are some truly fantastic talents involved here, and although you could argue this is not the best way to showcase them, it will at least be a spotfest of the highest quality.
3) NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Toru Yano & The Briscoes vs. Bullet Club (Fale, Takahashi & Tonga)
Most would’ve assumed that Yano, having been brutally attacked by those rotters of the Bullet Club, would team with a couple of youngsters or even some well-known names from NOAH, but the inclusion of the established Ring of Honor pair suggests a closer partnership between the companies than I had assumed. And if you’re wondering why you’ve not heard of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man title before now, it’s because it didn’t exist before 21st December 2015. The winners of this match will be the inaugural champions.
4) Ring of Honor World Championship
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Michael Elgin
The RoH showcase continues. Big Mike has made quite the impression on the Japanese crowds since his outings in last summer’s G1 Climax tournament. Whatever his status in North America, Elgin has come across like a star in every appearance for New Japan and although two foreigners fighting for another company’s title doesn’t seem like a good idea on paper, Big Mike is the man to make the Tokyo Dome give a damn.
5) IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Kushida won the belt from Omega at Dominion in July, Omega regained it at Destruction in September, and now we get the rubber match. Kushida has real star potential, so I’m expecting a definitive coronation here followed by a long run with the belt. Omega, meanwhile, has indicated a desire to move up to heavyweight, although his relatively few appearances in New Japan have harmed the obvious potential he has. Should be a decent match if given time.
6) IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Anderson & Gallows) vs. Great Bash Heel (Honma & Makabe)
This is the seventh straight year that Anderson has competed for the tag titles at the Dome show, so you’ll forgive me if I consider the division a little stale. Makabe and Honma, meanwhile, won the promotion’s World Tag League to earn a shot here and it would seem natural to culminate the last few years of Honmania with a feel-good victory and give the belts a much needed reset away from the Bullet Club. However, recent allegations of domestic abuse have left Honma’s status in question and will understandably sour what might have been a wonderful moment.
7) Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito has spent the better part of a year heading up the Japanese branch of Los Ingobernables and, boy, has it done him good. His character work has been absolutely tremendous and he can count himself unlucky not to be in a higher spot on the card. The same can be said of Goto, who’s done sterling work in the last twelve months and has become a consistently excellent wrestler. Naito’s cohorts, Bushi and Evil, are sure to be involved, but left to their own devices these two could have an excellent bout.
8) NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Perhaps it’s just as well Jim Ross isn’t commentating at this year’s show, because with these two hosses going full tilt I’d be worried for his health. I have a sneaky feeling this could be quite good.
9) IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. A.J. Styles
Likely the most anticipated match on the card. There wasn’t much in the way of build, but there didn’t need to be; two of the finest professional wrestlers on the planet fighting at one of the biggest shows of the year – that’s all the hype I need. Can they meet expectations? My guess is: yes.
10) IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
And, finally, the main event. A repeat of last year, yes, and inevitably so, but I’m right there with them. This is the kind of long-term booking, or more accurately storytelling, that doesn’t happen all that often and certainly not at this level. The rivalry has been ongoing since 2012 (or even 2010, because it was Tanahashi who banished Okada to the wilderness of TNA), but all you really need to know is that Okada was broken after his loss last January, and despite having regained the title in the interim, still goes into this match as an underdog. He simply must – at the third time of asking – beat Tanahashi on the biggest stage.
My work here is done. See you on Monday.