Wrestle Kingdom 13 – the Preview

Howdy!

Yeah, I’m not Ioan. But I’ll do my best.

So, another year and here we are.

My goal, as always, is to get you excited about wrestling, in this case, New Japan Pro Wrestling. Let’s see if I can do it.

Wrestle Kingdom is the premier event on the New Japan calendar. The Tokyo Dome show, which takes place every January 4th on the calendar, first begin 1992 as Super Warriors in Tokyo Dome, with Riki Choshu defeating Tatsumi Fujinami in the main event. The show was rechristened after several names as Wrestle Kingdom in 2007 and has kept that moniker ever since.

Levels of interest in the show has reached dizzying heights over the last few years, culminating in last year’s event with a double main event of Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega & Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito; thanks to New Japan’s streaming service (njpwworld.com), their partnership with Ring of Honor and CMLL in North America, and the rise of several stars to pique the interest of the West (Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks), Wrestle Kingdom has now become, arguably, the premier event on the entirety of the professional wrestling calendar across the world, rivaling Wrestlemania if not in sheer scope, at least in hardcore fan interest.

But really, what it all boils down to is ‘why should I watch this show?’ After all, finding a good/great/Meltzerloseshismindandbreaksthescale match on pure workrate is easier than it ever has been. If you’re just watching for great, well-worked matches, then yes, the show will be fine. Very good, even.

What I hope I can give you in this preview is more. More than just a ‘watch this match because it will be great’ – I want to give you ‘watch this match because it will be great and here’s what happened before it and let’s see these guys FIGHT each other to settle this thing!’

Let’s break it down…..

THE TIMES:

The preshow for Wrestle Kingdom begins in North America on Thursday night/Friday morning at:
11:00 PM – Pacific Time
12:00 AM – Mountain Time
1:00 AM – Central Time
2:00 AM – Eastern Time

Watch the show on NJPW World (njpwworld.com) for less than 10 bucks, and you end up getting the whole month to watch afterwards. Good times.

The event should last somewhere between 4 ½ & 5 hours.

THE FACTIONS:

Factions are important in NJPW – some are good guys, some are bad guys, but they are many and plentiful. Factions will frequently war with each other in multi-man tags and feuds, with members sometimes switching sides as part of an angle (Jay White turning on CHAOS for Bullet Club being this year’s prime example) Here’s a rundown of said factions for you:

CHAOS (faces): Kazuchika Okada (Leader), Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, Yoshi-Hoshi, Rocky Romero, Sho, Yoh, Chuck Taylor, Trent Beretta

LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (faces): Tetsuya Naito (Leader), EVIL, Sanada, BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi (currently inactive)

BULLET CLUB (heels): Jay White (Leader), Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa, Bad Luck Fale, Taiji Ishimori, Gedo, Jado, Robbie Eagles, Hikuleo

SUZUKI-GUN (heels): Minoru Suzuki (Leader and Destroyer of Hopes, Dreams, and Young Lions), Zack Sabre Jr, TAKA Michinoku, Taichi, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Takahashi Iizuka, Davey Boy Smith Jr, Lance Archer

TAGUCHI JAPAN (faces) – A quick note on Taguchi Japan – it is more of a rotating stable and does not operate as a traditional one like others in the company, but it still has members and as such can be referred to as a stable, if only on a slight level: Ryusuke Taguchi (Leader), Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA, David Finlay

THE TITLES:
People complain about the WWE having a lot of titles, and Japan is not an aberration in that respect. 8 titles will be defended in 10 matches at Wrestle Kingdom, with 7 of them being New Japan belts. The only title not being defended is the NEVER open-weight 6 man tag titles, and even then, the preshow match will determine the #1 contender for those titles, and they will subsequently be defended at New Year Dash (which we’ll get to later). We’ll go over the history of the titles for 2018 in each individual match when we get there – suffice to say, most of the differences in the belts have to do with weight limits, AKA the difference between light heavyweight and heavyweight.

THE MATCHES:

The announced card has 9 main show matches and 1 pre-show match. We’ll be using the announced match order and going down the line.

THE PRESHOW MATCH:

RYUSKE TAGUCHI/TORU YANO/TOGI MAKABE vs DAVID FINLAY/JEFF COBB/YUJI NAGATA vs CHUCK TAYLOR/TRENT BERETTA/HIROOKI GOTO vs DAVEY BOY SMITH JR/LANCE ARCHER/MINORU SUZUKI vs MARTY SCURLL/YUJIRO TAKAHASHI/ADAM PAGE – GAUNTLET MATCH TO DETERMINE THE #1 CONTENDER FOR THE NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX-MAN TAG TEAM TITLES

I won’t waste a ton of time with this match as I want to concentrate on the main show, but first – RIP New Japan Rumble. The former pre-show match, a Royal Rumble with the wrestlers not on the main card, was normally quite mediocre from a quality perspective but at least a ton of fun.

This match will give us a number 1 contender for the NEVER openweight 6-man tag titles and will challenge for them the next day at New Year’s Dash, and, if history holds, probably win them. I’ll go with Suzuki-Gun here, but it really could be anyone. Although I maintain that it will be criminal if Suzuki doesn’t get a full enough entrance to hear “Kaze Ni Nare!” echo throughout the Tokyo Dome.

THE MAIN CARD:

KOTA IBUSHI (C) vs WILL OSPREAY – NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH

THE NEVER TITLE IN 2018: Bounced around quite a bit; here you go.
Hirooki Goto – won from Minoru Suzuki, Jan 4th, 2018
Michael Elgin – won from Hirooki Goto, June 9th, 2018
Hirooki Goto – won from Michael Elgin, June 17th, 2018
Taichi – won from Hirooki Goto, September 17th, 2018
Hirooki Goto – won from Taichi, November 3rd, 2018
Kota Ibushi – won from Hirooki Goto, December 9th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: Both quite insane, if we’re being honest. Ibushi is the current champion while Ospreay defeated former champion Taichi to earn the right to challenge Ibushi. This match has been talked about as a legitimate dream match as both wrestlers are high-flying specialists who have either:

A) Zero regard for their bodies
OR
B) A controlling interest in several wheelchair manufacturers.

Ospreay is coming off an injury to his ribs, which caused him to miss his first shot at this title, scheduled to be against Taichi in November at Power Struggle. While it is speculated that Ibushi/Ospreay was always the plan for Wrestle Kingdom, common wisdom at the time had Ospreay winning the title from Taichi and then defending it against Ibushi, not Ospreay challenging Ibushi. But we got there in the end.

Ibushi had a wonderful 2018, with his reuniting of the Golden Lovers with Kenny Omega and a run through the G-1 tournament resulting in him winning his Block but losing the overall tournament to Hiroshi Tanahashi.

This is going to be two guys going out there and trying to out do the other when it comes to spectacular pro wrestling. And if you have any doubt, well…..

THE PREDICTION: Ospreay. I think there may be even bigger things waiting for Ibushi in 2019 (more on that later in this preview), but even if I’m wrong about that, I think that Will takes the title here. He’s stated that he wants to move up to heavyweight, and this is an excellent way to do so.

SUZUKI-GUN (YOSHINOBU KANEMARU/EL DESPERADO) (C) vs ROPPONGI 3K (SHO/YOH) vs LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (BUSHI/SHINGO TAKAGI) – 3-Way IWGP JR TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH

THE IWGP JR TAG TITLES IN 2018:
The Young Bucks – won from Roppongi 3K, January 4th, 2018
Roppongi 3K – won from the Young Bucks, January 28th, 2018
Suzuki-Gun – won from Roppongi 3K, March 6th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: Suzuki-Gun has quietly put together the longest current title reign in NJPW, having held the Jr tag titles for almost 300 days. Sho and Yoh, the former champions, are Roppongi 3K – managed by former Roppongi Vice member Rocky Romero, they are billed as 3000 times better than Roppongi Vice, hence the 3K moniker. They were the winners of the Super Junior Tag League, winning the tournament at Power Struggle this year against Suzuki-Gun and Los Ingobernables in a 3-way match. However, in the same tournament, they also fell to Los Ingobernables in their individual match, and those machinations have helped to lead us here. Los Ingobernables are represented here by BUSHI and their newest member, Shingo Takagi.

THE PREDICTION: Suzuki-Gun cheats like nuts, but it isn’t going to get the job done. This match is Los Ingos to lose. Takagi is new to NJPW and it feels like he’s getting his first taste of gold here. I’ve got Suzuki-Gun third on the depth chart here, because I feel like if it’s not going to be Los Ingos, it’s going to be Roppongi.

TOMOHIRO ISHII (C) vs ZACK SABRE JR – BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH

THE BRITISH HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE IN 2018:
Tomohiro Ishii – won from Zack Sabre Jr, April 6th, 2018
Minoru Suzuki – won from Tomohiro Ishii, July 1st, 2018
Tomohiro Ishii – won from Minoru Suzuki, October 14th, 2018

*A quick note here – the British Heavyweight title is owned by Revolution Pro, not NJPW – but foreign titles have been defended at Wrestle Kingdom before from NJPW-affiliated promotions, with the ROH World title being defended at Wrestle Kingdom 10 and 11 as an example.*

THE PLAYERS: Suzuki-Gun has been not-so-quietly embroiled in a war with Tomohiro Ishii for the last year. From the shores of the United Kingdom to the streets of New Orleans to the far East, the battles between Suzuki, Sabre, and Ishii have raged. Ishii ended Sabre’s year+ long reign as the British champion, and then traded the title with Suzuki. Sabre defeated Ishii in the G-1 tournament, and Suzuki-Gun did what Suzuki-Gun does, destroying Ishii after Ishii retained the title against David Starr at the RevPro Uprising show. Sabre demanded his rematch for the title, and he demanded it at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th.

This is probably my single most anticipated match on the card, mostly due to the contrast in styles these wrestlers provide. Ishii is violence with a poetic grace interwoven, standing tall against the toughest shots an opponent can throw whilst responding with a furious blitzkrieg of stiff blows. I find his style beautiful to watch, a seesaw of offense and defense with great selling and pacing; I remember feeling truly alive watching him and Katsuyori Shibata attempt to cave each other’s chests in at Wrestle Kingdom 10, which remains one of my all-time favorite matches.

His opponent, Zack Sabre Jr, comes in more on the poetic side, with the ability to slither around an opponent no matter how they move or attack; Sabre will study and solve, a master of chain-wrestling who can counter anything. The true beauty of watching a Sabre match from a story perspective is the way that Sabre forces the opponent to work HIS match, no matter how the opponent comes after him – with Zack’s diminutive size in comparison to the heavyweights he normally works with, this is the most vital component to Sabre’s style.

This match is going to be two wrestlers attempting to work their will on the other on levels beyond what most matches even attempt. Sabre had a phenomenal year in NJPW, winning the New Japan Cup tapping out Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Sanada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi in consecutive matches before wrestling Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP title in a match that, while I know it isn’t getting much love against Okada/Omega, is my match of the year. Ishii was no slouch as well – not only the current champ in this match, he also wrestled the best match in the entire G-1 Climax against Kenny Omega in Block competition, then had a fantastic title match against Omega soon after. These are two wrestlers at the top of their respective games, and I expect them to once again deliver the goods.

THE PREDICTION: Sabre. While I freely admit this one could go either way, especially considering that Rev Pro frequently uses NJPW talent on their shows and therefore Ishii could very easily retain, Sabre makes more sense to me as a champion for Great Britain.

BULLET CLUB (TAMA TONGA/TONGA LOA) (C) vs LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (EVIL/SANADA) vs THE YOUNG BUCKS (MATT JACKSON/NICK JACKSON) – IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH

THE IWGP TAG TEAM TITLES IN 2018:
Los Ingobernables De Japon – won from Killer Elite Squad, January 4th, 2018
The Young Bucks – won from Los Ingobernables De Japon, June 9th, 2018
Bullet Club – won from the Young Bucks, September 30th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: The current champions, the Guerillas of Destiny, won the straps from the Young Bucks at Fighting Spirit Unleashed after the Bullet Club fractured and the Bullet Club OGs turfed out the Elite in an attempt to bring Bullet Club back to its roots. They are on their 4th reign as champions. EVIL and Sanada won the World Tag League tournament this year, defeating the Guerillas in the finals, thereby laying claim to the title shot at the Dome. After the final match ended, the Bucks returned to NJPW and demanded their rematch for the titles and NJPW agreed, turning this match into a 3-way dance.

The addition of the Bucks has been controversial, to say the least. The Bucks were not participants in the World Tag League tournament, having spent a good part of the year embroiled in Bullet Club politics and wrestling matches against the Golden Lovers as a result once they declared they were moving up to heavyweight. There is a sizable chunk of the fanbase that has not welcomed the Bucks’ inclusion, citing the notion that the belts should be defended against only the winners of the World Tag League tournament, also pointing out that luminaries and perennial Wrestle Kingdom competitors such as Minoru Suzuki or Hirooki Goto were not on the main card, so why do the Bucks merit such special treatment? As this may or may not be the Bucks’ last match in NJPW due to their ROH contracts expiring and their involvement in All Elite Wrestling, one would suspect they were added to this match to give them a main card sendoff.

Regardless of the politics involved, there is still an issue for all of the teams here. The Bucks/Guerillas feud over the Bullet Club is very real and still potent, while EVIL and Sanada have the strongest claim to the match having defeated the champions most recently, and they want the belts back badly.

THE PREDICTION: Los Ingos. EVIL and Sanada are due for another run with the belts and have natural opponents in a Bullet Club rematch and against Suzuki-Gun in Killer Elite Squad. The only team I’m counting out here are the Jacksons, unless some agreement with AEW and NJPW has been reached; other than that, they’re here to say goodbye for now.

CODY RHODES (C) vs JUICE ROBINSON – IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH

THE IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE IN 2018:
Jay White – won from Kenny Omega, January 28th, 2018
Juice Robinson – won from Jay White, July 7th, 2018
Cody Rhodes – won from Juice Robinson, September 30th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: There’s a lot actually going on in this match; this will be the 2nd time that Cody and Juice have met at Wrestle Kingdom and the 3rd time overall in a singles match in NJPW. Cody debuted as the American Nightmare at Wrestle Kingdom 11 with a victory over Juice. Juice, formerly CJ Parker of NXT fame, had risen through the ranks of NJPW while getting various title shots here and there, finally breaking through and winning the US title from Jay White in a super-fun match in the U.S. He would not successfully defend that title, losing it to Cody in his only defense in September.

Juice’s promo ability drew major attention this year, the highlight being the “206 Bones” promo after Jay White broke his hand in the lead up to their title match; no less than Kevin Owens called him the best promo in the business.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Obviously, we all know who Cody is. Like the other members of the Elite, this may be his swan song for NJPW until the AEW situation works itself out.

THE PREDICTION: Juice. He pretty much has to win here or a lot of the momentum he’s gained over the last year goes tumbling down the proverbial chute. The idea of he and Cody going full circle, with Cody winning the first match two years ago and Juice sending him packing from NJPW by winning here, is too good a story and I simply can’t imagine any other outcome for this one.

KUSHIDA (C) vs TAIJI ISHIMORI – IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH

THE IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE IN 2018:
Will Ospreay – won in a 4 way match, January 4th, 2018
Hiromu Takahashi – won from Will Ospreay, June 9th, 2018
Title vacated due to injury to Takahashi – August 20th, 2018
KUSHIDA – won vacant title in a 4-man tournament, October 8th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: KUSHIDA! The ace of the Juniors and my favorite wrestler in NJPW, KUSHIDA is on his 6th reign as the IWGP Jr title holder, tying him with Tiger Mask for 2nd place all-time in Jr title reigns, only looking up now at Jushin Liger’s incredible 11 title reigns at the top. The Time Splitter, who uses a Back to the Future style gimmick, won the belt after Hiromu Takahashi was forced to vacate it due to, well, breaking his neck in a match against Dragon Lee. As of this writing, there is no timetable for his return.

Taiji Ishimori, the ‘Bone Soldier’ of the Bullet Club, made his return to NJPW at Wrestling Dontaku, being unmasked by Tama Tonga as the newest member of the Bullet Club and attacking then-champion Will Ospreay. Ishimori entered the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, winning his Block and facing Takahashi in the finals, where he lost in a tremendous match, one which Dave Meltzer gave *****1/2. He then settled into working with the Bullet Club in tag matches and the Super Junior tag league, teaming with Robbie Eagles. After Takahashi’s injury and vacating of the title, he became KUSHIDA’s challenger, attacking him after a tag match at the Power Struggle event after faking an injury.

Over the course of World Tag League, Ishimori seemed to continually have KUSHIDA’s number. The Jay White-led Bullet Club faction won multi-man tags night after night against the ‘Dream Team’ of Okada, Tanhashi, KUSHIDA, and various other wrestlers, with Ishimori specifically pinning KUSHIDA twice, so KUSHIDA has ample reason to seek vengeance – he has to prove that he can beat Ishimori.

THE PREDICTION: Ishimori, for two reasons. One, I don’t think that KUSHIDA was even supposed to be here, as I’m pretty sure that this was supposed to be Hiromu in his spot. Combine that with the fact that the WWE has apparently been sniffing around KUSHIDA in an attempt to sign him, and I think the time is right to switch the belt here. Ishimori would be a fine champ and I have no problems with him getting the strap, and I think he will.

JAY WHITE vs KAZUCHIKA OKADA

THE PLAYERS: This is the only match on the main card that isn’t for a title – but it’s a hell of an issue between these two men.

Kazuchika Okada is, of course, the former IWGP Heavyweight champion, having set a record with 12 successful title defenses in a row before falling to Kenny Omega this year at Dominion. Earlier this year, after he witnessed White reject Omega’s offer to join the Bullet Club at New Year’s Dash, he offered White membership in CHAOS. White accepted and challenged Omega, but literally told Okada to his face that he would one day be coming for the IWGP title that Okada held at the time and that he was joining CHAOS more out of necessity, as he needed allies to fight Bullet Club.

White defeated Omega for the US title and everything was peachy keen!

And then, it wasn’t. Okada dropped the heavyweight title to Omega while White dropped the US title to Juice Robinson. Cue the 2018 G-1 Climax. Jay defeated both Okada and Tanahashi (handing Tanahashi his only loss of the event) and finished just behind them. During the tournament, he called out Okada and claimed that CHAOS was his and Okada’s time was past. On his off-nights from tournament competition, White was teaming with members of Roppongi 3K and started to encourage them to cheat to win matches, abandoning them to beatings and losses when they refused to follow his orders.

Things now looked less than peachy keen.

After Tanahashi won the G-1, White challenged him for the briefcase containing the contract for the title shot at the Dome. Tanahashi chose to give the first shot to Okada, so White attacked Tanahashi after the match, after which he proceeded to also attack the fallen Okada. Okada’s manager Gedo ran out for the save…..and promptly bashed Okada with a steel chair, joining White. White was Tanahashi’s next challenger for the briefcase, but lost his shot at King of Pro-Wrestling; he and Gedo assaulted Tanahashi after the match, drawing out Okada for the save. This time, however, White had backup as the Bullet Club, freshly shorn of the Elite and consisting just of the Bullet Club OGs and Gedo’s friend Jado, came out to continue the beatdown on the new Megapowers.

White has since assumed leadership of the Bullet Club stable, with Gedo by his side, and Okada has sworn vengeance on the men that turned on him. It’s a classic case that follows a subtle theme of Wrestle Kingdom this year – who will lead into the future? As White buries Okada’s time as over, can he get the job done to prove it?

We’ll find out on the 4th.

THE PREDICTION: This is the hardest one for me on the card, because I can see both sides here. On the surface, Okada has to win. Has to. He’s had a terrible second half of 2018 by his standards, failing to win the G-1, failing to win the certificate from Tanahashi, and not main-eventing the Dome for the first time in literally years. His megateam with Tanahashi seemingly floundered, as the Dream Team lost every single match against the Bullet Club during World Tag League. On the surface, he’s GOTTA win here…..

…..but how can Jay White lose? I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think that Jay truly came into his own this year, really growing into this smarmy, douchebag heel role that went from him looking like he was playing dress-up against Tanahashi last year at WK to him being a true threat and top heel. True threats and top heels have to WIN at least sometimes, and the truth is that when it comes to the big match, White loses. He lost against Tanahashi at WK last year. He lost his title to Juice this year. He lost to Tanahashi with the certificate on the line. His best win this year was against Omega to win the US title, and his wins in the G-1 are great, but he needs to win a high-profile match at some point.

I’m going with Okada, but with great reservation.

CHRIS JERICHO (C) vs TETSUYA NAITO – IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH – NO DQ
THE IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE IN 2018:

Minoru Suzuki – won from Hiroshi Tanahashi, January 27th, 2018
Tetsuya Naito – won from Minoru Suzuki, April 29th, 2018
Chris Jericho – won from Tetsuya Naito, June 9th, 2018

THE PLAYERS: Jericho and Naito. Let’s go back a year.

Naito defeats Kenny Omega to win the G-1 Climax, earning the right to challenge Okada for the IWGP title at Wrestle Kingdom. At the same time, Chris Jericho challenges Kenny Omega for the IWGP US title at the same event, and NJPW pounces, branding Jericho/Omega a ‘double main event’ for January 4th.

Naito is less than a fan of this. As to why, let’s go back even further – to Wrestle Kingdom 8 in 2014. Naito wins the G-1 and challenges Okada, but unlike today, the fans reject Naito’s top babyface act, and their rejection is so potent that NJPW listens and puts the main event spot to a vote, and Naito/Okada loses that vote and the last match is the Shinsuke Nakamura/Hiroshi Tanahashi match for the IC title instead.

Naito’s bitterness, over the fans’ rejection of him and the position on the card that he earned, is the catalyst for his excursion and subsequent formation of the heel stable Los Ingobernables de Japon upon his return to the company. Over the next few years, Los Ingos and Naito become one of the most popular, if not THE most popular act in the entire company. But Naito has never forgiven NJPW for their previous snub, and now, once again the G-1 winner, he is disgusted with being put on semi-equal footing with another match as opposed to having the main event that he has once again earned.

And Naito let people know it, blasting Omega and Jericho in interviews when the ‘double main event’ was mentioned. And Jericho responded in kind, saying that he was selling more tickets and more subs to NJPW world, so Naito could kindly shut up, if he pleased.

Both Jericho and Naito lost at Wrestle Kingdom. The next day at New Years’ Dash, Jericho ran out to attack Naito after Naito’s match, despite saying earlier in the day that he would never return to New Japan. In the meantime, Naito became embroiled in a feud with Minoru Suzuki; although he cared not for the Intercontinental title that Suzuki had, Naito did want a piece of Suzuki and ended up defeating him for the IC title.

The next month at Wrestling Dontaku, Jericho made his long-awaited return to NJPW, jumping Naito after Naito’s match and bloodying him in horrific fashion. Jericho challenged Naito for the IC title soon after, and at Dominion, defeated Naito to win the title. He subsequently defeated Naito’s stablemate EVIL defending the title, and New Japan decided to give Naito his rematch at the Dome on January 4th. Jericho initially said he wouldn’t do the match, claiming that he simply wouldn’t show up, but after even more words between the two, changed his tune and vowed to instead show up and end Naito’s career:

“I beat the hell out of you with a chair in Korakuen Hall. It’s fair, right? Anything is fair, right? Anything is fair when it comes to Jericho and Naito II because it’s going to be the last night of your career at Wrestle Kingdom 13, Naito. All of your fans, thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of fans around the world will be crying as soon as our match is finished, I’ll still be the IWGP Intercontinental Champion and you will be finished…..You are a great wrestler Naito. I take my hat off to you. You’re one of the best in the world, but Chris Jericho is the best in the world. The greatest of all-time. The greatest Intercontinental Champion of all-time. I’ve never lost to a ‘nihonjin’ in New Japan and I’m not going to lose to you. Everyone is talking behind your back. They’re scared for you Naito. They’re terrified of what’s going to happen to you at Wrestle Kingdom 13.” – Chris Jericho

Naito responded in kind:

“As I said before, my intention for this Tokyo Dome show is to expel Jericho from New Japan. I will get him back for having to be at his mercy all year. That’s my duty at this Wrestle Kingdom. And even though it’s coming up, very soon… TRANQUILO! See you at the Tokyo Dome.” – Tetsuya Naito

In short, these two HATE each other and each has vowed to rid NJPW of the other. I expect a crazy brawl with blood and weapons galore.

THE PREDICTION: Naito. Much like the Juice/Cody match earlier, I’m confident that Naito HAS to win this. Jericho has basically dominated him at almost every turn of this feud, and it is time for Jericho to get his. Jericho and Naito have both done a fantastic job in the build of this feud with Jericho playing the monster heel and it’s time for the monster heel to go down in flames.

KENNY OMEGA (C) VS HIROSHI TANAHASHI – IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH

THE IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE IN 2018:
Kenny Omega – won from Kazuchika Okada, June 9th, 2018

THE PLAYERS:

“Study the past, if you would divine the future.” – Confucius

“I want to bring New Japan as it is worldwide. Kenny is taking all this Elite stuff that he and those guys created abroad, bringing it to Japan, then taking it back west and saying “this is NJPW”. It isn’t.” – Hiroshi Tanahashi

“Here’s the thing, I have this style that can’t be duplicated. It eats Tana up alive, he hates it. Tana speaks to his cult and says, “my style is the true style, it’s the right way!” “Do you remember 15 years ago when I saved the company? That was me! That was me! I’m going to do it again! You still believe me, right? Right? Still?” “Back then, you guys were 35-years old, now your 50, but you still believe right? Please believe in me one more time!” Guess what, these dumb motherfuckers, they believe him! Do you remember the story of Noah’s ark? Where he took all of the animals? I’m taking everyone to the next level. Two by fucking two! There’s no room on the ark for Tana or his fucking fans! See you! Bye-bye!” – Kenny Omega

And so we come to this.

This match is more than a blood feud, or a simple matter of someone wanting a title, or just a random shot because a wrestler won a tournament.

This has become a battle for the soul of New Japan. A war to settle who truly has the right style to lead the company going forward as they continue to expand.

“Do you see my performances? We’re talking 35-minute, 45-minute, 60-minute matches and we’re talking blistering pace – world class athlete. I’m not doing this snooze-fest bullshit and calling it “Old-school style.” Calling it “New Japan Strong Style” what an excuse, oh my God!” – Kenny Omega

“At the core of Kenny’s frustration is a need for approval. I can sense his desire for wanting to be appreciated. ‘Why is Tanahashi still admired more than me, even though I’ve had so many amazing matches? But that is because Kenny only sees things from one perspective. He believes that his opinion of what makes a great match is all that matters.” – Hiroshi Tanahashi

This match will plumb the intellectual depths of what pro wrestling is, as an art form. As to what style will hold sway over NJPW going forward. A clash over which ideology is better for professional wrestling as a whole, defying traditional heel/face roles (although I fully expect that Kenny will be the heel, for lack of a better term, in this match).

It’s rare that we get a feud that isn’t about traditional professional wrestling norms at the top of a card, but rather a match that will serve as its own inherent criticism and possibly condemnation of the form that fails to come out the winner.

It’s an esoteric thing to be sure, and I chose to focus on it here because I find it to be utterly fascinating from a cerebral perspective when examined closely.

But I can’t discount the traditional undertones of pro wrestling that is contained in the match as well. Tanahashi is attempting to prove that he still has what it takes as a competitor after a subpar first half of the year that saw him lose marquee matches until his surprising one-loss run through the G-1 brought him back to the top for one last chance. Meanwhile, Omega is a desperate champion, with many criticizing his title reign since ending the long Okada run as lackluster – a win in the main event over Tanahashi would go a long way towards silencing some of those critical voices.

Either man can win.

But both men must win.

THE PREDICTION: Omega. The story of Tanahashi coming back to win the G-1 and take the title at the Dome in his first main event in 3 years is a compelling one and could very well lead to a victory for Hiroshi, but I am going to go with my gut here. I believe that Omega is walking out with the title.

THE NEXT DAY: After Wrestle Kingdom comes New Year Dash, NJPW’s very own ‘Raw after Wrestlemania’, so to speak. At least one big angle normally kicks off here (Last year seeing the attack by Jericho, the year before seeing the return of Suzuki-Gun, etc, etc) and we get our first new challengers to the winners from the night before. It is FREE to watch regardless of whether or not you subscribe to NJPW world, so even if you skip Wrestle Kingdom, you can watch New Year Dash the next day if you want a taste of NJPW.

THE NEXT YEAR: Back in the Ospreay/Ibushi match, I said I would say something about Ibushi’s future, and here it is – I believe that Kota Ibushi will win the 2019 G-1 Climax and challenge for the title at the Dome in 2020. I believe that the reason we didn’t get a straight Omega/Ibushi match for the title this year, instead getting the 3-way with Cody, is because they wanted to save that one on one match for later down the road (excepting the G-1 match that they did have). Down the road will be in either 2019 or at the Dome in 2020. I believe that a Kenny/Ibushi split will happen at some point this year, and we will either get an Omega/Ibushi Final in the G-1, or we will get them wrestling each other for the title at WK next year.

And that’s it.

MANY THANKS ARE DUE TO:
The Hairy Wrestling Fan. His blog is the premier resource I used for this preview when I didn’t have the information, and is tremendously informative about NJPW and really, pro wrestling in general. His work is very much worth your read and your time. Check it out:
https://hairywrestlingfan.com/

NJPW on Reddit. Good discussion most of the time and worth looking into for even more in-depth coverage than you thought you wanted.
https://www.reddit.com/r/njpw/

Chris Charlton. The author of Lion’s Pride and Eggshells: Pro Wrestling at the Tokyo Dome. Charlton’s insight and work on the history of NJPW is unparalleled. Both books are excellent, he does commentary with Kevin Kelly and Don Callis, and translations of promos and the like are frequently available on his Twitter feed –
https://twitter.com/reasonjp

Ioan Morris. He may not write for the Blog anymore, but reading Ioan’s reports on NJPW got me excited for the shows and got me wanting to learn more about NJPW. I’m an imperfect student, but his work was exemplary and has a great deal to do with why I spend time watching the shows now. Go through his archives on the Blog!
https://blogofdoom.com/index.php/author/iaonmorris/

All of my Twitter folks (hey Amanda!) who discuss the show live while it’s happening and afterwards, you make it more fun to watch. Looking forward to the show!

And, of course, all of you that I wrote this for. I love the blog and enjoy doing work for it. I hope you’re all in for the show, because it’s worth it.

I’m out, everyone. See you later.

As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter