By Work Worrall @Hoohoowozza
There is no doubt that a buzz surrounds the upcoming New Japan show hailing from the Tokyo Dome that we know as Wrestle Kingdom. This is the twelfth instalment of the annual Dome show since becoming Wrestle Kingdom and with yet another stacked card topped by the long anticipated main event that see’s Kazuchika Okada, the current IWGP heavyweight champion defending his title against, well most probably the hottest wrestler in the world if I may be so bold in Tetsuya Naito. With a supporting cast also that is led by the grudge match between Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, this year’s WK show will no doubt be considered one of the best: these are my thoughts.
NEW JAPAN RUMBLE
No doubt anybody not on the main show will appear in this year’s rumble as usually the case. Expect to see the likes of Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Yuji Nagata, Kojima, Tenzan etc mixed in with some young Lions and guest appearances such as we had last year with Scott Norton making a return to New Japan. Usual match with the viewer tending to watch how the Tokyo Dome wakes up as the seats are filled as Japan legends filling the rumble barely being able to walk to the ring! Would be great to see Katsuya Kitamura enter this match and become the first Young Lion to win the rumble, and with his great 2017 behind him, who knows!
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
ROPPONGI 3K(c) V THE YOUNG BUCKS
Sho and Yo accompanied by Rocky Romero took the Junior tag titles in their first match at King of Pro Wrestling back in October, since then they remain undefeated, storming their way through the Super Junior tag tournament and seem unstoppable since returning from their excursions in the United States and Mexico. However they now defend their titles against the Young Bucks who themselves are former champions themselves on six separate occasions and it would not shock me if they took the belts again for a seventh time. With their worldwide appeal, along with their Bullet Club and Elite shenanigans during 2017, having the Bucks as high profile champions may fit into New Japan’s thinking. Along with the fact that these titles are regularly hot potatoe’d a change may be inevitable! I for one hope Roppongi 3K keep the belts and give some longevity to the titles, but maybe not. Expect for sure a great opener with plenty of high spots, and for the first time in a while some Japanese interest with a Japanese team involved that will keep the Dome crowd invested.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT SIX-MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – GAUNTLET MATCH
BULLET CLUB(BAD LUCK FALE,TAMA TONGA & TONGA LOA)(c) V CHAOS(BERETTA, TOMOHIRO ISHII & TORU YANO) V MICHAEL ELGIN & WAR MACHINE V SUZUKI-GUN(TAICHI,LIZUKA & ZACK SABRE JNR) V TAGUCHI JAPAN(RYUSUKE TAGUCHI, JUICE ROBINSON & TOGI MAKABE)
We had a match like this last year and for some reason we have another this year! Expect a bit of a miss as New Japan makes sure that everyone gets on the card, because that all this match is. It is also a waste of the talents of Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jnr who could have easily had a match between themselves that would have raised the roof off the Dome. Anyone of these teams could win this match then lose them again at New Years dash with the only interest coming from the Elgin/War Machine team who seemingly do not get on. Shame War Machine, for who this is their final New Japan match could not have gone out in a better match! My prediction – Taguchi Japan.
CODY V KOTA IBUSHI
So it may be common knowledge that Kota Ibushi was pencilled in to face Kenny Omega at this show until Jericho showed up! So Ibushi is relegated down the card into a nothing match with former Ring of Honor champion Cody. Of course, Ibushi will face Omega soon enough, but a match with Cody, who never does the tours but gets flown in for these one off matches does not fill me with anticipation. Who knows, we may see Cody step up and have a great match, surely if anyone can get a great match out of Cody then Ibushi is the man. However being early on the card will mean less time, and if Cody messes around jumping in and out of the ring and stalling then this will do nothing to entertain the fans. Having Cody lose the ROH title at Final Battle will allow Ibushi to pick up the win here, however, Cody as been protected up to now and Ibushi facing a loss will not hurt him, so I see a Cody win here!!
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
KILLER ELITE SQUAD(c) V LIJ(EVIL/SANADA)
Evil and Sanada’s recent victory of the World Tag League makes them favourites for this match and to win a title that has, to be quite frank, been mistreated. The heavyweight tag titles are the least thought of by the New Japan booking committee, or so it would seem with relentless repeated three way tags involving the same teams throughout 2017 that have resulted with a stale division that may have some new life put into the championship if the home grown talents of Evil and Sanada prevail over current champions KES. I for one expect the LIJ pairing to take the belts from the Suzuki-Gun pair who has basically been keeping the titles warm until WK12. Although the pair of Evil and Sanada may have not set the tag team ranks on fire, I am pretty sure the titles will change hands here considering that the LIJ pair dropped the six-man belts during the December Korakuen shows.
NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – LOSER HAIRCUT & NO SECONDS DEATHMATCH
MINORU SUZUKI(c) V HIROOKI GOTO
Minoru Suzuki’s NEVER title reign has resulted in several gimmick matches that have not really done anything to highlight this championship and a change in title holder will be very welcome here as Suzuki has outstayed his title reign. So we have another gimmick match as Suzuki puts his title on the line against the nearly man Goto. This title is perfect for Goto, always a man that comes so close to the big title but falls at the final hurdle, holding this belt will give him more opportunities and possibly some good matches to boot. The fact that this match consists of ‘No Seconds’ will help if that stays the case and the rest of Suzuki’s cronies stay away and these two are left alone to fight it out with Suzuki possibly taking a haircut! Well….!
IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
MARTY SCURLL(c) V HIROMU TAKAHASHI V WILL OSPREAY V KUSHIDA
Some may not like the fact that this match is a four-way and would be better served as a straight singles bout. Marty Scurll winning the belt at Power Struggle put an end to any talk of a singles match as all four of these guys will hit a tremendous amount of high spots and no doubt thrill the Dome crowd. Takahashi is a must for this title but any one of them could walk out of the Dome with the Junior title that all four have now held during their NJPW careers. Ospreay lost the belt to his nemesis at Power Struggle and will want redemption and I would love to see him win the belt at NJPW’s biggest show, however with his two year contract merely months from ending, who knows where he will go, or if he will stay. Kushida you would feel has had his time as champion with five reigns up until now, however, seen as the ace of the Junior heavyweight’s and a New Japan golden boy, it would not shock me to see him once again rewarded with another title reign. Takahashi has to be the man to take the belt, a great gimmick and belonging to one of the hottest stables in Pro Wrestling, Hiromu will no doubt shine during the match and as of his last title reign, will no doubt shine as a champion. Scurll walks in the title holder and although Scurll is an incredible talent, I cannot see him walking out as the title holder, especially as he is a ROH talent, for whatever difference that makes, and that he does not always do all the tours. Expect a terrific match with all four unafraid to take chances, whoever wins.
IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP
HIROSHI TANAHASHI(c) V JAY WHITE
It was a big and bold move to have Jay White, fresh from excursion attack Tanahashi and make his intentions known that he wants to take the Intercontinental title from Tanahashi. With Tanahashi’s recent injuries being highlighted, they may come into play as White, receiving a huge push, and what could be bigger than facing the former NJPW ace for a title at Wrestle Kingdom! The switchblade star as to really put himself over here if he is to be seen as a deserved push for this company. Jay White defeating Tanahashi quickly and demandingly would suit his character and really elevate the New Zealander to the upper card and make him a worthy championship holder. Tanahashi will no doubt assist to put White over, however, Tanahashi is adored, and having him lose at the Dome will not hurt him at all, however the fans may not see it that way and so would not be so surprised if Tanahashi did win. Saying that, the whole Switchblade build and push would seem quite the waste and there would be only one way for White to go if he did lose. I predict a title change here, and in domineering fashion for White.
IWGP UNITED STATES HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – NO DQ
KENNY OMEGA(c) V CHRIS JERICHO
For those watching in the west, this may be considered as the main event, or that is what New Japan may be hoping for? Personally I do not, but this is a match that I am really anticipating. The relevancy of Chris Jericho is huge here, a man that has spent the better half of his wrestling career with the WWE, Jericho sees an opportunity with a company that he wrestled for in the mid nineties now taking giant strides in breaking into the US market with shows already happened and more in the future with a show already booked for March, using Jericho for this event is a great move for both New Japan and Chris Jericho himself. The build for this match since Jericho shocked the wrestling world back at Power Struggle by showing up to challenge Omega, then following up with a surprise attack in Fukuoka at the tag league finals has been tremendous with Omega retaliating at the WK12 press conference as really made this a must see match. Build as a no dq match enables an ageing Jericho to compete with most probably one of the best wrestlers in the world today in Omega as this match looks set to be more of a brawl than a mat wrestling classic. Whatever the outcome, this will be a historic match that I feel will see Omega come out on top, although it is not known if this is a one off shot for Jericho, Having Omega go over would be best for New Japan with the fact Jericho even being on the Wrestle Kingdom show being a bonus in itself.
IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
KAZUCHIKA OKADA(C) V TETSUYA NAITO
The 2018 Wrestle Kingdom main event, whatever some may say, this will be the last match of the night, and for the IWGP Heavyweight title between the two biggest wrestlers on the planet. Naito had a shot for this very title back in 2014 at Wrestle Kingdom eight after winning the G1 tournament the previous summer, however his title match against Okada for the very same title was relegated to semi-main after fans voted for the Tanahashi/Nakamura IC title match to be the main event. Naito lost that match and his momentum, being sent on excursion to Mexico where he regained his confidence, began the LIJ stable, and slowly worked his way back to the top by winning his second G1 tournament last August, and now he finds himself back in the title picture, at Wrestle Kingdom, challenging once again Kazuchika Okada! Talk about déjà vu, with the Omega/Jericho match being built as a co-main event, you could be forgiven thinking Naito may be a little bitter. For me this will be Naito’s time to shine, he is definitely the hottest wrestler in Japan, his momentum is sky high, and having Okada as champion for over 560 days will make a title change even more important than it would be. Naito had a taste of the title for 70 days back in April 2016, defeating, then relinquishing the belt to Okada. The time is right for Naito, and although Okada is Gedo’s golden boy, surely even he knows that this has to be Naito’s championship glory in a match that will rock the roof off the Dome.
Wrestle Kingdom will be live from Tokyo, Japan on Thursday January 4th. Show starts 5pm Japan time, so 8am UK time and 3am US eastern or 12am US western time. The show will air live on New Japan World, make sure to check out the show