I'm gonna do my usual spiel about these match recommendations below, but let's be frank here, folks— it's Wrestle Kingdom. It's New Japan's biggest show of the year. If you care even a little about New Japan Pro Wrestling in the year of our lord 2018, you're probably gonna want to watch the whole thing. Even the stuff that isn't, strictly speaking, worth your time is gonna give you an idea of where Gedo might be taking us this year.
That being said, as always, I've got a very simple five point scale laid out where a 1 is total skip, 2 you can probably skip unless you love one of the folks in it, 3 is a match that's worth watching but not necessarily worth making time for, a 4 is a solid recommendation to make time for if you can, and a 5 is a must-watch.
Mind you, these are not star ratings. They're not meant to be absolute ratings in any sense, but rather a simple (and hopefully sensible) way to determine if a match is worth your time. A one is not necessarily a bad match, but rather just one I feel like you're best off skipping. I have my biases, of course, but hopefully I can make it easy for you to adjust for them.
And of course, if you want full results, you can check those out right here while I (try!) to keep things at a distance here and concentrate on the stories told and what makes a match worth watching or not.
New Japan Rumble (2)
The early goings of the Rumble are all about Katsuya Kitamura... until Leo Tonga comes in to give him competition for the biggest man in the match. As more men come in the crowd eventually thins (including a really cool series of eliminations where Nagata took Nakanishi out with a cradle, Kitamura and Owens used Manabu’s dead weight to pin Nagata, and then Chase snapped off a piledriver to take Katsuya out) and the next phase is about Suzuki-gun clearing house and holding court.
The junior dads show up, TMIV evens the score, they get their vengeance but Gambino clears things out again. Rise and fall, so it goes, the story of the match very much that you can get a little momentum but sooner or later the ebb and flow catches you. No iron man, constant change until finally someone.
So I was a little disappointed with the field this year, not nearly enough old men who usually aren’t around for my taste, but the finishing run with Kakihara and Cheeseburger takes it up a notch. Nowhere near a must-watch, but not a total skip either.
Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (c) vs. Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship) (5)
Bucks start off with a shocking lack of respect, jawing at RPG3K as if they were still young boys, but the tag champs quickly show them that they are not with some hype double teams... and YOH’s back takes the ramp hard and the Bucks smell blood in the water much the same as they did against the last junior team to have the Roppongi name, working his back over and taking Rocky Romero out with a powerbomb on the apron.
Fighting through the pain while the Bucks continue to target his back, he can’t get away but Matt Jackson takes the floor hard on a flip bump of his own and the tide starts to turn, forcing the Bucks to resort to subterfuge and taking the match outside... where YOH hits a back body drop and finally gets some space to breathe as he leaves Jackson in agony!
Malfunction at the junction, hot tag, and the match becomes a question of whose back gives out long enough to keep them down for three amidst gobs of sick tag moves. This was a great sequel to those fantastic RPG Vice/Bucks matches from last year with the added bonus that RPG3K are a more focused team than Roppongi Vice, without the (admittedly usually fun!) diversions into comedy weirdness. Watch it!
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Chaos (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, & Toru Yano) vs. Michael Elgin & War Machine (Hanson & Ray Rowe) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, & Zack Sabre, Jr.) vs. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Togi Makabe) (NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match) (2)
Suzuki-gun and Big War Machine to start here, Suzuki-gun engaging in their usual shenanigans but soon enough Team HOSS use their sheer strength advantage to come out of the hole. Some fun stuff from Sabre and Rowe in here, and soon enough the Technical Wizard advances his team to the next match of the gauntlet.
Chaos out third, chaos (no pun intended) ensues and Yano wraps it up pretty quickly in the way only the Sublime Master Thief can and Taguchi Japan are out fourth, so our champions will be last. Makabe runs the show for a little while, Juice gets a star turn, and the Sublime Master Thief does them in as well. The champions come out fresh and the final match of the gauntlet hinges on Beretta as Ricky Morton, praying for a hot tag or an opening to end it.
Anyway, this isn’t bad, there’s a couple cool sequences in here, but it exists basically just to get a bunch of guys on the card, watch accordingly.
Cody Rhodes vs. Kota Ibushi (5)
Cody stalling early but he doesn’t milk it and the match gets to the feeling out quickly. Rhodes gets a bit of an advantage on the mat, looking to end it with his submission early but Ibushi takes to the air and... proceeds to wipe Brandi Rhodes out and, in his concern for her, open himself up to getting his block knocked off by Cody! It was a ruse!
Working over Kota’s surgically repaired neck, getting a chair involved on the floor, Ibushi manages to get a comeback in there, Golden Triangle, but he has trouble capitalizing after all the wear on his neck. Struggle over a suplex in the ropes and again Brandi is the decider! CROSS RHODES OFF THE APRON PUTS IBUSHI ON HIS HEAD! Rhodes happy to take a countout but Kota makes it back in!
Ibushi is seriously out of it and the match becomes about whether or not he can get it together before Cody finishes him.
This was, being frank, shockingly good. I wasn’t expecting very much out of it at all given Cody’s track record in New Japan shows held on Japanese soil, but by god they went out there, Rhodes put his best foot forward, Ibushi is Ibushi, and they had a really good match built around the Rhodes being dicks and Kota being a madman who never gives up. A lot of cool nearfalls and reversals in the finishing stretch, too. Great match!
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith, Jr. & Lance Archer) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (IWGP Tag Team Championship) (3)
Killer Bomb right out the gates so KES mean business! Taking the action outside and back in, they isolate EVIL and work him over with quick tags, at one point chokeslamming him off the apron into a pile of young lions. SANADA gets in but nothing changes, more quick tags and violence, but SANADA’s speed eventually gets him an opening and EVIL comes back in hot.
LIJ start rallying but KES have such power and did such damage early that they keep tipping the tide back as the match breaks down and the concept of a legal man goes out the window for a few minutes. Trading big bombs, the score is finally even enough that it’s a question of who can drop the biggest the fastest and we proceed to the finish.
This started off fun with KES running hot and eager to deliver a beating but slowly lost me as the match carried on. Not bad, but I can’t give a strong recommendation as a result.
Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki (c) (NEVER Openweight Championship Hair vs. Hair Match) (3)
Trading hard right hands early, Suzuki goes right to the sleeper hold and nearly chokes Goto out then and there! Refusing a potential stoppage, he takes Hirooki to the floor for his usual brand of violence. Back inside, Goto fires up and fights back but all that does is give Minoru want he wants and he’s all fired up. Hirooki throwing everything he has but it’s not enough and then the interference comes.
When the dust settles and their respective stables have fought through and back, Suzuki is an offensive dynamo and Goto’s just taking it! He’s not about to lose his hair that easy though, and no matter how many times Minoru takes him to the post he keeps getting a little more every time.
So this was really good with a great story built around Suzuki being dominant just beating Goto pillar to post and ol’ sad sack Goto trying to prove that he’s not a failure and regain the title he won from his best friend a year ago. Plus the sheer swagger on display in the post-match, good stuff.
Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Marty Scurll (c) vs. Will Ospreay (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship) (4)
Scurll staying out of the proceedings early as Ospreay and KUSHIDA go at it, content to slip in for a cheap shot here and there and it nearly costs him the match as Takahashi rolls up on him! The pace picks up, the action fast and furious as it ebbs and flows and heads to the floor... WILL HITS A MOONSAULT OFF A SCAFFOLD! A mini-match between KUSHIDA and Ospreay follows until Marty comes in.
Champion in control for a little while, then the action picks back up, a series of lariats leaving all four men down and out. A four-way slugfest breaks out and Scurll counters the Oscutter into the chickenwing! Both of them wiped out, we get some KUSHIDA/Hiromu, always very enjoyable, until the English lads get back into it. The big nearfalls start kicking in, Marty literally tapes Takahashi to the guardrail while Ospreay and KUSHIDA try to murder each other in the turnbuckles.
They fend him off, avalanche armbar, Will refusing to lose and he manages a deadlift buckle bomb! Marty gets some powder out but he can’t keep KUSHIDA down with it and Hiromu comes back in hot! More big nearfalls, an impromptu alliance between our Englishmen goes bad and indeed we’re on our way to the finish.
Not a perfect match, it was a bit overlong and there were a few stretches (mainly involving Marty Scurll’s schtick, to be fair) that had me rolling my eyes, but when it was on, it was on in a big way and you should probably watch it and decide for yourself.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. “Switchblade” Jay White (IWGP Intercontinental Championship) (1)
Feeling out, Tanahashi with a slight edge until a plancha comes up empty and tweaks the bad knee! White immediately goes on the attack, wrenching, pounding, and tearing, but the Ace’s veteran wiles kick in for some breathing room and he starts to rally. Jay is able to use the knee as a lever to cut him off but even in the short time he was on top the damage Tanahashi did to the leg is enough to keep him from being as dominant as he was at the outset.
Hiroshi in charge, he gets the High Fly Flow to the floor he once said he was never going to do again and has done in basically every match since, but back in the ring Switchblade is able to turn it around and get back to attacking the leg. And from there the match settles around the idea that if Hiroshi can just get a head of steam and get through his signature maneuvers he’ll take it, but getting that head of steam past White is no guarantee.
This was largely fine in the outline but in the execution I can’t help but compare it to Tanahashi’s G1 Climax match against Zack Sabre, Jr., a match also built largely around a real injury being exploited, and find it wanting. It has neither the drama nor the visceral excitement of that match and instead feels like an overlong paint-by-numbers reproduction. Unless you’re a diehard Tanahashi fan or really need to see how Jay White did in his first big match, I think this one is a pass.
Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega (c) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship No Disqualification Match) (5)
Jericho throwing hands before the bell! And after, punch for punch sees Omega pull ahead and Y2J crawling for the outside! A rake of the eyes and Chris keeps punishing him and gets an early Walls of Jericho in only for Kenny to make the ropes but there’s no reason to break without disqualifications! To the outside, continuing to just wreak holy hell on each other!
OMEGA COMES UP EMPTY ON A DIVE AND GOES THROUGH THE ANNOUNCE TABLE! Jericho’s smacking Red Shoes around and he puts the Liontamer on Shota Umino! Kenny’s alive and he threw a monitor at Y2J! OMEGA DOUBLE STOMP OFF THE LIGHTING RIG ONTO A TABLE! Back inside, Jericho catches him in the knee with the triangle dropkick! Chris sets up a table... AND POWERBOMBS KENNY ON THE FLOOR INSTEAD!
More brawling around the ring and then inside it, we get a sequence with a bunch of drama around a chair wedged into the ropes. Into the precision striking and Jericho rolls the clock back with the Lionsault! Omega hits the Terminator tope con giro! Back inside, Kotaro Krusher, Kenny finally feeling confident to bust out the big moves, following it up with Aoi Shoudou but the V-Trigger comes up empty!
Jockeying for position, a second attempt hits, Jericho’s woozy but able to block the Dragon suplex and lock the Walls of Jericho on! Again Omega gets into the ropes and he’s got the numbing spray and nails Chris in the eyes with it! Finally the chair comes into play and Kenny goes into it as Y2J gets a towel to clean the spray off his face. Sight restored, he keeps putting Omega into the chair!
KENNY’S BUSTED OPEN! Slugging it out, Omega gets a few Dragon suplexes off and fires himself up, blood pouring down his nose! Electric chair, denied, he plants Chris with another Dragon only to get waffled with the chair! A fresh chair in hand, Jericho going to town on Kenny’s back but the champion has fight left in him! A Van Terminator gets the opening and a V-Trigger knocks Chris to the floor through the table!
Back in the ring, Omega keeps up his torrential offense and Y2J’s gas tank is clearly running low, so the question, as ever, is can he pull it off before he comes up totally empty?
This match ruled, no doubt about it. I had my concerns about Jericho coming to New Japan but he and Kenny wrestled a smart match that started hot and built to absolutely earn all the end-game bombs. Would absolutely love to see more from Chris if this is the caliber of match we’re getting. Go watch it!
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Heavyweight Championship) (5)
Lucha-themed feeling out early, fitting for these two men, before they head to the floor and trade spots. Naito’s is a wicked neckbreaker over the barricade that puts him in control, and so a theme develops, the Stardust Genius working Okada’s neck, a well-established weak point, pounding him with neckbreakers and kicks to the back of the neck.
Kazuchika back at it with a wicked DDT, starting to pick up a head of steam, working Naito’s head over in turn. Jockeying for position, Okada gets the cobra clutch after a few false starts and Tetsuya flags but does not fail! The Stardust Genius resumes control with a neckbreaker, dumps the champ on his head with a poison Frankensteiner and you can tell he’s busting out all the stops because he hits a Stardust Press only to find no water in the pool!
Slugging it out, Tetsuya with absolutely wicked overhead elbows to the back of the neck but Okada’s able to hit one of his signature dropkicks and keep from being swept away with the tide! It carries on as a very back and forth match, Naito kicking out of a Rainmaker but the champion having a clear advantage as he doesn’t even have a cover to kick out of on a Destino.
Down to the bone, just slugging it out, the Rainmaker’s tank runs low but isn’t out yet and he does the ol’ hold the wristlock spot. Another Rainmaker dodged, Destino... NOPE! Into the final stretch, the reversals and jockeying for position just leaving one man to make a mistake.
Predictably, this was a great match, although being honest I found myself watching from a bit of a distance and not getting super invested in it, or at least not as invested as ideally I’d like. But in any case, it’s the main event of Wrestle Kingdom-- if you’re reading this, are you REALLY going to skip it?
Again, it feels kind of silly giving recommendations on a show like this, but I have a format and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, aside from the low point of Tanahashi/White, this was a thoroughly excellent show in the Wrestle Kingdom tradition with a bang-on double main event, a really good junior tag, and a career match for Cody. Watch those matches if nothing else and get your 999 yen worth, folks.