With World Tag League 2018 Finals in our rear view (you can check out match recommendations here if you missed them), New Japan Pro Wrestling has wasted no time in confirming the full card for Wrestle Kingdom 13, so without further ado we’ll list it out and break it down!
Wrestle Kingdom 13 (Jan. 4, 3AM Eastern / 12AM Pacific)
- PRE-SHOW: NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship #1 Contender’s Gauntlet Match
- Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Will Ospreay (NEVER Openweight Championship)
- Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship)
- Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs.Zack Sabre, Jr. (RPW British Heavyweight Championship)
- Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs. Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (IWGP Tag Team Championship)
- Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Juice Robinson (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship)
- KUSHIDA (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
- “Switchblade” Jay White vs. Kazuchika Okada
- Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (c) (IWGP Heavyweight Championship)
Okay so let’s get to the bad news first— the New Japan Rumble is no more, replaced by a gauntlet match with a shot at the NEVER trios titles held by the new and improved Bullet Club, all of whom are tied up later in the card in other title matches. The Rumble has been an absolute highlight of my Wrestle Kingdom morning the entire time I’ve been watching, beginning as it does in that weird twilight period where I’m officially up past my usual bedtime and the thrill of being up at an absurd hour to watch pro wrestling really begins to set in.
The cavalcade of young lions, wrestlers that just missed the main card, and returning vets was just the best— everybody loves a Royal Rumble, after all— and while I have no doubt that the competitors in this gauntlet are shrouded in mystery for a reason and will give us that same kind of quick hit dose of chemical excitement at parsing entrance music, it’s just not quite the same.
The good news is, well... the entire rest of the card, really. I mean, just look at it. From Ibushi vs. Ospreay to kick things off through to Tanahashi vs. Omega in the main event, it’s almost exclusively potential Match of the Year Contender after potential Match of the Year Contender. The only matches that I’m not excited about on one level or the other here are the two tag title matches, both of which were kind of awkwardly built and in any case the tag division has been the weakest part of modern-day New Japan for some time now.
There are a lot of compelling stories up top— the 1/100 Ace defending tradition against the Best Bout Machine’s way of doing things, Okada and White dueling over the embers of both the Chaos and Bullet Club civil wars, Naito rushing to claim a title he never even wanted against a man who’s disrespected him and his stablemates at every turn— but truly it’s two of our newest undercard title matches that have me most excited.
Ospreay vs. Ibushi is really kind of a ‘nuff said dream match of dream matches. Two men with penchants for putting it all on the line with seemingly no concern for their own well-being and it’s a match that really feels like it makes use of the NEVER’s openweight nature? There would have to be a complete and utter failure of chemistry for this to be anything less than great, and given the occasional exchanges we’ve seen in tags, I’m not worried about that at all.
And Sabre vs. Ishii, well... part of this is sheer personal bias, as Zack Sabre, Jr. has been one of my favorites ever since I saw him come into Evolve for a double-header against Biff “Oney Lorcan” Busick and Timothy Thatcher way back in 2014, and seeing him get a Wrestle Kingdom singles match for a title so soon after coming to New Japan is very gratifying. But also ZSJ and the Stone Pitbull make magic against each other literally every time they meet, with Sabre’s propensity to tie men up in knots met by Tom’s brute strength and stubborn nature, and I can’t think it’ll be any different in the Tokyo Dome.
There you have it, folks
Excited to be up at butt o’clock on a Friday morning in January to check this out, Cagesiders?