Yes indeed, ladies, gentlemen, and assorted nonbinary folks, it’s time to return to the Tokyo Dome for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual spectacular supershow, Wrestle Kingdom! So I’m here to prime y’all on the big show and give you the low down on what’s going down, folks.
And as an added bonus, we’re making predictions! On with the (breakdown of the) show!
Wrestle Kingdom 13 (Friday, January 4, 2AM Eastern / 11PM Pacific)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (c) (IWGP Heavyweight Championship)
Tanahashi and Omega aren’t simply wrestlers, they represent philosophies.
The 1/100 Ace is tradition, simple and pure. Two men meet in the ring and go to war, strike for strike and hold for hold, with respect, dignity, and honor. To determine who’s the more skilled competitor.
The Best Bout Machine is the new way, going all out and trying to not only defeat your opponent, but make each match bigger and better than the last. To put your life on the line for the glory and the art of pro wrestling.
And so, this is, more than anything, a battle for the soul of New Japan Pro Wrestling. A victory defines the future, molds it in the winner’s image. Sure, putting it that way is a bit melodramatic, but it’s true. A promotion’s tone is set by its top star and whoever leaves the Tokyo Dome as champion has staked a real claim to the right to set that tone.
But it won’t be easy, as both men enter bruised and battered. Years of carrying the weight of being the Ace on his back have wrecked Hiroshi’s elbow and one of his knees, painted them up bright as targets that everyone he’s wrestled has been targeting with abandon, while Kenny’s neck and foot have both been significant issues for him off and on all year.
It’s the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, the biggest single match of New Japan’s calendar, and almost guaranteed to be an instant classic.
Claire’s prediction: The IWGP Heavyweight Championship hasn’t changed hands at Wrestle Kingdom since 2011, when Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Satoshi Kojima in the main event. If anybody could repeat that effort, it’s the 1/100 Ace, but I don’t think it happens. No, I think the story here is that you can ride a hot streak and prove to everyone that you’ve still got it, you can fight with all your heart and soul for your way of life, but Father Time comes for us all, and Kenny Omega retains the title.
Kyle’s prediction: I’ll be honest. I haven’t watched New Japan in a long while so most of these picks aren’t going to be based in any in depth knowledge of the product. If you’re looking for that, probably just re-read Claire’s. This is an interesting one mainly due to contracts and all that. If there weren’t question regarding Omega’s future, I’d pick him in an instant. But I suppose he can retain here and lose it at the next big show if need by so I’m going to pick Kenny Omega to retain.
Sean’s prediction: The challenge of following The Elite crew across multiple companies and storyline, including alignment shifts to create the battle for leadership of a Club they then walked away from and to set-up ALL IN, and the worked/shoot nature of this feud, and the suspense about where Omega will sign when his NJPW contract expires... it’s all very confusing for a gaijin who tries to keep up with seven different promotions at once. In the end, we’ve got the guy who saved the company against an upstart who’s questioning the traditions of a country that honors tradition above almost eveything. LOL Hiroshi Tanahashi wins.
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship)
Tetsuya Naito mistreated the IWGP Intercontinental Championship belt worse than any other champion in the title’s seven-year history. He battered the title, tossing it around, cracking the plate, distressing the leather, and just generally beat it to hell and back in his first reign as champion.
And now he’s the only man that can save it.
After coming up short against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Chris Jericho attacked Naito at New Year Dash!!, but then the trail went cold for months, with some doubt as to whether or not he would ever return to NJPW. Y2J then blindsided the Stardust Genius at Wrestling Dontaku in May, shortly after he won the title back from Minoru Suzuki.
Gold in his eyes, Jericho had waited until Tetsuya had something to take before making his move. And oh, what a move he made, defeating Naito in a violent brawl of a match at Dominion in June... and then he left again, claiming he had no intention of ever defending the title.
Shocker, again Chris was just waiting to pick his opportunity, attacking EVIL at King of Pro-Wrestling and then successfully defending the title against him at Power Struggle, taunting Naito that there would be no rematch.
New Japan officials felt differently, and here we are. Y2J, of course, had to get one last word in and left the Stardust Genius battered and bruised at the press conference for the match, promising to end his career at Wrestle Kingdom.
Claire’s prediction: Tetsuya Naito reclaims the title he never wanted and, ironically, restores it to its glory.
Kyle’s prediction: I can’t imagine Chris Jericho retains here. In the end, this is about putting Tetsuya Naito over.
Sean’s prediction: Both because I don’t think NJPW will remain a priority for Jericho (not that it was a major one, but it was his primary wrestling priority, and I think that changes shortly) and because the story calls for it, Tetsuya Naito will save the Intercontinental title from Y2J.
“Switchblade” Jay White vs. Kazuchika Okada
The fires are almost all burned out.
Throughout 2018, New Japan has been consumed with civil war. First Bullet Club went up in flames as Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega struggled for dominance, with Tama Tonga’s Firing Squad soon enough turning things into a three-way fray. Cooler heads prevailed and Rhodes and Omega reconciled, but the split with the OGs proved permanent as the embers cooled to ash.
...and then the Switchblade collected the remains, doused them in lighter fluid, and sparked them back to raging inferno to envelop the Rainmaker and attempt to pitch Chaos into darkness.
Gedo, you see, had no use for his golden boy after he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kenny Omega and failed to either win the G1 Climax or beat Hiroshi Tanahashi for his winner’s title shot, and conspired with White and the Bullet Club remnant to rend Chaos asunder.
Jay had been needling Okada for months to be more vicious, more brutal, less compromising and when the Rainmaker came up empty, well, the jig, as they say, was up. The remainder of Chaos stood by their man, and so White and Gedo’s actions come off less like the first shots of a civil war and more like an attempted coup, but even so, this fight was destined from the moment the chair connected with Okada’s back.
Claire’s prediction: I think it’s pretty clear that Okada’s arc bends towards his final redemption being to regain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once again, but I don’t think that’s starting here, tonight. The Rainmaker excels when he’s put through depressive slumps following a big loss (see his reaction to losing at Dominion last year or at Wrestle Kingdom 9), and so whether by hook or by crook (and Gedo is most certainly a crook), I’ve got “Switchblade” Jay White winning this one.
Kyle’s prediction: It still feels weird picking against Kazuchika Okada so I’m not going to.
Sean’s prediction: Sticking with the mix of business and kayfabe picking strategy, the Bullet Club brand is too important to take a loss in its highest profile match on the card. And the Rainmaker’s old mentor is the difference maker, allowing “Switchblade” Jay White to twist the knife deeper in Okada’s back.
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship’s had a rough go of it in the back half of 2018, with Hiromu Takahashi forced to vacate after a tragic and potentially career-ending neck injury. Stalwart KUSHIDA prevailed in the tournament to crown his replacement, and now he faces a man whose New Japan career hasn’t yet reached its apex.
Taiji Ishimori was brought into Bullet Club with much fanfare after leaving Pro Wrestling NOAH, crowned as the new and improved BONE SOLDIER, but opportunities to win any of New Japan’s junior heavyweight titles have evaded him as he’s come up short in both Best of the Super Jr. and Super Jr. Tag League.
No more. This is Ishimori’s chance to take one of the most distinguished and overall talented men on the roster down and bring some gold back to Bullet Club in the process.
Claire’s prediction: While I deeply wish KUSHIDA could get a good long run as the kickass gatekeeper junior champ, this is the new and improved Boner’s night. Taiji Ishimori ends the night ten pounds heavier.
Kyle’s prediction: I’m kind of surprised that Taiji Ishimori didn’t win the belt already so I’m going to pick him to here.
Sean’s prediction: Yeah, I really wish I didn’t keep up with the dirt screens - or have to write about rumors & news - heading into this show. The Marty McFly cosplayer is maybe fielding offers, and New Japan will go with the young gun. Which is held by a Bone Soldier named Taiji Ishimori.
Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Juice Robinson (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship)
After a strong but thematically awkward start around the waists of a Canadian and a New Zealander, the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship finally ended up with these two Americans... and promptly ended up on the back burner.
In the same length of time that Kenny Omega got three successful title defenses, Rhodes and Robinson have gotten exactly zero between them. The only time the title’s been contested since the G1 Special in San Francisco is the match at Fighting Spirit Unleashed in which Cody won!
Concerns about the title being sidelined aside, that match was good but never quite reached its full potential, so this rematch, on the biggest stage New Japan has to offer, is an opportunity to right that wrong and really deliver an instant classic.
Claire’s prediction: Cody’s got a promotion to run, y’all— Juice Robinson is picking up the W with the Left Hand of God and the grandson of a plumber’s gonna go out on a high note.
Kyle’s prediction: Given Cody is leaving to start his own promotion, he’s likely going to drop the belt to back to my man Juice Robinson.
Sean’s prediction: This could be a sign that AEW is gonna play nice with NJPW, leaving the door open for the American Nightmare to drop this belt later and enter G1 27. Those things may happen still, but tonight Juice Robinson is gonna get loose and win back that title.
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)
Cards on the table, this is probably the least interesting match on the show. Both tag team divisions are really deeply stagnant and the build for this match shows it, what with LIJ winning World Tag League... by beating the tag champs in the finals. And then the Bucks staked their claim by way of invoking their mandatory rematch clause which, well... doesn’t it all sound a little WWE to you, folks?
Perfunctory build and shallow division aside, this match should be pretty good on the merits of the action. The Young Bucks can’t bring the full power of their best work to bear in a three-way that makes it hard to do a long-term limb/back-damage based story in a match, but, y’know, they’re kinda good at the whole high spot gimmick if the match demands it.
The LIJ team ain’t bad at that kinda thing either, and the tag champs are a whole better than the sum of their parts by a significant margin, and all together it should make for a title defense worth of Wrestle Kingdom.
Claire’s prediction: If I had my pick of outcomes here I’d like to see the Bucks take the titles as the shock “They can’t do that, they’re leaving!” win, but I think New Japan are sticking to the “your turn, my turn” playbook and Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) are taking the titles home for a second time.
Kyle’s prediction: Let’s say EVIL & SANADA because from what I’ve seen of NJPW, these are the type of titles that often change hands.
Sean’s prediction: I’ve got a bit of a Biz Cliz sweep working with these picks. April’s a long way away, but maybe Guerrillas of Destiny are part of a Club carrying a whole mess of into that tailgate party?
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (RPW British Heavyweight Championship)
Calling my shot, but as great as each of the top three matches will be, I think this ends up being my match of the night.
Okay okay, yeah, I can admit that I’m a complete fangirl who’s in the tank for ZSJ’s brand of technical wrestling and Ishii’s hard-nosed no-nonsense style of pro wrestling has made him one of my favorites ever since I first got into New Japan back in 2014, and so for most people, yeah, it’s gonna be one of the marquee matches that they go to sleep buzzing about.
But... every time Sabre and Ishii have fought before, it’s been hard-hitting, intense-grappling, pure pro wrestling magic, full of callbacks and escalations, and I don’t think this will be any different. And with RevPro’s main title on the line in the Tokyo Dome for what I have to assume is the first time ever, this one is set to make some history, to boot.
Claire’s prediction: At two wins each in their four singles encounters to date, this feels like it could go either way, but after three reigns and over 250 days around the waists of Japanese talent, I think the British Heavyweight Championship is coming home with Zack Sabre, Jr.
Kyle’s prediction: This is one of those that I’m really just guessing at since it’s not even a New Japan belt. I’ll pick the British man to with the British title and go with Zack Sabre, Jr.
Sean’s prediction: One of two matches where the fans will definitely be the winners... I’ll pick with my heart, and this heart loves the Stone Pitbull. Tomohiro Ishii to retain.
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)
Much like the heavyweight tag, this one feels a bit lazy in construction, being a straight-up rematch of the finals to Super Jr. Tag League and all, but should deliver based on the action alone, and I’m stoked to see Shingo get a chance to shine in the Tokyo Dome.
Our Suzuki-gun champions have quietly racked up an impressive reign on our way here, too, having held the titles for longer than almost any other team in New Japan history, their 304 days as of Friday coming in second place to Shinjiro Ohtani and Tatsuhito Takaiwa’s 348-day reign at the turn of the century.
So, whoever can dethrone them earns not just the titles, but the satisfaction of ending a team that is clearly on a hot streak.
Claire’s prediction: The junior tag titles are the one long-standing NJ title that LIJ haven’t won, so my CageCoins are on Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) taking home the gold in honor of their stablemate and former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi. (Shut up, I’m not already crying, you’re already crying.)
Kyle’s prediction: Eh, let’s say SHO & YOH.
Sean’s prediction: We’re putting CageCoins on these?!?! Dang, I better get serious. Suzuki-gun’s held them this long, why change now?
Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Will Ospreay (NEVER Openweight Championship)
Hands up everybody that thinks this match might steal the show?
And it’s the opener!
We had a bit of a rough time getting here, what with the rib injury that Ospreay suffered in October that kept him from wrestling Taichi for the NEVER at Power Struggle, but by god we’re here now and I couldn’t be more excited. Two of the best high flyers in the game today having a go at a title that has traditionally been the province of brawlers and grapplers? So stoked for this one, folks.
Claire’s prediction: The shuffle to get here has me unsure who walks out with the title. If the original plan had gone off, it seemed pretty clear that Will would have dropped to the Golden Star, but since Kota Ibushi is walking in as champ, I feel like he’s waking out.
Kyle’s prediction: This should be a banger. I’ll pick Will Ospreay to win the belt so Kota Ibushi could finally move one to a one on one feud with Kenny Omega.
Sean’s prediction: If this gives anything as cool as this moment from last month’s Road to the Tokyo Dome show, I’ll be happy. And I think it will give us a few. If that prediction is right, I don’t even care who wins. But I do think it makes sense for Will Ospreay to take the title.
Chaos (Beretta, Chuckie T, & Hirooki Goto) vs. David Finlay, Jeff Cobb, & Yuji Nagata vs. Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe & Toru Yano) & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith, Jr., Lance Archer, & Minoru Suzuki) vs. the Elite (Hangman Page, Marty Scurll, & Yujiro Takahashi) (NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship #1 Contender’s Gauntlet Match)
So first off let’s pour one out for the dearly departed New Japan Rumble, which was clearly too pure and innocent for this debased and fallen world.
Replacing it on the pre-show is the traditional NEVER trios gauntlet. This is a very “get everybody on the card for a payday” match, but of course there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s unlikely to generate any major highlights, but it won’t suck either.
Also interesting here is the reformation of Makabe and Yano’s Most Violent Players unit, in alliance with Ryusuke Taguchi— it’s pretty rare that NJ book guys outside of their factions.
Claire’s prediction: Given that Bullet Club have the titles, I gotta think either the Chaos team or the Elite are picking this up, and with the AEW announcement fresh in everyone’s mind, I think Chaos (Beretta, Chuckie T, & Hirooki Goto) take it home to make it clear that the Tokyo Dome is still very much New Japan’s house.
Kyle’s prediction: I’m picking Suzuki-gun because I like that team.
Sean’s prediction: Throw an ROH-affiliated group a bone heading into the Garden show, why don’t you? TV champ Jeff Cobb, David Finlay & Yuji Nagata fit that bill.
New Year Dash!! (Saturday, January 5, 4:30AM Eastern / 1:30AM Pacific)
As exciting as Wrestle Kingdom is, in some ways New Year Dash!! is even more compelling, folks. The card is kept secret until the show begins, and since most of the talent that’s on Wrestle Kingdom 13 are still in town, you get some really fun matches and unique combinations you’re not likely to see anywhere else. Plus there’s generally at least one big angle that will set up our direction for the coming year, like Chris Jericho’s attack on Tetsuya Naito on last year’s show.
The one thing we can say with some certainty about NYD!!‘s card is that the Bullet Club team of Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, and Taiji Ishimori will likely be defending their NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship against the winners of Friday’s gauntlet.
Claire’s prediction: Fun!
There you have it, folks
Drop your own predictions below if you’d like, head on over to NJPW World to subscribe or FITE to buy the iPPV, and then be sure to come right back here to Cageside Seats at butt o’clock tomorrow morning to enjoy the show with us!