Wrestle Kingdom 14 is upon us!
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual spectacular is doubled in size to two nights this year, so without further ado let’s lay the matches out and we’ll share some of our thoughts in the process, Cagesiders!
Night One (January 4, 2AM Eastern, 11PM Pacific)
Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks, & Toa Henare vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma), Yota Tsuji, & Yuya Uemura
How we got here: At last, opening tag matches have come to Wrestle Kingdom! Jokes aside, the US dojo lads have gotten their fair share of shine and Makabe is the kind of guy they always want find something for on the big shows, so this makes as much sense as anything.
What’s on the line: Bragging rights, especially for Katsuyori Shibata and his students at the New Japan Dojo in Los Angeles.
Claire’s Pick: This is really anybody’s game but I’m thinking the US boys and Henare take it, probably by way of a Toa Bottom on one of the Japanese Young Lions.
Sean’s Pick: That U.S. expansion isn’t going to sell itself. This isn’t a huge rub for 2020’s North American shows, but might as well go with Coughlin, Connors, Fredericks & Henare here.
Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. TenCozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima)
How we got here: World Tag League leftovers? A chance for the dads to have a nice little wrestle? Gedo drawing lots to fill out the first part of night one?
What’s on the line: I could see the winners of this match getting consideration for a title shot at New Beginning, I suppose.
Claire’s Pick: I’ve been snarky but I love me some action with the dads and I have no doubt this will be a fun and exciting pro wrestling match. Gonna give TenCozy the nod on account of Kojima’s hard-hitting lariats and Tenzan’s tendency to grit out great performances when called on.
Sean’s Pick: To steal a catchphrase a WWE Backstage correspondent stole from a guy from Yancy Street, “It’s clobberin’ time!” Going with Nakanishi & Nagata, because the latter just re-signed.
Great Sasuke, Jushin Liger, Tatsumi “the Dragon” Fujinami, & Tiger Mask IV vs. Naoki Sano, Ryusuke Taguchi, Shinjiro Ohtani, & Tatsuhito Takaiwa
How we got here: Jushin Liger’s retirement tour enters its final step as he teams with some faces from his past against some other faces from his past.
What’s on the line: A chance for all the old guys to show that they can still go.
Claire’s Pick: Okay, now we’re heating up a little! Ohtani in particular is exciting to me because he can still go like anybody’s business, and with Sasuke around you know you’re gonna get some pyrotechnics, too. Team Liger picks up the win to set the stage for Jushin to ride off into the sunset.
Sean’s Pick: He’s been putting over younger guys throughout his farewell tour, and will on Sunday, too. So this legends showcase seems designed to give Liger a win. His teammates will win too, but he gets the pin.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA, & Shingo Takagi) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, & Zack Sabre, Jr.)
How we got here: LIJ and Suzuki-gun have been at each other’s throats off and on for most of the year, and with two nights of Wrestle Kingdom, that made this tag team match a most logical decision.
What’s on the line: One part bragging rights to one part setting up SANADA’s title match against Zack Sabre, Jr. on night two.
Claire’s Pick: Suzuki-gun pick up the tag team win here to set up SANADA winning on night two.
Sean’s Pick: Going LIJ, if for no other reason than I really hope EVIL has a great 2020. But also because of who I’m picking tomorrow.
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, KENTA, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, & YOSHI-HASHI)
How we got here: Much like the eight-man tag preceding this, these stables have a lot of history, we’re headed into a title match on night two, and we’ve got time to fill.
What’s on the line: A Chaos win here gives Goto much-needed momentum headed into his NEVER Openweight Championship match against KENTA on night two.
Claire’s Pick: Chaos pick up the win here to set up Goto falling short the night after.
Sean’s Pick: Hard to argue with Claire’s logic. And from a strictly fan perspective, the guys other than Goto on that Chaos team are just too great and/or fun to root against.
FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) (IWGP Tag Team Championship)
How we got here: FinJuice won World Tag League, simple as that.
What’s on the line: The IWGP Tag Team Championship scene has been fairly well moribund and a win here is a chance for FinJuice to inject some much-needed energy into things.
Claire’s Pick: Gedo’s “your turn, my turn” title booking philosophy and just the general staleness of the heavyweight tags both point to FinJuice relieving GoD of the titles here.
Sean’s Pick: Ah, NJPW’s tag scene. It almost makes WWE’s look vibrant. I don’t see Juice leaving the weekend with the other belt he’ll challenge for, so let’s go with him & Fit’s boy.
Jon Moxley vs. Lance Archer (c) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Texas Death Match)
How we got here: Mox had to vacate the title back in October after Typhoon Hagibis prevented him from attending King of Pro-Wrestling and defending his title against Juice Robinson. Archer won it, and then Mox showed back up at World Tag League Final to beat the holy hell out of him and call his shot to reclaim his title. With both men showing an utter disregard for the rules, the match was made a no-holds-barred, standing-ten-count-or-submission only Texas Death Match.
What’s on the line: The winner of this match doesn’t just take the title home, but also the status of being New Japan’s baddest westerner and overall chief violence monster.
Claire’s Pick: Lance Archer’s bastard tough and meaner than almost anybody, but Jon Moxley is both ultraviolence personified and on a roll in AEW, leading me to think he’s going to reclaim the title he never lost.
Sean’s Pick: I’m too dubious there’s really anything going on between AEW & New Japan to think on of Tony Khan’s guys wins a belt at the Tokyo Dome this year. Give me Archer.
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay (c) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
How we got here: It’s been a long year and a half for both men. Last July, Hiromu broke his neck taking a Phoenix-Plex from Dragon Lee, and Ospreay has spent the intervening time moving in and out of the heavyweight division. He followed up his second Best of the Super Jr. tournament win by winning the title and entering the G1 Climax as reigning champ, and has held the title since.
What’s on the line: The title, of course, but Hiromu’s career hits a pivot point with this match— he’s looked as good as he ever has since returning from his neck injury, but a win here would be a definitive statement that he’s back and Will is, despite his protests, definitely a cat.
Claire’s Pick: First off this is one of the matches I’m most excited for— I can’t hide that my level of interest in what New Japan have to offer has been waning, but Will is one of the best wrestlers of his generation, period, and Hiromu one of the most innovative. This match is gonna be killer, and I have to think that Hiromu Takahashi walks out with the title around his waist.
Sean’s Pick: While I could see them telling a story where it takes him longer to get back into championship form, I really want to see Hiromu beat that cat Ospreay here. That would send Will off to be a heavyweight, too.
”Switchblade” Jay White (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship)
How we got here: Naito has gone from disregarding the Intercontinental Championship so thoroughly that he threw it around like garbage to reclaiming its honor from Chris Jericho and having designs on being the first man to ever hold both the Intercontinental Championship and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. White has met with success at every turn in his career, and while not without setbacks, he definitively positioned himself between Naito and his dream by winning the title.
What’s on the line: The winner not only gains the title, but moves on to night two’s Double Gold Dash main event, while the loser will challenge the man that leaves night one’s main event without gold.
Claire’s Pick: The Stardust Genius has cooled off dramatically since the height of his popularity, but I gotta think this is the time, and Tetsuya Naito walks out with his fifth Intercontinental Championship reign and a chance at validating his dream.
Sean’s Pick: History’s taught me not to pick against Switchblade, but the story is too good. He already thwarted the LIJ leader’s dream in the G1, so it’s time for him to lose. Naito moves on to night two to fight for Double Gold.
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kota Ibushi (IWGP Heavyweight Championship)
How we got here: A tale as old as time— Ibushi won the G1 Climax and, after successfully defending his briefcase, will head on to challenge the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the biggest show of the year. These two men have been vicious and at each other’s throats at every turn of late, all building up to the biggest match on the biggest stage imaginable.
What’s on the line: Not just the title, and not just a berth in the Double Gold Dash on night two, but arguably the future of New Japan Pro Wrestling is on the line. The Rainmaker has been the golden boy ever since his return from excursion back in 2012. The Golden Star is the man that was never supposed to be tied down to New Japan Pro Wrestling, and now whoever leaves this match the victor seems likely to be the face of the company.
Claire’s Pick: If this were a normal Wrestle Kingdom I’d be Ibushi all the way, but with the Double Gold Dash and the Naito story, Kazuchika Okada is retaining the title and moving on to night two.
Sean’s Pick: I’ve been thinking Ibushi will get a run with the main belt since he opted to stay in Japan rather than head to AEW. And I still do. But since a win here isn’t the same as winning the IWGP Heavyweight title on a one night Wrestle Kingdom, I think The Rainmaker capitalizes on a reckless decision by Kota to move on and face Naito.
Night Two (January 5, 12AM Eastern / 9PM Pacific)
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Chaos (Robbie Eagles, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, & Shingo Takagi) vs. Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe & Toru Yano) & Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match)
How we got here: Well, the New Japan Rumble is (sadly) gone forever, and we need something to soak up excess talent, so the NEVER gauntlet is here to stay!
What’s on the line: The NEVER trios belts aren’t the most prestigious title, but they’re here, and also just having this much talent in a match means some low-key card sorting and momentum boosts can be had.
Claire’s Pick: Eh. Big weekend for Los Ingobernables de Japon so we’ll go with them.
Sean’s Pick: Just cause I picked G.O.D. to drop the tag belts, I’ll say Bullet Club gets some rarely defended gold to carry around here.
Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu “Dragon” Lee vs. Jushin Liger & Naoki Sano (Jushin Liger Retirement Match)
How we got here: Just as Liger and Sano were the generation-defining junior heavyweight rivalry of their era, so too is Hiromu vs. Dragon Lee for this era. Ergo it only makes sense that Liger would end his career teaming with his old rival against these two young men.
What’s on the line: This is it, the end of Jushin Liger’s storied 30+ year pro wrestling career. Whether he goes out on his shield or sails to the west triumphant, he’s had a career to be proud of and he’ll be sorely missed as an active competitor.
Claire’s Pick: Liger’s old-school, and old-school means you go out on your shield. Takahashi and Lee are the only choice.
Sean’s Pick: Yep, Liger’s eating a pin (likely from RUSH’s brother). Gotta go with Lee & Takahashi.
Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) (c) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship)
How we got here: Roppongi 3K won the Super Jr. Tag League, and that earns them a shot at the champs.
What’s on the line: Not just the titles, but ELP and Ishimori also made off with RPG3K’s tag league trophies, so vengeance is on the line.
Claire’s Pick: ELP and Ishimori won the tag titles from RPG3K, so I think they stay right where they are.
Sean’s Pick: Vengeance for SHO & YOH!
SANADA vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (c) (RPW British Heavyweight Championship)
How we got here: SANADA has scored multiple pins on Sabre this year, and it’s translated into a RevPro title match on the big stage.
What’s on the line: Not just the title, but a regular berth in RevPro following in the footsteps of Katsuyori Shibata, Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, and Hiroshi Tanahashi before him, this is SANADA’s chance to finally break free of the pack and establish himself as a potent force in singles action.
Claire’s Pick: Ugh. Sabre is probably still my favorite foreigner on the roster and I think someone who’s been way underutilized while SANADA has gotten stale of late, but I just don’t think you book this match unless you’re doing the change, so SANADA takes the gold home.
Sean’s Pick: Part of the reason I had LIJ winning the match on night one is because I don’t see them taking the belt off ZSJ in this one.
Juice Robinson vs. ??? (c) (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship)
How we got here: Juice lost his opportunity to regain the title from the man that beat him for it when the weather intervened, and now he has a prepared opportunity to make good for that loss.
What’s on the line: The title, and if Moxley wins it back, the satisfaction of regaining it from the man that beat him the last time.
Claire’s Pick: I just don’t think there’s much of a reason to bring Mox back for Wrestle Kingdom if he’s just losing the title and leaving, so Jon Moxley wins here.
Sean’s Pick: Juice fight valiantly, and cuts a great promo in the post-show presser. But Lance Archer wins.
Hirooki Goto vs. KENTA (c) (NEVER Openweight Championship)
How we got here: Well, it’s January, and that means that Goto needs to outshoot his coverage with a big match.
...wait, no, sorry, come back, too snarky, I apologize. KENTA has brawled with a not-quite-cleared-and-returned Katsuyori Shibata (Goto’s high school best friend, you may recall) and that actually gives this match some weight and gravitas. Good going, Goto!
What’s on the line: The title and a chance to bloody KENTA up after he screwed with Goto’s pal.
Claire’s Pick: I’ll cry if Goto wins and Shibata celebrates with him, no doubt, but I’m hoping Goto falls short, KENTA retains the title, and the Wrestler gets cleared for competition sometime in 2020.
Sean’s Pick: He just got it back in November. It just seems too soon to have KENTA without this title.
??? vs. ???
How we got here: Ooh, it’s a mystery! But no, not really, this is a loser’s bracket match of sorts. Whoever loses the two big title matches on night one will square off here.
What’s on the line: Pure bragging rights, but also you gotta think the winner will have a strong position to move on to some other title match in the near future, whether a NEVER shot or the US title or what have you.
Claire’s Pick: Thus, I think this is between Switchblade and Ibushi, and it’s our man Kota Ibushi that leaves with the gold in hand.
Sean’s Pick: Remember when I said I have a hard time going against Switchblade? Gedo’s drive to make him a huge gaijin heel wins out, and The Golden Star starts a year long quest for redemption after going 0 - 2 in the Tokyo Dome.
Chris Jericho vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
How we got here: New Japan just can’t quite seem to be rid of the Painmaker! Le Champion has appeared via video to challenge the 1/100 Ace several times through the fall, and now the match is set.
What’s on the line: Two titans of the industry and legends in their own time fighting is enough for a co-main event spot anywhere in the world, but if Tanahashi wins, he’ll get a shot at the AEW World Heavyweight Championship at a later date.
Claire’s Pick: Well if you throw me that kind of bone I’m gonna bite— Hiroshi Tanahashi wins here and now and we get a sweet title match down the line. Sold!
Sean’s Pick: Nope, I don’t think the AEW title shot is happening. A Chris Jericho win means they don’t have to address it, and gives The Painmaker more credibility for future one-off matches in New Japan.
??? (IWGP Heavyweight) vs. ??? (IWGP Intercontinental) (IWGP Heavyweight Championship / IWGP Intercontinental Championship Double Gold Dash Match)
How we got here: As intimated earlier, this is the product of Naito’s dream of holding both belts at once and Wrestle Kingdom going to two nights.
What’s on the line: An unprecedented chance to hold both of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s major singles titles at once.
Claire’s Pick: This is it. Naito vs. Okada in the Tokyo Dome, one more time. None of the four men that could be in this match winning would surprise me (although real talk, Switchblade winning would be a bit of a bummer), and Okada least of them all, but this is, finally, the coronation of Tetsuya Naito.
Sean’s Pick: Big agree. They took forever to pull the trigger on Okada winning the big one. Naito’s paid his dues by going through the same process. Sunday is finally his day. Double Gold for Tetsuya Naito.
There you have it, folks
Excited to wake up at butt o’clock for these matches, Cagesiders?