New Japan’s biggest show of the year comes our way today (Jan. 4) from the Tokyo Dome.
Wrestle Kingdom 18 will feature seven title fights, headlined by SANADA defending the IWGP World Heavyweight championship against G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito. That’s only one of three main event caliber matches, as Kazuchika Okada & Bryan Danielson will be going one-on-one, and AEW’s Jon Moxley & Will Ospreay will be in a Triple Threat with Bullet Club leader David Finlay for the new IWGP Global title.
Get caught up with a preview for today’s show in the Tokyo Dome courtesy of Mr. Ares here.
Wrestle Kingdom 18 is available for viewing through NJPWWorld, and comes with either Japanese or English commentary. The main card starts at 4:30pm JST/7:30am GMT/2:30am ET with a Kickoff show starting an hour before that.
Follow along here for updates, and have fun chatting in the open thread.
• King of Pro Wrestling 2024 New Japan Ranbo: Not much in the way of surprises, but we did get Michinoku Pro Wrestling’s Fujita “Jr” Hayato and Takashi Iizuka. Taiji Ishimori, YOH, Toru Yano, and Great O-Khan were the final four, and advance to challenge for the KOPW 2024 title at tomorrow’s New Year Dash!!
• Catch 2/2 (TJP & Francesco Akira) def. Bullet Club War Dogs (Drilla Moloney & Clark Connors) to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
TJP is debuting his new masked gimmick, arising after losing NJPW’s first-ever Coffin Match as The Aswang, a creature of Filipino myth. He added some creepy mannerisms to his ring work, did some biting, and grabbed the referee by the arm to save himself from a pin at one point. He & Akira put down War Dogs with their 2x2 tandem knee strike on Moloney.
• Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Zack Sabre Jr to win the NJPW World TV Championship
President Ace tried to end it quickly, but ZSJ got his knees up on High Fly Flow. Submissions, counters & pinning predicaments galore followed as it became more of a catch-style match. A Zack Driver counter led to series of rolling pins, and Tanahashi got the final one for three. Sabre Jr. hands Tana the belt and bows before leaving with TMDK.
The new champ gets on the microphone, and offers a quick new year’s message and asks for continued support for NJPW.
• Yuya Uemura def. Yota Tsuji
Solid match from two guys NJPW hopes will be future stars. The larger Tsuji controlled for the most part. But he couldn’t put away the underdog Uemura, and when Tsuji went for a second curb stomp after Uemura kicked out of the first, a series of suplexes ended it.
• House of Torture (EVIL & Ren Narita) def. Kaito Kiyomiya & Shota Umino
We got a cool motorcycle entrance from Shooter, but we also got HoT shenanigans from the jump. They cut up a NOAH shirt on the ramp to get in Kiyomiya’s head. The ref was taken out before we even started allowing the whole faction to go to work on our heroes. Unimo finally got his hands on Narita (who turned on him during World Tag League), but EVIL choked him with a shirt. Narita used a push-up bar as a weapon while the ref was tied up with one of his teammates, then hit a Double Cross to pin his former friend.
• Tama Tonga def. Shingo Takagi to win the NEVER Openweight Championship
A hard-hitting 13 minute match that saw Tonga play the Bullet Club’s greatest hits (using Prince Devitt (aka Finn Bálor)’s Bloody Sunday, Karl Anderson’s Gun Stun & AJ Styles’ Styles Clash in the match). Takagi kicked out of all those, though. It was a DST that finally ended it, and Shingo’s reign.
• AEW’s Ryan Nemeth and free agent Nic “Dolph Ziggler” Nemeth take seats at ringside before our next match. More here.
• Guerillas of Destiny (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) def. Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight and win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
After an early back-and-forth where both teams went for double-team moves, GoD took control in large part due to Hikuleo’s size advantage. ELP accidentally nailed his partner with a superkick, turning the tide. Bishamon had ELP down for the count, but Hikuleo broke up the pin. A dive took out YOSHI-HASHI, and GoD’s tandem chokeslam/splash looked to have finished off Goto, but he kicked out. He couldn’t kick out of a splash from the big man, though.
• El Desperado def. Hiromu Takahashi to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
To get the drop on his long-time rival, Despy flew to take out the champ during his entrance. Takahashi fought his way back, but his knee was injured on a submission attempt and Desperado targeted the leg from there on out. It kept Taka from lifting his opponent to hit moves like Time Bomb. Strikes left Takahashi woozy, and multiple Pinche Loco (spinning sitout facebusters) continued the bad night for guys trying to hold onto titles.
• David Finlay def. Will Ospreay & Jon Moxley via pinfall (on Ospreay) to become the first IWGP Global Champion
• Kazuchika Okada def. Bryan Danielson via pinfall
• Tetsuya Naito def. SANADA to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
The English language announce team (Walker Stewart, Chris Charlton & Rocky Romero —which I have to say, outside of Romero, I am not a fan) drill us on the history between the champ and the G1 winner, as well as going on and on about each man’s connection to New Japan audiences. It didn’t help what was the typical slow first third of an NJPW main event where the competitors feel each other out.
Business picked up in before the midway point, with the challenger in control as he targeted SANADA’s neck in and outside the ring. A DDT reversal got the champ back in it, but Naito stopped his momentum by getting his knees up on a moonsault attempt. A barrage of strikes and signature moves followed, including Destino. But he wanted two to be sure, and the second attempt was countered into a TKO.
A pair of SANADA moonsaults didn’t get three, but did set us racing to the finish. Naito again couldn’t quite connect on his desired two finishers, which let the champ hit Deadfall. With both nearly spent, each man then hit each other’s finisher. Naito was able to follow his Deadfall with a Destino, and decided that was enough — and he was right. A three count later, and he was the IWGP World Heavyweight champion.
Having finally won the big one New Japan’s biggest stage, Naito was getting ready to address the fans when House of Torture struck. It was EVIL who grabbed the belt and a microphone. He said he wasn’t going to let him have his Roll Call, and that since Naito said he didn’t want the World Heavyweight title he was going to take it from him. That brought back SANADA, who took out EVIL. As Dick Togo helped his man out of the ring, SANADA got eye-to-eye with the new champ and held up one finger before collapsing to the mat and leaving.
Finally with the mic in his hand, Naito thanked SANADA, saying that though they followed different paths, he’s here because of him. The former champ was shown crying on his way out, as the match and aftermath served to get him over better than almost anything during his long reign.
The new champ then thanked the fans for creating the best possible moment for him, and promised Los Ingobernables de Japon fans a great 2024. He then did what he wanted to do four years, the biggest LIJ Roll Call of all time. After soaking in the scene, he then dragged the belt up the ramp as the announcers talked about how they thought he was already getting attached to it.
A truly happy ending as the Stardust Genius finally got to end his story, on his terms.
That’s the show, folks.