NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom has been called the largest wrestling show outside of the United States by some and it’s difficult to argue with them. I would even go so far as saying it’s the second largest wrestling show in the world nowadays, behind only WrestleMania. Taking place at the Tokyo Dome, over 40000 wrestling fans are expected this year and, with the card they’re proposing, I have no doubts NJPW will achieve that goal. For those of you who have never experienced Japan’s biggest show of the year, there is still time to run to the New Japan World website and subscribe. Even the language barrier can be no excuse this time as New Japan will once again be proposing an English feed, with Kevin Kelly and Matt Striker on commentary. So it’s fairly simple, you wanna see great wrestling without ridiculous booking and boring speeches? You wanna experience a PPV with commentators that are actually talking about the matches in progress? You know what to do!
But enough free publicity for my favorite wrestling promotion in the world, it’s time to start talking about the event itself:
New Japan Rumble
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Jado vs. Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Manabu Nakanishi vs. Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Satoshi Kojima vs. Tiger Mask vs.Yuji Nagata
No-one was really sure what to expect out of last year’s new Japan Rumble Dark Match and it ended up being a quite fun parade of legendary veterans, talented Young Lions and anyone else on the roster with nothing to do on the main show. They even managed to make the whole thing meaningful by having the winner (Yuji Nagata) challenge Shinsuke Nakamura for the IC title a couple of months later. So this year it’s once again the same question, who will end up being in it, will there be surprise entrants and will it be fun to watch? Can’t answer the first question but it’s a yes for the other two. As for the winner, if they’re going the same route as last year then Satoshi Kojima must be the clear favorite to win this year. The veteran has had a great G1 Climax last year followed by some spirited performances during the tag leagues, in short, he’s one of those veterans that can still go, is still over and can still draw if put in a title match for one of the heavyweight belts. He has no chance of actually winning one of those belts, of course, but it’s the story that counts here.
Winner: Satoshi Kojima
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. Matt Sydal and Ricochet vs. Roppongi Vice (Baretta and Rocky Romero) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)
When this match was announced, many were somewhat disappointed that Gedo (NJPW’s booker) once again went for the multi-team formula that is making the IGWP Jr tag team title a bit stale. To be honest I was one of the many, but I’m getting tired saying the same thing over and over again so let’s look at the good points and leave it at that. And there are some good points. First of all, with those four teams in the same ring, fireworks are guaranteed. Secondly, if NJPW can convince Ricochet to stick around for a while, then NJPW has a good opportunity to bring a breath of fresh air over this division. Indeed if the team of Sydal and Ricochet can win here (presumably by pinning RPG Vice) then they have ready-made dream matches against reDragon and the Young Bucks just waiting to happen. Only problem here is Lucha Underground. Ricochet/Prince Puma will be one of the main players of their second season, and while most of his matches and segments are already taped by now, it is not entirely clear how LU will react to one of their main stars having an high profile role elsewhere. Then again NJPW has more often than not managed to work well with foreign promotion so maybe a deal has already been made. Regardless, expect awesome high-flying, amazing spots, double superkicks, triple salto’s and quadruple top rope moves and probably a lot more.
Winner: Matt Sydal and Ricochet
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe and Toru Yano
At first, this was geared up to be your typical Bullet Club vs Toru Yano and friends card-filler, but NJPW managed to make things much more interesting by first, and surprisingly, adding the Briscoes to the mix and secondly by creating a new Trios championship. Some have criticized that move, by saying that NJPW has too many belts too begin with, and, to be fair, those do have a point, but adding such a belt will make those traditional multi-men tag team matches that much more interesting. Besides, Trios tag team championships are still popular in promotions outside of Japan so inter-promotional wars are to be expected here. Now that I think on it, doesn’t LU has a trios Championship? Imagine that. Anyway, this should be a riot thanks to the no doubt hilarious interaction between the always entertaining Yano and The Briscoes and I fully expect a southern style ass-kicking here with Yano bringing the hair-pulling, low blows and ref bumps to the table. Should be fun.
Winner: Yano and the Briscoes
²Ring of Honor World Championship
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Michael Elgin
It might seem a bit strange to have a ROH title match, between two ROH wrestlers on NJPW’s biggest show of the year, but there is actually a reason behind it. In February, ROH will be on tour in Japan, so, in light of ROH and NJPW’s close relationship, it makes sense to introduce the ROH champion to the biggest crowd available, right? Well, not exactly. As good as Lethal is, and as good as his championship reign has been, he’s a virtual unknown in Japan. In order to make their tour in Japan successful, they would need someone with ROH written all over him AND who is over with the Japanese crowds to headline the tour. Enter Michael Elgin.It is amazing how the perception of a match can change, depending on where and when it takes place. If this was happening in the States, ROH fans would be un-interested because they consider Elgin to be stale. So basically a minor road-bump for the champ, Lethal wins, next challenger please. But because the match takes place in Japan, a month before ROH’s Japanese dates, all of a sudden it takes a whole different meaning. It’s a bit difficult to explain to those who have only seen Elgin in ROH, but, take my word for it, “Big Mike” is hugely over with the Japanese crowds. And that’s no stretch of the imagination either as, in tag matches late last year, he was close to the same amount of crowd reactions as, say, Tanahashi and Okada. That’s saying something. Therefore, ROH has little choice here actually, in what would have been scoffed at only 6 months ago, it turns out they do have a trump card to play out in Japan. And his name is Michael Elgin. Oh, he’ll probably just have a caretaker reign, but one that will make a big difference when it comes to drawing power in Japan.
Winner: Michael Elgin
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
NJPW’s booking has received some criticism in 2015 and KUSHIDA losing the Jr Heavyweight title back to Omega just a few months after winning it was a big reason for that. KUSHIDA is one of those hugely talented but somewhat under-utilized talents that populate the NJPW roster. Always there when they need somewhat to deliver a big performance but seldom in the prizes when it comes to deciding who will wear the titles. Don’t get me wrong, Omega is also talented, certainly when he remembers he’s there to wrestle, not to do over the top shenanigans, but if someone embodies NJPW’s current Junior Heavyweight division then it has to be KUSHIDA. And yet, his pushes are always of the start-stop kind for some, incomprehensible, reason. Now the fact that this re-match is even happening should give all KUSHIDA fans some hope. If the high-flyer is to have is big moment, where better than at the Tokyo Dome? Furthermore, there have been rumors that Omega would join the heavyweight ranks in 2016 and while he himself has claimed he was taking “his” belt with him, that’s just not the way NJPW does things. So, has the moment finally come? Will we at last see KUSHIDA take those few last (but often oh so difficult) steps to Jr Heavyweight super stardom? I certainly hope so. One thing I’m sure of, baring too many shenanigans, those two certainly have it in them to put together a genuine show-stealer.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma)
On paper this looks like a giveaway. Gallows and, especially, Anderson have done all they could with the tag team titles so it’s time for hem to pass them on. And who better than the ever popular GBH team of Makabe and Honma to take over you ask? Well there is the small matter of Honma’s alleged domestic abuse accusation. Until now, NJPW and Honma himself have refused to give any comment on the matter. But one has to believe NJPW is concerned with the issue. Then again it might simply be they know something we don’t. It’s also of interest to note that the looming scandal (if this proves to be true of course) has barely made a dent in Honma’s popularity. So I honestly don’t know. Will Honma and Makabe have their big moment (a prospect that certainly sounded more appealing one month ago, before the news of the allegations came out), or will NJPW go for the safer course and keep the belts on the Bullet Club members. Just in case. I’m gonna tentatively go for the first option, but this will be a weird one to watch, that’s for sure.
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito
It’s rather amazing when you think on it. Aside from the dark match rumble, this one will be the only match on the card that is not for a title. But that’s not to say there are no stakes here, on the contrary. While Naito’s feud was originally with Shibata, the fact that his Los Ingobernables stable had his back almost inevitably meant that Shibata’s old Meiyu Tag partner, Goto, would join the fray at one point or another. And that’s exactly what happened. But Shibata being in a match later on the card also means that GOT will be alone while Naito will have BUSHI and EVIL in his corner. So odds don’t really look good for New Japan’s last samurai. Naito has had a rather extraordinary turn of fortunes in 2015. Stale as last month’s bread in the first half of the year, his slow burn heel turn has completely rejuvenated his character and his CMLL inspired stable has everyone’s attention now. To the point that Los Ingobernables could very well dethrone the Bullet Club as NJPW’s nr 1 heel stable in 2016. But we’re not there yet. The way I see it, this is NJPW’s way to put Naito slowly back into the title pictures. As you will discover in the following match, Shibata has a very good chance of coming out of WK 10 as champion. Naito and friends destroying his friend Goto will ensure that Shibata, honorable fighter as he is, will want to avenge Goto. Only this time, his fight against Naito will involve a Championship belt. See how fun wrestling is even when it’s only about “fake” belts and honor? Anyway, there is one last intrigue to this match. Naito has expressed interest in having Komatsu, one of the Young Lions, join Los Ingobernables. While Komatsu hasn’t made up his mind yet, Naito gave him a rare free pass recently, by not destroying him while he was standing in his way. Now, guess who are traditionally stationed at ringside during NJPW matches? Yes, the Young Lions. In addition to the destruction of Goto, this could be the long-overdue graduation ceremony for the talented Komatsu. Then again, Naito has become synonymous with unpredictable so who knows what will happen.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
If any of you is wondering what the Japanese strong-style is all about, then this match will probably give you all the answers you need. In other words, if you like watching two wrestlers beating the hell out of each-other, this will be your match. But it actually goes beyond that? These guys are not just your average ass-kickers, they are counted amongst the best of what is, arguably, the best roster in the world. Ishii is sheer, intense brutality. he is also one of the best sellers in the business. Shibata is one of those few wrestlers who has successfully managed to fuse wrestling and MMA in one, hybrid and and highly effective style. Both are on collision course and this could be one for the ages, one of those mesmerizing matches you can’t stop watching even if you want to because, well, this is gonna hurt. A lot. As for the winner, as talented as he is, Shibata has never won a singles title in NJPW. Office politics are at fault here, recent events and hints might indicate a change of heart from NJPW. Japanese crowds would love that because Shibata remains one of the most popular wrestlers in Japan. For Ishii, things are a bit different, the NEEVER title has been more or less his own personal plaything for some time now, meaning he has achieved all he could with it. For now. A Shibata win would refresh the NEVER scene and open the field for a variety of other competitors, Naito and his Los Ingobernables on top. So, I believe Shibata will finally have his big moment here, but this will almost certainly be a poisoned gift for the MMA specialist as he will not only have to content with Naito and his gang but he will also have to deal with an enraged Ishii in the coming months. I can’t wait.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. A.J. Styles
I can resume this one in a few sentences. Two of the very best in the world. They’ve never wrestled before in singles competition before. Can you spell dream match? Expectations are, understandably, sky-high for this one, none is expecting anything less than a five star match. Including Nakamura and Styles themselves. The winner is a bit more difficult to predict though. the IC title is Nakamura’s belt. Goto played with it a bit last year, but Nak quickly recaptured it to set up the events that would lead to this match. The thing is, much like Ishii with the NEVER title, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot left for Nakamura to do in this scene if he also beat Styles. So Styles wins to set up a lenghty feud between those two, right? Well, there is also the matter of AJ’s health. He was pulled from the Tag League due to lingering back issues and, while he did appear at ROH’s Final Battle as scheduled, he spend the rest of December taking some time off to allow his body some rest. There is no doubt that was a good move, but his current health status is uncertain. On the other hand, there is also the matter of Styles mentality. A model professional who willingly will put his health on the line to give the crowds the very best he has to offer. While admirable (and that’s one of the reasons people love wrestlers like Styles or Bryan) it’s also slightly disturbing when you think on it. Regardless of what happens, this will be another mesmerizing match, I have no doubts on that. As for the winner…
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
This will be Okada’s and Tanahashi’s eight singles match in 5 years. It will also be the third time they headline Wrestle Kingdom. By WWE standards, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but by NJPW standards it IS a lot. And yet, the sense of anticipation for this one tops all the battles they’ve had before. Last year, Okada suffered a soul-crushing loss against Tanahashi. Tanahashi himself highlighted that after the match by taunting Okada and telling him he wasn’t good enough to beat the ace. Okada then went on a mission to regain his pride and confidence. He took one big step towards that goal by beating Styles at Dominion to become Champion, but the taunts remained in his head. Because this is what this match is all about boys and girls. It’s not about drug-addicted sisters, drunken parents, which blonde went all the way with whom and certainly not about deceased family members. This is about pride. This is about ego. This is about two guys who would rather die than admit the other is better than them. This will be an all-out war with not only the title at stake but also the right of calling one-self the one and only ace of NJPW. Who will it be? The celebrated veteran who, while acknowledging Okada’s talent still looks down on him and considers him to be not good enough to lay claim to his throne? Or the young and hungry Okada who looks at Tanahashi as the last obstacle towards the super-stardom and glory that was promised him ever since he stepped between those ropes? Will this be a passing of the torch moment or will the veteran crush the young star’s dreams once again and continue to reign supreme over the wrestling world? We’ll know on Monday. As for me, I’m opting for the first option.
There you have it, expect a review as soon as I can write it, and until then… Have fun in 2016!
Tags: njpw, Tokyo Dome, Wrestle Kingdom 10