Since I’m writing this on the first of January, I guess I better wish you all a happy new year and all the best you could wish for. For me, I do hope I’ll once again be able to write articles every week or so, but, we’ll see how that goes.
Of course, if we’re gonna talk about the new year, we must talk about the first major event of said year, NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom. This will be the 11th event under that name and, as always, it will be held on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome. In recent years it has become one of the most anticipated events of the year due to the quality of its matches and the pay-offs to year long feuds. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what NJPW and Gedo have in store for us this year:
Pre-show New Japan Rumble:
The New Japan Rumble will once again kick things off on the pre-show, and why not? It is usually a lot of fun and a good excuse to have veterans, Young Lions and some surprise entrants mixing it up a the Tokyo Dome. Official entrants include Tenzan, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Nakanishi, Tagushi and Yuji Nagata but Scott Norton could join the fun this year and we might very well see some other beloved veterans and, why not, some NOAH guys. Like said above, this is all about fun and the winner doesn’t really matter, but expect a feel-good moment which means that Tenzan (who is on the verge of retiring) is my favorite to win this one.
Winner: Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Tiger Mask W vs Tiger The Dark:
Those who are not into NJPW might consider this one to be Japanese mumbo-jumbo with masks but what if I tell you this is actually a match between Kota Ibushi and A.C.H.? Aha, got your interest there, didn’t I? Indeed, beneath the guise of continuing the legendary Tiger Mask/NJPW association, and promote the new Tiger Mask W anime on TV Asashi, this match will also feature Kota Ibushi’s (official, more or less) return to NJPW. This is a great coup for NJPW, especially after Ibushi left at the start of last year and turned up in WWE’s CWC classic, prompting many to think his NXT contract was all but signed. But that was counting without NJPW’s persistence and Ibushi’s desire for the freedom to pursue his own prjects, which he will get in NJPW but would never have gotten in WWE. Interestingly, NJPW’s official announcement concerning Ibushi’s return state he will return in January, but not specifically at Wrestle Kingdom, despite the fact that everyone knows it will be Ibushi under that mask so it will be interesting to see how they play that. Also, could that mean we will get the “official” Ibushi return at New Year’s Dash? If that’s the case, expect him to gun after the biggest title NJPW has right from the start.
Winner: Kota Ibushi. Ermh, sorry, Tiger Mask W.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match – The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) (c) vs Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero):
There was good news for both ROH and NJPW when The Young Bucks decided to renew their ROH contract, meaning the popular duo will continue to appear for both promotions. There was even more good news when NJPW booker Gedo decided to forego his done-to-death tag team clusterfuck formula and gift us with a regular tag team match for the Junior Tag team titles. Bad news is that said titles don’t really mean anything as they’ve been hot-potatoed to oblivion in recent years. Which doesn’t mean this will be a bad match, on the contrary, these teams have proven they have great chemistry in the past, but that’s also part of the problem since this match also has the “been there, done that” feel. That said there is a bit of intrigue this time, since Romero and Beretta have been teasing a break-up since quite some time now, so we could actually get some surprises here. I predict the Young Bucks retaining, not because it matters in any way, but simply to celebrate their recent contract renewals.
Winners: The Young Bucks
Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title – David Finlay, Ricochet and Satochi Kojima (c) vs Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page and Yujiro Takahashi) vs CHAOS (Jado, YOSHI-HASHI and Will Ospreay) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA and BUSHI):
Well, this is exactly why those NEVER Six-Man Tag Titles were created, to give the traditional NJPW multi-man, faction vs faction tag matches some added weight. Basically we have the three biggest factions in NJPW going at it while trying to dethrone beloved Kojima, Finlay and Ricochet in the process. This should be a lot oof fun, not in the least because we might get to see Ospreay and Ricochet clash. OK, there is some dead weight here and there ( and yes, I AM looking at you Takahashi), but, overall, given the talent involved, this should be loads of fun. As for the winner, if they had kept Ishii on Team CHAOS for this one, I would have given the victory to them, but, as things stand now, Jado is simply a bit too lightweight to make a credible threat. So I have to go with the rather formidable Los Ingobernables de Japon trio, knowing that all three of them have had a great year in 2016 and that I would not be surprised if they all topped that in 2017.
Winner: BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA
Cody vs Juice Robinson:
For those of you who don’t know yet, Cody is none other than Cody Runnels. Or Cody Rhodes if you prefer. Just don’t call him Stardust. Since leaving WWE, Cody has been appearing all over the place, including working for PWG, EVOLVE, WrestleCade (Where he won the GFW NEXGEN Championship from Sonjay Dutt) TNA and others. In December he then participated in ROH’s Final Battle, destroying Jay Lethal and turning heel in the process. Afterwards he announced he had joined NJPW’s Bullet Club and would face Juice Robinson at Wrestle Kingdom. But, perhaps more important than all that, Cody as also been on a quest to prove that he could do so much more than what WWE allowed him to do, re-inventing himself in the process, which could be VERY good news for both ROH and NJPW. His opponent is another WWE/NXT reject who has improved noticeably since signing with NJPW and whose over the top offense, selling and screaming has clearly struck a chord with the NJPW fans. Don’t get me wrong, there is now way Cody loses here, but the simple fact Juice Robinson has been deemed ready by Gedo to appear in a singles match at NJPW’s biggest event of the year does say something. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Juice gets a shot at, say, the NEVER title this year. Anyway let’s see what Cody can do in NJPW.
ROH World Championship Match – Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs Adam Cole:
It’s not the first time that ROH has presented a Championship match during a major NJPW event, but, previous attempts mostly included Jay Lethal as champion. And, despite everybody’s best efforts, poor Jay was simply not over in the slightest with the Japanese crowds, making these matches a rather underwhelming experience. But this re-match from ROH’s Final Battle as a very different vibe to it, simply because O’Reilly is already hugely popular in Japan, making this match one the crowd WILL care about. On a side-note, this is no a dig at Lethal, just saying that they should have either put the title fon someone fans actually cared about from the start or have Lethal team up with Naito for some months, which would have had fans care about him by association. As things were, this was simply an impossible situation for Lethal. As for the match, on the surface O’Reilly seems to be the obvious favorite to win, but, there might be a catch here. Indeed, at times of writing neither O’Reilly or Cole have signed new contracts with ROH, meaning the rumors of, especially O’Reilly, signing with WWE/NXT are getting stronger by the minute, especially since his contract actually ended on 31/12. In other words, if O’Reilly loses here, you’ll know where to find him next.
Winner: Kyle O’Reilly
Three-way Tag Match for the IWGP Tag Team Title – Guerillas of Destiny ( Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) (c) vs CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) vs G. B. H. (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma):
Originally, this was meant to be a regular match between GBH (who won the World Tag League in December) and GoD. Needless to say I wasn’t really very enthusiastic about that one. Don’t get me wrong, GoD did manage to improve somewhat to the point their matches now range from bearable to not so bad and Honma and Makabe are still very popular, but we had that particular feud earlier this year already and GoD won it decisively. Again that been there, done that feeling, you know how that goes. So the announcement of Ishii and the returning Yano (who spend some months in NOAH where he held the GHC Tag Team Titles alongside Marifuji until November) was certainly good news to me, because I remain convinced Ishii can do the same thing for the tag team division he did for the NEVER division, which is elevate it to a level that it becomes a must-watch part of any show. Beyond that, the addition of those two is certainly not as random as it may seem. Of course you all know that CHAOS and Bullet Club have been feuding for some time, same with GBH and Bullet Club, but there is also a lot of bad blood between CHAOS and GBH, dating back from 2009 when Shinsuke Nakamura convinced most members of GBH to join his newly created CHAOS faction. The only one who refused back then was Honma. And two of the first who betrayed GBH’s leader Makabe to join Nakamura were none other than Yano and Ishii. This might seem like a long time for a feud to still matter, but, believe me, in Japan, fans and bookers do remember. And you can be damn sure that Makabe remembers. Add to all that the fact Ishii, Makabe and Honma had a stellar three-way feud over the NEVER title in 2015 which delivered a string of fantastic matches and one can only come to the conclusion that this match could be much more than a simple card-filler. As for the winner. I’m going with my CHAOS buddies for the reason I explained above.
Winner: CHAOS (Ishii and Yano)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match – KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi:
Hiromu Takahashi may be a relative unknown to most wrestling fans in North-America, but he already made quite a name for himself as Kamaitachi while on learning excursion in CMLL. The fact that he joined the immensly popular Los Ingobernables de Japon the minute he returned to NJPW screamed louder than words that NJPW booker Gedo has great plans for him. I assume everybody knows about KUSHIDA by know, who had a great year which could have been even better with a little more storytelling efforts from the booker. Indeed, while he held the title for most of the year, had great matches against Ospreay, BUSHI and others and even won the Super J cup, this all came and went without any real efforts to create storylines or feuds or even matches he HAD to win which makes it feel like his title reign is missing something. Here is hoping Gedo will put the same efforts in the Junior Heavyweight feuds and matches in 2017 as he has done for the Heavyweight matches before (or hire someone to do it for him). As for the winner, I go for the upset here and hope the KUSHIDA-Takahashi feud will be as intense, awe-inspiring and unpredictable as Kamaitachi was in CMLL.
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
NEVER Openweight Title Match – Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto:
That there would be some sort of pay-off between “good friends, better enemies” Shibata and Goto became clear as soon as Goto joined CHAOS, but, in typical NJPW fashion, they made us wait for it. This should be very interesting, not to mention hard-hitting, because Shibata, while having had a great year as NEVER champion, highlighted with feuds against Nagata and friends, reDragon and EVIL, it’s about time they steer him in the direction of, at least, the IC title. Shibata himself has fueled such thoughts by claiming he was considering retiring the NEVER title during several interviews. Goto on his side has had a Goto year. Meaning he’s had countless good matches but there always seem to be something missing with him. Call it charisma, call it intensity, call it whatever you want, but, that something is what separate Goto from, say, Tanahashi, Okada or even Shibata. The crowds like him well enough, but, they don’t embrace him like they do the other three. Can Goto overcome that barrier in 2017, starting with becoming the NEVER champion against his former Meiyu Tag partner Shibata? Good question…
IWGP Intercontinental Title Match – Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi:
Believe it or not, this will be only the second time siince Wrestle Kingdom exist that Tanahashi will NOT be in the last match on the card (first time was at WK 4. No wonder some have called him NJPW’s answer to John Cena over the years. Of course, when it comes to wrestling ability, Tanahashi is worth 100 Cena’s but I digress. The good news for Tanahashi is that his opponent, naito, is one guy with whom he could realistically have the match of the night/month/year. And you better believe such considerations count with these guys. So that’s it’s gonna be all kinds of awesome is a given, but who will win. Naito has had a fantastic year as NJPW’s top heel and, indeed, one of the best heels in the world. The IC title certainly suits him and, in my opinion, should be kept on him until it’s time for LIJ’s leader to once again chase after the Heavyweight title and whoever is holding it. But this is Tanahashi we’re talking about it, and, let’s face it, like it or not, putting a title on a guy like that is never a bad idea either. Except the 40 year old as been plagued by injuries in recent months and isn’t getting any younger. COnsidering Naito, Omega, Okada and the returning Ibushi are all (sometimes much) younger than him and perfectly capable of filling those top spots and that Shibata, EVIL, SANADA and a few others would jump at the opportunity to get higher up the card, is it really a good idea to put the belt on Tanahashi at this point? Some would say yes, some would say no, I just say it wouldn’t be bad for Naito to finally bag that one BIG win at WK, and who better than Tanahashi to do it against? And, let’s face it, does Tanahashi really need another title reign? Especially since his injuries might slow him down again later this year? I mean, the guy is a legend whatever happens from this point on so…
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match – Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega:
This year’s Big One is also a first time ever match between the ACE of the company and the one who has had quite a meteoric rise since January 2016. Indeed, while I had doubts about Omega being a top guy at the start of last year man himself quickly crushed those doubts by toning down his, sometimes ridiculous, Cleaner persona and absolutely nailing every match and promo he was involved with. His feud with Tanahashi and Elgin, his incredible G1 run, the run-up to WK, including some of the best promo’s NJPW produced these last years, you name it, he nailed it. The simple fact he’s already clashing with NJPW’s undisputed top guy only one year after “graduating” from the Junior Heavyweight ranks says it all really. Speaking of the top guy, Okada also had a great year with an incredible CHAOS vs LIJ feud in the first half and a somewhat less heated feud against Bullet Club in the second half but with promo’s that were more intense and a pay-off that might be bigger than anything else he’s done until now. As for the winner, I’m having an hard time predicting this. Keeping the belt on Okada, given his popularity in Japan is almost never a bad choice. But Omega is one of those Gaijin heels who is almost considered Japanese by the fans, who is hugely over as an heel AND who could help with NJPW’s expansion plans in North-America. It’s a coin-flip, much like the previous match, but, I’m gonna go with Omega.
And there you have it, another loaded WK card that looks like a barn-burner on paper and that will certainly deliver match-wise. Will this be the start of another great year for NJPW? I certainly believe so.
That’s all from me, I’ll try to have my review up for Wednesday evening. Until then, have fun!
Tags: ach, Adam Cole, bad Luck fale, bullet club, BUSHI, Chaos, cody, Cody Rhodes, David Finlay Jr, EVIL, G.B.H., Guerilla's of destiny, Hangman Page, Hiromu Takahashi, Hirooki Goto, hiroshi tanahashi, Jado, Juice Robinson, Katsuyori Shibata, kazuchika okada, Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Kushida, Kyle O'Reilly, Los Ingobernables de Japon, njpw, Ricochet, ROH, RPG Vice, Sanada, Satoshi Kojima, Tetsuya Naito, The Young Bucks, Tiger Mask W, Tokyo Dome, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Will Ospreay, Wrestle Kingdom 11, Yoshi Hashi, Yujiro TAkahashi