For the entire week, we’re hosting #NewJapanWeek, with previews, profiles and historical articles about New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), for those who are fans seeking more info or new fans looking to get up to speed leading up to NJPW’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom. And the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom 12 proves to be their most important event of their history as they look to expand into North America with full force in 2018! You can check out our Prologue for #NewJapanWeek, a brief history of NJPW, to get you started!
#NewJapanWeek: Preview: Wrestle Kingdom 12 (1/4/2018)
New Japan Pro Wrestling brings the annual January 4 tradition back to the Tokyo Done and it gets better every year. Wrestle Kingdom 10 and 11 were spectacles top to bottom, this year the card is just as massive only with one more Championship match added. The IWGP United States Championship was crowned in Long Beach, California in a tournament on July 2 and Kenny Omega emerged with the gold. Now Chris Jericho returns to New Japan Pro Wrestling for the first time since 1998 to challenge Kenny Omega in an epic semi main event. There are 8 championship matches in total for the biggest wrestling event of the year. The annual Battle Royale takes place on the Pre-Show so I will predict “Blue Justice” Yuji Nagata wins that match as a way to award him in some way for his superb 2017. NJPW decided to gamble on Wrestle Kingdom this year by airing only on NJPW World in hopes of gaining more subscribers and North American fans due to Chris Jericho being on the lineup. NJPW was offered a North American Pay Per View deal but decided to turn it down. Let’s take a look at the card before we arrive live on New Japan World.
IWGP JR Heavyweight Tag Team Championships: Roppongi 3K (C) Vs. The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks are coming off an amazing 2017, defeating the likes of The Hardy’s, holding the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring Of Honor tag team Championships. The end of the year fizzled a bit in New Japan Pro Wrestling where they held the IWGP Jr Heavyweight tag team Championships earlier in the year, Roppongi 3K stood tall with the titles by the end of the year. Both teams bring a level of excitement few teams can match and this will be something special considering this is the new team on the scene taking on the best team arguably in the world. After Roppongi 3K won the Jr tag team tournament they seem to bring a new confidence to the ring and being with Rocky Romero helps them outside the ring. The Young Bucks could win a variety of ways like the new Cease And Desist sharpshooter and crossface combination. It looks like for now however the momentum and spotlight is on Roppongi 3K and they should retain the IWGP Jr Championships.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships Gauntlet: The Guerrillas Of Destiny and Bad Luck Fale (C) Vs. Zack Sabre Jr, Iizuka and Taichi Vs. Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe Vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Trent Baretta and Toru Yano Vs. Michael Elgin and War Machine
A Gauntlet match was also at Wrestle Kingdom 11 last year for the NEVER 6-Man tag team championships. It makes a lot of sense to add the rest of the rosters valuable wrestlers to a multi-man match instead of leaving them off the card entirely. The factions will be at war with Suzuki-Gun, Bullet Club, Taguchi Japan and CHAOS all represented. The trio of Tomohiro Ishii, Trent Baretta and Toru Yano is the most interesting because Ishii is the brawler to Trent and Yano’s fun antics. Ishii and Yano are former IWGP Heavyweight tag team champions but Ishii could use a singles match after all the incredible matches he has, the G1 Climax for example. Michael Elgin and War Machine are a Heavyweight team sure to a lot of damage. Zack Sabre Jr, Iizuka and Taichi will be the wild card that could submit or attack anyone with weapons at any moment. My prediction is Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Makabe come very close with double team moves but Bullet Club retain and win the Gauntlet in the end. Bad Luck Fale and The Guerilla’s Of Destiny could reign dominant as champions for a long time with power, speed and brawling all mixed together.
Cody Rhodes vs “The Golden Star” Kota Ibushi
At Ring Of Honor Final Battle on December 15, Cody lost the Ring Of Honor World Championship to Dalton Castle so Cody Vs. Kota Ibushi is now a non-title match. That will take nothing away from this match and it in fact raises Ibushi’s chance at redemption. The past year has been a comeback of sorts for “The Golden Star” who returned to NJPW after almost signing with WWE. Ibushi is one of the best all-around talents in the world that can wrestle any style and he likes to clash with veterans as well as rising stars. Cody defeated Michael Elgin last year at Wrestle Kingdom and even though he is a part of the Bullet Club faction he wins most of his NJPW matches cleanly. A Crossrhodes to the ramp and a showdown backstage at Power Struggle set this up for Kota Ibushi to get a win to push him up the card. The future is bright in NJPW if Ibushi sticks around as a main attraction after this match.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships: Killer Elite Squad (C) (Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer) Vs. EVIL and SANADA
The World Tag League wrapped up on December 11 with EVIL and SANADA pinning The Guerrillas Of Destiny in the finals to earn this Championship match. It was a surprise to many, Los Ingobernables De Japon are a very popular heel stable but they haven’t had too many tag team Championship matches. Coming out of the G1 Climax, EVIL was a made man after great matches with Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. EVIL and SANADA actually wrestled each other in the G1 Was well but now that they are a unit, they challenge the biggest heel team in Japan. Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer regained the IWGP Heavyweight tag team Championships after Archer was out of action with a herniated disc in his back all year. Killer Elite Squad have been a force for 5 years now with one of the best tag team finishers. The fans in attendance better get ready for a great brawl and water spitting into the crowd from Archer. EVIL and SANADA can and probably will become major singles players in the future but 2017 could be the year they become the best tag team in NJPW. Los Ingobernables De Japon win tag gold for the first time and it may be a clean sweep for the faction at Wrestle Kingdom 12.
NEVER Openweight championship, Hair Vs. Title: Minoru Suzuki Vs. Hirooki Goto
Hirooki Goto lost the NEVER Openweight championship to Minoru Suzuki 6 months ago and even lost a subsequent rematch. The tides have to shift if Goto wants to walk out the winner here because his hair and pride is on the line in a big Marquee match. Suzuki has defended his belt against Michael Elgin and Toru Yano but Suzuki-Gun always seems to taint his victories. Although Goto is becoming a veteran himself, he always has come up short in must-win matches. It would be a great moment for Goto if he avoided being humiliated, beating his rival and winning back his Championship all in one match.
IWGP JR Heavyweight Championship Fatal 4 Way: “The Villain” Marty Scurll Vs. “The Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay Vs. “The Ticking Time Bomb” Hiromu Takahashi Vs. KUSHIDA
The first time a singles championship will be decided in a Fatal Four Way match in NJPW’s history and it will be fast-paced with the Juniors getting to shine. All four have had a terrific year and they all held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to lead to this. Hiromu Takahashi was undefeated in NJPW as champion last year until KUSHIDA returned from the brink and won the title back. The matches were highly praised as was Ospreay Vs. KUSHIDA in a rivalry lasting over a year. Ospreay had failed to pin or submit KUSHIDA on several attempts until Ospreay finally pinned KUSHIDA. “The Aerial Assassin’s” reign was short lived as “The Villain” bested Ospreay like he usually does and KUSHIDA set out the challenge along with Hiromu in baseball pads (he had been knocked out in previous run-in attempts.) My money is on Hiromu Takahashi becoming champion and a Threat like he was last year before his brother Daryl came along.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (C) Vs. “Switchblade” Jay White
The biggest match of Jay White’s career and it’s against “The Ace.” Just 2 years ago White was a Young Lion but he went on excursion and he has turned lots of heads since then. The man from New Zealand was undefeated in Rev Pro in the UK and had the same streak for 6 months in Ring Of Honor Wrestling. Now with a new persona, White has to perform with a certain viciousness if he wants this big win. If the action goes to the air than Tanahashi has the edge but it’s not quite certain what new tricks White will pull. It would be a major step forward for NJPW to go with “Switchblade” as the next mega-star and this would go a long way in establishing that.
IWGP United States Championship (No Disqualification Match): Kenny Omega (C) Vs. Chris Jericho
A match we never thought we would see and it’s now No Disqualification’s for Omega’s Championship. “The Cleaner” requested to go up against the best from around the world if he wants to prove himself as the inaugural IWGP United States champion. Omega has had some classic matches in 2017 and the rest of the year was highlighted by his defenses against Trent Baretta, Yoshi-Hashi and Juice Robinson. This match could go either way on paper with Jericho being a big player and still highly capable of keeping up with Omega. The stipulation added suggests some unique spots will be involved but hopefully not any Bullet Club or other interference and a real winner is decided. Jericho could walk away with the gold but he doesn’t have a schedule as of yet with NJPW and Omega has done nicely the title. A rematch will be set up is my prediction and Omega retains but barely by using something new we have yet to ever see. Omega never fails to bring something new, One Winged Angel off the top rope to Juice for example.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada (C) Vs. Tetsuya Naito
A rematch NJPW fans will never forget and an easy pick for match of the show. A Dominion in 2015, Tetsuya Naito lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship back to Kazuchika Okada after just 2 short months. The way it ended last time is going to tell the story of this match. What has Naito learned since? Is Okada even better since then? Naito went for Destino in 2015 and got caught in a Tombstone Pile-driver and the Rainmaker ended Naito’s hopes and dreams of being champion. Now Naito has helped make Los Ingobernobles De Japon a big seller and top faction after failing to become the top fan favorite years ago. After Naito’s excellent IWGP Intercontinental Championship reign this year he won the G1 Climax tournament and earned this match after pinning his nemesis Tanahashi and last year’s winner Omega. Okada created an interesting development when he added a Million Dollar Dream submission to his repertoire, only adding to the many twists and turns of this match. Safe to say this will be a five-star main event affair and we have a new era upon us in NJPW. Naito is the right choice to be the next champion because he can do everything Okada can, but maybe better.
Miss a day of #NewJapanWeek? You can catch up below!
12.22.2017: Preview: The History of NJPW
12.25.2017: Preview: Wrestle Kingdom 12 (1/4/2018)
12.26.2017: Tetsuya Naito: Stardust Champion to Ingobernable
12.27.2017: The Record Breaker: Kazuchika Okada
12.27.2017: Lionheart: Chris Jericho’s Return to Japan
12.27.2017: Takeshi Puroresu Gundan and The Last Laugh
12.28.2017: Ace Under Pressure: Hiroshi Tanahashi
12.29.2017: Katsuya Kitamura: The Future of New Japan
12.29.2017: Kenny Omega: From Golden Love to Being The Elite