New Japan Pro Wrestling is the only wrestling company in the world to set their biggest event of the year at the beginning of January, it’s become a staple of NJPW to feature the best matches possible and the Winter events have led up to an outstanding Wrestle Kingdom 13 card. Surprise title changes happened like Kota Ibushi defeating Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Tournament set the stage like EVIL and SANADA winning the World Tag League for the second year in a row. Chris Jericho has taken the IWGP Intercontinental Championship hostage ever since pinning Tetsuya Naito at NJPW Dominion. Now, with the most stacked roster in the history of NJPW, a remarkable eight championships will be decided, with Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White being the only non-title bout outside of the Pre-Show on NJPW World. The fate of the future will be decided as we head into a new year and a whole new era for NJPW.
Trios Gauntlet to determine the Number One Contender’s to the NEVER Six-Man Tag Team Championships: Minoru Suzuki & Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer) vs Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe & Toru Yano vs Hirooki Goto, Trent Baretta & Chucky T vs Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay vs “The Villain” Marty Scurll, “Hangman” Adam Page & Yujiro Takahashi
In a wild turn of events, Hirooki Goto and Minoru Suzuki land on the Pre-Show in a Gauntlet match after facing each other in a classic, Hair vs Title match, last year at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Goto is still feeling the sting of losing the NEVER Openweight Championship, meanwhile Minoru Suzuki just lost the British Heavyweight Championship to Tomohiro Ishii. Suzuki has some big back up for this match, the Trio of Suzuki and Killer Elite Squad will be one to watch for their sheer aggressiveness. Ryusuke Taguchi always lands a fan favorite team but even the legendary Togi Makabe probably won’t help Taguchi win this match. Problems have surfaced between Best Friends, Chucky T and Trent Baretta, Hirooki Goto will be caught between the mess as the CHAOS members look to regain gold. The Firing Squad team has potential with Page and Scurll becoming top players but Nagata, Cobb and Finlay should throw everyone around with reckless abandon before becoming the number one Contender’s. Finlay and the heavyweights should be enough to dethrone Taiji Ishimori and The Guerrillas Of Destiny for the NEVER Six Man Tag Team Championships.
Prediction: Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb and David Finlay win.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (c) vs Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs Shingo Takagi & BUSHI
Shingo Takagi is the powerhouse of the Junior Heavyweight division, joining Los Ingobernobles De Japon at NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling, everyone in this maych will have to look out for Shingo and the Pumping Bomber Lariat. BUSHI and Shingo almost won the Super Junior Tag League until Roppongi 3K won the Finals. Sho and Yoh have paved the way for singles careers in 2018 but they recaptured their winning ways in that tournament as a team, just after “Switchblade” Jay White was attempting to split them up in the CHAOS faction. El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru reigned as the champions for so long, since the NJPW 46th Anniversary, because of their Suzuki-Gun rule-breaking and superior experience. It’s time Desperado and Kanemaru look for singles careers while new teams lead the charge into the future. Los Ingobernobles De Japon winning would be ideal but it would cut Roppongi 3K’s much needed momentum before it even got started.
Prediction: Roppongi 3K
IWGP United States Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Juice Robinson
Cody pinned Juice Robinson in shocking fashion for the IWGP United States Championship at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed on September 30, Juice was snagged in an inside cradle after delivering a Superplex to Cody. Juice Robinson has called out Cody for not defending that championship, Robinson replaced Cody at ROH Global Wars Toronto to pin Trent Baretta. Juice asked for a rematch but Cody would not respond to the challenge for a rematch so Juice took matters into his own hands and called Cody “heartless, gutless and nutless” in a backstage promo for not defending his title and fighting through his knee injury. Now eyes are on Cody not only for his performance level but how he can carry himself as a champion in the biggest company in Japan. Cody has a lot going on outside of NJPW so Juice should land Pulp Friction to regain the championship he never should have lost.
Prediction: Juice Robinson wins the IWGP United States Championship.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay
A dream match finally realized at the biggest event of the year, Ospreay and Ibushi have teased this match perfectly, using social media and tag team matches to intensity fan interest even more. The Golden Lovers faced the team of Ospreay and Ishii, and Ospreay and Tanahashi in matches that took tag team wrestling to another level in 2018. Kota Ibushi just captured the NEVER Openweight Championship from Hirooki Goto after going four years without a title win in NJPW. “The Golden Star” won’t be willing to lose this title so soon but the competition is almost a mirror image. Ospreay has improved his strikes and mat-game so much that even Kota Ibushi will have to be on his best night to keep up with “The Aerial Assassin.” Ospreay may take too many chances off the top rope, Kota Ibushi has just that much more big-match experience to withstand the pain and manage to capitalize on key moments. We are definitely looking at a surefire match of the year Contender if this match lives up to even a fraction of the hype it promises.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi retains the NEVER Openweight Championship.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs Taiji Ishimori
Taiji Ishimori went from competing in the longest Best Of The Super Juniors Finals ever against Hiromu Takahashi to an unremarkable second half of 2018. Ishimori made sure to make himself known in the Junior Heavyweight division again by leaving KUSHIDA lying amongst the Bullet Club. This has to be frustrating for KUSHIDA, despite being the Ace of his division he is constantly put to pasture by Bullet Club year after year, with new members. KUSHIDA has done it all in such a short amount of time in NJPW, from winning the Best Of The Super Juniors tournament twice to holding the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship more than anyone else in history at six times. It’s speculated that KUSHIDA will not be signing a contract with NJPW again, a certain company that Shinsuke Nakamura and other NJPW faithful left for. KUSHIDA’s time may have run out, from “Timesplitter” to the man to beat, a new champion has arrived.
Prediction: Taiji Ishimori wins the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr
Tomohiro Ishii is coming off of a terrific 2018 with some of the best bouts of the year under his belt, winning the British Heavyweight Championship was a prize Ishii more than deserved considering his IWGP heavyweight championship title shots are few and far between. Sabre had an even better year, winning the New Japan Cup and beating the top stars in NJPW like Tetsuya Naito. What’s so interesting is the styles colliding in this match, Ishii is all strikes and Suplexes but Sabre wants to play the grappling game. Sabre held the British Heavyweight Championship for thirteen months in his last title reign for Rev Pro in the United Kingdom. Sabre could win in a variety of ways is the deciding factor here, Ishii could be trapped in the European Clutch or Ishii could succumb to The Zack Driver unexpectedly.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr wins the British Heavyweight Championship.
IWGP Tag Team Championships: The Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs EVIL & SANADA vs The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
The Young Bucks carried the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team division for years and the fans backlash has shown no appreciation for Matt and Nick Jackson’s accomplishments. The Young Bucks never received a rematch for the IWGP heavyweight tag team championships after losing them to Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. The Young Bucks did not compete in the World Tag League tournament but The Young Bucks haven’t missed Wrestle Kingdom in years so this match was made a Three-Way with the number-one contender’s, EVIL and SANADA. Any team could win this match but it’s EVIL and SANADA that could gain the most from the title win. EVIL broke his left orbital bone last year just as EVIL and SANADA won the IWGP tag team championships from The Killer Elite Squad. Mainly singles competitors, EVIL and SANADA mesh very well as a team too because of their difference in styles and willing to take any shortcut. The rivalry the past year has led us to The Golden Elite vs Firing Squad in former Bullet Club members clashing but it will be EVIL and SANADA leaving with the gold.
Prediction: EVIL and SANADA become the new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.
“The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada vs “Switchblade” Jay White
The career of Jay White has exploded in the past calendar year, from being just another soldier for the CHAOS faction to leading the Firing Squad as the new Bullet Club. “Switchblade” got his win back against Hiroshi Tanahashi from Wrestle Kingdom 12 in the G1 Climax 28 tournament and White even pinned fellow CHAOS member, Kazuchika Okada in that tournament. It was a breakthrough for White even though a steel chair was needed, it showed how far White is willing to go to accomplish his goals. Then Gedo joined White, turning his back on a near decade long friendship with Okada, leaving Okada to come to the ring with balloons and a new remixed theme song. This feud has changed the careers of both men, Okada is on the road to redemption while White wants to win at all costs. The momentum of “Switchblade” does not end her if he is pinned by “The Rainmaker.” White is on the fast track to NJPW main events, Okada needs the win but this Kiwi needs to make a statement in this grudge match, win or lose.
Prediction: Kazuchika Okada wins.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
It was one year ago when Tetsuya Naito failed in his quest to dethrone Okada in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12 with the top prize on the line. Naito has battled Suzuki-Gun and lost the IWGP Intercontinental championship since then to Chris Jericho. It was a humiliating lose to Naito after already being forced to become the number two man in NJPW instead of number one, and Naito lost that title too. Chris Jericho has bet on himself with this NJPW run, becoming a crazed foreigner with a whole new dark look and attitude. EVIL has been Jericho’s only title defense in Chris Jericho’s six months as champion, EVIL tapped out to the Walls Of Jericho and Naito had his eye heavily damaged by Jericho in their last encounter. Jericho’s rare appearances in NJPW have bothered Naito so much that Naito claimed North American talent were getting too many opportunities. Jericho should get what’s coming to him in more of a brawl than a scientific, traditional Co-Main-Event.
Prediction: Tetsuya Naito wins the IWGP Intercontinental championship.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
The turning point in the history of NJPW, the Gaijin IWGP heavyweight champion looking to “Change The World” faces the companies resident “Ace” with seven IWGP heavyweight championships already on the mantle. Hiroshi Tanahashi has always done the right thing for NJPW, from helping young stars rise to the top to bringing NJPW to it’s current worldwide popularity. Tanahashi has main evented more events than any wrestler ever in NJPW, Wrestle Kingdom 1 in 2007 was the rise of “The Ace” atop The company as the IWGP heavyweight champion and Wrestle Kingdom 13 Tanahashi’s return to the main event after winning the G1 Climax 28 tournament. The ideological factors have been highlighted in magnificent fashion by the NJPW translator on commentary leading to this match, Tanahashi even pinned Omega’s Golen Lovers partner, Kota Ibushi, in that tournament Final to earn this title shot. Kenny Omega is incredibly fast moving in the ring. Hiroshi Tanahashi uses technique to wear down opponents, usually the legs of the opposing wrestler. The mindset of both wrestlers are the same at the end of the day, holding the IWGP heavyweight championship high at the end of the biggest show of the year, leading NJPW into the future in the process with the North American expansion only growing bigger and bigger. The question is always lingering in fans minds though, will Kenny Omega remain loyal to NJPW or will Omega leave to achieve other goals in a different company altogether? Hiroshi Tanahashi is definitely not at the end of his long road but one more run at the top doesn’t seem to move NJPW forward even if Tanahashi is still an amazing performer. Omega may retain clean and hold the championship a lot longer than fans would have thought, Omega will prove to be “The Best Bout Machine” with everything on the line and the pressure at it’s absolute peak even if it takes close to an hour to do so.
Prediction: Kenny Omega retains the IWGP heavyweight championship.