Many people look forward to celebrating New Year’s Eve. For wrestling fans, though, there’s another annual event just a few days later: New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom. NJPW has been running shows on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome since 1992. These shows have used the name Wrestle Kingdom for the last 12 years and they are the biggest event in New Japan’s calendar; essentially, NJPW’s WrestleMania.
There are two ways to watch this show in the US. First, Wrestle Kingdom 12 will air live on the NJPW World streaming service at 1 a.m. EST on January 4th (10 p.m. PST January 3rd). The show will be up on demand a few hours later, and will feature both Japanese and English commentary. The streaming service costs 999 yen per month (about $8.82 USD) and there are apps to view the service on Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV. If you don’t want to subscribe, there will be a three hour Wrestle Kingdom 12 Special on AXS TV on January 6th at 8 p.m. EST. Now, without further ado, let’s looks at what’s on the show.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
The main event sees New Japan’s biggest star, Kazuchika Okada, defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Tetsuya Naito. Naito leads New Japan’s most popular group, Los Igobernables des Japon (LIJ). Okada may arguably be the greatest wrestler of this decade and Naito has been putting on some incredible matches since forming LIJ, but that’s not why this match is so special. This is a match four years in the making: Their title match at Wrestle Kingdom 8 was relegated to the semi main event because the fans did not believe that Naito deserved the Wrestle Kingdom main event. Naito developed a new attitude and formed LIJ in order to prove the fans wrong and this is his big chance to rub it in their faces. For Okada, winning means that he will have held the title for longer than anyone in company history.
IWGP US Heavyweight Championship, No DQ: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho
The match that has tantalized a lot of western fans pits IWGP US Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega against Chris Jericho. Canadian Kenny Omega is one of the biggest things in wrestling today: His Bullet Club faction is a merchandising phenomenon thanks to a deal with Hot Topic and Kenny’s trilogy with Okada has put him on a lot of fan’s radars. So it’s fitting that he faces one of Canada’s greatest wrestling exports in Chris Jericho. Both men are known for their charisma and eye opening styles, even if Jericho is now past his prime. This will still be a spectacle and I am intrigued to see how this one unfolds.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Jay White
While the top two matches are about the present facing the past, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship match is all about the future. In November, New Japan trainee Jay White came home after a 17 month learning expedition and he made the biggest impact that he could: He challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title at the Tokyo Dome. Tanahashi was fundamental in saving New Japan after the dark days of the early 2000s. He was the face of the company for close to a decade until Okada established himself. For lack of a better comparison, he is New Japan’s John Cena. This is the biggest and toughest match of White’s career but the New Zealand native wants to show the fans that he is the future of New Japan. To do that he needs to beat the most successful Heavyweight Champion in New Japan history at the company’s biggest show of the year.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll (c) vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship has changed hands a lot in 2017. Four men have held the title this year, so it’s fitting that all four of them are in the title match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. The umbrella-wielding Bullet Club member Marty Scurll defends the title. Will Ospreay is one of the best high fliers in wrestling, whose aerial prowess is only matched by his cockiness. KUSHIDA is a veteran of New Japan’s Junior division who uses a mixture of submissions and fast paced offence. The fan favorite, though, will be LIJ member Hiromu Takahashi. Takahashi’s vibrant ring gear, all or nothing attitude and bizarre personality have captured the hearts of the New Japan fan-base and Hiromu wants his friend Belt-san back. This is set to be an action packed spectacle.
NEVER Openweight Championship, Hair vs. Hair: Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
Minoru Suzuki is the oldest man on the main show, but he is also one of the most dangerous men on the show. The founder of Japanese MMA promotion Pancrase, Suzuki spent 10 years in MMA before returning to pro wrestling. He thrives on tormenting his opponents and that includes Hirooki Goto, the man he beat to become the NEVER Champion. Recently Goto has been getting the better of Suzuki, but the Champion ignored him until the proud, hard hitting “Wild Samurai” put his hair on the line. Suzuki accepted and the match is now hair vs hair, with both men’s teammates barred from ringside. Will Goto lose his long flowing hair? Or will he win his title back?
IWGP Heavyweight tag Team Championship: Killer Elite Squad vs. EVIL & SANADA
The champions, Killer Elite Squad, consist of former WWE stars Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer. Their challengers, EVIL & SANADA, will be the crowd favorites and they represent LIJ. This will be a tough match as K.E.S try to overpower their opponents while EVIL & SANADA use their mix of EVIL’s power and SANADA’s athleticism.
Cody vs. Kota Ibushi
Former WWE star Cody has had an eventful 2017, joining Bullet Club and becoming Ring of Honor World Champion. With plans to run a US wrestling independent show at 10,000 seat stadium, he wants his 2018 to be even bigger. So what better way to start than by challenging Kota Ibushi to a match at the Tokyo Dome. Ibushi, a semi-finalist in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, is one of the most athletic and exciting wrestlers on the planet. This will be Cody’s toughest test so far in New Japan.
NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Championship Gauntlet
Bullet Club’s Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa defend their recently won NEVER Open-weight Six Man Tag Titles in a gauntlet match. Most of the major stables in New Japan are represented. CHAOS has the oddball combination of Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Beretta. The USA is represented by the powerful trio of War Machine (Raymond Rowe & Hanson) and Michael Elgin. Suzuki-gun have chosen technical wizard Zack Sabre Jr, lawless brawler Takashi Iizuka & the much maligned Taichi. Lastly, Taguchi Japan is made up of the sweet toothed brawler Togi Makabe, the fast improving Juice Robinson and pretty weird bloke Ryusuke Taguchi.
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (c) vs. The Young Bucks
New Japan has shown a lot of faith in young talent at Wrestle Kingdom 12, as three returning Trainees (known in New Japan as Young Lions) are in title matches. In addition to Jay White, the recently returned Roppongi 3K defend the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship. Roppongi 3K, consisting of Sho & Yoh, spent 21 months in Mexico and the USA before making a surprise return to win the Junior Tag Team Championship. The entertaining duo now have their toughest challenge yet as they face Bullet Club members Nick & Matt Jackson, better known as The Young Bucks. The Bucks cocky attitude and flashy style has helped drive the popularity of the Bullet Club in the US and expect this match to be fast and frantic.
New Japan Rumble
The New Japan Rumble is a recent pre-show tradition. It’s a mixture of veterans and low level guys, sprinkled with surprises from New Japan’s past. Previous surprise guests have included Scott Norton, The Great Kabuki and WCW & WWF veteran Meng/Haku. It’s a fun, nostalgic treat that gives the wrestlers a chance to perform in the Tokyo Dome and the fans a nice gentle warm up act.