The biggest non-WWE show of the year goes down tomorrow from the Tokyo Dome.
Wrestle Kingdom is the biggest non-WWE wrestling show of the year. In many ways it is New Japan’s WrestleMania: Their largest (and longest) show, packed with title matches and the culmination of months of build up. For many wrestling fans the attraction of Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega will make this their first New Japan show. For longtime NJPW fans, it’s an interesting mix of exciting matches, brave matchmaking and a huge main event. If you want to know more about the show you can check out our Wrestle Kingdom 12 primer. To replicate the spectrum of fans watching this show we decided to look at this show with a panel with different levels of familiarity. Who will win? Who will lose? Let’s see what our panel thinks.
New Japan Rumble
Mark: Affectionately known as the Rambo, the Rumble is a chance to let everyone wrestle in the Tokyo Dome. Expect a mix of aging veterans, young lions, lower card guys and a couple of surprises from the past. Also, don’t be surprised if Ring of Honor jobber Cheeseburger to make an appearance and get a bigger reaction than Cody.
Loser: Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima for not getting on the main show
Nathaniel: I know the stakes aren’t as high as that other Rumble in January but I haven’t really enjoyed that one since around 2008. I always look forward to these and they tend to be terrible, but they are harmless fun. I am personally hoping for more Cheeseburger-Fujiwara goodness.
Loser: First-time New Japan viewers going into this match with high expectations based on positive word of mouth about the promotion
Roppongi 3K (c) Vs. The Young Bucks for the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships
Mark: What excites me the most about this show is how brave and fresh it feels. Roppongi 3K defend the titles in the Tokyo Dome less than four months after they returned to New Japan from ROH. They may not be the finished article just yet but this will be a fast paced spectacle as they face their biggest challenge yet: the cocky, high-flying Young Bucks.
Winner: Roppongi 3K establish themselves as New Japan’s top Junior Tag Team
Loser: The Young Bucks
Nathaniel: I am a huge Young Bucks fan and always expect greatness from their matches. I also always have a hard time betting against them. That being said, RPG3K have won the IWGP Junior Tag Titles and the Super Junior Tag Tournament since returning in October. Still…
Winner: The Young Bucks
Loser: The IWGP Junior Tag Titles. Give the titles stability or get rid of them.
NEVER 6 Man Tag Team Title Gauntlet match
Mark: New Japan used to fit people on the under-card by using themed 8 man and 10 man tag team matches. Nowadays they use this monstrosity, a gauntlet match for the 6 man tag team titles. Expect to see lots of people get not a lot of time to do their thing. Honestly, this is a waste of Tomohiro Ishii, who is probably my favorite wrestler today.
Winner: Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale
Loser: Tomohiro Ishii for being in this match instead of having a singles match
Nathaniel: Seems like it is tradition now for the Never Six Man Titles to be put on the line in a crazy gauntlet. And six man titles are the definition of too many championships as it is. I like the idea of Elgin and War Machine winning, but don’t see that happening.
Winner: Taguchi Japan
Loser: I agree with Mark. Ishii deserves better.
Cody Vs. Kota Ibushi
Mark: Last year Cody made his debut at the Tokyo Dome by defeating Juice Robinson. While Cody had a big 2017 in ROH, Robinson had a bigger year in New Japan. Cody will want to achieve everything in 2018 that he didn’t do in 2017, and he starts in a big way. Ibushi is arguably the most athletically talented and exciting wrestler on the planet, so it’s Cody’s biggest test so far in Japan. This is the match where I have no clue what to expect as it is a true clash of styles.
Winner: Kota Ibushi.
Loser: Kenny Omega gets torn between his Bullet Club stable mate and his former best friend.
Nathaniel: Cody is not bad. He is just so meh. Okada had to drag him kicking and screaming to a match that was still just barely better than average — and that’s depending on who you ask. Ibushi is a treat to watch and this would be a nice stepping stone to a match with Omega. Once Cody lost the ROH World Title all doubts were erased.
Winner: Kota Ibushi
Loser: All of us if this leads to Cody kicking Omega out of Bullet Club.
Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. EVIL and SANADA for the IWGP Tag Team Championships
Mark: I want EVIL and SANADA to win. I want them to cement this team and I want a new Japanese team to finally make people care about a tag team division that has been an afterthought for nearly a decade. However, I can’t help but fear that they’ll keep the belts on K.E.S.
Winner: EVIL and SANADA
Loser: Me if EVIL and SANADA don’t win and we get business as usual.
Nathaniel: Put the belts on L.I.J.and build the tag division around them. You already have the Killer Elite Squad. Move up the Young Bucks, use their partnership with ROH and bring in the Motor City Machine Guns and you are off to a good start.
Winner: EVIL and SANADA
Loser: New Japan’s tag division is on life support no matter the outcome of this match.
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship (Hair vs. Hair Match)
Mark: Goto is a guy that I loved when he first moved up to heavyweight but he’s become New Japan’s resident choke artist when it comes to the big one. Suzuki is a great wrestler but this year his matches have been chock-a-block with interference. This match pits both men’s hair on the line and bars their teammates from ringside. This has the potential to be a great little match if they approach it with fire and hatred.
Winner: Hirooki Goto
Loser: The wig makers who lose out on the chance to use Goto’s thick mane of hair.
Nathaniel: So what’s the big deal about Goto’s hair? Suzuki hardly has any so this can’t be about him, right? This isn’t so much about taking Goto’s hair, but what it symbolizes. The Young Lions at ringside always have short hair. Shaving your head is also an act of shame, as this Japanese pop star demonstrated. Suzuki was deservedly inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame this year and continues to put on amazing matches. This high stakes match should be a great one.
Winner: Minoru Suzuki
Loser: The barber. If he doesn’t have to cut Goto’s magnificent mane, he has to deal with an angry Suzuki.
Marty Scurll (c) Vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Mark: I usually dislike four way matches but this is a really intriguing mix of characters and styles. You have the cutting edge aerial offense of Ospreay, the antics of Scurll, the technical skill of KUSHIDA and the wildcard energy and devil-may-care attitude of Takahashi. Any combination of these four promises a great match so lets see if more IS better.
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi overcomes the odds to finally win back his friend belt-san
Loser: Marty Scurll loses the title on his first defense
Nathaniel: Like Mark said, any combination of these guys would be a great match. It really is a shame that this is going to be a four way. It will be fun to watch but will be too much of a cluster.
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
Loser: Fans. This match will be fun but a straight up match would be so much better.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) Vs. Jay White for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Mark: Hiroshi Tanahashi had a huge hand in saving New Japan after a rocky start to the 21st century. The Ace of New Japan is the man to beat, so it shows tremendous guts for Jay White to challenge him for the IC title at the Tokyo Dome in his New Japan return match. This is arguably the biggest ever return match for a Young Lion, and the bravest Tokyo Dome title match in years. Even if he falls in defeat, a good performance from White could make him a star.
Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi retains the Intercontinental title
The real winner: Jay White makes a big impression on his return
Nathaniel: I love Tanahashi as much as the next person (one of my dream matches is Tanahashi vs. Hulk Hogan in an air guitar battle), but he is held together by tape at this point. New Japan has shown in recent months they have no problem giving the big win to someone making a return. Jay White has the potential to be a big star and would fit in Bullet Club. His time will come soon.
Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Loser: Tanahashi fans. He is still putting on excellent matches, but the end is near.
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho for the IWGP United States Championship (No Disqualification)
Mark: I don’t expect an amazing match. I do expect a fantastic spectacle. Jericho may be past his best but there is no way that these two won’t give us a great experience. For western audiences this could cement Omega’s reputation that he built with his trio of matches against Okada.
Winner: Kenny Omega
Loser: Chris Jericho
Nathaniel: This will be a great match like Rock/Hogan was a great match. It may not be the masterpiece that fans are used to seeing from Omega, but it will be a match they never forget. And while it may not reach five (or six) stars, it will deliver from a workrate perspective. This may be the hardest match on the card to pick. Jericho will reportedly be at the Raw 25th anniversary show less than three weeks after Wrestle Kingdom, but will be touring with Fozzy in April and has stated he will not be at WrestleMania. Will this match be a one off or the start of something bigger?
Winner: Kenny Omega
Loser: Fans who thought Omega only wrestled good matches because he works 100 mph.
Kazuchika Okada (c) Vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Mark: For me, this is the chance for Naito to cement himself as one of New Japan’s top guys. This is his chance to get revenge for being snubbed from the main event spot four years ago. Honestly, Naito’s story arc for the last 3-4 years has been a perfect example of how to rehabilitate a wrestler who fans hate for being over pushed.
Winner: Tetsuya Naito
Loser: Kazuchika Okada misses his chance to become the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion
Nathaniel: And it all comes full circle. Naito vs. Okada for the IWGP Championship in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. (Well, part of a double main event. Foreshadowing for next year?) Okada has been amazing during his title run, drawing comparisons to Mitsuharu Misawa and Ric Flair. Since becoming more tranquilo, Naito has enjoyed his greatest success. This will compete for match of the night on a loaded card.
Winner: Tetsuya Naito
Loser: Fans of dominant champions. Okada’s run has been something of a throwback and it will be sad to see it go.