As a wrestling fan, New Year’s Eve always excites me. Part of that is because of the mystery of what we can expect in the new year. The largest reason is simple: New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom show at the Tokyo Dome. This is held annually on January 4th and is arguably the second biggest event on the wrestling calendar. It is essentially New Japan’s WrestleMania — their biggest show in front of their biggest crowd. This year’s Wrestle Kingdom 13 event starts with the pre-show at 2:00 am EST (23:00 PST). The event is available on NJPW World or the Fite TV app. So what can we expect from this event?
Pre-Show: Six man tag gauntlet match: Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano and Togi Makabe vs. Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb and David Finlay vs. Chuckie T, Beretta and Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer vs. Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page
In previous years, the New Japan Rumble, affectionately known as the Rambo, filled the pre-show spot. For WK13, the card is so busy that it was replaced with a gauntlet match for the No. 1 contendership of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship. This match ensures that most wrestlers get to wrestle at the Dome. This year that includes the likes of Minoru Suzuki, Hirooki Goto and Marty Scurll. Bullet Club, Suzuki-Gun and CHAOS are all represented here. The most interesting team is Taguchi, Yano and Makabe, as Yano and Makabe have recently started teaming up for the first time in nine years. This gap was the result of Yano turning on his then-tag Partner and leader, Makabe, in order to form CHAOS with Shinsuke Nakamura. Yuji Nagata, recently inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, is a late addition as a replacement for the injured Michael Elgin. Sadly this means that many veterans like Jushin Thunder Liger and Satoshi Kojima won’t be performing in the Tokyo Dome.
Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi (c) for the NEVER Openweight Championship
What better way to start the show than with a veritable dream match? Will Ospreay is one of the best high fliers in the world, a title that once belonged to Ibushi before he moved up to heavyweight. This match is the kind of thing that the NEVER title should be about, but Ospreay is the first junior heavyweight to challenge for the belt since Kyle O’Reilly in October 2016. Two of the most athletic wrestlers in the world will be looking to steal the show, with Ospreay trying to prove that he is more than just a junior.
Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) vs. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado (c) for the IWGP Jr Tag Team Championships
There are some interesting dynamics in this match. The champions are despicable cheats who will do anything to win. Roppongi 3K are the young upstarts with flashy offense. The third team is made up of the mist spitting BUSHI and Takagi, formerly a dominant champion in Dragon Gate and an incredibly good wrestler. This will have a bit of everything but it will probably suffer from having to follow the opener.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c) for the Revolution Pro Wrestling Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship
Both men deserve a Tokyo Dome singles match after their form in 2018 — especially Sabre, who had an incredible singles run in the first half of the year when he won the New Japan Cup. This is Sabre’s rematch for the title that he lost to Ishii over WrestleMania weekend. These two always have great matches and this will be a clash pitting the intelligence and technique of Sabre against the power and guts of Ishii. As a British wrestling fan it makes me smile to see a British title defended on this stage.
SANADA and EVIL vs. The Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) vs. Guerillas of Destiny (Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga) (c) for the IWGP Tag Team Championships
Many were a little disappointed that the Young Bucks used a rematch clause to walk into this match after a long tournament to decide the challengers, but it was to be expected. The Young Bucks turned heavyweight in 2018 but GoD have been the dominant tag team in New Japan this year. Facing the two sides of the Bullet Club split, we have the most established tag team in Los Igobernables Des Japon (LIJ), who are trying to show that they are the strongest team in New Japan.
Juice Robinson vs. Cody (c) for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship
This is a rematch of Cody’s New Japan debut exactly two years earlier. Since then both men have held this title and both have grown. Robinson is one of the best babyfaces in New Japan and one of the best promos that you probably haven’t heard. Seriously, search for his promos during the last two G1-Climax tournaments. This will be a simple yet really well executed match and both guys will want to show that they are not the men they were two years ago.
Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA (c) for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA is often incredibly underutilized by New Japan so it’s great that he gets a singles match at WK13. KUSHIDA is well known for his great techniques and technical prowess. While many know Ishimori more for his aerial skills and high impact offense, the Bullet Club OG member was originally trained in Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon system and I expect him to show off some Mexican Llave submission techniques in this match. This could be one of the bigger surprises on the show depending on what these guys decide to do.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White
This is the first time since 2013 that Okada hasn’t had an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom. Instead he is facing White, the man who spent months undermining Okada in CHAOS. White defected to the Bullet Club OGs, taking Okada’s manager Gedo with him. This is now a matter of pride as White wants to prove that he’s better than Okada. An interesting wrinkle here is the rumor that White may still have an agent in CHAOS. This may not be as good as most of Okada’s previous Dome matches, but this is a big opportunity for White.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho (c) for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Last year the big match to draw in western fans was Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega. Now Naito has his chance to regain the title that he lost to Jericho at Dominion back in June. Jericho has been largely absent in New Japan, only showing up to attack Naito or to defend the title once, against Naito’s teammate EVIL. Naito is arguably the most popular man in New Japan so the crowd will be 100% behind him. I predict a match full of smoke and mirrors to hide Jericho’s advancing age.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (c) for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Tanahashi earned this match by winning the G1 Climax, defeating Omega’s Golden Lovers partner Ibushi in the final. This has been promoted as a clash of ideologies, with Omega claiming that he is a new type of wrestler for a new era. Tanahashi and other veterans bemoan Omega’s use of tables and weapons in title matches. The build has been seen as flat and irritating by some fans with both wrestlers insulting each other’s wrestling styles. Despite this, we have an eye watering match between the man who many see as the best in the world and one of the best big match wrestlers in the last decade. These two have only had one singles match, back in February 2016, when Omega beat Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship that had been vacated by Shinsuke Nakamura when he left for WWE.
So what are you looking forward to on this show? Are you an Omega-man or are you rooting for Tanahashi?