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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 review: Tanahashi vs. Omega, Naito vs. Jericho and more

As usual, New Japan Pro wrestling delivered some excellent matches at their biggest event of the year.

Today saw New Japan Pro Wrestling host Wrestle Kingdom 13, the latest in their annual tradition of running the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. So what were our thoughts on New Japan’s biggest show of the year?

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

The pre-show stream starts almost immediately with the gauntlet match designed to fit talent onto the show ala WrestleMania‘s Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Due to the gauntlet format and the match going 30 minutes, this felt a little dragged out at times, while at the same time some wrestlers didn’t get a lot of time. What we did get was a tease of miscommunication in Bullet Club, a brief but great exchange between Nagata and Suzuki, Jeff Cobb showing his strength and some fun antics. In the end though this, like all of the pre-show, was pretty missable.

As is tradition, New Japan announced a lot of dates for 2019. The biggest news for western fans are:

  • The G1 Climax tournament starting with a show in the American Airlines Centre in Dallas
  • A UK New Japan show in the Copper Box Arena in London, which can hold 6-7,000
  • There will be TWO Tokyo Dome shows in 2020, on January 4th & 5th.

Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi (c) for the NEVER Openweight Championship

This was a ridiculously fast paced, high action opener between two athletically gifted wrestlers. The action was intense at times, with crazy counter sequences and big aerial moves. It wasn’t just about high-flying, though, as we got a lot of crazy strikes including a slap fight while Ibushi was hung in the tree of woe. The only negatives here were that the match felt a little disjointed at times and Ibushi was carried off after the match on a stretcher.

Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) vs. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado (c) for the IWGP Jr Tag Team Championships

Like most three-way matches, this was less than the sum of its parts. The match felt quite short and the likes of BUSHI almost never got into the ring. The match was at its best when Sho and Takagi went at it, even if the finish felt very one-sided.

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c) for the Revolution Pro Wrestling Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship

This match saw the debut of a brand new championship belt and the Japanese debut of RevPro’s referee Chris Roberts. Due to the busy card this match felt a lot quicker paced than most Sabre Jr matches, with him quickly and aggressively targeting the arm of Ishii. This was a great powerhouse vs technician match, with a lot of counter wrestling based on their previous encounters. This was a rare singles Dome opportunity for both men and they did a great job, putting on one of the best matches on the show.

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

Like the second match, this was handicapped by being a three-way match. There was a lot of action and some clever counters but it felt pretty much paint by numbers except for a dive sequence and the finish. I’d only recommend this if you really really love the Young Bucks.

Juice Robinson vs. Cody (c) for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship

Juice’s ring gear was a yellow and purple monstrosity while Cody and his wife Brandi wore turquoise as a tribute to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the owners of which being the backers behind Cody’s new AEW promotion. This was the worst match on the card by a long shot. It was a very obvious US-style heel vs. face match with Cody using all the tropes he could think of here but it didn’t click with the audience or myself. Some fans may like it but it wasn’t for me.

Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA (c) for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship

I’d recommend this partly for KUSHIDA’s bizarre and slightly creepy entrance, based on his Back to the Future fan character. The match had some great action and a really smooth mix of chain wrestling. It was possibly the smoothest match on the show but the ending felt a little flat despite them bringing out almost all their arsenal. If you have time I’d recommend it but otherwise it’s not essential viewing.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White

Since Okada lost the IWGP Heavyweight Title in June, he started wearing full length pants, dyed his hair red and acted like a goof. Here he was laser focused, bringing his old music, old shorts, old attitude and most importantly, his old aura. This felt like a proper Okada match, albeit shorter than almost all of his previous Wrestle Kingdom matches. Okada wanted to beat White and White used his cunning to hold on before we got to a crazy counter sequence for the finish, with both men countering their opponents counters. It was a much better affair than White vs. Tanahashi last year and it feels like we have the old Okada back now. This makes me much more optimistic for 2019.

Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho (c) for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Like Jericho vs Omega from last year this was a wild, weapons filled affair, partly because of Jericho’s age. Jericho was the vicious bully heel here, resorting to kendo sticks, chairs and tables to keep the younger Naito down. Speaking of Naito, he was a great underdog anti-hero here. The structure worked well as Jericho had to use weapons to gain control and Naito regained control by using the kendo stick. In the end we had some great long-term call backs using the Intercontinental title that Naito had neglected to the point of near destruction years before. This was a really good No DQ match where both men complemented each other and it was up there with last year’s Jericho vs. Omega match. If anything, it felt a bit tighter and leaner.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (c) for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Omega came out to the ring with Undertale inspired entrance gear, music and entrance video. In many ways, this felt like a classic Tanahashi title match with elements from Omega’s recent big matches. We started with a deliberate pace that told the story of Omega attacking the back and ribs and Tanahashi focusing on the leg of Omega. While we did get a table spot, some Omega dives and some brawling on the outside, it felt closer to Tanahashi’s usual Wrestle Kingdom style. The match built while both men sold their damage really well. Omega deserves credit for the best timed knees up and splash dodges that I can remember. The match built to a really dramatic finale with a lot of action and a great finish. This was easily the match of the show, showing that Tanahashi still has it with the Ace even pulling some things out from Omega’s arsenal. Omega looked great as well, with many of his more irritating habits feeling like they’d been reined in (although he did use a lot of knee strikes). This may not be for everyone but it felt like a great main event, especially for those who love Tanahashi as the man who helped turn around New Japan’s fortunes and one of the decade’s best wrestlers.

Is it good?
At 4 hours long this felt tighter than last years show. This was a very good show but I’d be disappointed if it was a match of the year contender as it felt like a step below some of the more recent Wrestle Kingdoms. That’s partly due to a lack of surprises, no big heavyweight brawl and some matches focussed on building for 2019. Despite that I’d highly recommend Tanahashi-Omega, Jericho-Naito, Okada-White, Ishii-Sabre & Ospreay-Ibushi.
Tanahashi vs. Omega was a great, dramatic main event
Jericho vs Naito was a crazy brawl that made both men look good
Good undercard matches from Okada-White, Ishii-Sabre and Ospreay-Ibushi
Some matches were underwhelming, especially the tag matches and Cody-Robinson
No big surprises or bonus segments
7.5
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