Sometimes it’s hard to be a wrestling fan. You get your moments here and there, but it seems like you never have a chance to just sit back and relax. Whether it’s WWE and its almost troll booking, awful indie matches that the IWC drools over themselves about, or New Japan’s refusal to have a serious tag team division, there’s always something that prevents a fan from just marking out. And then January 2018 happened.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has rung in the New Year with the January 4th Tokyo Dome show since 1992. Renamed Wrestle Kingdom in 2007, the event has had its share of Hall of Famers and historic matches. Wrestle Kingdom 12 was poised to be no different with Okada looking to continue his historic IWGP title run and Chris Jericho meeting Kenny Omega in a dream match. While there were many great matches, it was the four way for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship that stole the show. No two matches were alike and the year got off to a great start.
The Golden Lovers were one of Japan’s most popular teams. From 2009-2014, Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega won titles while putting on great matches. At New Year’s Dash, Omega saved Ibushi from a Bullet Club beating. Ibushi left while Omega and Cody argued. But the biggest surprise may have come at the end of the night when Chris Jericho attacked Tetsuya Naito.
Last year, Dave Meltzer said he did not see Ring of Honor selling out a 10,000 seat arena anytime soon, to which Cody replied he would take that bet. Immediately after announcing the self-funded All In show, half of the IWC said it would sell out before quickly backpedaling and saying it would be a success no matter how many tickets were sold, while the other half said it would never sell 10,000 tickets before quickly moving the goalposts and saying success is more than ticket sales. (Cody, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Tessa Blanchard, and Arrow’s Stephen Amell have all announced they will be there, but a venue has yet to be announced.)
September 1st pic.twitter.com/wehXTTpA3A
— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) January 10, 2018
Ricochet has long been considered one of the best talents not signed by WWE. Rumors always swirled around him, but really picked up this year. At PWG’s Mystery Vortex V, Ricochet defended the PWG Championship against his trainer Chuck Taylor in a Guerilla Warfare match. After Taylor pinned Ricochet for the title, he grabbed the mic and said he always knew that Ricochet would do more than Taylor had. Ricochet then gave an emotional speech saying he would always consider PWG his home.
Minoru Suzuki defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title in a Match of the Year Candidate. A beautifully worked match centered around a simple story: Tanahashi has an injured leg and Suzuki keeps going for it. Great psychology that called back to previous matches and ends with the ref mercifully calling for the bell.
War Machine, Ricochet, and EC3 all make their debuts, but the highlight of NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia is an unbelievable match between Andrade “Cien” Almas and Johnny Gargano. The two have the second MOTYC of the day and some call it the best match in NXT history.
The second night of The New Beginning in Sapporo sees Kenny Omega lose the IWGP U.S Title to Jay White. Cody attacks Omega after the loss and looks to hit him with a chair, but Ibushi makes the save. He offers his hand to Omega, but Omega refuses before grabbing Ibushi in an embrace as confetti falls around them.
Hours after the apparent reunion of the Golden Lovers, WWE has the best Royal Rumble match in years. Great booking, funny moments, and unpredictability are ingredients of a memorable Rumble and the 2018 version delivers culminating in a stirring victory for Shinsuke Nakamura.
Part of the fun of being a wrestling fan is complaining. No other medium offers the same illusion of interactivity. And when things are hitting on all cylinders, it makes you proud to be a fan. January 2018 was one of those times. It was great to be a wrestling fan and there was nothing to complain about. (Well, PWG keeps giving wins to Sammy Guevara, Fantastica Mania was underwhelming, and aside from the men’s Rumble the Royal Rumble card itself was nothing special.) If January is any indication, 2018 is going to be a great year to be a wrestling fan.