2019 is just about to get started. New Japan Pro Wrestling is ready to kick off its year with the annual Wrestle Kingdom event as well. However, before we get into what’s happening next, let’s look back at the year that was 2018 in NJPW.
We’ll start in January with Wrestle Kingdom 12. Several titles changes happened, as well as the ending of a monumental feud from 2017. The Young Bucks won the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles from CHAOS’ Roppongi 3K (YOH & SHO). Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, and Toru Yano won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team titles from Bullet Club. Bullet Club was represented here by Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. EVIL and SANADA from Los Ingobernables de Japon won the IWGP Tag Team titles from the Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith, Jr. & Lance Archer). Hirooki Goto won the NEVER Openweight Championship from Minoru Suzuki in a hair vs. hair match. And finally, Will Ospreay won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Marty Scurll. To wrap things up on the WK front, Kenny Omega defeated Chris Jericho and ended their feud.
After Wrestle Kingdom is New Year DASH. There we saw the first match of Katsuya Kitamura’s 7 Match Trial. He faced off against another young lion in Jay White, who won the contest. After a ten-man tag team match, Cody attempted to lead Bullet Club in an attack on Kota Ibushi. They were stopped by Ibushi’s former tag partner, and fellow Bullet Club member, Kenny Omega. This led to speculation things were not all roses for the gaijin faction. Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Tonga Loa regained the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team titles from Beretta, Ishii and Toru Yano. Chris Jericho also appeared to start his next feud at this event by attacking Tetsuya Naito.
The next event series would be NJPW presents CMLL Fantastica Mania. This is a co-promoted series of shows between NJPW and CMLL. 2018 was the eighth co-promoted tour and the longest to date. This series lasted from January 12th through January 22nd and no NJPW titles changed hands. It also featured wrestlers from both NJPW and CMLL.
On January 27th and 28th, The New Beginning in Sapporo was held. On the 27th, Michael Elgin defeated Kitamura in his second match of the 7 Match Trial. Minoru Suzuki of Suzuki-gun defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. On the 28th, Juice Robinson defeated Kitamura in the third match of his 7 Match Trial. Jay White of CHAOS upset Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Championship. After this match, Omega was attacked by Cody. This confirmed infighting within Bullet Club. Roppongi 3K regained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles from the Young Bucks as well.
From January 30th to February 8th the Road to the New Beginning tour was held. On February 5th, Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeated Kitamura in the fourth match of the 7 Match Trial. On February 6th, Manabu Nakanishi defeated Kitamura in the fifth match of the 7 Match Trial. This culminated with the New Beginning in Osaka going down on February 10th. At this show, Yuji Nagata defeated Kitamura in the sixth match of the 7 Match Trial. This was also the last major show appearance by Kitamura due to injury. It’s thought that it is a concussion that’s kept him out of action, but confirmed details are hard to find. There has been speculation this injury could force him into retirement.
February 16th through 19th was NJPW’s first major tour of Australia entitled Fallout Down Under. On February 23 and 24, NJPW hosted ROH for a pair of shows called Honor Rising: Japan. March 1st through March 4th was a tour entitled the Anniversary series. This led up to the NJPW’s 46th Anniversary Show on March 6th. There the team of El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemura, representing Suzuki-gun, won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles from Roppongi 3K. Up next is one of the major tournaments in NJPW, the New Japan Cup.
The tournament took place across a tour spanning March 9th to March 21st. As is the case with all NJPW tournaments, it was sprinkled with many great matches. Eventually, Zack Sabre, Jr. took home the New Japan Cup for Suzuki-gun. All New Japan Cup winners are entitled to a title shot against either the IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental or NEVER Openweight Championships. The winner gets to choose which champion to face.
On March 25th, NJPW held its first show for 2018 in the United States. This one was called Strong Style Evolved and took place in Long Beach, CA. On March 29th and March 30th, a pair of shows called Road to Sakura Genesis 2018 were held. Sakura Genesis 2018 took place on April 1st and this is where Zack Sabre, Jr. cashed in his New Japan Cup prize. He challenged Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Even though it was a great showing for ZSJ, he was not successful in his conquest attempt.
During this break in NJPW shows, the leadership of Bullet Club was decided at a Ring of Honor event during WrestleMania weekend. Cody defeated Kenny Omega, seemingly reuniting the group. Despite this, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Tonga Loa kept their distance. After the break, the next tour would begin on April 14th, the Road to Wrestling Dontaku. The full tour would last until May 1st. The show on April 29th, called NJPW Wrestling Hinokuni saw a title change. Tetsuya Naito, the famed leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, dethroned Suzuki for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
On night one of Wrestling Dontaku, which took place on May 3rd, we saw Bullet Club versus Bullet Club. The team of Marty Scurll and the Young Bucks defeated Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship. On May 4th, Tama Tonga introduced a new member for Bullet Club, Taiji Ishimori. Also on the May 4th show, Chris Jericho again attacked Naito. The next NJPW event was held on May 6th, called New Japan Road. On May 9th and 11th, NJPW wrestlers participated in the NJPW/ROH War of the Worlds 2018 with shows in the US and Canada.
The next major tournament, Best of the Super Juniors, started on May 18th and ran until June 4th. Himoru Takahashi of Los Ingobernables de Japon. The winner of this tournament receives a trophy and a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion if the winner isn’t already champion. The next event is Dominion 6.9 in Osaka. Many title changes took place at this event, shaking up the overall landscape of NJPW.
Michael Elgin won the NEVER Openweight Championship from Goto. The Young Bucks won the IWGP Tag Team Championships for the first time, besting EVIL and SANADA from LIJ. Himoru Takahashi cashed in his title match opportunity against Will Ospreay. Takahashi walked away with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Chris Jericho defeated Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. In the biggest upset of the night, Kenny Omega defeated Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This ended Okada’s historic 720-day reign.
The next major tour for NJPW started on June 15th and ran through June 24th, called Kizuma Road. At the show on June 17th, Goto regained the NEVER Openweight Championship from Michael Elgin. On June 23rd, Tomoaki Honma returned for the first time since he was injured on March 3, 2017. After this tour, there was a special NJPW x CEO When World Collide show in Daytona Beach, FL on June 29th. The next show was also a special from the US, the G1 Special in San Francisco on July 7th. July 7 would make history for a couple of very different reasons.
At the G1 Special, Juice Robinson defeated Jay White for the IWGP United States Championship. This was also the show where Himoru Takahashi severely injured his neck during his match with Dragon Lee. After the main event, during Kenny Omega’s closing promo, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, Tonga Loa, and Haku came to the ring. They attacked Omega and the Young Bucks, as well as Hangman Page and Marty Scurll who came to The Elite’s aid. Cody also came down and chose not to attack Omega, but the Tongan Bullet Club contingent. He was also laid waste to by the group who would refer to themselves as The Firing Squad and the OGs.
The G1 Climax, another of NJPW’s major tournaments, started officially one-week later on July 14th. It would last until August 12th. During a live video on social media on August 10th, Tama Tonga confirmed that Ishimori was aligned with the Bullet Club OGs. On the last show of the G1 Climax on the 12th, the war of Bullet Clubs would continue. The Bullet Club OGs (Taiji Ishimori, Tama Tonga, and Tonga Loa) defeated The Bullet Club Elite (Marty Scurll & The Young Bucks) to regain the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. Hiroshi Tanahashi also won the G1 Climax and the right to face the IWGP Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
NJPW would then go on break for about a month. During this break, on August 20th, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship was vacated due to the severity of Himoru Takahashi’s injury. On September 5th, the next tour, titled Road to Destruction began and went through September 21st. Several special ‘Destruction’ events took place in Hiroshima on September 15th, Beppu on September 17th, and finally Kobe on September 23rd. At Destruction in Beppu, Taichi defeated Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship.
Destruction in Kobe on September 23 is another monumental night in NJPW history. Before we got there though, the cracks in CHAOS began to form back in Hiroshima. After the tag team loss to Makabe, Honma, and Tanahashi, the tension between Okada and Jay White was apparent. At Destruction in Beppu, CHAOS again lost to Makabe, Honma, Tanahashi and Juice Robinson. The tension was even more apparent. Finally, at Destruction in Kobe things came to a head.
Tanahashi successfully defended his Wrestle Kingdom 13 title shot against Okada. After the match, Jay White came out and attacked Okada. He also lashed out at Rocky Romero and YOSHI-HASHI who attempted to curb his wrath. Gedo came out, seemingly as the voice of reason, however, it was a ploy. Gedo turned on his former protégée in Okada and declared Jay White the true winner of the G1.
The next NJPW show took place a week later, on September 30th in Long Beach, CA and the show was titled Fighting Spirit Unleashed. At Fighting Spirit Unleashed, the Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga, and Tonga Loa won the IWGP Tag Team titles. They defeated the Young Bucks. Cody also defeated Juice Robinson to gain the IWGP United States Championship.
The next event was back in Japan on October 8th. This one is called King of Pro-Wrestling. Chris Jericho popped up again, this time attacking EVIL before his match with Zack Sabre, Jr. Jericho then challenged EVIL for a match at Power Struggle. KUSHIDA defeated Marty Scurll in the tournament final to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Tanahashi successfully defended his Wrestle Kingdom title shot against Jay White. Jado joined Gedo and Jay White in defecting from CHAOS to Bullet Club. The three showed up with the BC to attack Okada once more.
The next show took place on October 14th in the UK as NJPW and RevPro hosted their edition of Global Wars. Back in Japan on October 16th, they started the Road to Power Struggle Tour. This tour would run until November 1st. Also as part of this tour, the Best of the Super Junior Tag League tournament took place.
Power Struggle went down on November 3rd. Roppongi 3K won the Super Junior Tag League for the second year in a row. Also, Chris Jericho successfully defended his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against EVIL. After making EVIL submit, Jericho refused to release the hold and eventually, Naito came to EVIL’s aid. Naito then challenged Jericho, despite Jericho saying previously that Naito would not receive a rematch. Their match is set to take place at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
Goto also defeated Taichi at Power Struggle to regain the NEVER Openweight Championship. NJPW returned to North America for Global Wars with ROH. They held four shows from November 7th to November 11th.
The last major tournament for the year, the World Tag League kicked off on November 17th. It ran until December 9th. EVIL and Sanada of LIJ won the league for the second year in a row. This earns them a shot at the IWGP Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Will Ospreay defeated Taichi to become the number one contender to the NEVER Openweight Championship. Speaking of the NEVER Openweight Championship, Ibushi was able to wrest the title from Goto. Now Ospreay and Ibushi will clash with the Never Openweight Championship on the line.
The last events for NJPW in 2018 took place over December 14th and 15th in a pair of shows entitled Road to the Tokyo Dome. This is in reference to Wrestle Kingdom always being held in the Tokyo Dome. The wrestlers have been on a break from NJPW dates and will be ready for battle at Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4, 2019!