It is that amazing time of year again. The biggest show of the New Japan Pro Wrestling year, Wrestle Kingdom, is back at its traditional January 4th date. As usual, NJPW has spent most of 2018 slowly building up some fantastic matches for the Tokyo Dome show.
The main card will have nine matches, eight titles on the line and appearances by some of the biggest names in the wrestling. With the changing landscape of pro wrestling in 2019, we should have some unexpected twists and major title changes to enjoy. Here is the preview of Wrestle Kingdom 13:
Gauntlet Match to Determine the #1 Contenders to the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship:
Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb and David Finlay vs. Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Beretta
I am going to miss the Rumble match. This year New Japan has decided to change up their recent tradition of having a Rumble match to start the show. It provided a good mix of Young Lions, old veterans and comedy acts. Instead, we will get fifteen wrestlers in this chaotic match instead. It does provide a showcase for talented wrestlers like Hirooki Goto, Minoru Suzuki, Hangman Page, and Marty Scurll to get on the show.
The 6-man Tag Championship hasn’t really had defended a lot this year. The current champions of Bullet Club members (Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Taiji Ishimori) have only defended it once since winning it at G1 Climax. The number one contender’s match doesn’t really have a lot of build to it, but with the people involved expect some fun moments.
NEVER Openweight Championship:
Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Will Ospreay
Could the match of the night go first? This is a dream match anywhere in the world and it gets to open
Will Ospreay spent most of the year involved in Junior Heavyweight feuds until calling out Taichi, then Openweight Champion, at King of Pro-Wrestling. He got injured before his potential title match at Power Struggle and had to earn his shot against then-champion Taichi.
Kota Ibushi is one of the best performers in the world and proved it in 2018. He had great matches tagging with Kenny Omega and even made the finals of the G1 Climax tournament. At the end of the year, he got a Never Championship match and defeated Hirooki Goto just last month.
This should be a fantastic match against both capable of a fast-paced and high flying style. It will be tough for the rest of the show to top the pace these two will be going at.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado) (c) vs. Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi and Shingo Takagi)
It is shocking to realize that the current Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Suzuki-gun, have held the title for over 300 days. This match will actually be a rare recent rematch. These three teams recently fought in the Super Junior Tag League final with Roppongi 3k winning. It led quickly to this Wrestle Kingdom rematch.
Roppongi 3K has already delivered in their matches in the Super Juniors this year. Suzuki-gun will likely try the traditional heel tactics. The real wild card should be the final team. Shinzo Takagi just recently debuted in New Japan and will want to make an impression of the biggest stage.
British Heavyweight Championship:
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Zach Sabre Jr.
Ishii is the constantly underrated wrestler of New Japan. He is constantly putting on wonderful matches in the best the company has to offer and constantly losing in the major tournaments and in important title matches. It makes sense, then he is used as a New Japan representative in Rev Pro Wrestling and becoming their main champion in October 2018.
His challenger is Zach Sabre Jr. Zach has had a fantastic 2018. He won the prestigious New Japan Cup and put on a strong main event for the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at Sakura Genesis with Okada. He had a strong run in the G1 as well.
This match is certainly a contrast in styles. Sabre Jr. is one of the most unique submission style wrestlers in the world. Ishii has a great power style that can complement most wrestlers. It should be a fun matchup to see in the Dome.
IWGP Tag Team Championship:
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada and Evil) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)
I am worried this match could be overshadowed by the fact it might be the Young Bucks’ farewell from New Japan Pro Wrestling and loads of Bullet Club drama. This was the year that the Young Bucks made the jump to the main Tag division after years in the Junior Tag Division. It led to multiple matches between the three teams in this match during 2018. In fact, since Wrestle Kingdom 12, these are the only teams to hold the title.
Guerrillas of Destiny have spent a lot of time recently feuding with former members of the Bullet Club. The Young Bucks had been all over the world putting on their unique brand of entertaining wrestling. Evil and Sanada are an interesting team. They spent a lot of time-fighting for singles titles in 2018 but won the World Tag League for the second straight year to get into this match. These are six veterans who are the best the tag division has to offer.
IWGP United States Championship:
Cody (c) vs. Juice Robinson
The United States title has had an interesting year. It was used as part of Bullet Club Drama when Kenny Omega lost the title to Jay White. Jay White was a great heel this year and used the title to build his character with multiple title defenses. This changed with Juice Robinson winning the title at the G1 Special in the USA.
It seemed it would start of Juice Robinson one of the most successful babyface wrestlers in NJPW with his first major title. Then, he lost the title in his first defense to Cody at Fighting Spirit Unleashed. Cody has been a fantastic heel and continues to anger fans in 2018. Both wrestlers are great at in-ring psychology and their spot in the card should be led to some fun moments. I would expect Cody to pull out all the stops to attempt to hold on to the US Title.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
Kushida (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori
This could be a potential show stealer. We got to this match under sad circumstances. Hiromu Takahashi, Junior Heavyweight Champion for most of the year, broke his neck in July. This led to the title being held up for a tournament until Kushida, a six-time Junior Champion, won the title back. Kushida has held up the division will with his talent for years.
The other man in the match is Ishimori. He rejoined the company in 2018 and immediately made an impact with his specular Best of the Super Juniors Final with Takahashi this year. He has been quite the heel this year even faking an ankle injury so he could attack Kushida at Power Struggle in November.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White
The only match on the main card without a title on the line is one with the best build on the year. It all started a year ago when Jay White joined Chaos with Okada but stated he wanted to fight for Okada’s title at some point. It is the classic student against mentor idea. This continued as White cheated to beat Okada at the G1 tournament.
It got worse as White attacked Okada and Takahashi at Destruction in Kobe. It led to White joining the Bullet Club in October. White has been quite the cheating heel most of the year. This will be his chance to show his in-ring skill against arguably the best wrestler in the world.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship:
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito
I am still shocked we are seeing a second straight Wrestle Kingdom match with Chris Jericho. Jericho surprised New Japan fans by attacking Tetsuya Naito at New Year’s Dash. We finally got the payoff in June when Jericho shocked us by winning the IWGP International Championship from Naito at Dominion.
Jericho seemed to vanish against until he attacked Evil setting up his first title defense at Power Struggle. Jericho decided to keep attacking Evil after the match leading to Naito making the save and demanding a rematch at
Jericho put on a great match against Kenny Omega last year. I am sure he will want to do the same with Naito. Naito really needs a good showing and some revenge based on his booking this year.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship:
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Hiroshi Takahashi
Kenny Omega finally broke through in 2018. He finally overcame his rival Okada at Dominion in one of the arguably greatest wrestling matches. It made the end of Okada’s remarkable 720-day reign. Omega went on to defend the title against the likes of Ishii, Cody and Kota Ibushi.
Takahashi’s journey has been more unique. It seemed he was getting to the point of his career where he took a bad seat to the likes of Okada, Omega and Naito. However, his booking changing dramatically with the New Japan Cup this year. He reached the finals and continued his momentum by winning the G1 Climax tournament for the first time in three years. After defending his Wrestle Kingdom title match against Okada and White, he was finally ready for his match against Omega.
It should be a great main event. Omega has been the most consistent wrestlers in New Japan for the last few years. Takahashi has been putting on an impressive performance at the age of 42 and will want to show he still can