Wrestle Kingdom 18 | Preview

It is the most wonderful time of the year. It is time once again for Wrestle Kingdom with Wrestle Kingdom 18!

The biggest show of the New Japan Pro Wrestling year, Wrestle Kingdom, is back on its traditional January 4th date. And it remains one glorious night of Wrestle Kingdom for the second straight year!

We have stars from New Japan, Noah, and AEW competing on Thursday night. It will be great to see some of the best wrestlers in the world in front of a large, appreciative Tokyo Dome crowd.  

The Wrestle Kingdom 18 card is a truly stacked card that has been built well over 2023. The main card will have ten matches, eight titles on the line, and a special match between two of the best wrestlers in the world.

It will be great to see New Japan begin what should be a wonderful 2024. Here is the preview of Wrestle Kingdom 18:

KOPW 2024 New Japan Ranbo

The always enjoyable battle royal will open Wrestle Kingdom. We usually get some surprising returns and New Japan legends making appearances during this fun match. The match has some real stakes.

The final four will compete for the new KOPW trophy at New Year’s Dash. Who will take the KOPW Championship from Taichi in 2024?

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Bullet Club War Dogs (Drilla Moloney & Clark Connors (c) vs. Catch 2/2 (TJP & Francesco Akira)

This is a battle months in the making. Catch 2/2 won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship for the second time at Dominion last June.

After the match, Clark Connors challenged them to a match and was joined by Dan Moloney, the then-ally of the United Empire. It was a shocking betrayal to see Moloney betray the United Empire and join Bullet Club.

It has been all War Dogs since that fateful night. Moloney and Connors won the Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles on Independence Day over TJP/Akira and have defended them ever since.

While Catch 2/2 won the Super Junior Tag League, they lost to Bullet Club War Dogs in the Junior Tag League tournament. The War Dogs hold a 3-0 record over Catch 2/2.

Can Catch 2/2 finally defeat their rivals? It might be harder after the brutal coffin match that occurred at December’s Road to Tokyo Dome. Will TJP be healthy for Wrestle Kingdom? It might determine if they can finally beat War Dogs.

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
NJPW World Television Championship:
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Zack Sabre Jr. won the inaugural NJPW World Television Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 17. He has defended the title a jaw-dropping sixteen times during 2023. It is an impressive record for the 36-year-old submission specialist. Who could possibly be the wrestler to end his impressive reign?

Enter Hiroshi Tanahashi. The “Ace” of New Japan is trying to win his 24th event in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Television Championship was originally set up for younger talent to showcase their skills in the fast-paced fifteen-minute time limit.

Can the 47-year-old Tanahashi pull off a huge upset? As he moves into being NJPW President, can he have one more moment of glory at Wrestle Kingdom?

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
Yota Tsuji vs. Yuya Uemura

Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura are certainly going to be linked for their New Japan careers. The first 21 times they faced off as Young Lions, they reached a ten-minute draw. After that, they traded wins, with Tsuji leading the series 15-10-22.

These talented Young Lions then left New Japan for their respective excursions. It is time for their first singles match since April 2021.

Yota Tsuji certainly came back with a major impact after his excursions. He joined Los Ingobernables de Japon and immediately challenged for the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at Dominion. He has quickly become a fan favorite with his flashy style.

Yuya Uemura focused on his great in-ring skills upon his return. At NJPW Power Struggle, Tsuji defeated Uemura in a tag-team match. He mocked his opponent and accused him of stealing his own unique look.

At Wrestle Kingdom, they will face off in singles action yet again. Which of New Japan’s brightest young stars will gain the ultimate bragging rights on the biggest stage possible?

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
Shota Umino & Kaito Kiyomiya vs. House of Torture (EVIL & Ren Narita)

It was a pretty shocking moment at World Tag League when Ren Narita attacked his Tag League partner, Shota Umino. Ren Narita has proclaimed himself to be an old-school, no-frills New Japan wrestler. Seeing him join the House of Torture and betray his friend Umino was quite the turn. 

Umino has tried to get revenge on his former friend to no avail during the December New Japan shows. He will get his chance at Wrestle Kingdom 18. He will also have backup from Pro Wrestling Noah’s Kaito Kiyomiya in this huge tag match in the Tokyo Dome.

Will Umino finally get his hands on Nariata on January 4? It will be fun to find out. 

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
NEVER Openweight Championship:
Shingo Takagi (c)
vs. Tama Tonga

Tama Tonga won the NEVER Openweight Championship for a third time against long-time rival over David Finlay at Destruction in Ryogoku on October 9 of last year. 

He vowed to be a fighting champion and called out Shingo Takagi for a match in Las Vegas on October 28, 2023. Tonga lost a grueling match and the Openweight Championship to Takagi that faithful night.

Takagi wanted to be a fighting champion but quickly dealt with an angry Tonga, who demanded a rematch. He will get that match in the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. Will Takagi defeat his rival yet again, or will Tonga begin his 4th NEVER Openweight title reign?

It might just be one of the hard-hitting matches on the entire loaded card. 

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
IWGP & NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship Double Title Match:
Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Hikuleo & El Phantasmo) (c)

Usually, the World Tag League determines a new contender for the IWGP World Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom. However, in World Tag League 2023, the current champions, Bishamon won the World Tag League for a third straight year. As a reward for winning, they got to pick their opponents for January 4th.

They picked Hikuleo & El Phantasmo for their opponents.  The Guerillas of Destiny defeated Bishamon on the first night of the World Tag League. But Bishamon went on to defeat Hikuleo & El Phantasmo in the World Tag League Final.

Who will win the rubber match in the Tokyo Dome? The winner gets both the IWGP & NJPW Strong Tag Team Champions. It has some high stakes, for sure. 

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. El Desperado

It is a battle between two of the best Junior Heavyweights in the world. Hiromu Takahashi is a five-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and his current reign began during last year’s Wrestle Kingdom.

If he retains his title, he could be on his way to being in the conversation with Jushin Thunder Liger for one of the all-time greats in the Junior Heavyweight division. 

Hiromu’s opponent at Wrestle Kingdom will be El Desperado. The rivalry between the two includes a Wrestle Kingdom 16 match and a memorable final in the 2022 Best of Super Juniors.

They each won one of those epic matches. But El Desperado won the match at Wrestle Kingdom 16.

Hiromu Takahashi called out El Desperado at Power Struggle. It seems he wants to avenge his most heartbreaking loss in the Tokyo Dome. Who will finally get the edge in this epic rivalry? 

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship:
Will Ospreay vs. Jon Moxley vs. David Finlay

The inaugural IWGP Global Heavyweight Champion will be crowded at Wrestle Kingdom 18. Will Ospreay had just defended the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship (or IWGP United Kingdom Championship) successfully over Shota Umino at Power Struggle when he was confronted by AEW’s Jon Moxley.

Moxley seemed like he was going to challenge Ospreay to a massive dream match at Wrestle Kingdom. That is until Bullet Club’s leader, David Finlay, attacked both competitors and also destroyed the IWGP United States and United Kingdom Championships with a sledgehammer.

It will lead to the big Triple Threat title match for the new IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom.

Can Ospreay and Moxley add another title to their legendary careers? Or will Finlay pick up his biggest victory to date? It should be one of the hardest-hitting matches of the entire card.

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada

The dream match is finally occurring in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom. Danielson shocked the pro wrestling world when at Forbidden Door 2 last June, he tapped out Okada. It was the first submission loss for “The Rainmaker” in seven years. But Danielson broke his arm in that match.

Danielson returned to AEW programming and met Okada again in a tag team match on AEW Dynamite in late October. Danielson won the tag team match but suffered a broken orbital bone in that match (or so we were told). It seems Danielson is always getting injured against Kazuchika Okada.

At Power Struggle, Bryan Danielson challenged Okada to a match at Wrestle Kingdom. He vowed to break Okada’s arm. Will he succeed in injuring Okada? Or will “The Rainmaker” finally avenge his loss to Danielson?

It is one of the mostly hotly anticipated matches in professional wrestling history.

[Photo: njpw1972]

Wrestle Kingdom 18
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
SANADA (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito

The main event is a personal one that is years in the making. In 2020, Naito finally achieved his dream of becoming the World Champion in the Wrestle Kingdom main event. But a series of injuries and the Pandemic deprived Naito of the glory he wanted.

He finally got back on track, winning the G1 Climax in 2023. Can he get back to the top of the mountain at Wrestle Kingdom 18?

In the quarterfinals of the 2023 New Japan Cup, SANADA defeated his LIJ stablemate Naito. After the match, SANADA quit LIJ and joined the Just 5 Guys stable. It was a shocking end for the nearly seven-year partnership in Los Ingobernables for SANADA. 

But the gamble paid off; SANADA won the New Japan Cup and eventually the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis in April.  He has defended it four times since that fateful night. Now he has to face his former friend Naito at Wrestle Kingdom.

Will SANADA cement himself as one of the biggest names in pro wrestling? Or will Naito reclaim his former glory? It will be an emotional end to a truly special night.