It’s just about time for Wrestle Kingdom 12, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year, and the biggest non-WWE event on the pro wrestling calendar. This year’s edition airs live on New Japan World with your choice of English or Japanese commentary. If you don’t mind waiting another day or so, you can see a three-hour special on AXS TV on Saturday, January 6th, in prime time with Jim Ross and Josh Barnett on commentary.
This year’s show feels more high stakes than in years past as New Japan has embarked on a slow, steady global expansion plan. That plan saw them run shows in the United States in 2017 with at least one more scheduled in 2018.
Additionally, New Japan has brought in WWE stalwart and global star Chris Jericho for this year’s Dome show. His inclusion is interesting in that it marks a clear departure from the workrate-centric style that New Japan is known for booking. Now in his late 40s, Jericho simply can’t hang in the ring with his much younger foe, Kenny Omega.
But for all he may lack in athleticism at this stage, Jericho will more than make up for in his ability to draw eyeballs to the product, meaning that New Japan is clearly thinking business over artistic success, something that has not been their hallmark in years past.
Here’s a look at the show from yours truly with additional thoughts in the second half from fellow NJPW writer Brian Denny.
New Japan Rumble (pre-show)
This is always a bizarre mix of a way to get undercard guys on the show, and nostalgia pops for returning veterans. Remember when Scott Norton came back in this match and almost got a push out of it? As an outlandish prediction, I’ll pick Hulk Hogan to make a surprise appearance and win this year.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Sho & Yoh vs. The Young Bucks
The Bucks will be looking to claim the Junior Tag Team titles for a seventh time while the Roppongi 3K team of Sho and Yoh will be looking to continue to establish themselves. It feels to me that Sho and Yoh aren’t over yet, and that The Bucks are primed for another run with the titles. I expect a fun 8-10 minutes of action, ending with the Cease and Desist.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa vs. Michael Elgin & War Machine vs. Taichi, Takashi Iizuka & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi & Togi Makabe vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Beretta (gauntlet match)
Like WrestleMania and the battle royal, you have to come up with matches like this one to try to get everyone a payday on the biggest show of the year. There are more than enough good workers in this contest for it to be good, but they likely won’t be given much time to tell a story. I expect a fine 10 minutes, and that’s about all.
Cody vs. Kota Ibushi
This is a bucket-list match for Cody, and another Tokyo Dome showcase for the freelancer Ibushi. The two worked well together when they were in the ring in a tag match at the World Tag League Final, and Ibushi did not have to slow his pace or change his style as much as one might think.
Cody is going to feel the pressure to deliver on the big stage, and Ibushi is one of the most talented flyers in the business. The heat is on, but I expect both men to deliver.
IWGP Tag Team Champions Killer Elite Squad vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA)
KES are three-time champs, while EVIL and SANADA earned this title shot by winning the 2017 World Tag League tournament. While not the best team in the WTL, EVIL and SANADA had a good showing in the tournament, and the Los Ingobernables stable is massively over. SANADA’s flying should be the highlight of this match, and I expect a title change.
NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki vs. Hirooki Goto (hair vs. hair match, Suzuki-gun and Chaos barred from ringside)
The NEVER Openweight title was once for the younger wrestlers to fight over, but current champion Minoru Suzuki is the oldest guy on the main Wrestle Kingdom 12 card. Suzuki has been champion since April 2017 where he beat his WK opponent, Hirooki Goto. What makes the match even more interesting is that both Suzuki and Goto’s hair will be on the line and the loser will have to shave their head.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Marty Scurll vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay
Scurll, the joint-manipulating villain, will put his title on the line against LIJ member Hiromu Takahashi, KUSHIDA, and the high-flyer Will Ospreay in a four-way where all guys held the belt in 2017. Expect a lot of flips, high spots, and plenty of “how did he do that?” moments.
IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White
White was gone from NJPW for more than a year before returning in November and taking out Tanahashi. He is coming for the Intercontinental Championship, but more importantly, he wants to prove he’s the future of NJPW. The old guard Tanahashi will be wrestling (again) with injuries, including a knee injury that has kept him out of action since the Tag League tour, as he tries to show the Switchblade that he’s not ready to go away just yet.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho (no DQ match)
In 2017, Omega won a tournament to become the promotion’s first-ever US Champion at the Long Beach G1 Special shows, which were NJPW’s first solo shows in America. He faces Jericho is an dream match of sorts come to life as we never knew we wanted or needed it until it was announced.
The build to this has been right out of old school professional wrestling, an art that is clearly lost in the big stages of American pro wrestling. We got the surprise video announcement by Jericho challenging Omega, then a Jericho post-match beatdown saw Omega get busted open, a rarity in NJPW. Then, we had a press conference that turned into an all-out brawl.
Now what we have is a showdown that might be so good, we’re talking about it next January.
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito won professional wrestling’s most grueling tournament, the G1, to get this championship match against one of the longest reigning champions in NJPW history, Okada. Four years ago, the two were fan voted out of the main event of Wrestle Kingdom and now the match that has most of the buzz is not theirs, which has led to Naito and Jericho exchanging insults.
Naito is the merchandise-selling king, and is so good he has turned boos into cheers while Okada is arguably the best professional wrestler on this green Earth whose resume speaks for itself. His 2017 trilogy with Omega rivals (maybe beats) Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat’s 1989 trilogy.
One thing is for certain: Naito and Okada have a chance to prove that they’re the true main event and an instant classic is expected.
Follow along with our live coverage tonight.