Wrestle Kingdom 13 Preview

Jamie Lithgow

T’is the season. No, not Christmas, it’s Wrestle Kingdom season! We are still a couple of weeks out from January 4th but with the card for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year now final, today Jamie provides a preview for the Japanese version of Wrestlemania; Wrestle Kingdom 13.

Having almost completed my first year as a New Japan World subscriber, this post is aimed at all those people who will likely take out a subscription in the near future with the aim of watching Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4th and cancelling sometime later in the month. Incidentally, that was my plan last year but look how that turned out! Essentially, this is a bolt-on to my First Impressions and Beginner’s Guide to New Japan posts. I shall be pitching this at casual fans and newbies to New Japan by looking at each match on the card and explaining who the guys in the bout are and why they are fighting. Simple really, so let’s get started…

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship Number 1 Contenders Gauntlet Pre-Show Match:

Rysuke Taguchi, Toru Yano, & Togi Makabe vs. David Finley, Jeff Cobb, & Michael Elgin vs. Best Friends & Hirooki Goto vs. Killer Elite Squad & Minoru Suzuki vs. Marty Scurll, Adam Page, & Yujiro Takahashi

The NEVER Six Man Titles are New Japan’s lowest ranking belts, so why has a number one contenders match made the pre-show at Wrestle Kingdom yet an actual contest for the belts is nowhere in sight? This would be because the champions are composed of the heavyweight tag champs and the challenger for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title, so they will be otherwise engaged on the show. This gauntlet match is also a way to get as many people onto the card as possible. For reference, last year it was a big battle royal like WWE do at Wrestlemania. There are some names of note in this match though. Competition for a spot on the main card is fierce meaning guys like Minoru Suzuki, Marty Scurll and Hirooki Goto appear to have fallen from grace given their prominence at last year’s show but in reality it’s just unlucky timing for them not to be involved in a major feud at this moment in time. The winner of this match will face the champs the following night at New Year’s Dash.


NEVER Openweight Championship Match:

Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Will Ospreay

A potential match of the year candidate to open the main show. Usually New Japan cards are ordered from the bottom up, however they have taken a leaf out of WWE’s playbook here and will start Wrestle Kingdom with a bang. The seeds for this match were sewn in the summer with these two opposing each other in tag team matches. Under normal circumstances the pair would not meet in a singles match because Ibushi is a heavyweight while Ospreay is a junior heavyweight. However, Ibushi has recently captured the NEVER Openweight Title – which anyone can compete for – while Ospreay is due a title match having missed his original shot through injury at then champion, Taichi, a couple of months ago. As for who these guys are? Ibushi is the universally popular, white-meat babyface tag team partner of IWGP Champion Kenny Omega. Will Ospreay is also a babyfce and is even more eye-catching than Ricochet, making him probably the best aerial performer in the world. He is heavily tipped to be making the jump up to heavyweight in 2019, making this match with Ibushi – himself a former junior heavyweight – a potential bridge to that. This will likely be the match that produces all those GIFs you will see on social media after it has finished.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match:

Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs. Roppongi 3K vs. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi

If you are a new fan then you’ll love this. As for me, well these are literally the only proper junior heavyweight tandems New Japan has at the moment so I’ve seen them wrestle each other countless times. This is actually a rematch from the final of the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Tournament. Roppongi 3K won that encounter making them number one contenders for Desperado and Kanemaru’s belts. However, it was a such a tight match that BUSHI and Shingo have been thrown into the mix here too. Also, New Japan can’t not have Shingo – the promotions’s newest signing – appear on the show. Think of this bout a bit like the triangle ladder match from Wrestlemania 2000. Kanemaru and Desperado are like the Dudley Boyz in that they are heels through and through. BUSHI and Shingo are like The Hardy Boyz because they are members of Los Ingobernables de Japon (LIJ) which makes them incredibly popular, yes, even BUSHI. Then you have Sho and Yoh from Roppongi 3K. They are like Edge and Christian in that they are babyfaces, but not quite as popular as The Hardys. It’s also easy to imagine the Roppongi lads as heels, so not unlike E&C heading into that particular Wrestlemania. Unlike in WWE, however, all of these teams are capable of nefarious tactics, even the good guys. That is a theme that carries through to a large percentage of wrestlers in New Japan. Oh, like a lot of matches on this card, this is also a a faction war. The champs represent Suzuki Gun, Roppongi 3K are members of CHAOS while Shingo and BUSHI are obviously members of LIJ.

Revolution Pro British Heavyweight Championship Match:

Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

There is usually a title match from another promotion at Wrestle Kingdom. In recent years it has been the Ring of Honor Title, but this time Rev. Pro get the shot. Make no mistake however, ZSJ and Ishii are also both very much New Japan wrestlers. This will not be like when we got Smokey Mountain or NWA matches on WWE TV during the 1990s. Zack, as a member of Suzuki Gun, is your heel here. He looks more like Where’s Waldo than a typical wrestler, but he is a submission expert and can tangle his opponents in knots, literally. Ishii, on that other hand, is hard as f*ck. He’s a relatively small guy for a heavyweight with a barrel chest and the nickname ‘Stone Pitbull’. These guys are facing each other because – along with Minoru Suzuki –  they seem to tour Britain the most and are thus top guys in Rev. Pro. They are also members of rival factions (Suzuki Gun and CHAOS) which can be said for many of the matches on this card. In a word, this match will be stiff.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match:

The Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. EVIL & SANADA vs. The Young Bucks

Far and away the top three teams in New Japan. The Young Bucks defeated EVIL and SANADA for the titles back in June. The Bucks then dropped them to GoD in September. EVIL and SANADA recently won World Tag League to earn a title shot while The Bucks are still due a rematch, hence why we have a three way dance here. EVIL and SANADA are members of LIJ and are thus very popular. They’re basically goth kids that shop at Hot Topic, that’s the quickest way to describe them. GoD are Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa, dastardly heels and members of Bullet Club. The Young Bucks are, well, I have to assume you know who The Young Bucks are if you’re reading this. They were members of Bullet Club before breaking away from the group along with the other members of The Elite.

IWGP United States Championship Match:

Cody (c) vs. Juice Robinson

There’s not really been a huge amount of build for this one, largely because Cody – that’s Cody Rhodes, by the way – hasn’t been seen in New Japan for a few months. In fact, last time I recall seeing him was back in September when he defeated Juice for the title. This will be Robinson’s rematch. Juice is the former CJ Parker from NXT (not Baywatch). He has improved a lot since then, so don’t judge him based on what he was like three or four years ago. His nickname is ‘The Flamboyant Juice Robinson’ which the image above illustrates rather well.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship Match:

KUSHIDA (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori

I think this is a dream match, of sorts. At the age of just 35, KUSHIDA is already destined to be an all-time great in New Japan’s junior heavyweight ranks. There’s Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, then Tiger Mask then probably KUSHIDA just underneath that level. Ishimori, on the other hand, made his name in Pro Wrestling NOAH before making the jump to NJPW, and Bullet Club, earlier this year. As a member of Bullet Club, he is very much a heel while KUSHIDA is a Back to The Future loving babyface. You’ll understand when you see his entrance. I say this is a dream match “of sorts” because I’m not actually sure as I’ve never really watched Pro Wrestling NOAH to know much about Ishimori’s past. I’m taking this match at face value though. So, with Will Ospreay possibly moving to heavyweight and Hiromu Takahashi injured, these are the top junior heavyweights in the promotion, so it should be good.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White

As you have probably gathered, most matches at Wrestle Kingdom are title matches making possession of the belt in question the main source of any animosity. This match, however, is the exception to that rule. Here’s why they are fighting: Back in January at New Year’s Dash – the show after Wrestle Kingdom 12 – Kenny Omega invited White to join Bullet Club. This was back when Omega and co. were members of Bullet Club. White declined and attacked Omega. Shortly thereafter he joined CHAOS, the largely babyface faction led by Okada. White, a heel, made it clear from day one that his union with CHAOS was a marriage of convenience and that he would not think twice about going after Okada, who was IWGP Champion at the time. After months of being the odd man out within CHAOS, White finally attacked Okada at King of Pro Wrestling in October. That in itself was not shocking, it was always going to happen. However, Okada’s long-time corner man, Gedo, also turned and joined White in the beat down. Imagine if Paul Heyman turned on Brock Lesnar, it’s that kind of scenario. To really rub it in, White, Gedo and Jado (Gedo’s mate and fellow high-ranking member of CHAOS) all jumped ship to join the new look Bullet Club. As for who these guys are, well Okada is that guy Kenny Omega keeps having the best match ever with. He is just 30 years old and already one of the best ever. As for Switchblade Jay White, he’s a complete dick. In modern wrestling it’s hard to be a true heel, but White and the rest of Bullet Club have found a way. Bullet Club are very much WWE style heels. While most of New Japan’s heels (and babyfaces) will bend the rules, Bullet Club break them. Thus, expect some shenanigans in this match. I suspect Gedo will get involved at the very least.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match:

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito

I guess this is Naito’s rematch from way back in June when he lost the Intercontinental Title to Jericho. Not unlike the previous match, this one is more of a personal feud, it just so happens to be for a title. We all know Jericho of course, well in Japan he’s a complete rat bastard heel. He has been targeting Naito all year long, recently defeating his stable mate, EVIL, at Power Struggle in November. Naito is the leader of the unbelievably popular Los Ingobernables de Japon stable and is a bit of a law into himself. As a former IWGP Champion, he is one of New Japan’s tippy-top guys alongside Kuzuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Expect this one to be a wild brawl because it’s been that kind of feud so far.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match:

Kenny Omega (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

The main event for the big belt. By now I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with Kenny Omega. To describe Tanahashi, imagine if John Cena was actually popular with all WWE fans. He’s the absolute man, holds the record for IWGP Title reigns (seven) and has achieved all this despite having a somewhat naff gimmick; I think he’s meant to be a rockstar-esque guy, so not unlike Cena’s old rapper persona. Also, like Cena, Tanahashi is on the downswing of his career at the top. He’s 42, so there is some gas left in the tank, but a recurring theme in every big match he has is ‘has he still got it?’. Can Tanahashi still hang with the other top guys now that they are all younger than him? The short answer is actually yes because he won the G1 Climax tournament in the summer. This is a tournament consisting of New Japan’s top guys, including the IWGP Champion. The prize for the winner is a shot at the title in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Tanahashi has since successfully defended his prize against Okada, demonstrating that yes, he has indeed still got ‘it’. However, rather than a simple case of the babyface champion wrestling the babyface number one contender, this match is being built as a clash of wrestling philosophies. Tanahashi represents, for lack of a better term, the old. Tana is tradition, the established order, the ‘correct’ way to wrestle. Omega, on the other hand, is the new way. His style of wrestling is not to Tanahashi’s taste, nor Tana’s to Omega. This is less a wrestling match and more a battle of ideologies, both of which are extremely popular. Which will win and carry New Japan forward into a new era?

If you are new to New Japan and plan on watching Wrestle Kingdom then be aware that, for the most part, the show will largely be wall-to-wall wrestling matches. We may get a few twists and turns along the way but expect a high concentration of world class wrestling action. However, for those that love stroylines and angles – and who doesn’t? – you have to watch New Year’s Dash the day after on January 5th. The Raw after Wrestlemania is debatably a more exciting show than Wrestlemania itself for its twists and turns, well New Japan also tap into this idea. The recent tradition has seen several major angles go down on the January 5th show. The reason for this is that, until a couple of years ago, all NJPW talent operated under one year contracts that renewed every January. Thus, if someone was leaving that would be when – see Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson for examples of this. New Japan has since changed to longer term contracts. However, rumour has it that Kenny Omega’s contract is set to expire in January 2019. Couple this with The Young Bucks and Cody saying goodbye to Ring of Honor recently – making them free agents – and we have the makings of a potentially fascinating scenario. Also, something else to be aware of is that even though there are factions galore in New Japan, literally everyone seems to have one common enemy; Bullet Club.

This post was brought to you by Jobber Clobber

Jobber Clobber is Jamie’s screen printing start-up. He specialises in geeky wrestling related t-shirts so if you enjoy Ring The Damn Bell you’ll love Jobber Clobber. You can find him on eBay, Etsy, Instagram and Facebook. Don’t be shy, give it a’like’ and help to spread the word.

3 thoughts on “Wrestle Kingdom 13 Preview

  1. Pingback: Sunday Sermon 2018 A Wrestling Year in Review | Ring the Damn Bell

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