New Japan Pro Wrestling
“Back to Yokohama Arena”

Sunday, May 25, 2014
Yokohama Arena
Yokohama, Japan

If it feels like we’ve been sitting on this card for a few weeks, we have. The full card to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Back to the Yokohama Arena” was released the day after the much-discussed Wrestling Dontaku 2014 iPPV and rightfully so, it wasn’t the major talking point around the promotion. Not only was NJPW on their way stateside to take part in Global Wars and War of the Worlds, but AJ Styles winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in controversial fashion dominated the conversation. This Sunday in New Japan’s first apperance at the Yokohama Arena since Yokohama Dead Out (November 2003), Kazuchika Okada has a chance for immediate revenge on the Bullet Club and AJ Styles.

Will NJPW hot shot the title back to Okada or does Styles get another victory with the help of the Bullet Club? We’ll find out.

The rest of the card doesn’t quite jump out as Shinsuke Nakamura is saddled into an endless feud with The Gracies and will defend his IC Title against Daniel while Kazushi Sakuraba battles Rolles Gracie. Hiroshi Tanahashi continues his partnership with Togi Makabe as they battle Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata for the IWGP Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership, Tomohiro Ishii defends his NEVER Openweight Title against Kota Ibushi and G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito takes on Bullet Club muscle Bad Luke Fale.

We will have live coverage available via Twitter @VoicesWrestling and ordering information is below the predictions if you’d like to join along. Joining us for predictions are the usual suspects: Jason Felix, Bryan Rose, Joe Lanza and myself.

Match # 1
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, El Desperado & Mascara Dorada vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI, Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA

Rich: I’ve made my love affair with KUSHIDA quite obvious on recent podcasts and I’m definitely looking forward to this opener. You know what we’re getting here so it’s hard to be too excited but I’m fully expecting some great interplay between Desperado, Dorada, KUSHIDA and Shelley. I’d actually like to see them in a tag match separate from the other opener bums. Make a special note to follow just how lazy Taguchi wrestles these days. It’s not a criticism but he probably moves a total of 3 feet the entire time he’s in the ring, it’s fascinating.

Prediction: Ryusuke Taguchia, BUSHI, Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA

Joe: Cool opener here, with some Best of the Super Juniors flavor. KUSHIDA pics Tiger Mask, which may end up being a glimpse into the future as KUSHIDA has gone from darkhorse to outright favorite for BotSJ.

Prediction: Taguchi, BUSHI, Shelley, KUSHIDA

Bryan:  Looks like this is a preview for the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors tournament. I’m picking KUSHIDA to win it, so maybe he loses here. The best bet for him is for El Desperado to pin him. I forget the specific blocks for the tournament, but this seems the most logical.

Prediction:  Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, El Desperado & Mascara Dorada

Jason: This match is impossible to predict. Really,  either team could win it.  It’ll just be a showcase of the great moves, awesome personalities, and Ryusuke Taguchi.  Since I have to pick someone to win…. I’ll take team Taguchi, as prior to the Ibushi loss at Wrestling Dontaku, he was nearly unbeatable.  So I expect him to get the fall to set him up as a favorite in the Best of the Super Juniors, even though I don’t think he has any chance of winning.

Prediction: Ryusuke Taguchia, BUSHI, Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA

Match # 2
Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Tomoaki Honma & Captain New Japan vs. Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi

Rich: There are obvious picks and then there’s this match. Honma AND Captain New Japan… against the Bullet Club? Yeah, you know where this one is going. The real story here is what the hell this match is going to look like, I can’t imagine it being very good as there’s not a ton of talent going in. I guess it could just be a total mess or a quick Bullet Club domination, either way I don’t think it’s going to be enjoyable.

Prediction:  Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi

Joe: New Bullet Club member Yujiro gets put over strong, and wins this with the Tokyo Pimps on Captain New Japan. More importantly, this match will provide an early barometer on how the Yokohama crowd will take to the Bullet Club in the wake of the Dontaku screwjob.

Prediction: Bullet Club

Bryan: I don’t see how the other team would win this match. Bullet Club just had a new guy join the fray, so the new guy will probably pick up the victory. Easy to predict here.

Prediction: Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi

Jason: Probably the easiest match on the show to predict. This is just a match to showcase the newest (and most out of place) member of the Buller Club, Yujiro Takahashi.  This should be a lot of fun, though, thanks to the babyface side.  Nagata and Honma are awesome and “Flying” Manabu Nakanishi is always a treat to…experience.  And Captain New Japan…well, I hope he busts out his Captain Taiwan outfit for this show. That one is something else.

Prediction: Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi

Match # 3
NWA World Tag Team Title Triple Threat Match
Champions Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Rob Conway & Wes Brisco vs. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith, Jr.

Rich: I’m not sure Tencozy needs the title anymore, especially with Kojima still holding the NWA Title. I can’t fathom Conway and Brisco winning the belts, so the obvious choice here is Killer Elite Squad winning the titles back in their return. I’m not a huge fan of Brisco and Tenzan can’t go anymore but I’m still super interested in this match as the rest of the guys can work their asses off.

Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Joe: There is no reason to keep these titles on TenKoji at this point, so we’ll see a switch here. They’ve got to get these belts back on a team that works NWA shows, since the two top titles haven’t been defended in the United States in ages. KES fits the bill, plus it makes sense for them to score a big win in their return to Japan after a two tour layoff.

Prediction: KES

Bryan: This NWA thing is kind of boring. They’re bringing in a bunch of green guys who can’t work, and it’s a miracle it hasn’t been as bad as it looks on paper. With that said, this should be fine but completely uninteresting. Tencozy are stale and shouldn’t be competing for titles anymore, even if they’re the top guys in this NWA feud. Conway and Brisco seem too odd to win the titles, but they’re NWA guys so it might make sense for them to win. KES haven’t been around as much lately, but I think they might pick up the win here since they do NWA dates as well. I’ll go with KES to take the titles.

Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Jason: Glad to see Archer and Smith back after a couple months away.  I think they are setting up nicely to win the Tag Titles here.  Kojima doesn’t need for the NWA World and Tag Team titles and hopefully with K.E.S. getting them, it can help to wind this NWA feud down…or at very least push Tenzan lower in the card.

Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Match # 4
Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka vs. Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin

Rich: I can’t even fathom coming up with anything tangible to say about this match or the Suzuki/Yano feud (a feud I loved…..LAST APRIL~!). That’s all, I don’t know, don’t care, Benjamin will jump to the top rope, Suzuki will have an awesome entrance… yup.

Prediction: Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin

Joe: Why is this still happening?

Prediction: Much like Eddie Kingston vs Icarus this weekend, there are no winners here. Please make it stop.

Bryan: I don’t care. This is one of many New Japan feuds that needs to end.

Prediction: Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin

Jason: This feud has been going on for 14 months? INCONCEIVABLE!  I loved this feud for the first 12 of those months, but this is just too much.   So…here’s what I think.  Dominion is the next iPPV.  Something is going to happen to set up the blow off of this feud.  I think the feud ends there (I said the same thing about Wrestle Kingdom.)  They have to have some big way to end the feud, so I’ll go with a hair vs. hair match. (I said the same thing about Wrestle Kingdom.) Or…they can just keep the feud going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. (I did not copy and paste any of that.) (And I stress, this feud saved my love of professional wrestling)

Prediction: Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka

Match # 5
Tetsuya Naito vs. Bad Luck Fale

Rich: Fale has stepped up in every big singles match he’s had and while this is on the level of the finals of the New Japan Cup, I have a feeling he steps up and Naito continues his positive in-ring momentum. Fale definitely wins here as they continue to build him up as a mosnter heel and Naito seems to be in constant flux, I’m looking forward to this though.

Prediction: Bad Luck Fale

Joe: Naito is coming off of the losing end of his Ishii feud, so this looks like a good chance to rehab him a bit. Maybe wishful thinking, as I don’t want to see Fale in big matches moving forward.

Prediction: Naito

Bryan: I think this will be better than a lot of people are expecting it to be. Not a classic, but still fine. This one is tough to predict. Fale isn’t TERRIBLE, but he’s not really good. But they want a top foreign big guy heel, and giving him a win over Naito would make sense. Naito’s at that level where it’s not a huge win for Fale, but a significant one that will give him credibility. In fact, I’ll go with him, though in all honesty I wouldn’t be completely surprised if they give Naito the win here too. But I think Fale might get the win here.

Prediction: Bad Luck Fale

Jason: Everyone’s favorite 249 pound giant vs. A man who was left for dead until Tomohiro Ishii set things right for him.  New Japan hinted that the winner could get a title shot.  So…Fale vs. Styles? Not happening. Fale vs. Okada. Possible, but I doubt Okada wins. Naito v. Okada. Slim to none. Naito v. Styles. Very likely.  That seems like the obvious match,  however New Japan didn’t say what title.  That opens the door for Bad Luck Fale vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.  Nakamura pinned Fale to win the New Japan Cup and Fale pinned Nakamura in an Elimination Match on 4/24/14.  I think this is the direction they’re going.

Prediction: Bad Luck Fale

Match # 6
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Rolles Gracie

Rich: Kill me.

Prediction: I’ll pour acid in my eye

Joe: I thought the last Gracie tag match had a goofy charm to it. Don’t get me wrong, it was bad, but not nearly as bad as the Tokyo Dome abomination. But thanks to the six man “match” involving Teddy Hart & a cat from DGUSA over Mania weekend, and Cena vs Wyatt from Extreme Rules, that Tokyo Dome match is safe & sound from being voted Worst Match this year. This could challenge, but I think (hope) it will be a short, inoffensive fake MMA match.

Prediction: Sak

Bryan: If it wasn’t for Daniel Bryan vs. Kane, the Gracies vs. NJPW would easily be the worst feud of the year. In fact, if we ignore that one Raw a few weeks ago I might just vote for them anyway. They are both vacuums of charisma and obviously can’t work, yet here they are getting wins. Sakuraba wins, unless they’re continuing this feud which PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. PLEASE.

Prediction: Kazushi Sakuraba

Jason: While I stand alone as a fan of Gracie tag team matches, I am not sure about two Gracie singles matches on one show.  Here’s where I am stuck. In situations like this, you expect a split.  So either Sakuraba and Nakamura would win. However, I just can’t see Nakamura losing and Sakuraba has already tapped out twice to Rolles. So the two other options are have the Gracie’s both win or the Gracie’s both loss…which would kill off the Gracie’s in NJPW.   Much to my dismay, I think the Gracie’s are going away.

Prediction: Kazushi Sakuraba

Match # 7
NEVER Openweight Title Match
Champion Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi

Rich: My second most anticipated match of the night, I can’t wait for this. Ishii has been the man and may be the leader for Most Outstanding Wrestler this year, Ibushi is always the man and this whole thing has the chance to be spectacular. They have such different and unique styles, I’m looking forward to seeing how they blend it together. Ibushi isn’t winning here because he doesn’t really need the title, but it’s hard to believe with the way they’ve been booking him that he’ll lose, the same could also be said for Ishii. Hmm…

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

Joe: Can’t. Wait. Ishii has a chance to really distance himself from the pack as a very unlikely WOTY contender with a killer match here. The seeds for this were planted way back during G1, and we’ve all been patiently waiting for the payoff. This should be a show stealer.

Prediction: Ishiii

Bryan: This should be a really, really good match. And judging by the card, it should be the most heated. Both men are great and the interactions they’ve had over the last year have been pretty awesome. It should lead into something great right here. Ibushi already has the junior title, so I don’t see why they would give him two titles, so Ishii wins here. Besides, he’s getting over great as champion so why take the title off him now?

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

Jason:  I’ve been hoping they’d announce this match for every iPPV since last October.   There is not a match on planet earth that I want to see more than this match. I’m going with Ibushi to win and move up to the Heavyweight division full time.  This match has potential to be a Match of the Year. My expectations are sky high.  I wonder if they could vacate the Junior Heavyweight title and give it to the winner of the Best of the Super Juniors?

Prediction:  Kota Ibushi

Match # 8
No. 1 Contendership for IWGP Tag Team Titles
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe vs. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata

Rich: We predicted it a few months back on the Voices of Wrestling podcast, Tanahashi and Makabe have been positioned to be tag champs and this is the next step towards it. This is going to be a super fun match and after reading Tanahashi’s thoughts on Shibata, I’m interested to see them working together. This is going to be a lot of fun but, to me, the result is obvious.

Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe

Joe: As I talked about on the podcast, I think this combination works as a feud moving forward, as it gives all four men something to do, and will produce some quality matches. And with Tanahashi & three other second tier stars involved, the matches will have the ability to headline, which fits the new New Japan promotional strategy of rotating the main eventers to keep bodies fresh. I may get the winner of this wrong, but whoever does win will defeat the disappointing Guns & Gallows team the following month for the titles.

Prediction: Tanahashi & Makabe.

Bryan: This should be another good match. Tanahashi and Makabe gel well as a team as well as Goto and Shibata. They’ve been putting the latter over more as a team, so I think that’s where they’re going. This I think is also leading to the eventual Tanahashi/Shibata match they teased last month, but who knows when they’re going to go at it.

Prediction: Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata

Jason: This should be great.  Makabe usually brings it for big matches.  Hopefully Tanahashi isn’t as hurt as it seems like it is, because you know that Goto and Shibata will be ready for a hard hitting match.  If they go right back to Goto and Shibata vs. Bullet Club, we get another rematch…of course Tanahashi and Makabe already beat Bullet Club, too.  Man, whoever wins this better win the Tag Team Titles.

Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe

Match # 9
Intercontinental Title Match
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Daniel Gracie

Rich: This will look like a five-star classic compared to the abortion that is the fake-MMA Sakuraba/Gracie match from earlier in the night. Nakamura is talented, he’s the man but he has his work cut out for him here. I expect, even though Nakamura is great, that most of this match will be spent with a dude on the group kicking in the air and a bunch of awful looking fake MMA.

Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

Joe: More of this shit?

Prediction: Nak

Bryan: Nakamura wins, based on the MMA match storyline from years ago. Nakamura wins, also for my sanity.

Prediction:  Shinsuke Nakamura

Jason: Based on my analysis above, I expect Nakamura to “avenge” his MMA loss to Gracie, as so many people around the world need that to happen…about as many that were clamoring for Hulk Hogan to get his win back over the Ultimate Warrior.  I expect this to be better than Hogan-Warrior 2.

Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

Match # 10
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
A.J. Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada

Rich: I’ve had a different prediction about this match pretty much every time I think of it but I think I’ve finally settled on it. It’s half-part fantasy booking but I think it’s something that’s plausible for them to do — if you’re serious about AJ Styles becoming a major star, he has to beat Okada and he has to beat him clean. I don’t care if he sends Bullet Club to the back, I don’t care if the ref has to do it, honestly, I don’t care if the Bullet Club interferes but it doesn’t lead to the finish. The only way you can truly build Styles and bring him to that next level is a clean win over one of our biggest stars. It’s risky but Okada can’t and won’t be damaged at this point in his career. The benefits far outweight any plausible negatives. He has to win here and he has to win clean.

Prediction: A.J. Styles

Joe: If Joe Lanza has the proverbial pencil, AJ pins Okada clean as a sheet in the middle to put over AJ as the real deal to the Japanese audience, who largely have no clue who he is. I’ve been pounding this drum for weeks, but the fear here is more BC shenanigans, which could potentially run off the core audience. EIther way, it’s too soon for Styles to lose.

Prediction: A.J. Styles

Bryan:   I dunno. I think this should be a great match with the right heat. They had a technically great match at the last show, but it was marred by a dead crowd and a dead card. AJ, despite being great, isn’t that over in Japan, IWGP champion or not. New Japan needs to do a great job of pushing him if he wants to get over quickly, and they can do that if they try. Constant Bullet Club interference could make this a lame main event or, at the very least, take it down a few notches. It was fine doing it in the semi main or elsewhere down the card, but constant interference in the main event of a New Japan show is really lame. This is a toss up, but I would say Okada gets the win here because losing twice in a row doesn’t make much sense. I hope if he does win, it’s not because of DQ or count out. Geez are those finishes bad enough on the undercard.

Prediction:  Kazuchika Okada

Jason: I didn’t think that A.J. Styles was the right guy to win the title and I still don’t think he’s a long term champion, but I’ll say that I’ll be REALLY disappointed if New Japan took the IWGP Title off of Okada just to have an American hold the belt for the ROH tour.  I don’t think Styles is a long-term champion, but it just seems so counter-productive to have Okada win it back, considering he has already beaten everyone.  I’ll take Styles here and hope New Japan decides to go with something new and fresh for the main event next month.  I’m so tired of re-matches right now.  Have no clue who the next challenger will be (unless Naito beats Fale), but I’m just ready for something new.

Prediction: A. J. Styles

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