New Japan Pro Wrestling
“Wrestle Kingdom 9”
January 4, 2015
Tokyo Dome – Tokyo Japan

English Broadcast (Global Force Wrestling): Traditional Pay-Per-View or Flipps
Japanese Broadcast: NJPW World

15-Man New Japan Rumble
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Manabu Nakanishi vs. Tiger Mask vs. Yuji Nagata vs. TBA

Jason Felix: I didn’t ever expect New Japan to resort to the old WWE philosophy of “Let’s just throw everyone else in a Battle Royal so everyone is on the big show.” The obvious favorite to win the match is Yuji Nagata, who was the most deserving person that did not get onto the main card for the show. The only other people announced for the match (so far) are Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask. Hang on a second. Let me check New Japan’s roster on the Wikipedia. Captain New Japan…YOSHI-HASHI…El Desperado…TAKA Michinoku…Taichi…Gedo…Jado…Sho Tanaka…Yohei Komatsu. We’re still only at 13 guys. I assume Super Strong Machine will get wheeled out there for another match where he does nothing. So we are guaranteed one surprise guy, I guess.

I would expect this to be quick, fun Royal Rumble, where everyone comes out and hits their spots before being thrown out. Unless it is a surprise guy I didn’t list, Yuji Nagata is winning this thing. Hopefully New Japan will make better use of Nagata in 2015.

Prediction: Yuji Nagata

Fujiwara Armbar: There’s no earthly way of knowing the full line-up ahead of time which makes my job in predicting this thing quite a chore. Nonetheless this match does make you realize the depth of the company when Yuji Nagata is on the pre-show. A win would mean not a great deal for anyone but i. a Young Lion or ii. Someone We Haven’t Seen Before/In A While and I am pulling for that to happen, in spite of its unlikelihood.

Prediction: Sho Tanaka 

Bryan Rose: I am excited for this New Japan RAMBO match. Problem is, most of the confirmed participants guys (in fact, all of them) have music issues that prevent this from being as exciting as it should be. Not the biggest problem in the world, but still a problem. Regardless, I don’t think this will be nearly as exciting as the Royal Rumble, but it will probably have it’s moments. I wonder who will be making a surprise debut or return…is this a good place for The Great Muta? Probably! As as a prediction…hmm. I don’t know, yet. The final roster is not confirmed, and won’t be until the time comes. If I had to guess from this list right now, I’d probably go with Manabu Nakanishi, because he’s strong and stuff.

Prediction: Manabu Nakanishi

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
reDRagon (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov and Rocky Romero) vs. Time Splitters (Alex Shelley and Kushida) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) 

Rich Kraetsch: This will be a great bridge match for any newer fans watching NJPW for the first time. It will be entertaining, it doesn’t require a huge story to get invested in and there will be a number of familiar faces including the most popular tag team in the world, The Young Bucks. Match-wise, we know how this story goes, we’ve seen this match a million times, except and this is a big except — reDRagon adds themselves to the mix. This should only add to the quality and take it up another level. I expect nothing less than ***½ out of this one and a great opening to the show. Match timing could be huge, so let’s hope it gets the time it deserves.

Prediction: Young Bucks

Rob Barry: Hey boys and girls who wants a full on sprint to give you a proper introduction to three of the best tag teams in the world…and Forever Hooligans? This will be a million miles a minute with everyone getting to shine as long as they get the proper time to show off. Superkicks, dives, double teams and submissions, MOVEZ-A-PLENTY. Just sit back and enjoy this one and enjoy the pure insanity of it all. There will be no psychology, there will no breathing room and there will be no prisoners. I can be content with all of that.

Prediction: Time Splitters

Bryan Rose: This should be a big time spot fest. I’m kind of stating this like it’s a bad thing, but the Young Bucks can pull off these kinds of matches off and make them awesome, so it’s really not. reDragon has been hot since coming in here, and the TimeSplitters are great. The Forever Hooligans are good, even though it doesn’t make sense they’re in the match since they lost at Power Struggle, the same night this match was set up. But it’s still going to be good fun, and this should be a great opener. I’ll go with the Young Bucks regaining the titles, as I don’t see reDragon being long term champions.

Prediction: Young Bucks

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Jeff Jarrett and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Tomoaki Honma

Jason Felix: I may be one of the biggest Tomoaki Honma fans in the world, but I just don’t understand why he is in this match and Yuji Nagata is left to toil in the pre-show battle royal. Unless…oh…I get it now.

Jeff Jarrett makes his Bullet Club wrestling debut along with Fale, who has really fallen off since his Intercontinental Title run, and Yujiro Takahashi, who has really fallen off since his NEVER Title run. Check that. He never really fell off. His ridiculous NEVER run should never have happened. Kojima and Tenzan are still teaming, and I really never heard much else after their fight at King of Pro-Wrestling. I was hoping for the full blown break-up, as I am really tired of seeing these two teaming together every show. 

This match serves no real purpose other than for Jarrett to get the pin in his debut. That explains Honma’s participation over Nagata! I am so smart. I am so smart. S-M-R-T. I mean, S-M-A-R-T. Honma misses the Kokeshi and Jarrett will get the pin. Yawn.

Prediction: Bullet Club

Rob McCarron: Jeff Jarrett has a lot going on around this Wrestle Kingdom 9 show, the least of which is actually wrestling. Purely from a business side, not looking at the logical in-ring side, it seems this match is set for a Jarrett win. “Thank you for helping us debut in new markets, here’s your pro wrestling victory, sir.” Except, I don’t know if Jarrett cares about winning and losing, or if New Japan cares about appeasing him in that way. What was a grudge match is now a perfectly acceptable six man that probably won’t go too long. On a show that looks like it could be dominated by the Bullet Club in other top matches, I’ll set this as one of their evening-the-score losses. Jeff Jarrett doesn’t need the win, may not want the win, and I really want to see Tomoaki Honma get the win. So I’ll be running with that selfish wish. As odd as it may seem now, and as absurd as it may seem in hindsight.

Prediction: Tenzan & Kojima & Honma

Joe Lanza: This was originally going to be Jarrett & Fale vs Yoshitatsu & Honma, but Yoshitatsu’s neck injury forced a change, which really took all of the juice out of the match because the grudge in that bout was Jarrett/Yoshitatsu. This is essentially now just a random Bullet Club vs New Japan Army house show style six-man. There is no reason for Jarrett to win unless he’s going to work more shows or they’re keeping him strong for Yoshitatsu, but I don’t see him working regularly, and with Tatsu on the shelf for what looks to be a very long time, I don’t see the point in a Jarrett win. Even though Honma looks like an obvious fall guy, I’ll go out on a limb and take the New Japan side.

Prediction: TenKoji & Honma

Mikey Nicholls, Naomichi Marufuji, Shane Haste and Toru Yano vs. Suzukigun (Davey Boy Smith, Jr., Lance Archer, Shelton X Benjamin and Takashi Iizuka)

Rich Kraetsch: I’m not sure what to make of this match from an in-ring standpoint. Will it be filled with the Yano/Iizuka silliness or will those two brawl to the outside while the workers get their time? I hope so because this has the chance to be one of the sleeper matches on the card. Sure, it’s only going to get a few minutes but you want to talk about a jolt of talent brought to this card: Marufuji has been one of the consistently best workers in Japan over the last decade and TMDK are one of the best tag teams in the world. I want to get really excited about this but I still fear Yano/Iizuka being featured more than others. Who knows? Hope I’m wrong! Either way, this is an exciting matchup that could become a bigger story in 2015 as NJPW and NOAH continue to build a strong relationship.

Prediction: Yano, Marufuji and TMDK

Fujiwara Armbar: Given that Toru Yano’s Wrestle Kingdom mystery partners have been Bob Sapp and The Great Muta in years gone by, it’s pretty awesome to see that there’s a bit of a buzz around occasional NJPW visitor and GHC Heavyweight Champion Naomichi Marufuji and the much-heralded Australian pair, Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls, who together form TMDK (The Mighty Don’t Kneel). This match puts the icing on the cake of NOAH and NJPW’s low-key wedding, with financials and talent already projected for a shared future. What better way to kick off the party than with a victory for Team Ark?

Prediction: Yano, Marufuji and TMDK

Joe Lanza: What’s exciting here isn’t the match itself, but what it represents. Reports have circulated that there is something big brewing between NJPW and NOAH, and we’ve got our little birdies telling us the same thing. At minimum, more talent sharing is something clearly already on the table, and hopefully this match is a springboard to a TMDK vs KES feud, which could potentially be something awesome. It would also FINALLY get KES away from TenKoji for good, as there isn’t a tag team in the world as desperate for fresh matchups as Archer & Smith (even TenKoji had their issues with Rob Conway & Jax Dane to contend with when KES wasn’t around, which gave them something different to do). Look for the NOAH outsiders to shine here, as the never ending Yano vs Suzuki-gun deal is just a backdrop to introduce some fresh blood.

Prediction: Yano, Marufuji and TMDK

Rob Barry: I love the fact that TMDK actually stands for The Mighty Don’t Kneel, thank you for that Fujiwara Armbar. I’ve loved TMDK for years and Marufuji is consistently solid even if people think he is past his 2000’s prime, and there is a reason he is in this match. As long as Yano stays away from Minoru Suzuki for eons, I’m satisfied. A roster of NJPW and NOAH is a win-win for both parties and the fans of both companies. Interesting that TMDK are with Yano as they feuded for a while in NOAH, but the sides have changed a bit as Iizuka and Yano are no longer a tag team. This will be a solid match as everyone, maybe excluding Iizuka and Yano will have their working boots on and I think this could surprise a lot of people.

Prediction: Yano, Marufuji and TMDK

Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba

Jason Felix: I am very excited for this match. Minoru Suzuki isn’t wrestling Toru Yano. That’s enough for me to buy the show right there!  But this should be an excellent pseudo-MMA match. These two have really brought the intensity when they are fighting and both are legit tough guys, so you can really get into everything from the submission grappling to the striking exchanges. I don’t expect this to be a very long match. I really think that Suzuki is in position to move up in the card again in 2015. He’s older, so if they are ever going to make another move with Suzuki, it has to be now, and they have an opening for top heels again now that Bullet Club has moved down the card a bit. Sakuraba plays his role well and is always good for New Japan to have a spot star who is able to take a fall. Heck, he lost to the Gracie’s multiple times in 2014. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sakuraba wins it, but in the end, I think this is a perfect time for Suzuki to SAKA OTOSHI Sakuraba and move on to bigger things.

Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

Bryan Rose: After months and months and months AND MONTHS of Minoru Suzuki teaming and facing off with Kazushi Sakuraba, we’re finally getting the big match at the Tokyo Dome. The UWF rules style match fits both men well, since obviously they have a MMA background and the UWF was always about making stuff look real. The interactions they’ve had so far have been fun, so given the right amount of time this should be great. I think Sakuraba wins this one, just seems like the right choice, and he’s the MMA legend so it makes sense.

Prediction: Kazushi Sakuraba 

Fujiwara Armbar: Whatever the politics and personals that had to be addressed ahead of this are now to one side and we get what we have waited what seems like an eternity for: The Gracie Hunter vs. The Man With The Worst Personality In The World in a full-blown (worked) war. Suzuki usually loses on the big stage. It is kind of his gift, as he always remains utterly credible after every L. Besides, Suzuki’s inveterate assholishness mirrors Sakuraba’s sainthood in a way that means that Sak has to win for a big feel good moment.

Prediction: Kazushi Sakuraba 

NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makabe

Fujiwara Armbar: I predict that someone will have to get a towel to mop up my slobber and then stuff that rag into my mouth as I will be watching this very early in the morning and will literally be yelling the house down for Ishii to win. I’ve a feeling this, with time constraints, one eye on the US audience who will be unfamiliar with both and perhaps Ishii’s health to consider, will be nearer to a 12-minute G1-style match: still a sight to buckle the knees of most. Makabe is that much more of a star than the Stone Pitbull, but I’m taking Ishii out of blind loyalty and partisanship.

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9Jason Felix: This one should be a lot of fun. Ishii was the 2014 Wrestler of the Year (and no one can tell me differently) and Makabe took his game to a level I haven’t seen out of him, mostly due to his legit jaw injury that helped add a dimension to his character that had been missing over the last couple of years.

Do I even need to say to expect a hard hitting match?  Do I even need to say expect a ton of lariats, forearms, and no-selling?  Of course not. The Ishii formula works like the Ric Flair formula works. I cannot wait for this one. Hopefully Ishii doesn’t get dumped on his head on a botched powerbomb like happened in the 2013 G-1…I think Ishii is going to win this one. He’s used perfectly in the spot he’s in and I expect him to be tied very closely to the NEVER Title in 2015, just like he was in 2014.

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

Rob Barry: Does anyone remember that time back in the 2013 G1 when Makabe almost broke Ishii’s neck? Ishii sure does because he is aiming for vengeance in this match. SLOBBER KNOCKER! HOSSES! LARIATS! Everything about this match will be brutal and both men will attempt to murder each other inside the ring. Can Ishii continue to deliver his grueling style of match? Can Makabe continue to be an underrated worker amongst hardcore puro elitists? Give these guys 10-15 minutes and a powder keg will emerge. What happens when a Stone Pitbull and an Unchained Gorilla meet? Tune in January 4th to find out.

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii 

Bryan Rose: This is gonna hurt. I don’t think it’ll nearly be as good as the Goto match from last month. But then again, we have Makabe, the guy who for years was the top brawler in New Japan, then Ishii comes along and consistently is the great brawling stiff guy. It’s going to be a fierce battle over the title, and while I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Makabe with the title, I don’t think it’s time for Ishii to lose the championship yet. I guess we’ll see, but if I had to pick, I would choose Ishii.

Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. Kenny Omega

Joe Lanza: If there is one absolute stone cold lock on this show, it is Omega beating Taguchi for the junior title. And if there is one division on the roster that needs some cleaning, it’s the juniors. Omega will do for the singles title what reDRagon did for the tag belts, which is freshen things up with some new matchups and provide a little juice. They didn’t sign Omega, set up a giant swerve, and hold off on his official full time roster debut until the Tokyo Dome to have him lose to Ryusuke f’n Taguchi. Bet everything on The Cleaner.

Prediction: Kenny Omega 

Rich Kraetsch: As Joe mentioned above, I’d bet my imaginary house (apartment?) on Omega beating Taguchi here. “The Cleaner” was literally brought into New Japan to freshen the Juniors division up and he’ll start that here. This should be a lot of fun regardless but could end up being one of the shorter matches on the show. Taguchi is divisive among New Japan hardcores but he’s reliable and Omega speaks for himself, he’s great within the confines of what he’s allowed. I’m looking forward to this.

Prediction: Kenny Omega 

Rob Barry: Kenny Omega is here YOU FOOLS! Taguchi has been doing some good work recently and certain actions making people enjoy him more and not think he is an Eddie Guerrero rip-off. The Funky Weapon will be solid as usual and this will be Kenny Omega’s coming-out party. Hopefully no Bullet Club interaction, let these 2 work a straight match and have Omega win his debut clean as a sheet. Will “The Cleaner” clean up here and then clean up the Junior Division? It’s too early to tell, but consider this the litmus test friends. This could be a sleeper match, who knows what could happen here?

Prediction: “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson) (c) vs. Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata)

Rich Kraetsch: Please, please tell me the year-long reign of Guns & Gallows comes to an end here. It has to? I have a modicum of doubt only because Hirooki Goto can never win the title match and New Japan never seems to go all the way with Shibata. With that said, the idea here appears to be a Goto & Shibata reign and that’d be good for everyone: the fans, the Tag division, etc. I’m a little disappointed both Goto and Shibata aren’t more heavily featured on this card but them being in what you can call a “throwaway” Tag match just shows you the tremendous depth Wrestle Kingdom 9 has. Goto & Shibata win, hooray!

Prediction: Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata

Rob McCarron: This, like the 6-man, will be loss for the Bullet Club. I haven’t been into the Doc Gallows run on almost any level since his WWE release, and as entertaining as he is when he’s not playing serious pro wrestler, it doesn’t translate in the ring at least in this run. Not to say he hasn’t had some fun matches, because he has, in my view. This will likely be one of them, but the run as a whole has run its course. I’m not as bought in that Goto & Shibata will win here as some others are, but at 55%, that’s still the majority if my maths be correct. So, with 55% of brain precincts reporting, I’ll project new tag champions.

Prediction: Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata 

Joe Lanza: Much like the junior title match, I can’t really see a scenario where we won’t get a title change, unless they plan on doing another Goto & Shibata singles feud, which is highly unlikely. This is the second title challenge for Goto & Shibata, and if they don’t win, where do they go from here? The timing is almost too perfect for a switch, with the Bullet Club side having held the title for exactly one year, and Goto & Shibata peaking with their WTL win. The Anderson & Gallows team hasn’t lit the world on fire with their dry title run, so a change is very much welcomed.

Prediction: Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata

A.J. Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito

Rob McCarron: AJ Styles has two career peaks for me. When he turned heel in TNA, began wearing the long tights, and looked like he stopped caring about fans reactions, he took off. Of course, it was TNA, so it didn’t mean much. He started doing independents again, at that time, and was off the hook fun to watch. His second peak, obviously this run here in New Japan. AJ Styles is closer to 40 than he is 30, yet unlike others, he’s not a guy we equate too much as an older guy. He’s no rook, by any means, but coming into a prime of his career at 36 is certainly something. I see no way he loses here, as he, along with Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, will be the poster children for growing New Japan in the United States in 2015. If they are serious about expanding, and from all accounts they appear to be, this guy is your prime time player for the US market. Oh, and the match should be great, too, but you don’t need me telling you that.

Prediction: AJ Styles 

Rich Kraetsch: The absolute sleeper match of this show, Styles and Naito have the chance to tear the house down and, if given proper time, can absolutely do that. They had a great match at this year’s G1 Climax and this match has added importance as Styles has been one of the primary poster boys for Global Force Wrestling’s presentation of WK9. No, New Japan isn’t going to book in hopes of appeasing the GFW crowd but Styles should be aware of their viewing. If he and Naito have a top-tier match, it could go a long way in getting new eyeballs onto the product. It’s hard to make a prediction for this match as I could see it going either way, Naito has certainly earned a win on the big stage but all signs point to this being Styles’ night. Either way, I’m going to love it.

Prediction: A.J. Styles 

Fujiwara Armbar: Poor Naito. Not only is he getting booed in the major cosmopolitan markets but his Jan. 4th luck is rotten this decade. Working backwards through the Dome shows, he loses in a title match bumped from the main event at WK8 against Kazuchika Okada. He misses WK7 through knee injury. At WK6 he gets another semi-main, this time losing against the veteran/legend Keiji Mutoh. And at WK5, he loses to Jeff Hardy for the TNA Heavyweight belt. This, against former TNA mainstay A.J. Styles, will at least represent the circle being complete, with A.J. winning to gain retribution for defeat suffered during the G1 Climax. That bout hinted at classic potential and this outing, positioned well for the US audience, throws together a legitimate western hemisphere star with a thoroughly impressive worker in a way that might make people think “oh, so this kind of cool stuff happens in this company? I may just continue watching.” Which is kind of the point, when you think about it.

Prediction: A.J. Styles

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi

Fujiwara Armbar: I’ve been wondering if this was the plan all along. Ibushi’s concussion ruled him out of the G1 Climax, thus postponing the much-awaited rematch of this pair. For some reason, this feels so much grander for it not having happened back in summer and remains a first-rate PPV headline act on its own on many nights of the year. And I can’t call it. I really can’t. It feels like the time to give Ibushi a run, but also it doesn’t feel like Nakamura should relinquish. What I will confidently predict is that this will be the match of the night, better than Ishii, better than the headliner, and that come January 5th there will be X many more fans of each man where X is the amount of curious US PPV purchasers unfamiliar with the earth-straddling lordliness of Nakamura or the unbuttoned insanity of Ibushi.

Prediction: Kota Ibushi

Rob Barry: I have been waiting for this rematch ever since their G1 2013 classic. I’m all the way with Fujiwara Armbar, I can’t call it. I love Swagsuke, I love the Golden Star. I love the Boma-Ye, I love the Phoenix Splash. The odds are even this time as Ibushi is fighting at heavyweight and that could be the deciding factor in this match. If there is any match that will turn fans on to New Japan outside of Ishii, juniors, or the epic that will be Okada vs. Tanahashi, it is this match. My body is not ready for this match, prepare to be shocked and awed people, you are witnessing two men at the peak of their powers and these two will steal the show on a card where everyone is out to make an impression and to make a statement.

Prediction: Kota Ibushi 

Joe Lanza: The Kota Ibushi concussion ended up being a blessing in disguise for fans, as Tomoaki Honma was arguably the MVP of the G1 Climax, and with no disrespect to the fans in Sendai or to the G1, the highly anticipated Ibushi/Nakamura rematch will end up taking place on the biggest stage and for the IWGP Intercontinental title, instead of Sendai Sun Plaza Hall, potentially lost in the shuffle of a tour filled with 4-star bouts. I don’t know if Nakamura will ever get another IWGP Heavyweight run, but does he need one? Nakamura is a charisma machine that makes titles, not the other way around. There was a time that the IC title was held in far less regard than the NEVER title is today, defended in lower mid card matches by the likes of MVP. You could reasonably argue that it is now the second or third most prestigious title in all of wrestling, and that is entirely due to Nakamura. The title now headlines major shows, traded between the top stars, a true 1b to the IWGP Heavyweight 1a, meaning a win by Ibushi firmly places him in the top mix. Ibushi, who I have always maintained does his best work mixing it up with heavyweights, will get to that level, this I have no doubt. He just won’t get there this soon into his heavyweight run. This is the most highly anticipated match of the night for many, and it has a legitimate chance to outshine the main event.

Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada

Rich Kraetsch: I won’t lie, I was pretty disappointed when Tanahashi defeated Styles for the title at King of Pro-Wrestling, diminishing what I thought was the perfect story of Okada getting his revenge on Styles and Bullet Club at Wrestle Kingdom 9. It’s cool though because what we got instead is nothing to slouch at and is the pivotal match in the series (3-3-1). It’s the biggest match New Japan can put on and when you have to fill a Dome and you want thousands of new eyeballs on your product, this is what you have to do. It sounds like I’m complaining but I’m really not, these two are nothing less than spectacular when they get in the ring together and this match, given its hype and the talk around it, should be their best yet. Will it ultimately lead to disappointment due to crazy expectations? Maybe but I doubt it. This will be the match of the night and will get 2015 started on the right foot.

Okada has to win here, he just has to. Any other result is complete lunacy on Gedo & Jado’s part, Tanahashi doesn’t need another long reign and a draw is just icky and weird for this stage. Okada has to win and win emphatically to put a bow on the great story of Okada’s climb back to the top.

Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Joe Lanza: One of the upsides of the restrictive four hour time block is that it all but eliminates the possibility of a 60-minute draw in the main event. 60-minute draws always stink, first off because this isn’t 1972 and modern matches with modern pacing are hard to peak properly over that much time, and secondly because 60 minutes is at least twice as long as any pro wrestling match ever needs to be anyway. 25-30 minutes is plenty of time to tell a competent story, give the fans action and get out.

Okada has been a man possessed since losing the IWGP title to A.J. Styles, including a brutal statement win over stablemate and top star Shinsuke Nakamura in the G1 Finals which saw Okada do far more than was necessary to win, which combined with his aggressive post match promo was Okada symbolically putting the rest of the roster on notice that he was getting his title back and reclaiming his spot as company ace. The logical conclusion from a story standpoint would have been a revenge win over Styles to reclaim his title, but a win over established long-time ace Tanahashi, in front of tons of new eyeballs watching New Japan for the first time, in what has zero chance of not being a spectacular match, completely makes sense from a booking standpoint too, especially considering the fact that Tanahashi vs Okada is clearly the number one money match the company has from a business perspective, and oh by the way, they do have a Dome to fill. It has been nearly 15 months since these men last met at King of Pro Wrestling 2013, and If you include their 2010 match, they stand at 3-3-1 entering this contest. Okada will win, he will win emphatically, and with the greatest big match performer of his generation going against the cocky, hungry future ace, this match will set the pace for the 2015 Match of the Year race.

Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Jason Felix: In all honesty, I am looking forward to Nakamura vs. Ibushi much more than Tanahashi vs. Okada VII. However, this feud was one of the things that hooked me on New Japan, so I felt it was important to review it. I have seen every one of their matches (except the first one) and they work so well together. Every time they battle, I honestly have no idea who will win. Even if I had an idea who would win, by the end of the match, I had no clue.

The obvious choice is Okada.  All of the booking seemed set to have him defeat A.J. Styles and win the title back at the biggest show of the year. Tanahashi’s title win really caught me off guard. It’s the bigger match, but now it caused some big questions.

Kazuchika Okada – He’s coming off the G-1 Climax win and appears ready to reclaim his spots as Ace of New Japan. The G-1 winner has never won the IWGP Title at Wrestle Kingdom (to be fair, this is only the third year of the stipulation). Would New Japan risk the G-1 appearing to be a “curse” if it keeps losing at the biggest show of the year?  Okada already lost to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom after winning a G-1 Climax. Would they really repeat the same outcome again?  How much time can Tanahashi perform at the level he’s at. He’s clearly hurting and he can only ignore Father Time for so long. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi – Tanahashi is making his first defense of the IWGP Title. Would he really lose the title already?  Tanahashi lost his last two matches (excluding the draw) to Okada. Losing a third in a row would make it really hard for Tanahashi to ever get back to Okada’s level for another title shot. Tanahashi has walked out of the last four Tokyo Dome main events as the victor. He’s 7-1 at Wrestle Kingdom shows. That’s about as dominating as it comes at the big show. Also, Okada stated in an interview that he’s retiring in five years. Now that can be taken with a grain of salt, but it is really strange timing to say that.

So as you can see, there are really interesting reasons on both sides as to why each man should win this match. One more possibility would be the 60 minute draw. I seriously doubt this will happen, but I do expect it to be teased. The longest that Tanahashi and Okada have wrestled is 35 minutes. It would not surprise me at all if they went in the 40-50 minute range. They run a real risk of the match losing quality if it does go that long, as it’s tough to really keep a stadium crowd invested for that long…especially after they have already been there for five-six hours prior to this match.

Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Bryan Rose: This is a tough one. It makes all the sense in the world for Okada to win the championship. He won the G1 and has looked strong all year. I thought the obvious story here was him challenging A.J. Styles and winning the championship, easiest story in the book. But then Tanahashi won it out of the blue, and I realized what they were going for, the biggest match they can do right now, and it makes sense that they went this route. Tanahashi is making his first defense. Most of the year he has been in tags, not really a BIG part of the title picture but definitely still a top pushed guy. I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see Hiroshi Tanahashi retain his championship here. But it makes more sense for Okada to win. 2015 should be his year, not Tanahashi’s. I’m not saying Tanahashi should instantly be relegated to the midcard, but what I’m saying is that if you’re gonna push a guy as your top guy this year, it’s Okada, not Tanahashi. As for the match itself…these guys always deliver. I don’t see how they can’t have a great match. At the very least, it’ll be really good. Hopefully. 

Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

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