New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestling Hi No Kuni 2018
April 29th, 2018
3:00 pm JST
Grand Messe Kumamoto

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers

  • John Carroll: John just got finished doing the first ever Omakase fantasy draft, which was a fun time, but now it’s hard for them to transition back to real wrestling cards when all they want to do is see Miz vs. Taichi. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you want BanG Dream screenshot content.
  • Taylor Maimbourg: Taylor has spent the last week consumed by stress over the poor play of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, so he is glad to return to the stress-free land of New Japan previews!  Follow him on Twitter @tamaimbo where he has spent the last week discussing Ikemen Jiro, LeBron James, The Rock, The Barenaked Ladies, Shania Twain and Westworld!

Yuji Nagata & Ren Narita vs. Tomoyuki Oka & Shota Umino

John Carroll: Shota Umino is so far and away the best young lion in the system right now it isn’t funny. While I think almost everyone would agree with me there, on the other hand I find myself disagreeing with the consensus on Tomoyuki Oka more and more. While I would agree that maybe he hasn’t come along quite as fast as you might hope, the people who seem to describe him as completely hopeless in the ring are the ones that I think are a bit out to lunch here. His suplexes look good and he’s very slowly developing some in-ring charisma and fire. I don’t think he’s ever gonna be Hiroshi Tanahashi or anything, and that’s fine, but there’s still some promise here. Anyway, the young lion roster owns right now so this match should be fun. And Yuji Nagata is in it too! Prediction: Nagata & Narita

Taylor Maimbourg: One highlight of recent New Japan shows has been the simmering tension between Yuji Nagata and Shota Umino.  Umino, like many young lions before him, has gone hard at Nagata, but Nagata has been more than up to the challenge, beating him down and tapping him out on multiple occasions.  It is clear that Umino is the current star of this young lion crop. Both his booking at the Lions Gate shows and his encounters on the main shows with Nagata prove that. Now that Kitamura is gone and the new young lions have debuted, it will be interesting to see whether Umino heads out for excursion in the near future.  In the meantime, I look forward to Nagata doling out another asskicking to the young upstart. Prediction: Yuji Nagata and Ren Narita

David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. CHAOS (Jay White, Roppongi 3K & Rocky Romero)

John Carroll: Whoa, Roppongi 3K are in a match on this tour and it doesn’t involve Taichi, Iizuka & TAKA?! Well enjoy it while it lasts, because we go right back to those two teams matching up at Wrestling Dontaku. This is just kind of a throwaway match here since we’ve already seen White-Finlay now, but there’s enough talent in here that it could at least be kind of fun for the whole 8 minutes it lasts. Prediction: CHAOS

Taylor Maimbourg: Jay White beat David Finlay on April 24th to move to 10-1 in the all-time series, a record that would seem to indicate that Finlay is firmly in White’s rear view mirror.  However, I have a feeling that this rivalry is going to be a factor in New Japan for a long while. White and Finlay were linked in their young lion days, they linked back together upon White’s return from excursion and I think they will butt heads again in the future.  As for this match, it appears to be the typical post-title match showdown typical on New Japan cards – booking the champion and challenger together in order to not give away the results of the title match. Unless New Japan goes out into left field and books a White vs. Taguchi feud, I have a feeling this match won’t give us too much of a look into the future.  One thing to look out for is how Roppongi 3K wrestles with their entries in the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors. Will they begin to develop more of a singles style in preparation for the tournament or do they stick with the tag team style? Prediction: Jay White, Roppongi 3K and Rocky Romero

Togi Makabe & Toa Henare vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

John Carroll: I like the Makabe/Henare team quite a bit, with Makabe almost seeming like a father figure to the foreigner who wrestles a similar kind of straight ahead, bruising style. The post-match promos where he praises Henare extensively come off pretty real, as it seems like he really has taken a liking to the kid. On the other hand, I’m not a fan at all of the Ishii/Yano team; while I like Yano’s antics and I don’t disagree in theory that a team with him and a straight man partner could work, it just doesn’t work at all with these two. Ishii is almost too straight to be a straight man, if that makes any sense. Instead of playing off Yano’s comedy, he just comes off like he’s flat out ignoring him, and it never feels like the two have even a modicum of chemistry together. No clue why that team has lasted so long. Oh, and they’re probably winning here. Joy. Prediction: Ishii & Yano

Taylor Maimbourg: Henare and Ishii had a barnburner of a match on the last New Japan show, and Henare seems to have taken over the spot in the New Japan pecking order formerly occupied by Juice Robinson – young upstart looking to start making moves up the card.  He has been helped enormously by finding a fierce rival in Tomohiro Ishii, and the two men have had electric exchanges in almost every match they’ve been in. On Ishii’s end, Henare has proven a talented, but beatable opponent as he and Yano heat up for (hopefully?) a chance at the winner of the LIJ/Suzukigun tag team title match.  I actually really enjoy the dichotomy of the Ishii/Yano, so I hope a title shot is in their near future. Prediction: Ishii and Yano

Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens vs. Suzukigun (Zack Sabre Jr, Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku)

John Carroll: The BULLET CLUB finally join us here after getting the entire tour off up until this point; seriously, it’s not just Omega & Ibushi (still not actually a member of the BC, by the way; in their music video to promote the tour, Samurai TV listed the Team Kenny side of this civil war with Ibushi as “BULLET CLUB?” which I thought was funny), they’ve all been nowhere to be found so far! But the Team Kenny troupe checks in here at least. Their big theme on the two Dontaku shows next week is obviously still the ongoing BC Civil War, but none of the Team Cody people are on this show. So here we get a weird little interlude where they take on Suzukigun in an 8-man tag. Zack Sabre Jr, also joining the tour for the first time here, teams with the Iizuka/Taichi/TAKA trio (in a rare moment away from Roppongi 3K for them) in a weird match where there isn’t any issue here at all to speak of. I guess if you wanted to really stretch you could point out that Sabre tapped out Ibushi in the New Japan Cup, but it’s not like Ibushi has been talking about that or anything, really. So this is just a match that’s going to happen. It’s actually a little tough to pick a winner here because both TAKA & Chase are very capable of taking a fall, but when in doubt go with the junior heavyweight losing. Prediction: BULLET CLUB?

Taylor Maimbourg: A weirdly story-less match makes it hard for me to preview this match without repeating the things I’ve said about the Bullet Club split before on these previews.  There are a number of wrestlers in this match looking for a new direction in the company. After losing to Okada at Sakura Genesis, where does Zack Sabre Jr. slot in this company?  Taichi got off to a hot start in the heavyweight division, but where does he go now? Chase Owens seems to be the third prong of the Golden Lovers, but where does Yujiro end up at the end of the Bullet Club dissension?  I have a feeling all of these questions will not be answered at the end of this match, but we may at least get a few hints. The Bullet Club story seemed to happen at lightning speed in the beginning part of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if things start to slow down as we approach the middle of the year and get into the G1.  The tournament produces great matches, but it doesn’t often lend itself to continuing the bigger stories being told in New Japan. As for this match, it’s a toss up, but seems that Omega may need a rebound win after losing to Cody at Supercard of Honor. Prediction: Bullet Club

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Michael Elgin & KUSHIDA vs. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay)

John Carroll: This is a fun little weird mix of both post- and pre-title match hype. Juice and Goto will be coming off their NEVER Title match from Friday’s Yokohama stop on the tour, and since I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon I can’t tell you who has won that yet. Of course, Tanahashi-Okada and KUSHIDA-Ospreay will both still be just under a week away at this point. Elgin and YOSHI-HASHI are along for the ride, as they’ve been all tour. They could get creative and have someone pin somebody they’re actually in a title match with, but frankly I don’t see that happening when this match is fifth from the top here. I think it’s gonna be YOSHI-HASHI doing what he’s been doing a lot of lately: eating a pin. Prediction: Tanahashi/Juice/Elgin/KUSHIDA

Taylor Maimbourg: This match has been happening with various people jumping in and out throughout the tour, and I expect that this match will go a lot like the previous ones have gone: fun, but forgettable match with YOSHI-HASHI taking the fall.  I hope that with Juice/Goto in the past that this match will ramp up the interactions between both KUSHIDA and Will Ospreay as well as Tanahashi and Okada. Both matches are highly anticipated (at least in my mind), although one week out, I suspect we may get a wrinkle to at least one of the stories that propels us into next week’s matches.  Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Michael Elgin and KUSHIDA

El Desperado vs. BUSHI

John Carroll: This set-up I like a lot more than the standard “multi-man tags with the participants after a title match has already happened” formula we see elsewhere on this card. You’ve got both the teams who fought for the IWGP Junior Tag Team Titles this past Monday in singles matches here, and it feels more like a chance for revenge than your usual eight-man tag. That’s how BUSHI, especially, has been pushing it since he and Hiromu lost to Desperado & Kanemaru via more cheating tactics at Korakuen, saying he can’t wait for Sunday to get his hands on Desperado. I’m excited to see what the two masked men can pull out here, and if nothing else it’s a nice little preview of the upcoming Best of the Super Junior tournament as well. Ultimately I think they’re gonna split 1-1 and I really hope they aren’t jobbing Hiromu again, so I think Despy picks up a big win here. Prediction: El Desperado

Taylor Maimbourg: Most post-title match encounters share the same purpose: obfuscate the winner of the title match and draw at least one more match out of the feud.  However, this one seems a bit different. The constant interference and shenanigans in the title matches have me feeling like the LIJ/Suzukigun Junior tag feud is bound to continue until the LIJ team finally gets the victory over the dastardly heel team.  To that end, o earn yet another title shot, LIJ will have to climb back up the mountain and that starts here with BUSHI holding up his end of the bargain and getting the win. Prediction: BUSHI

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru

John Carroll: Hiromu, on the other hand, has been completely quiet since he and BUSHI lost that junior tag title match, which actually makes this match a little less anticipated to me. But he’s still, like, a fantastic wrestler of course, and Kanemaru isn’t bad, so this has plenty of potential to be a fun junior singles clash as well. As stated in the last match write-up, I think they’re gonna split these two singles matches 1-1, and since I have Desperado winning the last one that means Hiromu gets a big win here (which he sorely needs after eating the pin at Korakuen on back-to-back nights!). Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Taylor Maimbourg: Hiromu took the pin on back-to-back nights at Korakuen.  He’s one of the bigger stars in the company, and it seems to me that you don’t pin him on back to back nights without having it serve some greater purpose.  Hiromu is going to get his mojo back…but not before he bottoms out. That bottoming out starts here, as like John, I think these matches are going to be split 1-1, so Hiromu takes the fall here.  He may end up losing a bunch more, but as I mentioned in the last match, I think the end of this story is one of triumph: Hiromu back to his winning ways and finally able to avoid the pitfalls of a Suzukigun match and win the junior tag titles. Prediction: Yoshinobu Kanemaru

IWGP Tag Team Championship
EVIL & SANADA © vs. Killer Elite Squad

John Carroll: I can’t remember the last time an IWGP Tag Team Title match actually felt like a big deal, but this one does! EVIL getting hurt delayed this Wrestle Kingdom rematch for a while and it ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the Killer Elite Squad have had months to tear through the New Japan tag team division, winning match after match, to the point where they actually feel like hot challengers here. Imagine that: a hot challenging team that feels built up in a heavyweight tag title match, not a team that’s just thrown into a random match (or, worse, a random multiway match) for the sake of having one! What a concept! Anyway, I think people are really worried about KES winning the titles because they’re afraid we’ll go back to those halcyon days of gaijin vs. gaijin tag matches that the live crowd took a collective nap through, plus they really like EVIL & SANADA, and I get where they’re coming from on both believe me. But KES has been pretty damn good lately, so even though I do share your fears to a degree, I ultimately think their title reign could be pretty good. And I’m pretty confident they’re winning here, cause it feels like it’s time for EVIL & SANADA to rejoin the singles ranks with the G1 coming up. I wouldn’t at all mind being wrong though, because I’ve enjoyed their title reign a lot. Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Taylor Maimbourg: A few months back, I worried that the return of Killer Elite Squad to the top of the New Japan tag division was a sign of coming doom and an omen of the return of the poor tag team booking.  I’m happy to report that so far, I was completely wrong. Part in thanks to EVIL’s injury, KES has been built up as a truly strong force, and a worthy challenge to the current champions. And to be frank, after month of multi-man championship matches, any straight two-on-two tag looks pretty good to me.  I hope that this match is given a good amount of time, as these two team’s previous encounters have been pretty good and if this is the conclusion of this particular story, these two teams deserve the time to go out and deliver. It seems like Killer Elite Squad would be the heavy favorites here, but I could see EVIL and SANADA holding on to the belts a little bit longer.  Regardless of the victor, both teams will be a good representation of the New Japan tag division moving forward and I hope that they will continue to be put into spots on New Japan cards that allow them the best chance to succeed. Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Minoru Suzuki © vs. Tetsuya Naito

John Carroll: Folks for me this isn’t just the main event of this show: it’s the most anticipated match of this entire tour (yes, more than Okada-Tanahashi or anything else), and probably like in the top 3 for my most anticipated matches of the entire year so far. Minoru Suzuki has been at the top of his game in 2018 so far, putting on outstanding matches and putting a subpar NEVER title reign from last year well behind him. Meanwhile, Tetsuya Naito has taken on a bit of a supporting role since his loss at the Tokyo Dome, but still managed to find time to have a really awesome match with Taichi. Both have been embroiled in a strange blood feud since before Sakura Genesis, with Suzuki taking on Naito as a target and Naito infuriating the Intercontinental Champion by completely ignoring him at first. It’s put Suzuki in the relatively new position as the one trying to hunt down his own challenger and force him into a title match, a stark contrast from how he behaved as champion during the Makabe and Goto feuds. The way they’ve played off of Naito’s history with the IC belt has been pretty great as well, an example of how storyline and character continuity is so important in this company in a way it isn’t in, uh, some other companies. Naito doesn’t particularly care about being Intercontinental Champion again- in fact, he went so far as to say he thought the belt didn’t matter after last Tuesday’s Korakuen, not what you expect to hear from a title challenger right before his big match- but he does care about seeing what happens when he takes Suzuki’s prize away from him. And as he also noted on Tuesday, Naito beating Suzuki would mean that Suzuki couldn’t beat the man that his underling, Zack Sabre Jr, defeated less than two months ago in the opening round of the New Japan Cup. Naito’s little tease there as he wondered (in typical Naito fashion) “what that would mean” could be a throwaway line, but on the other hand it could be planting the seed for a long-rumored Suzuki/Sabre split. Either way, there’s a lot to think about going in here. And oh yeah, both these men are fantastic, I think this could easily be a ***** match, and I have no idea who is winning! I’m gonna give the very slight nod to Naito here but really, it could go either way. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Taylor Maimbourg: Outside of some matches that you can book with the current Golden Lovers/Bullet Club storyline (Omega/Ibushi, Omega/Cody II, etc.), I’m not sure there is a bigger match on the planet than Naito vs. Suzuki.  Two of the hottest stars in the entire world of professional wrestling going one-on-one. It’s obviously a huge match, but even so, it seems like it’s been underhyped. Maybe it’s the fact that Okada vs. Tanahashi takes place on the same tour.  Or maybe it’s the wrestling world’s focus on both Wrestlemania and Saudi Arabia. Whatever it is, I think when this match is said and done, people are going to be talking. Either outcome is huge. If Suzuki wins, it means that Naito has lost yet another big time challenge.  Where does he go? If Naito wins, what does that mean for his heavyweight title aspirations? Does it lead to a title vs. title match? What happens in the G1? The possibilities really are endless. At the time of Naito’s Wrestle Kingdom loss, a lot of people were doubtful that New Japan had made the right call.  Naito, seemingly at the height of his popularity, losing? I know there is still a lot more story to be told, but looking back now, I think they made the right choice. With the Bullet Club/Golden Lovers story occupying so much of the airspace of New Japan storytelling, I’m not sure that a Naito title reign would have gotten its proper due.  Now, Naito has a chance to win the Intercontinental title back again. This time though, it doesn’t feel like a stepping stone. It feels like Naito powering up to even higher heights, possibly putting the title up in a title vs. title match? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But, this match will be fantastic in the ring and whatever reverberations come out of it will be fascinating to watch.  Prediction: Tetsuya Naito