New Japan Pro Wrestling
Royal Quest
August 31st, 2019
Copper Box Arena

Watch: Fite TV

Meet our previewer:

John Carroll: John is happy to be back on the NJPW card preview horse after a long G1 away. Are you happy to see them? That’s up to you partner. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or preferably just follow their podcast @wrestleomakase instead, it’s way better.

Ryusuke Taguchi, Shota Umino & Ren Narita vs. CHAOS (Roppongi 3K & Rocky Romero)

This has the potential to be a fun little opener, especially when I’m assuming the London crowd will be red hot right from the start for their first ever NJPW show. Oddly enough the two young lions in this match are the only ones with anything resembling a direction at the moment, as they’re both getting ready to enter their second Young Lion Cup. Both will likely improve upon their records in the late 2017 version, when Umino went 2-3 and Narita went 0-4-1. Meanwhile, Roppongi 3K are once again somewhat frustratingly lost in the shuffle after losing their IWGP Junior Tag Titles back at Kizuna Road. With the new champions Phantasmo and Ishimori busy feuding with Ospreay & Eagles, a rematch does not appear to be forthcoming. We very well could be looking at a situation where R3K has nothing to do until the Super Junior Tag League returns in a few months, and that’s a shame. Prediction: CHAOS

Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo

It’s more than a little jarring to see Kota Ibushi, fresh off winning the G1 Climax for the first time, in a completely meaningless match 2 tag here where the winners couldn’t be more obvious if you had Gedo whispering it into your ear as the opening bell rang. But we simply don’t have a clear direction for his first briefcase defense yet (never mind all the continuous hints that there might be some kind of two belt twist heading into Wrestle Kingdom this year), and the two wrestlers Ibushi lost to in the G1 (KENTA & EVIL) are either busy or strangely absent. Meanwhile, Juice Robinson is feuding with a guy who was originally supposed to be wrestling Kenny Omega in Chicago on this day, although he, uh, isn’t now. So thus, they’re facing Yujiro Takahashi, who technically does still exist, and Hikuleo, who’s been on a mini-excursion here in the UK. Yeah. It’s the ultimate example of a “just get them on the card” match. Prediction: Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson

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Will Ospreay & Robbie Eagles vs. Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo

First of all, this paragraph WILL contain spoilers for the Super J-Cup, so if you’re one of those people trying to avoid that all the way until the shows drop on New Japan World “sometime in September” you should stop reading now (and best of luck to you in general). With that out of the way: yes, El Phantasmo is our Super J-Cup champion, having defeated Dragon Lee in the finals last week. That in and of itself already wouldn’t be my favorite thing in the world, but it pales in comparison to the fact that he apparently cut a promo afterwards that was pretty offensive (referring to Ospreay as the “autistic assassin” and insinuating fans were on welfare, among other things). I understand some people get off on this kind of boundary-pushing, but it isn’t at all what I want to see when I watch NJPW. Whatever you think of Jay White, he manages to get genuine heel heat without resorting to these sorts of cheap “edgelord” comments. Even if it doesn’t personally offend you, I don’t think it’s wrong to question whether or not we really need it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Regardless, with ELP as your SJC winner we have a junior division that, for the moment at least, feels almost oppressively centered around him: he and Ishimori are the junior tag champions, he beat Ospreay for the second time in the SJC so you know that singles title match is coming as well, and at the same time this match is probably a way to build up a future junior tag title match. A division that felt exciting as recently as this year’s excellent Best of the Super Junior tournament suddenly feels stagnant, probably because it’s built around my least favorite act in the entire company (and the departure of Shingo Takagi from the division certainly doesn’t help matters either). Hiromu can’t come back soon enough. Anyway! Expect Ospreay & Eagles to win this non-title match, setting up a rematch for the junior tag titles on the Destruction tour, then probably Ospreay-ELP for the singles belt at King of Pro Wrestling. Joy. Prediction: Will Ospreay & Robbie Eagles

Tetsuya Naito & SANADA vs. Jay White & Chase Owens

When this match was booked right after the G1 we all kind of figured they were doing the Naito-White IC title match soon, and we figured right, as that was recently announced for the final stop on the Destruction tour, Destruction in Kobe (9/22). When Naito lost to Jay White in the deciding match of the B block it briefly looked like his “two belts” dream- his desire to become the first man to hold both the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental titles at the same time, first communicated early this year- had just gone up in flames. But very quickly things changed and it began to look like the dream wasn’t just still alive, but was in fact spreading, like some kind of virus. Kota Ibushi in his post-G1 press conference quickly stated that he still wanted to challenge for the IC title as well, pointing out that there were two domes this year and that perhaps he could challenge for the Heavyweight on 1/4 and the IC on 1/5. Naito responded in Tokyo Sports (a Japanese newspaper that NJPW has run angles in for decades) basically saying that sounded like a fun plan to him…… long as the match on 1/5 was “winner take all” of course. And then at the Super J-Cup final, Jay White suddenly stuck his nose into it, telling Naito it was in fact his destiny to become the first person to hold both belts at once. So what I take away from all this is: some kind of double title scenario is almost certainly happening at Wrestle Kingdom this year, probably Okada vs. Ibushi for the IWGP Heavyweight and Naito vs. White for the Intercontinental on 1/4 and the winners fighting it out for all the gold on 1/5. But in the meantime, we’re getting Naito vs. White again a lot sooner. We’ll talk more about why that might be the case as we get closer to their title match at Destruction in Kobe. Meanwhile, SANADA is here killing time as he gets closer to his inevitable challenge of Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title (after beating him in the G1), and Chase Owens is here to lose. Sorry buddy. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & SANADA

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerillas of Destiny © vs. Winners of Samuels/Bodom-Aussie Open (on 8/30)

Short of waiting to publish this until the day of the show there’s not much I can tell you about this IWGP Tag Team Title match. NJPW’s partners Revolution Pro have been holding a “Road to Royal Quest” tag team tournament with the winners getting this shot at Guerrillas of Destiny, and the final is on their Summer Sizzler show the night before. It will either be Aussie Open or the team of Sha Samuels and Josh Bodom getting this shot. I suspect Aussie Open will be your winners, but obviously we can’t know that for sure. In the meantime, could either team pull off the upset here and unseat GOD? Of course they could, because these IWGP Tag Team Titles don’t mean a damn thing. Either RevPro team winning the belts would just be a very slight variation of the “here comes an ROH team to win the titles for a little while” formula we’ve seen before with both the Kingdom and the Briscoes, and it’s not like the Young Bucks didn’t used to win the belts and then disappear for long stretches all the time too. It just literally doesn’t matter who holds these titles, which makes writing about them very difficult. This is how people who predict WWE PPVs feel all the time, I guess. Prediction: Who cares

NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii © vs. KENTA

KENTA’s heel turn and the subsequent first physical contact from Katsuyori Shibata in over two years was one of the greatest angles in professional wrestling history. I really don’t think that is a hyperbolic statement. Instantly KENTA went from a guy who had a NJPW debut and first G1 Climax that you would probably most accurately describe as “pretty okay” to a guy who feels like one of the hottest acts in the entire company. “This ungrateful little bastard turned on the very man who was nice enough to bring him into the greatest wrestling company on earth, OUR company? For the BULLET CLUB??? Fuck him!”. Good stuff! If Shibata is actually able to wrestle at the Dome (latest word from Uncle Meltz is that he’s trying to get cleared, so apparently there’s at least some hope if that report is accurate) that will be one hell of a payoff. But even if Shibata isn’t able to go, you still created a new hot heel, one that was desperately needed for a BULLET CLUB stable that had essentially become “Jay White……and uh, these other guys.” So here we are now in London with KENTA getting a shot at the NEVER Openweight Title of the man he actually turned on in the first place, Tomohiro Ishii (I guess he technically turned on YOSHI-HASHI too but really who cares), and I see no reason to put any kind of brake on heel KENTA’s momentum. As great of a G1 as Ishii had, and boy was it ever a great one, he can always rebound from any loss. But not putting the strap on KENTA here and continuing his momentum, especially when you’d assume a future showdown with Kota Ibushi for his WK title shot is on the way, would be a pretty massive mistake in my opinion. I doubt it’s a mistake they’re going to make. Prediction: KENTA

British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Since Zack Sabre Jr. first came to NJPW as a heavyweight early in 2017, he and Hiroshi Tanahashi have quietly put together quite the little rivalry. The matches have swung back and forth almost perfectly: it began with Sabre winning on the opening night of the 2017 G1, then saw Tanahashi retain the Intercontinental Title against him at Destruction in Hiroshima a few months later, Zack beat him again in the finals of the 2018 New Japan Cup, Tanahashi repay the favor a year later (on the exact same date, March 21st!) in the quarterfinals, Sabre successfully defend this very British Heavyweight Title against him at Madison Square Garden, and finally Tanahashi even the score up again at 3-3 on Night 5 of the G1 at Korakuen Hall. Their seventh singles meeting will be the semi-main event of New Japan’s first ever show in the UK, a more than fitting place for them to continue this feud. I’m tempted to predict that Tanahashi will break the “every other match” sequence and steal the British title away from Zack here, but ultimately I think this is just a little pit stop before Tanahashi gets into whatever he’s going to get into for Wrestle Kingdom season, whether it’s Chris Jericho or maybe even being Jushin Liger’s final opponent. Sabre wins before his countrymen, and hopefully yells about Boris Johnson in front of the live crowd. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada © vs. Minoru Suzuki

Okada vs. Suzuki is one of New Japan’s longest running rivalries, as the two have met seven times dating back to 2013. Okada was still a fresh-faced youngster when he first fought Suzuki at The New Beginning (back when that was just one show!) in February of that year, where Suzuki got what would end up being his only win to date. Their original feud was an important one both for Okada but also for CHAOS and thus NJPW as a whole, as it was in the Okada-Suzuki (and CHAOS-Suzukigun) clash where New Japan’s previously solid heel stable began to show their first shades of grey. Okada would repay Suzuki in May 2013 by retaining the IWGP Heavyweight Title against him, and then move on to defeating him again in the 2014 G1 Climax, in another IWGP title match in February 2017, and in another G1 match that same year. Suzuki would end the run of straight Okada victories with a 30 minute time limit draw on his 30th anniversary outdoor show in Yokohama in June 2018, only to fall again to Okada two months later in yet another G1 match. Of course, this year they didn’t meet in the G1 because Suzuki wasn’t in the tournament at all, which became a major focal point of the build for this match. Suzuki greatly complained at first when he was left out of the G1 (despite being on the entire tour in tag matches) but then quickly changed his tune, saying he had a plan he would soon hatch on everyone as revenge. That plan ended up being revealed on the night of the finals, when he teamed with Zack Sabre Jr. to face the team of Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi. Suzuki pinned Okada in that tag team match, and afterwards taunted him that he was just pinned by a man who “wasn’t good enough” for the G1. Now, Suzuki just needs to do it one more time and his plan will have been a complete success. Can he beat Okada in a singles match for the first time in six and a half years? Can he become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion for the first time ever? I can’t say that I think it will happen, but man, imagine if it did. There’s no better place for the King of Pro Wrestling to begin his reign than in the middle of London, right? Prediction: Kauzchika Okada