New Japan Pro Wrestling
Destruction in Kobe
September 22, 2019
Kobe World Hall

Watch: New Japan World

Meet our previewers:

Tyler Forness: I’ve never been to Japan, but I have had Kobe beef before. I’ve been a wrestling fan for 15 years and a sports fan for 29+, and New Japan truly combines my love of both. Follow me on Twitter @CCSTheRealForno for wrestling and football-related tweets.

John Carroll: I’ve been to Japan three times, it’s pretty cool. Follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla, or better yet my dumb podcast @wrestleomakase. If you’re coming to NYC for Fighting Spirit Unleashed next week you can come fight me (please don’t actually fight me).

Lorien Anderson: I’ve never been to Japan and I don’t eat beef, but I do love pro wrestling. You can follow me on Twitter @divingmeteora if you have a high tolerance for nonsense.

Yuji Nagata, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Alex Coughlin & Michael Richards

Tyler: At the end of a really fun Young Lion Cup, we will see the half of the contestants in this six-man tag that are slotted below the other four. With that said, I have been really impressed with all four of them. I fully expect the feud between the Japan and LA dojos to continue and this will only fuel the fire. Outside of that, it’s a six-man tag that should still be a lot of fun. Prediction: Yugi Nagata, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

John: Destruction has been Manabu Nakanishi’s first tour in nearly six months, as he last appeared in NJPW during the New Japan Cup way back in March. I know not everyone is a fan of this big slow dad, but I really enjoy having Nakanishi around. Even when he looks like he can barely move any part of his body he has both an endearing charisma and a great sense of timing that still makes him entertaining, and if anything I think on this tour so far he’s actually moving better than he has in a while. Granted, that bar is nearly underground, but there was one moment in a tag match last week where he actually got all the way across the ring at nearly the speed of his partners, which was quite the accomplishment for him. Anyway! Like Tyler, I’ve greatly enjoyed all the contributions of the various young lions; of the ones in this match both Uemura and Coughlin have been especially impressive. Between the young lion action and the always fun Nagata-Nakanishi exchange (book another dad battle singles match at Korakuen please!) this should be a fun opener. Prediction: Yuji Nagata, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

Lorien: I didn’t really follow the 2017 Young Lion Cup, so this has been a first for me, and the added concept of establishing the LA Dojo and fostering a rivalry between the two schools has made it really interesting and fun to watch. In addition to having some great matches this year, Yuya Uemura also looks like a mini SANADA, and I feel like that can only indicate a bright future. Prediction: Manabu Nakanishi, Alex Coughlin & Michael Richards

12th Young Lion Cup League Match
Ren Narita vs. Clark Connors

Tyler: I am really looking forward to this match, as I fully expect them both to be juniors post-excursion. Narita is the more polished wrestler to this point and I expect him to get the win here, as I think Gedo will try and split the final matches between the Japan and LA dojos. Prediction: Ren Narita

John: I should note here that, like with the last night of G1 block action, they don’t actually have a match order listed for these two final YLC matches yet, pending the results of the other tournament matches on the last three Road To shows of the tour. However, I’m assuming that Umino-Fredericks will be the one it all comes down to because that just makes sense. If you’re not aware, there’s no final in the YLC, as whoever has the most points at the end will simply be the champion.

As Tyler noted, this looks to be a battle between two possible future stalwarts of the junior division. I could definitely picture a video package for an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title match in 2-3 years looking back at this one. Like Tyler, I think they will split the wins between the two dojos here, which means…..I have Connors winning this. Prediction: Clark Connors

Lorien: Clark Connors caught my eye when I went to the New Beginning show in Nashville back in February, where he had an outstanding match against Marty Scurll. I definitely see commonalities between Connors and Narita the same as between Fredericks and Umino as the junior and heavyweight aces of their dojos.  I’m on the fence about both of these Young Lion matches, but in the end, I do still think they’ll give the overall win to Umino, so I’m going to say Connors goes over Narita here. Prediction: Clark Connors

12th Young Lion Cup League Match
Shota Umino vs. Karl Fredericks

Tyler: As the aces of their respective dojos, this feels like a preview of a future IWGP title match in the coming years. Both Shota and Karl have shown flashes of greatness and their booking as of late has reflected that. I believe Shota will be heading out on excursion after this tour and Fredericks has the most to gain from a win and will get the pinfall victory here. Prediction: Karl Fredericks

John: If any match during the Young Lions Cup ends up getting replayed for years in video packages for a major heavyweight rivalry in the future, like young lion Tetsuya Naito tapping out young lion Kazuchika Okada on that CTU show, this seems to be the most likely one. Both these guys practically ooze star quality and charisma, and are about as close to being locks for future stardom as you can get at this point in their careers. I can definitely see why Tyler has decided to go with Karl as the winner- for one thing, he’s older than you think (he’s 29 years old according to his CrossFit profile at least, unless there’s another “Karl Fredericks” with the exact same height and weight!), so presumably his graduation to real roster member is coming sooner rather than later. 

But usually New Japan likes to use these Young Lion Cup tournaments to launch a winner into an immediate excursion, or at least announce an excursion that never ends up happening in the case of poor Katsuya Kitamura, and in that case, Umino should clearly be the winner here. He’s been ready to go for many months, to the point where some even speculated that he may not need an excursion at all, so it just makes the most sense. We’re still not even sure what an excursion would really mean or look like for the LA Dojo guys, so Karl winning and going “on excursion” would be a bit of a shock. In his case, you can probably just send he and the rest of his group back to LA, where they’d be out of sight and out of mind to the Japanese fans, and bring them right back to Japan full-time whenever you’re ready to run with them as real roster members instead of young lions. But regardless, this should be a great match, and I fully expect both to be a huge part of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s future. Prediction: Shota Umino

Lorien: As we’ve said, there’s not technically a ‘finals’ in this tournament, but in effect, this is the finals of this tournament, right? I’m not sure exactly when I started really paying attention to Shota Umino – probably right around when Hirai Kawato left in February of last year, because I felt like my son was leaving the nest and I needed a new Young Lion to raise. Since then, it seems like he’s become everyone’s favorite son, not just mine. And who among us was not charmed by Shooter Umino, Death Rider? None of this is to say that Karl Fredericks does not possess enormously powerful charisma, and he could absolutely make “first American Young Lion Cup winner” the first in a long string of successes. But like John said, winning the cup is a good setup for an excursion, and Fredericks is older and feels like someone who could easily take on a regular roster member role while Umino is a literal infant baby of 22 who is ripe to see the world (Shota, if you’re reading this, you’re an adult man and I respect you). Prediction: Shota Umino

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Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens)

Tyler: Is this for the NEVER 6 Man titles? No? Well, somehow this is a match. It should still be decent, as most of the match should be Toa Henare and Chase Owens, both of whom are solid workers. I am interested to see the total bump count for both Togi Makabe and Bad Luck Fale, both of whom might not see much action in this match. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

John: This is pretty clearly the weakest looking match on the card, as it’s the only match other than the opener with no storylines to speak of (yes, the YLC definitely counts) and unlike that match, it doesn’t have Yuji Nagata OR Manabu Nakanishi. Honma will miss some headbutts, Henare will grunt (and probably get pinned), Yujiro and Chase will be there, and Makabe and Fale will do literally nothing. Life goes on. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Lorien: This is certainly A Wrestling Match. I have no idea why I keep thinking Henare is in Bullet Club, but he’s kind of like the non-Bullet Club version of Chase Owens, which is to say that they’re both fine but they’re kind of just there and I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be paying attention to. I’ll defend Chase Owens’ right to exist as I too am a simple Virginia boy trying to make it in the world, but that can only go so far. Anyway, I don’t really see any reason for Makabe, Honma and Henare to win this match, whereas at least with Bullet Club you have this kind of new era feeling with KENTA showing up (I know, “new era” is Jay White’s thing) and that might translate into an overall trend of BC victories to reflect the idea that they’re becoming stronger. Prediction: BULLET CLUB 

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Rocky Romero vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)

Tyler: This match screams building toward a Liger/Suzuki dome match and a possible sixth match with Tanahashi/ZSJ. Honestly, this grapple feud just feels like a placeholder to keep Tanahashi relevant and semi-healthy until Wrestle Kingdom, since matches with Sabre Jr require little to no bumps. One intriguing element included in this tag is Rocky Romero. A CHAOS man to the bone, his inclusion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless they have him here to possibly set up something for Junior Tag League or Power Struggle to help stack those cards. At the end of the day, this match is filled with great workers and it should be both entertaining and filled with Suzukigun shenanigans. Prediction: Suzukigun

John: I actually have to disagree a little with Tyler: at the rate, they’re going I don’t think they can really hold Liger-Suzuki off all the way until the Dome. Is it another King of Pro Wrestling match? Is it a big match for Power Struggle? It just feels like, with Suzuki unmasking Liger in Kagoshima and Liger being understandably furious about it, things are peaking toward the big match happening sooner rather than later. But who knows, maybe they do keep this going all the way until the Dome somehow, I’ve been wrong before and I’ll certainly be wrong again. 

Meanwhile, Zack Sabre Jr. beat Tanahashi on Monday to win back the British Heavyweight Title and then shockingly threw his name into the hat in the double title picture, stating he would become the first triple crown champion (uh, might wanna ask All Japan about that but anyway) by holding his British title along with the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental belts, and he would in fact throw the IC belt into the bin when he does. It remains to be seen what this means- is Zack on his way to Wrestle Kingdom to compete for one or both titles? Is he going to challenge Okada or Naito or even Ibushi before WK? I doubt we get any answers here, but just the fact that he’s suddenly very much in the mix when he wasn’t before is an unexpected twist in this unprecedented road to a possible double champion at the Dome. Prediction: Suzukigun

Lorien: First of all, I do not know what Zack Sabre Jr. is doing with that whole triple crown business, and I suspect this may be a symptom of further Boris Johnson-induced mania. Regarding Suzuki and Liger, when there’s a long feud brewing, I always want to assume it’s going to be either a) a more or less even back and forth leading up to a big blowout victory or b) one guy getting stomped on pretty consistently and then making a big comeback to win the decisive match. It does seem like Liger’s gotten stomped on a lot lately, but how long is Liger-Suzuki going to go? Knowing Liger’s retiring in January — is Suzuki going to be his final boss? Does it make sense for that to be someone who’s not actually in the same weight class as Liger? It’s hard to believe that Liger wouldn’t get at least a little of his own back after that unmasking, though. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Rocky Romero

Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Roppongi 3K vs. BULLET CLUB (KENTA, Guerillas of Destiny, El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)

Tyler: After scoring a pinfall victory over one-half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Roppongi 3K are primed for a title shot against Guerillas of Destiny. This also will fuel the CHAOS-Bullet Club feud, including building the Will Ospreay-El Phantasmo junior title match at King Of Pro Wrestling. After he and Taiji Ishimori retained their junior tag team championships in Kagoshima, El Phantasmo claimed that he was going for the trifecta in the Junior Heavyweight Title. Could he be foreshadowing what is to come at King Of Pro Wrestling and fully send Will Ospreay up to heavyweight? This match will be hard-hitting filled with Jado wielding a kendo stick and YOSHI-HASHI eating a pin. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

John: This is one of two matches on this card that got flip-flopped after the results of Destruction in Kagoshima, as you can read about on NJPW’s website. Basically, with EVIL challenging Ibushi for the briefcase and Roppongi 3K’s shocking upset of GOD that Tyler just mentioned, this and the next match were shuffled around so everyone can build to their next big matches. This kind of card fake-out was done earlier this year during the Dontaku tour (when Naito challenge Ibushi for an IC rematch after he retained against ZSJ earlier on the tour and then cards were shuffled so they could be matched up for the rest of it), and I always enjoy when they do it, as it makes things feel organic and just a little more real.

As for this match itself, we’re obviously building to an R3K-GOD heavyweight tag title match, perhaps for one of the Fighting Spirit Unleashed shows in the US for the following week. It will be interesting to see if there’s any movement toward a next challenger for KENTA’s NEVER title as well; you’d think Tomohiro Ishii might be interested in throwing his name into the hat given he lost his title to KENTA in screwy fashion back in London, and it wouldn’t shock me if that was set up here as another big match for the FSU tour (both men are already booked on the tour). In the meantime, our poor, still title-less buddy YOSHI-HASHI is almost certainly eating another pin here. Sorry pal. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Lorien: Can I take a moment to appreciate my boy YOH, out here pinning Tama Tonga? The idea of RPG3K in a heavyweight title match is music to my ears. For the past year or so it’s felt like they’re building SHO up to eventual heavyweight singles status, and I can see YOH becoming a junior ace in the future, so having YOH be the one to get a heavyweight pin was not how I saw this turning out. But I’m glad it did, because YOH has always been one of my stand-out favorites. And as far as the NEVER title picture goes, I too can definitely see this building to an Ishii-KENTA rematch. I love the Stone Pitbull as much as the next guy, but after much deliberation, I have decided I’m all in on KENTA the Bullet Club brat, and retaining against him would help establish him as a New Japan heel. RIP, YOSHI-HASHI. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi & Robbie Eagles vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI)

Tyler: While this sets up really well for King of Pro Wrestling, it is very interesting that Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi are on the same side in a tag match before their presumptive IWGP Heavyweight Title match on January 4th at Wrestle Kingdom. With that being said, it should be a good build for the IWGP title match and the future briefcase defense. Another interesting element in this is the inclusion of Robbie Eagles, CHAOS’ newest member. Having been a mid card guy for his entire New Japan run, how he is positioned in this match will help us understand his direction moving forward after his face turn. I believe that they give Eagles the pin over the ultimate pin eater in BUSHI. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi & Robbie Eagles

John: EVIL made the challenge we all expected him to make back at Destruction in Kagoshima, coming out at the end of the show following Kota Ibushi’s successful contract defense (I don’t know if you can call it a successful briefcase defense when he let KENTA destroy the physical briefcase!). The best part was that EVIL kept dropping CRYPTIC HINTS in his post-match promos all tour long about how he wanted to be IWGP champion “more than anyone” and how he was going to do something about it sooner rather than later, when I think pretty much everyone and their mother could have guessed he’d challenge Kota for the Wrestle Kingdom title shot, given that he was the only man other than KENTA to beat Ibushi during the G1. I do want to mention now that we’ve seen Kota’s briefcase (he had missed all the Road to shows prior to this past weekend’s) that the briefcase did specifically say it’s for a title shot on 1/4, which to me at least is yet another indication that the double title thing is happening. Kota gets his IWGP title shot at Okada on the normal date of January 4th, and then the winner faces the Intercontinental Champion on 1/5 for all the marbles. Seems like it’s all coming together.

In the meantime, we’ve got a couple future matches to build toward here. Okada-SANADA we know is happening at King of Pro Wrestling, 10/14 at Sumo Hall, but we don’t have a date or location for the Ibushi-EVIL briefcase match yet. The holder of the IWGP #1 contendership contract has defended it at KOPW every year since 2012, when the contract was first introduced, so if they stick with tradition it will probably happen there. And as Tyler stated, we’re now left with the very interesting prospect of Okada and Ibushi, as of today the two men who will meet in the January 4th main event for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, on the same team, with Robbie Eagles as a hanger-on. I think this is just the first step before we get an Okada & Ibushi vs. EVIL & SANADA straight up tag team match, perhaps as the main event in either Lowell or Manhattan the following week. In the meantime, I’m gonna go with LIJ pinning Eagles here to keep momentum with the challengers, SANADA & EVIL. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon

Lorien: I can’t add much that hasn’t already been said – I’m really interested to see Ibushi and Okada teaming up. I really love these tag matches that build up multiple future matches at once, and having two of those future opponents on the same team makes the whole dynamic even more intense. The relationship between the IWGP champion and the G1 winner leading up to WK is really interesting, because sometimes they’re straight-up rivals and sometimes they have a mutual respect thing going on. I honestly haven’t seen or heard Ibushi address Okada specifically much since the G1; he seems to talk more about the idea of winning the championship rather than the actual match (although I could certainly be missing something considering there’s a lot of content out there in a language I don’t speak). Regardless, I’m interested to see how they interact. I’d really like to see them show off a little and give the other guy a preview of what he’s going to be up against. 

So in addition to Okada-Ibushi, we have Okada-SANADA and Ibushi-EVIL being waved at here. This should set the stage for some intense stuff, and I’d say it’s certainly fair to assume Eagles and BUSHI are the designated pin-eaters. I could see the match going either way, but it feels like LIJ have a lot of momentum right now considering all the high profile matches the members are lining up, so I’m going to bet on that. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon

Hirooki Goto vs. Shingo Takagi

Tyler: In the grand scheme of things, this match will not mean a lot when it comes to the pecking order, but if we get anything like their match from the G1 B Block Final, this is going to absolutely rule. Being relatively new to the Japanese wrestling scene, I was first introduced to Shingo when he debuted at King Of Pro Wrestling, and he immediately became one of my favorites. His charisma, in-ring style and look grabbed my attention right away and he has not disappointed. Even though he had a losing record in the G1, he has been booked to be a destructive force, and one that has a bright future in the heavyweight division going forward.

Then, there is Hirooki Goto, a great worker that looks like a geek half the time. He has a fantastic move set that is perfect for New Japan, but there has always been something missing with him. He has always been the guy that can get to the big match, but never take that next step. After their great G1 match that tore the house down, this match could go either direction, but I believe they will give the win to Takagi over giving Goto his win back. As I mentioned earlier Shingo has a bright future. Prediction: Shingo Takagi

John: I was very familiar with Shingo Takagi from his many years in Dragon Gate and I have to tell you, even as someone who already thought he was one of the best in the world, I kinda can’t believe how good this New Japan run has gone. He’s been super over with crowds since the day he walked in the door, which by the way was less than one year ago at last year’s King of Pro Wrestling, which is stunning to write out because it really feels like he’s been here forever now. He just feels like he belongs, which is probably a testament to the fact that his hard-hitting and yet also very fast-paced style fits modern NJPW hand-in-glove. 

With all that said, his showdown with Goto here feels like a classic “pump the breaks new guy” moment; remember, SANADA got over with NJPW crowds pretty quick too, and they still had him doing jobs to YOSHI-HASHI at times. Hirooki Goto, geek or not, is still far above YOSHI, so losing to him isn’t that big of a deal anyway, but I do think they’re going to use this match to kind of make sure Shingo doesn’t rise too quickly now that he’s a full-time heavyweight. Goto will get his win back from the G1 and give Shingo a bit of a setback to overcome as we head deeper into WK season. Meanwhile, I expect Goto to be ready to challenge for a secondary title- thinking NEVER, US, or maybe even British- as we get ready for Power Struggle (and Showdown in San Jose/LA) soon after KOPW. Prediction: Hirooki Goto

Lorien: I love Shingo, but I also feel like it’s right for Goto to win this match. Watching them fight the last time, I said that if you asked someone who isn’t into Japanese wrestling what Japanese wrestling looks like, they’d probably point at Shingo vs. Goto and say “that.” Which obviously isn’t to say that two guys with excellent hair and huge arms lariat-ing the crap out of each other is the pinnacle of all that modern puro stands for, but it’s a unique joy that a matchup like this can really deliver. I’m glad that Shingo has made the full heavyweight transition, because I think he can really do a lot more in that environment. That said, I also see that perception of Goto as the guy who can’t quite make it, and even given the momentum of LIJ right now, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to smack him down yet again to build up a guy who’s already had such an outstanding year. Prediction: Hirooki Goto

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. Jay White

Tyler: Ever since his loss to Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 12, there has been a lot of speculation as to the direction of Tetsuya Naito. While it didn’t seem like the right decision at the time, it worked out very well; Okada became the longest-reigning champion and Naito is more popular than ever. While he has been away from the heavyweight title scene, Naito won the Intercontinental title on 3 occasions and has been speaking for months about the possibility of being the first wrestler to hold the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles. With the evolving relationship that Naito has had with the IC title, it was a very peculiar statement that we have seen grow from seemingly nothing.

Going into the G1, Naito was the odds on favorite. He seemed destined to win the title on January 4h in Tokyo Dome, but Gedo, like he usually does, went galaxy brain and Naito lost to Jay White in the B Block final. The biggest question was: what was there for Naito? With the loss to Jay White, an IC Title match was inevitable. Jay has slid into the role of top gaijin flawlessly and has become the best heel in the business. Not only do I think that giving Jay the title helps him in a big way going into Wrestle Kingdom, but I believe it also sets up Tetsuya Naito to pull off the ultimate coup by winning the presumed mini-tournament, not only becoming the first person to hold both belts at the same time, but also win both of them in back to back nights. The road for Naito fans has been tumultuous (just ask John), but this will be the final roadblock to his crowning moment. Prediction: Jay White

John: I’ve enjoyed this feud every step of the way, as White and Naito have really played off each other super well. The dynamic here is very simple: they are both enormous jerks, but while Naito actually is tranquilo, Jay can only pretend. He tries to smile through it as all of his usual attempts at needling his opponent fail to elicit even the tiniest of reactions from Tetsuya, but eventually, the mask always falls and he shows that he’s actually quite gotten to. There’s also of course been a very horny element to it (as much as this apparently annoys some folks), which is something they’ve even sort of leaned into.

But finally, after weeks of laying on the mat smiling at each other and discovering a shared spitting kink, they arrive in Kobe with the Intercontinental Championship on the line. This is a match that I really do feel can go either way, which always makes things far more exciting. I think, as Tyler laid out, Naito will clearly be involved in the double title scenario at the Tokyo Dome whether he wins here or not. He’s the one who started all this dual champion business way back at the very start of the year, before it was even a glint in the eye of Ibushi or anyone else. Whether you think he’s ultimately ending the first-ever two-day Wrestle Kingdom as double champion or not (Naito fans especially could be excused for maybe being reluctant to believe again), it still stretches credibility to assume that he won’t at least be in the mix at the Dome. So I don’t think there will be any Naito fan meltdowns on Twitter if he does lose here, as much as I’m sure that will disappoint the people who weirdly seem to get off to that.

But will Naito lose here? People are assuming that Jay White will for sure be in the double title mix at the Dome as well (probably as Naito’s 1/4 IC opponent, and in that scenario it makes more sense for him to win this and have Naito chase him), but I’m not 100% convinced that’s necessarily the case. White’s talk of being double champion didn’t begin until the build to this match; it could theoretically just be a way to build to this Intercontinental defense, with White talking up how it’s actually his Destino to be double champion and then losing to Naito to put an end to that. True, it would be a step back for him, but it’s not like White hasn’t suffered major setbacks before (see: losing the IWGP Title to Okada in the MSG main event) and bounced back from them. ZSJ suddenly throwing himself into the mix here seems important too, and at the same time there’s a few other people Naito lost to in the G1 that he could still end up having to fight either before or at WK, such as Taichi and (especially) Jon Moxley. The bottom line for all of this is that while the IWGP Heavyweight side of the “double title” picture feels almost set in stone- Okada and Ibushi retain the title and briefcase respectively at KOPW, head to the main event of the 1/4 Tokyo Dome with the winner going to the double title match on 1/5- the IC half of the picture really could still go a ton of different ways. Jay White winning here and Naito having to fight his way back and somehow earn a rematch for 1/4 definitely feels like one possible way it could go, and maybe you’d even argue that’s the most likely way, but I just have a gut feeling that Naito is winning this. And then at that point, who knows how we get to that double title match on 1/5, with possible challengers like Moxley, Taichi and ZSJ standing in Naito’s way. That would still leave us wondering what Jay is doing at Wrestle Kingdom, but remember: in a double title scenario, where one man walks out of both shows with both the Heavyweight & IC, suddenly the US Title looks a lot more important doesn’t it? Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Lorien: I’ve been pondering for what feels like months trying to come up with the ultimate take that will help me figure out what I think is going to happen with Naito. He’s the originator of the whole two belts concept, so it feels like an unnecessary slap to end up giving that to someone else first; so I think, surely, he’ll come out of the Dome with both belts. But ask 2017 Lorien what Naito was going to walk out of the Dome with at WK 12, and the answer wouldn’t have been “a hernia” or whatever it was he ended up with after getting Rainmakered for the 27th time. What I’m saying here is that the future of Naito is a perpetual unknown. And I honestly love him as a wrestler and performer so much that it’s hard for me to say at any point that he’s being booked badly, just because it feels like he’s successful with any hand he’s dealt due to the fact that he’s Naito. I do salute John for their bravery in saying what needs to be said re: the horniness of this feud; wrestling storylines can go that way pretty easily given the “guys in underwear fighting” nature of the business, but Naito and Jay White specifically have this powerful aura of smug sleaziness and they’re playing off each other amazingly. In situations like this, I often think about the Gedo tendency to have a guy just absolutely get obliterated for a long stretch and then come back on top (how long was Hiromu’s losing streak before BOSJ 25?), and so I’m gonna say that Jay White takes the belt here and Naito chases him to WK. Prediction: Jay White