New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 1
January 4, 2020
Tokyo Dome

Watch: New Japan World

Meet our previewers:

  • John Carroll: John is tired of waiting, it’s Wrestle Kingdom season, let’s go baby! Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla and their podcast @wrestleomakase.
  • Suit Williams: WRESTLE KINGDOM BITCHES! TWO DAYS! TWO DOMES! LET’S FUCKING GO! He’s on Twitter @SuitWilliams, and listen to his podcast @SmarkSports on Apple Podcasts and all podcast apps.

Opening Match 1: STARDOM Exhibition Match
Mayu Iwatani & Arisa Hoshiki vs. Hana Kimura & Giulia

John: Wrestle Kingdom 14 gets underway with not one, not two, but THREE dark matches, with this match scheduled to take place at 4 pm Japan time (2 am eastern/11 pm pacific Friday night). Our first dark match is a bit of a historic one, with joshi wrestlers appearing at the Tokyo Dome for the first time since the team of Kaoru Ito and Momoe Nakanishi defeated Manami Toyota and Yumiko Hotta on NJPW’s Toukon Memorial Day 30th Anniversary show (May 2nd, 2002). Unfortunately, as I write this the only confirmed way to view this match is to be in the Tokyo Dome at bell time, as the match will not air on New Japan World. This has more to do with television network politics than anything else, as even though STARDOM was recently purchased by Bushiroad (who of course are also NJPW’s parent company), the two promotions air on rival television networks, TV Asahi (also part owners of NJPW and NJPW World) and the Nippon TV-owned Tokyo MX. There’s no word yet if this match will even be able to be taped and uploaded to STARDOM’s own streaming service, STARDOM World, as of yet, but I for one very much hope so.

As for the match itself, Mayu Iwatani is the ace of STARDOM and the current World of STARDOM Champion. She’s one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, not just one of the best women’s wrestlers, and has more than earned this opportunity. Her partner Arisa Hoshiki was one of the feel good stories of the year in 2019- she retired from professional wrestling way back in May 2012 when she was still just a teenager, only to return over six years later in November 2018. She made an immediate impact by winning STARDOM’s #2 belt, the Wonder of STARDOM Title, from Momo Watanabe on May 16th, 2019 (nearly seven years to the day of her first retirement) and is now one of STARDOM’s rising stars. Meanwhile, Hana Kimura is the daughter of joshi veteran Kyoko Kimura. She started out in the WRESTLE-1 dojo and appeared all across the joshi world before finally signing a full-time deal with STARDOM in March of 2019. Finally, Giulia is by far the most controversial inclusion in this match. She was a wrestler with a competing joshi promotion called Ice Ribbon until she suddenly resigned from the company on October 13th, 2019. She appeared in STARDOM the next day, though her actual in-ring debut with the company ended up being delayed as a result of her controversial exit. This sudden and unexpected betrayal of her home promotion led joshi fans on Twitter to dub her “the Giudas” (Giulia plus Judas, get it?) and she quickly was positioned as a heel in STARDOM as a result. She and Hana have been feuding since pretty much the day she walked into STARDOM, but they seemed to show a grudging respect at the end of their first singles match against each other, a 15-minute draw on the 12/24 Korakuen Hall show. At the end of that event this match where the two would team up was announced, so it will be interesting to see how they get along here. You can certainly see why Bushiroad would want to promote the half-Italian, half-Japanese, London-born Giulia and her striking look in the big Tokyo Dome spot, but her selection here caused a great deal of controversy both among STARDOM fans and even many of its top wrestlers on Twitter, who seemed unhappy with the newcomer getting the shoulder tap. Anyway, I’ll go with the two champions to get the win here, and I just hope we get to see the match on STARDOM World eventually. Prediction: Mayu Iwatani & Arisa Hoshiki

Suit: I am far from a STARDOM expert, but I am aware of all four of these women. Giulia is the controversial new signing, Kimura is a very popular unit leader, Iwatani is a high-ranking babyface, and Hoshiki…does that cool Brazilian kick. I will pick Hana and Giulia to win with no reasoning behind it whatsoever. Prediction: Hana Kimura & Giulia

Opening Match 2
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors & Alex Coughlin

John: Good to see the young lions getting their due, as the LA Dojo vs. Noge Dojo rivalry was one of NJPW’s low key highlights of 2019. Not a ton else to say about this one really. You could see Henare getting a pin on either Tsuji or Uemura, but I think they give Makabe the King Kong Kneedrop win to send him into the NEVER 6-man gauntlet the next night with a bit of momentum. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

Suit: A big spot for the young lions here, as Makabe and Honma lead the Japanese dojo trainees against Toa Henare and the LA Dojo guys. This will be your standard 8-9 minute young lion match, with Makabe vanishing after minute one. The company is very high on Young Lion Cup winner Fredericks, as anyone with eyes would be, so I think his team will win so he can have his hand raised in the Dome. Prediction: Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors & Alex Coughlin

Opening Match 3
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi

John: As we talked about on the NJPW Year in Review 2019 episode of Wrestling Omakase (cheap plug!), boy was it a quiet year for the New Japan Dads. Other than Nagata somehow having a ****1/2 match at his age against Tomohiro Ishii in the first round of the New Japan Cup, the third generation didn’t do much at all last year. Both these teams are coming off of very quiet runs in the World Tag League,  where TenKoji went 4-11 and Nagata and Nakanishi fared even worse at 2-13. One of Nagata and Nakanishi’s two wins was over TenKoji however, so I’ll pick them to get their win back here. Prediction: TenKoji

Suit: The NJPW Senior Circuit gets their shine on the pre-show, as TenKoji take on Nagata and Nakanishi here. Tenzan is damn near immobile, and Nakanishi is somehow worse off, but these guys will get up to the Dome and present a passable tag match at the very least. Let me get a good bit of Kojima against Nagata, and I’ll be satisfied. Prediction: TenKoji

Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Match I
Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask (w/ El Samurai) vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Ohtani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi (w/ Kuniaki Kobayashi)
Special Referee: Norio Honaga

John: We kick off the main card at 5 pm Japan time (3 am eastern/midnight pacific) with this match. The first of Jushin Thunder Liger’s two retirement matches is basically just a big old party at the old folks home, as Liger brings in all of his old buddies (and uh also Taguchi for some reason) as probably just an excuse to go out to an izakaya together later that night. 66-year old Fujinami is making his first appearance in NJPW since 2008 (when he and Takao Omori went to the semifinals of the Yuke’s Cup PREMIUM One Night Tag Tournament!), 50-year old Sasuke is here for the first time since 2011 (he competed in the BOSJ that year, finishing with 10 points), 54-year old Sano hasn’t been in NJPW since 2011 as well (when he and Yoshihiro Takayama lost a double-title match for the IWGP & GHC Tag Titles to Giant Bernard & Karl Anderson), 47-year old Ohtani last appeared in 2013 at Wrestle Kingdom 7 (teaming with Keiji Mutoh to lose to TenKoji), and 47-year-old Takaiwa hasn’t appeared since he was losing a Mask vs. Mask match to Tiger Mask in June 2009 at Dominion (Takaiwa was of course wrestling as Black Tiger). Not counting Liger but including the managers and the special referee, these wrestlers have held the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title a combined 17 times…..and then Liger’s 11 reigns brings that up to 28. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter who wins this, but ultimately I think Liger is going to want to job both nights because that’s just kinda who he is. Prediction: Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Ohtani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi

Suit: I really should have saved that Senior Circuit joke for this match, as somehow Ryusuke Taguchi finds himself in one of Jushin Thunder Liger’s retirement matches. Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I know Liger’s career inside and out, but I know this is a historically significant match here. A ring full of legends of their own right coming together to help celebrate the retirement of another will make for a special moment, starzzz be damned. Knowing Liger, he’ll probably push for Taguchi to tap him out because Liger wants to keep Taguchi warm for a first round New Japan Cup match or something. I’m hoping someone literally drags Liger on top of them so he can get the pin. (Side note: I wrote a column on Liger’s willingness to cede the spotlight for VOW, check it out here.) Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask

Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, EVIL, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI) vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi & El Desperado)

John: I know some folks were real mad with these two eight-man tags on a Tokyo Dome undercard, and I can understand why, but ultimately I’ll take this as a “let’s get everyone on the card” method over what they’ve done in years past, shoehorning extra participants into undercard tag or junior heavyweight title matches and making them multi-ways. Of course, the big question at hand here is whether there’s any kind of angle involved, perhaps involving Suzukigun and all those “Minoru Suzuki is leaving” rumors from late last year. My gut tells me there’s nothing to that and BUSHI is losing to Zack to pay back that surprising result from Korakuen Hall, but who knows, my gut has certainly been wrong before. Prediction: Suzukigun

Suit: A match with no real stakes, as it seems to exist only to build up the SANADA/Sabre British Heavyweight Title match the next day. It’s disappointing to see this as Shingo, Suzuki and Taichi’s only match on Wrestle Kingdom proper, but thems the breaks. I think this will be more of an angle than a match, but as far as who wins, I actually think Despy will get the pin on BUSHI here. Desperado was set up to be a major player in the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors before breaking his jaw, and I think this will be a neat little way to set him up for a feature role in 2020. Prediction: Suzukigun

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. BULLET CLUB (KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens)

John: Another eight-man tag to get through here, this time probably with even less of a chance of any angle or major happening than the previous one. Maybe Shibata shows up to save Goto from a BULLET CLUB beatdown and establish that he’ll be in his corner for the NEVER title match the next night? That’s all I’ve really got here folks. Otherwise, this is just a match. If you’re gonna complain about eight-man tags on Wrestle Kingdom this is the one to complain about, as at least Suzukigun vs. LIJ matches are usually good. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Suit: Another heat-up match, as Goto and KENTA lead their stablemates into action before their NEVER Title match the next night. Watching the Korakuen Hall shows leading up to Wrestle Kingdom, one worry I have is the crowd heat for the KENTA/Goto interactions. There was very little of it at Korakuen Hall, which signals that this isn’t a very anticipated match. While I could go on a rant as to why that will happen when you build up a different match, I will just say that I hope this match successfully builds that heat. As far as who wins, I’m sure Yano will do his shenanigans and pin Yujiro. Prediction: CHAOS

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IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Guerillas of Destiny © vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay

John: FinJuice winning the World Tag League was a legitimate feel-good moment, as David Finlay pinned EVIL for by far the biggest win of his NJPW career with tears in his eyes. He’s a guy that worked hard since day 1, both as a young lion and then in the role Henare now fills as  “not technically a young lion but still the clear bottom of the non-YL pecking order”, only to go down with an injury just as he was finally getting a bit of a push in early 2019. He and Juice have great chemistry together as partners and real life best friends, and they’re such classic babyfaces who come across as genuinely likeable in their promos that you really can’t help but root for them. So here’s where I unfortunately have to ask…..are they actually winning here? I’m not so sure. I’ll give you two reasons why I doubt it: 1) the sudden and unexpected addition of a Juice US Title shot on 1/5, which doesn’t make a lot of sense unless he’s going to win (and I don’t buy the idea that they’re gonna have another wrestler walk out of the Dome with two belts when the entire thing is built around someone ending with the top two titles in the company, as that just seems redundant) and 2) all the talk from the Guerillas in the lead up that they’ve never managed to win and successfully retain their titles at Wrestle Kingdom, which seems to be setting up that they’re finally going to do it on what’s their signature run with these titles. So yes folks, as boring as you may find this GOD title reign (and I definitely can’t disagree with you there), I think you’d better strap in and prepare yourself for it to continue past the Tokyo Dome. Prediction: Guerillas of Destiny

Suit: You can’t see me writing this preview, but I am literally on my hands and knees begging Gedo to put the belts on FinJuice. The tag team scene in New Japan is so stale and lifeless than any injection of new blood will be welcomed by me. Now, my worry is that Juice is also in a US Title match the next day against either Lance Archer or Jon Moxley (more on them later). I don’t see them doing Two Title Robinson considering there’s four guys who are fighting for that same honor higher up the card. So Juice probably isn’t winning one of these matches here. I will pick the fresher option and pick FinJuice to win here. GOD have done their jobs as tag team champions as well as one could expect, and Juice with the US Title has been done to death. Let’s get FinJuice rolling with style. And let’s make Dangerous Tekkers a thing too, they’re fantastic too. Prediction: Juice Robinson and David Finlay

IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Texas Death Match
Lance Archer © vs. Jon Moxley

John: Let’s be real- the IWGP US Heavyweight Title picture was made kind of a mess thanks to a little typhoon. Moxley was scheduled to defend his title at King of Pro Wrestling against Juice Robinson in a rematch of their June 5th title bout, but thanks to the storm he was unable to make it to the show. As is NJPW tradition, if a champion is unable to defend their title in a scheduled defense (as last happened to Togi Makabe with the NEVER title in 2015), they’re stripped of the belt and the title is put up for grabs in a decision match. That match ended up being Juice vs. the Murderhawk Monster, and in what has to go down as a bit of an upset, Archer picked up the victory and became the new champion. It was an exclamation point on his incredible run in 2019, where he went from being a tag team wrestler to a standout singles star with huge runs in the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax, at age 42! Moxley showed up at the World Tag League finals (and you gotta call Mox a real one for flying god knows how many hours just to shoot an unscheduled angle when he could have just sent a video like Jericho instead; knowing him he may just have had a Toudoukan order he wanted to pick up) to confront Archer, memorably delivering perhaps my favorite line of all of 2019: “You didn’t beat me for that title, Delta Airlines beat me for that title!”. God he rules. How did WWE manage to waste this man for so long? Anyway! If you’re wondering what a Texas Death Match actually entails here, it’s basically just a Last Man Standing match with submissions also legal. So you can win only via 10-count knockout or submission, no pinfalls or obviously count outs or disqualifications. I’m quite confident that these two men are going to have a completely wild brawl that tears the house down, but of all the matches on the card I really have trouble picking a winner for this one. I feel reasonably sure that Juice is beating one of them on Night 2, so the question is which one? As I think about it more and more, I think it makes the most sense for Moxley to win here and then lose to Juice the next night. It would then set up a big Juice vs. Archer US title match for the New Beginning in USA tour, since Archer will be able to say quite rightly that Juice has still never beaten him. But I won’t be surprised if Archer pulls out the win either. Prediction: Jon Moxley

Suit: Johnny Typhoon gets his chance to regain the US Title against Lance Archer here. This is such an interesting matchup for me, as I can see both guys walking out with the title here. I think that Moxley was going to put Juice Robinson over at King of Pro Wrestling, which makes me think that he will get the title back and do the honors on January 5th. But, Archer has been on the roll of his career since the 2019 G1 Climax, and he’s in a very good position here as US Champion. I said earlier that I don’t think Juice Robinson is winning both of his title matches, and considering that Moxley can’t work US dates for New Japan, this makes my decision easy. I’m picking Lance Archer to do the weekend sweep and walk into the New Beginning USA tour as United States Champion. Prediction: Lance Archer

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay © vs. Hiromu Takahashi

John: If you’re not excited for this one I question whether or not you have a pulse. Hiromu Takahashi, probably the greatest wrestler on the entire planet earth before he went down to injury in the summer of 2018, challenging for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title against Will Ospreay, the undisputed junior ace who tore up the division and even beat top heavyweights while Hiromu was gone. What more do I even have to say? This is classic pro wrestling all the way: the seemingly unbeatable current champion vs. the challenger making his comeback from injury and trying to win back the belt he never actually lost. I really like how they promoted it at the three Road to Tokyo Dome shows, too, where Hiromu made his return in tag team matches but revealed he was still a bit rusty after such a long period off. He got upset by Ospreay’s Birds of Prey partner Robbie Eagles on the first night via a flash pin and though he didn’t get pinned on the other two nights, he was on the losing side of all three hype matches. It’s a great story to tell even though I think the result is still predictable, so now when Hiromu wins at the Dome it feels like he overcame even more on his comeback trail. Hiromu winning here will set he and Ospreay up for what should be great 2020s for both of them: Hiromu will take back the mantle of junior ace and bring the division in a different direction, probably including feuds with his old rivals Ryu (ex-Dragon) Lee and El Desperado, while Ospreay will graduate to the heavyweight division full-time and continue his slow rise up the card that began in 2019. I know it’s fun to pick on New Japan’s booking sometimes, and god knows I’ve had my share of complaints, but they really do the big picture stuff better than anyone. Anyway, this could very well be the greatest match of the entire weekend (or maybe even the whole damn year) and I don’t think a single person would be surprised. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Suit: One of my most anticipated matches of the weekend here, as Hiromu Takahashi gets his chance to reunite with Mr. Belt against Will Ospreay. Now if you didn’t watch the Road To Wrestle Kingdom shows, you will have missed a big part of this story. Hiromu has lost three straight comeback matches with Will Ospreay on the other side. Some people have criticized this decision to have Hiromu come back at Korakuen Hall instead of saving that moment for the Tokyo Dome, however I think it was a smart piece of booking. Having those matches under his belt established a few things. One, it established Ospreay as the villain of the story. Ospreay has said that Hiromu isn’t ready to come back and beat one of the best wrestlers in the world, and Ospreay has outright taunted Hiromu after his losses. That will allow for everyone in the building to be behind Hiromu, as Ospreay is very good at wearing the proverbial black hat. Two, it puts the outcome of the match in doubt. Hiromu coming back and just winning the belt is a very surface-level, WWE type story. And with Ospreay being in the 2019 G1 Climax, his move to full-time heavyweight is almost certain at this point. While no one would complain about the match quality, the outcome would be a lock in the minds of most fans. With those losses, they put that little seed of doubt in everyone’s heads. And that is all you need to have the Dome living and dying with every near-fall. And three, by pinning Hiromu in his comeback match, it sets up Robbie Eagles for a Jr. Title shot if Hiromu wins here. Brilliant stuff all around.

With all that said, Hiromu is gonna get the win here. Ospreay has had a phenomenal run as champion, and an incredible 2019 as a whole. If these two get their way, this will be an incredible start to Hiromu’s comeback, a Match of the Year frontrunner, and Ospreay’s pièce de résistance as a junior heavyweight. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Jay White © vs. Tetsuya Naito

John: I wrote basically a whole damn book about Tetsuya Naito’s journey in the NJPW 2019 ebook (coming soon!) so I won’t reiterate everything here. What I’ll say is pretty simple: the double championship has always been Naito’s story since the moment he floated the idea at the end of January 2019, so anyone hoping for some kind of “Jay White holds up both belts and cackles with Gedo as Wrestle Kingdom 14 fades to black” ending is really just kidding themselves. Naito has suffered setback after setback in his quest to become the first double champion, but if you put the whole story together it actually makes perfect sense. First, he had to embrace the title belt that he spent the better part of two years rejecting, which he did when he picked it up and blasted Jericho in the face with it last year at WK13. Then he revealed his double title idea, only to be confronted by Kota Ibushi, who argued that using the white belt as merely a means to a double title end was disrespectful to the history of a title that he holds in high regard (due to the fact that it was held by his “two gods” Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shinsuke Nakamura). Ibushi eliminated him from the New Japan Cup in the very first round, which would have been Naito’s first ticket to a double title match with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and then took the IC belt from him at G1 Supercard to boot. Naito had to thus go and get the belt back from him, and when he did so at Dominion he also essentially conquered Ibushi’s ideology with his own. Kota went from rejecting the double title idea to later embracing it himself as the only way he could get back his beloved white belt, which also just so happened to set the wheels in motion for Naito’s redemption later. Naito thus entered the G1 as his next big opportunity to earn the champion vs. champion match, but this time he ran into the Swichblade Jay White, who eliminated him on the final night of block competition. White, like Ibushi, suddenly embraced Naito’s idea of becoming the first double champion, saying it was in fact his own destino to win both belts, not Naito’s. He seemingly proved it by defeating Naito a second straight time at Destruction in Kobe to take the Intercontinental title from him, seemingly leaving Naito with nothing and thus out of the picture for Wrestle Kingdom 14.

But, as Naito himself said, Si no me rindo, puedo ver la luz. “If I don’t give up, I can see the light.” It’s as hopeful a statement as Naito has ever made since becoming El Ingobernable, and it holds a great deal of meaning: he was finally ready to put his disappointments behind him. Despite Jay White’s howls of protest, Naito got himself inserted into the “double gold dash” based on, if nothing else, the simple unfairness of White getting to walk right into 1/5 as IC Champion while the Heavyweight Champion would have competed on the previous night. Can you quibble with Naito getting the shot based on little more than beating Taichi at Power Struggle? Sure, although you can also point to the fact that he had the second-most wins of anyone in NJPW last year (111, just below Shingo Takagi’s 112, and hey Naito beat Shingo in their only head-to-head meeting in the G1 so you can still kinda say that makes sense!) and his best overall winning percentage of anyone on the roster. Naito gets what will be his final opportunity at becoming the first ever double IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion, and he’s even admitted that on the surface he should be the biggest underdog. Okada and White are entering with the two titles, Ibushi is entering as the G1 Climax winner, and Naito is entering with nothing more than the hopes and dreams of his fans worldwide, who have been waiting and clamoring for him to finally, FINALLY get his big moment. This company has certainly broken my heart before, but as I sit here right now on December 30th, I too haven’t given up- and I can see the light. Tetsuya Naito is finally beating Jay White on his third try, he’s regaining the IWGP Intercontinental Title (a belt he’s never failed to win at the Tokyo Dome, and special shout out to our own Chris Samsa for reminding me of that little stat), and he’s going to the main event on January 5th looking to at last deliver that LIJ roll call at the end of the Tokyo Dome. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Suit: This is truly Tetsuya Naito’s last stand as a legitimate IWGP Heavyweight Championship challenger. He said he would win the title after winning the 2017 G1. He didn’t. He said he would win the 2018 G1 and avenge his heartbreaking loss to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 12. He didn’t. He said he would win this year’s G1 and live out his dream as both IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion. He didn’t. This is his last chance to make good on his promises to be the top guy in New Japan. If he loses here, or worse, loses the double title match on January 5th, he may as well go sit under a waterfall with Hirooki Goto like the losers they are. 

Standing in Naito’s way is Intercontinental Champion and perennial troll Jay White. White has essentially co-opted Naito’s goal to be double champion, simply to grind at Naito and his fans. He also wants to be double champion because he feels like the company is against him, using his lack of visibility in the Double Gold Dash promotion as proof of it. He says that while conveniently ignoring the fact that he’s been Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion, and was in the G1 Final. This is tailor made for Naito to shut this cocky little prick’s mouth and get the Intercontinental Title back. But Naito has had so many matches tailor made for him to win, only for him to be counting the lights at the end. Would Gedo troll the LIJ faithful again by having his charge stand tall over him again? I don’t think so, but the mischievous part of me wants to see the nuclear meltdown if it does. But Naito will win here. Probably. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada © vs. Kota Ibushi

John: If there’s any downside to the whole double gold dash thing it’s that, for a while at least, this match felt like kind of the lost January 4th main event. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion vs. the G1 Climax winner is usually the biggest match on the New Japan calendar, but here it’s at best the second biggest with the double title match on January 5th looming. Add to that the simple fact that there’s no real issue here between the two of them and I can’t blame you if you didn’t have a ton of hype for this match…..until recently. After a slow start I think New Japan finally did a really good job building this match, in a few different ways. Okada has been in peak form as an absolutely insufferable douchebag, a smirk permanently etched onto his face as he declared that not only was he certain of victory at the Tokyo Dome, but he didn’t even care about the other belt he was going to win! Okada is the one wrestler who has completely dismissed the very concept of the “double gold dash”, comparing it to the idea of a gold medalist wanting a silver medal and saying only the IWGP Heavyweight Title matters. It makes total sense from a character standpoint- after all, Okada has only ever challenged for the Heavyweight belt since returning from his excursion in 2012, and he’s never shown even the tiniest bit of interest in winning the Intercontinental during his short periods between IWGP Heavyweight reigns. Some fans even agree with him on this, as you could see in the results of the fan poll he asked for- 9,055 fans voted that they weren’t interested in seeing a double title match at the Tokyo Dome. That was still nearly 7,000 less than the 15,952 who said they wanted to see it, but nine thousand people isn’t nothing! To the rest of us though, Okada is the cocky asshole who’s essentially threatening to become the double champion under protest. Fuck him!

Frankly, Okada has been such a prick during this build that when Kota Ibushi suddenly decided to whip his G1 winner briefcase around and nail him on the side of the head with it toward the end of the World Tag League, it felt completely justified. Kota showing that “dangerous side”, that unpredictable streak where he gets that glimmer in his eyes and suddenly goes psycho, is one of the things that really reinvigorated the build of this match toward the end. You can say it’s predictable that Okada is getting his win back from the G1, but at the same time if you watch this match unspoiled Kota will get that look in his eyes again, and he’ll start throwing those palm strikes, and he’ll absolutely wipe Okada out with a kick to the head, and you’ll believe that he may just pull this off. Unless you’re the kind of weirdo who only roots for the favorites in everything no matter how many times they’ve won you’ll be rooting for him to do it too. Ibushi actually wants to be double champion, unlike Okada, and you’re gonna want him to finally wipe that smirk off Rainmaker’s face and head to the double title match on 1/5 with the IWGP Heavyweight Title held high. Ultimately I think we’re all going to have to wait another twenty-four hours for a certain ungovernable one to be the one who slaps that smirk off Okada’s face for real, but I’m sure I’ll be rooting for the Golden Star to pull it off just the same. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Suit: So I guess this is happening. If there has ever been a Wrestle Kingdom main event that has felt as much of an afterthought as this one, I would like to see it. People have been waiting for YEARS to see Ibushi win the G1 and claim the IWGP Heavyweight Title. You can go back and listen to old Flagship episodes where Joe and Rich talk about the Ibushi Trap, where everyone would pick Ibushi to win the G1 only for him to finish with 8 points. Now he’s finally on the cusp of making that dream a reality, except now his match is a stopgap to another match, which could have a guy that everyone REALLY wants to see with the belt. Even if he wins, Ibushi can’t win. Then you have Okada, who has gone from ignoring the Double Gold Dash to actively dumping on the idea as a whole. He says that the Heavyweight Title should be everyone’s goal, and comparing the Intercontinental Title to a silver medal. The worst part of all of this is that this match is going to be awesome. These two had a match at the 45th Anniversary Show in 2017 (Ibushi was wrestling as Tiger Mask W) that ended up on my Match of the Year list. Their match in Budokan Hall as part of the G1 was fantastic as well. Their chemistry will make for an incredible January 4th main event, which makes it that much more annoying that it feels like an afterthought.

Okada should win this match. Ibushi finally reaching the mountain top here seems like a waste of a moment considering he’d have to defend it the next day, not to mention the fact that he would be the fans second option in that title match to boot. It sucks that the awesome darkside Ibushi that has emerged in the past few weeks will eat a Rainmaker and lose. But Okada winning this match sets up the long protected Okada/Naito rematch, which I believe has sold a good chunk of those seats on day two despite it not being announced. It also sets up a cool story where Naito, who literally destroyed the old Intercontinental Title, is defending it against another man who has disrespected it in Okada. Sort of like an “I can make fun of my little brother, but you can’t” type of deal. This match has the least buzz of the Double Gold Dash matchups, but it may end up being the best of them all. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada