New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 2
January 5, 2020
Watch: New Japan World
Read our preview of Night 1 at https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2020/01/01/njpw-wrestle-kingdom-14-night-1-preview-predictions/
Meet our previewers:
- John Carroll: #NaitoTwoBelts. @toshanshuinla and @wrestleomakase.
- Gerard Di Trolio: Tetsuya Naito or we riot. On Twitter at @gerardditrolio.
- Suit Williams: Whoa, there’s two Tokyo Dome shows this year. That’s crazy. Night 1 is gonna end, but we’ll still have a whole ass other night to get hyped for. That rules. @SuitWilliams for my personal account, and @SmarkSports for my podcast.
Opening Match- NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet
Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi © vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI & Robbie Eagles) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI) vs. Suzukigun (Taichi, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens)
John: Your excitement level for this match probably has a lot to do with how much you miss the New Japan Rumble, as this NEVER gauntlet became the de facto replacement for what was affectionately referred to as the “rambo” at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Many fans had hoped the two nights at the Tokyo Dome this time around would mean one night of rambo and one night of NEVER gauntlet, but sadly it wasn’t to be. So with that out of the way, even if you miss the rambo (and I do miss it dearly) you can hopefully see the potential for a fun match here. There’s a lot of talented wrestlers who didn’t make the main card despite having really great 2019s, including Taichi, Shingo, Ishii, Eagles and EVIL. Unfortunately there’s also Bad Luck Fale, but hopefully his time in this match will be short.
So who walks out of here with these very prestigious (please note the sarcasm) titles? While Makabe/Yano/Taguchi somehow continuing their- I swear to god this is true- nearly 340-day title reign would be funny, I think ultimately it comes down to Suzukigun or LIJ winning the belts. I like the idea of getting an “every LIJ member with a belt” roll call at the end of the night, so let’s go ahead and give it to them. Whoever wins will either hold the belts for all of 2020 or lose them the next night at New Year’s Dash. There’s really no middle ground with these titles. Prediction: LIJ
Gerard: While I actually enjoy a New Japan Rumble more because I like to see who the surprise entrants are, a six-man gauntlet match is still a very good way to kick things off. The real problem with this match isn’t in the match itself, it’s that people like Takagi, El Desperado and Ishii aren’t in singles and/or tag matches that really mean something on the main card. As has been mentioned by John and many others, LIJ look like the favorites here so they can all do a roll call holding belts at the end of this show. Prediction: LIJ
Suit: The only pre-show match on the 5th is the yearly gauntlet match for the ever prestigious NEVER Trios Titles. Champions Makabe, Yano and Taguchi are going for their fifth successful defense in their nearly year-long title reign, with their last defense coming in October. Look, these belts are essentially meaningless. The company kept them on ice for the better part of a year and no one really noticed, champions included. But they can be used to accentuate certain stories, and I think I think the story of this show will be the ascension of LIJ to the top of the company. Shingo, EVIL and BUSHI score the win, and hopefully Chaos and Suzukigun have the bulk of this match. Prediction: LIJ
Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Match II
Jushin Thunder Liger & Naoki Sano (w/ Yoshiaki Fujiwara) vs. Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee
John: Well folks, this is it. Unless he somehow pulls a Terry Funk on us (which would be most welcome), this is the final match of Jushin Thunder Liger’s incredible career. What is there to say about Liger that hasn’t already been said? He’s very likely the greatest junior heavyweight of all time (I’ll hear an argument for Rey Mysterio if you want but that’s about it), and what makes his retirement all the more painful is he showed us repeatedly last year that he could still go! Whether it was his awesome junior title challenge against Taiji Ishimori at the Anniversary Show or the blood feud with Minoru Suzuki that culminated in a match most weren’t expecting, but was still quite awesome, at King of Pro Wrestling, Liger had a better year at age 54 than many wrestlers will have in their entire careers. I get wanting to leave the stage before you’ve made an embarrassment of yourself, but Jushin Liger, sir, you’re still nowhere close. But no amount of begging on my part in an English language preview he’ll never read will change the fact that this is it for him, so we’ll just all have to accept it. Somehow it still doesn’t feel real that he’s leaving us- he just wrestled in the main event of Korakuen Hall less than two weeks ago and still looked great in there with Okada!- but I’m sure by the time the bell rings here it will finally sink in. If not, there’s always the retirement ceremony the following night at New Year’s Dash, where I’m sure tears will be shed by many in attendance (and even more by those watching at home around the world).
So what of this match itself? First of all, the idea that anyone would actually rather see a three-way match with Liger, Hiromu and Lee is a joke. A three-way?! You think a three-way match would be a better ending to Jushin Liger’s career than a tag? I hate to call opinions wrong, but that’s as close to an objectively wrong opinion as I think I’ll ever encounter. You do not end Jushin Thunder Liger’s legendary career on a goofy multi-way match, sorry, you just don’t do it. Nobody wants to say goodbye to Liger via goofball “you throw me out of the ring so now these two can fight while the third guy pretends he’s in a coma on the floor” spots. Three-ways suck. What is wrong with people? Uh, anyway. I’m quite confident that Naoki Sano will be able to hold up his end of the bargain here- I understand that he’s an older fellow but nobody’s asking him to work a 30-minute iron man match on his own, I’m sure he’ll be fine (and Sano ruled in his day so it’s not like he’s some scrub anyway). And on the other side of the ring is only Hiromu freaking Takahashi and Ryu (Dragon) freaking Lee, so any thoughts that this match will be anything other than great should be thrown out the window right there. You also get the nice symmetry of junior rivals of the past teaming up to face junior rivals of the present and future, which is really cool and again, way better than a three-way. This is going to rule, Liger is going to go out on his back, and we’ll have seen a fitting end to the career of one of the greatest men to ever lace up a pair of boots. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee
Gerard: This will probably be a great match, though not necessarily what I would have run if I were booking New Japan. Lots of people rolling their eyes or expressing disappointment with how Liger’s retirement run has turned out. Sure it is not as interesting as it could have been. His final match in the U.S. is an example of that. But at the end of the day Liger went out how Liger wanted to. He could have done a far more grandiose countdown, but that is not is style, and we should respect that. Anyway, the result of this match is a foregone conclusion. But I’m still not sure who exactly gets the pin. Is it Hiromu, who is the new Jr. ace? Or is it Ryu Lee whose mask and high flying ability reminds us of Liger’s glory days? Since I’m expecting Hiromu to beat Ospreay for the Jr. title on January 4, I will go with Ryu Lee here since they might as well make a big splash with him since he just signed a contract. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee
Suit: This will be another step in the ascension of LIJ, as Hiromu and Ryu will almost certainly win here, but that is far from the story in this situation. It’s Jushin Thunder Liger’s final match. After 35 years, he’s calling it quits alongside longtime rival Naoki Sano. The result truly doesn’t matter here, as every fan watching will remember where they were when they saw this. But since this is a preview and predictions column, I’ll say the rechristened Ryu Lee will score the fall on Liger as a passing of the torch from one incredible masked wrestler to another. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori © vs. Roppongi 3K
John: This has been one of the weirdest built matches of the weekend, and not really in a good way. ELP and Ishimori won the titles way back in June during the Kizuna Road tour, and Roppongi 3K showed weirdly little interest in regaining them- even getting sidetracked into a brief feud with the Guerillas of Destiny over the heavyweight tag team titles in the fall. When that didn’t work out for them SHO & YOH won the Super Junior Tag League for a third straight year, only for ELP & Ishimori to steal their trophies at Power Struggle. And then ELP and Ishimori just kind of vanished for much of the rest of the year, not appearing on the entire World Tag League tour while SHO & YOH went out and mostly had a good ‘ol time wrestling Jushin Liger in six-mans alongside Okada, putting the feud on ice just after it had reached its emotional zenith. ELP and Ishimori did stop by the Lion’s Break Project shows in the middle of an anime convention though, so that’s nice for them I guess. Hopefully they picked up some cool merch, maybe a body pillow or something. And then when they finally did all get back together after nearly two months apart at the Road to Tokyo Dome Korakuens at the end of December, Roppongi 3K just…..stole their trophies back? Uh, why not wait until the Tokyo Dome to have them do that guys? No? Okay. I don’t get this feud! Anyway, I guess they’re gonna win here because why not, but they sure took a weird path along the way. Prediction: Roppongi 3K
Gerard: ELP is not really my cup of tea, but he is far more tolerable to me in this tag team with Ishimori. They are in fact pretty good, and the Jr. tag league was great this year. But this match really hasn’t been built up very well and these guys disappeared after Power Struggle. That being said this will still be pretty good and is perfectly placed on the card to come after what will no doubt be an extremely emotional match. Roppongi 3K should win here, give them one last big moment, a title reign for a few months, then have them go off and do some singles stuff. As someone that prefers YOH over SHO, I think that is the best way for the silver boy to finally get the attention he deserves. Prediction: Roppongi 3K
Suit: I don’t have too much to say here. ELP and Ishimori have gelled a lot better as a team since winning the titles in an oddly disjointed match at Kizuna Road, and Roppongi 3K are always a quality team. My assumption is that 3K would win, but that seems way too easy. They reclaimed their stolen Super Jr. Tag League trophies back in Korakuen Hall, but I think that’s all they will get back here. Bullet Club retain. Prediction: El Phantasmo & Taiji ishimori
British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. SANADA
John: If SANADA has one undeniable skill in professional wrestling it’s making some of the most insufferable accounts on Twitter absolutely lose their minds. So here’s my attempt to get screenshotted: while Zack Sabre Jr. has been a fine champion, it’s clear he’s still too hurting from Labour’s loss in the UK elections to give BritWres the full attention it so desperately needs right now. Who can be the saviour of this once-proud pro wrestling scene that’s been burned to ash by World Wrestling Entertainment and a bunch of so-called “punk rock” sellouts? The answer is, of course, SANADA. SANADA will defeat Zack Sabre Jr. and, in the process, save BritWres. God save the Queen (SANADA, he is the Queen now). Prediction: SANADA
Gerard: It shouldn’t be that controversial of a take to say that SANADA is ZSJ’s best opponent in New Japan. He wouldn’t be my first choice (that would be Ibushi), but he is up there. This match isn’t getting too much attention, but it has the chance to be one of the best. My only concern is that they do what they did last year give the British title match 11½ minutes. This bad boy needs a nice 15, maybe even closer to 20. After all, there is one less match on the main card on the 1/5 show than on Wrestle Kingdom 13 so hopefully this gets a good amount of time allotted to it. This has got to be SANADA’s match for the taking. His push looks like it will continue in 2020, and he’s a good choice to put the British title on, as he and the rest of his LIJ comrades show up in Rev Pro quite often. Prediction: SANADA
Suit: Zack has had a down year after his fast rise in 2018, failing to repeat in the New Japan Cup and being quickly eliminated from G1 contention. Meanwhile SANADA has had an excellent 2019, getting to the finals of the New Japan Cup and having four matches with Okada that considerably raised his star power. These two had an excellent match in Dallas for the opening of the G1, and on this big of a stage, you know they’ll tear it up. If you’re catching on to the trend that I’ve been fantasy booking in this preview, you’ll know who I’m picking. SANADA kicks off his year with a British Heavyweight Championship win in the Dome. Prediction: SANADA
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IWGP US Heavyweight Championship
Winner of Moxley/Archer on 1/4 © vs. Juice Robinson
Gerard: I hate this. This is the worst booking choice of the weekend compounded by the fact that I love all the possible wrestlers that could be in this match. I am a traditionalist in that I like some distance between title defences. They should not just be on every show for the sake of them. I’m sure the match will be good no matter who is in it. From the sounds of it Mox is going to be in New Japan in 2020 so I think he should be doing more than being in the U.S. title scene. So I think Mox beats Archer then Juice finally wins their rubber match. Plus I think Juice deserves his own double gold moment. While he continued to have great matches throughout the year, he definitely felt cold from the period after the G1 to beginning of World Tag League. I am of the opinion that Juice could be a main eventer in New Japan, so he deserves a big moment. Prediction: Juice Robinson
John: Please excuse us swapping order here; Gerard pulled ahead of me with this match and now I want the chance to react to HIS takes. So let me start by saying I can’t really disagree with anything he just said! Having the US Heavyweight Title defended on two straight nights just cheapens what has already been one of NJPW’s weirdest and dumbest belts since pretty much the day it was founded. I mean, why does NJPW have a belt that only white people apparently want, anyway? We’re now in year three of this title’s existence and amazingly exactly three non-white wrestlers have ever challenged for it: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kenny Omega on 10/15/17 in Chicago (the only Japanese wrestler to ever challenge for this New JAPAN Pro Wrestling title and it happened in ROH, go figure….), Punishment Martinez vs. Jay White on 5/11/18 in Toronto (on another ROH show) and Bad Luck Fale vs. Juice Robinson on 4/20/19 in Nagoya. Yes, apparently the US Title gets exactly one (1) non-white challenger per year, and as you may have noticed they all lose. What a weird ass title. So anyway, Juice Robinson gets to face the winner of Moxley-Archer for no reason at all here, why not. I have it as Moxley with Juice beating the man who originally took the title from him in the first place and then having to finally slay Archer on one of the New Beginning in USA shows, which at least makes some sense I guess. Hopefully this title gets something resembling direction or meaning in 2020, and maybe we can even get more than one non-white person involved next year too. That would be nice. There’s no reason why a Japanese wrestler can’t be the champion of these United States! We’ve already had a Canadian and a New Zealander anyway! Prediction: Juice Robinson
Suit: I said in the preview of night one that I didn’t think Juice would win both titles that he was challenging for, and I already picked him to win the Heavyweight Tag Titles with David Finlay. That means I’m picking Lance Archer (who I have beating Jon Moxley on 1/4) to complete the weekend sweep here. I think Lance Archer having the US Title, with Juice and Finlay having the tag titles would be a nice top two for the upcoming New Beginning USA tour. But even if FinJuice don’t win the tag titles on January 4th, I still think Archer should win here. Juice has pretty much plateaued at the US Title to the point where it’s gotten a bit stale for me, and Archer brings a fresher energy around that title. Everybody dies on 1/5, as Archer retains. Prediction: Lance Archer
NEVER Openweight Championship
KENTA © vs. Hirooki Goto
Gerard: For whatever reason I am not that disappointed that Shibata is not in this one. I think it is because I was not as convinced as others that he was somehow a lock to comeback considering he nearly died due to his injuries. This should be awesome as KENTA has really come into his own with his heel character and Goto never disappoints at the Tokyo Dome. Now since I think Shibata is probably not coming back I am going with Goto here but if Goto loses then I guess we will still play the wait and see game with Shibata. And if Shibata isn’t coming back, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goto wins here for the nice moment at the Tokyo Dome and KENTA wins the NEVER title back from him in a couple of months. Prediction: Hirooki Goto
John: Yeah, I totally get why fans are disappointed that Shibata isn’t in the match after the teases, but if you separate yourself out from that this really does have the potential to kick a lot of ass. Goto is coming off one of his more disappointing years of his career, but as Gerard said he almost always comes through at the Tokyo Dome when put in a big spot. Two years ago he challenged Minoru Suzuki at the Dome for this very title in a match that fans were also not super excited for (the Suzuki NEVER reign had been kind of mid and filled with interference, as weird as that sounds now; Suzukigun pretty much ditched all that stuff right after the loss to Goto and things went way up for both Suzuki himself and the entire unit from there), and Goto and Suzuki absolutely tore the house down. If you ignore the Shibata disappointment then this match has actually been built up really well, with Goto and KENTA at each other’s throats for months. KENTA really came into his own in the fall after joining BULLET CLUB, going from a guy who looked like he was awkwardly trying to figure out what “being KENTA” still meant in the G1 Climax to a supremely confident prick heel who looked like he was having the time of his life cutting increasingly bizarre but incredibly entertaining backstage promos. Can you imagine how many guys there must be in WWE who can be this entertaining without a script? People weren’t shocked that Dean Ambrose could do it, but Hideo Itami?! Anyway, this is going to rule, and I think we do get the happily ever after moment with Goto going over here, even if going back to the NEVER belt is kind of a dead end for him (but then again, where else can he really go at this point?). Prediction: Hirooki Goto
Suit: As someone who started watching New Japan around the tail end of Hirooki Goto’s main event push, I couldn’t give less of a fuck about Hirooki Goto. A lot of it is how he gets booked. At the Anniversary Show, Goto stood in the ring with Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi and said that he would win the New Japan Cup. He lost in the first round. He’s booked like an overconfident doofus that doesn’t understand his place in the pecking order. And the worst part about it is that he’ll come out and put on bangers every now and again. There’s talent there, it’s just too late to really do anything with it in New Japan without a drastic character shift. Meanwhile, KENTA is out here living his best life. He’s doing fantasy boyfriend videos in his backstage comments, he’s having kickass matches, and he’s got the energy that WWE drained out of him back. It’s amazing to see. I’m going to pick KENTA to win this, simply because I’m still holding out for Shibata to come back and take his belt back from that turncoat. Prediction: KENTA
Loser of Okada/Ibushi on 1/4 vs. Loser of White/Naito on 1/4
Gerard: North American fans don’t get this third place stuff. The rest of the world gets it because that’s what they do in tournaments in this little game you may have heard of called football (soccer). My take on this match is that I think it is obvious that Ibushi (who I think is losing to Okada on 1/4) wins this. The main reason for predicting Ibushi is that they have to fill Osaka-Jo Hall for the big The New Beginning Show. Ibushi vs. Naito is the really the only match that I think could headline that show unless they do some fuckery to give us Okada vs. Naito in Osaka which I think would be a bad idea. White can also handle two losses, and I think it will be the impetus for some character development and a change of direction for him, though him getting turfed from or quitting the Bullet Club and becoming a babyface is still a longer-term thing that is not going to happen as soon as New Year’s Dash. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
John: Here’s why I think Okada vs. Naito is definitely the main event of this show and not Ibushi vs. Naito: if Ibushi-Naito was the main that would make this losers’ match the first one-on-one meeting of Jay White and Kazuchika Okada since the Madison Square Garden main event last April, and I think they’re holding that rematch off for something a little more special than this here losers’ bowl. Okada and White are just 32 and 27 years old respectively, so that rivalry will be something they revisit as a major top feud for years to come. Sure, on the other hand you could argue that Okada-White here would be a full circle type of deal from last year’s Wrestle Kingdom where White beat Okada, and thus you could have Okada pay him back, but that would be supremely missing the point. White’s shocking 14-minute win at Wrestle Kingdom 13 was to set up Okada’s redemption at G1 Supercard, so he already got his win back and that was the end of that little arc that dated all the way back to White first beating him on the opening night of the 2018 G1. Whenever they revisit Okada vs. Jay White again, it will be the start of a new chapter, and I’m quite confident they’re saving it for a bigger stage than this. Hence the main event of this show is Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito, and this match is Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White. Okay? Okay.
So that then leaves us with the question of who is winning between Ibushi and White, and on that note, I go back and forth a lot. It looks like the winner here will challenge the winner of the main event (spoiler: Naito) for the double title at New Beginning in Osaka, which as Gerard mentioned is in the giant building that is Osaka Jo Hall. I understand his reasoning behind having Ibushi win here and face Naito there, but it feels too soon to go back to Naito-Ibushi to me. I think Kota will be the one to ultimately unseat Naito for the double gold (or just the IWGP Heavyweight Title since no one really knows how things will go after WK yet; are the belts gonna be defended together from here on out or separately?), perhaps at Dominion or even as soon as Sakura Genesis. But I don’t think they would give Naito a one-month reign (at least I sure hope not) and having Kota lose to Naito gain in February just seems like too much failure for him in a short stretch after he couldn’t beat Okada on 1/4. On the other hand, White could win here and also point out that he still has a 2-1 edge over Naito overall, and I think Naito vs. White is more than good enough to headline Osaka Jo, especially with another strong match or two on the undercard. Ibushi going 0-2 at Wrestle Kingdom 14 will of course not make his fans happy, but I think it will basically be his lowest point before he recovers and wins the title from Naito later in 2020. Prediction: Jay White
Suit: I have this match as Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White. The question here is simple: who can survive taking two straight losses in two straight days on the two biggest shows of the year? The answer here isn’t as simple as I originally thought. Originally, I thought it was a lock that Ibushi would win this match, since Jay White could survive losing two high-profile matches like this. But I put a little thought into it, and it isn’t that simple. One of these guys will presumably be challenging the Double Champion for one of the titles at New Beginning in Osaka, and I don’t think said double champ would lose them that quickly. So it’s basically who loses now versus who loses later. With that in my head, I’ve flipped my position. I think Jay White will win here and get all the Naito fans worried that he’ll drop the belt after a month again. Wait, I’ve done more thinking, and now I’m not confident in anything anymore. What if Okada is in this match, and then he can say that Naito never beat him for the title? OH GOD. Prediction: Jay White
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Chris Jericho
Gerard: The real question that could make or break Wrestle Kingdom is: Does New Japan have the rights to broadcast Judas on NJPW World? Failure to secure those rights could dampen my enjoyment of the show. But seriously, I was somewhat ambivalent about this match until the whole “forbidden door” issue came into play. It reminded me that we are dealing with two masters of the art of professional wrestling who realized there wasn’t much hype for their match then decided to turn it up to 11. However, the conclusion should be obvious with the de facto stipulation introduced here. Jericho is going to win, because Jericho is going to continue to appear in New Japan and he has lost his last two matches. I don’t think there is some secret swerve that is going to bring us an AEW and New Japan alliance. Nor do I want it, and have never wanted it, and with AEW’s recent direction, I want it even less than I wanted it before which was a big fat ZERO. I don’t want to watch Naito get beat up by the Dark Order on Wednesday nights. On a more cheery note, I expect this to be better than Okada vs. Jericho which I thought was disappointing. I think both guys want to prove something here, and I think Tanahashi wrestles a style that will gel better with Jericho’s style, and Tanahashi can show more vulnerability than Okada. Prediction: Chris Jericho
John: I will just get this out of the way immediately- NJPW/AEW is not happening anytime soon (just trust me on this one), so fans who are heading into this match excited about that possibility are going to be disappointed in the end. Alternatively, those like Gerard who do not want it (and at this point I’d have to put myself very strongly in that camp as well, beyond maybe wanting to see something like Hiromu vs. Darby Allin) can rest easy, because again, it’s just not happening. Jericho and Tanahashi are two old veteran hands who figured out a way to get a ton of excitement behind their match that, up until this whole “forbidden door” thing, had been feeling more than a little lost on the weekend, and they should be commended for that. There’s nothing wrong with NJPW running with it and uploading Jericho’s promo to social media either; I’ve seen some folks argue that this is some kind of false advertising or promotion of something they have no intention of delivering, akin to that infamous Kenny Omega Undertale video on TNT a few months ago, but the big difference here is that NJPW is promoting a match that’s actually happening. Jericho vs. Tanahashi isn’t some theoretical match they’re teasing with a silhouette in a goofy 8-bit video with no ability to deliver it, it’s a match they’re promoting for their biggest event of the year, already signed and scheduled to go down. Saying “if Tanahashi wins he’ll get a shot at the title” isn’t promising anything if Tana then loses, it’s just adding a great deal of intrigue to the match result and probably even getting a few extra fans to sign up for NJPW World in the process. It’s good booking, not the bizarre ramblings of a deranged gamer.
Anyway, Jericho is for sure winning this. Even before the AEW title shot implications were introduced he simply needed a win after suffering big losses to Okada and Naito in his last two NJPW matches, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the title mix later in 2020 (after he’s lost the AEW title of course) whether it’s a rematch with Naito or a first-time-ever bout with Ibushi. As far as match quality goes, I get that Jericho’s last NJPW bout was a bit of a dud, but man would I not bet against Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome. And it’s not like we haven’t seen Jericho deliver in New Japan before, he did it last year in this very building! Prediction: Chris Jericho
Suit: This match got a lot more interesting in the last few weeks, with an AEW Title shot allegedly on the line for Tanahashi should he win. The thing is though, I don’t really know either wrestler’s direction after this show. Jericho has done all the money matches you can think of at press time (Okada, Naito, Omega, Tanahashi), and I don’t know if he’s sticking around to work with that next generation of star like SANADA, Will Ospreay or Shingo. Tanahashi is always around, but I don’t really see him as anything other than a Heavyweight/Intercontinental Title challenger at this point. The stipulation makes me think Jericho will win, but this match feels like it’s happening in a vacuum. Prediction: Chris Jericho
IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship
Winner of Okada/Ibushi on 1/4 (HW ©) vs. Winner of White/Naito on 1/4 (IC ©)
Gerard: I was thinking a couple of days ago how much better the build for this match is precisely because Naito couldn’t even make it to the finals of the G1. If he had won the G1, this might have even felt anticlimactic. Though I do feel sorry for all those people that put money on Naito winning the G1 cough*John*cough. So yes, I, like most other people are predicting a Naito vs. Okada main event for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on 1/5. Naito and Okada being consummate professionals will be able to have high level matches on back-to-back nights, but I am expecting the fact they both wrestlers just had tough matches the night before to be worked into the story of the match. Now if we’re getting smart here does Naito win this with the Destinto, or are we bringing this story full circle after 6 years and Naito beats Okada with the Stardust Press? Going to go with the Stardust Press not because I am confident that’s what he will win with (and he is going to win, god damn it) but because I haven’t seen or heard anyone else mention that possibility yet. Anyway, get ready to enjoy what will be one of the greatest examples of long term booking being paid off. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
John: I laid out in the Night 1 preview how this entire story has been Naito’s to begin with (and did so in even more detail in the Tetsuya Naito profile in the NJPW 2019 ebook, which is either coming soon or may even be out by the time you read this!), which makes him the only Double Gold Dash winner who really makes sense. I also explained in the losers’ match preview why I think this is Naito vs. Okada here and not Naito vs. Ibushi, in part because of the implications for that losers’ bout, but it also simply just makes a ton of sense to have Naito’s win here finally be over Okada. Okada was the one who, two years ago, taunted Naito, asking him how being in the main event felt and then telling him that nothing could compare to the feeling of winning it. Thus it makes sense for Naito to come back and finally experience that feeling, at Okada’s expense. The only real counter-argument against it being Naito-Okada is that maybe you want to hold off that match for when you can advertise it for more than a day, but on the other hand with advanced sales for night 2 lagging behind night 1 (due to the casual fans viewing “January 4th at the Tokyo Dome” as the tradition) why not book the biggest possible match here and see if you can entice some extra people who didn’t have tickets to night 2 to buy them on their way out the door on the 4th?
I do want to note a fun little stat, again pointed out to me by our wonderful statistician Chris Samsa, about Tetsuya Naito: in the 1/4 preview I noted that Naito has never lost an Intercontinental Title match at the Tokyo Dome, which is true (he retained against Tanahashi in 2017 and beat Jericho last year). But his record in singles matches that aren’t for the Intercontinental Title just so happens to be 0-6: the two losses to Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in 2014 & 2018, non-title losses to Hirooki Goto (2016), AJ Styles (2015) & Keiji Mutoh (2012), and finally an unsuccessful challenge for that most prestigious belt of them all, the TNA World Heavyweight Title, against a visibly inebriated Jeff Hardy in 2011. You might be tempted to call that a bad omen for Naito since this is another IWGP Heavyweight Title match, but guess what? It’s an Intercontinental Title match too! So Naito will move to a perfect 4-0 in Tokyo Dome Intercontinental Title matches by defeating Kazuchika Okada (after he beat Jay White the previous night to go 3-0 of course), becoming the first-ever double champion in the process, and finally giving Naito fans across the world a moment to exhale after nearly four long years away from the top belt. And then Naito can get down to the real business at hand: avenging that loss to Jeff Hardy nine years later. Go get ‘em tiger. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
Suit: I have it coming down to Naito vs. Okada. A feud that began in earnest six years ago with G1 winner Naito going against upstart Heavyweight Champion Okada ended up getting bumped from the main event in favor of the Intercontinental Title match. If you think about it, that fan poll got us to this very point. That was the genesis of El Ingobernable Tetsuya Naito, the man who grew to despise the Intercontinental Title. That shunning to the semi-main is what gave Naito a chip on his shoulder that remains there to this day, with him still feeling the need to disrespect the title that took his place in the main event. And now, six years (and one day) later, Naito will carry that very same belt into the true main event match against Okada. It was only two years ago where Naito had his dream of main eventing the Tokyo Dome soured by a Rainmaker. Now, two years later, Naito can fulfill his new dream by standing tall after the main event of Wrestle Kingdom alongside his LIJ teammates as the true shuyaku of New Japan Pro Wrestling. The moment is there for the taking. I wrote all this, now watch as Okada beats his goofy ass again. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito