New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 14 – Night 1
January 4, 2019
Tokyo Dome
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World / FITE.TV

The number of paid attendees as announced by Kevin Kelly was 40,008, an improvement over 38,162 for last year’s show and the largest attendance for a Tokyo Dome show in the “Okada Era.”

Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks & Toa Henare def. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura

A solid opener. The Lions all knocked lumps into each other, all eager to make an impact in the Tokyo Dome. Young Lions Cup winner Karl Fredericks was predicted to be the standout competitor here, and he made those predictions come true when he made Togi Makabe take a bump. Henare scores the first fall of 2020 with the Toa Bottom on Tsuji. Fredericks gets his hand raised at the Tokyo Dome for the first time, and almost assuredly not the last time. ***

Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi

Kojima’s music is still a synth-heavy banger. Nakanishi took a rough-looking 3D, rough in that Nakanishi barely got off of the ground. But this was still a fine match here with the dads as Kojima scores the fall with the Western Lariat. **1/2

Naoki Sano, Ryusuke Taguchi, Shinjiro Otani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa (w/Kuniaki Kobayashi) def. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask (w/El Samurai)

All 10 men (cornermen included) came out with special entrance videos with their old interactions with Liger being highlighted. Very cool touch there. This was such a great spectacle, with all the veterans still being able to play the hits and honor Liger. It does say something about the incredible shape Liger is in when you see him with all of his contemporaries. As good as these guys were, Great Sasuke isn’t gonna have the match that Liger did this past February with Taiji Ishimori. Naoki Sano wasn’t gonna have the match Liger did with Minoru Suzuki this past October. Otani wouldn’t have a sequence with Kazuchika Okada the way Liger did just two weeks ago in Korakuen Hall. At peak performance, Liger can still go with the top-level stars in the company, which makes his decision to retire all the more heartwrenching. Taguchi pins Liger with the Dodon, because of course, Liger would take the pin here. He’s gonna lose tomorrow night, and I’m sure he’ll find a way to have someone pin him at his own retirement ceremony too. ***1/2

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

Your standard 8-man tag affair here, which makes you wonder why this was on Wrestle Kingdom. There was no angle here to heat up the British Title match on night two, there was no angle regarding Suzuki and his possible departure. It was any Korakuen Hall eight-man tag match, that ended with Zack submitting BUSHI with a wacky arm lock. A headscratcher that had a fun Shingo/Taichi sequence in the middle. ***1/4

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

Goto pinned Yujiro with the GTR as KENTA was held back. YOSHI-HASHI got his first win at the Tokyo Dome in 9 tries. This was a less exciting version of the last match. I couldn’t write anything else if I tried. It’s too late at night for me to create a narrative for a Bad Luck Fale/Toru Yano faceoff. **

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
David Finlay & Juice Robinson def. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)

Finlay and Juice met GOD on the ramp to start this one, but Juice got backdropped onto the entrance ramp. What ensued was a match that encapsulates the Guerrillas of Destiny. It started fun with GOD’s great music and the brawl on the ramp. Then the bell rang, and the fun went away. While there was nothing wrong with the match technically, it just lacked any juice (no pun intended). David Finlay, who was stuck in post-Young Lion purgatory for a long time, got the pin with the Acid Drop on Tama Tonga to score the fall and win the Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in his first Tokyo Dome match. ***

Texas Death Match – IWGP United States Title
Jon Moxley def. Lance Archer (c) by knockout

The only way to win this match was knockout or tapout. Allow me to reiterate a point that has been made on this site multiple times this past year. Lance Archer is 42 years old, and two years removed from breaking his back. Yet here he was, chokeslamming grown men into other grown men and doing Superman dives from the ring to the floor. This was the peak of the late-career renaissance of Lance Archer, and I only hope it continues into 2020.

And Moxley wasn’t any type of slouch either. Both men brought one hell of a fight, and it was packed into a compact 16 minutes of violence. Archer had a close near fall when he put the EBD (Every Body Dies) Claw on Moxley with A PLASTIC BAG OVER HIS HEAD, but Mox was able to fight out. Archer set up two tables on the floor, but he ended up hoisted by his own petard. Mox hit the Death Rider through the tables to knock Archer out for a 10 count and regain the title that Delta Airlines kept him from holding. The first great match of 2020 for New Japan. ****1/4

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title
Hiromu Takahashi def. Will Ospreay (c)

While Moxley/Archer was the first great match of 2020 for New Japan, this match was New Japan’s first Match of the Year contender. An unreal display of athleticism paired with a wonderful comeback story made this match something incredibly special. I’ve watched a lot of wrestling over my 12 or so years as a fan, and there were sequences in this match that left my jaw dropped.

Will Ospreay continuing his run as the best wrestler in the world is remarkable. Hiromu Takahashi returning from his injury as good as he ever was, if not better, is inspiring. The crowd was hanging on every nearfall, living and dying with Hiromu. And when Hiromu dropped Ospreay on his head with his new ultra-finisher and got the win, the Dome came unglued. An incredible display of professional wrestling, and a match to remember come December. *****


IWGP Intercontinental Title
Tetsuya Naito def. Jay White

He’s halfway there. It took a long way to get there, as Jay White controlled this match for a long time to start. It hurt the match a bit, especially coming after the breathtaking spectacle that preceded it. But this is Jay White’s role, love it or hate it. He exists to play the spoiler, to take the air out of the room, and to have you begging your favorite to beat him by the end of the match. The Gedo interference hurt this one too, as White is more than capable of getting the heat himself. Maybe all of the Switchblade shenanigans would have worked better if this was the actual double title match instead of just for the Intercontinental Title. Naito, on the other hand, was fantastic in the selling of his leg, which will no doubt play a huge role in the Double Title match tomorrow night. The overall result was a match that bordered on great but ended up being really good instead. Naito hits the Destino notches the win and remains undefeated in Tokyo Dome Intercontinental Title matches. With the Intercontinental Title will be on the line in tomorrow’s main event, is it truly his destiny to be IWGP Double Champion? We’ll have to wait and see. ***3/4

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kazuchika Okada def. Kota Ibushi

Okada came out in glow-in-the-dark, big match gear. Ibushi never stood a chance. This match flew by. Before I noticed, 20 minutes had passed and we were getting into the real meat of the match. Then Ibushi literally jumped up and landed on his own neck on a sequence, which somehow led to these two going into second gear. These guys went all out, like two heavyweight boxers in the final rounds. They fired off every play in the playbook before running on reserves. We got Murder Ibushi throwing fists at Okada, who was covering up on the ground.

Okada kicked out of a Boma Ye at ONE. Both men kicked out of each other’s finishers before Okada took complete control. Three different Rainmakers weren’t enough to keep Ibushi from hitting one final flurry of offense, that flurry including a V-Trigger. At the end of the day, it was Ibushi’s last stand as Okada would put him down soon thereafter with a Rainmaker. I sat here for a while trying to do this match justice with my words, but I realized that that was an exercise in futility. Main event drama and main event action made for an incredible and worthy January 4th main event. It’s Naito vs. Okada, winner take all on January 5. I cannot wait. *****