New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 17
January 4, 2023
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers
J. Michael: J. Michael wants it known: Sirius XM is a bunch of misers and they can go fuck themselves. J. Michael has been torturing his wife, who is not overly festive about Christmastime, with all the Christmas/Holiday-themed channels in the car. The Holly. The Jolly. The Hallmark Channel. Christmas Traditions. And, most often, that opulent time every year when Soul Town becomes Holiday Soul. It was a good run. But then, by December 27, Traditions and Soul had already switched back. Hey, fuckers, a lot of places celebrate December 26. Within a day, a chunk of the holiday stations are wiped out? By December 30, all of them had been de-cheered.
The feeling of Christmas, the mirth of the holidays, lasts at least past New Year’s. All holiday songs are good. All holiday channels should remain holiday channels until January 15. Until he finally gets in trouble for all the backstage comment screencaps, follow J. Michael at ryugu_jo.
Suit Williams: Suit has been saying it for some time, but New Japan has been building momentum in a positive direction for a while. With cheering crowds allowed and one of the most anticipated dream matches in recent memory on the books, this is New Japan’s biggest chance to re-establish themselves in the pro wrestling landscape. On a different note, Suit works in retail, and vehemently disagrees with J. Michael’s wretched takes on holiday music. January 1st, move on. Take your jollyness to the clearance section with the candy canes and Ghiradelli’s Christmas bark that no one wants. You can follow Suit Williams on Twitter @SuitWilliams. Here on Voices of Wrestling, you can also catch up on the retrospective series on former 1/4 main eventer Brock Lesnar, called The Brockumentary.
PRE-SHOW – 3 MINUTE TIME LIMIT EXHIBITION
RYOHEI OIWA VS. OLEG BOLTIN
J. Michael: There’s nothing better than Young Lions wrenching guts. Oiwa inherited that distinction: the gut-wrench guy. I hope this match is 2 minutes, 45 seconds of the guys stuck in that position where both guys are trying to gut-wrench each other from a standing stance, and then 15 seconds of hellacious intensity. A maelstrom of gut wrench suplexes, no less than 10-12 in succession.
Boltin has been associated with Bushiroad and Yuji Nagata since 2017. They’ve been talking about him for years before this recent “introduction.” The Kazakhstani grappler had Olympic hopes, but suffered a knee injury, with ligament damage, that led to him coming up short of qualifying for his home country.
Now that he’s freed up from the fraudulence of the Olympics, he can move on to the real glamour: sumo squats, hours of bridging, nose to mat, being forced to practice the Nagata pose, wrenching guts, and all that.
At 29, there’s no time to fuck around with this guy. He has a great look and the pedigree to jump into the pro ranks immediately. Can he talk? Who cares! KENTA spent two straight months plugging his book in increasingly elaborate ways. You can do whatever the fuck you want in this company.
If the new philosophy is to speed up the process, Boltin is the prime subject to test the theory. Prediction: Time Limit Draw (and hopefully enough time before the next match for me to take a cold shower followed by a bath saturated in saltpeter)
Suit: OLEG BOLTIN. That guy sounds like he went 20 minutes with Inoki in 1975. He has a great wrestling look, and he has 7 years of high-level Olympic wrestling experience. If he has any instincts for pro wrestling whatsoever, New Japan will give him every chance to succeed. Combine that with the office wanting to speed up the Young Lion training process, and Oleg may be a big deal before we know it. Prediction: Time Limit Draw
PRE-SHOW – KOPW 2023 RIGHT TO CHALLENGE/NEW JAPAN RAMBO
J. Michael: There’s no way to predict this, so my dream scenario:
Everyone is eliminated, with two entrants left. The penultimate wrestler to enter the ring is Osamu Nishimura. The last is Sasha Banks. They chain wrestle for 35 straight minutes, before Nishimura catches the Soulnado in an omaplata. She breaks out of it but stumbles over the top rope as she gets up and is eliminated.
Just give this man something after he had to run the gauntlet of Pheremones nonsense at the DDT Never Mind show. We’re nearly five years removed from the episode of The Wrestlers about DDT, with Shigehiro Irie outright stating that he thinks Dino should stop, and half a decade later it’s gotten even worse. Congrats on the 20th anniversary, though. That match ruled and your dog is a wonder. I guess I can’t be too mad. Prediction: 1. Antonio Banderas 2. as Pancho Villa 3. as Himself 4. Henare
Suit: There’s a lot of names not on this show, including El Phantasmo, KUSHIDA, Taichi, and reigning KOPW Champion Shingo Takagi. This has a chance to be as stacked as a Ranbo can be, while still having your surprises sprinkled in. The final four will go onto New Year Dash!! to challenge for the KOPW 2023 title belt. Since I don’t know who is in this thing, nor do I particularly care, I’ll give you some names and go on about my day. Prediction: El Phantasmo, Toru Yano, Scott Norton, Robbie Eagles
SPECIAL MATCH – ANTONIO INOKI MEMORIAL 6-MAN TAG MATCH
YUJI NAGATA, SATOSHI KOJIMA, AND TOGI MAKABE VS. TIGER MASK, MINORU SUZUKI, AND TATSUMI FUJINAMI
J. Michael: Everyone in this match moves well. I was actually shocked at the strength and quality of Makabe’s motion when he started appearing on cards in the latter half of 2022.
Fujinami is still a marvel, and hopefully, he stretches everyone, though I fear that in the process, we’ll get one of those multiple submission spots we see all the fucking time in tag matches now. I’m completely exhausted by them at this point. It happened in at least 40% of the tag league matches.
This would be a prime chance to give Suzuki some shine, especially if they aren’t just teasing us with his proclamation to win IWGP gold before he retires. Best case scenario: we replay the Suzuki-gun Finale and it turns into a 5-on-1 against Suzuki, who fights off all of them and leaves with at least one mask and one robe. Prediction: Nagata, Kojima, and Makabe
Suit: After the voluntary dissolution of Suzuki-gun, Minoru Suzuki joins the New Japan Dads in a pre-show Inoki tribute match. Given that New Japan still respects Suzuki in the booking, combined with the fact that he didn’t show up on the NOAH New Year’s Day show like I expected, I think Suzuki will pick up a win here and get one more big title match sometime in the spring. This has the chance to whip a ton of ass for a pre-show main event, given that all of these guys know their limits and can still go at a reasonable level. Prediction: Suzuki, Fujinami, and Tiger Mask
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
CATCH 2/2 (FRANCESCO AKIRA AND TJP) (C) VS. CHAOS (LIO RUSH AND YOH)
J. Michael: It’s simple: Catch 2/2 are the best tag team. Their chemistry is stunning, considering they never shared a ring before June. Their match at the Super Junior Tag League finale, against Six or Nine, was their very first match together in any capacity. They were fucking great in that match, and have exponentially improved since then. They’ve exponentially improved upon great.
It’s a combination of things:
- The way their wrestling styles complement each other
- The dispassionate, controlled technique of TJP balanced by the frenetic, high-strung explosiveness of Akira
- The complexity of their tandem offense
- The sheer proliferation of tandem offense (as expounded upon in this interview)
- The variety of tandem offense, with combination moves, strike combinations, and successively escalating move/strike combinations
- Their pacing and ability to effortlessly change the pace of a match
- Captivating and interesting control periods
- An incredible sense of space in the tornado periods.
YOH and Lio Rush are an even more novel concept: they never shared a ring in any capacity before the NJPW/Stardom Historic X-Over Show on November 20, 2022. Their first match as a tag team was Night 1 of the Super Junior Tag League, the very next night, against Catch 2/2. For many, it was their match of the tournament. At 3.99, it is comfortably the highest-rated match of either 2022 Tag League on GRAPPL. At 8.24, it has an even wider disparity as the #1 match of the Tag Leagues in Cagematch, being the only match of either tournament to breach the 8.0 threshold.
Here’s the microcosm of YOH and Rush as a team:
.@IamLioRush & YOH "Combination Attack"
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) November 23, 2022
That acrobatic sex position move where they lock arms, one on the ground and one above, and they become a rolling wheel. For much of the tournament, they set up in one corner and rolled all the way to the other, ending with one of them breaking off and splashing their opponent. According to YOH, “we just gave it a shot and missed pretty big.”
And yet, as the tournament progressed, they had actually refined the move. As you can see above, they very quickly mastered the move after an award first try against Catch 2/2. But they also reimagined the move. Now, they can also do it in one fluid motion. The person on top (there’s really no other way to describe it without sounding like a doujinshi) locks arms while already moving forward, and the move is completed in one roll. It’s pretty great.
YOH has opened up with Rush beside him. Even though Rush has the most disingenuous smile in wrestling, perpetually connected to him yelling “BAHBBY LASHLEY!,” Rush in CHAOS is buoyant. That may make the turn a fait accompli, but I’d like to see these two tag for longer.
Either option works: a tag team of nonpareil aptitude continue a worthwhile title reign (they’ve specifically called out the Young Bucks, by the way), or an endearing team of likable babyfaces win gold at the biggest show of the year to kick off the night with alacrity. In this case, I’m going with whatever gets Lio Rush on as many shows in Japan as possible. Prediction: CHAOS
Suit: The borders opening up in Japan has allowed New Japan to completely freshen up the roster, with the junior tag division benefitting the most. Between the Impact section of Bullet Club (Ace Austin and Chris Bey), Titan joining BUSHI in LIJ, Young Lion Kevin Knight teaming with KUSHIDA and graduating mid-tour, and these two teams, the Super Junior Tag League was so fresh and interesting that it made me think about watching the tour. That sounds like an insult, but to get me to consider watching a tag league tour is high praise. Coming out of it, we get a rematch of the best match of the tour as Catch 2/2 defend against Jr. Tag League champs YOH and Lio Rush.
Catch 2/2 would have a real chance at getting tag team of the year votes if they didn’t only come together in June. TJP and Akira have gelled incredibly well, having strong title defenses against Taguchi & Wato and BUSHI & Titan. Meanwhile, Lio Rush has come into New Japan with the echoes of lazy retirement jokes ringing in his ears, and has been one of the most dynamic and eye-catching junior heavyweights in the world. With the way New Japan’s schedule works, it may be the best landing spot for Rush. YOH, despite being the fairly bland professional you can expect, has worked well with Rush over the course of the Tag League tour. I won’t think too hard about this. Catch 2/2 won the first bout, so I expect Li-YOH to kick off Wrestle Kingdom with a title change. Prediction: Lio Rush & YOH
IWGP WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
KAIRI (C) VS. TAM NAKANO
J. Michael: My knowledge of joshi is limited to… well, all I know about Stardom is what I glean from El Desperado. Looking forward to Despy and Starlight Kid vs. Jun Kasai and Suzu Suzuki. I don’t know how it will happen, but someone will make it happen.
I do know that Tam was one of the first people to interact with Kairi when Kairi successfully escaped the Stamford Concussion Factory. This match can be traced back to that. Or not? That was nine months ago. I have absolutely no fucking clue what I’m talking about, and I’m scared the Joshi people will hurt me.
— スターダム✪STARDOM (@wwr_stardom) March 26, 2022
As far as in-ring action, the celerity and crispness of this match should continue the streak of Stardom girls outshining most of the Wrestle Kingdom card. It’s been a breezy, refreshing change of pace from the density of most New Japan matches. Even as the second match, they deserve a hefty amount of spotlight.
Of course, that spotlight has been effectively usurped by one Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado. The Boss, the Statement Maker, Ms. Mone’, the Bank Mone’, the proprietress of Soulnado, Inc.
One has to feel for Nakano. I asked noted women’s wrestling expert and Joshi Nostradamus Velkej Bracha, and Velkej’s to offer Nakano’s chances:
“None. Less than zero. She’s V1.”
Certainly, the biggest match Bushiroad could produce, on a global scale, would be between Kairi and Kaestner-Varnado. We’ve all been waiting for this since July 3, 2020, the unforgettable episode 1,415 of Monday Night Raw from the Performance Center in Orlando, which enticingly ended in a DQ win for Kairi.
But connecting her to the title also plants Kaestner-Varnado. Does she want to be anchored? Does she care about winning or losing, if she gets to wrestle for fun for a little while? Hang out with Japanese musicians and wear Sailor Moon pants? Like, honest-to-god pants that are just a collage of Sailor Moon characters.
We’re totally ignorant of how any of this will work,. She can bring incalculable prestige and name value to the title, but her presence alone inherently brings that credibility and prestige. Prediction: Kairi
Suit: While I would love to be a stronger Joshi expert than J. Michael, my knowledge of Stardom boils down to an anniversary show from a few years back and the main event of Historic X-Over. Both were very good, but I just have not put the effort into adding Joshi to my rotation. The IWGP Women’s Championship was created for fans like me, who want to get more familiar with the top Joshi promotion in Japan. KAIRI (all caps) beat Mayu Iwatani to win the title at Historic X-Over, with Tam Nakano immediately offering a challenge. Considering the analysis from Velkej in J. Michael’s preview, I will be stunned if KAIRI drops the title in defense number 1.
Of course, the big news surrounding this match is the impending debut of the artist formerly known as Sasha Banks. Multiple outlets (with first credit to Mike Johnson of PWInsider) have confirmed that Banks will be at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. The Flagship Patreon also reported that New Japan has offered Banks a “limited appearance deal” to work a program surrounding the IWGP Women’s Title. That will put a lot of eyeballs on this one, if only to confirm that Sasha Banks has left WWE. This is going to be a litmus test for Banks’ star power. How willing and dedicated is her fanbase to follow her to New Japan or STARDOM? AEW would be one thing, that’s just going up a few channels on the cable box. Can Sasha drive viewership to STARDOM World the same way Chris Jericho drove viewership for New Japan World back in 2018? That’s what Bushiroad is banking on (no pun intended), and that’s what we’re all gonna find out. Either way, expect a lot of buzz surrounding this match and its aftermath. Prediction: KAIRI
IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
FTR (CASH WHEELER AND DAX HARWOOD) (C) VS. BISHAMON (YOSHI-HASHI & HIROOKI GOTO
J. Michael: Bishamon are the real deal.
Their timing is possibly the best in the company, besides Catch 2/2.
But Bishamon truly works because they are so inherently affable. Goto dedicates matches to his son and spent the G1 Climax literally spinning around like the Narcissist and demanding that the Young Lions proclaim his celestial glow. Beyond his gruff Tokugawa Period Unfettered Mind bushido cosplay nonsense, he’s now a much more apt fit: Miroku from Inuyasha, carrying around his shakujo and generally losing his battles unless he has partners (YOSHI-HASHI is obviously Shippo).
YOSHI-HASHI is actually quite pugilistic when you read his acrid words on paper, but it’s impossible to view him that way. He’s a warm and welcoming presence next to the avuncular charm of Goto. Here’s their backstage exchange after they beat TMDK to advance to the World Tag league final:
YSH-HSH: I want to celebrate the only way we can, leave our mark in New Japan history. I’ve been preparing for it.
Goto: Are you ready?
YSH-HSH: Of course. Are you ready, guy?
Goto: (puzzled) Are you?
YSH-HSH: Are you ready, guy?
Goto: Are you? Pause Of course!
Goto: But there is one thing, YOSHI-HASHI… Of course, you can call me Goto. But don’t call me ‘guy’. Doesn’t really do much for my persona. Makes me sound kinda low. You get me?
YSH-HSH: Well, I don’t really care for formalities… Bring that up now, we won’t get the victory in Sendai! You’re my guy, after all…
Goto: ‘Guy’ does nothing for me!
YSH-HSH: Fine, I won’t call you ‘guy’. But, dude, you and me will…
Goto: ‘Dude’ is no better, is it? We’ve known each other for how long?
YSH-HSH: Okay, Go-Chan!
Goto: That’s not bad.
Goto: What’ll I call you?
YSH-HSH: Yo-Chan, of course.
YSH-HSH: Let’s celebrate our way in Sendai!
Goto: Let’s roll, Yo-Chan!
Of course, the big celebration YOSHI-HASHI vowed to deliver was simply the Sushi Zanmai pose done with YOH and Lio Rush doing somersaults, but even that is part of why they are so disarming. They genuinely enjoy goofy drivel like that. The balance between goofiness and austerity is why crowds become so invested, from the top to bottom of the card.
And if you don’t like this, I curse you:
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) November 30, 2022
As for FTR, they bet on themselves, and it paid off handsomely. Dax is going to be a top-ranked singles and tag guy of 2022 and he’ll be able to write his ticket wherever he wants to go. He’s a legitimately brilliant professional wrestler, and it’s satisfying to see quality rewarded. And yet…
I’m tempted to contrast the sincerity of YOSHI-HASHI with Dax. You know, the guy who demonstratively pushes Dave Meltzer away in order to covertly court Dave harder? Talks about Bret Hart with such relentless zeal that you imagine that, if you were Bret, you’d sign a legends deal just to get away from them for a little while? Who downplays the way a vitriolic carnival barker denigrates and maligns his co-workers with recklessly facile glee?
I mean, I understand what he was trying to say, and I think Dax means well with everything, but to another point: what does he care, anyway? They won’t be his co-workers for much longer.
Of course, none of that is fair to evaluate this match. Unless this match gets cut to under ten minutes, it will rule. The closing stretch should be blistering.
In FTR and Bishamon, we have four geniuses of the endgame.
- Part of the reason YOSHI-HASHI ascended to the King of Korakuen during the pandemic was because of his remarkable work done in the closing stretches of the 6-man title matches.
- Goto literally has a list of finishing moves he pulls out to build dramatic tension.
- FTR changed the face of WWE tag team wrestling, and then conquered the world, in part because they have such a phenomenal, breathtaking ability to construct ending sequences that escalate, peak, and release at the perfect moment.
I’d prefer FTR to retain and face Aussie Open again. If anything, we know that FTR bucks the return match trend, assiduously avoiding diminishing returns in their tag series, as shown against the Briscoes this year.
But how can I look at YOSHI-HASHI and Goto’s faces and go against them? In a just world, FTR put Paul on hold for another year or two, and we see these two teams clash multiple times. But just in case Wrestle Kingdom 17 is our only chance, make sure to savor this one. Prediction: Let’s roll, Yo-chan!
Suit: While many are lamenting the lost potential of an Aussie Open/FTR rematch from Royal Quest, Bishamon are no slouches. They are the top-pushed native team in a division that has had a lot more effort put into it than in most years of the Gedo regime, in that it has had a small amount of effort put into it. This past year, the move for New Japan was to put their titles on the hottest team in wrestling this year, and have them show up sporadically to defend them on New Japan branded shows. To be clear, I’m not complaining. I haven’t missed the tag titles at all, and FTR has a high rate of excellence when it comes to their defenses. Bishamon will be able to live up to their end of the deal. YOSHI-HASHI isn’t the lowly pin-eater bag of socks that he was back in 2019. He’s grown into a full-fledged title contender alongside the consistently awesome Hirooki Goto, and with FTR going on a “we may go back to WWE” losing streak, I think they will capture the titles at the Tokyo Dome for the second straight year.Prediction: Bishamon
NJPW WORLD TV CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT FINAL
REN NARITA VS. ZACK SABRE JR.
J. Michael: New Japan has a few homunculi roaming around.
El Lindaman looks like a nesting doll you’d find if you popped open Tomoaki Honma. The disturbing level of tan both men sport brings everything together. It’s like a real life Looper.
Unfortunately for Ren Narita, it’s the same thing with him and Shibata, except ya know… this is his actual fucking gimmick. This Son of Strong Style thing is not fan canon; this is Ren Narita’s legitimate, crafted, post-excursion persona. He’s a facsimile of someone else.
And, unfortunately, he’s not Shibata. Not yet. Shibata, the Shibata people romanticize, was the product of years, nearly two decades, of broken promises, real-world failures, fervent animosity, chappin’ chappin’, and a slow accumulation of authenticity.
It vaguely reminds me of CM Punk. Both left a fairly messy situation, tried MMA unsuccessfully, wandered aimlessly for years, then returned to a mixture of resentment and adulation. After a period of adjustment, they ran off a number of great matches at the top of the card. Then, it ended in abrupt catastrophe.
Now, imagine if Nick Wayne emerges a few years from now in AEW, dressing like Punk, adapting Punk’s veneer, and doing his moves. That’s what it feels like with Narita right now.
Narita had a lackluster return match: a six-man tag in which he was the one fighting underneath for most of the match. He had a good TV Title Tournament run, but it wasn’t extraordinary. He had a tremendous match against Tomohiiro Ishii, a dreadful one against Toru Yano, and an excellent one against SANADA. The Yano match is a bit telling, though; he’s still feeling this thing out, and he’s not at the point where he can have the Yano match and make it work.
Shibata could make the Yano match work because Shibata had years of credibility accumulated; Narita doesn’t have anything accumulated yet. To make this gimmick work, the only way it works, is for him to have killer matches on big stages.
That begins here. Narita rules. We saw that on Strong over the last year or so, and we saw that when he was in the Best of the Super Juniors in 2019. It’s going to work, but it’s going to take time.
Zack Sabre Jr had the best TV Title tournament run: a wonderful match with heavyweight Alex Zayne, an ardent battle of wills against David Finlay, and then a hilarious dismantling of EVIL. Of course, since then he’s seen something else dismantled: his faction.
thank you pic.twitter.com/KmqpMTA6Hx
— 金丸 義信 (@kmaru0923) December 23, 2022
Suzuki-gun was given an unusually grandiose send-off, with the snow of the final Korakuen show blanketing the group as an absolutely massive Takashi Iizuka returned for one final group picture. It was a gloriously sentimental denouement for the most sentimental faction in New Japan, the coterie of rogues that babyfaced themselves simply by caring about each other, in ways no other New Japan unit does.
It’s impossible to analyze this match without considering Sabre’s future. Does he win the title here to give authenticity to his next landing spot, potentially with Sabre leading a group? Or would a title prove onerous, tying him up?
One thing is clear: these guys are going to stiff the bejesus out of each other, grapple with insouciant ferocity, and fill every fiber of open space by taunting each other. It’s going to be a very mordant exchange.
Narita needs this more, and the title needs Narita more than it does Sabre. Narita has presented one clear message since returning: he is going to upend the entirety of New Japan, systems and all. It’s too early for his words to prove empty. Holding the time limit title, with each match a refreshing contrast to the rest of New Japan pacing, is the smartest path for him. Prediction: Ren Narita
Suit: While I also wonder about the long-term effectiveness of Narita’s gimmick of “I am Shibata now,” a facsimile of Katsuyori Shibata is still a wrestler I want to watch. Narita, alongside Shota Umino, are the first Young Lions to return to the company under Bushiroad’s new directive of pushing younger talent. This NJPW World TV Title is a Bushiroad directive, in the same vein as STARDOM’s High Speed Championship. A 15-minute time limit on all title matches promotes fast and urgent wrestling, with a reported desire to put focus on the younger talent in the promotion. This all screams Narita putting his stamp on the belt and putting his name down in the books as the first champion.
But what if he didn’t? While Zack isn’t exactly Kazuchika Okada in terms of booking respect, he still has some tenure around New Japan. He’s won two New Japan Cups and successfully defended the British Heavyweight Title at the Tokyo Dome before. While not as accomplished as a Jay White or a Kenny Omega, he’s got a lot of accolades for a foreigner in New Japan. I think Narita will win this title here, but don’t be stunned if New Japan decides to have him chase Sabre for this title instead and build to that moment of triumph. Either way, I expect this match to be stellar. Narita has handled himself very well in this tournament when not dealing with Toru Yano’s nonsense, and Zack Sabre Jr could have a good wrestling match with me, a tubby civilian. These two will make the time limit work for them and their pace of grappling, and have people hooked by the time this one wraps up. Prediction: Ren Narita
NEVER OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
KARL ANDERSON (C) VS. TAMA TONGA
Are the lights finally bright enough? My research uncovered the following about the Tokyo Dome:
This lighting facility is composed of a group of 14 batons lights hung from the ceiling and ring lights placed on the upper parts of the walls behind the spectator seating. Moreover, assuring enough illuminance for professional baseball games (i.e., 2500 lux between batteries, 2500 lux infield, and 1650 lux outfield), it is also effective for color television shooting. To ensure any kind of event (in addition to baseball) can be handled, the light source is composed of 1138 1000-W high-efficiency, metal-halide lamps
I’m not sure how that compares to the potency and lumens level of other venues, but it must be greater than EDION Arena Osaka, and on par if not exceeding the Sendai Sunplaza.
This is the proper denouement to the Karl Anderson story. Tama Tonga, preternatural babyface and someone the company should seriously consider entrenching in the main event scene going forward, was always the best plan. Their match at Dominion was better than it gets credit for, in large part because Tama’s babyface work is exhilarating.
It’s just unfortunate that Karl Anderson was incapable of sparking interest in this match. In fact, he actively sabotaged the match by having an inexcusably anodyne, lethargic contest with Hiroshi Tanahashi in September, followed by a disconcertingly inoffensive bout against Hikuleo in December.
Listen, I admire Karl Anderson piecing together this whole series of matches after officially signing with the WWE. He somehow shot a shot and shot himself into a work, brother, and managed to do something very cool for New Japan. It’s clear he respects the company and feels an enormous heft of gratitude towards them.
But not enough gratitude to choose New Japan over mediocrity, of course. In a period of time where some of the most irredeemably online banality-feitishists have set their sights on upending Cagematch ratings in favor of WWE, literally copy-pasting reviews and creating endless dupe accounts, this is what his singles matches on Raw have mustered:
- A nice 6.9 against Finn Balor
- A 4.59 against Damien Priest.
These motherfuckers are spamming 9’s and 10’s on everything WWE, just to stick it to the people who actually care about the content of the medium they like, and even they can’t salvage this stuff.
But, ultimately, match quality is not the point. Gallows and Anderson never should have been fired in the first place. They were given massive contracts to keep them away from the Booker of the Year, and then punished for having massive contracts. Hopefully, they were given some kind of make-good on being lied to so egregiously.
And, I hope, this match is the make-good from Bright Lights to all of us, a bit of closure as he leaves Japan for good, in the process giving his former protégé a bounty of momentum heading into a very critical year for the company. A year where, hopefully, Tama Tonga will be a critical player. Prediction: Tama Tonga
Suit: I want to say that people have been too harsh on this Karl Anderson deal. I want to give ol’ MachineGunKA credit for doing business the right way and finishing out this story for New Japan. I really want to do that. But Jesus Christ, Karl Anderson is a Good Brother to his core. The lack of effort he has shown in his New Japan appearances since winning this title at Dominion has been astounding. Between doing nothing in a featured match against HIROSHI TANAHASHI, and giving WWE House Show loop energy in the Hikuleo match, New Japan may have been better off with Anderson FedEx’ing the belt back to the office. He’d probably make them cover the postage.
Hopefully this ends with sincere babyface Tama Tonga getting the title back for the promotion. I’ve legitimately enjoyed this new Tama Tonga. He had a shockingly good match with EVIL to win the NEVER Title at Wrestling Dontaku in May, went on to upset Jay White in the G1 and challenge for the IWGP Title in another surprisingly good match. I’m not saying I want to belt him up, but him in this role as #3 or #4 babyface is a good one. Let’s make this one quick. Eight minutes and a Gun Stun should be enough to put out the Bright Lights. Prediction: Tama Tonga
KEIJI MUTO LAST MATCH IN NEW JAPAN
KEIJI MUTO, HIROSHI TANAHASHI, AND SHOTA UMINO VS. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (BUSHI, SANADA, AND TETSUYA NAITO)
J. Michael: Obviously, we’re expecting big, massive, gargantuan things from Shota Umino. After all, one of the last things we saw him do before going on excursion was lose a bitter, caustically stiff match against the IWGP Champion, Umino literally reaching for the belt as he anguished in pain on the mat, mouth filled with blood, the champion taunting him with the symbol of New Japan apotheosis. Clearly, they want to associate Shota Umino with that belt, and now that he’s ba…
Oh, sorry, that was Yuya Uemura.
Well, that’s irrelevant anyway. What matters is rivalries and clashes of personalities, not mere metaphorical trinkets. If a Young Lion fights one of the top guys on their way to excursion, the company is sending a clear message: remember this conflict. Associate this Young Lion with this star. The best example: Okada facing Tanahashi as his last pre-excursion match.
Now that Okada holds the mantle as the pinnacle of the company, it was very telling when Shota Umino’s send-off match was a 12 minute contest against the Rainmaker. Even more enticing, after the match, Okada helped Umino up and pretended to give the young lad credit, only to whip Umino into the ropes and absolutely blast him with a trademark Okada dropkick. Surely, that’s something Shota Umino won’t forget. Now that Umino’s’s back, you can guarantee that he’ll cross paths with Okada, they’ll show that footage, and…
Ah, well, goddammit… now that I look at the footage, that was Yuya Uemura as well.
Now, I’m just joshing everyone here. Umino may not have had a singles match against Okada, but he did have a really interesting New Japan Cup match against Tanahashi in 2019. And so, we have the generational concatenation: 2nd, 4th, 6th?
In the center, we have one of the foundations of future New Japan. On one side of him will be Tanahashi, the exemplar of passing the torch, the guy who not only saved the company but set the stage for Okada to take the company to uncharted heights. And on Umino’s other side will be the guy who had to be chased down the aisle way to “pass the torch” to Kaito Kiyomiya.
Anyway, this match: BUSHI, who fucking sucks, of course, should eat a Death Rider, but the LIJ match-up is very intriguing apart from him: obviously there is the direct mentor-protégé thing between Mutoh and SANADA, but this match will also mark eleven years to the day that Tetsuya Naito and Keiji Mutoh met at Wrestle Kingdom VI. You could circle the globe and get halfway to the moon with the amount of tape needed to protect the four knees of Naito and Muto at this point, but it will be fun to see their interactions.
As in, I am looking forward to Tetsuya Naito yawning at this vapid, internally decayed, deteriorated crank who moves like Tomoaki Honma given neuraxial anesthesia. Just treat him like a jabrone all match. Literally run circles around him and mock his wispy, pewter chest hair.
The best scenario would be Naito over Mutoh to return the WK6 favor, but the Destino requires a lot of the person taking it; if Naito tried it on Mutoh he would literally be taking a life or death gamble. But I can dream of an alternate reality where Naito pins the bastard, offers a deferential handshake, and then leaves Mutoh hanging. Prediction: Muto, Tanahashi, Umino
Suit: Listen, I’m sure there are tons of places you can go to find Keiji Muto retrospectives on his time in New Japan. Unfortunately, I’m not the guy who can give it to you. I know Muto from his big run in JCP/WCW, and from his more recent antics in Pro Wrestling NOAH. I have no doubt that Muto’s team is winning, I mean for God’s sake, BUSHI is right there. My question is that does Muto respect or care enough to let someone else, presumably the star of the next generation Shota Umino, get the pin? My guess is no, considering the fact he barely sold a loss to Shinsuke Nakamura on the NOAH New Year’s Day show. My prediction is that Muto will hit a Shining Wizard, tag in Umino, and be halfway up the ramp by the time Umino gets the pin. In Muto’s eyes, that’s essentially raising the kid’s hand. Prediction: Muto, Tanahashi, Umino
IWGP JR. HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP 4-WAY MATCH
TAIJI ISHIMORI (C) VS. MASTER WATO VS. EL DESPERADO VS. HIROMU TAKAHASHI
Let’s talk about perceptions.
Perception: Taiji Ishimori’s title reign has been a disaster.
This one is somewhat true, but don’t forget that he also filled Korakuen for his title defense against Hiromu in June. Of course, that’s his ONE title defense in a nine-month reign.
After vanquishing Hiromu, Ishimori got caught up in the KUSHIDA fiasco. That feud’s central premise was that Ishimori was assessing KUSHIDA. For months. Like some demented doctoral advisor, Ishimori kept stringing KUSHIDA along until KUSHIDA finally checked the “proficient” boxes on Ishimori’s extensive rubric.
And then, KUSHIDA got fucking hand, foot, and mouth disease. I mean, bloody hell. Yeah, sorry folks, I know you were looking forward to seeing KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom, but he came down with a nasty case of scurvy, followed by a truly harrowing bout of St. Vitus’ Dance. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Wato was substituted for KUSHIDA at Declaration of Power, won the non-title match, and then proceeded to… be interrupted by Hiromu when he was about to challenge Ishimori. Hiromu was, in turn, slapped silly by Desperado. Ishimori simply told the three they could have a 4-way match at Wrestle Kingdom and then fucked off.
This was followed by a month of legitimately fun character interactions, culminating with the Incredible Tag Match at Battle Autumn. Wato and Desperado, who spent the entire match pestering and slapping each other, defeated Ishimori and Hiromi after Ishimori delivered a running high knee strike to Hiromu. Hiromu, of course, had spent the entire match, and build-up, courting Ishimori’s friendship, only to be betrayed. It was magnificent.
And so, Ishimori certainly had an eventful title reign, well within the scope of what the Juniors have to offer as they squirm between the cracks of the summer and fall schedule of New Japan. But because he was poisoned by the KUSHIDA program, it’s perceived differently.
And probably because some people still erroneously believe he doesn’t give full effort, when he’s been one of the most assiduously great workers of the pandemic.
Perception: Master Wato’s not ready to lead the division
It’s a 4-way, isn’t it? That answers the question, whether they give him the win or not. The guy pinned Ishimori clean as a fucking sheet, and yet the aces of the division were inserted into this contest.
It’s fair because Wato is still an underwhelming presence who lacks the crispness, guile, and brazen acidity of the other three in this match. He’s still unrefined in comparison. He has an excellent moveset, a good wrestler’s body (his placement in the New Japan Concurso this year was bunkum), changes speed and pace effectively… but he also misses moves, seems aimless at points (though far less than before), and his kicks… his fucking kicks. This guy is trained by Kota Ibushi and yet his kicks vary so wildly. Sometimes he lays it in, often against guys like SHO (where, against a friend, he shows a vile, demonic, sadistic side he should project more). Sometimes they look weak, totally pulled and unimpressive. And his whole gimmick is that he fucking kicks!
His backstage comments were better this year, but he has yet to fully find his voice. He’s presented a defiant face against such casually brilliant workers, but they really eat him up. I mean, look at this:
Wato: I’m gonna make sure of it… Everything you did to me today, I’ll give back twice as much.
Hiromu storms in. With each statement below, he is bumping Wato’s chest and screaming at full volume.
Hiromu: Hey, you fired up yet?!
Hiromu: You pumped?!
Hiromu: Fired up?
Hiromu: Huh?! You ready?!
Hiromu: You ready for this?
Hiromu: Fired up enough?!
Hiromu: Are you ready?!
Hiromu: Listen to what I’m asking!
Wato: More ready than ever.
Hiromu: Glad to hear it!
Hiromu storms out.
Wato stands around, hands on hips, looks around, then walks off
To be clear, being thrown into the deep end with three of the most exquisitely exceptional wrestlers in the world, in-ring and character wise, will pay off. This is going to lift Wato up, but unfortunately along the way he’s had to look outclassed.
Perception: Hiromu is played out
This one will vary. All I can say is that the work Hiromu is doing, in and out of the ring, is substantive. This 4-way build up, probably the best of any of the Wrestle Kingdom matches, has been largely propelled by Hiromu.
The Incredible Tag match worked because of Hiromu. The backstage comments work because of Hiromu. He’s managed to draw personality out of Wato and forced Ishimori to level up. Before, Ishimori would be totally overpowered by Despy or Hiromu; now, Ishimori more than holds his own because Hiromu’s implacable tenacity demands it.
Hiromu’s intensity is tempered with more ruminative material, but it’s largely his excessively animated persona that emerges, and it’s worn on people. If you drop in a couple times a month, the odds are that you’ve seen performatively maniacal Hiromu, and were turned off. But our position is that the substance of Hiromu’s work is some of the best he’s done.
Perception: El Desperado is the best and coolest wrestler, of this or any other era
El Desperado is the best and coolest wrestler, of this or any other era
This match will be indicative of what this division has become: cerebral and fundamental. Yes, it lacks the spectacular immediacy of the Ricochet and Ospreay years. There’s a lot of technically perfect, acute limb work, but it’s peppered by strategically placed paroxysms of incredibly fast reversal exchanges and precise flying.
It will probably be Wato getting his first shot at the belt, assumedly a short run to normalize the concept of Wato as a singles champion. But the story of Hiromu clawing his way back to the top after being thwarted by Desperado and Ishimori for two years… that appeals to us more (as does the idea of a Hiromu-Okada rematch at the 51st Anniversary show). Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
Suit: Holy crap, a Junior Title match? Since when do those happen? I reviewed Ishimori winning the Jr. Title from Desperado at Wrestling Dontaku in May, believing that it would be a nice run for Ishimori before Desperado built himself back up and got the title back. Little did I know that Ishimori would defend the title once, essentially becoming a ghost despite being Jr. Heavyweight Champion. The story of this one seems to be an elevation of sorts for Master Wato. After a run as Tag Champ with local pervert Ryusuke Taguchi, he beat Ishimori clean in a singles match at Declaration of Power. Desperado and Hiromu then inserted themselves because Wato vs. Ishimori probably wouldn’t fill Korakuen Hall, let alone help sell tickets to the Dome.
If the Parejas Increibles match from Battle Autumn is anything to go by, this should be fantastic. That tag match was essentially a four-way anyway, with the partners not even bothering and fighting each other throughout. Wato pinned Hiromu there as well, so the only person Wato hasn’t gotten yet is Desperado. Maybe that happens, but I have a hard time seeing the blue-haired karate goof as a top champion. They’ve got more work to do there. In skimming J. Michael’s preview, I was stunned to find out that Hiromu Takahashi hasn’t been Jr. Heavyweight Champion in nearly 2 full years. I think there was an injury in there somewhere, but I’m not sure. 2021 New Japan only exists as a vague memory in my head. I think Hiromu gets Mr. Belt back here, as he’s as much of a good choice as anyone here. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
LEC PRESENTS IWGP US HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
WILL OSPREAY (C) V. KENNY OMEGA
J. Michael: What’s funny is that this is technically the only sponsored match on the card. Whatever LEC is, I hope Harold Meij is somehow involved. He was right about everything. If a Dutch business person says something, just go with that.
Otherwise, there’s little to dig into here. It’s simply a workrate dream match.
These two sniped at each other in interviews earlier in the year, but that worked shoot dynamic was awkward and incongruent. This current direction feels like more organic and believable pro wrestling.
The story is simple:
- Kenny Omega feels that he can return to New Japan and instantly resurrect the company’s fortunes
- Will Ospreay believes that Kenny Omega is an apostate that underestimates the strength and resolve needed to shoulder the company during the clap crowd era
- Kenny feels that the company has floundered without him because of pale replicas like Will Ospreay
- Will thinks that Kenny is trying to stunt Ospreay’s growth before Ospreay surpasses him.
And without question, these are not naturally subtle performers. In fact, they might be incapable of subtlety, though both have improved in recent years. Ospreay’s backstage comment game has been dramatically enhanced since forming The United Empire. Kenny still works best in scrupulously edited videos, which may seem like a detriment, but as shown at Historic X-Over, when it works it is transcendent.
Omega’s interview with the New Japan website is replete with preening villainy as he expresses his dismay with New Japan’s direction, Ospreay’s development, and his disdain for the fans that he feels rejoiced a little too robustly when Tanahashi defeated him in 2019. And while he’s often been criticized for that sort of thing, it is exactly the tone Omega has established that makes this match work. It’s much less the cartoonish, Dio Brando villainy of Omega’s past efforts. This one is more cavalier, sophisticated, almost cosmopolitan.
The company is leaning into this idea that the match is, “the most dangerous of dream matches,” both in the VTR and the Ospreay interview on the website. It’s probably best not to read too much into that, but it certainly plays into how Ospreay grounded the rivalry squarely back into wrestling terms after the Historic X-Over video challenge from Omega.
He mentioned how Omega couldn’t say goodbye to Ibushi back in 2019 because Will sent Ibushi to the hospital with the first Hidden Blade. He wondered whether Omega had the motor to keep up with Will after being conditioned for TV matches. And he speculated whether he should become an “assassin” again to combat Omega.
It certainly sounds like the gear-up to an omnibus match, and if so, it’ll have to be a long one. Flying, grappling, brawling, etc. They’ll be going for it all. Two concurrent philosophical diatribes on the nature and potential of the medium of professional wrestling.
Omega leaning so heavily into this heelish persona, and then defeating Ospreay, would be very peculiar. The verbiage itself is so demonstratively preposterous, you’d have to think the entire point is for such an obliviously self-impressed fuckface to be humbled on the 4th.
Sure, Omega could win the US Title and they could run the match back in America, but… I don’t know, maybe something significant can be allowed to happen outside of AEW?
The best result here is that Ospreay defeats Omega and Omega continues to work big NJPW shows from this point forward. Prediction: Will Ospreay / The Important Prediction: *******1/4 from you-know-who
Suit: There are people who are not going to enjoy Will Ospreay vs. Kenny Omega. While I figure a lot of it will be in bad faith, as Ospreay and Omega attract a lot of bad faith actors who use them as lightning rods for everything wrong with wrestling today, there are those who sincerely don’t enjoy the maximalist, summer blockbuster style of wrestling these two perform. And even though I know what I’m about to say will sound pretentious as all hell and turn some people off to me, I will say it anyway. I feel bad for those people. Because the people who do enjoy this style will be treated to what may be one of the best wrestling matches ever. That is the bar that these two have set for themselves. I asked my friend in a conversation earlier this week what the reasonable floor for this match is, and she didn’t have an answer. This is one of those matches where it being anything less than a lock for Match of the Year is a disappointment, yet there isn’t a doubt in my mind that these two men can meet and surpass those ridiculously high expectations. That’s because these are two of the most incredible pro wrestlers I’ve seen in my lifetime. There is no bar too high, there is no expectation unrealistic. Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay are going to walk to that ring with the goal of putting on one of the best wrestling matches EVER. And they might just do it.
This isn’t just a dream match that was put together for the fans. There is, in fact, a STORY here. Hundreds of ears just perked up at the mere mention of a STORY behind a pro wrestling match. Both of these men care deeply about New Japan Pro Wrestling. Kenny Omega carried the torch for New Japan all over the world, having iconic matches and turning minutes into moments that will live in this company’s history forever. But not only did Omega feel he had no more mountains to climb in New Japan, he also felt unappreciated for his work. The fans cried when Omega lost the IWGP Title to Hiroshi Tanahashi four years ago, but they were crying tears of joy. They didn’t know how good they had it, so Omega decided to leave. Not only to change the world of American pro wrestling, but to show New Japan what would happen when a bunch of pretenders to his throne tried to fill his shoes. The crowds grew smaller. The fans fell silent. New Japan’s status in the wrestling world tumbled. Omega places the blame firmly at the feet of Will Ospreay. He has no respect for Will Ospreay, and now he’s back to show everyone the difference between an Ospreay and an Omega.
Will Ospreay sees things differently. His rise from junior heavyweight standout to main event player came in the onset of the pandemic. His big run at the top came at a time when the promotion felt cursed, a curse that would strike him and cause him to unwillingly vacate the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. He suffered a kidney infection that almost took his life. But no matter how bleak things looked, Ospreay kept coming back to keep New Japan moving out of the dark days. And as the light at the end of the tunnel appears, in waltzes Kenny Omega to take the credit for saving the day. Ospreay looks at Omega not as a guy coming to save him, but as a man afraid that Ospreay will be remembered more fondly than him. Will Ospreay wants the respect he is owed, and the respect he has earned, and he will have to go through the Best Bout Machine to get it.
Who wins? Remember, the IWGP US Championship is on the line here, which is the title Omega held inaugurally. As I put some thought into it, I realize the more things change, the more they stay the same. Five years ago, Kenny Omega defended this very title against a big star that conquered America and looked to hold down the rising star that was Omega. That big star was Chris Jericho, who despite losing that match would continue to pop up on New Japan shows over the next few years. Omega won that match, and would eventually overcome Kazuchika Okada to become the IWGP Champion. I see this match going the same way. Will Ospreay will win this match, and he will likely go on to beat Okada for the IWGP World Title at some point in the future. Meanwhile, Omega will continue to make his presence known in New Japan. After all, he also has unfinished business with Kazuchika Okada. They still need to have that rubber match after all. Prediction: Will Ospreay
IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
JAY WHITE (C) VS. KAZUCHIKA OKADA
- Oymyakon, Russia – February 6, 1933: -67.7 C (-89.9 F)
- Verkhoyansk, Russia – February 5 & 7, 1892: -67.8 C (-90 F)
- Greenland Ice Sheet, Greenland – December 22, 1991: -69.6 C (-93.3 F)
- Vostok Station, Antarctica – July 21, 1983: -89.2 C (-128.6 F)
- Eastern Antarctic Plateau – August 10, 2010: -93.2 C (-135.8 F)
As of January 2, 2023, these are the five lowest temperature readings on record. #1 and #3 are a bit odd, as they were temperatures uncovered years after the actual dates listed. They were determined by studying weather records and satellite data. Of course, we can only look to the past in those cases; we haven’t yet been able to accurately predict frigidity of this magnitude in advance.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the new #1 coldest temperature ever recorded, previously thought possible on Earth only under laboratory conditions:
- Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan – January 4, 2023 at roughly 9:30 to 9:45 PM (Depending on the amount of finisher kick-outs in Omega v. Ospreay): Just slightly above absolute zero
This match is cold as fuck, because Jay White is cold as fuck. He has been a truant champion, a non-entity for a large chunk of his title run. And, to be clear, I have no clue why he’s been almost entirely absent since August. I don’t know where the blame lies, or if this even warrants blame.
At some point, either in a press conference or video or something, he’ll return to deliver an idiosyncratic performance, a soliloquy of screaming and brazen self-absorption that fruitlessly attempts to mask his profound insecurities. That is what makes him so absorbingly fascinating.
Normally, this would galvanize a show. After months of a barely detectable pulse on his reign, it will come across as desperation. A wrestler out of tricks, subjugated by circumstances.
And it’s too bad, because Jay never really had a chance. He was betrayed by the bureaucracy of New Japan decision-making.
I’ve laid this out on my embarrassingly amateurish co-hosting spot on the Super J-Cast last month, and slightly better on the sinking ship, but winning the title at Dominion is a curse.
You go straight into the G1 Climax, which is great; champions often shine in the league play, which feels like a string of title matches. But then the finals are purposely booked to exclude the champion. And so the biggest spotlight goes onto the Wrestle Kingdom challenger.
Then you enter the fall of New Japan, replete with lame duck title defenses and wearisome tag tournaments. And that’s the best possible scenario! Sure, it’s monotonous to sit through programs knowing that both Wrestle Kingdom champion and challenger will cast aside any threats to their Wrestle Kingdom spots, but what’s the alternative?
Ibushi in 2020, that’s the alternative. Even in a normal year, with a summer G1 Climax and extra time to tell the Ibushi-Jay storyline, Ibushi losing the title shot contract would have felt like a corrosive decision. Okada was correct to toss that fucking briefcase in the trash.
This is all amplified when the champion is a foreigner. Kenny Omega is still lambasted for his title reign, which also began at a Dominion. But the idea of Kenny in 2018 as an in absentia champion is largely false; he appeared on twice as many shows in Fall 2018 as Jay White has in Fall 2022. But even then, it’s not Okada or Naito numbers; those fucking idiots wrestle every goddamn show. It’s a large ask, for a foreigner to spend so many months away from home.
So, Jay was going to have problems. The ones above are baked into the system. Jay was also unfortunate enough to shoulder an ice cold promotion (thus making these calendar gaps feel even more arduous and eternal), as well as key players in his big Dominion moment vanish. He deserved better than this.
But then, the most fundamental dilemma: who gives a fuck about this particular match? Why are we running back matches from Dominion on Wrestle Kingdom? What has happened in the subsequent six months to conflate these two?
Because Jay hasn’t been around, the only substantive way to compel someone to care about a match with him is for the match-up to be uniquely, inherently interesting. Running Jay vs. Okada again is drab, jejune, and just fucking boring. Uninspired. An indictment of New Japan’s situation at the moment: this was the best they felt they could do, and this was the best they could construct it.
The vigor of Jay’s Dominion title win has long since evaporated. What appeared to be the revitalization of the Bullet Club faltered and dissolved. That moment has lost so much luster that one almost wishes it didn’t happen; in an alternate universe Jay vs. Okada, with Jay as the G1 Climax-winning challenger, seems resolutely more intriguing than this.
Actually, I’ve convinced myself that the best thing they could have done, on this Inoki Tribute show, is run Okada vs. Tanahashi again with a nostalgia-based, “one more time at WK” thrust. The face of the 50th vs. the face of the 40th. The one wearing the Inoki robe, attempting to transform himself into Inoki, versus the one that had to endure the actual Inoki, the one that could only resurrect the company by defying its founder.
Anyway, you’ll notice that I pinpointed the coldest temperature gag to the start of this match. I am fully confident that these two will have an extraordinary Wrestle Kingdom main event. It’s going at least 35 minutes, so whether it will hold a viewing audience, or sustain a cheering Dome crowd (when Japanese cheering crowds remain apprehensive) is debatable, but it’s going to be a typically dense Wrestle Kingdom main event, and I certainly enjoy those.
And so do you. Okada’s track record in the Tokyo Dome speaks for itself, but what about Jay White’s?
- The match with Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 13. The 15 minute sprint that was proof of concept of Jay White, unit leading main eventer
- The match with Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 14. A 34 minute Wrestle Kingdom semi-main event that is almost esoteric at this point, but the first great Jay White Tolstoy match: prolonged, byzantine, erudite, and theatrical, but not cinematic Stamford Auteur Refinery nonsense. Athletically theatrical. A thoroughly composed match, in a good way.
- The Match with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 15, the zenith of the Jay White epic. A Verdi-esque tragic deterioration that American televised wrestling believes that they do habitually, almost effortlessly. But no… nothing, not even a Mountain Dew Pitch Black match, has yet to capture the profoundly captivating pitifulness of Jay White slowly, agonizingly, realizing that Kota Ibushi is going to defeat him, and that he is not going to walk out of Wrestle Kingdom with the championship.
And sure, you have:
- The match against Hiroshi Tanahashi from Wrestle Kingdom 12. That was, so to say, the repudiation of concept for Jay White the Knife Pervert, the guy who goes sounding with a Swiss army knife.
- The match against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 14. The infamous Double Gold Dash Third Place match. The match that was, in hindsight, the preamble to the Jay v. Ibushi year-long saga that was unfortunately disrupted and corrupted by the pandemic.
The point is: Jay White is Mr. Bright Lights. Mr. Stakes is High. Yes, this match will be as dense as a supermassive black hole. It will be intricate, and labyrinthine, and exhausting. But, 15 to 20 minutes in, hopefully, you’ll forget the immediate context of the match and remember the longer narrative at play here. A years-long battle between two dickheads who can’t help but go all baroque out there. In the end, it’s long, but it’s more Swift than Dostoyevsky.
This match, Jay White and Kazuchika Okada, will overcome the utterly vacuous build in the ring. Damn, is this a WK main event or a TK main event?
I hope Jay retains, for the sake of him and the title reign, but… Prediction: Kazuchika Oka.. Ichi… Ni… San… DAAAAA
Suit: (Note: I got so into the preview for Ospreay/Omega that I legitimately forgot I still had to preview this match.)
March 17, 2002. The SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 68,237 emotionally exhausted souls watch as Royal Rumble winner Triple H challenges WWF Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho for the title in the main event of WrestleMania 18. The two men try everything to get the crowd engaged. Jericho works over Hunter’s leg, which houses the torn quad he had rehabbed for much of the past year. Hunter hits his on-screen ex-wife with a Pedigree. He overcame the odds and stood tall as Undisputed Champion. No one cared. No one cared because an hour before the crowd was treated to one of the most emotion-fueled spectacles in company history, as after nine years, Hulkamania returned to the WWF. Hulk Hogan and the Rock brought the crowd to a fever pitch in a match that very few matches in company history could even dream of following. Even with a Women’s Title match as a breather, Hunter and Jericho had no chance.
There is no buzz, no anticipation, no hype for Okada vs. Jay White in the slightest. Jay White, the IWGP World Champion, couldn’t even bother to come in for the Road To Tokyo Dome shows to hype up his Tokyo Dome main event. On the other hand, Ospreay vs. Omega is a legitimate dream match that many fans and pundits, myself included, see as the true main event. If there were a fan vote, it wouldn’t shock me if the IWGP Title match was bumped. Somewhere in Japan, Tetsuya Naito got a shiver down his spine. Ospreay/Omega is the Hogan/Rock of this scenario, leaving Okada/White in the dreaded Triple H/Jericho position. Are Kazuchika Okada and Jay White doomed to the same fate?
Absolutely not. Chris Jericho is an all-time great pro wrestler. Triple H is also a wrestler. Neither of these men are The Rainmaker. And in the Tokyo Dome, Kazuchika Okada reaches heights very few have ever reached. Listen to his resume in the main event of the Tokyo Dome since his return from excursion.
- Wrestle Kingdom 7: vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (9.08 on Cagematch, 4.55 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 9: vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (9.62 on Cagematch, 4.79 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 10: vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (9.74 on Cagematch, 4.85 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 11: vs. Kenny Omega (9.82 on Cagematch, 4.89 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 12: vs. Tetsuya Naito (9.00 on Cagematch, 4.44 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 14 (Night One): vs. Kota Ibushi (9.60 on Cagematch, 4.84 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 14 (Night Two): vs. Tetsuya Naito (9.62 on Cagematch, 4.84 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 16 (Night One): vs. Shingo Takagi (8.83 on Cagematch, 4.47 on GRAPPL)
- Wrestle Kingdom 16 (Night Two): vs. Will Ospreay (9.25 on Cagematch, 4.68 on GRAPPL)
An average Cagematch rating of 9.40, and an average GRAPPL rating of 4.73. This isn’t counting the Ospreay semi-main event from Wrestle Kingdom 15, or the awesome Jay White sprint from Wrestle Kingdom 13. When Kazuchika Okada steps into that building, he becomes one of the best wrestlers to ever live. And he’s not too shabby outside of Tokyo either! This match will deliver because Kazuchika Okada is in it. Okada in the Dome is the safest bet in wrestling. You will see a great match because that is what Kazuchika Okada produces.
I’ve dumped on Jay White in this preview, mostly because the absentee champion bit does annoy me when the biggest show of the year is coming up. But he’s no slouch in-ring either. I loved the match these two had at Dominion where White won the title. The Dome main event against Ibushi in 2021 was fantastic. The G1 Final against Ibushi in 2019 was absolutely phenomenal. When Jay White hits, he hits it out of the park. And because he’s wrestling Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome, he’s going to hit it out of the park again.
Oh, yeah, Okada will win. The whole 50th Anniversary year has been built around him, and him beating the foreign menace to take back the title and honor Inoki may be the safest bet you’ll ever make. Everyone will go 1, 2, 3, DAAAAAA, the streamers will fall, and everyone will go home satisfied. Will New Japan be all the way back? I can’t answer that yet. I’ll have to watch it. I’ll have to feel it. But they’re getting closer and closer with each big show. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
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