NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
WRESTLE KINGDOM 18
JANUARY 4, 2024
TOKYO DOME
TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: NJPW WORLD

MEET YOUR REVIEWER

Suit Williams: It’s January 4. The card isn’t great. Suit is very tired, and he won’t be able to get much sleep tomorrow. But the feeling is still there. It’s Wrestle Kingdom 18! It’s the Tokyo Dome baby! Get into it! Check out his work here on Voices of Wrestling and his ROH and AEW Collision reviews on F4WOnline.com. Oh crap, he’s gotta watch ROH later tonight too…

NEW JAPAN RAMBO MATCH (FINAL FOUR CHALLENGE FOR THE KOPW 2024 TITLE AT NEW YEAR DASH)
GREAT O-KHAN, TAIJI ISHIMORI, TORU YANO, & YOH WIN

It was the Rambo, there wasn’t much to analyze here. Kidd and Coughlin were eliminated by Cobb & HENARE. We had some surprise entrants in Hayato Jr. Fujita and Takashi Iizuka. Iizuka was shredded, several years post-retirement. After the match, he went after Nogami, the ringside commentator whom he repeatedly terrorized during his run. O-Khan eliminated Chase Owens as Yano and YOH were working on eliminating Ishimori. Ishimori survived to the final four, and these four will be wrestling tomorrow on New Year Dash for the KOPW 2024. Taichi not being involved may signal a move up the card for him, which is good because he’s earned it. **

IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
CATCH 2/2 (FRANCESCO AKIRA & TJP) DEF. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (CLARK CONNORS & DRILLA MOLONEY) (C)

These teams fought on the last Korakuen of the year in a casket match, where TJP was put in the casket. TJP came out of the casket here as The Aswang, a Filipino demon of sorts. As someone who was expecting Suicide to come alive here, this was a downgrade. I’m not here to learn lore about demons of other cultures, I just want to watch wrestling. The feed froze on TJP’s Fiend-style mask for a minute, allowing me to fully take in the, uh, interesting decision that TJP made for the opening match of Wrestle Kingdom.

Maloney got busted open near his nose or mouth, marking the second straight 1/4 opener to have accidental blood. Meanwhile, Connors chained up TJP to the barricade to keep him out of the opening minutes of this match. TJP got the tag in and, after a few minutes, kicked out of No Chaser, the Drilla Killa, and the High Low spear from the War Dogs. TJP misted Maloney before Catch 2/2 hit the 2×2 Knees to win the match and the titles. The match was okay, but TJP’s shitty mask combined with the poor English commentators having to try to sell this Aswang character took me out of it. I don’t need myths and creatures in my wrestling. Just wrestle, what’s wrong with WRESTLING??? **1/4

NJPW WORLD TELEVISION TITLE MATCH
HIROSHI TANAHASHI DEF. ZACK SABRE JR. (C)

A full 365 days since winning the title, Sabre loses it here in his 17th defense. President Tanahashi puts himself over for a title on his first night in charge, can you believe the ego on this guy? Jokes aside, this match was fine. These two traded holds and submissions, with Tanahashi catching knees on an impossibly early High Fly Flow attempt. Tanahashi and Sabre eventually entered a pinning predicament, where Tanahashi was able to keep Sabre’s shoulders down for the three count. I’m not the guy to talk about these matches, as I was sick of this pairing four years ago. But they worked fine here, and Sabre presumably loses his way up the card after an exceptional reign as the 1st NJPW World TV Champion. ***1/2

YUYA UEMURA DEF. YOTA TSUJI

Two of the men that New Japan expects to carry them for the next decade face off here in what could become a seminal match in both men’s careers. This was Uemura’s singles debut post-excursion, somewhat mirroring Tsuji’s return in a singles match at Dominion. However, this is match three on the card, whereas Tsuji re-debuted in an IWGP World Heavyweight Title match in the main event of Dominion. That’s been the story between these two, as Tsuji has been a step ahead of Uemura since their days as young lions in the same class.

But here was where Uemura caught up on the biggest stage. Uemura beat Tsuji straight up with his move, the Deadbolt Suplex. This promotion has major hopes for this guy after giving him a showcase singles match against then-IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada as his farewell match as a Young Lion. They see him as a major star, as this result shows.

Tsuji on the other hand, continues to shine. However, that shine always comes in a losing effort. Whether it be in Dominion against SANADA, the G1 where he came up short in the block, or Power Struggle against Will Ospreay, Tsuji has these impressive performances that end with him counting the lights. This will no doubt be a long-term arc for him, as New Japan builds him up to top-tier status in the future.

Remember this match, if for no other reason than it serving as a building block for the next generation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. ***1/2




EVIL & REN NARITA (W/ HOUSE OF TORTURE) DEF. KAITO KIYOMIYA & SHOTA UMINO

Umino entered the building on a motorcycle, paying homage to another one of his heroes in Fred Durst. This was a House of Torture special, which as I’ve noted in the past, is only fine as the fourth match on the card and almost no later. Umino was able to get his hands on Narita after Narita’s betrayal at the World Tag League, but Narita landed a shot with his EVIL push-up bar before hitting the Double Cross for the win.

Umino, Narita, and Tsuji are the Reiwa Three Musketeers. They are expected to lead the promotion into the future. Those three – and Yuya Uemura – will forever be linked together, and I expect Umino and Narita to continue this feud throughout the year and throughout both of their careers.

Meanwhile, Kaito Kiyomiya lost again. An evergreen statement. ***1/4

NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
TAMA TONGA DEF. SHINGO TAKAGI (C)

Wake up, it’s January 4! This match had very little buzz going into it, as we just saw it in October. Plus, Tama Tonga had spent a good chunk of 2023 in a feud with David Finlay that didn’t particularly benefit either one of them. However, here with Shingo Takagi, Tama Tonga showed the fire and burst that made these NEVER Openweight Title matches so must-see throughout its lifecycle. This was the badass, hard-hitting match you hope to see when you see this title, and the match this show needed to kickstart the business end of the card. Tama Tonga ran through the moves of his former Bullet Club leaders, hitting the Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash before Shingo kicked out of the Gun Stun. Tama then hit the DSD – the Jay Driller – for the win and the title. Tama kicks off his fourth reign as NEVER Openweight Champion with a bang and one hell of a match at the Tokyo Dome. ****1/2

IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE / NJPW STRONG OPENWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (EL PHANTASMO & HIKULEO) (STRONG) DEF. BISHAMON (HIROOKI GOTO & YOSHI-HASHI) (IWGP)

Phantasmo and Hikuleo win the trilogy match as well as the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles here. This wasn’t as good as the World Tag League final, as these two had less than a quarter of the time they had then. But they still had a solid effort here, as they fought out of each other’s finishers and forced miscommunication between the other team. When Phantasmo hitting a Super Thunder Kiss ’86 on Goto didn’t work, Hikuleo hit a Super Mega Thunder Kiss ’86 off the top rope to get the win. After sending Jay White out of New Japan and beating KENTA for a short-lived STRONG Title reign, Hikuleo earns another big fall here as the new-era GOD walk out with both sets of tag team titles. ***1/2

IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
EL DESPERADO DEF. HIROMU TAKAHASHI (C)

“This felt like the cementing of Desperado as the new face of the division. Many people have wanted Hiromu elevated to the heavyweight division. If it is, the title and the division are in very good hands.” – Me, from the Wrestle Kingdom 16 review in 2022.

Uhh, yeah, that. Desperado ends Hiromu’s reign at the 8th defense, crushing Hiromu’s dream of breaking the defense record for the Jr. Title. Desperado built this match around Hiromu’s leg, eventually locking on Numero Dos. But Hiromu countered it with a Canadian Destroyer to escape. The match then went to these two trading big shots, with Hiromu landing several Hiromu-chan Bomber lariats. Desperado kicked out of the Time Bomb but avoided the Time Bomb II. Despy hit the Pinche Loco but only got a nearfall, so he followed it up with a Jay Driller and a second Pinche Loco to score the pin and the surprising win here.

While I believed a Naito/Hiromu anniversary match was destined for the books, I realized here that all of LIJ have lost their matches here. Tsuji lost to Uemura, Shingo lost to Tama Tonga, and Hiromu lost here. BUSHI wasn’t even in the Rambo. Therefore, the hopes and dreams of all of the LIJ fans lie on the rickety knees of Tetsuya Naito. Gedo, you are a menace. ****




IWGP GLOBAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE THREE-WAY MATCH
DAVID FINLAY DEF. JON MOXLEY, WILL OSPREAY

I gotta say this. If you told me that David Finlay won this three-way match and the Global Heavyweight Championship before starting a post-match brawl with Dolph Ziggler, I would never have imagined it working out this well. I also wouldn’t have seen it because I would’ve canceled my New Japan World subscription and thrown my computer out of the window.

But this match exceeded all expectations because the fans were vocally against Finlay winning while living and dying by Will Ospreay. If anyone felt like the odd man out here, it was Jon Moxley, who got in where he fit in and played the tweener role he’s been playing on AEW TV. This was a match of three parts. The first was Ospreay and Moxley teaming up to take Finlay out, brawling with him through the crowd before putting him through a table at ringside. The second part was the more traditional three-way bout, with all three men getting involved and having a better back-and-forth than most three-ways allow. Then was the big closing stretch, starting with Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin getting involved before Mox and Ospreay quickly dispatched them.

There were several close nearfalls where they teased Finlay stealing the pins multiple times. Ospreay took Moxley out with the Stormbreaker before Finlay got Ospreay with Into Oblivion. Ospreay kicked out, but Finlay put him away definitively with Into Oblivion into a rising knee. A shockingly great match, with a post-match angle that shocked me in how much I actually liked it. ****1/4

KAZUCHIKA OKADA DEF. BRYAN DANIELSON

There may be nothing in pro wrestling better than a vengeful Bryan Danielson. When Bryan Danielson has a grudge, no one gets a more visceral, violent streak in him than the American Dragon. He came into the Tokyo Dome with one purpose: to break the arm of Kazuchika Okada, as Okada had done to him at Forbidden Door.

Danielson focused his attention on the Rainmaker arm of Okada, grinding it to audible gasps and groans from the Tokyo Dome crowd. He torqued the arm in ways no one else has since the infamous Invasion Attack match against Hiroshi Tanahashi or maybe a Minoru Suzuki title defense. Danielson brought an anger and a hatred that isn’t normally seen at the Tokyo Dome, not one that results in weapons and ultraviolence, but one that sees a man want to hurt his opponents in an ugly, drawn-out way. It was like watching Hannibal Lecter dice up a man while he was still living. It was disgusting, but in a way that I couldn’t stop watching.

But this wasn’t any Kazuchika Okada that Danielson was facing here. Danielson’s vicious work brought out the vicious, grumpy asshole version of Okada that we’ve seen evolve over the last year. Okada ripped the eyepatch off of Danielson’s eye before stomping on his face in the corner, leading to these two getting even more vicious. Danielson got Okada in the LeBell Lock before transitioning into the double-arm hold that tapped Okada out at Forbidden Door. The fans were screaming as Okada fought for the ropes, and Okada eventually made it to break the hold. Danielson then got a Busaiku Knee for a nearfall before leading the crowd in Yes chants while loading up a second one. Okada avoided it and hit the death sequence, starting with the Flowsion and the Landslide. Danielson kept avoiding the Rainmaker, but Okada finally got it and scored the win.

The two bowed to each other as two all-time greats had a match fitting of their status here at Wrestle Kingdom 18. ****1/2




IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
TETSUYA NAITO DEF. SANADA (C)

I say this with respect to SANADA as an athlete and a wrestler. Nobody in the Tokyo Dome gave a fuck about this man. The IWGP World Heavyweight champion walked out to the ring on January 4 to relative silence. The same way he did at Wrestling Dontaku. The same way he did at Dominion. The same way he did at Forbidden Door. The same way he did throughout the G1. The same way he did before one of the worst Sumo Hall title defenses of all time at Destruction in Ryogoku. SANADA has given people nothing to get excited about as champion, and the people have responded. I was supportive of the choice to try SANADA out on top, as it was far past time to shit or get off the pot with him. But not since Roman Reigns a decade ago has someone completely dropped the ball as a potential top guy.

And that was before he came out here and had the worst performance of his reign so far. There was a point in this match where SANADA and Naito were on two completely different pages, screwing up a pair of Destino attempts in the rising action of this match. But Tetsuya Naito is a pro and a real main eventer, and he was able to get the train back on the tracks to save this thing. The closing stretch here built such tension in the idea that SANADA might pull it off before Naito finally put him away to score the win. The IWGP World Championship was finally in the hands of a real World Champion.

After the match, before Naito could even say a word, EVIL and Dick Togo showed up to spoil the party. EVIL was there to make sure Naito didn’t get his roll call, but SANADA made his way back into the ring to hit EVIL with a Shining Wizard. Naito and SANADA then took out Dick Togo before SANADA left the scene to chants from an appreciative crowd. As I’ve always said, SANADA is great and always deserved to be here.

Jokes aside, this was a good little bit of heat here. It immediately paid off, everyone still got the moment that they were hoping to get, and it helped SANADA to save some face. Naito got the win, the roll call, and the spotlight he had been waiting to stand in for a decade. The LIJ fans, who have gotten beat up on for years upon years, finally got their moment. And you know what? I’m happy for them. Enjoy this moment LIJ fans. You earned it. ***1/2

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