NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 Card Rundown by Mike Johnson
For many wrestling fans, the biggest event of the year is WrestleMania, where World Wrestling Entertainment's characters, storylines and legends all converge in a pop culture feeding frenzy. However, for the more discerning professional wrestling fan, the most important night of the year is January 4th, which for years has been the ultimate date on their pro wrestling calendar. On that day,
New Japan Pro Wrestling invades the Tokyo Dome for their annual flagship event, Wrestle Kingdom.
This year, Wrestle Kingdom will become even more massive as, for the first time, it will stream live globally on FITE.TV! As we come ever close to all the colossal confrontations that will explode before our eyes, setting the stage for the entirety of 2019, here are the stars that will define the event and what they are fighting for!
The reigning and defending IWGP Heavyweight Champion has been on a mission to push the boundaries of what professional wrestling performances can be, and in the process, has ascended into the best professional wrestler from the Western Hemisphere in New Japan.
Unfortunately for him, he will be defending the IWGP Championship against the long-time "Ace" of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, who epitomizes the fighting spirit that crackles across New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In many ways, the match features the old guard of New Japan seeking to wrest the power in the promotion from Omega, who has pushed a progressive campaign seeking to landscape New Japan into his vision for what the future should be. Facing Tanahashi in their first singles match since 2016 at Wrestle Kingdom on January 4th, Omega will either reinforce the direction of New Japan moving forward or watch his power and dreams ripped from his grasp by one of New Japan's most valiant and loyal competitors. History will be made live on FITE.
While Tetsuya Naito may think he has the world fooled into thinking he cares about nothing and no one, the leader of Los Ingobernables De Japon really, truly cares about kicking the living hell out of Chris Jericho.
Over the last year, Jericho has stolen his IWGP Intercontinental Championship, assaulted Naito on numerous occasions, mocked him from across the globe and generally ruined Naito's life. Naito is often the one committing acts of disrespect and wanton violence on those who have found themselves in his crosshairs, he's been unable to solve the riddle of Jericho, partially because the former WWE Champion invades and escapes before he can be brought to justice for his actions.
At Wrestle Kingdom, however, Jericho and Naito will once again face off and for Naito, it will be a rare moment where is not the antagonist, but the hero, hellbent on regaining his title and righting the wrongs committed against him.
Sweet dreams are made of this. From its infancy in traveling carnivals, professional wrestling has always been built upon the speculation of what would happen if two top tier fighters entered the ring to face off and see who the better man was for the first time. Wrestle Kingdom will officially open with such a match as internationally renowned aerial assassin Will Ospreay enter the battlefield against the reigning and defending NEVER Openweight Champion, Kota Ibushi.
The NEVER Openweight Championship division transcends all barriers in New Japan Pro Wrestling, allowing a heavyweight like Ibushi and a Junior Heavyweight like Ospreay to face off in a rare encounter that fans have been buzzing about since the two fighters went face to face, staring each other down earlier this year following a six-man tag team bout.
Ospreay may be without peer when it comes to innovative, awe-inspiring stratosphere-breaking flying maneuvers, but the defending champion is second to no man. Perhaps one of the most technically finesse wrestlers in the world, Ibushi cut his teeth in the DDT promotion before shifting to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he has excelled in singles and tag team competition against some of the company's most ferocious stars. While Wrestle Kingdom has always been where galaxies collided inside the squared circle, this may be the rare occasion where the opening attraction may indeed be the match that shines so bright, it may blunt everything that follows it.
There can only be one first-time confrontation and it will go down on FITE January 4th.
THE YOUNG BUCKS
Having officially exited Ring of Honor with their Elite brethren, Matt and Nick Jackson return to New Japan Pro Wrestling with yet an even bigger chip on their shoulders.
After losing their IWGP Tag Team Championship to the Guerrillas of Destiny several months back at Fighting Spirit Unleashed and failing to regain the ROH Tag Team Championships at ROH's Final Battle, The Bucks executed "Plan B" – cashing in their guaranteed return title bout against The GOD at Wrestle Kingdom, a grudge match showdown.
However, with the Bucks having interjected themselves into a title bout that EVIL and SANADA had earned by winning New Japan's World Tag League tournament, The Jacksons have willingly entered a battle where they are now the targets of two uniquely dangerous teams both looking to take them out while setting their own issues against each other.
Can Bucks pull through with an all elite performance that sees them split the hair and use all that tension and anger for their own benefit, or are they returning to the Tokyo Dome as dead men walking? Will the G.O.D. end the revolutionary war that was erupted between Bullet Club and ELITE? Will EVIL and SANADA continue their Tag League winning ways? The future of the Bucks and the IWGP Tag Team Championship will be revealed during quite the Superkick party and all are invited via FITE.
The former WWE Champion has held the IWGP Intercontinental Championship hostage since capturing it last year from Tetsuya Naito, continuing to ratchet the animosity between Chris Jericho and the former Champion. While Jericho has proclaimed he won't appear and defend the title, the reality is he's been obsessed with Naito, attacking him on numerous occasions with creative sneak attacks and verbally harassing him as only Jericho can via different mediums. Jericho has seemingly rebooted himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling, showcasing a more violent brawler with zero redeeming qualities, so if you are expecting Y2J, prepare to be sorely disappointed. If you are seeking violence and chaos, you will find it as Jericho faces the leader of Los Ingobernables De Japon at Wrestle Kingdom on FITE.
Perhaps the greatest professional wrestler living today, Kazuchika Okada has entertained fans across every continent with his incredible in-ring prowess and fighting spirit. At Wrestle Kingdom, however, Okada isn't seeking yet another golden championship notch on his belt, but sweet, sweet vengeance.
His opponent, Jay White, hatched one of the longest plots ever in New Japan Pro Wrestling, setting his sights on Okada. White had teased joining The Bullet Club, leading to Okada recruiting him to join the CHAOS faction. White captured the IWGP United States Championship, securing his standing with the group, but then shocked the world when he defeated Okada this past summer during the G1 Climax tournament. With questions about whether White would usurp leadership of CHAOS abounding, the New Zealand star instead attacked Okada, revealing he was loyal to Bullet Club all along. Okada is out to redeem himself and erase the blemish of the G1 Climax loss against White as much as he is looking to avenge White's disrespect. With all eyes on Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, the emerging Champion's next major threat may indeed step out of the remnants of this vibrant rivalry. If Okada fails to put the brash upstart down, we may see a new force emerge, shattering everything in its path. The Rainmaker will need everything in his arsenal at Wrestle Kingdom.
The reigning IWGP United States Champion has made it clear he and the rest of The Elite seek to "change the world" but to do so, Cody Rhodes will have to emerge from Wrestle Kingdom unscathed.
Heading into his championship defense against Juice Robinson with a knee that Cody has already publicly admitted needs surgery (and one that was hurt so badly at Ring of Honor Final Battle that he submitted to ROH World Champion Jay Lethal's figure four leglock), it's a rare case where the Champion is truly the underdog.
At Wrestle Kingdom 11, Cody was the one with his hand raised in victory over Robinson, a loss that haunts Robinson for several reasons. One, it was impetus for his drive to evolve as a competitor and rise in the ranks of New Japan, becoming a more ferocious and feared fighter, scoring victory after victory. Those winning performances culminated with Robinson defeating Jay White to win the IWGP United States title, only to fall yet again to Cody.
Wrestle Kingdom will either be Robinson's moment of redemption, finally avenging his losses and overcoming the obstacle that "The American Nightmare", or it will be the night that the son of Dusty Rhodes reinforces his will and forces everyone standing witness to Wrestle Kingdom on FITE that he is indeed, already changing the world in The Elite's image.
If there is one man who epitomizes what New Japan Pro Wrestling means to the larger tapestry that is the pro wrestling universe, it is Hiroshi Tanahashi, who has proven himself to be the "Ace" of the promotion countless times. One of the most charismatic and versatile fighters, Tanahashi has stood as the MVP of New Japan for years, a traditionalist who stands for the core tenants of NJPW's fighting spirit and seeks to not only prove himself as the best wrestler in the world, but the flagbearer for New Japan's global excursion.
To once again stand at the summit of New Japan, Tanahashi must be victorious against the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, who seeks to clear the table of New Japan's traditions and forge a new foundation and direction for NJPW. It will be up to Tanahashi to stem the tide of Omega's stream of Wrestle Kingdom victories, each of them bringing a vibrant new direction to NJPW that threatens to force the promotion's core beliefs into the past forever. Tanahashi is one man fighting an entire revolution, one that will reach its climax at Wrestle Kingdom on FITE.
ZACK SABRE JR.
Zack Sabre Jr. is not only one of the most proficient technical grapplers in the world, following the likes of Billy Robinson and Dean Malenko into immortality as a fighter who will be studied for generations after his career is complete, but he's also one of the most dangerous men on Planet Earth, someone who can, with each, manipulate joints, shred muscle and break bones.
Sabre has become one of the most in-demand competitors in the world but chooses to maintain New Japan Pro Wrestling as his base of operations, representing it worldwide. It was during such an excursion into Great Britain's Revolution Pro Wrestling that Sabre, then the promotion's reigning champion, was shockingly defeated by the Stone Pitbull, Tomohiro Ishii. Ishii, one of the most brutal and methodical beasts in all of New Japan Pro Wrestling, may indeed be the kryptonite to Sabre Jr.'s Superman grappling.
When these two rematch at Wrestle Kingdom, it will be two different styles of savagery on display – Ishii's brash, destructive onslaught vs. Sabre Jr.'s methodical, scientific breakdown of the human body. One of the most unique world wars will be waged on January 4th on FITE.
After scoring the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in a long tournament to fill the vacancy brought about by Hiromu Takahashi's injuries, KUSHIDA enters Wrestle Kingdom as one of the most popular and consistent fighters in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Unfortunately for the Champion, his challenger in Tokyo will be The Bullet Club's Taiji Ishimori, who spent the latter half of 2018 putting together an incredible series of in-ring performances that left no doubt as to the veracity of his fighting spirit inside the ring. Ishimori is looking to shock the world with a major championship victory while KUSHIDA, one of the best ambassadors for NJPW on a global scale, is seeking to cement his current Championship reign with a major, decisive victory.
Believe it or not, that isn't even scratching the surface of Wrestle Kingdom, where live on FITE, the course of careers will be changed forever, stars will be born, championships will be decided and indeed, eras may come to an end.
It's guaranteed to be one of the greatest nights of professional wrestling action ever and it will all stream LIVE on FITE on January 4th from the Tokyo Dome straight to your devices and your homes.