New Japan is still a big mystery to a lot of fans, since many only started following it this year. It makes a little bit of sense to do a pre-Wrestle Kingdom Power Ranking, just because NJPW is very good at having Wrestle Kingdom be the end of the year’s storylines instead of just an excuse to drag things out. New Year’s Dash will start to shake things up immediately, so the start of 2018 will be interesting.
5. Hiromu Takahashi w/ Daryl
One of the few wrestlers who’s character and stuffed best friend translate to the Western crowd without needing to be involved in the title scene all the time. He’s got a great look, great in-ring ability, got a stuffed cat so over that when the internet thought he was dead, we collectively had vigils and even ROH wrote an apology for him not being at future shows.
Plus, thanks to his hockey outfit at Power Struggle, he was able to insert himself into the Fatal 4 Way at Wrestle Kingdom 12 for the Junior Heavyweight Championship. So it should be nice to see if he can get Mr. Belt back.
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi
The Ace of the last decade, went from having a down year to now one of the most overlooked years. His trilogy with Tetsuya Naito is arguably a more solid all around feud than Omega vs Okada, but, because of the hype around Kenny and Kazuchika and how over the top the first two were, that trilogy was gonna be the “feud of the year” since June…just because fans already had it in their heads.
Now at Power Struggle, Tanahashi and Ibushi had to follow up the Chris Jericho news, so people were more like “It was a great match…BUT JERICHO”.
It’s hard to really believe that he’s been seeing such great success this year, at his age, and after tearing his bicep (which is still torn) . So if he can get placed on the card to not get overshadowed by perception, then people may get an idea of his character and his ability to work.
3. Kenny Omega
Some may argue that he should be higher, but the two people ahead of him, had his number this year. Even though he got his win on Okada, it was still a weakened Okada and the match was still close.
Kenny benefits heavily from the “cool factor” and the fact that he speaks Japanese and English fluently, so there’s no language barrier disconnect with fans.
The big news for him going into Wrestle Kingdom is the Jericho match, but win, lose or draw — it won’t effect his status in New Japan. Bullet Club, The Elite and him alone are still so over, that as long as he comes back to the company in 2018, he will still be billed as a Top 3 guy.
2. Tetsuya Naito
The challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, and the best character in New Japan. He’s had the most intriguing storylines of 2017, the best trilogy and won the G1 beating the man who kept him out of the finals last year (Kenny Omega).
Everyone believes it’s a lock that Naito wins at Wrestle Kingdom as the payoff to his storyline from 4 years ago of his last failed briefcase challenge that got down voted to Semi-Main Event. However, if the Chris Jericho angle doesn’t prove it, New Japan is always full of surprises.
2018 could be a new era with Naito, but until he overcomes Okada, he’s got to be second.
1. Kazuchika Okada
*drops mic and explains nothing cause it’s not necessary*
What? You need reasons? PWI #1, master of the Match of the Year, carries lower card wrestlers to a “5 Star” match, got the biggest pop of G1 Special in California Day One, and he’s now the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion (single reign).
He elevates most wrestlers he’s paired again, elevates anime that he makes cameos in (World Trigger), and he has the look of a champion…you really can’t look at the man and not think he’s a main eventer.
After winning his 2 year feuds with Tanahashi and Styles, it cemented him as the new Ace, and until he retires or if he just severely falls apart, he will be a legend within 5 years. He’s already highly regarded by Eastern and Western fans, so he doesn’t have many more heights to climb to.
Does this really come as a surprise to anyone that follows New Japan? Probably not, the 5th place could be Kushida (his wrestling is phenomenal but his character didn’t make as huge of an impact as Hiromu and Daryl), but the top 4 have been the top guys for about 2 years now…so all the surprise faces may become meh faces. After Wrestle Kingdom 12 we can see where the New Year’s Dash takes us new story wise and we may get a little movement in the top guys.