Ready for WrestleKingdom 13? If not, Kevin Carroll has you covered in his Beginner’s Guide to the biggest New Japan event of the year!
In the world of professional wrestling, the fun never stops. That’s the beauty of the sport; there’s no offseason, and there’s always plenty of quality content coming down the pike so that our plates are never empty.
That said, if you’re a WWE fan, the late December into early January stretch could be a bit slow. TLC seems like an eternity ago, and the Royal Rumble is still about a month away. You may be searching for some quality pro graps to fill that hole in your schedule in the meantime, yes?
Well ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got some good news for you.
Because you see, WWE isn’t all that’s out there in the pro wrestling universe, and if you’re willing to stave off sleep for a while, you may just catch the best pure wrestling on the planet come January 4th.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), oft-considered the #2 promotion in the world behind WWE, will run its annual Tokyo Dome show, WrestleKingdom 13, on Friday morning, 2:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (I know, the first time I watched it, I was alarmed at that start-time too).
What makes NJPW so special is that it strips away some of the hokeyness and pageantry that the WWE offers up, and instead highlights wrestling as pure sports, placing a focus squarely on the in-ring action. I was introduced to NJPW two years ago, and even though I haven’t become a die-hard or anything, I consider myself a follower and a lover of the Japanese approach to pro wrestling.
WrestleKingdom is NJPW’s version of WrestleMania, so it draws in a lot of first-time viewers and casual watchers the way ‘Mania does in early April each year. Naturally, first-timers may be thrown off by the different wrestlers and the much-different style, so that’s where I come in.
I’m no expert, I’m more of a layman, but I’ve decided to present you a match-by-match preview of WrestleKingdom through the eyes of a fan who knows juuuuust enough to offer such a preview. Hopefully, this opens some eyes and helps a few folks out as they prepare to pull an all-nighter and camp out for finest that Japanese wrestling has to offer.
Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay – NEVER Openweight Title
This match is going to take your breath away, and show you just how cool wrestling could be outside of the WWE.
Kota Ibushi is the reigning NEVER champion, which is roughly the 4th-most important heavyweight title in Japan. It’s a belt that could be won by anyone, regardless of weight class (New Japan has a junior heavyweight/heavyweight system).
Ibushi is a stud. He’s capable of working a stiff, strong style while also taking to the skies and flying with the best of them. If you’re a WWE fan, you would remember Ibushi from the Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016. If you have the time, go back and watch his matches. That’s only a small taste of what Kota offers in the ring.
Across the squared circle from him is Will Ospreay, a junior heavyweight. Ospreay may be the best “high flyer” in the industry today, at only 25 years old. Ospreay stepped up and challenged Ibushi after he had just won the NEVER title back in December, and now the two are primed to kick off WrestleKingdom with a big ol’ bang.
Suzuki-Gun vs. Roppongi 3K vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Titles
Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack here for a match that, in terms of importance and excitement, is probably the lowest-caliber contest on the card.
A little backstory here: Each of these three teams represent three of the big factions in New Japan. Suzuki-Gun is being represented by El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Sho and Yoh of Roppongi3K are from CHAOS, and BUSHI and Shingo Takagi are from the Los Ingobernables de Japon (Most everyone in New Japan is in a faction, more on that later).
The lads from Suzuki-Gun are the reigning champs, and their two challengers are challenging primarily because they’re really only the only junior heavyweight tag teams in New Japan. The tag team booking hasn’t been especially great in recent years from what I’ve noticed, so while the other matches all have some semblance of build-up, this one’s a little lacking. Not to say it won’t be entertaining, because I have a strong suspicion every match on the card will be, but it definitely gets better from here.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – RPW (Revolution Pro Wrestling) Heavyweight Title
This one’s interesting because it’s taking place for a title that doesn’t belong to New Japan, instead with the British promotion Rev Pro. As such, I don’t know too much about the booking and the backstory, but I do know these two dudes, and they’re both supremely different.
Ishii is perhaps the best embodiment of the term “strong-style” that you’ll find on this year’s WrestleKingdom card. Big Tom is nicknamed the “Stone Pitbull,” and not for nothing, either. The man will rock you with an open hand so hard, your teeth will rattle around in your mouth. He hits hard, and doesn’t care if you could take it or not, making his matches brutally entertaining to watch. He’s the champ in this matchup.
Across the ring, you have the submission magician in Sabre Jr. Like Kota Ibushi, Sabre was in that Cruiserweight Classic field a few years back, and he wowed the WWE crowd with his array of holds and submissions. He could win with roughly 12 different submission holds, so you never know just how his matches are going to go, which is a good thing.
Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon vs. The Young Bucks — IWGP Tag Team Titles
So to start, the Guerrillas (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) are the champs here, having knocked off the Young Bucks this past year. EVIL and SANADA from L.I.J won this November’s World Tag League tournament, earning themselves a spot in this match. The Young Bucks are here because you can’t leave the Young Bucks off the card, they make too much money for that.
The main story here is between the Guerrilas and the Bucks, who all used to be in the Bullet Club stable together. Now, the Bucks have joined the Elite after a hostile takeover by the Guerrillas and some other Bullet Club members. There’s plenty of bad blood there.
The World Tag League champs feel almost like an afterthought here, but EVIL and SANADA won the tag belts at last year’s WrestleKingdom, and could definitely do it again.
Cody vs. Juice Robinson – IWGP U.S. Championship
Hey, you recognize these guys! That’s Cody Rhodes and NXT’s CJ Parker!
Not anymore, as Cody’s been forced to drop his last name, and Mr. Parker let the Juice loose and turned into his current character, Juice Robinson. These two will do battle over Cody’s United States title, a heavyweight belt that’s been pretty much an afterthought recently.
This will be the most “WWE” style match on the card, probably not too long and not nearly as innovative as some of the other contests you’ll see.
Kushida vs. Taiji Ishimori – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
Junior action! I’m not really sure how Ishimori got himself booked into this year’s Junior Heavyweight championship match, but I’m not complaining.
Kushida’s been champ for a few months, after Hiromu Takahashi had to vacate the strap after a brutal-looking neck injury this summer. I have a feeling that this match was supposed to be Takahashi-Ishimori, but Kushida is spectacular in the ring, so I have no issues. Get well soon Hiromu!
This match is always a threat to steal the whole darn show, because the juniors wrestle such a fast-paced, high-octane style that it’s impossible not to be entertained. Expect to have a lot of fun watching this one!
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White
This one’s the only match without a title at stake, so you really have to be invested in the feud going on between Okada and White to enjoy this one. (I’m personally not feeling it, sue me!)
Okada, “The Rainmaker,” had his record-setting reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion shattered in June, and ever since then he’s been a little lost. Meanwhile, the CHAOS stable that he’s in charge of began to splinter, all due to one man: Jay White.
White came in and turned on Okada, aligning himself with the Bullet Club, alongside Okada’s longtime manager Gedo. (Gedo is also the head booker of New Japan, behind the scenes. Fun little factoid for you.)
Okada was beaten by White in the 2018 G1 Climax, a big round-robin tournament held at the tail end of summer, in an upset. Since then, White’s had Okada’s number in tag matches, so this will likely be the blow-off to their six-month long feud.
Chris Jericho vs. Tetsuya Naito – IWGP Intercontinental Title
Wait. Back up a second. Chris Jericho? He’s a WWE guy, how did he get here?
Ahhhh, he WAS a WWE guy. Now, he’s a deranged IC titleholder in New Japan, defending the belt against the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito.
You already know all about Jericho. I really love Naito, he wears really dapper-looking suits to the ring and practices “tranquilo,” which basically means he’s super calm, the perfect foil to Jericho’s madman character.
These two have been feuding for just about a year going back to last January, where Jericho, fresh off a loss to Kenny Omega at WrestleKingdom 12, jumped Naito at the following night’s New Year’s Dash event.
Jericho beat Naito for the IC belt in June, and tried to decline a rematch, but it’ll be Naito-Jericho at the Tokyo Dome, and it should be a blast.
Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – IWGP Heavyweight Title
The evening’s (morning’s?) main event, Kenny Omega defending the most prestigious championship in all of wrestling against the winner of the G1 Climax, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi won the right to face Omega by winning the Climax, and defending his title shot against guys like Kazuchika Okada.
Tanahashi is referred to as the “Ace” of New Japan, and a lot of people like to compare him to Joh Cena, which is pretty high praise if you ask me. He’s been heavyweight champ plenty of times, but he’s still evidently got some left in the tank as he preps to challenge for his 8th IWGP heavyweight title.
On the other hand, Kenny Omega is enjoying his first reign as champ after dethroning Okada back in June in a match hailed as one of the greatest of all time. But the fact is you could say that about most of Omega’s matches, it’s why he’s nicknamed the “Best Bout Machine.”
He’s defended the belt against Cody and Tomohoro Ishii, among others, since winning the belt. He’s one of the hottest commodities in the sport, and if WrestleKingdom is your first exposure to him…get your popcorn ready. The man is a modern marvel.
That’s the card! If you’re out there gulping down coffee and rubbing your eyes frantically in an attempt to stay awake like I’ll be, then I wish you good luck! Enjoy the show, and consider sticking around on NJPW World, New Japan’s subscription streaming service, a little while longer for the January 5th New Year’s Dash event, where a lot of new storylines for 2019 will be kicked off!
AJ’s Thoughts: Five Potential Returns
With Trips in charge and already starting to bring back some people that didn’t work in Vince’s picture, AJ got an idea. Who else could we see on the horizon radar?
With Trips in charge and already starting to bring back some people that didn’t work in Vince’s picture, AJ got an idea. Who else could we see on the horizon radar?
With everything going on with WWE, the one thing we have all been hyped about are all of these returns. Dakota Kai made her return at SummerSlam alongside Io and Bayley and now on last SmackDown, Karrion Kross and Scarlett made their returns in a big way against Drew McIntyre and showed the Hourglass to The Bloodline.
With all of that, there have been things in the pipeline saying Triple H’s foot isn’t off the pedal so these are 5 returns from either NXT, main roster or even Try-Outs that I would love to see happen with the new regime.
1. Johnny Gargano
Now this is a name that people have been saying, “Maybe Impact or MLW” but, what about a return? Gargano didn’t renew his contract, most likely to be with his family which is a valid and amazing reason, will never disrespect that. If he were to return, there would be a handful of great reasons. Maybe a singles run with the Intercontinental or United States but with Ciampa getting limelight in the main roster from RAW, what if we get a tag team reunion?
WWE is hurting for Tag Teams and what better than to scare off The Bloodline, loosen the stranglehold of championships with some Do It Yourself action. DIY reunion could be amazing, especially with newer faces showing up to get championship aspirations like Kross and Ciampa. Want to break the hierarchy? Do It Yourself.
2. James Storm
This one is a little bit weird and off. On one hand, who doesn’t love the Tennessee Cowboy, Jimmy James Storm? On the other, he is 45 and getting some nagging injuries as of late. So why would I say Triple H should bring James Storm back and give him something for the main roster? One of the things I said for Gargano, we have a lack of something and The Usos might need to watch two things in the rearview.
Watch your Money and your Alcohol.
Beer Money showing up in WWE would be amazing in my personal opinion. The Bloodline jump Roode, someone in a hoodie or jacket comes up and jumps them to even the fight and as soon as one Uso remained in the ring, the figure goes down and the old stomping goes off and we hear “BEER…” and Roode looks around and gets hyped up and shouts, “…MONEY!”
3. Big Cass
Since his departure from WWE, he has done something I have said since they split him off from Enzo. Take him through the Kevin Nash School of How To Big Man. ROH and Impact are great examples that he actually cleaned up and worked on what he has to do to be good in the ring. He can work the microphone, he can work the ring so we got a new big boy to take on the WWE once again.
Now I could have said Enzo and Cass to rejoin but, I’m sure the antics of Enzo will get Cass in deep water along with the fact that I already made two tag team predictions, we don’t need another. Cass brings a lot to the table and was kind of unproven in WWE because he was just the big enforcer to the more charismatic Enzo. Give this man about six months in the ring and you have your next MASSIVE problem in the IC or US Championship scene or even more.
4. Bronson Reed
The big man from down under is a former NXT North American Champion. He looked to have a good push going with that championship but he got release. If you wonder where he went… he actually made a pit stop in Impact Wrestling as JONAH with the most fire theme song in recent history I swear… I will link the theme song and Trips… please. Get rights to this theme song. I will be a bigger Bronson Reed fan.
Bronson to me is the weird man in all of this but, I think with Triple H involved, he could get something going for him with a good singles champion run or a big threat to go through like a gatekeeper of sorts. Big boy with a great amount of athleticism? Can’t really hate on that considering the last time we saw athletic bigger people were Keith Lee and… what was that one guy? Sherman Tank with a Ferrari Engine…?
5. Bray Wyatt
And the last one is the obvious one in all of this. Yes… we have Judgment Day as the somewhat supernatural dark group but we know the true successor of the supernatural and that is “The Eater of Worlds”, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. This time around, I don’t think we will get the Jekyl and Hyde, Mister Rogers gimmick. I believe this time around we get full darkness and mayhem. We get the darkness and the theory of reverting back to your prime.
To make a refresher… Miz went back to being the cocky narcissist after fighting The Fiend. Finn turned back to the Prince and much more. With guys like Edge returning, maybe we see the return of the Heel Ultimate Opportunist, maybe a Fiend fight with AJ Styles to get the TN-AJ perhaps. Possibilities are endless and with a great mind like Wyatt for character and execution, I think Hunter will pick up the phone and Let Him In.
– There are clearly others that I could say, or maybe even didn’t think about, but hey, that’s the Chairshot way of Always Using Your Head. Those are just five returns that could happen and hopefully you read this before RAW or SmackDown and who knows if I get any of these right, maybe I missed an obvious one or maybe we get a giant signing that nobody thought possible. Let me and all of Chairshot know!
King’s Greatest Hits Of Jeff Hardy
As he battles his demons, Chris King looks at some more positive moments in Jeff Hardy’s career!
I’m sure by now you’ve heard the disturbing news that former WWE superstar and recent AEW signee Jeff Hardy, was arrested again for multiple charges including a DUI. Hardy has had a hard and tragic road of recovery throughout the years in multiple wrestling promotions.
Not too long ago, Hardy walked out on WWE after they were rumored to have offered the former world champion to go to treatment for his substance abuse issues. Hardy refused and said that he was better but, as we saw the demons are still lurking and got the best of him again.
I have seen some nasty comments and even some distasteful memes about the AEW superstar and felt compelled to go against the grain. Instead of kicking a man when he’s down, I’m going to put together a greatest hits for the “Charismatic Enigma.”
Jeff Hardy & The TLC Match
Everyone can say that Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon helped innovate the iconic ladder match and you are right, but Jeff Hardy and his death-defying stunts changed the concept of the match forever. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian and their iconic TLC match should have their wing in the Hall of Fame. The risks all six superstars took for the adoration of the crowd could have ended all of their illustrious careers. In the words of Vince McMahon, It’s such good shit!
Jeff Hardy Earns The Undertaker’s Respect
On the July 1st, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw, Hardy delivered the performance of a lifetime nearly winning the WWE Undisputed Championship from The Undertaker in an incredible ladder match. The young up-and-comer was faced with his greatest task yet, challenging for the most prestigious title in sports entertainment. Hardy showed that without a shadow of a doubt he deserved to be in the main event scene, but came within minutes of defeating Taker. At the time of the match, Hardy was still finding his footing as a singles competitor and earned the respect of the champion and legend.
Swanton Bomb From The Heavens
When I think of the daredevil Jeff Hardy, I can’t help but think of this one crazy-as-hell stunt. At WWE One Night Stand 2008, Hardy faced off against the juggernaut Umaga in a falls count anywhere match. This match was so insane as both superstars fought into the parking lot. Hardy is one of the craziest and bravest superstars, hit a Swanton Bomb off a damn stage truck onto Umaga. It’s one of the wildest things you’ll ever see.
Hardy Wins The WWE Championship
In 2008, Hardy finally made his way to the main event title picture alongside partner Triple H. HHH was Hardy’s mentor in some sort of way which led to the daredevil achieving his lifelong dream of becoming WWE champion. At the 2008 Armageddon pay-per-view, Hardy would face HHH and longtime rival Edge in a triple-threat match for the title. In what was a great match between all three superstars, Hardy delivered a Swanton Bomb to Edge to win the illustrious championship.
Straight Edge Problems For Hardy
The following year, Hardy found himself in the way of young-up-and-comer CM Punk who is looking to make an example out of him. Punk had won the Money in the Bank briefcase for the second year in a row and took advantage of Hardy to win the world title. What started as mutual respect between both superstars changed drastically, when Punk started throwing jabs at Hardy for his drug and substance abuse real-life issues. Punk would form his infamous stable known as the Straight Edge Society. This is a very underrated feud and you should go back and watch it in its entirety. The promos are gold.
The Hardy Boyz Return To WWE
Both Matt and Jeff Hardy found success in multiple other wrestling promotions including Ring of Honor, and TNA during their time away from WWE. Both brothers were struggling with their vices and made poor life choices but straightened up their act over the years. In 2017, the Hardy Boyz would face longtime rivals The Young Bucks in ROH. The following night the adored tag team would make their incredible return to WWE at WrestleMania 33. Matt and Jeff would be named the final team in the Fatal 4-way ladder match for the Raw Tag Team Championships. The pop these two received was insane and very much deserved. They would go on to win the match and win the titles to capitalize on their momentum.
Jeffery Nero Hardy Makes AEW Debut
From 2017-to 2022 Jeff Hardy would find himself pigeonholed in the mid-card title picture. He would have feuds with a plethora of superstars including Samoa Joe, and Randy Orton. Orton and Hardy had a nasty Hell in a Cell match back in 2018. Earlier this year, Hardy was seen running around after the 24/7 Championship, which was disappointing to see. After being genuinely unhappy in WWE, Hardy would make his AEW debut on the March 9th episode of AEW Dynamite. Hardy would come to the aid of his brother and longtime partner.
This week news broke that Hardy had been arrested for multiple charges including a DUI. While it’s easy to beat a man while he’s down, how about we uplift and try to encourage him to get the help he needs.
As a longtime wrestling fan, I have the utmost respect for Hardy and wish him the best of luck in his battle with addiction.
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