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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 Preview by Brandon Lasher

I blame Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada or I guess I should be thanking them.

I had never watched New Japan Pro Wrestling before 2017. You could certainly blame my love of WWE, lack of access to New Japan World and most importantly, time, as reasons for not following one of the biggest wrestling promotions in the world. That was changed thanks to the two wrestlers above.

Like all of you, I heard the story that Okada-Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 was the “greatest match of all-time” by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer and others. I still feel that might be up to debate, but I cannot deny one thing: that match was amazing. And thus a new addiction began.

I found it was really easy to actually watch New Japan. My Amazon Fire had access to New Japan World and I saw all the big events: Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion, G1 Climax and King of Pro Wrestling. I even started to see all the smaller monthly events and was impressed. The match quality, production values and storytelling were extremely high. I have even less free time now, but I have enjoyed the ride of following multiple wrestling promotions.

With that in mind, I decided to cover the “WrestleMania of New Japan” that is Wrestle Kingdom 12. Keep in my mind my knowledge of New Japan consists mainly of 2017 and what I have pieced together on the history of the biggest feuds. If I can put this much together with a few months of watching, anyone can enjoy the product. Just don’t bite my head off if I am not the greatest expert on the history Minoru Suzuki.

Here are my predictions on the most eagerly anticipated wrestling show of 2018.:

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) (c) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

You might have heard of The Young Bucks in 2017. Few people seemed to gather attention, positive or negative, more than this controversial tag team. If you said they would have some of the highest selling shirts in Hot Topic before the year started I would have called you crazy.

The Young Bucks have a history of highly entertaining matches in New Japan. They seem to be the constant show opener and they rarely disappoint. They are six-time Junior Tag Team Champions, which is the most of any team in history.

The Junior Tag Team Champions are Roppongi 3K. They are Sho and Yoh, who won their return match to New Japan by winning the Junior Tag Title in October of 2017. They are a highly entertaining team and could be the key to a solid future of this division. New Japan loves to pass around these tag titles and likely will want it attached to The Young Bucks’ popularity yet again.

Winner and New Tag Team Champions: The Young Bucks

 

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Chaos (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) vs. Michael Elgin and War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka and Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe)

If you want to see the craziest title division in New Japan, watch their 6-Man Tag Division. The title has changed hands over a dozen times in the two years it has been in existence. The title seems to exist simply for the purpose of the many New Japan factions to have something to fight over. It might seem pointless most of the time, but it is some chaotic fun.

This title literally just changed hands on December 17 when three members of Bullet Club won it. The way this match will work is you start with two teams. Once one gets eliminated, a new team enters until the last team standing becomes the 6-Man Champion. It will be a mess for sure.

I would watch the match for Juice Robinson and Tomohiro Ishii. Juice Robinson was the NXT jobber known as CJ Parker. To watch him become one of the most popular babyface wrestlers in Japan is impressive. He will put on a good show. And Ishii? It is a crime that one of the best wrestlers of 2017 is only in a tag match.

Even though this title screams constant change, I think the three members of Bullet Club will retain. I mean they just changed the title in less than twenty days right?

Winner: Bullet Club Retains

 

Cody vs. Kota Ibushi

Cody was one of the hottest stars in pro wrestling in 2017. It is amazing how successful he has been in establishing himself as a premier star in wrestling after leaving WWE. He won the Ring of Honor World Championship and fought for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in 2017 against Okada. However, he will not win this match at Wrestle Kingdom.

Kota Ibushi should be in any discussion for best wrestlers in the world. The problem is he is the sort of guy who doesn’t want to sign to any one company long-term or would wrestle as Tiger Mask W, the anime character. In 2017, he came back to New Japan and wrestled some amazing matches with the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito. He could be a major star in New Japan again soon.

This would have been for the Ring of Honor World Championship and made it a lot more predictable. Since Cody lost that title in December, I think New Japan pushes their full-time star instead.

Winner: Kota Ibushi

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada)

I know a lot of American wrestling fans think the Bullet Club is the biggest thing in New Japan Wrestling. I learned quickly that isn’t really the case. The crowd favorite is clearly the stable of Los Ingobernables. Jim Ross once referred to them being like D-X. I think that is fair comparison. The leader is the popular Naito, but Evil and Sanada have had their moments in 2017. Evil even had a Heavyweight Title shot main event at one of the bigger shows, King of Pro Wrestling, in October.

The Tag Division hasn’t always been booked the best in New Japan. They like to trade around the titles a lot. No team held the titles more than 100 days in 2017. The Killer Elite Squad is a good team, but I am pretty sure they will go with the hot act at Wrestle Kingdom.

Winner and New Tag Team Champions: Evil & Sanada

 

NEVER Openweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto

I would like someone to explain the appeal of Suzuki in 2017. His matches consisted of lots of outside interference, beating up young wrestlers and some very strange facial expressions. He is an excellent wrestler, especially at 49 years-old, but doesn’t seem like the sort of heel you would want to invest a lot into in 2018.

Goto, from what I have seen, is the classic underachiever of New Japan. He seems to have good matches a lot, but he seems to lose a lot of his major matches for the bigger titles. He even lost the title to Suzuki in April and didn’t get a rematch until he agreed to put his hair on the line for this Wrestle Kingdom match. Yes, this is aHair vs. Hair Deathmatch. It will be weird. I expect Goto to win because Suzuki’s limited hair will be funny to be shaved.

Winner and New NEVER Champion: Hirooki Goto

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kushida vs. Will Ospreay

New Japan really knows how to do Junior (Cruiserweight) wrestling right. It is exciting and provides meaningful storylines for its main contenders. All four of these wrestlers have history with each other and have provided some of the best matches in the division. It seems to me to be the hardest match to pick.

The current champ in one of my favorites, Marty Scrull. “The Villain” is one of the most unique personalities in pro wrestling. Will Ospreay was the one he beat for the title and is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Kushida is the long-time standard bearer of the division and worked a lot of great matches in 2017. Hiromu has a stuffed cat named Daryl.

Fatal Four Way doesn’t seem to work in the champion’s favor, especially at Wrestle Kingdom. I think it will go back to Kushida making him a 6-time Champion.

Winner and New Junior Heavyweight Champion: Kushida

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Jay White

I have seen Tanahashi referred to as the “John Cena of NJPW”. If your qualifier is simply long-lasting success as the babyface Champion, then they are similar. But in terms of wrestling ability, Tanahashi has few equals. While he has taken more of a back seat in the World Title picture, he has focused on the still prestigious Intercontinental Championship that he has held since June of 2017.

His challenger is Jay White. The 25-year old New Zealand native trained in New Japan before going to Ring of Honor for nearly two years. He returned in shocking fashion with a series of videos calling himself “Switchblade.”

It seems strange to have a guy return to the league and go right after the second biggest title in New Japan. I don’t think Jay White will win, but I expect the match to be a great showcase for both the talented performers. This match could be a real show stealer.

Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi Retains

 

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho

It is the match that you have heard about for sure. In what was one of the most shocking wrestling moments of 2017, Chris Jericho appeared on the screen to challenge Kenny Omega this last November. Jericho, the wrestler who hasn’t wrestled outside the WWE since 1999, will fight in New Japan in 2018. Amazing.

The great thing is Chris Jericho has reinvented himself yet again. He is acting every bit the cocky heel and doing some old school violence. His bloody actions in December’s World Tag League Final was unlike anything Jericho has done in the WWE in years. He is selling this feud perfectly.

The match seems to be set up to be more of a brawl. I have a lot of respect for Jericho abilities, but a brawl seems a better fit than having a long, technical match with Omega. It should be fun, but I see no reason to not go with Omega.

Winner: Kenny Omega Retains

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito

This is the match I am most excited about. It is funny Jericho-Omega is getting the most attention when this main event should be the best match on the card. It is a main event years in the making.

Tetsuya Naito is a wrestler who I have really grown to like in 2017. He had amazing matches with Ibushi, Omega and Tanahashi. He is the most loved wrestler in New Japan. That’s saying a lot since he came back from CMLL the ultimate cocky heel.

Okada is simply the best wrestler in the world. If you made a list of top ten matches of 2017, he would be in most of them. He has held the Heavyweight Title since June 2016. He is the longest reigning World Champion in New Japan history. It is an impressive accomplishment.

I just think this is Naito’s moment. They have made a big deal of the fact he once had the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8 taken away from through a fan vote. The fans didn’t like Naito that year, they do now and he finally gets his big Tokyo Dome moment.

Winner and New Champion: Tetsuya Naito

 

Conclusion

Those are my thoughts on Wrestle Kingdom 12. It has been a lot of fun getting to know the New Japan product in 2017. They really have put in some long-term effort to make this Wrestle Kingdom special. If last year was any guide, they will be on to better and bigger things in 2018. It will be fun to watch the ride. I am sure I will have some thoughts to share this weekend.

You can order the show on NJPWWorld.com for $9.99 per month to check out the show and all their other account. It will be a great one.

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Feel free to contact me at lasher@pacificu.edu. Additionally, I have my Twitter account, WWEBNRL as well. I would love to hear your thoughts about what could be New Japan’s biggest event ever.