Here we are, once again, on the eve of an event that keeps people talking for years to come. For longtime fans of New Japan, this has been a well-known fact that January 4th is New Japan’s biggest event of the year. For newer fans, they have learned that very quickly.
This year looks to be no different in that regard. The undercard finds itself packed with some usual suspects, some fresh faces looking to impress, and maybe some bigger stars who have slipped through the cracks. The upper card and the main events are the usual grand-stranding matches that promise to leave us with very intense memories of hard work, sacrifice, and jaw-dropping moments to prove worthy of the event, and our lofty expectations. Let’s dive into our thoughts on Wrestle Kingdom 12. – Paul Leazar
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 Preview & Predictions
Sean Garmer, Co-Host of Wrestling 2 the MAX, W2Mnet Editor-in-Chief
Paul Leazar, Co-Host of Wrestling 2 the MAX, W2Mnet Wrestling Dept. Head
Angel Gonzalez, W2Mnet Staff Member
Glenn Smith, W2Mnet Wrestling Contributor
Gio Guzman, W2Mnet Wrestling Contributor
The New Japan Rumble
Featuring TBA participants
The New Japan Rumble occurs every year in the pre-show of Wrestle Kingdom. For new viewers, the best comparison would be the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. No real stakes here, but it’s seen as an opportunity for NJPW to bring back old favorites mixed in with the current roster that are not part of the show. It can serve as a way for NJPW to begin pushes on people returning from injury or long absences. In the past, the likes of Cheeseburger, King Haku, The Great Kabuki, Bone Soldier, and Scott Norton have been part of the match.
Last year, the returning Michael Elgin dominated his way to victory. This year, I expect Tomoaki Honma will return to win the event. Earlier in the year, he had a near death injury that most expected to end his career. By the grace of God, he healed up and has been cleared to wrestle. This would be a great way to bring him back and start the show off with a feel-good story. – Angel Gonzalez
Winner: Tomoaki Honma
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Gio: Cheeseburger. Everybody else: Tomoaki Honma
IWGP Junior Tag Team Title Match
(Champions) Sho & Yo (Roppongi 3K) vs. The Young Bucks (Bullet Club)
2017 has really been a great year for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team division. The main storyline for the division has been Roppongi Vice (Trent Berretta/Rocky Romero) vs the Young Bucks. They had an underrated match at WK 11 and had several bouts later in the year culminating in the Young Bucks retaking the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts, causing the amicable breakup of Roppongi Vice.
So, it is very apropos that the Young Bucks are facing the new incarnation of Roppongi Vice called Roppongi 3K (RPG3k) consisting of Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu (Sho and Yo). During their excursion to ROH, Sho and Yo were called The Tempura Boyz. They were a decent tag team but felt like a boat without a rudder. When they debuted at King of Pro Wrestling 2017, they shocked the world when it was revealed they were RPG3k. With Rocky Romero as their coach/manager, they won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts on their first night.
You know you can’t have the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom without having the Young Bucks in the match! They have been in every championship match since 2014. Although it would be One Sweet to see the Young Bucks become the seven-time champions, I think there is more upside in continuing to establish RPG3K’s character and dominance of the tag team division. – Angel Gonzalez
Winners: Roppongi 3K
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Everybody else: The Young Bucks
NEVER Six Man Openweight Tag Team Championship Match
Five Way Match: (Champions) Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tonga Loa (The Bullet Club OG’s) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson, and Togi Makabe (Taguchi Japan) vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, and Berreta (CHAOS) vs. Michael Elgin & War Machine vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Takashi Iizuka, and Taichi (Suzuki-Gun)
Who is ready for possibly the most chaotic (not in a good way) match of the night? This match is just an excuse to cram as many guys as possible in the WK card.
Seriously though, there is no rhyme or reason for some of the pairings. ZSJ is paired up with Izuka and Taichi makes no sense. I get they are fellow Suzuki-Gun members, but you would think NJPW would have a better use of ZSJ’s skills. Same can be said for sticking Ishii into this nonsense. It’s borderline criminal on the misuse of Ishii in 2017. Here’s hoping for a better 2018. At this point, pairing Elgin with War Machine is just a rib on both parties. War Machine has been pretty open about their feelings on Elgin (they screamed “F Michael Elgin!” in front of the camera during the tag league) after his private comments on them were leaked.
It doesn’t make sense to remove the titles from Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, and Bad Luck Fale, however, no logic really applies to the Openweight 6-Man Tag Team belts. I really like this pairing, plus it keeps G.O.D away from the IWGP Heavyweight tag belts. I would be ok if they don’t get a title shot at all in 2018. So, I hope that logic will prevail, and BC walks away retaining the belts. – Angel Gonzalez
Winners: The Bullet Club OG’s
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Gio: The Bullet Club OG’s. Paul: CHAOS. Glenn & Sean: Taguchi Japan
Special Singles Contest
Cody versus Kota Ibushi
This match could quite possibly be the true test of Cody’s might as a professional wrestler by him going up against Japan’s very own Golden Star. These men were some of the two hottest freelancers of 2017 and put on some very memorable matches everywhere they went. With Cody losing his ROH title to Dalton Castle, there is a definite lack of a physical prize for the winner of this match, but I believe the winner here might be facing the US champion in Long Beach California when “Strong Style Returns” to the shores of America. I do feel that this bout will be very intense, and will definitely blow all expectations out of the water. – Glenn Smith
Winner: Kota Ibushi
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Everybody else: Kota Ibushi
IWGP Tag Team Title Match
(Champions)Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. (Killer Elite Squad) vs. EVIL & SANADA (Los Ingobernables de Japon)
One of the biggest disappointments of 2017 in NJPW has been the heavyweight tag team division. The inclusion of War Machine into the division was a breath of fresh air, but unfortunately, they are moving on to the WWE. KES return to New Japan at the top of 2017 found itself stopped due to a serious back injury to Lance Archer. When he came back in August, NJPW did some really strange booking. During the Destruction shows in Sep, they were involved in three separate three-way matches with Guerrillas of Destiny and War Machine for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. After the third try, KES finally won the belts. However, NJPW killed any interest people had in the heavyweight division.
I found myself overcome with worry that G.O.D was going to win the World Tag League, but thankfully NJPW saved us. In the end, EVIL and SANADA won the trophies. They both have had great performances in 2017 and should be rewarded. Yes, I know they were 2/3 of the longest reigning NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Teams, but those belts are the lowest on the totem pole. Heck, most of the time they are barely mentioned! Moving forward, having EVIL and SANADA win is best for the division. Just please no more three-way matches. – Angel Gonzalez
Winners: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Gio & Sean: KES. Everybody Else: LIJ
NEVER Openweight Title Match
Hair versus Hair: (No Seconds at Ringside:) (Champion) Minoru Suzuki (Suzuki-Gun) vs. Hirooki Goto (CHAOS)
When I first heard that at “The Biggest Show of The Year for New Japan” that there would be a hair vs hair match, I automatically assumed it’d be featuring someone like Tanahashi, or maybe a Kenny Omega. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed it would be a part of what I like to consider to be “The Legalized Murder” division of New Japan which is currently being helmed by a most frightening “Lonely Warrior” by the name of Minoru Suzuki. The other participant also considers himself to very much live a warriors lifestyle in Hirooki Goto.
This match also features another unique stipulation. No one allowed at ringside will remove any shred of doubt as to whom will be the better man. After doing my due diligence of research of Wrestle Kingdom statistics, January 4th and the Tokyo Dome look to be the night that will be the reason as to why Goto starts to get his momentum on a roll. But, if there is anyone that is capable to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the mix, it is Minoru Suzuki. The only thing that any of these men have to lose is their hair, and neither one of them are looking to go quietly into that barber chair. – Glenn Smith
Winner: Minoru Suzuki
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Sean: Hirooki Goto. Everybody Else: Minoru Suzuki
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
(Champion) “The Villain” Marty Scrull (Bullet Club) vs. Will Ospreay (CHAOS) vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi (Los Ingobernables de Japon)
For the first time ever, there is a four-way match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom. Honestly, I am a bit of a traditionalist and prefer a one on one match, but NJPW at least picked the right four wrestlers for the job. What I really love most about this match is the strong story that connects all four.
Takahashi has had a rough 2017. It started out so strong! He defeated KUSHIDA, the pillar of the division, at WK11. During his reign, he beat the who’s who in the division such as his bitter rival Dragon Lee, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Ricochet. Then he did the unthinkable! He destroyed KUSHIDA in 1 minute and 56 seconds at Sakura Genesis. It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen in a NJPW ring. But, then his luck quickly changed. KUSHIDA got his revenge and regained the belt at Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall. Hiromu broke. He lost his baby, so he adopted Daryl Takahashi, a stuffed cat to fill the void. Plus, every time he would try to challenge the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, someone would take him out. This is the reason why he was wearing sports gear to the ring when the 4-way match was announced.
KUSHIDA had a strong 2017 all over the world. He defeated Marty Scurll to become the ROH World Television Champion at War of the Worlds. He won two tournaments, the WCPW Pro Wrestling World Cup ’17 and the Best of the Super Juniors by beating Will Ospreay in both instances. Now, KUSHIDA looks to regain his proper spot on the throne as the best junior heavyweight in the world by becoming the six-time Jr. Heavyweight Champion moving him up with Tiger Mask as having the second most title reigns.
Honestly, there isn’t much to say about Marty Scurll other than it is surprising how fast he has gotten over in Japan. He joined NJPW as a participant of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in May. He has been a thorn on Will Ospreay’s side since there time in the UK, and now in Japan, since he defeated Ospreay in his first title defense.
Speaking of Ospreay, 2017 has been a terrible year for him. I don’t mean ring wise, but story-line wise. Every time he has a small bit of success, there is always someone there to take it away. I have to believe 2018 is a new beginning for Ospreay. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to start at WK12. – Angel Gonzalez
Winner: Marty Scrull
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Glenn: Marty Scrull. Everybody else: Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
(Champion) Hiroshi Tanahashi (Taguchi Japan) vs. “Switchblade” Jay White
The Evolution of Jay White to Switchblade is a NJPW Young Lion system success story. Prior to going on his excursion, Jay White’s white meat babyface persona showed some decent skills in the ring, but not much more than that. Next, he found himself in Ring of Honor for his excursion, where his in-ring style continued to mature. He had a handful of great tag matches, but his best single performance was against Will Ospreay at ROH/NJPW War Of The Worlds 2017. In my opinion, that was his coming out party. Shockingly, Jay returned to the Switchblade. A much darker, more mysterious, sort of brooding character. He immediately burst out to claim his spot by defeating “Mr. Wrestle Kingdom” himself, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
This is hard for me to admit, but this may be the least interested I have ever been for a Hiroshi Tanahashi match at Wrestle Kingdom. This is isn’t a knock on Switchblade or Tanahashi, it’s just because prior to this event, he has been part of the main event or co-main event since WK4 in 2010. For WK12, it’s clear the IWGP IC match has been bumped off the co-main event slot for the Jericho vs Omega spectacle. This has really caused the Tanahashi vs White storyline to suffer. To this point, it’s unclear to me why Jay White transformed into Switchblade. Since his reveal, he has only shown up once (Road to WK night 2), and he didn’t say all that much.
An answer for the lack of story could be revolving around Tanahashi’s injuries. He has been wrestling with a bad arm in 2017, and he injured his knee in Dec. NJPW allowed Tanahashi to rest and hopefully heal up enough for the WK show. All year, people have counted Tanahashi out, but he continues to prove them wrong. I think the accumulation of injuries combined with his TV and Film aspirations outside NJPW means he will likely drop the belt to Switchblade. – Angel Gonzalez
Winner: Jay White
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Everybody else also picked: Jay White
IWGP United States Championship Match
Alpha vs. Omega No DQ Match: (Champion) Kenny Omega (Bullet Club) vs. “The Alpha of Pro Wrestling” Chris Jericho
When I was first watching such an amazing match between Kenny Omega vs Trent Baretta for the IWGP US title, it was a truly amazing and incredible match. However, after the match, Omega cut a wonderful promo calling out Jericho. I was not expecting him to appear on the big screen, cutting his own promo, and announcing their match at the biggest show of the year on Jan 4th. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this match to happen. I was completely sold on this match from the word go. Especially so, after their Twitter war building up to the match not knowing beforehand that it would actually take place in a New Japan ring.
Let’s fast forward to the amazing conference brawl. While Jericho was doing an interview, Omega attacked him in a brilliantly orchestrated angle. Suddenly, viewers interest spiked upward to this amazing match. This led Mr. Kidani making the match a No Disqualification match, and both Omega & Jericho began threatening to end each other’s careers!
#AlphavsOmega. Just that title alone will pack the Tokyo Dome, and sell out tickets very quickly. I think this never before seen dream match should be the main event as well. I believe it should be a magical sight to behold when WK12 airs. You got Omega, who has had an amazing 2017 and could possibly have a great start to this new year if he can get past this hurdle. On the other hand, you have the self-proclaimed “Alpha of Professional Wrestling” Chris Jericho. A man who, obviously, is very well known for his work in WWE, WCW, ECW, and of course, Japan.
I personally predict Omega retaining the title after a grueling match filled with back and forth action. This effort will build up to Omega vs Cody in California. This should be a very interesting match to witness live, and we are all in for a wonderful treat that night. – Gio Guzman
Winner: Kenny Omega
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Sean: Chris Jericho. Everybody Else: Kenny Omega
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
(Champion) Kazuchika Okada (CHAOS) vs. Tetsuya Naito (Los Ingobernables de Japon)
My goodness, gracious, the time is finally upon us. Before I gush, perhaps there some’s history worth noting here. Before Tetsuya Naito caught fire upon his return from Mexico, he spent years as a babyface known as The Stardust Genius. New Japan tried many different avenues to get Naito over during this time. A feud with Masato Tanaka over the NEVER Openweight Championship when the title was still trying to find it’s way, the surprise victory in the G1 Tournament back in 2013 that ultimately led to his title challenge against Okada being thrown out of the main event in a fan vote that led to Nakamura and Tanahashi having about that overshadowed theirs in more ways then one.
Then, suddenly, throughout 2014, Naito finds himself booed out of buildings in Osaka, and other venues across Japan. Meanwhile, the star of Okada continues to rise as the feud with Tanahashi would capture the imagination of fans on both sides of the Pacific for the next two years (which has its own laundry list of history that I won’t go into here). Fast-forward to 2017. Since Naito’s return, his change in persona, and founding Los Ingobernables de Japon, he’s become the fastest rising star in New Japan. Runs with both the Intercontinental and Heavyweight championships have led him to the doorstep of mega-star at WK 12.
Standing in his way is Okada, who is in the midst of a legendary title run that he started by beating his Wrestle Kingdom opponent. Fantastic title matches with Kenny Omega, Cody, Naomichi Marufuji, Katsuyori Shibata, Minoru Suzuki across 2016 and 2017 have brought every title match Okada participates in a “must-watch” spectacle for New Japan fans new and old.
Now, we find ourselves at a moment in time where both Okada and Naito are eager to prove to the whole world why bumping them from the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 8 was a huge misjudgment by the fans. As for who wins, I’ve seen several fans on various social media pages and platforms call Naito winning “predictable”. As if this somehow makes this match anything less then the momentous occasion that it is. Just because the result here might be obvious, doesn’t make it any less right.
Naito winning here makes the most sense, and it’s time for his moment in the sun. If Naito doesn’t win here, it hurts him more long-term then Okada losing would. His run will go down as one of the very best title reigns in the IWGP Heavyweight Title’s history, heck, maybe wrestling history. It’s time for somebody else to have a go at trying to replicate it.
Winner: Tetsuya Naito
Other Staff Member’s Predictions: Angel: Kazuchika Okada. Everybody Else: Tetsuya Naito
You can also listen to Gary Vaughan, Sean and Paul give their predictions for Wrestle Kingdom 12 on the latest Wrestling 2 the MAX podcast as well.