New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to the Tokyo Dome for it’s first and biggest show of the year, as it presents Wrestle Kingdom 12. The trio of top matches will see the promotion’s three most important championships on the line, headlined by Kazuchika Okada defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against the winner of the G1 Climax Tetsuya Naito. It has been over 560 days since Naito lost the title to Okada, and the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon will do everything he can against the fighting champion. In the semi-main event, Kenny Omega faces off in a no disqualification match for the IWGP United States Championship against the returning Chris Jericho, who makes his first appearace in Japan in over 20 years. The two Winnipeg, Canada natives will give it their all in one of the most anticipated dream matches in recent wrestling history. Hiroshi Tanahashi will also defend his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against the newly transformed “Switchblade” Jay White, in White’s biggest profile match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Five other championships are on the line, including a Hair vs Hair match for the NEVER Openweight Championship, a gauntlet for the IWGP Six Man Tag Team belts and a fatal four way for the Juinor Heavyweight Championship. All of this and more at NJPW’s biggest wrestling show of the year!
+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): this was always going to be judged based on Omega/Okada from last year, and I don’t think that was fair. Okada/Omega was a sprint (a 45 minute sprint, but a sprint nonetheless) whilst Okada/Naito built up slowly from the beginning. Okada did seem to rely too much on his Cobra Clutch submission, which often brought the pace down a little bit too slow, but each man would make up for it soon enough. In the end, not even Okada wearing awkward Fandango-like long pants was enough to make this anything less than a really good match, and really good ending to the show
+ Kenny Omega (c) vs Chris Jericho (No Disqualification Match for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): this was sloppy, slower paced than most other Omega matches and generally not a great match in terms of the in-ring smoothness. But damn if the spectacle of Jericho back in a Japanese wrestling ring wasn’t a sight to behold. These two went balls to the wall early, and the no disqualification stipulation added hugely to the match. I expected good, but this was great
+ Marty Scurll (c) vs Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): this was easily the match I was most looking forward to, and I was completely sold by the time Scurll made his entrance. This match had strikes, brawls, submission holds, choreographed back and forth sequences and some huge dives, and never let up. Only one very small moment of miscommunication marred an otherwise incredible match
+ Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Hirooki Goto (Hair vs. Hair Match for the NEVER Openweight Championship): the members of CHAOS and Suzuki-gun were officially banned from ringside, which left this as a brutal one-on-one contest. Suzuki went into absolute beast mode in this match, slapping the absolute piss out of Goto at several point. One man left with their head shaved, and another left with the NEVER Openweight Championship, but both lft with huge amounts of respect
+ Kota Ibushi vs Cody (w/ Brandi Rhodes): all I could think before this match was that it could not possibly be any worse that Cody’s debut match against Juice last year. Cody’s new blonde hair looked significantly better than at Final Battle (which I should review soon, it was a good show), and dammit if Ibushi is not one of the absolute best in the world. This was a good match for Cody and an adequate match for Ibushi, which is probably what you’d expect for each man given their opponent, though there was one moment which will make even the hardest wrestling fan wince
+ NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: The Bullet Club were the champs going into this match which included Suzuki-gun, CHAOS, Taguchi Japan and the team of Elgin & War Machine. To avoid spoilers, and in no particular order some of the MVPS were War Machine, Ishii and Juice Robinson. Overall, this was a little bit of a mess, but it was still enjoyable in its own way. Just don’t expect any team to be in there for too long
+ Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (c) (w/ Rocky Romero) vs The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship): this opening contest was interesting for a Bucks match, as both teams seemed to prefer to sell injuries over flashing offense, as the junior heavyweights are perhaps best known for. Either way, this was a great match which left both teams looking good
– Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Jay White (IWGP Intercontinental Championship): I feel dirty just writing this but: this match sucked. The crowd could not possibly have cared less about White on offense, and Tanahashi was moving so slowly and gingerly it was hard to believe any of his offense. This match never got out of first gear, and the ending was so anti-climactic I hope this is the end of their rivalry
– Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) (c) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (IWGP Tag Team Championship): this was a surprisingly one-sided fight, and when it was all said and done it never really clicked for me. This was a real nothing match
– New Japan Rumble: many expected entrants were here, such as Katsuya Kitamura, Leo Tonga and BUSHI, but there are always surprises in the New Japan Rumble, and this was no exception. The quality of the match itself was as you’d expect; lots of awkward battles before the eliminations were scheduled. This was not a good match, but the match quality is never the main attraction with these battle royals
> Nearly every match had some sort of extended injury moment, most of which involved the wrestlers’ backs. I am like 99% sure nobody was legitimately injured, but it was a strange choice and really dragged most matches down a notch.
> I was worried that the gauntlet match (which is not the first), the hair vs hair and the fatal four way may have been a bit too “Western” for the standard NJPW show, but thankfully that was not the case.
Should you watch this event: First things first, and speaking frankly, this was not as good as last year’s show. Having said that, this was a fantastic show from start to finish, with only three of the matches being less than good. As expected, Okada and Naito put on a great main event, but Minoru Suzuki and Hirooki Goto had the absolute match of the night, with the four way Junior Heavyweight match not far behind. Unsurprisingly, this was well worth watching.