Wrestling Review: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 (2019)

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) presents its annual January 4 show, the largest on its calendar, as the Tokyo Dome once against plays host to Wrestle Kingdom 13. Kenny Omega, the leader of the new school, will defend the IWGP Heavyweight Champion against the Ace of the Universe, the Ace of New Japan and the old-school wrestling god, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi has been on a role since winning the G1 Climax tournament in August, and Omega has been looking to lead New Japan across the world, so both men will be willing to do whatever it takes to win the top championship in the company. Chris Jericho returns to the Tokyo Dome to defend his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito, in a match with no disqualifications. Kazuchika Okada and Switchblade Jay White wil be going one on one in a special singles match, in a bid to end their months long grudge against one another. The IWGP United State Championship will be contested as Cody defends against Juice Robinson, both the Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, each in three way tag team matches. The NEVER Openweight Championship will be defended, as Kota Ibushi and Will Ospreay take part in a dream match to open the show, and the Junior Heavyweight Championship is on the line as KUSHIDA faces Taiji Ishomori.

And lurking in the background of all of this is the announcement of AEW, All Elite Wrestling, the new promotion announced on new year’s day by Cody, Hangman Page and the Young Bucks. Were any of these men to win their matches, they would take their championships to the new promotion, in a situation nobody in NJPW would want to see happen.

+ Kenny Omega (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): either I was getting suckered in more than I thought, or these two were really laying into each other with slaps early. Each man swapped between good guy and bad guy throughout, and it was entirely subjective as to who you might prefer at any given time. I was hard on Tanahashi during the G1, because I thought he was just not very good any more, and unfortunately I had that same feeling again in this match. The storytelling was fantastic, from both men, but Tana just did not keep up with what I was hoping for – and if that is the story they were telling, old school Tana vs million-mile-an-hour Omega, then I am firmly on the Omega side of that coin. Wherever you stand, this was a great story and an above average match, and a worthy Tokyo Dome main event
+ Chris Jericho (c) vs Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship): god damn. In general, I could understand why some people might not like Jericho coming to NJPW and getting these huge Tokyo Dome matches, but then he does a match like this and it is so clear why he is as revered as he is across the world. A piledriver, a DDT and some stray chairs nearly killed each man, but it was a relatively simple run towards the end that got the crowd going bonkers. This was another huge success for Jericho in particular, but for Naito and NJPW as well
+ Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White: good lord that explosion when Okada came out, and another as the match begun (for reasons which will become apparent as you watch) was astounding. White may be the most hated man in NJPW these days, and the way he dismantled Okada at times riled the crowd up like no other. Okada’s greatest hits were back in full force, but the way White was able to stuff the offence at almost every turn made for an exhilarating contest
+ KUSHIDA (c) vs Taiji Ishimori (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): although like most other matches I felt this went a bit too short, this was still great. From KUSHIDA’s horrifying (but kind of cool) entrance to Ishimori’s abs, these two went all out, and I was on the edge of my seat for the whole thing. Ishimori is so strong, and KUSHIDA is just so good at everything that this was always going to be a good match, but these two made it great
+ Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): the GoD have a new theme song and I don’t know how to feel about this, though their new personas as “the good guys” was absolutely fantastic. SANADA got the crowd into a frenzy early, though it was, sort of surprisingly, the Bucks that the crowd didn’t seem to care about, perhaps because of the AEW situation. Nonetheless, this was a really well wrestled match with some new characters (sort of) to care about. I liked this a lot
+ Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr. (RevPro British Heavyweight Championship): this was great, as you’d expect from these two on a big stage with a title on the line, but damn if it didn’t feel really short – and not short in the ‘leave you wanting more’ kind of way. The crowd is always so into Sabre’s submission style, and someone like Ishii, who can just walk through Sabre’s strikes, is the best person to go against that submission style. I really liked this
+ Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay (NEVER Openweight Championship): New Japan Pro Wrestling may well be the only place where you could legitimately see someone die at any given time… especially when it’s Ibushi and Ospreay. It is a shame for everyone else on the show that this went on first, because it was fantastic and deserved to be far higher

Cody (c) (w/ Brandi Rhodes) vs Juice Robinson (IWGP United States Championship): this was a little bit disappointing, if I’m being honest. Brandi added nothing, and in fact actively detracted from the match at a few points. Juice should never have lost the belt to Cody, and should have had a big match of his own in the vein of Ibushi/Ospreay earlier in the show. This was not good
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) vs Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships): this rematch from the BOSJ Tag League final was not as good as that match, and frankly had a few too many smaller issues for me to rate it as a plus
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship #1 Contenders Pre-show Gauntlet Match: with the winner of this gauntlet match receiving a title match against the Bullet Club tomorrow (because the GoD and Ishimori, I am sad to say this didn’t feel like a big deal at all until the final two teams. I have well documented issues with gauntlets/scrambles/iron man matches etc. and not even the fantastic talent in this match was enough to solve those problems

> there were a lot more camera mishaps than usual, with big moves missed or awkwardly lingering on competitors as they looked at or talked to their opponents.

Should you watch this event: These Wrestle Kingdom shows are usually above average, but even they can be a show of two halves, and this was no exception. The first several matches alternated between great and not good, but those final four matches are some of the best work you will ever see. KUSHIDA/Ishimori, Okada/White, Naito/Jericho and Omega/Tanahashi were all great, each in different ways.

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