New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) always starts the year with a bang, but for the first time, its annual Wrestle Kingdom show will take place over two nights. The co-main events of the first show will determine each the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship, when Kazuchika Okada defends his title against G1 Climax winner Kota Ibushi, and champion Jay White faces off against his challenger, Tetsuya Naito, respectively. Outside of the top two title matches, Will Ospreay will defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against the returning Hiromu Takahashi. Wrestle Kingdom 14 will be the first singles match back for Horomu Takahashi, after he suffered a broken neck over 16 months ago, and there may be no bigger test for him than the unrivalled hybrid wrestler, Will Ospreay.
Also on the card, new IWGP United States Champion, Lance Archer, will face off against the unhinged Jon Moxley. Moxley, who never lost the title, but instead had to relinquish it due to the typhoon late last year. The two will meet on night one of the Tokyo Dome show in a Texas Death Match, where there are no pinfalls, disqualifications or countouts, and the match can only be won by 10-count knockout or submission. The IWGP Tag Team Championships will be on the line when current champions, The Guerrillas of Destiny, face off against the winners of the World Tag League, David Finlay and Juice Robinson.
After two more matches, across the two nights of Wrestle Kingdom action, the wrestling world will say goodbye to Jyushin Liger, arguably the greatest junior heavyweight of all time (and one of my all time favourites – I want a tattoo of his mask) when on this first night, Liger will lead an all star eight man tag match. All of these matches and much more at night one of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom.
+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kota Ibushi (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): I had two thoughts from before the bell even rang; holy smokes Ibushi looked to be in better shape than usual, and Okada had one of the best entrances I’ve seen in a long time. This was great, with tremendous back and forth action, all the way until one competitor just snapped and kicked it all into another gear. This was the best match of the show, and it only means tomorrow night’s main event will be even better
+ Will Ospreay (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): good lord almighty, this was insane. If Liger’s match made me eyes watery with sadness, this was watery with joy to see Hiromu back – but then almost every single moment following left me gasping with fear that he was about to die, either by his own hand or the insanity that the two men went along with together. Ospreay is unarguably one of the best wrestlers of 2019, so of course Hiromu was in safe enough hands, but this was absolutely a joint effort and both men deserve nothing but a standing ovation
+ Lance Archer (c) vs Jon Moxley (Texas Death Match for the IWGP United States Championship): Lance Archer’s 2019 might just be one of the best resurgences and/or solo breakout years I’ve ever seen. Truthfully, this wasn’t quite as violent as I expected, but every now and then a stiff shot, weapon usage or the final moment was something that really made me gasp. With the winner facing off against Juice Robinson tomorrow, this was either man’s match to win, and I really liked how it turned out
+ Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (w/ Jado) vs FinJuice (David Finlay and Juice Robinson) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): I was never entirely sold on Finlay, especially once Juice began his singles ascent, but their run in the tag league finally won me over. Juice is clearly still the ‘strong link’ in the team, but against a team of bad guys like the GoD both of FinJuice were great underdogs. The crowd was into this, and that just made things even more intense throughout
+ Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, EVIL, and SANADA) vs Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.): this was mostly built around the Sabre/SANADA match upcoming tomorrow, but holy smokes Shingo must be in everybody’s list of wrestlers of the year. Despy, Taichi, BUSHI Suzuki and even to a degree EVIL were all there, but this was the Shingo/Sabre/SANADA show. This was really good, and Sabre is such a jerk it is hard not to love him
+ Jyushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke, & Tiger Mask (w/ El Samurai) vs Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, and Ryusuke Taguchi (w/ Kuniaki Kobayashi) (Special guest referee: Norio Honaga): with a combined age of over 400 years, I can’t say I was expeting much from this, but even outside of the emotions of Liger’s retirement, this was great. These guys are legends for a reason, but it really looked like Fujinami and Sano, not to mention Taguchi, Tiger Mask and Liger could all still go if they were asked. This was significantly better than it had any right to be
– Jay White (c) (w/ Gedo) vs Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Championship): honestly, this was pretty average right up until the ending stretch. Maybe you could say that the final third or so was good, but I just expected a bit more from these two, given the grand stage. Of course, the winner has a big match tomorrow night as well, but I don’t believe that would stop these two from doing whatever they wanted. This was disappointing
– CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, and Hirooki Goto) vs Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, and KENTA): I was disheartened at how little my main man Ishii was given to do, but this was all about KENTA/Goto for tomorrow, and as far as these same, short tag matches go, it was fine. I am really looking forward to the NEVER Openweight title tomorrow, but I do wish the rest of the guys were given more to do here. For that reason, I’m listing it as a negative
– Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima): these four were affectionately called ‘fighting dads’ on commentary, and that’s pretty much what it was. I’d be all for Kojima/Nagata having one more singles match against each other, but their respective partners are just too beat down from their many years of work that this was not a particularly good match
– Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, & G.B.H. (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks, & Toa Henare: those LA Dojo boys are thicc, and I am all aboard the bandwagon for Fredericks and Coughlin for future success. Henare has some good presence about him, but he’s still missing something to make him a bonafide star in the already cluttered NJPW heavyweight division. This was fine, as far as standard opening tag matches go, but hardly befitting of a Wrestle Kingdom card
> Juice’s moustahce was certainly something special. It deserves a point here all of its own
> there was a particular camera angle, about 45 degrees from above the back right ring post, that was often used, and something about it really worked for me. I liked it a lot
Should you watch this event: Wrestle Kingdoms are usually shows of two halves, with the prelim matches being fine, and the main events being great. This was more primed to be the case than ever, with the ‘big’ matches being split over two nights, but thankfully this was overall not the case. Liger’s penultimate retirement, all four title matches and both the SANADA/Sabre and Goto/KENTA tag match builds were great. This was a really good show, and I eagerly await the follow up.