We are under a week away until the biggest professional wrestling event to be held in Japan, the thirteenth edition of Wrestle Kingdom. 2018 saw major shifts all over the place for the company. For the first time since Wrestle Kingdom 6, Kazuchika Okada will not be in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match. His record breaking reign as champion ended and subsequently caused his longtime manager to turn his back on the Rainmaker. Chris Jericho will walk in as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion as he faces off with Tetsuya Naito in a rematch from June that ended in Jericho winning the title by nefarious means.
New Japan scored two huge deals this year, managing to sign NOAH’s Taiji Ishimori as well as Dragon Gate’s Shingo Takagi. Both men will be featured in a championship match. Kota Ibushi comes in with his first piece of NJPW gold since becoming a heavyweight in 2014. He squares off with a man who has taken a similar path as him in Will Ospreay. Both men were previously staples in the junior division, Ospreay just recently making the move to heavyweight.
A major story that has a lot of fans attention is the status of The Elite. Members including Cody, Hangman Page and The Young Bucks have all decided to let their contracts with Ring of Honor expire. Due to the relationship NJPW has with ROH, this has caused fans to wonder what their future will be in the company moving forward. The highest ranking member of The Elite, Kenny Omega, is the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion while Cody is the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Champion and The Young Bucks are challenging for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Many eyes will be focused on all of these guys for any clues about their future.
Because of the uncertainty concerning The Elite, the Bullet Club has fractured. Over the summer, the Guerrillas of Destiny attacked The Elite and took both Bad Luck Fale and Taiji Ishimori with them. Along the way they added Jay White, Gedo, Jado and Robbie Eagles. The group refers to themselves as the Cutthroat Era of Bullet Club and The Elite have shed the Bullet Club name entirely.
The biggest story coming into Wrestle Kingdom 13 is the main event. G1 Climax 28 winner, Hiroshi Tanahashi, is challenging Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Tanahashi has made a name for himself at Wrestle Kingdom by being featured in seven IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches and this will be his eighth. He is so beloved that even as IWGP Intercontinental Champion, the fans voted for his match to be the main event. It’s been three years since he’s challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at a Wrestle Kingdom and he’ll be facing a man in Kenny Omega who believes that Tanahashi’s era is over. Omega plans to take the company to places its never been before, having already defended the title in both a ladder and three-way match. This makes for a clash of ideologies that’s fitting for a big time main event.
John Dinsdale and I are here to give our predictions on what we think we’ll see from the show. Feel free to give us your predictions on Twitter. We always enjoy getting to know what people are excited to see. This is the best time to be a fan of New Japan so we hope you join us.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship #1 Contender Tag Team Gauntlet
Minoru Suzuki & Killer Elite Squad vs Hirooki Goto & Best Friends vs Hangman Page, Marty Scurll & Yujiro Takahashi vs Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay vs Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi
John: As the last team to enter and with a Chaos team that looks set to implode because of Chuckie T in the last stretches, I can see the Elite team coming in and taking advantage of the situation. This team winning also makes sense as the Bullet Club OGs still hold the 6-man belts so it’s a way to keep stoking the fires of this faction warfare. It wouldn’t be the most compelling win but then again these aren’t the most compelling titles.
Prediction: Marty Scurll, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi
Rob: For the sake of time, the annual New Japan Rumble was bumped off this year’s preshow and in its place is the NEVER 6-Man gauntlet match. The match has always been for the titles but this year the champions, Guerrillas of Destiny & Taiji Ishimori, have other matches to participate in so the winners of this match will face them the next day at New Year Dash!! These titles hold no significance, they’re simply just there to fill out the card.
Prediction: Hirooki Goto & Best Friends
NEVER Openweight Championship
Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay
John: This has the potential to be a show stealer and it’s only the first match on the card. Will Ospreay has just made the jump to heavyweight so he will no doubt be looking to prove something. I see this being a highly competitive match but Ibushi will win as it is his first NEVER title defense. Ospreay has a whole lot of new options since he’s made the weight jump and starting with Ibushi and entering the NEVER scene is a solid start.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi
Rob: A personal dream match of mine ever since WWN put it in my head in 2016. On April 2nd, 2016, Ibushi and Ospreay first stepped in the ring together. It wasn’t until April 6th, 2018, that it happened again. Since then it’s happened eleven more times, seven of them making tape but this will be their first ever singles match. The fact that this will be the show’s proper opener is insane. Ospreay was originally scheduled to face Taichi, who at the time was the NEVER Openweight Champion. An injury to Ospreay forced a work around where Hirooki Goto beat Taichi and soon after, Ibushi won the title from Goto. The NEVER title has changed hands at Wrestle Kingdom four years in a row but it would seem that the original plan was for Ospreay to come in as champion. If that’s the case, odds are that Ibushi was supposed to win this match. Maybe I’m just thinking too much. How they got hear doesn’t matter, what’s important is that it’s happening. A legitimate dream match and it’s guaranteed to open the show with a bang. Two of the absolute most exciting wrestlers on the planet. Buckle up!
Prediction: Kota Ibushi
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs Roppongi 3K vs Shingo Takagi & BUSHI
John: I predict this being a big night for LIJ. Since this match is a rematch of the Junior Tag League finals so everyone is probably expecting Yoh and Sho to take the win again. I on the other hand expect to see the dark horse team of Shingo and Bushi steal the win from both the plucky Chaos team and the current champions. This may just be fantasy booking on my part but it would be awesome to see.
Prediction: Shingo & Bushi
Rob: Roppongi 3K have been on a quest to regain the titles ever since losing them to Kanemaru and Desperado back in March. They’ve failed in a variety of ways but managed to get a win over the champions in the Super Jr. Tag League and won the league for a second straight year. Along the way they lost to Takagi and BUSHI so in the interest of fairness, 3K allowed them into the match. BUSHI has also been going after the champions all year, twice in title matches alongside Hiromu Takahashi and another two times in tournament form with Takagi. 3K lost at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom so they have plenty of motivation to correct several wrongs they stumbled upon in 2018. Meanwhile, the champions are on their way to the second longest reign in the title’s history. There’s a lot of history to keep an eye on here, every direction has meaning.
Prediction: Roppongi 3K
RPW British Heavyweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr.
John: Ishii has had some absolute classics defending the REV PRO Heavyweight belt but it’s time to crown a new champion. ZSJ and Ishii have had a lot encounters in recent months including their meeting in the G1 where Ishii tapped. This will be another classic between the two which should see ZSJ come away with the title.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
Rob: One of the most balanced feuds over the last two years has been the once between Ishii and Sabre. There have been four singles clashes, each of them having two wins over the other. Ishii is the one who put an end to Sabre’s 396 day reign as champion and since then, Ishii and Minoru Suzuki have traded the title back and forth. Now Sabre will have his rematch in what will be the title’s biggest profile match to date. Since Katsuyori Shibata won the RPW British Heavyweight Championship in 2016, it has become what the NEVER Openweight Championship was known to represent: gritty battles between hard-nosed wrestlers. Sabre had a dominant 2018 so I see him getting a high profile win over an NJPW staple as his reward. RPW has a new TV deal and Sabre is a perfect representative for the style. It all fits perfectly together.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs EVIL & SANADA vs The Young Bucks
John: Continuing the LIJ winning streak for the night we come to the Heavyweight tag titles. Another triple threat that saw the Young Bucks interject themselves into the match as a means to get revenge on the team that cost them the titles. I see these two teams concentrating too much on each other giving team LIJ the chance to take the win. Let’s not forget the hardest part of triple threat matches is that the champion’s don’t need to be pinned meaning LIJ could pin the Bucks for the belts. However it happens I see SANADA and EVIL coming away with the belts.
Prediction: EVIL & SANADA
Rob: The logic here is simple; EVIL and SANADA won the World Tag League which awarded them an opportunity for the championships held by the Guerrillas of Destiny. The Young Bucks lost the titles to G.O.D. and were never given a rematch. There’s history between all three teams. EVIL and SANADA beat G.O.D. in the World Tag League finals two years in a row. Their win over G.O.D. earned them a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom 12 where they defeated then champions, Killer Elite Squad. The Young Bucks were the team to win the titles off of EVIL and SANADA before they were uprooted by G.O.D. There’s also the tension between G.O.D. and The Young Bucks, former Bullet Club allies. I see big years for both the Guerrillas of Destiny and EVIL and SANADA. The Young Bucks status is unknown but the other four look to all be rising. EVIL and SANADA have been on the cusp of becoming breakout singles stars and G.O.D. are a part of a faction where they rank high in the pecking order.
Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Cody (c) vs Juice Robinson
John: Juice didn’t have a particularly strong title reign after originally taking the belt from Jay White. He lost most of his G1 matches and then lost the belt to Cody. Now is his chance at redemption. Cody made his debut in NJPW by beating Juice at Wrestle Kingdom. Two years later we have another match between the two with a title on the line. This time Juice should stand tall as he is the NJPW stalwart who probably needs the belt more than Cody.
Prediction: Juice Robinson
Rob: All wrestling fans have differing opinions but when it comes to the U.S. title, most agree that Juice Robinson was screwed. More than just in story, Juice was coming off a career win by defeating Jay White for the title in San Francisco. His G1 run the following month was met with criticism when he came out with a record of 3-6. Cody then defeated Juice the month after that and we haven’t seen the title defended in NJPW ever since. With the future of the Elite in question, who’s to say whether or not Cody keeps the title past Wrestle Kingdom. Most fans agree that Juice was done dirty but his character is one that works well from underneath. He’ll certainly be able to rebound but the decision making was baffling to many, myself included.
Prediction: Juice Robinson
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs Taiji Ishimori
John: This one is mainly personal bias as I’d love to see Ishimori with the Junior Heavyweight title. Both men would be credible champions and KUSHIDA seems incapable of putting on a bad match. He has just never been a very compelling champion. He is better as a challenger or a gate-keeper for the division. Ishimori has a lot of momentum behind him and let’s not forget he could always throw in shenanigans if they don’t want KUSHIDA to look too weak. Again, this has potential show stealer written all over it.
Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Rob: This is arguably my most anticipated match of the night. Both guys are super fluid and used the heavyweight tag league to work through some spots for their big match. The only time these two had singles match was in the first round of the 2016 Super-J Cup so this is about as fresh as possible. The title has changed hands the last five years but whatever the plan was this year, it changed with Hiromu’s injury. KUSHIDA is the champion once again as a way to stabilize the division which also ties him for second all time alongside Tiger Mask at six reigns. The only person who stood in Ishimori’s way of winning the title over the summer was Hiromu and with him now out due to injury, added to the fact that the title has changed hands every year for half a decade, this seems like the perfect opportunity for him to strike.
Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Special Singles Match
Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White
John: Throughout 2018 Jay White improved and started taking the scalps of the biggest names in NJPW. He has beaten Omega which won him the US title. He beat Okada in the first night of the G1 and he beat Tanahashi the next night. They have been building Jay White as a threat and a ring leader. He has already taken a sledgehammer to Chaos, now will be the killing blow. He has the Bullet Club OGs in his corner and he has a supposed mole in Chaos who may end up being the deciding factor in this match. Whilst shenanigans are never appreciated in big matches, it could be the way of having Okada lose to the odds rather than being flat out beaten.
Prediction: Jay White
Rob: For the first time since 2012, Okada will not be coming into Wrestle Kingdom either as IWGP Heavyweight Champion or challenging for said title. Instead, he’ll be wrestling the man who helped send shockwaves through multiple factions this year, Jay White. The fallout of both the Bullet Club and Chaos can’t be credited solely to White but he was a key piece to both factions going through a transformation. Okada has been on a tailspin since losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in June. He was filled with self doubt, couldn’t get over hurdles he’d been able to manage for years and as such his manager, Gedo, turned on him. Gedo aligned himself with White and now thanks to the betrayal, the two have become to most hated men in the company. Up until now, Okada’s career has been all about the gold but this year there’s no gold to be found. Gedo turned his back on Okada when things got tough. This is personal. This looks to be a story that’s set to last for a while. I don’t see Okada being able to get his revenge yet.
Prediction: Jay White
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Chris Jericho (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
John: The grand finale of the LIJ winning streak sees one of NJPW’s finest take out the Boogeyman that has terrorized both the company and the stable over 2018. Jericho has been an interesting character in NJPW and the fact he was willing to make the leap to the company speaks of it’s potential in the wrestling landscape. Whilst he hasn’t been particularly compelling as a champion he has always been a threat. Now it is time for Naito to get revenge for the mugging he took at Dominion when Jericho took the belt from him. Naito may have little love for the IC title but this win will be more about vengeance than the title.
Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
Rob: The feud between Jericho and Naito started before Wrestle Kingdom 12. Although he was in the semi-main event, Jericho called his match a part of a double main event. Naito’s dream had been to be in a Tokyo Dome main event so this declaration upset him. They indirectly went back and forth in various interviews until New Year Dash!! when Jericho attacked Naito. Months would pass before Jericho would pop up again and when he did, he stayed focused on Naito. The two finally clashed at Dominion for the Intercontinental Championship, a match Jericho would win. Naito has never shown any interest in the title, the matches aren’t about that for him. These are two of the strangest wrestlers in New Japan. Both are driven solely by ego, one being ultra aggressive while the other is tranquilo. This will be an interesting clash. The last match was a chaotic brawl in favor of Jericho. Now we’ll have to see how Naito adjusts to the madness. The rumors are circulating that this will be Jericho’s last appearance so if that’s the case, the outcome is easy to see.
Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
John: The hardest match to decide on and the grand finale of the show sees the current champ take on the Ace of New Japan. Kenny Omega is my favourite wrestler on the planet and this should be his best title defense yet. Tanahashi is probably one of the most beloved current NJPW so it makes him beating Omega seem so much more believable. I however am sticking with Omega retaining. He is still early in his title reign and I feel he has a lot more to offer as the top champion of the company. This match should be insane and top off another excellent Wrestle Kingdom.
Prediction: Kenny Omega
Rob: A rematch nearly three years in the making. There are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of here. Since winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Kenny Omega has defended the title in both a ladder match and a three-way match. Purists like Tanahashi believe that’s not how titles should be treated. He participated in a three-way match during Global Wars but has since stated that it was his way of trying to appeal to the western fanbase. When losing the Intercontinental Championship to Omega in 2016, the two were scheduled for a ladder match but Tanahashi was injured, something Omega feels is suspect. All of this is to say there is a battle of ideologies at work here. Kenny Omega comes from a world where there are no limits. Hiroshi Tanahashi believes there is a standard way to go about wrestling. This is truly one of the most interesting matches New Japan could have put together and they kept it fresh for their biggest stage. Rumors have circulated about Omega’s future with the company. I don’t have any answers for you but if he were to lose here, it wouldn’t automatically mean he’s leaving. There’s a rich history between Tanahashi and Wrestle Kingdom. There hasn’t been an IWGP Heavyweight Championship title change since Wrestle Kingdom 5. The man to do it? Hiroshi Tanahashi. Wrestle Kingdom is Tanahashi’s domain and he’s made a career out of defying the odds. You don’t pick against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
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