New Japan Pro-Wrestling are spreading their next eight championship matches between six shows, starting April 23rd and ending May 4th. Here I will break down each match and give you my take on what I believe will be the outcomes.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI
For the first time since September 2017, the junior tag titles were successfully defended. On April 1st, Kanemaru and Desperado pinned Roppongi 3K to retain their titles. This was the second title match in a row consisting of 3K, Kanemaru/Desperado and Hiromu/BUSHI. Both triple threat matches ended with 3K suffering defeat. Since the team of Hiromu & BUSHI were never a part of the decision in either match, these two teams will meet in a traditional tag. History is not on the side of the champions. The last three years the junior tag titles have changed hands in April.
Fans believe Hiromu has a bright future ahead of him, some even hoping he moves up into the heavyweight division soon. With that said, if New Japan doesn’t have immediate plans for Ospreay to lose the junior title, I see no harm in Hiromu and BUSHI receiving a tag title reign. Right now this seems to be BUSHI’s ceiling with Hiromu in his former spot as the junior ace of LIJ. If LIJ were to hold these titles it would generate interest rarely seen in this division.
The lack of depth within the division makes sustained reigns nearly impossible. It’s extremely sad that the champions have only had one defense and I’m making this statement but where else could they go if they were to win here? You could team Taguchi with someone like KUSHIDA but other than that New Japan would be out of options. I’m banking on a title change because I don’t see where else they could possibly go if the champs were to retain.
Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI
IWGP US Heavyweight Championship
Jay White (c) vs David Finlay
This is a big step up for Finlay, his first ever shot at a singles title in New Japan. Contrary to Jay White, New Japan decided against sending Finlay on excursion. Instead, he stuck around and wound up winning the NEVER 6-Man titles alongside Kojima and Ricochet when filling in for Matt Sydal. He made a sneaky transition up from the juniors to the heavyweight division in early 2017 but other than that his career has been relatively quiet.
Jay White, on the other hand, was sent on excursion. Generally, this means the company has big plans for you and this ended up being the case for Jay. Upon his return, he made an immediate impact by laying out Tanahashi after his successful Intercontinental title defense against Ibushi. His tenacity was rewarded and Jay received a title match, third from the top, at Wrestle Kingdom 12. The career trajectory for these two couldn’t be much more different.
Heading into this match, Jay has a singles record of 9-1 over Finlay. Other that their first encounter, Finlay has been unable to defeat Jay. Their last meeting was just two months ago and again Jay proved to still be the better wrestler. I don’t see the result being any different this time around but what an exciting time to be a Finlay fan as we watch him move up the ladder within the company.
Prediction: Jay White
NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs Juice Robinson
With each an IC, NEVER and US title match under his belt, 2017 was the year of Juice Robinson. On top of that, Juice also made his G1 Climax debut last year where he defeated the likes of Kenny Omega and Michael Elgin. Juice is continuing his momentum forward as he’s once again looking to capture the NEVER title from Hirooki Goto. These two had a match for the title last February which Goto wound up victorious.
The redemption run of Goto continues on in 2018. This man has been looking to redeem himself for years now and finally seemed to get over the hump at Wrestle Kingdom 12 when he defeated Minoru Suzuki. He has defended his honor along with the memory of his fallen partner, Shibata. Now it is time for Goto to carve himself a legacy with this title but is he up for the job?
As someone who is prone to stumbling, I can see Goto falling and having to prove his worth yet again. I hope that’s not the case because I want to see Goto succeed but he’s been a hard man to bet on for many years running. In my mind, Juice is more than worthy of the NEVER title but I hope that it doesn’t come at Goto’s expense.
Prediction: Hirooki Goto
IWGP Tag Team Championship
EVIL & SANADA (c) vs Killer Elite Squad
An untimely injury to EVIL put what was an exciting change of pace for the tag titles on hold. Now that EVIL has returned, we get the rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 12. Is EVIL back at one-hundred percent from his injury? Do the champions still have the chemistry which helped them win the 2017 Tag League?
On the other hand, the chemistry between K.E.S. is at an all time high. You’d be hard-pressed to find a time where the team has felt more in sync than they do right now. They have ran through every team New Japan has put in front of them in order to prove they should be the next challengers.
I don’t see how EVIL and SANADA come out of this match with the titles. Wrestle Kingdom really just felt like a way to get them on a significant match rather than the NEVER 6-Man gauntlet for a second year in a row. I’m not sure they were ever supposed to be a big time force in the tag division because both feel destined to be singles stars rather than a tag team.
Prediction: Killer Elite Squad
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
This time last year, Naito was the holder of the IC title. He absolutely loathed the history of the title and disrespected it at every opportunity. This is the title that took his main event at Wrestle Kingdom 8 away from him. Despite winning the G1 Climax, the fans decided they’d rather see Tanahashi and Nakamura close WK8 rather than Okada and Naito. During his 259 day reign as IC Champion, Naito literally destroyed the title. Why all of a sudden the change of attitude?
The quick answer is that there hasn’t been a change. Naito still wants nothing to do with the championship. He’s even mocked Suzuki for holding it, saying the reason Suzuki is challenging him is the title is irrelevant and no one wants to challenge Suzuki. These sort of comments are common for the character of Naito. He feels so looked down on by the fans and company that he pokes holes in the logic rather than trying to have it make sense.
This won’t be your prototypical championship match. Neither man really wants to hold the title. The only reason Suzuki has it is to bring dishonor and Naito couldn’t care less about Suzuki’s mission. The story is very interesting in that the title isn’t the focus of either man. That isn’t to say they aren’t prideful in their craft. Both Naito and Suzuki are confident wrestlers who want to win every match that they are in, they just couldn’t care less about the title. This is a match about pride, not gold.
Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa (c) vs The Young Bucks & Marty Scurll
The first Bullet Club versus Bullet Club championship match! No one feels like they’re spinning in circles more than the champions. Tama Tonga recently had a baby so he was away for a while and neither Fale or Tanga were given much to do in that time. Since the creation of these titles there hasn’t been a single memorable reign. Memorable champions, yes, but can anyone name a single match that sticks out? For that reason, give us new champions and see if they can make something out of these meaningless titles.
Prediction: The Young Bucks & Marty Scurll
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs KUSHIDA
After suffering four straight losses to KUSHIDA, Will Ospreay finally defeated him in October of last year. Ospreay is out to prove that his sole win over KUSHIDA was not a fluke and that he is the true ace of the junior division. For my money, this is the best feud in wrestling today.
Their first encounter was at Sumo Hall for this very title. Ospreay went on to lose but bounced back by winning the 2016 BOSJ and challenged KUSHIDA to another match. Again, he suffered defeat. Their next match wasn’t for another year when they met at the 2017 BOSJ finals. KUSHIDA robbed Ospreay of winning the tournament in back-to-back years. An overconfident KUSHIDA accepted another challenge from Ospreay and that’s where his winning streak ended. At Sumo Hall, where their first match took place, Ospreay was finally able to defeat KUSHIDA.
This isn’t a case of KUSHIDA wanting his revenge, it was Ospreay who made the challenge. He wants to prove to KUSHIDA, the fans and most importantly, himself, that his victory over KUSHIDA wasn’t a fluke. Ospreay’s last two defenses were absolute classics in my mind, as have been every singles match between him and KUSHIDA. My expectations are extremely high and I’m confident they will deliver.
Prediction: Will Ospreay
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
The story of Tanahashi and Okada will go down in history as one of legend. Okada’s last match before leaving on excursion was a singles match against Tanahashi. In typical young lion fashion, he suffered defeat. Two years later, in their first singles match since his return, the 25 year old Kazuchika Okada did the unthinkable. In surprising fashion, he defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi. No one saw it coming.
Since returning from excursion, Okada and Tanahashi have had a total of nine singles matches. Owning the most wins is Okada, with four. Tanahashi has three wins and the their two non-title matches hit the thirty minute time limit. Another win by Tanahashi evens the score. A loss puts Tanahashi down two, all but eliminating his chances on ever catching up to Okada. Important to note in relation to this match is that right now these two are tied for the most defenses in a single reign. If Okada were to win, he’d be the sole owner of the accolade. Who ended Tanahashi’s record breaking reign? You guessed it, Okada.
The odds do not look good for Tanahashi. The roles between these two have flipped a complete one-eighty in just six years time. Okada would like to pretend that this is just another match but a win here absolutely cements him as the guy moving forward. No one believes Tanahashi has a chance, just like they didn’t believe in Okada back in 2012. Stories like these are why New Japan is so popular right now. Not every story is perfect but the key stories feel like a big deal. This will most certainly be an emotional match.
Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
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