So you’ve heard about New Japan wrestling (NJPW) and all the great talent that has come from there over the last few years, right? Just look at the list of names who have made their way to WWE via NJPW: Finn Balor, A.J. Styles, Nakamura, Gallows & Anderson (those last two have not been able to show their true potential yet, but it’ll come). Well, if you haven’t been checking out the weekly program on AXS TV, hosted by Good Ol’ Jim Ross and available on most cable networks) now might be a good time to start.
Throughout the month of January AXS TV will air matches from NJPW’s annual premier event Wrestle Kingdom (WK), which emanates every January 4th from the Tokyo Dome in Japan, think WrestleMania as far as scope and grandeur. Normally if you wanted to see WK you’d have to pay for New Japan’s version of the WWE network, New Japan World, but this year the good folks at AXS TV are breaking the event into four episodes, airing every Friday night at 9:00 starting on January 11, just nine days after the actual show. Here’s a rundown of the card from top to bottom and a bit of background for the big matches:
* IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega: Omega took control of the Bullet Club (NJPW’s version of the N.W.O.) from the exiting A.J Styles the day after last year’s WK. Since then he has won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, which was vacated by Nakamura before departing for WWE, and the G1 Climax tournament, a three week round robin tournament, to secure his spot as the number one contender for the Heavyweight title. The current holder, Okada, has held the tile numerous times since his push to main event status back in 2012. Since adopting his moniker “The Rainmaker” he has become the NJPW version of The Rock, at first a cocky heel, but now a beloved good guy. Prediction: Omega becomes the man after a year in the main event spotlight.
* IWGP Intercontinental Title Match: Champion Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: After a long run as fairly bland face, Naito went on a brief tour of Mexico in the summer pf 2015, joined a heel stable by the name of Los Ingnoberables, and came back to steadily create his own evil faction in Japan thus becoming arguably the hottest act in 2016. He’ll defend against the NJPW version of Jon Cena, as far as longevity and popularity. This will be the first time in seven years Tanahashi doesn’t main event WK. Prediction: Much like Cena, Tanahashi wins to make the kids happy and annoy the internet.
* IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match: Champion KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi: For those who enjoy cruiserweights, Ring of Honor part timer Kushida will defend against the newest member of Los Ingnoberables de Japon. Takahashi has also been a fixture in ROH and PWG this past year, wrestling as Kamaitachi. He made his surprise return to New Japan on November 5 by challenging Kushida immediately after he had once again successfully defended the Jr. HW Title. Prediction: A new champion is crowned as Takahashi wins.
* NEVER Openweight Title Match: Champion Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto: Two of my personal favorites go head to head in a battle of former high school classmates and tag team partners. Shibata, who spent a few years as an MMA fighter, has made the NEVER Title his own this year after winning it at last year’s WK. Goto challenged his sometime friend, sometimes foe after pinning Shibata in a non-title match. Prediction: Shibata retains after a hard hitting contest.
* IWGP Tag Team Title Match: Champions G.O.D (Tanga Roa & Tama Tonga) vs. vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano vs. TEAM GBH (Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe): NJPW likes to overload their tag team matches and this year’s title match is no exception. The sons of wrestler Haku/Meng are members of the Bullet Club and have held the titles since October, but they face tough competition from Homma & Makabe who recently won the World Tag League for an unprecedented second year in a row. Ishii & Yano were also recently added to the match (to basically get them on the card). Prediction: G.O.D. have vastly improved their in-ring chemistry over the last few months and will retain here.
Other matches on this stacked card include:
* The New Japan Rumble (featuring returning legends and surprise entrants.)
* Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger Mask Dark (the identities of both have not been revealed, but one is heavily rumored to be Koto Ibushi who has recently appeared in NXT and the WWE Cruiserweight Classic)
* NEVER 6 Man Title Match: Champions David Finlay, Ricochet & Kojima vs. BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA vs. Jado, YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay vs. Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro, Hangman Page
* The debuting and newest Bullet Club member Cody (Rhodes) vs. Juice Robinson (known as CJ Parker in NXT)
* IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match: Champions the always exciting and “Too Sweet” Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) vs. RPG Vice (Trent Beretta & Rocky Romero)
* ROH Heavyweight Title Match: New Champion Kyle O’Reilly in a rematch against former champ Adam Cole
So why not try something new for the new year? Especially FOR FREE! And for those feeling extra adventurous, sign up for New Japan World on-line and watch the Wrestle Kingdom 11 event live on January 4th (starting at roughly 3:30AM ET) with English commentary by Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino. You’ll also be able to catch up on past matches from all the wrestlers mentioned throughout the article.