What an incredible year it was for New Japan. They make big strides in America with a major show being held in California, have merchandise sold in Hot Topic stores, they’re partnership with ROH is stronger than ever, and managed to score big with the addition of Chris Jericho in a moment that almost felt like a major defection from the infamous Monday Night Wars.
But the thing that got more people talking about New Japan in 2017 more than anything else was the match quality. It became an embarrassment of riches. For instance, Naito and Tanahashi had an incredible match in the G1, got the famous 5 star rating from Dave Meltzer, and nobody is talking about it. But there was the incredible trio of matches from Okada and Omega, Okada vs. Shibata which sadly may have been Shibata’s final match, Omega vs. Naito in the G1 finals, Naito vs. Elgin, Okada vs. Suzuki, Omega vs. Ishii, and Nagata’s awesome G1 run. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the Junior Heavyweight or tag team matches.
Now I know the question a lot of people asked in 2017, can Jew Japan compete with WWE? The answer is no. The products are too different and the availability for New Japan isn’t even close to ideal. I think New Japan World would at the very least, have to be downloadable for PS4 and Xbox One, but I digress. The point is, despite what some sports entertainment companies say about TV ratings, people watch what’s good. Why do Game of Thrones’ ratings go up in this cord cutting era? Because it’s awesome. It’s a crazy philosophy but people like good stuff, and New Japan has done a great job of marketing themselves as the place to watch really good wrestling.
Can we expect this kind of quality in 2018? I mean, that would be impossible to expect. New Japan got fairly lucky when it comes to injuries and every match felt like a perfect storm of greatness. It’s unrealistic to think guys won’t have an off day or maybe Gedo will miss fire on a feud or push. But that being said, if 2018 is anything close to 2017 as far as match quality and wrestler development goes, we’re in for another great year.
That, “great year” starts on January 4, 2018 at the Tokyo Dome with the first and biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom. Let’s take a look at the marquee matches for this event.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
The Young Bucks vs. Roppongi 3K (c)
Roppongi 3K is the newest addition to what was a thin roster of Junior tag teams, but thus far have really shined. They’re a good change of pace from what was just a series of spot matches between the Bucks and Roppongi Vice. Don’t get me wrong, those were fun, but they got a bit tiresome. The Bucks are a big enough team that 3K beating them would really cement them as the team to beat in the Junior tag division.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada) vs. Killer Elite Squad (c)
Speaking of tiresome tag team matches, and thin tag divisions, there’s the heavyweight tag division. If New Japan had a weakness in 2017 it’s that both tag divisions were rather thin. It felt like every show was a combination of Killer Elite Squad, War Machine, and the Guerrillas of Destiny. Well War Machine appear WWE bound (after Wrestle Kingdom) so it’s time for a change.
It’s no secret New Japan love Sanada and why not? He’s got a good look, he’s incredibly athletic, and is among on of the most talented wrestlers on the roster. But, he lacks that connection with the crowd, his personality is really quite boring. Meanwhile, 2017 was a breakout year for Evil who went from, “just a guy in LIJ” to a borderline star. It’s a very interesting match up with the KES but I expect New Japan to go, “all in” on LIJ so they should win the tag titles.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Kushida vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll
This has potential to be the best match of the night, or at least the most exciting. I loved the build up especially with Takahashi getting beat up every time he tried to issue a challenge then coming out in full pads to issue a challenge for Wrestle Kingdom, just great stuff. It’s the toughest match to predict because I could easily see Scurll keep the belt because he definitely has potential to be a star, but they really love Takahashi who IS a star, same with Kushida. I’ll stick with Scurll, since he hasn’t held the belt long but I wouldn’t put money on it.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)
Tanahashi being the ultimate company man has needed surgery for a torn bicep for quite some time. Problem was, if he got it when he needed it, he’d miss the G1. If he got it after the G1, he’d miss Wrestle Kingdom. I do hope he ends up getting it after this match. That being said, the best way to go out would be putting someone over. “Switchblade” Jay White is an interesting character and he’s got potential to be a big star given his age and how talented he is. Don’t sleep on this match, just because nobody is talking about it doesn’t mean it wont be a top 2 or 3 match on the show.
IWGP United States Championship
Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega (c)
The match people thought would never happen, one half of the double main event, if you’re the type of person who believes in double main events. Definitely the most talked about match on the card for anyone in America or Canada, and yes I know the irony of the US title being fought for by two Canadians.
Jericho has had a hell of a career and he’s managed to get over to a huge degree back in 1998 when he had a vastly underrated heel run in WCW, all the way to 2018. How many people can say that? He keeps reinventing himself, whether he’s the, “Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla” along side Ralphus, Y2J, the lead singer of Fozzy, a guy who got a list over, or the Alpha, he’s stayed over.
Meanwhile, Omega said he wanted to make the United States title really mean something and what better way to do that then make it seem like one of wrestling’s all time greats is coming after it? What started as a Twitter feud, which I just assumed was to get people talking, nothing more (similar to when the Elite and the New Day had their Twitter feud). Then escalated to what everyone assumed would be a match aboard Chris Jericho’s cruise ship happening later in 2018. In reality, it was a moment so shocking you’d have to go all the way back to Jericho debuting on RAW via countdown clock or Scott Hall hopping the guardrail at Nitro to find a moment with equal shock factor.
It’s no secret why this is the most talked about match for everyone outside of Japan, and Omega should retain as I don’t think anyone expects Jericho to be around longer than New Year’s Dash but hey, if anyone can shock the wrestling world it’s Jericho.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
Las year I picked Omega to beat Okada for the title and while I was wrong, I was happy. We got an incredible year from the world’s best wrestler. Okada showed his versatility in getting great matches out of a high flyer, Tiger Mask W (Kota Ibushi), a big guy, Bad Luck Fale, a submission expert, Minoru Suzuki, and a striker, Katsuyori Shibata. He ran the gauntlet of top contenders and has held the belt for well over a year. But the last man to beat him for the title is the one who is challenging him for the title, Naito.
While Omega is the man outside of Japan, it’s called New Japan, and Naito is the man in Japan. LIJ has eclipsed the Bullet Club in popularity in Japan and oh yeah, Naito is a fantastic wrestler. I believe this will be the best match of the night and I also believe it will be the night where Naito takes down Okada and his legendary title reign.
Naito will also be headed to Dayton, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois in February so who’s to say he can’t start becoming a big star in America too? By the way, I’ll be at that Dayton show when he takes on Michael Elgin, who had a pretty rough 2017.
As for Okada, if this really is the end of his title reign, what can you really say? It’s absolutely one of the more legendary title reigns in wrestling history. The match quality, the fact that he made guys like Omega, Evil, and Ibushi bigger stars just by feuding with him.
Hope everyone enjoyed the preview and if you can’t catch the show on January 4, please check out my recap which will be up a few hours after the show ends. In the meantime, follow me on twitter at Eddyc85 and or PIWShow and thanks for reading, hope everyone had a happy new year, and a happy January 4th.
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