All credit goes to @Sweeney Tom
I tried to do a similar effortpost write-up/catchup for new fans for, I wanna say last WK but it was definitely A WK. I'll try to transfer this text summary over onto the regular thread if the Plaza's done by that time
January 4, preshow at 2AM Eastern, main show at 3AM Eastern: New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 13 at the Tokyo Dome
Watch live or on demand on New Japan World (less than $10, just make sure not to sign up for the service until at least January 1. If you sign up right now, you'll be billed for December today and billed for January tomorrow), or live or on demand on FITE TV ($35, comes with unlimited replays), or on AXS TV (the main event matches will air at 8PM Eastern that night, the rest of the event will be broadcast on the next two Fridays, same time)
There's no New Japan Rumble this time. In its place, there's a trios gauntlet for #1 contendership to the NEVER trios title the next night at New Years Dash
. Two teams start a regular match, another team enters after one is eliminated, this happens until one team is left. The teams are ROH TV champ Jeff Cobb, former trios champ David Finlay, and (replacing the injured asshole Michael Elgin) great veteran Yuji Nagata; the Elite (Hangman Page, former junior heavyweight champ Marty Scurll, and Yujiro Takahashi); CHAOS (former NEVER singles champ Hirooki Goto, and Best Friends, Beretta and Chuck Taylor); Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and former tag champs KES, Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer); and Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe, and everybody's favorite hero, Toru Yano. Again, the winning team gets a shot the following night at New Years Dash at the NEVER trios title held by Bullet Club's Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) and Taiji Ishimori.
The show starter is pretty widely expected to be the hardest to follow match on the whole card. Kota Ibushi defends his newly-won NEVER singles title
against the former junior heavyweight champ Will Ospreay. Ospreay originally earned a title shot against then-champ Taichi (who has shamefully been left off the card entirely) but had one of his many injuries temporarily sideline him. This allowed Goto to take the belt from Taichi, who proceeded to challenge Kota as his next opponent. For weeks Kota said no as the belt seemed like a step down for him, but then begged and pleaded and changed his mind when Goto finally appeared to be taking no for an answer and Kota realized he might also be at risk of not being on the WK card at all. At the World Tag League finals, Kota won the match and title, while earlier on the same card Ospreay defeated Taichi for #1 contendership. The first singles match of the year is thus an immediate match of the year candidate.
For what will have been over 300 days officially, Suzuki-gun's Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado have held firm grasp on the junior heavyweight tag titles
, the longest of any current reign in the company. Here, they will defend against both former champs RPG3K (Sho and Yoh) and LIJ's BUSHI and Shingo Takagi. At Power Struggle the Super Junior Tag League finals were a non-title version of this match, which RPG3K won over the champs. In the aftermath it was clear they earned a shot, but BUSHI and Shingo weren't pinned and had also defeated RPG3K earlier in the tournament, so they were eventually granted their request to be added to this match. Still, the odds have been against Suzuki-gun before
In April, the brute Tomohiro Ishii first won the RevPro British Heavyweight title
from very handsome good man vegan socialist Zack Sabre Jr. After a brief bout of heroism from Suzuki, Ishii was able to regain the belt at Global Wars in October. But ZSJ was able to overcome the odds and avenge his loss to Ishii in the G1 Climax tournament before this, and at RevPro Uprising in November ZSJ made the challenge for the Dome. Can he take the belt back home? Will Ishii just...tap...out?
It's January 4th, it's Wrestle Kingdom, it's the Tokyo Dome. So of course that means at least one three- or four-way tag title match. The second of the night, Guerrillas of Destiny (Tonga and Loa) will defend the heavyweight tag titles
against both LIJ's EVIL and SANADA, and also the Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson. This time last year EVIL and SANADA defeated KES to win the belts after winning the 2017 World Tag League finals against Guerrillas of Destiny. The Bucks finally graduated to the heavyweight tag division later in the year, and defeated them in hopes of a long run. But in the aftermath of kicking the Elite out of the Bullet Club, the Guerrillas of Destiny spoiled their plans and won the titles themselves at Fighting Spirit Unleashed. GoD dominated in the division from then on right up to the finals of the World Tag League, a rematch of the 2017 World Tag League finals, with EVIL and SANADA repeating and winning the tournament again and again earning the Dome shot. The Bucks were granted their request to be added to this match because they never got their rematch against GoD, in addition to having previously beaten EVIL and SANADA for the belts.
Anything can happen on any given night, after all. In the immediate aftermath of the inevitable AEW promotion announcement though, I wouldn't take too many bets on members of the Elite walking out with belts after this night, and this seems like the most predictable one of those matches because of that. Two years ago to the day, Cody debuted in the promotion and defeated Juice Robinson. They would drift apart and do their own things. Cody would be ROH champ and (for a coffee break) NWA champ. Juice would have an impressive run in 2017 (even in the G1) and '18. Then they came back to each other because fate can only keep you apart for so long. At Fighting Spirit Unleashed, Cody quickly ended the IWGP US title
reign of Juice. In November Juice defeated Beretta for #1 contendership, setting the stage for this title defense, this rematch. It started against Juice, and if it's the short or even long term end of Cody's time in New Japan, it makes sense that it ends against Juice.
The junior heavyweight singles division has been astray since the significant neck injury of Hiromu Takahashi during his title defense forcing him to relinquish the belt. In the aftermath, a tournament was held resulting in KUSHIDA winning the junior heavyweight singles title
at King of Pro Wrestling against Marty. His sixth run with the belt, it really wasn't in dispute anymore (if it even was close at the time) that KUSHIDA was the ace of the division. Earlier in the year before all of that (2018's been really long), the ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH's junior division announced he was leaving that company to pursue other challenges. When Bullet Club announced the debut of their new Bone Soldier and Tonga unmasked him to reveal former 3 time GHC junior heavyweight champ Taiji Ishimori, it was widely assumed the division would be revitalized with the new matchup potentials. In the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, Hiromu defeated Taiji to win the tournament and the title shot. Taiji was left out of the tournament for the vacated title in the aftermath of Hiromu's injury, and has taken out frustrations over being left out of the conversation by defeating KUSHIDA multiple times in tag matches recently, earning a shot in addition to KUSHIDA's ire. On an already-stacked card, this battle between aces looks to be one of the most notably surprising of the night in-ring (and even out of it, as rumors of KUSHIDA being WWE-bound persist).
The fall of Okada was sped up so fast it was admittedly easy to not notice. Kazuchika Okada started 2018 with his 4th straight Dome main event, his 3rd straight walking in as IWGP heavyweight champ. Through the next half of the year he'd break record after record, including most defenses and longest reign and even longest combined reigns. All of the accolades and all of the being so damn good at what he did kinda made him cocky. So cocky he was fine challenging one of the many rivals he made along the way to a 2-out-of-3 falls match with no time limit. And that's when Kenny Omega ended it all and won the title in 65 minutes. The aftermath might have just appeared odd at a glance, but it was more apparent to some: Okada lost something that meant a lot to him, didn't have a clue how to cope with this unexpected development he never prepared for, and tried everything to find happiness again. New pants. New hair color. Balloons with smiley faces. He even tried repeatedly making fun of the ridiculously smaller Marty Scurll. Anything to fill the void. And as this set of weird things happened, a weirder thing happened: Okada kept losing. The 2018 G1 Climax started with a fellow named Jay White getting an upset victory over him. Then he lost again to Bad Luck Fale. Disoriented, he began to lash out, using the balloons to attack commentator Rocky Romero. It ended with a repeat of the 2017 G1, same record, same last match (him getting a time limit draw to Hiroshi Tanahashi), same result (not making the finals). This time though, he didn't have his comfort, he didn't have his second-place prize; he didn't have his IWGP title. In the post-show presser he surprised again by announcing amicably parting ways with his long-time manager and his best friend Gedo, as they shook hands farewell.
With every fall must come a rise, and the rise of the Switchblade might have also seemed too quick to notice at first. After a disappointing loss coming back from excursion in the previous Wrestle Kingdom to then-IC champ Tanahashi, Switchblade Jay White begrudgingly admitted he needed friends for a long-term rise in the modern New Japan. At New Years Dash he teased accepting an offer from then-IWGP US champ Kenny Omega to join Bullet Club, laid out Kenny, and soon after joined CHAOS, shaking Okada's hand in a press conference, while slyly promising that in time he would take down Kenny's Bullet Club and
Okada's CHAOS. For those that don't know what happened next, and this is the fun part: he fucking did it
. At New Beginning in Sapporo the Switchblade started a 160 day IWGP US title run by defeating Kenny. Literally seconds after the win, Hangman Page tried confronting White, Kenny stopped him and handed White the belt, and Cody came out and berated Kenny, causing all of the Bullet Club to get in a shouting match with each other and Kenny to accidentally shove down one of the Bucks. As the Bucks left, Cody attacked Kenny and the rest of the Club wondered what to do as Kota came out and chased them off, reuniting the Golden Lovers. This all
happened as Jay White was walking off, back turned, into the stands celebrating. Not just his win, but step one.
Step two needed a similarly sized meltdown over a longer period of time. Okada's might not have happened as quickly, but was just as messy. Without his belt, without his manager, and without a clear path to the Wrestle Kingdom card at the Dome, desperately Okada tried to use his draw to his advantage and wanted a shot at the G1 winner Tanahashi's title shot briefcase. Again it wasn't meant to be though, as Tanahashi retained his opportunity. Postmatch the Switchblade struck, White attacking Tanahashi, and then surprisingly continuing the attack on the now-perceived weak link of CHAOS Okada. Okada's ex-manager Gedo came out seemingly to help, but really just to deliver the last knife in the back. And at King of Pro Wrestling, in the aftermath of all the bickering and the split, the OG Bullet Club members (GoD, Fale, and Taiji) would join the now-former members of CHAOS Gedo and Jado in helping their new leader, the strong link, Switchblade Jay White, attack Okada and Tanahashi. One man lost his title, his dominance over the singles scene, his manager, his main event spot, his best friend, and his teammates. Another man kept his promise to single-handedly ruin the two biggest stables in the promotion and firmly planted himself on top of the ashes. It all comes to a head at the Dome, and if it weren't obvious by my book here, it is in my opinion easily the most exciting of the final 3 matches both in-ring and in-storyline.
I've said before that fate's kinda funny.
All the way back in Wrestle Kingdom 8 in 2014, Tetsuya Naito's IWGP heavyweight title shot against Okada lost the main event spot via fan vote, to his disgust, to an IC title
match between Tanahashi and someone named Shinsuke Nakamura. The consolation prize was being considered part 1 of the "double main event". At the 2017 Wrestle Kingdom Naito found himself defending the IC title he now possessed, and was becoming increasingly annoyed by ever since obtaining it, against Tanahashi, with his match again placed second-highest on the card. This time he was fine with it though, because he never believed the belt deserved to main event over the IWGP heavyweight title, a belt obviously more prestigious and important and just better than that IC title. He still bristled at the "double main event" billing, of which his match was now just part 1 of. At Dominion later that year, after having threatened to retire or vacate the belt after the US title was introduced, another title he considered more noteworthy and just as relevant, Naito finally lost the belt he in his own words and mannerisms just didn't give a shit about. And why would he? He was constantly a #2 who always thought he was, and should have been, a #1. The IC title was good for Tanahashi. Being merely part 1 of the "double main event" was good for Tanahashi. It insulted Naito though. After winning his second G1, Naito finally got what he wanted, The main event of the Tokyo Dome (still part 2 of the "double main event", but at least he was on top now). And at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito...lost. In April, he beat Suzuki in a pretty good match to win the IC title again. But after multiple attacks by Chris Jericho, 41 days later at Dominion Naito lost again, and Jericho won the IC title. And now after defending his stablemate EVIL from a relentless postmatch attack, Naito finds himself again against Jericho. Again fighting for the IC title. Again second-highest on the card. Again billed as part 1 of the "double main event". And you start to wonder: if Naito wins here, is it even really a win?
Chris Jericho debuted in the company a year ago in the Dome against Kenny Omega. In a match both were looking forward to, especially Jericho who was eager to make an impact and quickly in his long-awaited return to New Japan. What better place to do it than in part 1 of the "double main event"? An outsider who wasn't in the match didn't want to shut up about that though. Naito quickly pointed out how ridiculous it was. Naito worked forever (including a horrid coffee break stint excursion in TNA) to claw his way to the main event, and here he had to share custody of the main event, being part 2 to the part 1 that starred a guy who made a name for himself in another company and hadn't been in the company outside of a brief excursion 20 years ago. Jericho lost to Omega in a fantastic match and didn't forget it, but he didn't forget Naito's comments either and attacked him the next day at New Years Dash. Jericho would attack Naito again at Wrestling Dontaku, leading to a match for Naito's IC title. Jericho won but kept up the assault, only being stopped by Naito's stablemate EVIL. For helping, Jericho got back at EVIL and attacked him repeatedly too, retaining the belt against him at Power Struggle. He'd keep up the assault there too, and Naito had to come out and chase him off. At the Dome Naito gets his rematch, and each man has vowed to end the other's career. Will the Alpha of pro wrestling hold on to the IC title? Or will Naito regain the belt he doesn't want and can't escape in his eternal position at #2?
In the main event, Kenny Omega defends the IWGP heavyweight title
against Hiroshi Tanahashi.
In June, after years of toil in the Japanese indies and New Japan’s junior division, Kenny Omega finally reached the pinnacle of wrestling. He successfully graduated to the heavyweight division. He shook off a shocking loss of the IWGP US title. He won the IWGP heavyweight title from its greatest champ in a match that redefined the industry and became the benchmark for quality in the sport. And even despite a brutal fallout with the Bullet Club, the spirit and resolve he showed won back the people who mattered most, and he celebrated the win with his best friends and his golden lover.
As one man rose, another appeared shellshocked.
At the beginning of 2018, Tanahashi looked done. Tanahashi was once the standard-bearer for New Japan, and he was the man who saved the company from near-death in the mid-2000s. But a major injury he never really took time off to properly heal lingered throughout the last half of 2017 and into 2018. And numerous notable losses plagued the first half of 2018 for him, including an impressive display of breaking someone down to their core by Suzuki resulting in Tanahashi being stretchered out while the menacing Suzuki laughed, and a loss to Okada that also resulted in losing his IWGP title defense record. Time appeared to be catching up to the ace.
Then the G1 Climax happened. He found new life, broke a new record for most points in block competition, took Okada to his second-straight G1 time limit draw, and won an emotional final against Kenny's partner Kota Ibushi. The message was loud and clear: the ace was back, and he wasn't done yet
Now at the top of the world Omega's goal was immediately made clear: remake not just New Japan but wrestling in general in his own image in an effort to change the world. Omega’s reign has since been marked by unusual actions by the champion, getting in bizarre fights with fans on Twitter, rarely appearing on tours since winning the belt, and defending in a rare triple threat match, a move the traditionalist Tanahashi scorned. Now the original ace looks to reclaim the title he has held six times and restore honor and tradition to the IWGP name once more, in the world he built, the world he saved. Whose philosophy will linger throughout 2019, and most importantly, who will walk out of Wrestle Kingdom and into New Years Dash as the IWGP heavyweight champ?