Editor’s Note: The following preview originally ran on the site on Tuesday. It is being bumped in the listing today with the show late tonight/Thursday morning.
By Will Pruett
These predictions are basically complete guesses. I mean, I know how professional wrestling tends to work and am using that to frame my analysis, but I have no insider information. Join me for live coverage of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 as it airs on Thursday morning at 1CT/2ET. I’ll be giving the results and analysis of the show for as long as I can stay awake!
It’s a new year, which means we are just a day or two away from NJPW’s biggest show of the year. Wrestle Kingdom 12, like the Wrestle Kingdoms before it, will take place on January 4 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. It will be headlined by the winner of the G1 Climax tournament taking on the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. It’s available live in the US (and worldwide) on NJPWWorld.com in both English and Japanese (although the site can be challenging to navigate in English sometimes). It promises to be an exciting show.
The Tokyo Dome is a spectacle just below WrestleMania every year. It’s always beautifully produced with elaborate entrances and costumes. Heck, Okada entered with a freaking dinosaur wielding a big ass sword one year and Nakamura entered while being used as a pole for a pole dancer. The Tokyo Dome is pretty fun.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Kazuchika Okada is in the middle of the greatest title run in professional wrestling history. Since June 19, 2016 Okada has held this championship racking up title defense after title defense, each one of them unique matches. He’s had the best trilogy of matches since Flair vs. Steamboat in 1989 with Kenny Omega. He’s brought the best out of every opponent he’s faced including Cody, Bad Luck Fale, Shibata, and Marufuji. Okada’s broken the record for longest IWGP world title reign in history.
Tetsuya Naito is still the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He’s seen his popularity climb in the last few years as a part of Los Ingobernables de Japon. He should be looked at as a victory for retooling wrestlers when they unexpectedly don’t catch on. Okada vs. Naito was supposed to main event Wrestle Kingdom 8, but a fan vote allowed Nakamura vs. Tanahashi to main event over them. Naito was not as popular as he should have been. He’s reinvented himself and discovered a new attitude that has served him well. He won the G1 Climax tournament defeating Kenny Omega in the finals in a fantastic match.
Okada does not have much left to do in this championship reign. He’s proven himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. He seems to be reaching the end of this amazing story and title reign, even though he’ll be the top wrestler in NJPW for another decade or so. Naito could use the win here to cement him as another tippy top guy.
This should be the match everyone is buzzing about after staying up all night on Wednesday to watch. I’d expect it to be in the Match of the Year discussion for 2018.
Tetsuya Naito defeats Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho in a No Disqualification match for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship – While Okada vs. Naito is the true main event, this match has the most buzz in the United States. Chris Jericho unexpectedly rolled into New Japan to challenge Kenny Omega, calling himself to Alpha of pro wrestling and setting up this uniquely branded encounter as Alpha vs. Omega.
After his recent WWE stints, I haven’t been high on Chris Jericho. His “List” run with Kevin Owens never caught on with me. He’s been missing a step in the ring. I’m not sure how I feel about Jericho in this role. While it may bring more eyeballs to the show, are we missing out on something amazing because of it? I sincerely hope not. I hope Jericho is able to step his game up and, using all the tricks allowed to both men with the stipulation, have a match worthy of being a Tokyo Dome main event.
Kenny Omega is still trying to define the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship after winning it in July in Long Beach. I could see this being the first title change for this very red belt. Omega is an attraction for NJPW not just in Japan, but around the world. In the United States, he’s shown to be a real draw on any show he’s on. Omega is ultra-talented. I am cautiously optimistic about this match, even though it doesn’t excite me the way Omega vs. Ibushi in this slot would have.
Chris Jericho defeats Kenny Omega to win the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Hiroshi Tanahashi cut off his hair after the G1 Climax tournament and nothing has been the same since. Okay, that’s not true, but my heart has ached since Tanahashi’s beautiful hair was sacrificed to film a movie. Why would anyone give up something so beautiful?
Jay White reemerged in NJPW after the mysterious “Switchblade” character was announced. After being teased on a few shows, White showed up as Switchblade and challenged Tanahashi for the Tokyo Dome. White is returning from his excursion to the United States where he worked often with Ring of Honor. This is a major spot for a young wrestler.
Tanahashi has defined Wrestle Kingdom since its inception, participating in eight of the eleven prior main events. He has been the Ace of NJPW for years. While Okada is clearly the top wrestler now, Tanahashi has graciously stepped into the role of the veteran taking a step down and elevating younger talent. This is a big test for White.
I’m picking White to win to continue to clean sweep of major singles title changes and to see what he can do as a champion. This will be a major establishing moment for him and propel him to hang with NJPW’s top four (Okada, Omega, Tanahashi, and Naito). Even if he doesn’t work out as champion, chances are he can lose the title at one of the New Beginning shows in about a month. It’s a low-risk high reward proposition for NJPW.
Jay White defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Marty Skrull vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay vs. Kushida for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – This will be a very fun match to watch. This will not be a fun match for me to do live coverage of. I may just type “imagine all the flips” and then the winner’s name. This should be an athletic spectacle.
Skrull is the current champion, but I don’t expect him to leave with the title. Kushida and Takahashi have had highlight singles matches together every time they’ve been in the ring in 2017. I expect them to be a heavy focus in this match. Ospreay is pretty amazing and had some of the most notable Juniors matches in NJPW in years. this is going to be fun.
I’m picking Hiromu Takahashi (hopefully with Daryl Takahashi) to win this match and carry the Junior Heavyweight Championship for a while. It should be a very good night for Los Ingobernables de Japon. I’d love to see him in singles title defenses against any of the wrestlers in this match.
Hiromu Takahashi defeats the other competitors somehow to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Hiroki Goto in a Hair vs. Hair match for the NEVER Openweight Championship – I rarely care about the NEVER titles in NJPW. As a more casual viewer of NJPW, I’ve yet to figure out where they fit in. There are a ton of belts flying around everywhere in NJPW and this one doesn’t need to exist. With this said, I am excited for Minoru “The Barber” Suzuki. Adding the Hair vs. Hair stipulation reignited this feud and has lead me to be very interested.
Minoru Suzuki defeats Hiroki Goto to retain the NEVER Openweight Championship and his cool hair.
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada and EVIL) for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – The tag team scene is one of the only parts of NJPW I usually ignore. It’s not that anyone is bad, but it’s a time issue. I also feel like the World Tag League tournament in November/December of every year is the least interesting time to be a NJPW fan. With this said, this will be a damn good tag match.
EVIL is coming off of a great G1 last summer and a win (followed by a loss) over Kazuchika Okada. That’s big. Sanada has been a delight in this time as well. If you haven’t seen KES in action, they’re a fun bruising tag team. I don’t expect this to be a long match.
Los Ingobernables de Japon defeat the Killer Elite Squad to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
Cody vs. Kota Ibushi – This is the only non-title match on this show, as Cody lost the Ring of Honor Championship at Final Battle and this turned into a “Special Singles Match” between these two. Cody’s best performances have been against the likes of Okada, who turn out special matches with everyone. I expect this to be a great match without much time allotted between these two.
It feels like this is a bit of a placeholder match, especially with Jericho taking the big spot with Omega. I expected Omega vs. Ibushi to be the semi main event of this show after the G1. Sadly this is not happening. This should be a stepping stone for Ibushi to that anticipated match (and the greatest romance in all of wrestling) with Omega.
Kota Ibushi defeats Cody.
Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship – This is where the belts get absurd. Why do these belts exist? Did anyone want them? This is the “get everyone on the show” match we’ve seen at a ton of WrestleManias and Tokyo Dome shows before it.
Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Togi Makabe) survives to gauntlet to win the NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship.
Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – For years it has seemed like The Young Bucks were destined to open the Tokyo Dome in huge multi-team tag team matches that had more spectacle to them than substance. Finally, this is a chance to see Matt and Nick Jackson shine as the tag team competitors they are. Sho and Yoh have been impressive as the Junior Tag Champs, but this feels like it’s The Young Bucks’ time.
The Young Bucks defeat Roppongi 3K to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Overall, I’m excited enough about this show to stay up almost all night to see it (it should end around 4:00am-ish on the west coast) and even to volunteer to do live coverage for it on this very website (It’s the one time per year I do live coverage)! Wednesday night/Thursday morning is going to be a great time to be a wrestling fan. Tune in with me at NJPWWorld and let’s have some fun!
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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