*blows the dust off this blog*
Well, November and December were… interesting months. Not in wrestling, of course, but a lot of things kept me away for a while. Two things have brought me back. The first was being bored last weekend, and finding the Match of the Year 2016 collection on the WWE Network. It was great because it reminded me that hey, wrestling doesn’t always suck, even on the most boring company in the world. The second is the upcoming show on January 4th, WrestleKingdom 11. So let’s preview the first major show of the new year, and take a look back at the year that was in New Japan.
New Japan Rumble
This is just the hodgepodge, preshow match to get everyone on the card. Last year it was won by Jado of all people, and featuring surprise entrants like King Haku and Cheeseburger. So who the hell knows what’s going to happen here. But it will be a fun, harmless outing. Prediction: This is pretty much impossible to guess, so, uh, Jushin Thunder Liger. Why not?
Tiger Mask W vs Tiger the Dark
This one is going to take a bit of explaining. So there’s a new Tiger Mask anime this year, featuring characters from New Japan. Tiger Mask W, the anime version of Tiger Mask, had a match at an earlier New Japan show, which was then incorporated into the anime. Tiger Mask W was portrayed by Kota Ibushi in that match. Yes, the MVP of the Cruiserweight Classic would rather pretend to be a cartoon character then work for WWE full time. Can’t say I blame him. Anyways, it will presumably be Ibushi under the mask again, though the identity of his opponent is mostly still a mystery. Prediction: Tiger Mask W.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta)
This is a rare 2v2 Jr Tag match. Most of the time, these titles are defended against multiple teams, and it shows. Champions rarely defend the titles successfully. Though out of all Jr teams, it’s hard to argue against the Young Bucks being the most successful. Earlier this year they even challenged the Heavyweight Tag champions, which is mostly unheard of in New Japan. Meanwhile, RPG Vice has been on the ropes for months, teasing a break up for a while now. But they managed to pull together and win the Jr Tag Team Tournament, earning themselves a title match. Predicting this one is hard as it could easily go either way, but betting on a title change is always a safe bet when it comes to these titles. Prediction: Roppongi Vice.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet, & David Finlay (c) vs Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay, & Jado) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, SANADA, & BUSHI)
Forget the New Japan Rumble, this is the match where we are just cramming people onto the card. Normally, I would say that there’s no way a team with Jado or Hangman Page were winning a title match, but the NEVER 6-Man titles are completely unpredictable. Just looking at the teams though, LIJ have to be the favorites. They’ve been teaming in trio’s matches all year, and LIJ needs a win on the biggest show of the year. Plus, if they’re the last team in the gauntlet and can prey on a weaker team, it keeps up with their theme of winning only when they have the advantage. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon.
Cody vs Juice Robinson
After having four of their top stars leave New Japan for WWE, this match is New Japan flipping the finger across the Pacific. This match is showing that there is an alternative for unhappy WWE wrestlers, and it shows more then one way to get there. Cody Rhodes is easily the biggest name WWE name New Japan has snagged. Leaving WWE earlier this year, Cody has been a master of self-promotion, and has in front of him one of the biggest matches of his career. Juice shows us the other way to get there. Lounging in NXT which little hope of upward mobility, Juice came to the New Japan dojo and put in the work. And boy has it paid off. Juice is easily one of the most improved wrestlers at a major company, and proves that an under-utilized wrestler can come to Japan and make it happen. This match is just as much a reward for him as it is a debut for Cody. But it’s going to be Cody getting the big push in 2017, so New Japan can point to him and say, “See? This could be you.” Prediction: Cody
Ring of Honor World Championship: Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs Adam Cole
The ROH title doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation in New Japan. Former champion Jay Lethal never connected with the Japanese crowd, and that hurt the matches a lot. This match should not have that problem. O’Reilly has been in New Japan for years as part of ReDragon, and while Cole doesn’t have the Japanese resume that O’Reilly does, he quickly got over with the crowd with his charisma. This could very well be the best ROH title match New Japan has ever seen, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but still. Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match: Guerilla’s of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa) (c) vs G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) vs CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
This is a very eclectic match. Makabe and Honma won the Tag Team tournament for the second year in a row. Last year, they took the titles at WrestleKingdom from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, and held them until Tama Tonga brought in his brother, newcomer Tanga Roa. The two teams then proceeded to stink up the summer in a series of boring match, mostly due to Roa looking completely out of place. However, something seemed to click with him in the later months of the year, and their team really took off. GoD and GBH had a great match in the finals of the Tag Team tourney, and this looked to be a rematch until Toru Yano inserted himself into the picture by sheer annoyance upon his return from Pro Wrestling NOAH. Yano was a tag champion in NOAH, so perhaps he thinks he will have the same luck in New Japan. It’s hard to say he picked a wrong partner, but Ishii and Yano make one of the odder pairings CHAOS could give us. Prediction: Ishii and Yano.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu is the former Kaimaitachi, who had several amazing matches in Mexico during his excursion. Since his return as the “Time Bomb,” he has targeted KUSHIDA and the Jr title, and joined Los Ingobernables in the process. KUSHIDA has been fighting LIJ all year it seems. KUSHIDA works best when he has a strong heel to go against, and Hiromu should be just the opponent to prove himself against. This is another hard one to prediction, because while KUSHIDA is positioned as the Ace of the Jr Division, he loses quite a bit. Another loss might be too much. But on the other hand, we don’t want Hiromu to lose his first major match either. Either way, this should be a crazy good match. Prediction: KUSHIDA.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto
Out of all the title matches on the card, this one interests me the least, because Goto interests me the least. I just don’t find him a compelling character. His story should resonate with me, it just doesn’t. Earlier this year he hit rock bottom, falling short in his IWGP title match against Okada (again). Then he joined CHAOS after failing to win the New Japan Cup, and rejuvenated his year, reaching the finals of the G1 Climax before losing another big match. Meanwhile, Shibata has been NEVER Champion for almost the whole year, baring a month or two. His story has been much more entertaining for me, as he had to earn the respect of the New Japan older generation by kicking it into them, and they made him respect them too. Anyways, Goto needs a win, so he probably wins, but man, I just do not care about Goto. Prediction: Hirooki Goto.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
This is easily my most anticipated match on the card. It has the best story of any match on the card, and really one of the best stories of the year, in any promotion. Naito is the arrogant champion who doesn’t even care that he is champion. Naito’s goals have nothing to do with holding a title, but he has the belt anyways, because he’s that damn good. Tanahashi meanwhile, sees the disrespect Naito has for the title and the whole company, and has promised to bring honor back to the IC championship. This of course, feeds right into Naito, who is really just trolling people at this point. Naito is getting under Tanahashi’s skin. He knows it bugs Tanahashi that he’s not in the main event this year, and has gone out of his way to rub it in his face, even refusing to allow a fan vote that might give them the main event spot. That’s championship level trolling right there, for so many reasons.
It’s been an incredible year for Tetsuya Naito. His faction, Los Ingobernables de Japon, really took off. He won his first IWGP Heavyweight title after years of trying as a good guy. He had one of the best matches of the year against Kenny Omega in the G1 Climax. The IC title for so long was tied to Nakamura. Despite the belt being around the waists of Tanahashi, Kenny Omega, and Michael Elgin this year, Naito is really the first one to hold that belt and make it his own. Looking ahead to 2017, his stock is only going to keep rising. But while his star is rising and Tanahashi’s is falling, it’s tough to pick against the Ace of New Japan at the biggest show of the year. I think Tanahashi wins, and Naito gets put back in the main event scene sooner rather then later. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kenny Omega
No one has benefited more from the exodus of talent at the beginning of 2016 more then Kenny Omega. Stuck as the Jr. member of the Bullet Club, the departure of AJ Styles left some big boots to fill, but Omega has filled them and more. He won the IC title and brought the ladder match to New Japan before accomplishing something no one else has managed to do: become the first Westerner to win the G1 Climax. Omega annoys me sometimes. I don’t always get him and his goofiness. But there’s no doubt he’s set up to succeed in New Japan in a way that no Westerner has been in a long time.
Okada meanwhile, has been champion almost the entire year, with Naito derailing him slightly, but only slightly. He’s had a great year which has gone somewhat under the radar with the rise of Naito and Omega. How someone can be under the radar after having so many great matches and one of the best feuds of the year with Naito, I’m not sure, but people continuously underestimate Okada. Okada is the man in New Japan, and everything revolves around him. But New Japan has a chance here to make something really special happen. New Japan has made a lot of noise recently about competing with the WWE and reaching a Western audience. A win for Omega here could go a long way to making inroads in the United States. It’s a really tough match to pick, but I think New Japan is looking long term in 2017. Prediction: Kenny Omega.