I’m not normally one to regurgitate news that can be found at any number of sites, but this week has been so full of developments that I don’t even know what to have an opinion on. So let’s start at the beginning, and go from there.
First, on Monday morning, New Japan put on WrestleKingdom 10, their biggest show of the year. My review for it can be found on my previous post, but in short, I really enjoyed it. Okada and Tanahashi put on a classic in the main event, but the Intercontinental Title match between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles was nearly as good. More on those two in a minute. If you get the chance, definitely check out the two main events, along with Ishii vs. Shibata if you’re a fan of two dude’s beating each other as hard as they can.
I went to bed after the show, about 6am local time, and that may have been a mistake because practically as soon as the show was over the news started rolling in. I woke up to the story that several New Japan wrestlers, including Nakamura and Styles, had given their notice to New Japan and would be signing with the WWE. There’s a LOT to unpack here, and there have been some clarifications since the news first hit the internet, but it seems that Nakamura, Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows are indeed gone from New Japan.
While all of this went on, WWE aired their first Raw of the new year, and it was a pretty decent show. Nothing spectacular, but the end was a doozy, with Roman Reigns forced to defend the WWE title in the Royal Rumble match. For the second time in history, the Rumble will be for the World title, though this time there will be a champion going in. This is a pretty interesting development, and could go a thousand different ways. I’m sure I’ll write at least one post about what could happen at this Rumble. Last year’s Rumble was so disappointing that I started this blog in order to vent about my favorite hobby, so this year’s has to be better, right?
After Raw, New Japan did their New Year’s Dash, their traditional after-WrestleKingdom show, which wrote off AJ Styles in a phenomenal angle. Styles and fellow Bullet Club member Kenny Omega defeated Nakamura and YOSHI-HASHI, with Omega pinning Nakamura with his finish, drawing audible gasps from the Japanese crowd. Omega then turned on Styles, with the Young Bucks, and eventually the rest of The Bullet Club, joining in. Omega announced that he was challenging Nakamura for his IC title, and left the former leader of the Bullet Club face down in the middle of the ring.
When AJ finally got up, the crowd chanted his name while he bowed, ending a great two year run for Styles. Styles was the most successful gaijin wrestler for New Japan in a long time, and it was very cool to see such a respectful send off for him from the fans. It looks like Omega will take his spot as leader of the Bullet Club, and probably take the IC title off Nakamura as well, setting up a big year for Omega. There are so many possibilities going forward, it will get it’s own post soon, but if I was WWE, I would start running vignettes for AJ immediately, and have him debut at the Royal Rumble. Nakamura is with NJPW until the end of the month, and after that it seems like he’s done. Again, if I was WWE, I would save Nakamura for the after-WrestleMania crowd. Give him time to adjust to a new setting, and the post-Mania crowd is always the smarkiest of the year.
But that’s not all. I watched Smackdown for the first time in years, mainly for the commentary of Mauro Ranallo, a experienced voice in the fighting community. He did a great job, though Jerry Lawler was awful as normal, Ranallo did fine in not letting the King’s awful sense of humor and attitude towards everyone get in the way. But the bigger WWE news is John Cena tearing his rotator cuff, requiring surgery. Cena joins a looong list of injured WWE wrestlers, and will miss Mania for the first time in over a decade. With the new Royal Rumble stipulation, I figured Cena had very good odds of winning, though many sites are assuming Cena vs. Taker was set for Mania. Either way, with Cena gone, and Seth Rollins, and Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan, the WWE is shorthanded on main eventers. If only they had just signed a couple of the best wrestlers in the world…