I haven’t been watching a lot of WWE recently. For whatever reason, the current product on offer just doesn’t really do anything for me. The recent Clash of Champions event passed by and I barely gave it a second glance. There’s no doubt that there’s some very good in ring action in WWE at the moment, but the product in general just fails to enthuse me.
As consequence I’ve been looking elsewhere for my grapple kicks, focusing more on the excellent British independent scene as well as giving a lot of attention to New Japan Pro Wrestling. I really enjoy the New Japan product at the moment, and have been doggedly trying to hoover up as much of this year’s big matches as I can. I can’t put a finger on exactly why I like it so much, but I think the main one would be how the roster feels like it’s rife with stars in the making who could break out at any time.
In New Japan, if someone in the middle of the pack gets a big win, such as EVIL beating Okada clean in the G1 Climax tournament, you know it’ll lead somewhere. Indeed, EVIL eventually got a main event match with Okada and it was highly enjoyable. Even though he lost the eventual title match, he came out of the program stronger overall and Okada wasn’t hurt in the slightest from doing the previous clean job. In WWE, his win would have likely been from a distraction roll up and he would have been crushed by Okada the following week, as the existing hierarchy must be protected at all costs.
On the 4th of January New Japan will be holding their annual “Wrestle Kingdom” even at the famed Tokyo Dome. This is essentially their version of WrestleMania, with some big matches on the docket. As you can imagine, I’m anxiously looking forward to it, so this week I’m going to have a look at the three biggest matches on the card and predict who I think is going to win.
So, join me, as I probably make a fool of myself by getting all my predictions wrong!
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Champion – Kazuchika Okada Vs Challenger – Tetsuya Naito
The main event of Wrestle Kingdom would be an example of New Japan’s commitment to reasonable and believable storytelling, as it represents the culmination of an over 4 year journey for Naito. Both these men competed against one another way back in 2014 at Wrestle Kingdom 8, with Okada coming out on top. The bout was originally supposed to be the main event four years ago, but due to Naito struggling to live up to expectations, New Japan enacted a fan vote to decide who should get the main event slot. Once the dust had settled, the fans instead opted for a Shinsuke Nakamura Vs Hiroshi Tanahashi show closer instead.
Now four years on from being hung out to dry by New Japan management (And boy, was he ever!) Naito is now a fully formed and evolved main eventer ready to carry the can as top guy. Despite that, I really can’t shake the feeling that Okada might just win this. On face value, it would seem crazy to have Naito lose here after so long a build-up and also the fact that he’s a tremendous merchandise mover.
Ultimately I think it comes down to what New Japan’s future plans are. Giving the title to Naito would be a good ending to his particular story, but there’s still some big matches left on the table if Okada retains, such as further battles with Kenny Omega. The fact New Japan has made a big show of giving Okada a new Cobra Clutch hold makes me think he might use that to retain. As good an ending as it is with Naito winning, where do you go from there?
Mikes prediction – Okada via Rain Maker after wearing Naito down with the Cobra Clutch
IWGP United States Championship
Champion – Kenny Omega Vs Challenger – Chris Jericho
My prediction for the previous match has influenced my prediction for this one. It might have escaped some people’s attention, but Jericho and Naito have recently had a bit of a public spat over whether Wrestle Kingdom has a double main event or not. There’s no doubt that most of the interest in the west has been for this match, but there’s also no doubt that the main event for japan is Okada/Naito.
Rather than be a real argument, I think it’s in fact a work designed to set up another program for Jericho following his match with Omega. My thoughts are that Jericho will pull a surprise and capture the title at Wrestle Kingdom, after which he’ll rub some salt in Naito’s wounds for bottling his big shot against Okada.
This can then lead to Jericho dropping the belt to Naito down the road as a way to rebuild him following his defeat at the Dome, whilst also freeing up Omega to finish his outstanding business with Okada. I’m aware I could be wrong on both counts here, but I can see New Japan throwing a bit of a spanner in the works to keep everyone on their toes.
If Jericho is indeed sticking around for a match with Naito, as I believe he is, then I can’t see him getting an IWGP title shot just after losing a big match to Omega. In a company like New Japan, wins and losses matter and it’d be a hard sell to give Jericho a shot at the big belt in the company after losing such a high profile singles match to Omega.
I don’t think Jericho will be coming in as a regular, thus there wouldn’t be many chances to build him up with some wins, therefore I think you have to have Jericho beat Omega here. Naito can then get himself into US title contention with a few wins as he’s a regular member of the roster. I should add that this is all just guess work on my part and I could easily be miles off.
If Kota Ibushi beats Cody Rhodes earlier in the night, which I think he will, he can then finally have his highly anticipated contest with Kenny Omega in the first quarter of 2018. Omega can win that match, setting himself up for a challenge to Okada in the spring/summer where he can finally dethrone him for the title. We’ll see if I’m anywhere close to being right in a week or so.
Mike’s prediction – Jericho clean via Code Breaker
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Champion – Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs Challenger – Jay White
Part of me is worried for this match as it’s clear that Tanahashi isn’t even remotely close to being healthy. Jay White has only recently been repackaged after some time away in ROH, and usually when New Japan do that the repackaged wrestler often wins their first big match back. It happened with Okada and with Hiromu Takahashi, and I think it’ll happen with White too.
Any doubts I had that they might put the title on White were wiped away when Tanahashi went down with his most recent injury. I think it’s in the best interests of both Tanahashi and New Japan for him to take some time off to get healthy, and if that’s to happen they’re going to have to take the title off him first. Is White ready yet? I honestly couldn’t say as I’ve not seen a tonne of his work upon which to base an opinion. A big clean win over the man who is, in my honest opinion, the greatest in ring performer of my lifetime would give him the strongest start possible.
I’m hopeful that Tanahashi can take the time he needs to get over his current ailments and come back fresh once time allows. He’s not getting any younger but he can still have an incredible match when he’s fit and firing.
Mikes prediction – Jay White clean to win the title
So those are my predictions for the three big matches at Wrestle Kingdom 12. I’ll just quickly predict the other matches below;
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Champion – Marty Scurll Vs Hiromu Takahashi Vs KUSHIDA Vs Will Ospreay
I think Scurll retains here, setting up a one on one title defence with Ospreay down the line where Ospreay finally gets his much sort after win over him for a title.
NEVER Openweight Championship – Hair Vs Hair
Champion – Minoru Suzuki Vs Challenger – Hirooki Goto
I think Goto wins here and then voluntarily shaves his own head due to his own sense of honour before getting jumped by Suzuki afterwards. Just seems like something both men would do.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
Champions – Lance Archer and Harry Smith Vs Challengers – EVIL and SANADA
I think Los Ingobernables take the titles here with the Magic Killer, to keep their feud with Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa alive.
Cody Vs Kota Ibushi
I think Ibushi wins this clean to set up a bout with Omega. I actually think it will be a very good match. Their exchanges in a recent tag team match were enjoyable.
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships
Champions – Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa Vs Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano Vs Michael Elgin and War Machine Vs Taichi, Takashi Iizuka and Zack Sabre Junior Vs Juice Robinson, Ryusuki Taguchi and Togi Makabe
I think Taguchi Japan win this one actually, with Juice Robinson getting a big win over one of the Champions to give him a rub.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions
Champions – Sho and Yoh Vs Matt and Nick Jackson
I think the Champions retain here and The Young Bucks finally move up to heavyweight afterwards.
New Japan Rumble
I think Yuji Nagata wins this, just because the result really doesn’t matter and I think it will get a pop.
You can watch Wrestle Kingdom 12 by signing up to New Japan World. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested as I think the show is going to be excellent!
Thanks for reading