The culmination of the Wrestle Kingdom 14 weekend, the crowning of the first dual IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion and the set up for the next several months – the weight of expectation weighed heavy on night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom 14. More specifically, on Tetsuya Naito, whose dreams of making history meant that it was all or nothing for the leader of Los Ingobernable de Japon.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi) defeated The Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi (c); Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi and Robbie Eagles); Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) and Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens) for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
Night 2 was LIJ’s from the start with Shingo picking up the win in the pre-show six man gauntlet match. The depth of talent on the New Japan roster is incredible when you consider the names that didn’t manage to get onto the main show this year. A competitive locker room is a healthy locker room, though, and each team pulled out all the stops. Shingo being the responsible for LIJ’s victory must be prescient of an amazing 2020 to come for the Dragon.
Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano (with Yoshiaki Fujiwara)
After several months and a worldwide farewell tour, the time had come for Jushin Thunder Liger’s retirement match. Liger bowed out the old fashioned way and passed the torch to Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi who promised to preserve Liger’s legacy in the division at the end of the match.
The best thing about this match was that Liger and Sano brought it to Lee and Takahashi. There was no coasting through to the end as Liger played all the hits, quite literally, busting out the shotei palm strike, tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and Ligerbomb for the last time.
An emotional but fitting end for the legend, Liger, who brought many of us to New Japan and Japanese puroresu more generally in the first place. Thank you, Jushin – you will be missed.
Roppongi 3K (YOH and SHO) (with Rocky Romero) defeated Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo) (c) Tag team match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
2019 shined a spotlight on the Junior Heavyweight division, with Shingo and Ospreay’s Best of the Super Juniors final a contender for match of the year. However, it did feel as though others were overlooked. Not the case on this night, though, as both teams showed why they deserve recognition.
ELP and Ishimori’s team work and classic heel antics were on full display and fan favourites Roppongi 3K played off against them exceptionally. The end of the match where SHO pulled a guard from his tights to counter ELP’s low blow was masterful. The fact that it was ‘King of Sneaky Style’ Rocky Romero’s idea made it even better.
Considering everything else that happened over the Wrestle Kingdom 14 weekend, this is a hidden gem.
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) defeated SANADA for the Rev Pro Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship
There’s something about the in-ring chemistry between Sabre Jr and SANADA – they just gel together so well. It always feels as though a pinfall will come from out of nowhere, making for edge-of-your-seat viewing. This has been the case when these two have met before and it was no different on the biggest stage in New Japan.
Exchanges of holds, reversals and pin escapes galore, this match had it all. Well worth a watch to see ZSJ break a losing streak that characterised 2019 for the greatest Rev Pro British Heavyweight Champion of all time. Perhaps, in the future we’ll be fortunate enough to see these two renewing their rivalry further up the card.
Jon Moxley (c) defeated Juice Robinson (with David Finlay) for the IWGP United States Championship
Juice was riding high off the back of his IWGP tag title win with partner David Finlay coming into this match but it was not to be his night. While many expected this to be Moxley’s swansong in New Japan given his AEW commitments, it looks like he’s going to be around for a little while at least which suits me just fine. Another addition to the list of exceptional past US champions in the title’s short existence, the Mox can seemingly do no wrong in a New Japan ring.
This one went down as expected – lots of heavy strikes and brawling on the outside. It wasn’t necessarily match of the night but it didn’t have to be as it got the job done, moving Juice out of singles title contention for a while and cementing Moxley’s second US title reign.
Also revealed at the end of this match was the next challenger for the title in form of ‘the King’ Minoru Suzuki who came down to the ring and destroyed the champ with a Gotch-style piledriver. This pending rivalry is sure to be a war.
Hirooki Goto defeated KENTA (c) for the NEVER Openweight Championship
This match was a pressure cooker – the culmination of several months of acrimony between Hirooki Goto and KENTA after the latter’s betrayal of Katsuyori Shibata.
It was a very good match with Goto pulling out all the stops. KENTA has been a heat magnet since his New Japan debut and he is exceptional working as a heel. Repeatedly throwing Goto out of the ring and the sly contemptuous smirk he wears coupled with his devastating moveset surely means he’s due for a good 2020.
Goto is also not to be underrated. His performances in the G1 are often excellent and he always does well when fighting back from behind.
KENTA losing clean to Goto would also play well into his appearance at the end of the main event, casting him as an over-entitled, cocky underperformer.
Jay White (with Gedo) defeated Kota Ibushi
That Ibushi lost both of his matches at Wrestle Kingdom should not overshadow the fact that he will have an excellent 2020. It seemed odd that, given his hot run in the G1 and that he is so over with wrestling fans everywhere, he would lose this match unless it’s to set up a wider angle with Jay White. Although, Ibushi’s business with Bullet Club surely concluded when Kenny Omega left the company. A loss for Jay White could have also paid off in the long run in terms of Bullet Club power dynamics between White and KENTA, who would stake a challenge for Naito’s belts later in evening.
In any case, this was a good wrestling match at the start with White unleashing the Ibushi’s brutal side which we saw on night one. However, things soon went the formulaic way they do with Jay White’s matches as Gedo’s involvement eventually cost Ibushi the clear cut win which was a shame.
Chris Jericho defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi
Tanahashi continues to wind down his career by ticking opponents off of his bucket list, this time in the form of Chris Jericho. Since taking time out to recover from various injuries about 18 months ago, Tanahashi has seemed to have found a renewed sense of vigour in the ring. Jericho had a white-hot 2019 as the inaugural AEW World Champion and through a variety of internet memes. A little bit of the bubbly, anyone? This much-anticipated match was always bound to deliver.
The atmosphere positively sizzled. Jericho has established himself as a wildcard in New Japan, far from the golden-haired Lionheart of yore, he is now a veteran brawler, able to rip through opponents on the outside of the ring.
This was always going to juxtapose against Tanahashi’s rock star persona, although you don’t have to look back further than Wrestle Kingdom 13 to see that Tanahashi can be brutal when he wants to be.
In musical terms, Chris Jericho is Slayer and Tanahashi is Bon Jovi. Both are purveyors of their art and masters of their oeuvre.
These wily veterans were able to scout each other’s moves although the brutality of the LionTamer got the better of Tanahashi in the end. A dream match that actually meant something (often lacking in the booking of certain promotions) with both men out to prove that they are still among the greatest of all time.
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) January 5, 2020
Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Intercontinental Champion) defeated Kazuchika Okada (IWGP Heavyweight Champion) to win both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles
This is going to be hard to beat as a match of the year contender and we’re only several days into January. The emotion, the crowd support, the pay off at the end after seven years of waiting – this was up there in terms of the best Wrestle Kingdom main event of recent years and that is saying something.
The build-up to the Double Gold Dash was excellent with Naito’s injured knee coming into play and Okada struggling after his war with Ibushi on night one. On both nights, Okada and Naito had to reach deep into their past by using moves that hadn’t seen the light of day in years with Naito using his old finisher the Stardust Press from the top rope to try and put Okada away but to no avail.
The callbacks to Naito’s treacherous run of form in the G1, where his running variant of Destino gained him little satisfaction came into play with the false finishes towards the end.
This was truly puroresu at its best with Naito’s story of defeat and disappointment at Wrestle Kingdom being well documented. His path to double gold was always going to be hard-fought and, in light of KENTA’s appearance at the end of the match to ruin Naito’s moment of victory, it seems as though Naito’s reign will be far from uneventful.
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) January 5, 2020
While it remains to be seen if New Japan will run another two-day Wrestle Kingdom event in 2021, it certainly paid off this year. With 70,000 plus fans at the Tokyo Dome across both nights and more watching on-demand, this was a blockbuster weekend. Wrestle Kingdom did exactly what the main pay per view of any wrestling promotion’s calendar should do; it resolved that year’s storylines and set up all new and exciting ones for the following year delivering on the promise of everything that had been built throughout 2019.
2020 will prove to be another exciting year for New Japan with their continued expansion into the US through the launch of New Japan of America. While the landscape of pro wrestling seems in flux, it’s good to know that New Japan can be relied upon for high-quality pay per views. Here’s to another successful year.
Images courtesy of New Japan Pro Wrestling