Ahh pro-wrestling. Beloved by those who get it, completely baffling to those who don’t. Whilst North America and the WWE has clearly dominated the landscape of wrestling for eons, providing us with global stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, the sport and spectacle of pro-grappling extends far beyond Vince McMahon’s paws. And today marks the long-awaited arrival of the easily the globe’s second-biggest wrestling event: Wrestle Kingdom in Japan.
By and large there are three core types of pro-wrestling in the world, presenting three different core types of story telling. There’s North American/WWE style wrestling, which treats the sport more like a soap opera. There’s Mexican style Lucha Libre, which treats it all more like a comic book. And then there’s Japanese puroresu and strong-style wrestling, in which competitors simply kick the living piss out of each other for real.
The largest wrestling promotion in Japan is New Japan Pro Wrestling, and today they present Wrestle Kingdom 12, their annual January 4th show from the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome that is second only to WrestleMania in terms of size and scale.
Thanks to a bumper year for NJPW, the show tonight is virtually guaranteed to whip significant ass. But for the casual or non-fan it might be a little much to take in. But here’s a quick couple of bullet (club) points as to what’s going down tonight, and why it’s going to own:
THE MAIN EVENT
Wrestle Kingdom 12‘s main event will see IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada put his title on the line against challenger Tetsuya Naito.
As champion, Okada has held the title for over 560 days, dating back to April 10, 2016 when he won the title off of Naito himself. Okada is clean cut, athletic, handsome, and everything you’d expect a champion to be.
Naito, on the other hand, eschewed his once-do gooder attitude for a laidback, couldn’t-give-a-shit, anti-authority persona. At one point he was set to be the company’s new big good guy, but fans rejected him. After returning from an excursion to Mexico, Naito formed Los Ingobernables de Japan, and began a mission to tear down NJPW and everything the fans cared about.
Problem is, the fans started caring about that, and now the heavyweight title match is a bout of Establishment Superstar vs Rogue Badass with the company’s richest prize on the line. It’s going to rule.
THE MATCH WITH THE CANADIANS IN IT
Canadian Kenny Omega currently holds the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. He’s the first person to hold the belt. But in his way stands global icon and first-ballot Hall of Famer Chris Jericho.
As a mainstay of WWE, Jericho barely needs an introduction. His shocking appearance in NJPW a few months ago sent the industry into fits, as he appeared on screen to challenge Omega for his title at Wrestle Kingdom.
Jericho, so the storyline goes, takes exception to Omega’s claim of being the best wrestler in the world, so as much as the match is about the championship, it’s also about that.
Getting Jericho to compete at WK12 is a huge coup for New Japan, and this is the match designed to bring in American and non-Japanese fans. Frankly, it’s bloody working a treat.
THE MATCH WITH THE YOUNG UPSTART KIWI
Jay White is 25-years-old, he is from Auckland, and he is absolutely gunning head first for Hiroshi Tanahashi, one of NJPW’s most decorated veterans, and the current holder of the prestigious IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
White is the next-big-thing in pro-wrestling. After graduating from NJPW’s fabled Young Lion program, White has spent the past two years on excursion throughout the US and Europe, returning to Japan in late 2017 as a fully-fledged member of the NJPW roster, immediately targeting Tanahashi.
Tanahashi, referred to by some as Mr. Tokyo Dome for his past Wrestle Kingdom record, is a hugely beloved and extremely flamboyant veteran who already holds a spot in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
It’s a classic old guard vs new breed story, with White, as the Switchblade, looking to tear down an old lion and usher in a new era for New Japan.
THE REST OF THE CARD
Honestly, I could sit here and ramble all day about how every match on this is gonna be dope as hell, but instead cop these dot points for the rest of the card:
- IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi vs Kushida vs Will Ospreay
- A rare New Japan four-way match pitting a weird steampunk British champion who thinks the whole world is A Clockwork Orange, against a man who carries a precious stuffed companion cat called Daryl with him everywhere, against two blokes capable of more flips than a Two-Up competition.
- Hair vs Hair match: Minoru Suzuki vs Hirooki Goto
- Two legitimate psychopaths landing punches on each other so loud China will file a noise complaint.
- IWGP Tag Team Championship: Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr.) (c) vs Los Ingobernables de Japan (Evil and Sanada)
- Cocky foreigners grimly defending the titles against team featuring a man literally named EVIL. Hell freakin’ yes.
Cody Rhodes vs Kota Ibushi
- The son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes taking on Japan’s golden boy who once wrestled an inflatable doll… and lost.
- NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Tanga Lao) (c) vs CHAOS (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, and Toru Yano) vs Michael Elgin and War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) vs Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, and Zack Sabre Jr.) vs Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Togi Makabe)
- A big, glorious clusterfuck of a match featuring warring factions CHAOS (comprised of an American, a comic wrestler, and a murderous punchdemon), Michael Elgin & War Machine (which sounds like the name of a southern metal band pulling its fifth retirement tour), Suzuki-gun, Taguchi Japan, and the mighty Bullet Club (who MURDERED POOR DARYL AND MUST PAY).
- IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) (c) vs The Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson)
- A team of extremely glamorous robots sent back from a point in the future that is somehow also the 1980s against the wrestling manifestation of that shithead friend who constantly spammed high kicks while playing Street Fighter.
New Japan Rumble
- Like the WWE’s Royal Rumble, except… y’know… Japanese.
Coverage of the event begins at 6pm AEDT tonight. Find somewhere showing it and go have yourself a Thursday.
Trust me. It’s going to absolutely rule.Image: Twitter / WWE on ESPN