It is time to look at one of the biggest days of the year on the wrestling calendar: Wrestle Kingdom! This show will be an interesting one as it might be the last time we see such a stacked card, as a ton of talent will be soon leaving for new promotion “All Elite Wrestling.” What this card will be like a year from now will likely be wildly different.
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Title #1 Contender’s Match Gauntlet
1st Pairing: Yujiro Takahashi, Adam Page & Marty Scurll vs. Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay w/ Chase Owens
Starting off the pre-show match, which is replacing the New Japan Rumble this year, was a gauntlet match to find the new NEVER Openweight 6-man title #1 contenders. Starting the match was Yujiro Takahashi, Adam Page and Marty Scurll versus Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb and David Finlay. I’ve seen some people mention how this match seems to be a way to just pack as many dudes on this show as possible. Finlay tried for a Generation Finlay but got stopped by Chase Owens who was at ringside. Owens held onto Finlay for a kick, but Finlay dodged and it was Page who kicked Owens. Page was angry so he pushed Yujiro unintentionally into a roll-up that cost them the match. Not the most elaborate spot, but hey, it’s the pre-show.
2nd Pairing: Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay vs. Chuckie T, Beretta & Hirooki Goto
Goto got the jump on the already warm team. Chuckie did a dive over all three ropes onto Finlay and Cobb, and then Beretta followed it up with a Springboard Moonsault. The two veterans Nagata and Goto fought in the ring. Cobb did an amazing combo off Tour of the Island and a Standing Moonsault onto Goto. Chuckie T tried for a Moonsault that Finlay dodged, and then David landed the second roll-up in the match.
3rd Pairing: Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb & David Finlay vs. Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Minoru Suzuki
A loud “Kaze Ni Nare” echoed through the Tokyo Dome as Suzuki and his trio hit before the bell. Suzuki apparently was attacking Nagata with a chair while Cobb and Smith fought in the ring. The Killer Elite Squad hit a Killer Bomb to get rid of the long-standing team in this match, in quick time.
4th Pairing: Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Minoru Suzuki vs. Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi & Toru Yano
The final pairing of the matchup was the Killer Elite Squad and Suzuki versus Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi and Toru Yano. In the ring, Makabe and Suzuki traded blows, with it ending with a clothesline. Yano and Smith got the hot tag. Yano didn’t fight because he waited for Taguchi to give him a play call with arm signs. Yano removed a turnbuckle, but then got hit with two double team moves. Archer held down the ref and pleaded him to count to three. Taguchi came in to break up the pin and then everyone else in the match followed. Suzuki tried for a Gotch Style Piledriver but Taguchi broke it up with his hip attacks. Yano escaped a double team move and then stopped himself from doing double low blows. As Makabe was fighting KES, Yano hit his low blows from behind and then hit a roll-up for the win. It’s wild to think that Minoru Suzuki is on the pre-show of this card. It was lame that there were three roll-up spots in this match, but like I said before it’s not the end of the world since it’s the pre-show. Personally, I would want Suzuki in the title picture, but maybe they have something else for him. Did I like this match more than the New Japan Rumble? Not really, because the Rumble felt like a more fun way to start the show. While the Jeff Cobb impressed me the most out of everyone in this match. He’s the right mix of agile and strong.
Before the pre-show ended they showed the 2019 schedule for big shows. This included an announcement of the G1 at the American Airlines Center on July 6th and a show at the Copper Box Arena on August 31st. The biggest announcement of all was that Wrestle Kingdom will be a two-day event in 2020, on the 4th and 5th of January.
Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi (NEVER Openweight Championship Match)
What started off the main card was Will Ospreay challenging for Kota Ibushi’s NEVER Openweight Championship. Like Don Callis said at the start, this match was too quick to call. Ospreay countered a Moonsault the outside with a kick, and then landed a dive of his own. Ospreay landed a great move on the ropes called the “Cheeky Nandos Kick.” There was an amazing spot where both fighters countered each other for a long time before Ospreay landed a Spanish Fly. Ibushi got a close count with the Last Ride Powerbomb. On the ground, Ibushi and Ospreay traded slaps. Ospreay put Ibushi on the top rope as Ibushi’s head snapped forward and hit the ring post. Ibushi landed a Double Stomp on Will’s back on the top rope. Ibushi was bleeding at this point, which might have been from the post. Ibushi Deadlift Suplexed Ospreay off the second rope, but Will landed on his feet. Ibushi hit a Bridged German Suplex for a two count. Will got hit with a Piledriver for another close count. As Ibushi was getting up, Will nearly took his head off with an Running Elbow. Ospreay hit a Storm Breaker for the win.
Will Ospreay is the new NEVER Openweight Champion. It looked like Ibushi got knocked out from the elbow, as he was stretchered off. If that’s the case, they shouldn’t have done another move afterwards. Besides that, the match was good. In the replays, you could see Ibushi got hit hard with the elbow. The match was good before that, but to me, that didn’t seem safe at all.
SHO & YOH (RPG3K) vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship Match)
The next match was the first of two three-way matches this evening. SHO did a double German Suplex early on. BUSHI did a great dive to the outside onto YOH. Takagi hit SHO with a Last of The Dragon for the win, which looked like death. This match was very short but not bad.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii (RevPro British Heavyweight Championship Match)
Now, this match is an interesting one because it’s for the RevPro title, and we don’t usually see defences of that belt in NJPW. Never have we seen it in the Tokyo Dome. They even brought in a RevPro referee to sanction this bout! Ishii hit a Superplex but ZSJ no-sold it into a move where he stomped on Ishii’s arm. There was a great chain of moves between these two that ended with Ishii being put in a standing submission move. ZSJ turned it into a powerbomb. ZSJ himself got Powerbombed minutes later. As usual, ZSJ put in a submission move that I can’t name and became the new champion. This was a good match, I like how these two made the crowd really get behind all of the submission moves. With the win, Zack was given the new RevPro title, as the old one was retired after this match.
Matt Jackson & Nick Jackon (The Young Bucks) vs. SANADA & EVIL vs. Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga (Guerillas of Destiny) w/ Jado & Bad Luck Fale (IWGP Tag Team Championship Match)
The next match was the second of the two three-way tag title matches. Nick and Tonga started the fight, with Loa offering a handshake. Nick didn’t buy the handshake and tagged in Matt instead. Loa shook EVIL’s hand, but also tagged himself out. After that, the match lost all order, with EVIL slamming mat on the ramp. EVIL then ran all the way down the ramp for a fast clothesline. GoD tried for stereo Frogsplashes but the Bucks stopped the second one from happening. The Bucks did a great combo of moves, with most of them targeted on the legal man, EVIL. SANADA got a hot tag, attacking everyone, including four Crossbodies to outside the ring. Loa got hit with a top rope Huricanrana, then both of the Bucks did a Superkick onto SANADA, who was coming off the ropes. A Meltzer Driver was ended by a Stun Gun by Tonga. SANADA and EVIL hit a Magic Killer, and then SANADA hit a Moonsault off the top rope to win the match. SANADA and EVIL are the new champions. They clanked their belts and their Tag League trophies after the bout.
Out of the two three-way matches, this one was way better. I thought that the finish for this bout was really clever. It was predictable that The Bucks wouldn’t win this one, but it’s nice that SANADA and EVIL are the champs.
Juice Robinson vs. Cody w/ Brandi Rhodes (IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Match)
For this next bout, Brandi Rhodes was at ringside and had lots of involvement in the match. Both guys blocked their finishers from happening on the apron, and then Cody pushed Juice into a ring post. As the ref was distracted, Brandi landed a Spear and beat up Juice. The referee kicked out Brandi because he saw the last few punches she landed. She shoved a ringside member on the way out. As this was happening Cody hit a Cross Rhodes for a two count. Minutes later Juice hit a Cross Rhodes of his own for a close pin attempt. Cody stole Juice’s move, Pulp Friction for an even closer count. Juice got on a roll and did a Forearm and Pulp Friction. Instead of going for a pinfall he picked him up for another Pulp Friction. This gave Juice the win, to make him the new IWGP US Heavyweight Champion. This was a very short match, but was the expected outcome. It was a good match, but I was hoping would be a little quicker.
Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship Match)
Before this match, KUSHIDA had a special entrance, with a small, child-size KUSHIDA being turned into the real one with the help of Ryusuke Taguchi as the doctor from Back to the Future. Both of these guys were doing some great stuff. Ishimori did some German Suplex that I have never seen before, sliding out of the ring while throwing KUSHIDA. Frequently KUSHIDA would reverse moves into submissions. KUSHIDA hit a Small Package Suplex and then a punch that took down Taiji. Off the ropes, Taiji gave KUSHIDA double knees. Ishimori ended the bout with a Bloody Cross. Ishimori is the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. I didn’t know who would win this one, but I guess it makes sense that they want to boost Ishimori by giving him a belt.
Jay White w/ Gedo vs. Kazuchika Okada
The video package leading up to this next match was very well done. The old Okada is finally back, as he came out to his old theme, has blonde hair, and is wearing shorts again. Shorts! Finally! Early on in the bout, Okada showed off his amazing vertical when delivering a dropkick to Jay White, who was sitting on the top rope. Gedo tried jumping Okada but got beaten up instead. Okada did a Crossbody to both White and Gedo over a guardrail. Okada landed a picture perfect Elbow Drop off of the top rope and then called for the Rainmaker. He did not get the move, with White landing a DDT and a German Suplex instead. White also hit a Rock Bottom for a two count. He tried for the Blade Runner but Okada escaped. Instead, he hit a clothesline. Gedo put a chair on the ring mat for White and then distracted the ref. Okada dodged a chair shot and then pushed White into Gedo. He landed two Dropkicks but couldn’t connect on the rainmaker. White hit another German Suplex, then hit a Kiwi Crusher for a close count. He tried again for a Blade Runner but it did not work. Okada got a Tombstone Piledriver, which put them both down. A chain of reversed moves ended with Okada landing a dropkick and calling for the Rainmaker. Both guys reversed many moves, including finishers, with Okada landing a Clothesline. He tried for the Rainmaker but White finally landed the Blade Runner to win the match.
I was very surprised that Okada wouldn’t win this match because it felt like this would be Okada’s return back to his old self. I was hoping it would be that way, but it wasn’t. But despite this, it was still an amazing match. The ending combo was a work of art, especially when you take into account that this was all thought through.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho (IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match) (No DQ Match)
This is probably the match that I was the most excited for. This match is a No Disqualification match with the IC title on the line. Before Jericho entered the ring Naito jumped him, which I saw coming since they announced Jericho while he was walking down the ramp. The brawl immediately went around the arena. Jericho got his head bashed on a table, then brought to the ramp for a Piledriver. The piledriver looked either deadly or good. Back in the ring, Naito took off a corner pad. Jericho was thrown outside the ring, and as Naito came to the ropes he got hit with a Kendo Stick. He continued to use it for the new couple of minutes. Jericho did a Dropkick to Naito who was on the apron, which Naito sold incredibly, landing on his head. Jericho picked up a camera but didn’t really use it. Over to a commentary table, Jericho did a DDT which did not make the table break. It looked truly brutal. Jericho did a Crossbody off the top rope for a two count.
Naito started to finally get offense after being down for a while. Naito’s corner kicks got reversed into a Walls of Jericho. Once Naito got out a Codebreaker was reversed into a Swinging DDT. He followed it up with a Gloria for a two count. A Destino got reversed into another Walls of Jericho. Naito escaped the move by hitting Jericho with the kendo stick over and over. Naito threw Jericho off the ropes and swung the kendo stick at him like a baseball bat. He tried to do it again but Jericho avoided it and hit a Codebreaker. Jericho went under the ring to get out numerous chairs. Jericho tried for a Powerbomb but Naito turned it into a DDT into the pile of chairs. Naito did a Codebreak of his own but couldn’t win the match with it. Naito went to the second rope but was slowed down by Jericho, who threw a chair at him. Naito did a German Suplex and then tried for a Destino but Jericho dodged it, shoved the ref and then kicked Naito in the crotch and did a Codebreaker for a two count. I mean, it’s no DQ, but okay. Jericho then took the IC title into the ring and was going to hit him with the belt. Naito put Jericho into the corner with an exposed turnbuckle and hit a Destino, but Jericho kicked out! Naito hit him with the belt, threw the belt off into the distance, and then hit Destino for the win. After the match, Jericho angrily left.
This match was, as I expected, lots of fun. I thought that Naito had a high chance of winning the match coming in, but didn’t know. I love the storytelling of Naito still having a disdain for the belt, as he threw it far out of sight after using it on Jericho. I would say that they used the No DQ rules to their full potential, but they didn’t since Jericho still felt the need to shield the ref’s eyes from a move that was fully allowed.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match)
Finally, it’s time to discuss the main event. Kenny Omega’s entrance was great, especially with the attire he was wearing. As the two were getting close at the start, Tanahashi slapped Omega. Omega gave him a light slap on the ropes, which Tanahashi followed with an even harder slap than before. Tanahashi early on almost got caught in a One Winged Angel as he was on Omega’s shoulders. Both guys traded hard slaps again when in a leg move on the ground. Early on both of these guys were hitting each other hard. Outside the ring, Tanahashi was thrown into a guardrail but came back with a Dropkick. Omega picked up Tanahashi and slammed him onto the edge of a commentary table, making him plummet to the floor. Kenny went on the guardrail and did a Moonsault. He picked up Milano Collection A.T., who went down when Tanahashi first went through the table. Kenny raised his arm. Omega brought out a table and put it at ringside. Back in the ring now, the two wrestlers were trading blows once again. Tanahashi did a Summersault Senton that looked good. Later on, Omega did a dive over the ropes onto Tanahashi, absolutely slapping onto the ramp. Kenny gave Tanahashi a V-Trigger in the ring. When he went to the middle rope for a move Tanahashi grabbed onto his right leg and did a Dragon Screw. Tanahashi landed a Twist & Shout and then did a Boston Crab. Tanahashi gave up the move and did a Styles Clash. Off the top rope, he tried for a High Fly Flow, but Kenny put his knees up. A V-Trigger was dodged in the corner, making Omega smash his leg into the corner. Through the ropes this time, Tanahashi delivered another Dragon Screw.
Tanahashi put Omega on the table that has been on the outside for some time now. He tried for a High Fly Flow off the top rope and through the table, but Omega got out of the way. Omega did a double stomp off the top rope to Tanahashi, who was draped on the ropes. A kickout came three times, after each powerbomb that followed the move before. After a combo of moves, Kenny hit a Swingblade and a High Fly Flow of his own. Kenny hit a V-Trigger which made both of them fall onto all fours. Kenny hit another V-Trigger, then tried for a One Winged Angel but Tanahashi turned it into a Reverse Huricanrana. After a close count, Tanahashi hit two High Fly Flow’s for a very close pin attempt. A very tired Tanahashi went to the top rope but was hit with a V-Trigger while getting up. Omega did a German Superplex off the top rope, with Tanahashi landing on his stomach. Yet another V-Trigger was hit. Kenny tried ending it all with the One Winged Angel, but Tanahashi escaped once again. He hit a Swingblade and then went to the top rope for a final High Fly Flow, to win the match.
This match, and the whole show, in general, was amazing. I always worry with shows this long that they will drag, but I didn’t sense that at all with this show. Would I consider this match the as good as the years before? Probably not, but it was still very good. In my heart, I still consider Okada vs. Omega 1 as the best Wrestle Kingdom match that I’ve seen.