A Newbies Guide to Wrestle Kingdom 13

If you read my last article about New Japan Pro Wrestling, then welcome back to Watts on Wrestling. I’m glad you’re open to trying new things. If you didn’t, that’s fine too, but you might enjoy it, so go check it out here. As I stated in that article, my point in this series is to introduce American wrestling fans (read: WWE fans) to NJPW in a way that’s not offensive, doesn’t put down either organization, and makes it easy to get on board with. NJPW, in my opinion, is awesome. Plain and simple. Everyone should experience it, the right way, at least a few times before passing judgement on whether they like it or not. My goal is to get everyone reading this to give it an honest try without holding any American (read: WWE) prejudices against it. With all that being said, let’s get into this months topic: Wrestle Kingdom 13!

What is Wrestle Kingdom?
Every wrestling company has their yearly blow off show; a massive spectacle where they resolve all of the old years story lines and start up new ones. WWE, of course, has WrestleMania, which was born from WCW’s Starrcade. ROH has Final Battle and Impact Wrestling has Bound for Glory. Well, NJPW has Wrestle Kingdom. It takes place every year on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome and it’s the biggest show of the New Japan schedule.

What is it’s history?
NJPW has had their “big show” at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th every year since 1992. So, in that respect, the show is 27 years old. It had different names until 2007 when, to coincide with a video game release, promoters used the name “Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome.” Since then, the name has stuck. Possibly, in the future, I’ll do an article about the history of the January 4th event.

When is it?
Friday, January 4th, 2019 at 3:00 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Time). The pre-show starts at 2:00 a.m. If you’re not hardcore enough to stay up that late or get up that early, don’t feel bad. I love NJPW, and I won’t be watching it live. Every place that carries it will have a replay available so you can watch it at your leisure.

How do I watch?
This year, the event will be carried on FITE.tv for $34.99. You can watch FITE.tv on your computer, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast or Xbox. Seriously, there’s no excuse.

Also, if you have a cable provider that carries AXS TV, they will show Wrestle Kingdom 13 as well. As of this writing, it will air Friday night at 8pm, with replays on Saturday, January 5th and the following Friday, January 11th. Don’t quote me on that.

If you want to watch it on American TV and you don’t have AXS, sign up for a free trial of DirecTV NOW or Sling TV. They both carry AXS and you can watch the show for free. Just make sure you cancel the service before the 30 days are up!

Finally, possibly the easiest way to watch is to sign up for NJPW World. This is NJPW’s streaming service, similar to WWE Network. The event will be live streamed, or you can watch it on delay. The price is around $9 a month. You can sign up at NJPWWorld.com, just be sure to click on the English translation of the page to make your life easier.

NOTE: If you want to sign up for NJPW World, specifically if you want to watch Wrestle Kingdom, DO NOT DO IT RIGHT NOW! Subscription services in Japan always bill on the first of the month, no matter what day you sign up on. If you sign up on December 31st, you’ll be charged that day…and then again on January 1st. Trust me, wait until January 1st, then sign up.

What’s the card?
I’m not in a position to run down literally 18 months of story line in one article to explain these matches. This is a guide for newbies, so I’m going to do my best to explain why each match is important and what a viewer…especially a new one…can look forward to. Let’s give it shot:

NEVER Openweight Championship Match
Kota Ibushi(c) vs. Will Osprey

The NEVER belt was supposed to be a belt for young, explosive wrestlers who liked to take huge risks for huge rewards. Unfortunately, that never really panned out, and this belt ended up being just a low card title. However, that changed in recent years with people like Katsuyori Shibata and Minoru Suzuki. And now, with Ibushi vs. Osprey, I think the belt is finally being defended in the kind of match it was meant for.

Kota Ibushi made his name in DDT, a Japanese promotion that, in my opinion, resembles early ECW mixed with the show Wipeout. I mean that as a compliment. He’s a true performer that always puts on an amazing show and usually does several things that a human body can’t/shouldn’t do in the process. Will Osprey is a luchador stuck in a Brits body. He takes huge risks with no regard to his own health. These two guys are scary. I may not agree with their style, but they’re a perfect match for the NEVER title.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado (c) vs. Roppongi 3K vs. Bushi and Shingo Takagi 

Triple Threat matches are not as common in Japan as they are in America, but there have been more and more recently. This match stems from a previous tournament, the Super Junior Tag League. The current champions, Kanemaru and Desperado, won the tournament, but there was a legitimate 3-way tie, so, because wrestling, another 3-way match needs to take place. Kanemaru and Desperado are full on heels that have no issues cheating to win. Roppongi 3K have an annoying theme song, but I like them. They’re hard hitting Junior Heavyweights (read: Cruiserweights) and they can definitely fly, but they throw elbows and lariats with the best of them. Shingo and Bushi are a newer team, but they’re from Los Ingobernables de Japon. That faction, in general, has some of the best tandem moves in the business. When they double team someone, it’s a guarantee someone is getting rocked. Shingos finisher is basically murder. Bushi spits mist. Someone is leaving green-faced.

IWGP Tag Team Championship Match
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. Evil and SANADA vs. The Young Bucks 

Another 3-way match for Tag Team Championships. Again, this stems from a tournament. The Guerrillas of Destiny (G.o.D) have been the champions for a while, but Evil and SANADA won the World Tag League tournament, leading to this showdown at Wrestle Kingdom. Evil and SANADA actually won World Tag League last year  as well, leading them to win the Tag Team titles at Wrestle Kingdom 12, so it would be interesting if they could repeat that feat. G.o.D. is incredibly entertaining for a lot of different reasons (check out Tama Tongas twitter when you can). Their work rate is insanely good. In fact, I have to say that both teams are extremely fast and athletic given that their on the taller side for New Japan wrestlers. For the purpose of helping the WWE fans, G.o.D is very similar to the Uso’s…for obvious reasons…and Evil and SANADA remind me of The Bar.

As for the Young Bucks, they should not be in this match. Period. I’ll be the first to tell you that I like them and admire them as businessmen, but it’s ridiculous that they have this title shot. I feel bad because this is literally the only match on the card that I have an issue with, but I can’t quite let it go. They have no place in this match, they were not in World Tag League and they didn’t win their way in. Call it pandering, call it bad booking, call it placating the Western market…I’ve heard all of the excuses and none of them make sense, so let’s just move on. They’ll put on a good match, I have no doubts about that, but it makes no sense to me that they’re involved.

RevPro British Heavyweight Championship Match
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c)

This is a little different because it’s not a match for a NJPW title. Instead, Revolution Pro Wrestling in the UK is having their top title defended at Wrestle Kingdom, which I think is really awesome. And this match is a massive clash of opposing styles. Zack Sabre Jr. is a technical magician. He’s a full on submission wrestler that tries to use his body as a torture rack, bending and twisting his opponents in ways that are just inhuman, wearing them down until they’re nothing. Tomohiro Ishii is literally a pitbull. He’s stocky, he hits disgustingly hard, he can take a huge amount of punishment and he’s incredibly hard to knock down, let alone knockout. Also, you can’t put him in a choke hold because he has no neck. That’s a huge disadvantage for a submission wrestler.

IWGP U.S. Championship Match
Cody (c) vs. Juice Robinson

Earlier this year, ultimate underdog and fan favorite Juice Robinson won the IWGP U.S. Championship, becoming a champion for the first time and being the first natural born U.S. citizen to hold the title. Then, he went into the G1 tournament and delivered a painfully crappy performance, winning only 2 of his 9 matches. Right after that, Cody pinned him in a tag match, requested a title match, and pinned him again. Ouch. I couldn’t tell you why they decided to book Juice like this, or the thought process behind hanging that title on Cody, who isn’t even on NJPW’s full time roster. In any case, this is the rematch and as much as it seems like this is just a throwaway act, and as much as Juice has been unimpressive recently, keep in mind that Cody is at his best when he’s a cocky heel, and Juice is at his best when he’s a scrappy underdog. That alone will make the match interesting.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori

This match will be lit. I guarantee it. The Junior Heavyweight division, given how few people they have compared to the Heavyweights, has been compelling this year. Hiromu won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, giving him the right to challenge Will Osprey for the title. Then, he pinned Osprey. Just when he was riding high, he broke his neck in a match with Dragon Lee…and then he finished the match. It’s legit hard to watch. After he relinquished the title, veteran Junior KUSHIDA won a championship tournament to claim the belt. Ishimori, who was the runner up in Best of the Super Juniors, pinned KUSHIDA in a tag match and challenged him at Wrestle Kingdom. KUSHIDA and fast and agile, and has some of the best springboard moves in the business. Ishimori just inflicts pain. He’s short, but everything on his body is a muscle that’s built to hurt. He has 12 abs. I can’t back that up, but I feel like that’s what I counted last time I saw him. These two guys will try to kill each other.

Special Singles Match
‘Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada vs. ‘Switchblade’ Jay White

Kazuchika Okada, after being the world champion for over 1,000 days, finally lost his title to Kenny Omega back in June. And then…he changed. His attire changed. He had a weird, vacant smile all the time. He started handing out balloons. Jay White saw this as a perfect time to attack the leader of Chaos. He polluted the faction with his cheating ways and subversive talk, he mercilessly beat down his faction leader in the G1 Climax. Okada, for the most part, did nothing. No reaction. No fire. But when White revealed himself to be the new leader of Bullet Club and defected to the BC faction, taking Okadas manager Gedo with him, Okada seemed to finally snap out of it. There are no titles on the line and no stipulations. Okada just wants a chance to beat some sense into Jay White. But White has the entire Bullet Club watching his back while Okadas Chaos faction is a shell of its former self. Will this be a true one-on-one between these bitter rivals, or will this simply be a Bullet Club beat down on the former champ?

IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito

Yes, WWE fans. It’s real. Y2J isn’t just doing a couple of dates for a company that isn’t WWE…he’s a big part of NJPW. AND he holds a title. AND he’s a super monster heel. Yeah, the evil clown face paint might throw you off, but Jericho is in rare form these days, and he’s had a year long beef with Tetsuya Naito. He attacked him last year at the New Beginning show, then beat him for the IC Championship at Dominion in what was mostly a one sided match. Since then, he’s attacked Kenny Omega and Evil and continued to taunt Naito. After Jericho beat Evil at Power Struggle, Naito challenged him to a rematch, to which Jericho refused, but NJPW booked the match anyway. There’s not much to hype up for a match between these two. You know they’re gonna bring it. And Jericho has vowed to end Naitos career.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

I wrote an article about this a few months ago that goes into great detail on what makes this rivalry so good, even though I had no intention of buying into it at first. So if you want more information, I’d be honored if you could check that out. For the purposes of this article, I’ll just say that this match has set itself up to be a battle between the old guard and the new era. Hiroshi Tanahashi was with NJPW through their darkest times and sees them as the marquee Japanese wrestling company. Kenny Omega is dead set on changing the wrestling world. Tanahashi has little to no interest in western expansion and thinks NJPW’s efforts in the U.S. are a betrayal, as is making Kenny Omega the face of the company. Omega thinks Tanahashi is an old timer that just wants everything to stay the same, rather than get better, because new opportunities will make him obsolete. They both make decent points. All I’ll say about the match is that these are two of the best wrestlers to ever do it. Kenny may not resign with NJPW (At the time of this writing), and Tanahashi will have to carry the torch. Or maybe Tanahashis time has come to an end and this is his victory lap before riding off into the sunset. It’s true that no one that has one the G1 Climax has gone to the main event of Wrestle Kingdom and won the title, Tanahashi has always been one to defy the odds. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If you actually decide to watch Wrestle Kingdom, I’d love to hear your feedback on the show in the comments section below. If you are a wrestling fan, I think it’s fair to say that there will be at least one match on the card that’s going to check all the boxes for you. Enjoy yourselves and I’ll see you next month.

Here’s a picture of “awkward smile Okada”. Enjoy it.

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

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