♫ It’s the most wonderful time of the year~ That’s right. Dumb Christmas and New Years are finally over and we can focus on the real reason for the season: Wrestle Kingdom! The biggest night of the year in New Japan, when fans from all over the world descend upon the massive Tokyo Dome arena for one huge night of incredible wrestling. Other fans all over the world stay up super late and watch the event online.
Oh shit. I forgot. It’s two nights long now.
Okay, so Wrestle Kingdom is the two night event in the massive Tokyo Dome Arena, where fans from all over the world descend upon the massive Tokyo Dome arena for TWO huge nights of incredible wrestling. The rest of us stay up super late and watch the event online… two nights in a row… That’s fine, right? That’s fine. We’ll all be fine. Let’s take a look at these cards and talk about important stuff like context and vibes.
January 4, 2020 Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 1
Special Stardom Exhibition Match: Mayu Iwatani & Arisa Hoshiki vs Hana Kimura & Giulia
New Japan’s parent company, Bushiroad, purchased Japanese women’s wrestling promotion Stardom earlier this year. We may still be waiting on the mobile Stardom game that I desperately want, but at least we have this exhibition tag match to tide us over. Stardom’s two top champs facing off against Hana Kimura, one of their most promising stars, and Giulia, an intriguing up and comer? Should be a good one. Plus, look at all the pastels in this preview graphic! I think New Japan needs more pastels.
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs Toa Henare, Karl Fredricks, Clark Connors & Alex Coughlin
If this is your first time watching New Japan, let me fill you in on how these opening tag matches work: they don’t really matter. They’re there to warm up the audience. But also? They kind of matter. Here, we’ve got the Young Lions from the Japanese Dojo facing off against the Young Lions from the Los Angeles Dojo. If you like watching Young Lion development, this is them performing on their biggest stage yet.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
Old guy beefcake clap clap clap clap clap! Does this match matter? Not at all! Should you watch it if you like watching middle aged men slap the shit out of each other? Yes you should! Kojima and Nakanishi were really cute together in New Japan’s pec book, but I don’t think they’ll be making any references to that in this match. Still, some great jugs on all these fellas.
Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Match 1: Tiger Mask, The Great Sasuke, Tatsumi Fujinami & Jushin Thunder Liger (w/ El Samurai) vs Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Ryusuke Taguchi, Naoki Sano & Shinjiro Otani (w/ Kuniaki Kobayashi); and Special Referee Norio Honaga
The first of two Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Matches, this one pits Jushin Thunder Liger and a team of old dudes against his old rival Naoki Sano and his team of old dudes + Taguchi. You know how at retirement parties people will all give toasts about the person who’s retiring? They kind of do that in wrestling except everybody just wrestles instead. That’s pretty much what this is. Expect a combination of feelings like “oh wow hey look at him go” and “oh jeez that’s going to hurt tomorrow” and “aw isn’t this nice they’re all wrestling together one last time.”
SANADA, EVIL, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI vs Zack Sabre Jr, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & El Desperado
This tag match is a preview of Night 2’s SANADA vs ZSJ match, and also Minoru Suzuki’s only booked match for the weekend. As a preliminary tag, we’re probably looking at one of the two juniors taking the pin, but who knows? Look forward to some good tension between Zack Sabre Jr and SANADA (with some shouting on Zack’s part), a cool EVIL entrance look, and a potentially troubling BUSHI entrance look. Praying that SANADA puts someone in a Paradise Lock.
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI vs KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens
Another tag match preview of a Night Two title contest. Goto will challenge KENTA the next night for the NEVER Openweight. I’ve seen maybe two or three people insist that 2020 will be the year of YOSHI-HASHI, so if that’s the case, it might just start in this match.
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IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs FinJuice
David Finlay and Juice Robinson won World Tag League last month and now get to challenge Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa for the belts! I still miss the old fuckjam GoD theme, and have to admit that it’s hard to care a ton about this championship when New Japan puts so little focus on tag teams, but I’m optimistic this will be a fun watch. Each team has its own version of lovable scamp energy that really suits this spot on the card.
IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Texas Death Match: Lance Archer (c) vs Jon Moxley
Some people will be watching this match closely to see if there’s any future for AEW and New Japan working together. Other people, who are me, will be watching this match closely to see if Jon Moxley (who famously gave rights to horny people earlier this year) will be able to bring out any latent horn energy in Lance Archer. Expect a bunch of those little Japanese foldy tables getting destroyed and for these two guys to brawl into the audience.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu Takahashi returned to New Japan at Power Struggle, where he did a bridge in a cute suit and challenged Will Ospreay for the Junior Heavyweight Championship. This match will definitely make an attempt to steal the show and to try to be the horniest match of Wrestle Kingdom. I don’t think it’ll do either, but it should be a good one. Hiromu tends to bring out the best in Will Ospreay.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Jay White (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
Poor Naito, stuck fighting for this belt he hates in the second to last spot again. I’m too blinded by my own hopes to predict this. But Naito, please. Please let it be Naito. The two have had some really fun chemistry this year and this is actually my favorite for horniest match of Night One, as well as a solid contender for the whole weekend.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Kota Ibushi
Prepare for a 45 minute long version of that “my last two braincells” meme. These two beautiful kings are going to go all out. Okada, New Japan’s top star and longest reigning champion, versus G1 Climax Winner Ibushi, the wrestling savant hypebeast monster in his first ever Wrestle Kingdom main event. Okada wants to keep wrestling pretty much as it is. Ibushi wants to take wrestling to wild new frontiers. The winner will go on to face the winner of the previous match on night two! Which brings us to…
January 5, 2020: Wrestle Kingdom Night 2
NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano & Togi Makabe (c) vs Robbie Eagles, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii vs BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & EVIL vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Taichi vs Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale
This will be classic gauntlet match rules: two teams at a time, random entry. This should be solidly fun, with entertaining comedy spots and chicanery. We have the possibility of Pieter (Yujiro’s valet) and Miho Abe (Taichi’s valet) being in the same place at the same time, which is pretty rare.
Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Match 2: Jushin Thunder Liger & Naoki Sano vs Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee (fka Dragon Lee)
This is Liger’s real, actual final match. After a massive career as one of the most innovative, important, influential and inspiring junior heavyweights in wrestling history, he’s hanging up his boots. It’s a big deal. This match constellation is also a big deal. Teaming with one of his greatest rivals in Naoki Sano against Hiromu Takahashi and his greatest rival Dragon Lee? Significant! This is a passing of the gauntlet. Bring tissues.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori (c) vs SHO & YOH
The three young hunks who got special featured sections in The New Japan Pectoral Encyclopedia as well as a Canadian guy named El Phantasmo. It’s Bullet Club vs CHAOS. It’s small kings vs small kings. Should be a fun one.
RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr vs SANADA
Easiest contender for horniest match of the weekend. Sabre Jr and SANADA are fantastic rivals, with wonderful in-ring chemistry, complementary styles, and also they’re both really hot. I’d apologize for repeatedly bringing up horniness but like… do you want me to lie? Do you want me to talk about win-loss records? Other sites do that. I’m talking about the real issues. Zack Sabre Jr’s favorite music is all ambient albums you can only get on Bandcamp. SANADA’s favorite music is Billy Joel and when Tia Carrera sings “Ballroom Blitz” in Wayne’s World. They are natural enemies. It’s a perfect match-up.
IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Match: Whoever Wins on the 4th (c) vs Juice Robinson
Whether this is the Jon Moxley rematch we were so cruelly robbed of or a chance for Juice to redeem himself against the big scary spitting man, I think we can all say we’re looking forward to seeing our main dude who dressed up as a Taco Bell booth all summer long get some revenge.
NEVER Openweight Championship: KENTA vs Hirooki Goto
People sleep on the NEVER Title a lot, and I get why. It’s not very flashy, it doesn’t get prioritized a ton, and its storylines are often lackluster. KENTA has been killing it though in making the NEVER Championship feel important. Regardless, I often think that the NEVER title matches at Wrestle Kingdom are some of the best on the card. Goto, who seems to be just about no one’s favorite, is a consistent, solid performer who can put on an absolute banger when the stage is right. I hope this is one of them.
Special Singles Match: Loser vs Loser
Sunday’s main event will be the Intercontinental Champion versus the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in a winner-takes-all match. The losers of those respective title matches from Saturday will also face off here on Sunday. That means we could be seeing: Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi vs Jay White, or Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White. All the same possibilities as the other match, but in this one they’d be really mad about losing. All four men have histories with each other that would make a singles match in either place have a distinct flavor. This should be a fun one. A sad one but a fun one.
Special Singles Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chris Jericho
I’ve spoken at length about how I feel about this incarnation of Chris Jericho. I love Judas. I love the Painmaker. Here’s the thing though, I love Hiroshi Tanahashi even more. I’ve also spoken at length about my love for the One in a Century Talent Ace of the Universe Number One Kamen Rider Fan Sexy Starbucks Mom of My Heart. Why is Jericho fighting Tanahashi? He’s mean! That’s why! Tons of eyes are on this match because of implications it might have for an All Elite Wrestling/New Japan partnership. My eyes are on this match because it feels like a really fucked up divorce.
IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship Match: IWGP Heavyweight Champion vs IWGP Intercontinental Champion
This is it. This is the big one. This is where many fans’ dream of #NaitoTwoBelts could come alive. Can you imagine the feel-bad moment of Jay White taking both titles? Or the weird womp womp of Kazuchika Okada taking all the gold? What a wild stipulation. This will make the New Japan Cup this year extra exciting, since whoever wins this match will probably have to defend one of their titles against the Cup winner regardless. This will have to upstage whatever insane shit goes down in the Mom vs Dad match prior, as well as the Loser vs Loser match before that. If it’s Naito and Ibushi, they very well might kill each other. I’ll be watching through my fingers.