New Japan Pro-Wrestling: Wrestle Kingdom 12 (Review)

The longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history, Kazuchika Okada, defends his championship against the man who believes himself to be the true star of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Tetsuya Naito. In the second main event, it’s Alpha versus Omega, as Chris Jericho battles Kenny Omega in a dream match no one ever thought they’d see…


YOH & SHO (“Roppongi 3k”) (C)
vs.
Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson (“The Young Bucks”)
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
4star
(Winners via submission, and new champions: The Young Bucks)

Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale (C)
vs.
Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson & Togi Makabe
vs.
Beretta, Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii
vs.
Hanson, Raymond Rowe & Michael Elgin
vs.
Taichi, Takashi Iizuka & Zack Sabre Jr.
Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
3star
(Winners and new champions: Beretta, Yano and Ishii)

Kota Ibushi
vs.
Cody Rhodes (with Brandi Rhodes)
3half_star
(Winner via pinfall: Kota Ibushi)

Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer (“Killer Elite Squad”) (C)
vs.
SANADA & EVIL
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
3half_star
(Winners via pinfall, and new champions: SANADA & EVIL)

Minoru Suzuki (C)
vs.
Hirooki Goto
Hair vs. Hair Match for the NEVER Openweight Championship
4star
(Winner via pinfall, and new champion: Hirooki Goto)

Marty Scurll (C)
vs.
Will Ospreay
vs.
KUSHIDA
vs.
Hiromu Takahashi
4-Way Match for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
4star
(Winner via pinfall, and new champion: Will Ospreay)

Hiroshi Tanahashi (C)
vs.
Jay White
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
3star
(Winner via pinfall: Hiroshi Tanahashi)

Kenny Omega (C)
vs.
Chris Jericho
No DQ Match for the IWGP United States Championship
4half_star
(Winner via pinfall: Kenny Omega)

Kazuchika Okada (C)
vs.
Tetsuya Naito
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
4half_star
(Winner via pinfall: Kazuchika Okada)


Review

In 2017, New Japan Pro-Wrestling kicked off the year for all wrestling fans when they presented Wrestle Kingdom 11 (read our review). This was a monumental show for the company, as it not only gained a lot of attention from those in Japan, but it also gained eyes internationally. It was progressing along as a decent show, although not spectacular, but then something happened that set the tone for 2017, and arguably changed the business for the next 10-20 years: Okada vs. Omega.

That match, chosen as our Match of The Year 2017, got an incredible amount of attention worldwide following the conclusion of the show, and suddenly NJPW was a big player for many who’d never even truly considering trying it out. For those becoming disillusioned with what they were seeing on WWE television each week, they’d found their solution. It didn’t hurt that the Japanese company never dropped the ball as the year went on, either, and continued to grow and grow their international audience. The two day tour of the US helped a lot too. Your Kenny Omega’s, Kazuchika Okada’s, Tetsuya Naito’s, and more, were now genuine worldwide stars.

Wrestle Kingdom 12, 2018’s offering, was always going to be a huge show for the company purely due to their success throughout 2017. It was never expected to disappoint, but when they added Chris Jericho to their line-up, suddenly everyone was excited for the supershow. Just as happened after word got out of how incredible Okada and Omega’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship clash was the year prior, viewers who’d never watched NJPW were now very vocal about having signed up for their streaming service, NJPWWorld.com. The company even outsold the previous Wrestle Kingdom by almost 10,000 tickets, and that show itself had been an increase on the year prior. Excitement levels were through the roof for this show. Expectations were enormous.

To put any audience members nerves at ease, NJPW opened the show with a superb IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match. It not only went approximately thirty minutes, but it made SHO and YO look like top stars in a way that I hadn’t myself hadn’t seen them to be previously. The Young Bucks did their usual thing, of course, but it was toned down here and had a much more serious edge to it. Winning was important for the Bucks, and you could tell that. In all honesty, right until the finish, it was never clear who was going to win this match. To achieve that alone, across half an hour of action, is quite the achievement. This was easily better than any match that opened a main show for NJPW in 2017, so it wasn’t a bad start!

The tag team gauntlet match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship was surprisingly good. Prior to the show, you’d be forgiven for expecting this to be a stinker, and nothing more than an attempt to get more big names on the card. This tag division never seems a particularly important focus for NJPW, but it was given time here, and some of the biggest moments on the undercard happened. For me, the first half was better, particularly the first bout, which saw Hanson miss his moonsault attempt, before Zack Sabre Jr. actually choked out Raymond Rowe, eliminated War Machine and Michael Elgin. Sabre Jr.’s feat did not go unnoticed by the crowd, nor the commentators, and was remarkable impressive. I was less enamoured with the eventual victors of the match, because Beretta, Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii don’t strike me as a long-term championship team, but perhaps I’m just being hard on them due to Yano being involved.

Kota Ibushi and Cody Rhodes was an interesting match, for many reasons. Going into it, it was an exciting pairing, although Rhodes’ loss of his ROH World Championship did make the match feel a little more of an exhibition rather than something manful for either man. I’m a big fan of Rhodes, but I’d be lying if I said that I feel he has his best moments in a NJPW ring, because I don’t believe he does. His style feels too different to the rest of the roster, and he sometimes feels out of place. That’s not a criticism of him though, as I find him to be a wonderful talent, and did so long before he left WWE too.

All that said, Rhodes deserves some credit, because he’s learnt, or perhaps still is actually learning, and this match felt a little closer to that which we expect to see in a NJPW ring. I adored the Cross Rhodes from the ring apron to the floor, and suspect that it will live on in GIF form for a long time – Ibushi took it so cleanly. The antics of Brandi Rhodes and ringside were also entertaining, and whilst I thought her and Cody’s shenanigans started a little too quickly, they were wonderfully heel-ish and made Ibushi even more sympathetic as the babyface. The correct person won, as one assumes Ibushi is headed toward a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match, but the immediate future for both men does feel like a mystery at this point.

SANADA and EVIL, new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions following their win here, were surprising in their lack of dominance over Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer. Both men have been booked as vicious threats previously, so to see Killer Elite Squad dominate them so easily for such a long period was quite surprising. Smith Jr. and Archer might have lost here, but they looked like tough bastards, and will presumably stay in the mix for this championship over the next few months. Here’s hoping for a decent rain for SANADA and EVIL, however.

Suzuki and Goto’s match wasn’t quite the stiff beatdown that I was expecting, but Goto certainly did still get the sh*t smacked out of him. Once again, he was the one being dominated, only to fight back and claim a championship victory. This was actually a great match, and whilst the Hair vs. Hair stipulation was obviously a little silly, it was handled with great care afterwards and never once threatened to descend into a comedy moment with the villain screaming as his hair was shaved off. In fact, it was a remarkably serious moment, and Suzuki sold it almost with passion, as he showed Goto and the audience that he was a man of his word even if he didn’t like the outcome.

At this point, I expected an intermission. I am actually not a fan of such breaks, so the fact that NJPW powered through and completed the show without a break was quite satisfying for me.

When Will Ospreay won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship at King of Pro Wrestling 2017 (read our review), it felt like a significant run with the title might be in store for him. Unfortunately, he dropped it to Marty Scurll in his first defence, and that is an outcome that has often irked me when I’ve thought about it. That Ospreay won it back here, on Scurll’s first defence, makes the switch even more baffling but did happen to give Ospreay a big moment at a massive show, which I’m sure he won’t forget any time soon. The match itself, a four way that also included former champions KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahaski, was as fast paced as any fan would expect and saw a lot of high flying (largely led by Ospreay, though).

Prior to the match, I strongly suspected that either Takahashi or KUSHIDA would be victorious, ruling out an Ospreay win purely because of how quickly he lost it. As the match wore on, there were a number of moments when it looked like Scurll might actually retain, particularly when he found himself battling Ospreay one-on-one a few times. Both men have extensive history with each other, so it was good to see Scurll’s familiarity with Ospreay’s move set become a part of the story, as he started to use some of the moves himself, or even counter them whenever Ospreay tried to hit one. I liked how Ospreay won, his pinfall victory over Scurll adding another chapter to their long history with each other.

The only lacklustre match of the evening came from Hiroshi Tanahashi and Jay White. Coming off the back of such a lively contest between the junior heavyweights, this was a very slow match that suffered not only from its place on the card, but also from the simple choice of opponent for Tanahashi. White never felt like an appropriate challenger for Tanahashi at such a big show, and watching him dominate the IWGP Intercontinental Champion for so long in this match just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a bad match, it just underwhelmed, and that’s a shame. Even the Japanese audience, often so loud for Tanahashi, were rather quiet throughout.

The second to last match was the one that many were probably most excited for: Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega. Alpha versus Omega. And it did not disappoint.

Entering to a song performed by his band, Fozzy, Jericho entered the Tokyo Dome like a different man to the one we’d seen in WWE only a few months earlier. The light up jacket was there, but the hair was longer again, his theme music was different, and he simply felt fresher than he has in a long time. Given Jericho is the master at reinvention, thats saying a lot.

The battle between he and Omega, which was a battle, didn’t get caught up in too much No DQ silliness, which had been a fear of mine heading into this show. I was worried that the No DQ rule was there to give Jericho an excuse not to try and match Kenny move for move in the ring. It turns out there was nothing to worry about, as there was actually a lot of wrestling here, it was just broken up with some brutal use of weapons every now and then. Omega’s bump through the ringside announce table was a particular highlight, even if it did mean we lost the english commentary team for a short time.

Jericho is visibly ageing now, and his physique isn’t what it was, which is to be expected. So, the fact he managed to go 30+ minutes with one of the greatest athletes in professional wrestling today is quite the achievement. Everything about him, from his entrance, to his attack on Red Shoes’ son, to using the photographers camera to photograph himself flipping off the fans was brilliant. But ultimately, it was his in-ring abilities that would be judged the most here, and he happily confirmed for us all that he can still go in 2018. I do hope this wasn’t his only NJPW appearance, as I think he could have good matches with Okada and Naito, although they would likely end with him being 0-3.

We mustn’t overlook Omega’s role in all of this, either. He took an absolute beating here, including a barbaric chair shot to the head, and shed a lot of blood. Despite all that, he still managed to turn it into a Kenny Omega match, something both he and Jericho had previously ruled out being possible due to the nature of the match stipulation. This was a wonderful feud, built so simply, and the audience in the arena and on social media absolutely loved it. I’m not convinced there’s interest in a rematch, however, so hopefully this will be a one and done for them.

The main event, which took the show to over five hours of straight viewing, was the icing on the cake. Many had suspected this would only be 20-25 minutes, but it broke the 30 minute mark with ease. I had expected something a little more frantic, given how all the other matches on the show had played out (barring Tanahashi and White’s, of course), so the slower start to things took some adjusting, particularly given just how crazy the match prior to it had been. The action built up steadily though, and the match more than earned its main event spot.

This felt like Naito’s moment heading into the show, and when he hit the Destino on Okada for the second time, then immediately pulled him up to hit it again, I thought we were about to see the crowning of a new champion. But the world was to be shocked, as the expected end of Kazuchika Okada’s historic IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign would not come, with the champion instead hitting the Rainmaker one final time to defeat Naito and extend his run with what is currently the most prestigious world championship in professional wrestling.

There will be a lot of discussion over whether or not Okada should have won here (in fact, there already has been!), and it’s hard to argue with those who say that this was Naito’s time, but NJPW clearly know what they are doing, so it’s hard not to support this main event outcome. It is disappointing for Naito? Of course. Is it the end of his championship aspirations? Absolutely not.

The set for the show was fantastic. Unlike a certain American promotion who will show off their big show set at every opportunity during the show, NJPW didn’t really give us a true idea of the scope of the set until the main event. In fact, it was only in the pan away from Okada mid-match that I thought we’d finally got a clear shot of the full area and set. It was impressive, and felt worthy of the show it was a part of.

Quite often, NJPW shows end with spectacular main events, but start with some underwhelming multi-man affairs. Not this time, as they delivered a show that was quality viewing from top to bottom. In fact, without any exaggeration, I can state that this is probably the greatest supershow that I’ve ever seen. From an in-ring perspective, it was gold from start to finish. Even the underwhelming bits were better than what one sees in some other promotions.

In 2017, Wrestle Kingdom delivered a match that many said would not be topped that year. In 2018, it’s delivered a show which might not be topped all year. If you were looking for a jumping on point with New JapanWrestle Kingdom 12 is it.

Match of the Night

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho

Rating

4star

Click here to watch this show on NJPWWorld.com
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