All eyes of the Professional Wrestling world were on New Japan Pro Wrestling on January 4th, 2019, as the company presented the thirteenth incarnation of its annual Tokyo Dome extravaganza: Wrestle Kingdom 13!
There were many matches that, on paper, had promised to deliver the hard-hitting and intense action that NJPW has provided to satisfy even the most casual of wrestling fans. This particular Wrestle Kingdom, however, will undoubtedly be noted for a plethora of reasons that are attributed to many occurrences in the wrestling world over the span of a few months. With the official confirmation of popular wrestling faction The Elite’s (consisting of Cody and The Young Bucks, for the purposes of this article) All Elite Wrestling promotion starting soon, along with other rising rumors regarding top talent in NJPW itself, Wrestle Kingdom 13 will likely mark a new era for the promotion, as it seeks to continue its brazen expansion into international territories. Here are just a few of the top stories coming out of the event and what this signifies for the promotion and the stars involved going further.
GO ACE!: Tanahashi Reclaims His Glory Once More
It is virtually impossible to discuss New Japan Professional Wrestling without discussing Hiroshi Tanahashi. Known popularly among wrestling fans as NJPW’s ‘Ace,’ Tanahashi is synonymous with the promotion as he carried NJPW through its darkest and most financially-unstable eras, establishing his legacy as their biggest star and holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for significant periods of time, going down as one of the greatest champions in Puroresu history. However, while Tanahashi has beaten even the toughest of competitors, the one opponent he couldn’t beat was time itself. As time went on and competitors like Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito came into the fold, Tanahashi found himself slowly fading into the background as the aforementioned stars ushered in a new era for NJPW. Okada went on to become perhaps the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all-time, while Tanahashi’s opponent for Wrestle Kingdom 13, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, proceeded to drive NJPW into newer markets and assisted in expanding their reach to markets previously unattainable for the company. After losing a match to the newly-established Ace of NJPW, then-champion Okada, Tanahashi was barred from proactively challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, further cementing his decline in star power. This catalyzed a drive in Tanahashi and set-off a quest to see him reclaim his status as ‘the ACE!” and maintain NJPW’s traditional ideals, which clashed with Omega’s ideals of expansionism.
Following Okada’s downfall at the hands of Kenny Omega at Dominion, a reign as IWGP Intercontinental Champion and winning the G1 Climax 28, the stage was set for Hiroshi Tanahashi to reclaim his throne at the top against Kenny Omega, a champion who’s reign was emblazoned in the fires of the ‘Bullet Club Civil War.’ Tanahashi and Omega went to war in this match, with neither man giving an edge throughout the fight. Both men had the crowd fully invested in a battle that saw numerous pin falls, V-Triggers and High Fly Flows, but in the end, Tanahashi was finally able to put Omega away with one final High Fly Flow, reclaiming the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once more in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13! Tanahashi’s victory did more than just catapult him back to the top. It also marks the first time ever that a G1 Climax Briefcase holder has ever successfully transitioned the title shot into a championship victory since the briefcase’s inclusion into the G1 Climax. With these factors, the future looks bright once more for Tanahashi as ‘the ACE’ is back once again!
Tanahashi’s Rise/Omega’s Uncertainty?
While the professional wrestling world will be talking about Tanahashi’s resurgence back into NJPW’s main-event and championship crowning, the same amount of talk will undoubtedly be high for former-champion Kenny Omega as well. Omega, along with his fellow Elite members, have been in the center of multiple discussions regarding their futures in their respective promotions. On New Year’s Day, after months of promotion, it was confirmed in a video on the Being the Elite Youtube page that the group was starting All Elite Wrestling, their own wrestling promotion. At this time, Cody (as well as Brandi Rhodes), Hangman Page and the Young Bucks have been confirmed for the promotion, with more wrestlers expected to be signed over time.
This announcement is also of important note because this comes amidst heavy speculation that Kenny Omega has not re-signed with NJPW at this time, positioning himself to be one of the hottest free-agents to hit the wrestling market. Assuming these speculations are verified, there are many options in terms of where he may end up wrestling. Many fans assume Omega will end up with his fellow Elite members in All Elite Wrestling, who are speculated to currently be in talks with Time Warner Cable to secure television time (though no updates have been verified at this time). Still other fans believe that Kenny Omega will inevitably end up under the WWE umbrella, with the belief that he could possibly debut as early as WWE’s Royal Rumble weekend. There is also the possibility that Omega may still just remain with NJPW as well and attempt to reclaim the spot that he’s lost against Tanahashi at this time and also establish the “Golden☆Lovers” team (with Kota Ibushi) as the top tag-team in NJPW. Only time will tell where the ‘One-Winged Angel’ will land but it’s sure to spark a firestorm of discussion when that day comes!
‘Rainmaker’s’ Gambit: ‘Switchblade’s’ Wrath
Ever since Kazuchika Okada lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to his fated rival, Kenny Omega, the ‘Rainmaker’ has gone through a drastic change in personality and character. The days of the serious and focused Okada that went to war every night in order to establish what will possibly be considered as the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign of all-time were gone. Instead, Okada shedded the coat and the necklaces for a simple sleeveless t-shirt and balloons as he became more aloof and lackadaisical. It seemed, on the outside, that Okada was having more fun in his matches as the pressure of being the “Rainmaker” and the leader of the CHAOS stable had washed away (no pun intended). However, underneath it all, it seemed that Okada’s intimidating aura had cracked and the once-invincible champion was very much vulnerable. While he would show shades of his former-self in small doses at times, he was nowhere near the level that he once was at this point and the fall of the ‘Rainmaker’ was practically cemented.
This was music to the ears of “Switchblade” Jay White, who had joined CHAOS the year prior, stating his intent to take Okada out and lay claim to his coveted IWGP Heavyweight Championship. While Okada neglected to take those threats seriously, it was clear that White never forgot and he played his role well, biding time for the day that Okada would lose it all before making his move. That fated day finally came at Dominion, when Kenny Omega unseated Okada as the champion and shattered Okada’s aura. Once that happened, White put his plans into motion and targeted Okada at his weakest, like a predator feasting on his injured prey. Despite his best effort, Okada could not overcome White’s attack and the betrayal of Jado and even Gedo, Okada’s longtime manager who guided him to his record-breaking championship reign. White and his new partners went on to join the newly-refocused Bullet Club, with White assuming the leadership of the club, while Okada geared up for his revenge at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
Once the two met in the ring, it was clear that there was something special in the air about to occur and it started right before the opening bell, when Okada came out with his old Rainmaker coat, going one step further as to revert to his old look (blonde hair, golden trunks). It seemed that the ‘Rainmaker’ was back once again as a fired-up Okada and a vengeful White faced off in an emotionally charged match-up. While it wasn’t an entirely clean battle, as Gedo interfered sparingly to ensure that White would prevail, it was clear that Okada was uncharacteristically out for blood (contrary to his ‘Rainmaker’ persona) and would try to punish White. Unfortunately, this proved to be his undoing as White was able to take advantage of Okada’s unfocused anger to land a Blade Runner for the stunning victory. Unfortunately, it seemed that the ‘Rainmaker’ was not entirely back just yet and, for now, everyone would still ‘Breathe with the Switchblade’.
Los Ingobernables de Japon’s Golden Night
When it comes to the event itself, faction warfare bared a prominent presence throughout the night. One particular group, however, ascended well beyond their rivals as Los Ingobernables de Japon claimed victory in some very key matches tonight! The renegade group, headed by the enigmatic Tetsuya Naito, turned opportunities into gold, starting with BUSHI and newly-instated member Shingo Takagi captured the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championships in an eventful Triple-Threat Tag Team Match, starting their first reigns with the titles as a team. Their success would not stop there as the group’s established tag-team, SANADA and EVIL, went on to reclaim their IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in an entertaining Triple-Threat Tag Team Match that saw the Los Ingobernables duo become the first team to win back-to-back World Tag League tournaments (2017 and 2018) and claim the Tag Team Championships in subsequent Wrestle Kingdoms (12 and 13).
Their clean sweep was finalized later in the card when the leader, Tetsuya Naito, claimed his 3rd reign with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, defeating his bitter rival, Chris Jericho, in one of the most brutal and violent NJPW matches in recent memory. With these victories, the group is only missing the NEVER Openweight Championship, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. Given that they were not part of any of the matches involving these championships (with the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships not being defended on the show), one wonders how long it will be before Naito’s clan lays claim to those championships as well.
Those are just a few of the top stories coming out of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 13! With New Year’s Dash happening the day after, even more events are bound to occur that will shape NJPW for the year going forward. What do you think was the best match on the show? What do these matches and these stories mean for the promotion going forward? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 Results:
—Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Kenny Omega (c) – IWGP Heavyweight Championship
—Tetsuya Naito def. Chris Jericho (c) – IWGP Intercontinental Championship
—Jay White def. Kazuchika Okada
—Taiji Ishimori def. KUSHIDA (c) – IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
—Juice Robinson def. Cody (c) – IWGP United States Championship
—Zack Sabre Jr. def. Tomohiro Ishii (c) – REVPRO British Heavyweight Championship
—SANADA/EVIL def. The Young Bucks and Guerrilas of Destiny (c) – IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
–Shingo Takagi/BUSHI def. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (c) and Roppongi 3K – IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
–Will Ospreay def. Kota Ibushi (c) – NEVER Openweight Championship
–Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi & Toru Yano win a NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship #1 Contender’s Gauntlet Match
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Photo Credit: New Japan Professional Wrestling