NJPW WrestleKingdom 13 On-Site Report: Pre-show match, buzz in arena for major announcements, crowd reactions for key wrestlers, more off-camera details


WRESTLE KINGDOM 13 ON-SITE REPORT
JANUARY 4, 2019
TOKYO, JAPAN AT THE TOKYO DOME
REPORT BY TOM LEEMING, PWTORCH CORRESPONDENT

PRE-SHOW

I arrived at 11 a.m., which is over four hours prior to gates opening. The lines for mercy were already huge when I arrived and people were everywhere. My friends and I have gone full out cosplayer style this year, with a Nakamura look-a-like and myself as Jay White so we were taking photos with other fans for most of the time.

I spoke to a lot of non-Japanese fans, and met a lot of Australians, some people from America and Canada, and also a group from Italy. The on-day sale tickets line was mostly non-Japanese visitors and I wasn’t close enough to see how far the line went but it was very very very long. My advice to anyone thinking of coming next year is buy ahead of time or you might miss out, or at best be stuck in a line for hours and hours.

(A) Togi Makabe & Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi won the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Championship No. 1 Contender Gauntlet (pre-show).

Togi Makabe & Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yuji Nagata & Jeff Cobb & David Finlay vs. Hirooki Goto & Beretta & Chuckie T vs. Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi & Marty Scurll. Nagata & Cobb & Finlay defeated The Elite/BC team first. A rather quick start to the match. Marty and Hangman argued with Takahashi after the match and left separately. Next in was the team from Chaos. Then defeated Goto & Beretta & Chuckie T. Suzuki came in and as per usual Minoru got a chair and took to Nagata. During that time Archer & Davey Boy picked up the win. Yano & Taguchi & Makabe were next on but Suzuki-gun met them half-way down the aisle and started working them over. The usual silliness ensued and after being dominated most of the time Yano double low blowed and won with a roll up. The Funky Weapon team is now the number one contender to the NEVER Title.

It felt like a bit of a waste having so much talent in a gauntlet match. The rumble would have been much more fun.

Suzuki being in what will be a forgotten match on what could be the card of the year also feels like a waste. The crowd was still warming up but sang along with “KAZE NI NARE” and popped when Yano picked up the win.

A lot more foreigners in the crowd than last year, mostly wearing LIJ or Bullet Club shirts. Still plenty of empty seats during the “0(th) match” (pre-show), but from what local media has been reporting, it is a close to sell out.

During the waiting period they showed a video promoting new events in 2019 and 2020.

The opening match of G1 will take place in America which drew a mixed but mostly positive response. The biggest shock was the in 2020 they will run two shows at Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4 and 5. The crowd erupted in cheers.

Looks like the NJPW expansion is going big this year and 2020. The London show was also a big surprise. A lot of people were happy, but at the same time seemed a little reserved. The people next to me seemed up happy they couldn’t see the beginning on the G12.

MAIN SHOW

(1) Will Ospreay defeated Kota Ibushi to become the new NEVER Openweight Champion

The match itself was a constant hard-hitting high-flying match, but the crowd was left in serious concern after Ibushi was stretchered to the back. Some of those strikes looked to really do some damage and, at one point, the crowd gasped as Ibushi dropped Ospreay pretty hard on a suplex.

The crowd loved Ibushi, and there were loud oohs and aahs at the big spots although after a vicious kick in the corner from Ospreay that seemed to die down a little with legit concern for Ibushi as he bled from the nose. That was later only added to as he was taken away.

The NEVER Title is a strange one and its position on the card shows how little importance it has really. The match was short but the murmurings around me, including myself, felt like the match was cut short because of the possible injury to Ibushi.

(2) IBUSHI & Shungo Takagi became the 58th IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs. Roppongi 3K vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi

As with the above two matches the crowd was left saying “Haya!” Which means “So fast!” as the match just seemed to end out of nowhere. BUSHI is one of the most popular wrestlers in LIJ but he didn’t do much during the match the general consensus was that people felt let down by what could have been a really good match.

(3) Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Tomohiro Ishio to become the RevPro British Heavyweight Champion

Ishii is a huge favorite but ZSJ had a lot of fans throughout the crowd. The match was again short by NJPW standards and left a lot of people wondering what was going on with all the short matches?

It always felt strange to have Ishii hold the title so the loss, although it could be seen from a mile away, felt like best move.

ZSJ has a small but vocal following in Japan, but he has lost his initial shine that he had and become a mainstay as such. The “hype man” talking him up pre-show doesn’t feel like it’s working and the crowd didn’t really respond.

(4) EVIL & Sanada won the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. EVIL & Sanada vs. The Young Bucks

This could be the last time we see The Young Bucks in Japan for a while, but it didn’t seem or feeling like a farewell. EVIL and Sanada were cheered by close 70-80 percent of people there and the cheers from people around me were at times ear drum breaking.

Another short match by Tokyo Dome standards, but the tag team wrestling on display had the crowd focused on the in-ring competition. Ultimately LIJ is so over in Japan the feeling from people around me was this was another inevitable title change. The non-Japanese crowd members mostly wore Bullet Club, Young Bucks, or Elite t-shirts were very vocal during the match with some brief “Thee Elite, Thee Thee Elite” chants and “Let’s go Young Bucks.”

Personally, the BCOG team of GoD had yet another lackluster title run. Despite NJPW’s best efforts to keep Bullet Club looking strong, it does seem like there has been a significant drop in interest since The Elite members declared they are no-longer Bullet Club. It is also interesting to note that the ring announcers have been announcing Elite members are “from The Elite.”

This is probably a sign that once AEW is up and running we will still see “The Elite” as a faction or group in NJPW.

After this match finished, masses of people flocked to the toilets or food stalls. It was surprising as the next match was one I was personally looking forward to.

(5) Juice Robinson defeated Cody to become the new IWGP United States Championship. 

I feel like I might be repeating myself a lot, but again another short match which caused whispers of “are the last three matches going to be one hour each?” from people around me.

Last year’s Wrestle Kingdom ran very long and the last train from Tokyo to Osaka (the second biggest city in country) is at 9:20, so anyone traveling from Osaka or that area will need to leave Tokyo Dome by 8:30 in order to catch the bullet train. Is this part of the reason for a shorter and high-paced under card?

Cody received heavy boos from the crowd for his heel antics and the title change was greeted with most cheers. Despite his popularity overseas, Cody still doesn’t get the major star treatment by the Japanese fans. Personally, I think that after the initial American Nightmare storyline and a throw away U.S. Title reign, the crowd doesn’t really know how to react to him. They boo him, but not to the levels I thought he could reach as a heel 12 months ago.

There were a few fans around in Cody merch and I don’t think I saw any Juice merch either so that probably can explain the toilet exodus.

(6) Taiji Ishimori defeated Kushida to become the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion

It had been a long day and with the big three matches coming up I zipped off to the toilet at this point. The lines for the toilet were very long but the concession stands were practically deserted. I spoke with an Okada fan as I waited and was told that I shouldn’t support a vicious criminal like Jay White who terrorizes other wrestlers… I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not, so I just nodded along and avoided things escalating.

Kushida is a fan favorite and always gets a warm welcome and is cheered by a large majority of the crowd. Ishimori on the other hand is a total opposite and his victory was more of a let down for the majority of the crowd.

(7) Jay White defeated Kazuchika Okada.

The biggest story of 2018 has been the fall of Okada, and Jay White picking up the W in this match shows that 2019 is going to be another big year for the resurrection of Okada.

White’s new and more vicious offense had the crowd worked up and he was constantly showered with boos. Okada during his title reign became subject to criticism for changing from trunks to long tights and when he revealed his new (but old) short trunks still pre-match the crowd felt a new hope that the Okada of old was back.

The story of White constantly trying to hit his finisher worked well and him kicking out of Rainmakers will help push him to a higher level. At this point becoming the new Prince Devitt, A.J. Styles, or Kenny Omega seems like a way off, but this was a step in the right direction.

There is small but vocal following for White, but it’s like a mouse squeaking compared to the lions roar of the Okada fans.

(8) Tetsuta Naito defeated Chris Jericho to become the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion

The Tokyo Dome was shaking as the crowd final had their hero Naito make his entrance. Outside of Japan the feeling is that Bullet Club is the new NWO, but LIJ definitely has the vibe that the NWO had all those years back in WCW. Around 70-80 percent of people in the crowd were in LIJ gear, so the reaction was always expected.

Jericho was heavily booed and his over-the-top heel moves had the crowd shouting profanity at times. The person two seats behind me shouting close to “FU Jericho” when he rang the bell by himself. Several years ago Jericho came for a WWE house show in Japan and the crowd were so happy to see him; now they hate him with a passion. My friends and I (they are Japanese) cheered Jericho and got a mouthful from the people beside us. Naito picking up the win felt like this could be the last time we see Jericho in NJPW.

(9) Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Kenny Omega to become the new IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Another classic match from the Best Bout Machine. Ultimately this felt like a given with the news of AEW and the fact that most non-Japanese wrestlers are not in Japan after the 5th of January only to reappear during March or April in time for Sakura Genesis.

Kenny’s title reign has been lackluster and we didn’t get to see him really be a fighting champion. Post-Okada, the title has, in Japan at least, taken a back seat to more storyline-heavy feuds.

The crowd was very pro-Tanahashi with again the non-Japanese audience members being the loudest and more vocal Kenny fans.

Tanahashi is often seen as the John Cena of NJPW and think that comparison has become more true as Tanahashi has gone from being the disliked poster boy to now a more edgy character winning back long time fans with his honesty.

After the match, Tanahashi thanked the crowd and spoke about his gratitude for the support of fans. After a grueling fight, he said he didn’t have the energy to, but in the end he didn’t an air guitar solo to send the crowd home happy.

OTHER THOUGHTS

  • Up until recently it’s always felt like there was a disconnect between Japanese fans and the news of ROH or WWE, but there was a lot of talk about AEW.
  • The lack of a Rumble makes me sad, a feeling that a lot of fans seemed to share.
  • They didn’t announce the crowd numbers in the arena, but all the areas not taped off were full as far as I could see.
  • The announcements of more shows bring overseas brought cheers, but as the number increased those cheers became a more reserved golf clap as I think fans became disappointed that couldn’t see those shows live.
  • The show was more compact than last year but it would be nice if they could give us a break as there is no “right” time to go to the toilet.
  • The merch lines opened at 10 a.m. and even people without tickets were buying merch. I didn’t even get a chance to look at what was on sale unfortunately.
  • I cosplayed as Jay White this year and this was easily the best idea I’ve ever had. I must have been asked for 100’s of photos and it was a great way to communicate with people and find out what people think about NJPW.
  • My ticket cost 9500 yen (about $90) and was the first row in the stands. This is the same area I watched last year’s show.
  • Kenny Omega’s entrance video was cut short so everyone was last wondering what happened.
  • Every belt changed hands. I’m not sure how to feel about that, but I don’t think I’ve seen a show with so many title changes.

Biggest pops:

  1. Naito
  2. Okada
  3. Tanahashi

Most boos:

  1. Jericho
  2. White
  3. Cody

RELATED: New Japan WrestleKingdom 13 Report: Ongoing results of “Omega vs. Tanahashi for IWGP Hvt. Title, Cody vs. Juice, Jericho vs. Naito for IWGP IC Title

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