2018 Recap - NJPW Biggest Stars
Ask any gaijin wrestler that has ever been in the same arena with Tanahashi and they will attest that it is akin to a rock star being on stage in front of packed audience. He is considered a living legend and though in his early 40’s doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Considered by some to be the best all-around performer in wrestling today, regardless of promotion, Tanahashi is now an eight-time IWGP Heavyweight champion. His most recent win came after defeating Kenny Omega for the championship. His year was filled with several competitive matches and great success, such as winning the G1 Climax 28 tournament this past Summer.
At 29 years of age, Robinson appeared to just begin to hit his stride in New Japan Pro Wrestling this past year. He was ranked # 167 on Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s top 500 for 2018 because of how successful he was. During the G1 Special early in the Summer, Robinson captured the IWGP United States Championship by defeating Jay White. This reign marked the first time an American had ever captured the championship, as Canadian Kenny Omega and New Zealander Jay White were the only other two people to hold this new title. Although he did lose the championship to Cody this past fall, he was on a quest to recapture it, and was successful with his win over Cody at Wrestle Kingdom on January 4th, 2019.
A talent in NJPW that was a major part of the company’s headlines in 2018 was Jay White. From his joining CHAOS early in the year, to challenging the faction’s leader Kazuchika Okada, to his betrayal of the faction and his aligning with the Bullet Club Firing Squad, he was involved in many hot angles. It was later announced by Tama Tonga that White would be given the title as ‘leader’ of the Bullet Club. White also captured the IWGP United States Championship when he defeated Kenny Omega last January. Throughout the year White has taken aim at Okada and frequently knocked the former champion down. It appears as though ‘Switchblade’ is can be considered a serious threat in the promotion in 2019 and beyond.
After Tonga’s excommunication of The Elite from Bullet Club, he was thrust into being one of the most prominent stars in New Japan Pro Wrestling over the course of the year. Through social media Tonga shared his disdain for the likes of The Young Bucks, Cody and Kenny Omega, in the process elevating the ‘Bullet Club OGs’ which was later referred to as the Firing Squad. The year also saw him capture the IWGP tag team championship alongside his brother and Gorilla of Destiny partner Tanga Loa. Whenever there was a new addition to the team, Tonga was at the forefront of the faction, making sure everyone knew about it. Tonga recruited additional members to Bullet Club after excommunicating Omega, Cody, ‘Hangman’ Page and the Young Bucks.
At 47 years of age, what more can be said about Chris Jericho that hasn’t already been said? He captured the IWGP Intercontinental championship from Tetsuya Naito, and was part of the promotions most noteworthy matches and news. On the heels of his match up against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Jericho attacked Naito the next night at New Year’s Dash and left the door open for a match up between the two. As the year continued to move ahead little was said about a potential battle between the two until the middle of the year. Another attack at the hands of Jericho that left Naito laying led to the match between the two in which Jericho took Naito’s title. In the Fall Jericho successfully defended the belt against Naito’s Los Ingobernables de Japon cohort EVIL. Jericho made himself a prominent figure in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and one of its biggest stars of the year.
So much has already been said about ‘The Cleaner’s 2018. Omega capped off his rivalry with Okada by finally capturing the IWGP Heavyweight championship at Dominion. He and Cody ended the tensions that existed between them, and in doing so made ‘The Elite’ stronger than ever. However, for all the good that came during Omega’s year, it also came with its share of challenges. After successfully defending his championship at the G1 Special in San Francisco, Omega was attacked by Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and their father Haku in what resulted in a schism in Bullet Club, ending the alliance and effectively removing Cody, The Young Bucks, Adam Page and Kenny Omega from the faction. Despite this, Omega’s matches were consistently five-star classics as he battled some of the best talent NJPW has to offer.
While some would think that after losing a championship, and being beaten down and attacked repeatedly that your year wouldn’t be considered successful. The difference in the case of the ‘Tranquilo’ one was that he was involved in arguably the most hotly contested feud in New Japan Pro Wrestling over the course of 2018. Naito’s Los Ingobernables de Japon were as much a mirror of his success as he was of theirs. The championships won by the faction enhanced his presence on camera. Naito, who has often been seen as a significant character since his career began was certainly one over the course of 2018. As the leader of LIJ, Naito proved to be as valuable in 2018 as he has ever been.