by Marc Madison
On Thursday, January 4th, 2018, New Japan Pro Wrestling presents their biggest event of the year, the annual Wrestle Kingdom pay per view from the Tokyo Dome. Wrestle Kingdom XII is considered the biggest professional program not held in the United States. The announcement confirming the event was made this past summer during New Japan Pro Wrestling's annual G1 Climax tournament. It will be available through the promotion's New Japan World streaming service.
While the card has a number of notable matches that are slated to take place, one match has managed to capture the attention of not only Japanese wrestling fans and overseas aficionados of the NJPW product, but North American fans in general, as it brings two of the most notable names in wrestling over the past two decades against one another.
There will also be IWGP Junior heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental, IWGP World and IWGP Junior heavyweight tag team championship matches, and the Ring of Honor World will also be defended. With so many championships being defended in front of more than 30,000 fans, NJPW intends on starting the year off big, ensuring the entire wrestling world has its eyes on them and is talking about them for the coming year.
1. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada
Tetsuya Naito captured this past summer's GI Climax tournament, thus becoming the top contender for the IWGP Heavyweight championship. The history between these two competitors extends over the past four years, back to 2013. Naito, who was a face at that time, did not get a lot of respect and admiration from the audience, despite playing by the rules.
This dislike among the fanbase led the promotion to engage in a fan vote to determine whether an Okada/Naito world championship match or an IWGP Intercontinental championship match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi would be the main event of Wrestle Kingdom VIII. The fan vote determined that Nakamura and Tanashi would the be the main event of the show. Okada defeated Naito during this previous encounter.
After Naito returned to NJPW after a sojourn to CMLL in Mexico in 2015, he formed the faction Los Ingobernables de Japon, which borrowed from the Mexican culture. Naito thus switched to the role of a heel character. Then, when Naito and Okada faced each other at Invasion Attack 2016, Naito captured the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the first time, this time with the support of the fans behind him, despite being a heel. Naito would lose the title to Okada a few months later, beginning Okada's current reign, which is historic in length.
Naito's win in the G1 gave him possession of the ‘rights certificate,' which he has defended since, and which entitles him to this upcoming match against Okada. This match will be Naito's first-time main eventing the Wrestle Kingdom, and is Okada's fourth consecutive main event.
2. Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega
In what has been dubbed a battle of the best in the world against the best in the world today, Chris Jericho is returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling after a twenty-year absence from the promotion. The first, and current, IWGP United States champion Kenny Omega has stated that he has beaten the best that the world has to offer, and that there remain no other challenges for him. This was until on November 5th, 2017, when, at the Power Struggle event, former WWE champion Chris Jericho appeared on the video screen and challenged Omega to a match at Wrestle Kingdom XII.
This challenge followed comments exchanged between the two for several weeks on social media, and has led this momentous event. This match will be for Omega's championship. The two men's familiarity with one another dates back several years, as both from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Jericho previously appeared in New Japan as Super Liger, competing under a mask, and later returned competing under the Chris Jericho name.
Jericho has stated that the match's inspiration came from witnessing the cross-sport promotion leading to the match between MMA fighter Connor McGreggor and boxing champion Floyd ‘Money' Mayweather. This match has brought even more notoriety to the event, due to the name value that Jericho brings.
3. Kota Ibushi vs. Cody Rhodes
While several NJPW championships are set to be defended, one of the most renowned competitors in New Japan Pro Wrestling history, ‘the Golden Star' Kota Ibushi will challenge current Ring of Honor World Heavyweight champion, ‘The American Nightmare' Cody at Wrestle Kingdom XII. After being unsuccessful in capturing the IWGP Intercontinental championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi, it was announced that Ibushi would challenge Cody for the ROH belt at this event.
However, Cody is also slated to defend his championship against Dalton Castle prior to his and Ibushi's meeting. If Castle is successful, then he will be defending the Ring of Honor world championship against Ibushi. Presuming the battle between Ibushi and Cody takes place, it is not only a blending of styles, but a match-up of long-recognized talents who have graced the sport for over a decade.
If successful, this would mark the first world championship for Ibushi, and his first championship for an American promotion. This matchup also has fans salivating at the possibilities that could arise, both during and after.
4. Defending of Championships
With several IWGP championships poised to be defended on this evening, such as the IWGP Intercontinental championship match between Switchblade (Jay White) and Hiroshi Tanahashi, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship four-way battle between Marty Scurll, Hiromu Takahashi, Kushida and Will Ospreay, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team championship between Roppongi 3K and The Young Bucks, along with the previously mentioned championship matches, this card provides countless reasons for fans to be excited about Wrestle Kingdom XII on January 4th, 2018.
As a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.