Friday, January 3, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Preview & Predictions

A new decade dawns.  A new Tokyo Dome extravaganza looms.  A new kind of supercard is born.

Welcome to a special edition of PPV Predictions, here at!  It's the beginning of a new year, and that means it's time for NJPW to drop a 500-megaton PPV Awesome-Bomb on all of us.  This year's WrestleKingdom is a two-parter, and if all goes well it could be the template going forward, not only for New Japan but for WWE's WrestleMania and perhaps other super-shows.  WrestleKingdom 14 will take place on January 4th and 5th, with 16 main card matches plus four pre-show bouts over the two days.  The first night is built around the huge G1 Climax A-Block rematch, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Title, plus B-block rematch Jay White vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Title, while Night Two will see the winners of those two matches face off to become the first-ever Double Champion.  This pair of shows should have far-reaching consequences for NJPW's Big Four guys and will set the stage for the company's attempted US expansion in 2020.  My biggest hope for New Japan in 2020 is that they partner with AEW.  Both promotions would benefit enormously; AEW could use New Japan's top stars to boost their own ratings, while New Japan's US footprint would be greatly expanded by their stars appearing on TNT.  It's a win-win.  Make it happen.

But enough about that stuff, let's predict some WrestleKingdom matches...

Night One

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi

This eight-man tag will be Liger's penultimate match and is mostly a throwback bout for the old-timers.  It's all about the nostalgia, and I expect Taguchi will do most of the heavy lifting.  It won't go very long and probably won't earn a ton of stars, but it should be a fun little pre-sendoff for Liger.

Pick: Team Liger obviously has to win

Evil, Sanada, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado

Of the throwaway matches on these two shows, this has the most potential.  There's a ton of talent in this match and a strong faction vs. faction vibe.  It's also the only main card match for Suzuki, Evil, Shingo and Bushi, which is very sad.  That's actually really wrong when you think about it.  Anyway, hopefully these guys will get enough time to make the match count and be set up for something bigger in February.

Pick: I'll go with LIJ

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Kenta, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi

Ishii is another great talent being criminally shortchanged on these two cards.  You mean to tell me you couldn't find a singles match, out of sixteen main card slots, for fucking ISHII?  This match is all about previewing Kenta vs. Goto on Night Two.  It'll be brief and energetic, with some good hard-hitting exchanges.

Pick: Chaos

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny vs. FinJuice

Alright, here's where the show kicks off proper.  Dave Finlay and Juice Robinson scored an upset in the World Tag League to win the whole thing and challenge here.  Oddly, Juice is also slated to go after the US Title the next night, so I'm not sure what the plan is.  Usually the WTL winners end up also winning the belts for a little while.  This match should be a fun little outing.  It's nice to see the company FINALLY doing something with Finlay.

Pick: Since Juice is almost certainly walking out of the Dome with the US Title I'll pick GOD to retain here.

IWGP US Championship Texas Death Match: Lance Archer vs. Jon Moxley

This'll be a wild one.  Moxley the maniac vs. the guy who's somehow peaking in his 40s.  Moxley and Archer will undoubtedly want to make this a memorable standout from the other bouts, so we'll see some crazy shit.  This match can only end by knockout or submission, and since Juice gets the winner the next night I have a suspicion Moxley and Archer end up knocking each other out to make the second match a triple threat.  That's my pick.

Pick: It's a draw.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi

This match could steal the weekend.  Takahashi finally makes his triumphant return after a career-threatening neck injury.  He'll undoubtedly need to tone down his style a bit, but there's no reason a Dome showdown with the unparalleled Will Ospreay shouldn't be an easy MOTY contender.  With only eight matches on the main card, this and the final two bouts will certainly get a lot of time to breathe.  Aside from Okada-Ibushi this is the match I'm most excited about.

Pick: Takahashi should complete his comeback with a title win, leading to a Dominion rematch.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Jay White vs. Tetsuya Naito

Here's where predictions get tricky.  Since the winners (and losers) of the final two bouts here will face each other the next night I'm setting myself up for a disastrous prediction rate.  You basically have to work backwards.  How does Night Two end?  Who stands tall as a double champion?  Okada is always a safe bet, as the face of the company.  He's never won the I-C belt so that in itself would be historic.  But Ibushi just signed a long-term contract last year and has vowed to remain in NJPW for the rest of his career.  That surely can't go unrewarded (Granted, headlining the Dome is a huge reward already).  Jay White is part of the company's future, as they're giving him a 2012-13 Okada-like push.  Tetsuya Naito was the one who originally proposed the double champion idea and he's still never gotten that big Tokyo Dome win (not to mention his injuries are piling up and he may be on borrowed time).  So who walks out of here with both belts?  It's either a pair of rematches from the G1 Supercard or it's last year's G1 Final and the WK12 main event.  I feel like Okada has to be in the Night Two main event, and it'll probably be against White.  So I'll pick White to retain.

Pick: White

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi

This will be incredible.  Their G1 A Block Final was great but also left room to be topped.  This is their chance.  WrestleKingdom more often than not in recent years has provided the best match of the year in my opinion, and this is likely to be that match for 2020.  The company is getting behind Ibushi as one of the Big Four, but I think his IWGP Title run will wait until later in the year, perhaps to set up a title defense at WrestleKingdom 15.  After a stellar 30+ minutes I see Okada retaining; to leave him out of the Double Championship match just seems wrong.

Pick: Okada retains

Night Two

Pre-Show NEVER Openweight Six-Man Championship Gauntlet: Togi Makabe, Toru Yano & Tyusuke Taguchi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi & Robbie Eagles vs. Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Evil, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Taichi, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

The one pre-show match with something on the line, this is a consolation prize for several of the company's best stars.  Unfortunataly the six-man belts never meant much of anything and have been nearly absent over the past two years.  Take your pick, whoever wins these titles will either hardly defend them or will lose them quickly.

Pick: I'll go with Chaos I guess.

Jushin Thunder Liger & Naoki Sano vs. Hiroumu Takahashi & Ryu Lee

I'm not sure why Liger's final singles match got changed to a tag bout.  They should've had Liger vs. Takahashi one-on-one.  But this will be a fun opener and an emotional farewell to maybe the greatest and most innovative cruiserweight the industry has ever seen.  Liger opened so many eyes to a new style of wrestling unheard of in the US, and he's enjoyed a three-decade career spanning the globe.  It is truly the end of an era.

Pick: Liger goes out on his back, in the grand pro wrestling tradition

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo vs. RPG3K

Another potential show stealer if given time, this is one of the more exciting Jr. Tag Title pairings in recent memory.  Sho and Yoh have struggled to climb the mountain again after a brief title run in 2019, but I think they'll finally do it here.  Meanwhile Taiji and ELP will be moved into position as Jr. Title contenders for Ospreay or Takahashi.  Should be great.

Pick: RPG3K finally get it done

British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Sanada

Sanada is finally getting a singles match at the Dome, an obvious vote of confidence after his banner 2019.  I feel like this will get a skimpy running time like last year's ZSJ-Ishii bout, but it should be entertaining regardless.  I see Sanada getting a BH Title run to help him grow into a future LIJ leadership role.

Pick: Sanada

IWGP US Championship: ??? vs. Juice Robinson

Like I said, I think Moxley and Archer knock each other out and this becomes a triple threat.  Why not, Moxley's in town anyway?  And a very enjoyable three-way slugfest it should be.  Juice gets revenge on both of his antagonists and reemerges as the US division centerpiece.

Pick: Juice

NEVER Openweight Championship: Kenta vs. Hirooki Goto

Goto gets back to his roots in a stiff, rugged brawl with turncoat Kenta.  I wonder if we'll see a Shibata appearance in the corner of his old pal.  This should be a helluva fight.  Kenta has definitely been reborn in New Japan after such a disappointing WWE run.  This could be his biggest NJPW match to date, in front of 40,000 people.  A match to define his role as a new NEVER Openweight mainstay.

Pick: I feel like Kenta should keep the belt longer.

Night One Losers Match: ??? vs. ???

As I said, I think this slot goes to Ibushi vs. Naito (Dear God, help us all), with the winner being set up for a future title match.  This gives them a chance to steal the show but still solidifies Okada as the unrivaled megastar and Jay White as the guy who hopes to rival him one day.

Pick: Ibushi wins the consolation prize

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Chris Jericho

It's a huge dream match between two aging rock stars.  If Tanahashi wins he'll get an AEW Title match with Jericho.  Please, please let this happen.  I wanna see a rematch on an AEW PPV, thus beginning a talent exchange/partnership that, as I iterated, would be hugely beneficial to both companies.  Put aside the political bullshit and help each other out, huh?  Tanahashi should win here, regardless if the AEW Title match is happening.  If it is, great, you've set it up.  If not, there likely won't be a New Japan rematch anyway, so Tana should win the one match in New Japan.

Pick: Tana

Double Championship: ??? vs. ???

I feel like it has to be Okada vs. White here.  The present vs. the future.  The babyface bastion vs. the asshole upstart.  We got a really good main event out of them in Madison Square Garden and this will be a chance to blow that one out of the water.  Win or lose it should be Jay's defining match to date.  I'm not sure what the company has planned for the double champion, whoever it ends up being.  Does he forfeit the I-C belt and concentrate on the big one?  Does he actually defend both titles for a while?  WWE did this with Becky last year and it ended up kinda lame; she dropped one title almost immediately.  It's a double-edged sword as far as booking a winner.  Okada is THE GUY and this would simply build on that, and whoever dethrones him will be that much more made.  On the other hand if Jay White is the first guy to with both belts together that would potentially make him.  I feel like Okada is the safer choice to kick things off.

Pick: Okada

This'll be a helluva weekend of wrestling.  The WrestleKingdom shows have been excellent-at-worst since 2013 and this year's show(s) should be no exception.  Having only eight matches per main card will allow the big matches adequate time to deliver, while there should be a few undercard highlights.  If both shows do a strong gate (and that looks to be the case) we're sure to see the double-shot format going forward, and WWE may follow suit with WrestleMania.  WrestleKingdom 14 could have long-term consequences outside of the matches themselves.  Enjoy!

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