New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s biggest show of the year is this weekend, and this year it’s bigger than ever. Traditionally held on January 4, Wrestle Kingdom 14 is taking place over two nights (January 4-5) at the Tokyo Dome.
Wrestle Kingdom is basically the annual season finale for New Japan, featuring some of the year’s biggest championship matches and the climaxes to some of its most dramatic angles. This year, it also includes a series of matches to crown the first-ever double IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion. Before this weekend of shows kicks off, here’s a rundown of who’s doing what at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 and why.
How To Watch Wrestle Kingdom 14
New Japan isn’t on AXS TV anymore, so the only ways to watch Wrestle Kingdom 14 are through the company’s streaming service, NJPW World, with a monthly subscription that costs about nine dollars, or on Fite TV, where both nights of Wrestle Kingdom and the January 6 New Year’s Dash!! event are available for $24.99 each or as a package deal for $49.99.
The first night of Wrestle Kingdom starts at 4 PM in Tokyo, which is 11 PM Pacific on January 3 and 2 AM Eastern on January 4. The second night starts at 2 PM on January 5, which is 9 PM Pacific on January 4 and midnight Eastern on the 5th. The full match cards can be found here and here.
Pre-Show And Preview Matches
Before we get to the dramatic stuff, there are a few pre-show and low-stakes, non-title matches at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, mostly the types of matches that usually open regular New Japan shows throughout the year.
The January 4 Wrestle Kingdom broadcast begins with an eight-man tag team match of Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Yota Tsuji, and Yuya Uemura vs. Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, and Alex Coughlin. It’s a veteran tag team (Makabe and Honma) (GBH) and two current trainees at the New Japan dojo in Tokyo taking on three trainees from NJPW’s newer dojo in Los Angeles (Fredericks, Connors, and Coughlin) and Toa Henare, a Japan dojo grad whose main roster career has yet to really kick off.
This is followed by a tag match between well-liked former IWGP Heavyweight Champions whose big match days are behind them, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi. As usual when these charismatic veterans appear on New Japan undercards, their work should warm up the crowd with some help from the power of nostalgia.
— We Are Stardom (@we_are_stardom) December 24, 2019
Those two matches make up the broadcast Wrestle Kingdom pre-show on January 4, but for fans in the Tokyo Dome, the pre-show will open with a Stardom exhibition dark match of Mayu Iwatani and Arisa Hoshiki vs. Hana Kimura and Giulia. Bushiroad, the game company that has owned New Japan since 2012, bought joshi promotion Stardom earlier this year. There’s been a little cross-promotion, but Stardom is still very much its own company, and one with its own TV show on a different channel than New Japan’s, which is why this match won’t be broadcast. Still, if you’re looking to get into Stardom, a good place to start would be by looking up other matches involving wrestlers in this tag.
Getting back to the part of the show everyone can watch, the main card contains two other bouts that are more like New Japan TV matches than Wrestle Kingdom ones. The second and third matches on the 4th are faction vs. faction eight-man tags that pit rivals against each other ahead of championship matches on the 5th. The first is Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada, Evil, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi) vs. Suzukigun (Zack Sabre Jr., Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, and El Desperado) in a preview for Sabre vs. Sanada the following night, and the second is Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, and Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Bullet Club (Kenta, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, and Chase Owens), a preview for Goto vs. Kenta.
On paper, these are the least essential Wrestle Kingdom 14 main card matches because they don’t have any immediate consequences. However, they’re also the only non-pre-show Tokyo Dome appearances for the competitors who don’t have title matches the next day, and I’d put money on that causing them to go above and beyond rather than to drag their feet.
January 5 has one pre-show match and it’s made up mostly of people who are in pre-show and preview matches the previous night. As it has every year since 2016 besides that year it had a number one contender’s match instead, the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship will be defended via gauntlet match. Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano, and Togi Makabe will defend their titles against trios from Chaos (Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi, and Robbie Eagles), L.I.J. (Evil, Takagi, and Bushi), Suzukigun (Taichi, El Desperado, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru), and Bullet Club (Fale, Takahashi, and Owens.)
It’s hard to predict who will walk away with this championship because it is so often used to further storylines that also involve other championships, resulting in the 6-Man titles feeling pretty unimportant. Still, there are some interesting options here. A Suzukigun team could win these belts for the first time or Yoshi-Hashi could earn the first title of his New Japan career, or maybe January 5 could end with all six members of L.I.J. holding gold. Whoever wins, this match will probably get pretty chaotic.
The Tag Team Championship Matches
Both tag title matches at Wrestle Kingdom pit babyface challengers against Bullet Club champions. First, on January 4, World Tag League winners David Finlay and Juice Robinson will take on the Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
G.o.D. have maintained their fifth reign with these titles for the better part of a year with the help of tights-pulling and Jado’s kendo stick. FinJuice are two upstanding best friends who have teamed together for a while, but just became serious contenders in the heavyweight tag team division. Juice and Finlay winning would shake up the tag division, which G.o.D. retaining would maintain the status quo. Expect the Guerillas to focus on Finlay’s shoulder, which was injured for most of this year and which they already started going after in preview matches.
On January 5, El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori will defend their IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship against Super Junior Tag League winners Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh.)
Ishimori and ELP beat R3K for these belts back in June in their first match as a tag team, as Phantasmo was rising to become the top heel of the junior division. Yoh and Sho earned their chance at revenge months later when they won the annual junior heavyweight tag team tournament for the third year in a row. ELP and Ishimori stole their trophies, but R3K took them back on the last New Japan show of 2019 and will look to get their belts back at Wrestle Kingdom.
The United States Championship Matches
NJPW’s newest title, the IWGP United States Championship Match, will be defended both nights at the Tokyo Dome in a booking move that could be seen as course correction for an angle derailed by forces out of anyone’s control.
January 4 will see Jon Moxley return to New Japan to challenge Lance Archer for the U.S. Championship and on January 5, Juice Robinson will challenge the winner. Moxley won this title from Robinson in June in his first post-WWE match, which drove Robinson to get more serious to the point of cutting his dreads off. He beat Moxley on the last night of the G1 Climax, blocking him from a shot at the final and earning himself a chance to get his title back.
That title match was set for King of Pro Wrestling in October, but Moxley’s flight to Japan was delayed by Typhoon Hagibis, so under New Japan rules, he had to vacate his title because he missed a scheduled defense. KOPW included a match for the vacant U.S. title between number one contender Juice Robinson and Lance Archer, who had broken out as a singles wrestler in the G1 and started calling himself “the Murderhawk Monster” (he has a mohawk now and he loves murder.) Archer shockingly won the match and his first singles title in New Japan.
But Jon Moxley is obviously not the type of guy to be okay with losing a championship by typhoon. He showed up unannounced at the World Tag League final and challenged Archer to defend his title at the Tokyo Dome in a Texas Deathmatch, which means there are no disqualifications and no pinfalls and a wrestler can only win by submission or ten-count knockout. This stipulation is basically the middle part of a Venn diagram of things these guys enjoy – Texas for Archer, deathmatches for Moxley, and death imagery in general for both of them.
Why does Juice get to challenge either Mox or Archer the next night? The smarky answer is “because this whole angle was always supposed to end with him getting the title back anyway and New Japan is course-correcting,” but the kayfabe logic behind it is probably that the KOPW title match happened under such screwy circumstances that New Japan is trying to do right by everyone who was involved in it. Overall, these matches should be fun, this two-day Tokyo Dome show thing is weird, and while Juice Robinson isn’t in the running to become The Historic Double Champion at WK14, he could very plausibly come out of it as a double champion.
Jushin Thunder Liger’s Retirement Matches
The over thirty-year career of Jushin Thunder Liger ends this weekend with a pair of retirement matches at Wrestle Kingdom 14, a retirement ceremony at New Year’s Dash, and a lot of emotions. His last two matches will celebrate his legendary career and both the past and future of New Japan’s junior heavyweight division.
Liger’s first retirement match, the opening bout of the January 4 main card, is an eight-man tag made up of peers and rivals from his career. Liger will team up with Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke, and Tiger Mask (with El Samurai) against Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, and Ryusuke Taguchi (with Kuniaki Kobayashi) with Norio Honaga as the special referee. Fujinami was one of Liger’s trainers, Tiger Mask and Taguchi are his younger (but not that young) coworkers in New Japan, and the other people in the match are Liger’s peers from the eighties and nineties, wrestlers he worked with in groundbreaking matches. If you’re not very familiar with Liger’s prime, a good place to start would be to type his name and the name of anyone else in this match into a search engine and watch what you find.
While Liger’s first retirement match celebrates junior heavyweight wrestling of the past, his second looks towards the future when Liger teams with Naoki Sano against Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee. Sano (who normally goes by Takuma Sano nowadays) and Liger were rivals in New Japan starting in the late eighties and faced off on opposite sides of the UWFi vs. NJPW feud in the mid-nineties. The rivalry between Takahashi and Ryu Lee (fka Dragon Lee) has been key to their career development. Liger has called Lee and Takahashi the new faces of New Japan’s junior heavyweight division, so match sends a clear “passing of the torch” message, especially since Hiromu could easily be IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion by the time it happens.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match: Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The last time we saw Will Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, Ospreay was the highly accomplished champion and Takahashi had just won Best of the Super Juniors for the first time. Going into this match, Ospreay is even more dominant, having spent the year being elevated to the position of Basically New Japan’s New Kenny Omega and earning the same types of accolades Omega was getting before he left. Ospreay kicked off 2019 by becoming the first junior to win the NEVER Openweight Championship, entered the New Japan Cup and the G1 Climax, won Best of the Super Juniors again between those other tournaments, and often beat top heavyweights when other juniors only ever manage to pin them as flukes or as a sign they’re about to go heavyweight themselves.
While Hiromu Takahashi seems even more destined to win this title match than he did his last one with Ospreay, he’s also, in kayfabe, more of an underdog this time around. After he won BOSJ and rose to become the top babyface of the junior heavyweight division, he seriously injured his neck in a July 2018 title match with Dragon Lee and spent almost a year and a half out of action before returning to New Japan in December and challenging Ospreay. When Takahashi returned to the ring on the Road to the Tokyo Dome tour, his character had some ring rust and got pinned in his first match back, but Hiromu himself immediately looked ready to pick up where he left off. If he beats Ospreay here, he’ll be able to do just that.
RevPro British Heavyweight Championship Match: Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Sanada
On January 5, Revolution Pro Wrestling’s top title will be defended at the Tokyo Dome for the second time. Zack Sabre Jr. has held the British Heavyweight Championship for most of the year, even as he’s lost a lot in New Japan and freaked out about losing almost as much. Meanwhile, Sanada has had kind of an odd breakout year in which he wrestled Okada four times, but only beat him in the G1 Climax, not in the more consequential New Japan Cup final or either of their IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches. He’s still very popular though!
Sanada and Sabre have wrestled several times before and traded wins and losses in matches that have shown off their complimentary grappling skills, which, for both men, are more stylized than realistic. It’s hard to guess what the result will be given Sanada and ZSJ’s records against each other, but if you’ve seen these two wrestle before you probably already know what you’re going to get from this match and whether you’re going to enjoy it or not.
NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Kenta (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
The history of the NEVER Openweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom is made up of matches in which people are truly out to kick ass, and Goto vs. Kenta looks like it will continue that tradition.
Goto and Kenta are connected by a mutual friendship with Katsuyori Shibata; Shibata and Goto were best friends from high school and Shibata and Kenta have called each other their wrestling “soulmates.” Shibata was also an important figure in both men’s paths to this year’s G1 Climax. After Goto hit rock bottom earlier this year, he went and trained with his friend at the LA Dojo before returning for the tournament, and Shibata is the one who, in kafabe, brought Kenta into New Japan for the G1 after he left WWE.
But New Japan fans, who usually cheer the faces and boo the heels, weren’t as ready to accept the former Pro Wrestling NOAH star as a good guy and rooted for clear villains over him throughout the G1. At the G1 final, Kenta took the low road response to the fans’ rejection. He joined Bullet Club, beating up Shibata in the process, and started cheating to win matches. This heel turn quickly elevated Kenta’s post-WWE career as he started incorporating some really entertaining character work and promos into his feuds, including this one with Goto.
Since Kenta helped interfere in the Jay White vs. Goto IC title match this fall, their feud has escalated through promos, tweets, and ambushes to the point where it’s the Wrestle Kingdom match that seems the most like two people who really want to beat each other up. Both of these guys’ matches have been iffy this year, but they can still pull off good ones and Goto tends to really deliver at the Tokyo Dome. Expect plenty of violence and probably a Shibata appearance here.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Chris Jericho
It became clear this match was going to happen right after Chris Jericho lost to Okada at Dominino, when he and Hiroshi Tanahashi got in a brawl. It began as a clear good guy vs. bad guy, legend vs. legend special attraction match without much build, but it gained a lot of intrigue when Tanahashi said he wanted a shot at the AEW World Championship if he beat Jericho and Jericho said he had permission to grant that request. The quality of this match is less predictable than others on the card, but however it goes, it should be a memorable clash of big personalities and will be sure to fuel AEW-NJPW theories and fantasy booking even more.
The Double Gold Dash
The most historic part of the historic two-night Wrestle Kingdom is the battle between Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Jay White, and Tetsuya Naito to become the first person to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the same time. There have been title unification matches at New Japan’s Tokyo Dome shows in the past, but nothing like what will happen in the main events of January 4 and 5, 2020. NJPW decided to call this series of matches “the Double Gold Dash” in all their promotional materials, for some reason.
The possibility of this kind of double champion was first brought up in the spring of 2019 by Naito, who was then Intercontinental Champion and trying to get into the New Japan Cup for a shot at the Heavyweight title. Naito’s quest to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, ideally in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, has been going on for over six years. The first time he won the right to challenge for it at the Dome back at Wrestle Kingdom 8 in 2014, he and Okada’s match was voted out of the main event slot by fans because the white meat babyface version of Naito was so unpopular. This led to Naito going to Mexico, joining Los Ingobernables, and returning to NJPW as a heel to start Los Ingobernables de Japon.
L.I.J. Naito briefly held the Heavyweight Championship, but this was when he was a cheater who didn’t really earn it. He hasn’t held the belt since he’s evolved into an antihero fan favorite and one of the most popular wrestlers in the company; when he had a shot at Wrestle Kingdom 12, he was again defeated by Okada. Since then, Naito has spent two years in the Intercontinental Championship picture, fighting for the title that he hates because it main evented the Tokyo Dome over him back at WK8.
It was Kota Ibushi, not Naito, who was ultimately the one to get the double championship ball rolling when he proposed the current schedule of IC and Heavyweight title matches after he won the G1 Climax. Since Ibushi, a longtime NJPW fan favorite, finally signed with New Japan full time this spring, he has steadily racked up accomplishments with an Intercontinental Championship run (which meant a lot to him; the white belt was held by his two wrestling “gods,” Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura), beat Okada in the G1, and then won the whole tournament. He says he wants both titles as part of his plan to change wrestling, but it’s not clear what that plan is – Ibushi’s a pretty vague guy most of the time.
After the G1, Jay White started aiming at the double championship because he wants to win everything and be the top guy and in order to spite Naito, with whom he was feuding for the IC title at the time. When White beat Naito for the Intercontinental Championship, both he and Ibushi wanted to see a double title match happen at Wrestle Kingdom and the only parties who needed to respond were Okada and the company.
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada finally responded to the whole situation this fall and said he would be willing to defend his title in a double championship match on January 5 if he retained on January 4. But he had no interest in the white belt; this would be to prove the supremacy of the Heavyweight Championship, the only title he’s ever held in New Japan, for which he holds almost every record.
With these three down for the Double Gold Dash, Naito, the guy who originated the idea, found himself on the outside looking in. But he managed to fight his way into contention at the last possible moment by winning a de facto number one contender’s match for the IC title at Power Struggle, and now the first of the matches in this two-day, two-title series is Jay White (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Championship on January 4. If Naito wins, he’ll get another shot at what he believes is his destino and get revenge on White, who has beat him both times they’ve wrestled this year, with White knocking him out of the G1 final and then taking the IC title from him. If White wins, it will make a lot of people upset, though there are some supporters of Jay 2 Belts out there.
After this match, it’s Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada (c) for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, a chance for Ibushi to really establish himself as one of New Japan’s top guys or for Okada to add another achievement to his long list of them.
Before a double champion is crowned in the January 5 main event, the losers of the previous night’s IC and Heavyweight title matches will face off in the third-to-last match on the show. It’s unclear why this is happening. Maybe it’s just to determine who finishes last in the Double Gold Dash, or it’s possible that the winner could be the new double champion’s first challenger, though that could make the top title pictures feel very repetitive. The possibilities for these matches are:
- Okada vs. White, a rematch from last year’s Wrestle Kingdom and the G1 Supercard main event
- Okada vs. Naito, a match with six years of Wrestle Kingdom history
- Naito vs. Ibushi, the two guys who seem most interested in holding both titles for what they mean individually and together, who feuded over the IC title this spring
- Ibushi vs. White, a rematch from the G1 Climax 29 final, with White now having issues with Ibushi because he rejected an offer to join Bullet Club
How the double champion will defend his titles and who will be his first challenger (challengers?), as well as the first challengers for all the other titles, will mostly be revealed in backstage promos from the Tokyo Dome, which are uploaded to NJPW World and New Japan’s YouTube channel with subtitles about a day after they’re filmed, and at New Year’s Dash!!, the annual post-Wrestle Kingdom mystery card show, which will be on January 6 this year (at 1:30 AM PT/4:30 AM ET.)
New Year’s Dash!! is basically the NJPW season premiere after Wrestle Kingdom’s season finale and it usually features some champions getting pinned and challenged and at least one other really dramatic thing happening. Last year the dramatic thing was just Chase and Yujiro rejoining Bullet Club, but NJPW moved NYD to a bigger venue this year, so it seems like something bigger should happen.
What’s your most anticipated match of Wrestle Kingdom 14? What are your predictions? How stressed out are you about the double championship situation? Let us know in the comments!