The annual January 4th Tokyo Dome show, a staple of Japanese wrestling for the past twenty three years, is the high point of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling calendar, an action packed four hour event that ends feuds and begins feuds anew, that sparks and settles rivalries and that sets the tone for the year to come in NJPW. This year’s event looks set to be the biggest in over a decade, with impressive advance sales ensuring a large and lively crowd under the roof of what’s affectionately known as the ‘Big Egg’ Tokyo Dome. What’s more, this year’s event marks the first time a New Japan pay-per-view will be broadcast live outside of Japan, with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling presenting the show via traditional PPV in the United States and streaming internationally via the Flipps app for Android & iOS. Also, the event will be available live and on demand via New Japan’s online streaming service NJPW World with Japanese language commentary, whereas the GFW presentation will feature commentary by Jim Ross & Matt Striker calling the action from ringside! GFW and New Japan have done a great job hyping up the show and with more eyes than ever on the NJPW product and a card fit to burst with compelling match-ups, Wrestle Kingdom 9 is undoubtedly a must-watch event. So without further ado and with mere hours until bell-time, let’s run down the card;
00. Pre-Show – New Japan Rumble
This pre-show match (exclusive to the NJPW World presentation of Wrestle Kingdom 9) will feature 15 participants and is run under standard Rumble rules; two men start in the ring and every minute a new wrestler will enter, while eliminations occur when a wrestler is thrown over the top-rope. The line-up will almost certainly include the majority of the roster not on the main WK9 card – young lions Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu, nefarious Suzuki-gun members TAKA Michinoku, Taichi & El Desperado, CHAOS members YOSHI-HASHI, Jado & Gedo, Bullet Club member Tama Tonga and fan favourites like Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Tiger Mask, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata, which leaves room for one or two surprises. My money’s on Super Strong Machine.
01. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles – reDRagon © vs Time Splitters vs Forever Hooligans vs The Young Bucks
Kicking off the main card in spectacular fashion has often been the task of the Jr. Heavyweight tag teams at the Tokyo Dome and at Wrestle Kingdom 9, for the second year running, a 4-way Jr. Heavyweight Tag Title match gets the show under way. The current reiging IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champions reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) are in fact the newest to New Japan, making their débuts last August before winning the Super Jr. Tag Tournament in November to claim a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles, which they won at Power Struggle 2014. The team they defeated, Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA) are one of the most popular teams in New Japan and have held the belts on two separate occasions. Rounding out the field are former 2-time IWGP Jr. Tag Champions and members of CHAOS Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov & Rocky Romero) and former 1-time IWGP Jr. Tag Champions The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson), who are members of the Bullet Club. All four teams are accomplished competitors, but in such a frantic and fast-paced match it may be difficult for reDRagon to retain their titles. Either way, this is sure to be an exciting opening match.
02. Special 6-Man Tag – TenKoji & Tomoaki Honma vs Bullet Club (Jeff Jarrett, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi)
Numerous wrestlers have found themselves holding a grudge against the Bullet Club in 2014 and at Wrestle Kingdom 9 TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) and Tomoaki Honma are out for a measure of revenge. TenKoji were denied valuable points in the 2014 World Tag League by Bullet Club and look to put themselves back in tag title contention with a valuable win, while Tomoaki Honma has been on the receiving end of dozens of Bullet Club beatings this year and would sorely desire a pinfall victory here, as would the crowd who have been clamouring to see the hugely popular underdog Honma get his due for much of 2014. The Bullet Club, meanwhile, look to continue on their path of destruction in New Japan as their newest member, Global Force Wrestling CEO Jeff Jarrett, makes his NJPW in-ring debut. Jarrett raised the fans ire when he turned on Tanahashi, revealing himself as a member of the Bullet Club and breaking a guitar over Tanahashi’s head. He repeated the insult to Yoshihashi and it was later revealed that Yoshihashi, currently stuck recuperating in the hospital, had a broken neck. Suffice to say, Jarrett and the Bullet Club haven’t been making many friends in New Japan as of late.
03. Special 8-Man Tag Match – Toru Yano, Naomichi Marufuji & TMDK vs Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Shelton X Benjamin, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr)
Toru Yano has a long and storied history with Minoru Suzuki, leader of the Suzuki-gun stable. Suzuki tried Yano out as a tag partner for one brief month in 2005, before deciding he wasn’t up to scratch and beating him senseless as a result. The two would face off in numerous tag matches in the years since as Yano is a founding member of CHAOS, a rival faction to Suzuki-gun, but it wasn’t until the 2012 G1 Climax Tournament that the Yano/Suzuki feud began in earnest. Yano caused a big upset as he beat Suzuki in the G1 that year and only made things worse when he beat Suzuki again in the 2013 New Japan Cup and both the 2013 & 2014 G1 Climax tournaments. Suzuki, known as ‘The Ill Natured Man’, doesn’t like losing. Least of all to a man like Toru Yano, the clown prince of New Japan who has dubbed himself ‘The Sublime Master Thief’. Their never-ending feud shows no signs of stopping in 2015, but Yano gets an early chance here to embarass Suzuki-gun on the grandest stage, albeit without Suzuki present in the match. To do so, he’s enlisted the help of Pro-Wrestling NOAH trio Naomichi Marufuji (the current GHC Heavyweight Champion) and TMDK (Australian tag team The Mighty Don’t Kneel of Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls). With this sort of heavyweight back-up, Team Yano & Friends will pose a serious threat for Suzuki-gun who amongst their ranks in this match have; madman Takashi Iizuka, ex-WWE Superstar Shelton ‘X’ Benjamin and The Killer Elite Squad of Davey Boy Richards Jr. & Lance Archer (former 2x IWGP Heavyweight Tag Champions and current NWA World Tag Champions).
04. Special Singles Match – ‘Full Settlement’ Rules: Kazushi Sakuraba vs Minoru Suzuki
Kazushi Sakuraba, known as ‘The Gracie Hunter’ and considered a legend in mixed martial arts, has had a long standing rivalry with fellow MMA pioneer Minoru Suzuki, although the two first met in the ring just this year. Suzuki, trained by the legendary Yoshiaki Fujiwara (innovater of the Fujiwara Armbar), started his career in New Japan, but left for the re-born UWF in the late 80’s before following his mentor to the short-lived Pro-Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi promotion. He then went on to form Pancrase in 1993 with fellow martial artist Masakatsu Funaki, which was one of the very first MMA organisations in the world. The very same year young Kazushi Sakuraba, a hotly touted amateur wrestler at the high-school level, made a switch to the pro-leagues and almost signed for Pancrase before opting to join Nobuhiko Takada’s UWFi which was the premier shootstyle promotion in Japan and a big box-office rival to Pancrase. From there on the two men’s careers took seperate paths, Suzuki becoming a big star in those early MMA days, raking up impressive wins against the likes of Ken Shamrock, while Sakuraba learned the pro-wrestling ropes under the tutelage of Takada and catch-as-catch-can legend Billy Robinson. As Suzuki’s body began to take the toll of competing in MMA, he made the switch to pro-wrestling with New Japan, while Sakuraba parleyed his expert training into a highly successful MMA career once the UWFi folded. Now, eighteen years on from their respective career changes, both men’s natural rivalry has come to the boil. Sakuraba (dragged into Suzuki’s never-ending feud with Toru Yano as Yano’s impromptu tag partner) has found a lot to dislike about his peer Minoru Suzuki and, as the animosity between the two men visibly increased with every encounter, the fan’s anticipation for a match between these two shootstyle legends has grown to a fever pitch. That match takes place at WK9 under what New Japan are calling ‘Full Settlement’ rules, which allow for victory by submission or knock-out only, which is sure to make this a fiercely contested bout.
05. NEVER Openweight Championship – Tomohiro Ishii © vs Togi Makabe
2013 was something of a break-out year for Tomohiro Ishii, the perenial undercard performer had been slowly winning fans over with his ability and fire and after an MVP performance in that year’s G1 Climax tournament it seemed as if big things were in store for the criminally underrated Ishii. His moment came in February 2014 when he defeated Tetsuya Naito for the NEVER Openweight Title and, since winning the belt, Ishii has gone on to define the title more than any of its previous holders. The openweight rule allows for anyone to challenge for the belt, regardless of any weight limit, but under Ishii the title has become a byword for the sort of high intensity, hard-hitting matches that Japanese crowds will always covet, regardless of his opponent. Ishii faces a stern test at Wrestle Kingdom, however, as he endeavours to defend his NEVER Openweight Title against ‘The Unchained Gorilla’ Togi Makabe. As a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Makabe is easily the most decorated wrestler to challenge for the NEVER title to-date and it would certainly be a feather in Ishii’s cap if he could defeat him, but if anyone on the New Japan roster hits as hard as Ishii, it’s Makabe. This one’s certain to be a real slobber knocker, to borrow a turn of phrase from Good Ol’ JR.
06. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title – Ryusuke Taguchi © vs Kenny Omega
Ryusuke Taguchi, known by the bizarre title; ‘The Funky Weapon’ and the former tag team partner of one Prince ‘Finn Balor’ Devitt, finds himself at the top of the heap after a shift in personal left the Jr. Heavyweight division somewhat depleted. Kota Ibushi & Prince Devitt both transitioned from the Jr’s to the Heavyweight division and Taguchi has been left as the de-facto veteran of the Jr’s (Liger & Tiger Mask having long since given up on staying in contention for the Jr. titles), earning his 2nd IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title reign after defeating KUSHIDA for the belt this past September. His opponent at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Kenny Omega, is no stranger to Taguchi, the two having faced off numerous times in singles and tag competition over the years. That was a different Kenny Omega, however. When he signed for New Japan last October he professed his desire to wear the NJPW Lion Mark symbol with pride, but it was all a ruse to earn a contract. The Omega that faces Taguchi at WK9 now goes by the moniker of ‘The Cleaner’ and Kenny has vowed to clean up the Jr. Heavyweight division as the newest member of the Bullet Club and put Taguchi out for good.
07. IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles – Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows) © vs Meiyu Tag (Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto)
At Wrestle Kingdom 8 the Bullet Club team of ‘Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows captured the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles from the Killer Elite Squad and, since then, have gone on to hold the belts for the entirety of 2014, making their title reign the fourth longest in NJPW history, behind TenKoji, Cho-Ten & Bad Intentions (of which Karl Anderson was one half, along with Giant Bernard). Many teams have struggled to wrest the tag belts from Bullet Club’s grasp this past year, but all of them failed, including Meiyu Tag when the unsuccessfully challenged for the belts back at Invasion Attack last April. However, after a commanding performance in the World Tag League and after defeating the Bullet Club in the finals, Shibata & Goto have earned another shot at the belts, this time on the grandest stage of them all. It will be a challenge for them, however, as Gallows & Guns have proven to be formidable opponents, not least when their Bullet Club brothers are at ringside. Also, there have been communication issues between Goto & Shibata that Meiyu Tag will need to overcome if they are to become the new champions. Mis-communication almost scuppered their chances early on in the World Tag League, while Goto perhaps seems more interested in winning the belts than Shibata, even though if they won the tag titles it would be Shibata’s first ever title in professional wrestling.
08. Special Singles Match – Tetsuya Naito vs AJ Styles
‘The Stardust Genius’ Tetsuya Naito has had an interesting 2014, if not a successfull one. After returning from injury in 2013, winning the G1 Climax and going on to challenge then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome, it was always going to be a tough year to follow. But Naito has bounced back after losing to Okada, he’s roused the fans and reminded them of his talents, while putting on a string of great matches with some of the best New Japan has to offer. 2014 has been a year of re-building for Naito and he will definitely want to kick 2015 off the right way, with a victory over former IWGP Heavyweight Champion ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles. Meanwhile, AJ Styles has had an interesting year also. After leaving TNA he signed with New Japan and showed everyone why he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world and why his talents were going to waste in the US, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Kazuchika Okada at Invasion Attack this past April. He had a fantastic showing in the G1 as well, putting on some of the best matches of the tournament, one of which was against Tetsuya Naito who on that night defeated Styles and earned a future title shot. However, Styles lost the title before Naito got his chance, Hiroshi Tanahashi becoming champion instead. As such, an aggrieved Naito will be looking to propel himself straight back into title contention with a victory, but equally AJ Styles will be out to avenge his loss and build momentum towards reclaiming his title.
09. IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura © vs Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi made waves in 2014 when, after dropping the Jr. Heavyweight Title in unfortunate concussion-related circumstances, he made the transition from Jr. to Heavyweight, following in the footsteps of the likes of Prince Devitt, Shinjiro Otani & Jushin Liger. The concussion he received in his match with KUSHIDA kept him from competing in the G1 Climax, but now Ibushi looks to bounce back in spectacular style with his first challenge to a Heavyweight title. Shinsuke Nakamura, meanwhile, rebounded from a loss to Kazuchika Okada in the G1 finals by re-capturing his IWGP Intercontinental Title from the clutches of Bad Luck Fale. He then put on an impressive display as he defended the title against Katsuyori Shibata in a hotly contested bout. As Nakamura celebrated post-match, Kota Ibushi attacked him from behind with a German suplex, before mocking Nakamura’s signature phrase; YeaOH! To say this match has a lot of hype surrounding it would be an understatement. Their only prior meeting in singles competition came during the 2013 G1 Climax Tournament, a match which Tokyo Sports awarded its prestigious Match of the Year title and which ranked highly on many fan’s MOTY lists. Nakamura was victorious that day and many will be watching to see if Ibushi can claim revenge and his first Heavyweight title in professional wrestling.
10. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Hiroshi Tanahashi © vs Kazuchika Okada
You’ve probably read a fair bit about the continuing rivalry of the ‘Once in a Century Talent’ Hiroshi Tanahashi and ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada by this point. Other than AJ Styles six month reign with the belt, since Wrestle Kingdom V in 2011 there have been just two names associated with the IWGP Heavyweight Title; Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi. The story behind their rivalry is as old as time, it’s everywhere in nature and something that transcends language barriers. Okada, the young upstart, seeks to dethrone the alpha male Tanahashi and take his rightful place as leader of the pack, but the wily veteran isn’t going to give up his standing without a fight, but knows that his time is limited. The match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 will be the seventh singles encounter between these two mega-stars of Japanese wrestling, but it was a match many expected to never see, as after Tanahashi lost the title to Okada in October 2013 he declared he’d never challenge Okada for the title again. Then, to the shock of many, Tanahashi was the one to dethrone Styles and found himself once again as the man to beat in New Japan. Okada, meanwhile, had set about to recover from losing the title to Styles in the best possible way; by winning the 2014 G1 Climax Tournament, defeating his CHAOS stable-mate Shinsuke Nakamura in an amazing final at the Seibu Dome. Okada, with title shot briefcase in hand, successfully made his way along the Road to the Tokyo Dome and so the match was set, the seventh meeting of Okada and Tanahashi on the grandest of stages. More than any match-up, Okada vs Tanahashi has defined New Japan for the past few years and excited fans are looking to their match at the Tokyo Dome to be something very special. Okada, while referring to himself as ‘The New Ace’ of New Japan, has yet to take on the weight of responsibility that still lies with Tanahashi as THE top guy in NJPW, while Tanahashi surely knows this might be his last run with the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Both will be sure to give it their all in what’s bound to be a fiercely contested match-up entirely worthy of main event a show of this calibre.