It’s time for wrestling Christmas as we reach NJPW’s premier event, Wrestle Kingdom. The culmination of everything going on in this weird, horrible year comes to a head across two nights of intense wrestling action. For night one we’ll see The Empire battle NJPW icons as Will Ospreay takes on Kazuchika Okada and The Great-O-Khan battles Hiroshi Tanahashi, we’ll see Dangerous Tekkers defend against World Tag League winners Guerrillas of Destiny, Satoshi Kojima gets a shot at KENTA’s IWGP US Championship contract, the winners of the Best of the Super Juniors and Super J Cup fight for the fight to challenge Taiji Ishimori and the main event will see Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito lock horns once again for the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Double Championship. It was going to be a packed show, so let’s stop stalling and get into the action.

New Japan Rambo: Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI & Toru Yano defeated Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, Yuji Nagata, Toa Henare, Hirooki Goto, Yujiro Takahashi, YOSHI-HASHI, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Rocky Romero, DOUKI, SHO, Tiger Mask, Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji via survival

Before all the main card action, we had the customary New Japan Rambo. The New Japan take on the Royal Rumble was back and it had a special surprise for its final, a place in the King of Pro Wrestling title opening match tomorrow. Chase Owens was out first and he would be battling Ishii as number two. It only got worse as Minoru Suzuki came out third. Owens ran away and Suzuki went forearm wild with Ishii. Chase tried to interfere so the pair played ping pong with his head. Yuji Nagato was fourth and we got another stiff forearm fest between him and Suzuki. Henare was out next and went right after Ishii. Hirooki Goto was after that and took his time to the ring as Henare eliminated Suzuki and Nagata. They forearmed to the back as Ishii and Henare went back to fighting. Bullet Club got another dog in the fight as Yujiro Takahashi entered the fight and saved Chase from Goto but Henare came after him. Ishii eliminated Henare and Bullet Club worked over Goto as YOSHI-HASHI made his way to the ring. He fought off Chase and Yujiro and the Six-Man Tag Champs went to work on Bullet Club. Togi Makabe was out after that and also went after Bullet Club with lariats and eliminated both Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. Tomoaki Honma was out next and saved Makabe from elimination. A chop chain broke out and Hiroyoshi Tenzan came out to join in. Honma and Tenzan worked to eliminate Makabe, then turned on each other.

Rocky Romero took a break from commentary to come out next and showed he hasn’t missed a beat by going after Owens. Suzuki Gun got another contender as DOUKI came to the ring and promptly got himself eliminated by clubbing Rocky with his pipe. Lucky for Rocky, SHO was out next who sent the attacking DOUKI packing with a spear. As the fighting continued to get messier, BUSHI entered for LIJ and instantly eliminated Yujiro. He dived onto Yujiro outside and laid there to rest. Tiger Mask was next and went after the former Black Tiger, Rocky Romero. Next was Bad Luck Fale. He and Chase worked to eliminate Ishii, then Honma got knocked out as Gabriel Kidd tried to enter the ring. Tenzan was thrown out as the juniors worked together to try and throw out Fale. Chase was hit by combo offense from the juniors as Yuya Uemura came next. SHO and Rocky were eliminated as was Tiger Mask. It was down to Bullet Club and the Young Lions, with Yota Tsuji coming out to tip the scales in the Young Lion’s favourite. BUSHI reminded Chase he was still alive and beat him down outside as the Young Lions took on Fale. Last but not least was Toru Yano who watched Fale kill the Young Lions with Grenades. Bullet Club cleaned up the young lions leaving four men. The winners, BUSHI, Yano, Fale, and Owens will fight tomorrow for the KOPW title. Yano made it through without even having to enter this madness, that’s playing it smart.

Best of Super Juniors vs Super J Cup winner: Hiromu Takahashi defeated El Phantasmo via Roll-Up

After a special greeting from Japanese wrestling icon, Riki Choshu, the first match of the main card would decide who would do battle with Taiji Ishimori for the Junior Heavyweight Championship tomorrow. Would it be the Best of Super Junior winner Hiromi Takahashi or would it be Ishimori’s own stablemate in the Super J Cup winner El Phantasmo? Regardless of the outcome, it was safe to say these two were going to tear each other apart to get the title shot. ELP started by trying to be a dick and got kicked through a guardrail and hit with a diving senton. He hit the DVD into the turnbuckle but ELP ran away from Timebomb. He flipped out of a Sunset Bomb and leapt over Hiromu to hit one of his own, smacking Hiromu’s head off the floor. ELP looked to take a count-out win, then hit Takahashi with a rope-walk moonsault at 19. He tweaked his knee on the landing and the pair traded chops. ELP booted Takahashi away and went for the Rise of the Terminator but it was a fake-out to mock the crowd. Takahashi made him pay with a shotgun dropkick and falcon Arrow for a two-count. ELP stomped Takahashi’s feet and the chops came back out until ELP stomped Takahashi’s hands. Joint manipulation, a back rake, and the crotch stomp followed, then ELP hung Takahashi on the top rope for a senton.

He took Hiromu on a rope walk but Hiromu bit ELP’s finger and superkicked him on the top turnbuckle. Takahashi hit the wheelbarrow driver but ELP went back to the fingers. Takahashi hit Dynamite Plunger but every advantage was by swatting the hand. Takahashi scored a superkick and planted ELP with a flatliner. He tried for Timebomb 2 but ELP got him up into a Dudebuster. ELP escaped certain death again with a corner high kick and took out the ref falling from the turnbuckle. He hit Takahashi in the balls and brought him crashing to the mat with a Super Hurricanrana into a stalling frog splash. He tried for CR2 but a reversal forced him to hit a Style’s Clash for two. ELP continued the Omega plagiarism but Takahashi reversed a One-Winged Angel into another turnbuckle DVD. The reversals continued as ELP KO’ed Takahashi with a kick but CR2 was reversed again into a roll-up and Takahashi stole the win. This was incredibly fast-paced fun with ELP being a top dick and giving Ishimori a specific target for tomorrow’s match. I will always love Hiromu matches and this one was no different.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa w/Jado) defeated Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr w/DOUKI) via Apeshit to Taichi

Following that junior showcase, it was time for something more intense. We were dealing with two of the most villainous teams in New Japan as Dangerous Tekkers, the Suzuki Gun supergroup of Taichi, and Zack Sabre Jr were taking on the Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga, and Tanga Loa) of the Bullet Club. G.O.D had already blazed through World Tag League, would Dangerous Tekkers give them their next reign with the gold? The two teams brawled over Iizuka’s glove and Taichi strangled both G.O.D. They continued to choke out Tama, trapping him in countless pins and holds. Jado tripped Taichi and Tama took advantage with a Tongan Twist. DOUKI got taken out by Jado and Tanga went wild on Taichi. He continued to be targeted and felt the full wrath of G.O.D, even playing with him in-between moves. Taichi finally escaped with a Gameguri and ZSJ flew into a rage on G.O.D. He nearly won with a European Clutch and baited Tama with strikes into an Octopus. Unfortunately, they too were baited into a double clothesline from Tanga. The chokes to Tekkers continued and G.O.D systematically destroyed ZSJ. They winded ZSJ with an up-and-over bomb, then hit Guerrilla warfare on Taichi. They set up for the Super Powerbomb but ZSJ reversed into a guillotine and ordered Taichi to drop them both with a tower of doom. Taichi came in and downed G.O.D with Axe Bombers, then nailed the Buzzsaw Kick. Everyone was downed by counter hits and the Tekkers duo looked to end Tanga with Zack Mephisto but Tama made the save with a Gun Stun. Taichi hit the Dangerous Suplex but and ripped off the trousers but Jado interfered and Tama knocked out Taichi with Iikuza’s Iron Glove. Tanga Loa quickly followed-up with Apeshit and G.O.D were once again tag champs. This was excellent villain vs villain warfare with Taichi giving another big match performance. My inner-Taichi bias makes me angry with the result but hey, the bigger cheats won. I can’t argue with that.

IWGP US Title Contract: KENTA defeated Satoshi Kojima (w/Hiroyoshi Tenzan) via Go 2 Sleep

So, this match came out of the left field. KENTA has held this briefcase for so long, waiting for Jon Moxley to return to NJPW. For now, he’d have to contend with a very game, Satoshi Kojima. The Bread Club leader has been on a tear as of late so his efforts were being rewarded with a chance to win some new gold. Making things hotter, Moxley himself had assured whoever won, he was coming for them. KENTA started with stalling so Kojima stomped the life out of him. He trapped KENTA in a headlock and knocked him out of the ring with a shoulder tackle. He bailed and launched Kojima into Tenzan, then DDT’ed Kojima into the floor. KENTA began a methodical breakdown of Kojima’s neck and back, utilising neckbreakers and stiff strikes. Kojima tried to fire up but KENTA raked his eyes and kicked him back down. He tried again with Mongolian Chops and unloaded a clip of machine gun chops in the corner. KENTA returned fire with machine gun forearms but Kojima came back with a corner forearm and tried for the top rope elbow. KENTA leapt up to meet him and brought him crashing down with a superplex. KENTA nailed him with a diving clothesline and the pair fought onto the apron where Kojima dropped KENTA on his face with a DDT on the apron. KENTA got out of the Koji Cutter and dumped Kojima with a DDT before hitting a Hesitation dropkick in the corner. He nearly impaled Kojima with a double stomp and tried for the Go 2 Sleep but Kojima reversed into the Koji Cutter. Kojima looked to end things with the lariat but KENTA reversed into a powerslam. He went for the briefcase but Kojima swatted it away and caught KENTA with a clothesline. He tried the lariat again but ate the Busaiku knee. Kojima fought free again and the pair stunned each other with yet more stiff strikes. Kojima fought as best he could but KENTA was able to finally hit Go 2 Sleep and won the match. it was great to see Kojima get another big match and he sure as hell put on a masterclass but KENTA was too much for him to beat. Now, we eagerly await KENTA/Moxley.

Special Single: Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated The Great-O-Khan via High Fly Flow

Before this match, NJPW announced a new smartphone game, NJPW Strong Spirits, and teased the fact that NJPW will be coming to US and UK TV soon. It was time for the first match of The Empire vs Icons double-bill. The Great-O-Khan has been Ospreay’s right-hand man since the group formed and now, he had been granted a chance at one of the biggest stars in NJPW. Hiroshi Tanahashi is no small feat, despite their previous attacks, and has often been the proving ground for any new return to NJPW in the Tokyo Dome. Could O-Khan topple the Ace and bring back a scalp to The Empire? They started off technical with O-Khan trying to use his technical roots to trap Tanahashi. Tanahashi took control with a side-headlock but O-Khan made it to the ropes and knocked him down into a scoop slam. Tanahashi tried to skin the cat but O-Khan chopped his hands and pummelled him around ringside, then slammed him onto the ramp. He made it back to the ring but O-Khan was waiting to chop his ear and trap him in a kneebar. Tanahashi ate O-Khan’s boot but caught a bicycle kick into a Dragon Screw and began his comeback. The previous knee injuries flared up so he was slow to recover but managed to nail the somersault senton and tried for a sling-blade but O-Khan caught him into a front facebuster. A slugfest broke out and Tanahashi was kicked in the face. The Mongolian chops rained down again and he drove Tanahashi into the mat with an elevated flatliner. He locked on a stretch muffler and skinned the cat off an overhead belly to belly and nailed Twist and Shout into a sling blade. O-Khan dragged Tanahashi down from the top with the claw and locked in a Cobra Twist. That was followed by a duo of revolving Suplex and Tanahashi reversed the Eliminator into another Twist and Shout. He took O-Khan over with a bridging Dragon and hit a High Fly Flow to O-Khan’s back. He delivered a second to his front and claimed the victory. The Ace fought through hell and high-water to get another win over someone who was determined to cripple him. O-Khan could not pass the Tanahashi test but he certainly got one hell of a showing.

Special Single: Kazuchika Okada defeated Will Ospreay (w/Bea Priestley) via Rainmaker

The second Empire vs Icon match was one we’ve seen play out many times with different outcomes. Ospreay has borne a grudge against his former faction leader and now had the chance to overtake Okada and prove to the world that he was better than him. The Empire would finally be able to properly establish themselves with a win over someone the calibre of the Rainmaker. The pair started with a quick lock-up, then the forearms started flying. The pair spent a good few minutes trading shots in and around the ring remaining equally matched as Okada showed off his high-flying side. He dived onto Ospreay but a Priestley distraction let Ospreay take advantage with a lethal kick. Ospreay pulled off the ringside padding and battered Okada off the ringside furniture, then dropped him on the floor with a neckbreaker. He assailed Okada with elbows and hung him over the apron for a leaping knee drop. Okada tried to fight back but Ospreay dumped him on his back and chopped him in the corner. The back attacks continued with a backbreaker and neck crank. Okada came back with a backdrop and hit the comeback combo, drilling Ospreay with a flapjack. The Air Raid Crash followed by the Money Clip but Ospreay was ready for it and fought into Pip Pip Cheerio. He continued with a gut blow into a bridging German but Okada came back with Heavy Rain. The two battled exhaustion with elbows and chops with Okada getting enough energy to dropkick Ospreay off the top rope to the floor.

Ospreay was sent into the railing and both men took kicks on the floor. The top rope John Woo followed in the ring but Ospreay fought out of the Tombstone and nailed Cheeky Nandos into an Inverted DDT. He tried for the Stormbreaker but Okada wriggled out and tried for a dropkick combo but Ospreay caught him into a sit-out powerbomb. They spilled to the exposed floor and Ospreay put Okada through the timekeeper’s table. He dragged Okada in and nailed a diving forearm and powerbomb but Okada wouldn’t stay down. He tried for Stormbreaker on the apron but that failed and Okada caught him into a tombstone on the apron. Okada grabbed the wrist, nailed a dropkick, and locked on the Money Clip again. A spinning Tombstone helped soften Ospreay up and the Clip went on again. Ospreay made the ropes and tried to fight back but Okada just stared and hit him, no remorse or mercy, just anger, and vengeance. Okada went to the top but Ospreay met him up there and the pair slugged it out again. Ospreay brought him down with a Spanish Fly and escaped the Money clip into a roaring elbow and Oscutter. Now it was Ospreay’s turn to be brutal but his emotions got the better of him and he ran into another Okada dropkick. Okada then dropkicked Ospreay out of a second Oscutter, blasted him with a spinning Rainmaker, and got caught with a tombstone. Ospreay picked up Okada and hit him with a Rainmaker but somehow only got two. Okada took this as an insult, drilled Ospreay with a Tenzan Driver, then finished him off with a Rainmaker. Okada just went 35 minutes with the man that betrayed him and finished him in the most meaningful way possible. this match rocked from a physicality standpoint and it delivered on the intensity of a feud like this even if I felt it ran a little too long. They were trying to make an epic and they mostly succeeded. Big match Okada is back and we got to see the Rainmaker again in all its glory.

IWGP Intercontinental & Heavyweight Double Championship: Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito via Kamigoye

Last but not least, the main event. A rivalry that has spanned countless years and spawned countless high-quality yet also terrifying matches. Kota Ibushi, the Golden Star vs Tetsuya Naito, the head of LIJ and current double champion. This match had the internet scared for both guy’s safety so it had a lot of expectations to deal with. Would it finally be Ibushi’s time to claim the top titles or would Naito put down Ibushi once again? Once again, things started technically with the pair trying early on for submissions. Naito got Tranquilo and locked on a headlock before getting hit with a Frankensteiner. He couldn’t capitalise as Naito swept his leg on the apron and threw him across the ramp, landing him on his head. Naito continued to focus on Ibushi’s neck and tried to choke him out with a head-scissor. He bounced Ibushi off the turnbuckles and hammered him with elbows into an inverted DDT. Ibushi answered back with a beautiful dropkick and landed a standing Moonsault. The momentum shifted again as Naito charged Ibushi into the corner and Ibushi reversed the Combination Cabron into an apron lariat. Naito landed on his neck and rolled to the floor. Ibushi stalked him and got hit with a swinging neckbreaker on the floor. The pair took a breather on the floor and Naito dumped Ibushi on his neck with an apron neckbreaker where Ibushi’s head hit the guardrail and another neckbreaker to soften him up for a leg Nelson. Ibushi fought out of Gloria and dropped Naito with a German into a double stomp. He followed up with a powerslam but Naito caught him into another leg choke. Ibushi made the ropes and tried to slug it out with Naito but they had little effect and Naito elbowed him senseless. Gloria followed but only got two so he took the fight to the top where Ibushi sent him falling with a backflip kick.

The fight returned to the apron and after a backdrop, Ibushi launched Naito to the floor with a snap Rana, watching as Naito’s legs collided with the railing. Naito barely beat the 20-count and desperately fought out of the second rope German, leaving Ibushi hanging with more stiff strikes. He slumped Ibushi against the top turnbuckle and dropped Ibushi on his neck with a super Poisonrana. Ibushi fought out of Destino and downed Naito with a Buzzsaw, then tried for Kamigoye but Naito reversed into Destino for two. He tried for a second but Ibushi caught it into the Bastard Driver, folding Naito onto his neck again. They slugged it out on their knees and upped the intensity of their exchange as they made it to their feet. The pair were downed again as Naito nailed a Koppu kick and Ibushi floored him with a lariat. Ibushi hit the Golden Star Bomb and the Kamigoye but somehow only got a two-count. He went up for a Phoenix Splash and missed so Naito hit a second Destino but he two, only got two. More elbows and kicks flew as Ibushi nailed another head kick and Kamigoye but still only got two. The punishment Naito was absorbing was inhuman. The kneepad came down but Naito caught him with a step-up enzuigiri into Valentia but couldn’t hit Destino. Ibushi blasted him with a wrist clutch knee and landed one final Kamigoye for the three-count. Ibushi had finally done the impossible, surpassed God, surpassed his limits, and claimed the IWGP Double Championship. It had taken all his energy and the absorption of horrendous amounts of damage but he’d made it. This was one of the scariest matches I’ve watched in a while for the sheer landings they were willing to take to win. Neither man cares about their neck but hey, if they’re willing to do it, I sure as hell will enjoy it.

With that, Naito presented Ibushi with the belts. There was no BS, no ego, just respect, something rare from an Ingobernable. He got to celebrate with his titles and the show ended on a happy note. Oh, wait, no it didn’t. Tomorrow’s opponent, Jay White made sure to congratulate the champ ahead of their match tomorrow. He promised to be the killjoy to Ibushi’s reign and drag him back to Earth as he transcends Ibushi as God. With that, the show ended properly. Ibushi had a feel-good win and made the crowd happy on leaving. He had brought a pleasant end to a pleasant show with a bunch of high-class matches. Whilst I don’t agree with every decision, this show was fun to watch. Every match had something to offer. I will say, Okada/Ospreay dragged a bit at times for me but even that was enjoyable. Now we look to tomorrow as a new fighter takes the writing reins and covers White/Ibushi, Shingo Takagi vs Jeff Cobb (lucky), EVIL vs SANADA, and much much more. We can rejoice now as Ibushi finally got the titles he’s deserved for so long.

All images courtesy of NJPW Global Twitter, FITE, njpw1972 Twitter, njpw world Twitter, 

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