Wrestle Kingdom 13 is in the books and New Japan fans are still buzzing over the event. Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan’s biggest night of the year, the night when all the major stars are on hand and the most important storylines over the past 12 months see a payoff.
New Japan seems to have once again delivered a hit, as social media was overwhelmingly positive toward the event. In a business where WWE is often criticized for excessive runtimes and meaningless matches, New Japan has apparently found a winning formula.
There were no backstage vignettes, very few guys had mic time and the matches themselves were tight and straight to the point. Indeed, the company routinely focuses on the in-ring product and Wrestle Kingdom 13 was no different.
Fans were treated to many memorable moments from the event and those moments have laid the groundwork for months to come. But there are 10 moments that stand out from the rest.
Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi Dream Match
From the moment that Will Ospreay first rose to prominence in New Japan, fans have wanted to see him square off against Kota Ibushi. It just seemed like such a natural match-up, one that had to happen at some point. Ospreay is The Aerial Assassin, the highflier with no fear.
Ibushi is The Golden Star, the legendary talent that owns both the air and the mat in New Japan. He is the standard by which all other highfliers are measured. It was only a matter of time until he came face-to-face with Ospreay, who wanted to test The Golden Star as he’s never been tested before.
But this match was about much more than just bragging rights. This was also about championship gold. Ibushi’s NEVER Openweight title was on the line. Ibushi had won the belt from Hirooki Goto and during his reign, he never really had a serious contender for the title. But that changed when Will stepped up. Now Ospreay is the new NEVER Openweight champion and he won it in a match that will likely never be forgotten. The battle may have ended but the war may not be over, as it’s hard to imagine that these two are finished just yet.
Los Ingobernables Capture the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships
Shingo Takagi shocked NJPW fans when he was revealed as the newest member of Los Ingobernables de Japon. LIJ leader Tetsuya Naito had announced that the stable was indeed getting a new member, but no one really knew who that member was going to be.
But Takagi has fit right in and become a valuable member of the group Now he is a champion, as he and Bushi won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at Wrestle Kingdom 13. The win came in a Triple Threat Tag Team Match which also featured Roppongi 3K and the defending champs, Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru of Suzuki Gun.
Desperado and Kanemaru held the titles for 304 days going into WK13 but their dominance in the division did not extend to New Japan’s top stage. LIJ are the new champs and for fans of Shingo Takagi, the win could not have come soon enough.
Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr Deliver a Smash-Mouth Classic
In what many pro wrestling analysts believed would be a paint-by-numbers affair, Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr delivered an instant smash-mouth classic. The two men have waged war in the past, so the groundwork had already been laid for Wrestle Kingdom.
But when their time came to step up, they did exactly that. This was one of the best matches on the card as both men gave maximum effort. It was a nice mix of styles, with Sabre as the technical mastermind and Ishii as the steamroller. Each man had his own routine but both of them came together to create something special.
These two have real chemistry and that is what makes their rivalry work. Tomohiro is The Stone Pitbull, capable of mowing down anyone who gets in his way. Sabre is the submission technician, the man who can tap out anyone. When these two clashed, it was Sabre who got the win and the REV PRO British Heavyweight Championship. But considering how good this match was, it could very well be that this rivalry is far from over.
Tama Tonga: New Year, New Me
Tama Tonga is one of the most controversial figures in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He also happens to be one of the most entertaining as well.
Tonga spent the majority of 2018 making enemies around the world. From every word he wrote on social media to every word he spoke on the mic, Tonga put forth a major effort to become the most hated man in the business. Fans knew it was all part of the show of course. But many began to wonder how much of this was a work and how much of it was really him.
But suddenly Tama Tonga has become a new man. He’s now referring to himself as “The Good Guy'” and he brought that reformed persona to Wrestle Kingdom, where he refused to take the low road. Tonga didn’t cheat in his Triple Threat Tag Team Match. In fact, when his brother Tonga Loa attempted to break the rules, Tama stopped him.
Tama offered his hand in friendship as he continuously tried to prove his sincerity to the New Japan crowd. It’s unknown where all of this is going or how long he will continue down this road. But in the meantime, he has once again found a way to raise his game to a whole new level.
Cody Rhodes Does the Honors to Juice Robinson
Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks are on their way to All Elite Wrestling, their new pro wrestling company. The trio officially announced the venture on January 1 and are expected to kick AEW into full gear in 2019. But first, Cody had a title to drop.
That title was the IWGP United States Championship. Rhodes has become something of a part-time pro wrestler in recent months, as he’s divvied up his time between New Japan, Ring of Honor and the NWA. But everywhere he goes, he wins gold. Now he’s without any gold and that’s the best move for everyone involved.
Juice Robinson has put his time in and he’s earned the U.S. title. He and Cody had a good feud and became bitter enemies along the way. The typically carefree Robinson had a serious ax to grind against Cody and he did just that at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Now Juice is the champ once again and Cody is free to commit his time to AEW.
In one of the most bizarre moments of the night, Kushida time traveled and became a kid again. In any other environment, this spot would have been laughed out of the building but for New Japan, it was just the right amount of nonsense.
But what followed was anything but nonsense, as Kushida battled Taiji Ishimori for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Kushida is highly regarded by many as perhaps the best junior heavyweight to ever perform in New Japan and he once again earned that title at Wrestle Kingdom.
However, Kushida did drop his actual title to Ishimori. Ishimori has reinvented his pro wrestling career thanks to working with The Bullet Club, where he became The Bone Soldier. Ishimori continues to impress every time he steps into the ring and WK13 was no exception. The two men had a great match and It was indeed one of the highlights of the card.
The Rainmaker Returns and The Switchblade Rises to the Top
Two major moments happened in the first of Wrestle Kingdom’s two semi-main events. First was the return of The Rainmaker. For the first time since losing the IWGP Championship, Kazuchika Okada used his Rainmaker music, entrance and gear for his match.
New Japan fans were immediately transported back to Okada’s IWGP title run, which remains the longest in company history at 720 days. Okada looked great, he was in the zone and he delivered one of his best performances of the past several months.
The second thing that came from this match was the ascension of Jay White as the next top player in New Japan. Fans have witnessed his rise as one of the most buzz-worthy stars of the company and they’ve been more than impressed. White may be a despicable heel but he’s also gaining respect for his commitment to his craft.
Now that he’s the head of The Bullet Club, the sky is the limit. Jay White has become the hottest star in NJPW and he’s done it at the expense of Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, both of whom have fallen to The Switchblade. New Japan is promoting White’s rise as the highlight of the new era while Okada is seen as the previous chapter. The fact is that Okada is only five years older than White. But the drama is there and so is the rivalry, which is likely not over yet.
Chris Jericho and Tetsuya Naito Deliver an Early Match of the Year Candidate
Chris Jericho is proving once again that there is definitely life after WWE. He’s also proving once again that he is perhaps The Best in The World.
Y2J walked into Wrestle Kingdom as the hated outsider, the legend that wanted nothing more than to destroy New Japan’s idols. He was ready for a war with Tetsuya Naito and that’s exactly what he got .The leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon took the fight to Jericho and he gave as good as he received.
This was a brawl to end all brawls. Jericho and Naito battled inside the ring, outside the ring and on the ramp. They fought as if their lives depended on it and delivered more than one crushing high spot after another. Jericho took a piledriver on the ramp and Naito took one on the announce table that refused to break.
Steel chairs were smashed, kendo sticks were swung and both men went through hell to entertain the crowd. Jericho did what a pro does because he brought out the best in Naito. Tetsuya got over on a true legend of the business but he had to earn every inch of that win. Jericho may, or may not, be finished with New Japan. But whatever he does next, he will be hard pressed to top this match. But knowing Chris Jericho, he will do exactly that.
Hiroshi Tanahashi Aces Kenny Omega
The rivalry between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega has been compared to Brett Hart versus Shawn Michaels and it’s a fitting comparison. Tana is the traditional babyface hero, the no-nonsense star out to prove he is the best. Omega is the upstart with a massive chip on his shoulder, the guy that laughs at tradition and wants to take over the world.
But even though the similarities are there, the fact is that Tanahashi and Omega wrote their own story in New Japan. Their showdown was indeed about the old school versus the new school. But it was also about giving two of the company’s best a platform to showoff as only they can.
That’s indeed what they did, as this match was an instant classic. It was superbly crafted from top to bottom. It began on an even pace, rose up with high action and fell back down with moments of drama. The bout gained steam and evolved as time went on and fans knew they were witnessing a great story unfold.
At 41, Tanahashi is considered to be the aged veteran. He is the established Ace, the Once in a Century Talent. Tanahashi is the man that brought New Japan back from the brink and made them relevant again. So when it comes to who should hold the company’s top title when it matters the most, Tana is the right choice.
Omega is likely on his way out. Jay White is on his way up. If anyone needs to hold the championship and pass it on to the next top star, it’s Tanahashi. But for now, The Ace of New Japan is back on top and he’s earned the right to enjoy the view.