Wrestle Kingdom 12

One of New Japan’s most anticipated cards delivers

by Trace "Two Scoops" Evans, Owen Douglass | January 08, 2018

Rating:   GOOD

ProWrestling.Cool is finally starting to dip our toe into covering New Japan Pro Wrestling, which is becoming more and more prominent in the North American wrestling scene. This show had a lot of buzz around it as WWE's Chris Jericho has come to the company to challenge Kenny Omega, the man who put on a match that Dave Meltzer rated six stars at the previous Wrestle Kingdom.

Overall, the show was great as it clocked in at around six hours with no intermission and only really dragged during one match. Every match on the card brought something different to the table and all involved stepped up their game as this the biggest show for New Japan every year. The match of the night was clearly the Fatal 4-Way for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

ProWrestling.Cool also want to make sure to welcome Trace Evans to the editorial team as our NJPW Correspondent. This is his first contribution to the site, and we look forward to seeing more of his continued coverage of New Japan for us.

New Japan Rumble

Masahito Kakihara wins

Rating:   BAD

Trace: Thumb in the Middle

The New Japan Rumble’s usually a cluster of forgotten wrestlers. It’s either current NJPW talent not cut out for making the Wrestle Kingdom card, talent from other organizations, or old legends who no long have a place headlining any major event. For that reason, it’s a cluster of quick, nonsensical eliminations and the occasional fun spots. This will never compare to the Royal Rumble, nor should it, but it at least serves as a fun opener with all the unexpected entrants, and Masahito Kakihara winning after his fight with cancer is a pleasant victory compared to the usual outcomes.

Owen: Thumb Down

This match was a letdown compared to past iterations of the New Japan Rumble. The fun of this Rumble is supposed to be surprise cameos from the past getting to show off their big moves, but the fast pace of eliminations didn’t really give time for that, nor were there any particularly big surprises - especially compared to last year. The only part that really got my attention was Masahito Kakihara and Cheeseburger putting together some fun spots at the end of the match, but it was short-lived and didn’t make up for 30 previous minutes

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match

The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) def. Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh) (c)


Trace: Thumb Up

Thank goodness for the Young Bucks. They’ve solved a significant problem in New Japan’s Jr. Heavyweight tag division. As the last team standing in the way of Roppongi 3K completely running the table – on their debut, no less – the Bucks’ victory means there’s far less risk of 3K stagnating without believable competition at the top.

As for the match, I wouldn’t call it the Bucks’ finest, though that’s hard to nail down given their long list of high-quality battles. It still exhibited so much of the innovation they’ve brought to tag team wrestling with fantastic double team moments, spots that had me questioning if Yoh was legitimately injured, and a surprising lack of superkicks. I’m still surprised we didn’t get into the double digits on those. Don’t let anybody tell you that’s all there is to the Young Bucks.

Owen: Thumb in the Middle

I enjoyed the way they incorporated Yoh’s back injury off the bump on the ramp into the storytelling of the match, as they also took out the back of Matt Jackson. The problem was that this limitation to the two’s mobility and movesets did hamper the match a bit. Like Trace, I too was disappointed in the lack of superkicks as I had a counter all set on my phone while watching. Overall it was a solid opener to the main card and the finish made sense, but there were too many small issues for me to give it a thumb up

Gauntlet Match for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship

Chaos (Baretta, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano) def. Bullet Club (Back Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa) (c), Michael Elgin & War Machine (Hanson, Raymond Rowe), Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, Zack Sabre Jr.), Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, Togo Makabe)

Rating:   THE WORST

Trace: Thumb Down

Here’s a recurring Wrestle Kingdom tradition that doesn’t need to be put out to pasture, but it’s increasingly out of place compared to the rest of the card. It’s starting to become a New Japan Rumble for forgotten current wrestlers that should have found a more prominent spot on the card (save for Taichi). The action in the ring was quite forgettable, which is a shame given the talent, and the ending with Chaos taking the belts from Bullet Club’s Tongan contingent came off as nothing more than an unexpected outcome for unexpected outcome’s sake.

Owen: Thumb Down

I agree with Trace on this one. I legitimately can’t remember anything about this match other than Baretta winning his for championship as a heavyweight. This match was a mess with bodies flying everywhere and it being difficult to keep track of what is going on. It doesn’t help that these belts are constantly changing hands, so it’s hard to get excited about this match since you know it doesn’t really matter all that match. It’s a shame, considering the talent that was saddled with this as their participation on the show.,

Singles Match

Kota Ibushi def. Cody


Trace: Thumb up

I expected a fair bit more shenanigans in this match, given that Cody has several reasons to be going after Kota Ibushi without a title on the line (and indeed, some of that would be answered at another time as of this article). What we got instead was an evolution of two incredible wrestlers, as Cody continues to stand out more in look, presence, and vile heel behavior, while Kota… okay, Kota Ibushi still looks about the same, this being of raw, almost sexualized passion for combat, but he continues to be one of the most solid talents I’ve ever seen in the ring.

My one hang-up with this match was a Cross Rhodes to the outside not ending Ibushi’s night, and in fact giving him barely enough time to believably recover and take the win. Any other move to the floor could accomplish this match’s finish and establish Ibushi being hurt like hell, but instead Cody’s finisher –essentially a Super Cross Rhodes given it started on the apron – is diminished for inexplicable reasons. This was a minor hang-up, though, amid an intense match with two talented wrestlers I only want to see more of in the months to come.

Owen: Thumb in the Middle

See, that Super Cross Rhodes being used just for a near countout and then Kota Ibushi pretty much no selling it for the rest of the match on the way to the victory rubbed me the wrong way and is enough that I can’t give this match two thumbs up. Don’t get me wrong, this match was excellent otherwise and I really enjoy Brandi Rhodes’ heel work on the outside as she suckered in Ibushi with a fake injury. I expect big things out of both of these two coming out of this great performance, as Ibushi should be heading toward gold and Cody’s future possibilities are limitless

IWGP Tag Team Championship Match

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil & Sanada) def. Killer Elite Squad (Dave Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) (c)

Rating:   THE BEST

Trace: Thumb Up

Killer Elite Squad was undoubtedly my surprise of the night. Having only started watching NJPW on the regular midway through 2017, I couldn’t determine what the appeal was of two WWE failures as beefy, angry hosses on the roster. If KES can continue to wrestle like they did at Wrestle Kingdom 12, I will gladly consider myself properly shut up (and spit on, given Archer’s penchant for water bottles).

In their loss to Los Ingobernables de Japon’s top duo, KES came out in this match absolutely on fire. I’ve never seen such intensity from them before. They were fast, vicious, reckless, and nasty. They tore apart two incredible wrestlers in Sanada and Evil, and the finish, with Archer trapped behind the ringside doctor and completely out of place to break up a surprise pin, was more nuance than I expected from this match.

As an aside, don’t sleep on Sanada. Paradise Lock aside, he’s heavyweight championship material.

Owen: Thumb Up

I want to start of by saying I am ALL about what is going on with Killer Elite Squad. I love me some asshole hoss wrestlers as long as they’re super entertaining, and watching Lance Archer magically producing water bottles just to spit at the crowd was very much my jam. I can’t ignore Sanada and Evil in this match either, as they were also great. The fact that they took these fun personalities and translated it so well into the body of the match, it hooked me throughout and was a blast to watch. LIJ outsmarting KES at the end with trapping Archer was beautiful and fit perfectly

Hair vs. Hair, No Seconds Deathmatch for the NEVER Openweight Championship

Hirooki Goto def. Minoru Suzuki (c)


Trace: Thumb in the Middle

Maybe I’m taking for granted just how much Hirooki Goto’s been chasing Minoru Suzuki for the NEVER Openweight Title, but I couldn’t understand why this match carried enough meaning for Suzuki to have his men stay non-involved until after the finish. It was brutal, certainly, and Goto’s toughness against the legendary nastiness of Minoru Suzuki was highlighted beautifully, but this didn’t feel like a climactic confrontation. If anything, it felt like the closest thing to a John Cena-level comeback an openweight match can have.

That’s a disservice to both of the men here. They both deserve better, and on this card, it certainly wasn’t quite enough.

Owen: Thumb Up

The No Seconds stipulation made sense to me, as it showed how Minoru Suzuki was super cocky about the entire match, which was also part of the reason he put his own hair on the line along with his title. This cockiness continued on the way he moved in the ring, messing with Hirooki Goto for a majority of it until Goto started to show that he is a legitimate threat and could pull off the win. When this become apparent the rest of Suzuki-gun took it upon themselves to try to get involved against Suzuki's wishes.

I love how brutal these NEVER Openweight Title matches are, and this one delivered on it. That, combined with the storytelling throughout the match, and the entire post-match segment made this one of my favorites of the night. Suzuki-gun tried to escape with their leader as soon as the bell rang, but Suzuki knows he put himself into this situation and was going to handle his loss on his own terms. Him bringing in his own chair and cutting off his own hair was bad ass.

Fatal 4-Way for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Will Ospreay def. Marty Scurll (c), Hiromu Takahashi, Kushida

Rating:   THE BEST

Trace: Thumb Up

I wasn’t expecting to call this my match of the night, but I also didn’t expect four of the greatest junior heavyweights out there to rewrite how a fatal four-way match should work. Let’s first be clear: A singles title match between four men on a major card is extremely rare for New Japan’s style of booking, so it’s likely all the participants here felt they had to justify this match a little more than usual.

Consider it justified and then some.

The typical fatal four-way format of two men taking a powder while the other two fight and show off their spots never settled in here. Instead, this was a high-intensity war, four men all well aware that there was no one-on-one confrontation to be had, that pinfalls would be broken up, that blindside attacks would be frequent. With this awareness, the match was chaotic, pivoting from one-on-one to three-way to an all-out war at a moment’s notice, using every trick possible to isolate and eliminate opponents from the equation.

If fatal four-way matches in any organization seem a lot better over the next year or two, I’ll be happy to point you to this match as the reason why.

Owen: Thumb Up

This was easily my favorite match of the night as well. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as The Villain Marty Scurll showed up with goddamn WINGS. I had heard from colleagues that the Tokyo Dome does not tend to be a fan of the junior heavyweights, so these four men had an uphill climb out of the gate for that as well as the fact it was multi-man title match.

These four brought it nonstop with high-flying action and inventive spots that had me glued from bell to bell. Highlights included Will Ospreay's jump off the lighting grid and Marty Scurll's use of tape to try to make it easier to get a fall since everyone was kept involved for a majority of the match. A lot of people may look to the co-main event for their best match, but this is a sleeper hit that I would recommend you go out of your way to watch.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match

Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) def. Jay White

Rating:   THE WORST

Trace: Thumb Down

Jay White isn’t ready to become Switchblade. Bless Hiroshi Tanahashi’s heart for elevating a returning Young Lion to a Wrestle Kingdom title match on his return and trying his hardest to carry him to a good match, but there’s a lot of lessons for the kid to learn here. For a series of vignettes in which he’s shown stabbing books and papers, flipping out and raging in a secret hideout, Jay White instead came off as a confused, angsty teenager who isn’t sure what he wants in this world. I remember my teenage phase of collecting bits of barbed wire in my room while blasting Nine Inch Nails and the Quake 2 soundtrack and stewing over nothing in particular. The only meaningful difference here is that Jay White has a cooler trenchcoat and less acne.

The match doesn’t matter here. Just know it was dull and the worst on the card. Jay White needs to hang around Sami Callihan, find an edge, anything to find this character, to find this rage, and to prove he actually wants to be Switchblade. He’s wasting an incredible opportunity otherwise.

Owen: Thumb Down

I understand you need a cooldown match after that wild four-way, but this put the entire show on ice. I've come to expect show-stealing matches from the Intercontinental Championship, but this was a compete disaster. Jay White's inexperience and lack of a character combined with an injured Hiroshi Tanahashi and the fact that this show had zero intermissions resulted in a match I could barely muster any amount of care and zoned out for a majority of it. Hopefully White will keep at it and build upon his character, but this did him no favors.

No Disqualification Match for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship

Kenny Omega (c) def. Chris Jericho

Rating:   THE BEST

Trace: Thumb Up

Alpha vs. Omega exceeded expectations. That should answer the initial question on anyone’s mind.

I expected a brutal match, and instead got an almost poetic war between the Attitude Era of wrestling and - as New Japan booker Gedo calls it - Strong Style Evolved. Kenny Omega was brutalized with chairs, tables, and the sort of weaponized shenanigans you’d see on the road to a First Blood match against a Chris Jericho who was unreasonably nasty (he put the ref’s kid in a Liontamer RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, for crying out loud). In an awkward moment, Omega even bladed, which rightly should be unheard of in 2018. He fought back not with the same weaponry, but with V-Trigger knees directly into Jericho’s skull and other fierce, painful knockout blows. Jericho never bladed, but he too wore cuts and bruises from the match. His were simply a little more natural, and that difference and how it affected the final outcome, Kenny dropping Jericho on his neck with a brutal One-Winged Angel, told the story of the match. It may as well been an Attitude era wrestler endorsing the new era of Strong Style.

Technically, this is by far not match of the year. It’s still a great match, it’s proof Omega is top-tier talent, and it’s proof Jericho always has been one of the best.

Owen: Thumb Up

This match is a great way to transition WWE fans into checking out more New Japan, as it felt familiar while also introducing elements of Japanese Strong Style. I loved The of Jericho version of his character that he introduced in his latest WWE run, but Alpha Chris Jericho as an asshole Attitude Era wrestler who hates and wants to destroy the fundamentals of New Japan may be my favorite version of him yet. He brutalized Kenny Omega from the get-go and destroyed the entire commentary area just because he could in the process. He attacked Red Shoes and his Young Lion son as well to further lay out his hatred of the way this company operates and he felt like a true outsider.

There were some issues with the match for sure, as the use out the ringside count and rope breaks was inconsistent throughout, but this didn't take too much away that this wasn't a phenomenal match. Kenny Omega proved once again why is considered one of the best in the world and Jericho taking all of his big moves was fantastic, including a nasty One-Winged Angel onto a chair.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match

Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Tetsuya Naito


Trace: Thumb in the Middle

For all that Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho delivered, I’m worried that New Japan may have missed a critical moment not giving Naito the title at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a tortured and transformed Tetsuya Naito, struggling to come to terms with losing a main even spot at Wrestle Kingdom because the fans didn’t believe in him. He found peace in Los Ingobernables and the mentality of Tranquilo. This could have been his crowning moment, a crowd of adoring fans tens of thousands strong screaming “NA-I-TO!” through tears as his Street Fighter-esque techno music plays and he holds up the title in the spot he felt he deserved years ago. It would have been an emotional release the likes of which we haven’t seen since Daniel Bryan’s ultimate triumph at WrestleMania XXX.

Instead, he ran into arguably the greatest wrestler of our time, Kazuchika Okada, and was picked apart in a believable manner.

Let’s be perfectly clear: This was a good match. Like most of Okada’s best matches, it was believable. He is an incredible athlete, and his match style involves picking apart the styles of others, finding another counter or move to beat the best his opponents have to offer, or by being so resilient that his opponents are forced to make a critical mistake in attempting to beat him. This was no different in his victory over Naito, and in a vacuum, this would be a great main event for any standard. Okada pulled Naito away from the Tranquilo mentality. Emotion poured in over his chance at redemption, and Naito made emotional mistakes that would be understandable in any sport’s context.

Over the years-long path of redemption, I fear NJPW may have let a historic and defining moment slip away. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

Owen: Thumb Up

This felt like the true main event of Wrestle Kingdom to me. You could feel the crowd was extremely excited to see this match, and they put on a match that warranted this reaction. Kazuchika Okada is currently on one of the best runs of his career as a dominant champion, and Tetsuya Naito's story of getting to this match added a lot of stakes and support for him. I understand Trace's disappointment in Naito not completing his story here and getting the title, but with a card with Alpha vs. Omega already on it, I don't think the show needs it. As Okada said after the match, we could see him climbing out of this hole and once again getting the title shot at Wrestle Kingdom 13. If Okada is still champion and Naito maybe even raising the stakes by putting his career on the line or something, it could be huge.

But this match on its own was excellent as two of the biggest stars in the company put on a great match with barely any flaws or things to nitpick. Even with Naito losing, this was a good way to end a great night of wrestling.



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