It’s been a minute since THKD featured any pro wrestling coverage, but with New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 13 just a few days away, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a closer look at what might just be one of the most stacked cards in the history of the sport.  So without further ado, let’s break it down.

NEVER Openweight Championship:
Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Will Ospreay

Preview: This match has show-stealer potential written all over it.  Ibushi and Ospreay are arguably the two most all-around athletic wrestlers in NJPW and both are in the prime of their careers.  Ibushi has for better or worse been standing in the shadow of Kenny Omega ever since the Golden Lovers reformed, so this is a great opportunity for him to remind everyone that he’s one of the top five active pro wrestlers on the planet.  Ospreay’s 2018 was hindered by a number of injuries, but he has still managed to have outstanding matches with the likes of Hiromu Takahashi and Marty Scurll, not to mention a stellar tag team bout where he paired up with Hiroshi Tanahashi against the aforementioned Golden Lovers.  Both men have something to prove as they prepare to move forward into 2019, so expect them to pull out all the stops and bring the house down.

Prediction: This one is tough to call for a number of reasons.  With rumors swirling about the Elite starting their own promotion in 2018, one can’t help but wonder if Ibushi will end up jumping ship. Additionally, Ospreay’s health is something of a big question mark given the damage he’s sustained over the course of the year.  Ospreay’s been chasing the NEVER title for a while now though, so expect him to pick up the win.

 

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship:
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs. Roppongi 3K vs. Bushi & Shingo Takagi

Preview:  This rematch from this year’s Jr. Tag League tournament final has a ton of potential given the talent involved. On paper, Kanemaru and Desperado aren’t exactly the most thrilling pairing in junior tag division history, but they’ve managed to hang onto the titles for the bulk of 2018 thanks to Suzuki-gun’s underhanded tactics, proving many naysayers wrong in the process.  Roppongi 3K have for the most part proven themselves worthy of the meteoric push they’ve received since returning from excursion, but one still can’t help but feel it may be a case of “too much too soon” for the youngsters.  Bushi and Shingo have been killing it in typical LIJ fashion, with Shingo proving to be a more than excellent addition to one of the hottest stables in pro wrestling.  The various dynamics at work should make this a highly volatile and competitive bout.

Prediction:  LIJ are on fire at the moment, so expect Bushi and Shingo to go over.

British Heavyweight Championship:
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Preview:  The ZSJ vs. Ishii rivalry has been fascinating to watch due to the clash of styles.  On one hand, you’ve got Ishii, who’s basically a human battering ram and on the other you’ve got ZSJ who can tie a human being up in about a thousand different ways and seems to invent a new submission hold every time he steps in the ring.  ZSJ has impressed ever since joining Suzuki-gun and channeling his inner heel to discover a mean streak a mile long, while Ishii has long been a favorite here at the THKD bunker due to his stiff and violent-looking approach to in-ring action.  It will be interesting to see how much of this match is technical wizardry and how much of it is a balls-out brawl.

Prediction: Historically, Ishii has had a tough time finding answers for ZSJ’s superior submission skills and has relied on his toughness to survive the Zack attack.  He may have defeated ZSJ to win the British title, but something tells me that at WK13 he will “just. tap. out.”

IWGP Tag Team Championship:
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs. Evil & Sanada vs. The Young Bucks

Preview: Although I’m a fan of the Bucks, it’s a bit disappointing to see them needlessly shoe-horned into this title match, especially when they didn’t even compete in the Tag League tournament.  If this is their final match in NJPW then its understandable that they’d want to go out with a bang, but it just seems like it could have been booked better.  Evil and Sanada on the other hand have more than earned their spot, winning the tag tournament and taking on all comers; they’ve been spot-on as a team, but for some reason I see them both as having more potential as singles stars.  GOD are riding the wave of a Bullet Club resurgence, as the BCOGs have closed ranks and added some stellar new talent in the form of Jay White, Taiji Ishimori and Robbie Eagles. They’ve been dominating the competition of late, which is exactly what’s been needed in order to prove that there is life after the Elite for Bullet Club.

Prediction: GOD needs to win this one in order to help establish the latest incarnation of Bullet Club as a dominant force in NJPW, simple as that.

IWGP US Heavyweight Championship:
Cody (c) vs. Juice Robinson

Preview: I was there when Juice Robinson beat Jay White for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship; it was an incredibly thrilling moment, but unfortunately Robinson’s title reign failed to capitalize on the momentum the surprise win should have given him.  Robinson lost the title to Cody in his first defense and the less said about his showing in the G1 Climax tournament, the better.  Has Cody even defended the title once since winning it back in September?  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cody, but a 90+ day title reign doesn’t mean much if the title isn’t being defended.

Prediction: Juice needs this win way more than Cody does, given that he’s a rising star in NJPW and Cody is likely on his way out the door.  The belt needs to be in the hands of someone that can defend it regularly, lest it become an afterthought amidst the multitude of titles that NJPW currently has.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship:
Kushida (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori

Preview: Kushida might be the all around best junior heavyweight on the planet.  He can hit hard (that friggin’ neck punch!), he can fly and he can stretch the living hell out you.  Ishimori has been a dominant force in the division since coming into NJPW after a lengthy stint with Pro Wrestling Noah; his performances in the Best of the Super Jr.s and Jr. Tag League tournaments have served to put Bullet Club back on the map as a legitimate threat to all the titles in the division.  If Kushida doesn’t end up signing elsewhere (rumors of a WWE courtship have been swirling) and stays in the junior division, this could end up being the beginning of a heated rivalry that equals or exceeds his already legendary feud with Hiromu Takahashi.

Prediction: Kushida has already done everything there is to do in the junior division, whereas Ishimori is just getting started.  As such, look for the Bone Soldier to pick up the win.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Switchblade Jay White

Preview: It’s no secret that I wasn’t sold on Jay White when he returned from excursion; his WK12 match against Tanahashi was lackluster and his subsequent outings were up and down.  He performed well against Kenny Omega, besting him for the US title at New Beginning in Sapporo, but his defense against Adam Page was a tedious and overlong affair that benefited neither man. It wasn’t until White turned fully heel at Dominion that his character finally took shape and he’s subsequently become the best heel on the roster and by extension one of the best heels in all of pro wrestling.  His in-ring work has improved alongside his persona, making him one of the company’s top competitors.

On the other hand, something I will absolutely never be sold on is this pants-wearing, balloon-toting, red-haired version of Kazuchika Okada.  Where in the blue hell is the Rainmaker?! Seriously, Okada has seemingly been adrift ever since losing the title to Kenny Omega at Dominion.  He’s been getting his ass kicked by pretty much everyone, but no one has had his number more than White.

Prediction: I could see this going one of two ways; 1.) Okada returns to the Rainmaker persona at WK13 and hands White a royal ass-kicking or 2.) White beats Okada and subsequently provides the spark that brings back the Rainmaker persona.  At the moment I’m leading towards Okada pulling off the win.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship:
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito

Preview: There have been many Chris Jerichos over the years, but I’m starting to think that NJPW Chris Jericho is the best Chris Jericho.  Few veteran wrestlers have been able to constantly evolve and reinvent themselves the way Y2J has, but his current incarnation has been a joy to watch, as he has taken full advantage of being free of his Vince McMahon monogrammed shackles.  We got an initial taste when he feuded with Kenny Omega, culminating in a great match at WK12, but his feud with Naito (and Naito’s LIJ stablemate Evil) has been Jericho at his most batshit insane.

What more can I say about Tetsuya Naito?  As much as I love Bullet Club and the Elite, I think we can all agree that LIJ is the best thing going in NJPW at the moment and Naito, as the group’s leader, is at the forefront of the next big thing in Japanese pro wrestling.  There’s just something about him, he exudes that impossible to quantify “x-factor” that all the greatest wrestlers possess (and you can’t teach that!).  If it’s possible for Naito’s popularity to be any further through the roof, working with a future hall of famer such as Jericho will only serve to elevate him even more.

Prediction: There’s no way Naito isn’t winning this one.  While the Naito/Jericho feud has been awesome, Jericho’s actual title reign has been non-existent and rumor has it that he’ll be joining the Elite’s promotion.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship:
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Preview: It’s a story as old as professional wrestling itself.  The veteran defender of the old guard (Tanahashi) vs. the brash youngster trying to take the company into the future (Omega).  It’s very much the NJPW equivalent of Rock vs. Hogan (but with a more athletic and technically sound pair of athletes).  At this point both men have pretty much done everything there is to do in the company and both men are in the top five most popular wrestlers in the company, so this is certainly a match for the ages with a “big fight” feel to it.  Who will lead NJPW into the future?

I feel like I should have more to say about this one, but the storyline pretty much says it all here. It’s a tried and true classic of the sport and I can’t think of two better wrestlers to make it fresh and exciting again.

Prediction: I’m fully expecting Omega to go over here.  The thought that Omega will be leaving NJPW to join the rest of the Elite hangs over this match, but this has the feel of a classic passing of the torch and it seems odd that they’d put the heavyweight title back on Tanahashi, who is likely in the twilight of his time as a main event player.  Perhaps Omega plans on sticking w/ NJPW a little longer?

What are your predictions for Wrestle Kingdom 13?  Sound off in the comments!

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