As you may have read in some of my past reports, its been a busier period than expected lately between professional responsibilities, some health issues and then the holiday stretch. And as such I fell behind in a chunk of my New Japan coverage.
However, some of the matches I missed have some major implications to tonight’s utterly STACKED WrestleKingdom card. And as someone who values narrative follow-through, I wanted to make sure a couple big dots got connected within my New Japan coverage, including a #1 Contender being determined, a new champion being crowned, a triple threat title challenge getting made and a preview of two of WrestleKingdom’s most highly anticipated match-ups.
So without further adieu, here are reports and takes on 4 matches that happened last month that have helped lead us to where we are today heading into the biggest event in New Japan’s year: WRESTLEKINGDOM 13!
FROM THE WORLD TAG LEAGUE FINALS | DECEMBER 9, 2018
#1 Contender’s Match: NEVER Openweight Championship
TAICHI vs WILL OSPREAY
Kevin Kelly, Rocky Romero and Xavier on commentary. Taichi out alone at the start. Ospreay with the taped midsection, as he has been out recently recovering from an injury. The commentary team says that Ospreay is still dealing with the injury.
Taichi attacks Will in the midsection with the mic before the bell, we then get the bell and Taichi is in control to start, with boots to Will’s taped torso. Will looks for a quick reverse and tosses Taichi with a nice monkey flip. Shots to Taichi, whip but Taichi slides outside. Will follows but Taichi catches him coming, whips to the barricade but Will counters and hits a springboard forearm off of the barricade.
Will in control back in, Taichi slides out again but Will wipes out Taichi with a suicide dive. Taichi gets thrown back in, Will fires up the crowd and looks to spring but Taichi pushes the ref into the ropes and Will wipes out abdomen first on the top rope. Taichi goes outside with Will and keeps the offense on, throwing him into the chairs. Chair shot to the gut from Taichi to Will. Taichi drops Will chest first onto the ringside barricade. Taichi back and looks for the countout win, but Will BARELY makes it in at 19.
Boots from Taichi to Will’s injured midsection. Taichi gets Will in a low abdominal stretch, wrenching and working over the ribs. Trash talking from Taichi, with paintbrush kicks as Will rises. Will tries to fight back, trading shots with Taichi. Flurry from Will puts Taichi back, and Will is able to land the handspring enziguri. Will hits an enziguri and a corner 619 to Taichi, looks to fly and lands Pip Pip Cheerio, covers but Taichi is out at 2.
Will looks for Stormbreaker but cant lift Taichi, favoring the ribs. Taichi able to hit a hard gamengiri in the corner and a great enziguri, and both are down. Xavier drops Toshiaki Kawada as an influence to Taichi’s offense there. Shots traded, with Will powering through pain. Trash talking from Will but Taichi collapses him with a kick to the chest. Kawada-style kicks to Will on his knees. Will catches the foot, tries to use quickness but Taichi counters and lands a Buzzsaw Kick, covers but only 2.
Taichi lets the pants fly and lines up the superkick, but Will counters with a superkick of his own and hits a huge lifting reverse DDT, and then looks at the top rope. Will climbs, looks for the shooting star press but Taichi gets the knees up, Taichi locks in the Gedo Clutch for the pin but Will kicks out at 2! Huge lariat from Taichi, stacks Will deep but Will kicks out at 2.
Taichi calls for the end, looks for a Last Ride but Will drops the weight to counter. Taichi tries again, Will drops behind and looks for the Os-Cutter, Taichi catches and turns it into another Last Ride attempt but Will ranas him over and then hits the Robinson Special! Nice sequence there. Will calls for the Os-Cutter again, Taichi catches again and hits a HUGE backdrop driver. Taichi hits the Last Ride, folds Will over but Will kicks out at 2!
Taichi looks to stay on Will, looks for a Rite of Passage but Will reverses into a Destroyer! Covers Taichi, but only gets 2. Will looks for Stormbreaker, struggles to lift Taichi, finally gets him up but Taichi goes behind, comes running but Will hits the standing Spanish Fly! “Ospreay” chants. Will with the wrap around superkick and finally lands Stormbreaker, covers and gets the 3 count and the WIN to become #1 Contender to the NEVER Openweight Title!
Will Ospreay defeats Taichi by pinfall after Stormbreaker to become the #1 Contender for the NEVER Openweight Championship
JAY’S RATING: 3.75 out of 5
Really strong showing by both competitors here, with Will selling the ribs struggle well in the storytelling of the match, and Taichi delivering one of his stronger matches to date. Its funny, Taichi is showing more and more that he can be a hell of a singles competitor when he wants to, with a nice Last Ride finish and a powerful kicking game. NJPW would be wise to invest in this side of Taichi, just letting him kick the shit out of people. I feel like they are not getting rid of his pop-star shtick, but letting it be the backdrop for a strong style striker, and with further investment in that Taichi could continue to rise in 2019. But since his singles push he has at times rested on past habits and shtick too much, which is why I’m still hesitant toward him overall. But Will brought some great stuff out of him, and likewise he really played the shit-heel of the match to a T with some real aggression behind it. Will winning was the right call though as he is a future or current main-eventer anywhere in the world, and his ascension in the heavyweight ranks feels timed well. Will challenging for a title at WrestleKingdom is only good things.
NEVER Openweight Championship
KOTA IBUSHI vs HIROOKI GOTO (c)
We get the bell, and Goto offers the handshake to Ibushi. Ibushi accepts, but Goto holds on and looks to ushigoroshi early. Ibushi counters, they go fast with Ibushi getting a kick to Goto’s back. Goto fires back with shots and a tackle, but Ibushi fires back catching Goto off the ropes with a kick to the chest. Ibushi evades Goto in the corner and sends him outside with a rana, the crowd fires up and Ibushi looks for the Golden Triangle. Goto evades by going inside though and levels Ibushi with a lariat, dropping Ibushi right on his neck on the apron.
Goto goes outside and stays on Ibushi. Goto tosses Ibushi back in and lays into him in the corner. Nice aggression from Goto. Lariat in the corner from Goto, who seats Ibushi up top and hits a nice draping neckbreaker out of the corner. Cover by Goto, but Ibushi gets the ropes. Neckbreaker from Goto follows, another cover but only 2. Goto keeps Ibushi grounded with holds, working over Ibushi’s neck before Ibushi manages to get to the ropes.
Ibushi fires back but gets cut off by Goto with a Russian legsweep and a great grounded octopus, keeping control of Ibushi’s hand and wrist. Rope break frees Ibushi, but Goto stays right on him. Forearms from Ibushi, Goto looks for another lariat but Ibushi hits his BEAUTIFUL dropkick to send Goto outside again. Ibushi looks for Golden Triangle again and hits it off the top rope. God that’s beautiful.
Ibushi sends Goto back inside and lines him up, strike flurry and floors him with a chest kick, big standing moonsault cover but Goto is out at 2. German attempt from Ibushi, Goto reverses and looks for the backdrop, Ibushi counters but Goto lays into Ibushi and then lands the backdrop suplex. Cover by Goto but only 2. Ibushi back up, hard shots traded by both, Goto gets the advantage sending Ibushi into the corner.
Goto hits the big running spin kick and then climbs up top. Ibushi cuts off Goto and looks for what looks like an avalanche piledriver. Goto reverses and looks for the avalanche Code Red, but Ibushi lands on his feet! Both trade and absorb lariats, Goto looks for the Psych Out Lariat but Ibushi and he keep running the counter, until finally they both go for it and GOTO GOES DOWN! Great sequence.
Ibushi looks for the Last Ride, Goto drops out but Ibushi takes his head off with a roundhouse. Ibushi calls for Kamigoye, grabs the wrists but Goto catches the knee, hoists Ibushi and hits ushigoroshi! Both competitors are down, and both up slow. Goto with a sleeper on Ibushi, who looks like he’s fading, dropping to a sitting position. Goto turns it into a GTR but Ibushi gets a rollup for 2. Goto with the sleeper again and a crucifix pin, but only gets a close 2 count.
Ibushi looks for the Pele but Goto turns it into a stepover rollup, but the momentum carries over and Ibushi gets the cover but only gets 2. Goto looks for a lariat, Ibushi ducks and hits hard strikes, Goto reverse to GTR, Ibushi counters for the Lawn Dart but Goto turns it into a suplex, Ibushi lands on his feet, Goto catches a GTR attempt but Ibushi flips over and hits a headbutt to the back of Goto’s skull. What an interesting sequence.
Ibushi behind and crosses Goto’s arms, Goto counters the straightjacket and hits a Kamigoye-style headbutt, holding Ibushi’s wrists! Goto looks for another headbutt BUT IBUSHI CUTS IT OFF WITH THE KNEE! Ibushi takes wrist control, hits a headbutt of his own, and then bowls over Goto with the Kamigoye, covers, gets the 3 count and the WIN and we have a new champion!
Kota Ibushi defeats Hirooki Goto by pinfall after Kamigoye to win the NEVER Openweight Championship for the first time
JAY’S RATING: 4 out of 5
This was just a straight up GOOD MATCH, with a perfectly told closing sequence. Both of them were on their game, Goto played a distinct strategy and both competitors gave it all, with Ibushi just proving to be the better man this day. This was definitely the right call, though I always worry about Goto getting shuffled back into obscurity, as he never seems to be able to keep momentum. Would they move him on to a program for the IC strap? That or the US title should be next in line, and if Juice takes the US belt (as he likely will given Cody’s new venture, All Elite Wrestling), that could be a solid program ring-action wise. I just feel like Goto is a step or two from finding that X-Factor that could put him fully in the main event. Nonetheless, Ibushi getting singles, non-junior gold is exactly the right move, Ibushi/Ospreay has the potential to steal the show at WrestleKingdom, and Ibushi’s climb continues as I still am eager for a future Omega/Ibushi IWGP Title showdown. (That may not happen until a 2nd Omega rein, which I do see happening down the road, but this win further cements Ibushi as a title contender as a heavyweight moving forward. And that alone makes for an exciting future.)
Finals: World Tag League 2018
LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (EVIL & SANADA) vs GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY
LIJ won Tag League last year, defeating GoD. Both teams are tied in points going into the finals. Jado is out with GoD toting a kendo stick. EVIL and SANADA turn their back before the bell, allowing Jado to get a shot in on EVIL as GoD jump LIJ and the action spills outside. Loa in control of EVIL while Tama brings SANADA all the way to the back of the arena. SANADA able to reverse Tama, but Loa stays on EVIL as Tama regains control of SANADA. The ref gets close to the 20 count as Tama and SANADA slide in as quickly as possible to break the count.
Tama and SANADA work fast, with Tama getting the advantage after SANADA misses a standing moonsault opening up a Tama low dropkick. Tag to Loa who hits a snap suplex, cover but only 1. Covers again, still only 1. Loa hits hard shots on SANADA, lands a running powerslam and covers but gets 2. Headlock on SANADA slows the action down. SANADA fights back but misses the dropkick, Loa follows with a big jumping elbow and covers but only gets 2.
Tag to Tama and GoD floors SANADA with the double headbutt. Tama mocks the crowd chanting for SANADA, laying elbows into SANADA’s shoulder and chest. “SANADA” chants. Tama gets caught coming at SANADA, who hits a middle rope dropkick, but Tama tags in Loa who knocks EVIL off the apron and keeps the pressure on SANADA. SANADA comes back and takes down GoD with a double dropkick and finally gets the tag to EVIL.
EVIL in hot taking down GoD and Jado, and hits a bulldog/clothesline combo to take down everyone. Big senton on Loa, cover but only 2. EVIL looks for the fisherman buster, Loa reverses into a vertical suplex. Loa crushes EVIL in the corner and sits him up top, EVIL fights back, Loa looks for a superplex and hits it off the top rope. Loa slow to cover but gets it, but EVIL is out at 2.
Another powerslam attempt from Loa but SANADA in to assist EVIL allowing EVIL to land a HUGE lariat for 2, with SANADA taking Tama off the apron. LIJ looks for the Magic Killer, but Tama breaks it up. EVIL avoids a Jado kendo stick shot, but the distraction allow GoD to take advantage, with Tama hitting a jumping neckbreaker for 2. EVIL is sent outside where Tama holds him for Jado to hit him with the kendo stick. SANADA fights off Loa, but gets reversed and whipped into the barricade.
Tama tosses EVIL back inside and tags in, big slam by Loa followed by a big elbow drop from Tama, cover but EVIL is out at 2. Big back elbow from Tama takes down EVIL again. Standing frog splash from Tama, covers but only gets 2. Tama circling EVIL between moves, just stalking him. Tag to Loa, who lands a headbutt to the gut, covers but EVIL out at 2. Loa looks for a bomb, but EVIL blocks and tosses Loa overhead, but Tama knocks SANADA off the apron before EVIL can make the tag.
Double team on EVIL as GoD hits a version of Guerrilla Warfare. GoD climbs to opposite corners, possibly for double diving headbutts, but SANADA grabs Tama and Loa misses as EVIL rolls. EVIL stuns Tama in the corner, looks for a superplex, Tama blocks but SANADA climbs and EVIL joins for a double superplex. Loa interrupts, and we have the TOWER OF DOOM and all competitors are down! Loa finally drapes an arm over EVIL, but its only 2.
Loa with hard shots to EVIL, runs the ropes but EVIL counters, both hit and absorb big lariats, Loa looks for another one but EVIL gets a misdirection and follows up with a huge lariat and tags in SANADA. SANADA is in hot as Tama gets the tag, flooring Tama with a great leapfrog dropkick and wiping out Jado with a pescado to the floor. SANADA gets one on Loa as well, evades Tama coming outside and hits one on Tama as well! Great pop for this sequence.
SANADA tosses Tama back in, covers but Tama out at 2. Tama fights back and uses his defensive wrestling to evade SANADA and land a nice dropkick. SANADA back up and looks for the middle rope moonsault into Skull End, botches it but applies Skull End anyway. Tama turns it around but SANADA gets the waistlock, reversal by Tama as Loa trips up SANADA and takes down EVIL. GoD hit the powerbomb/neckbreaker combo on SANADA, but SANADA kicks out at 2.
GoD looks for Magic Killer but SANADA fights it off, Tama looks for Gun Stun but SANADA rolls him up for 2, Tama’s kick out sends SANADA forward and he eats a kendo stick to the head from Jado! Tama rolls him up, but SANADA escapes at 2. “SANADA” chants. GoD hits Magic Killer, Tama covers but EVIL breaks it up at 2! EVIL looks for a lariat but eats a spear from Loa. GoD looks for the double team in the corner to set up for their super powerbomb, but SANADA reverses into a rana!
EVIL in who catches an attempted kick from Tama and takes him down, calls for SANADA and LIJ looks for Magic Killer. Tama powers out of it and the ref accidentally is taken out. Jado is now in with the kendo stick but EVIL cuts him off, and LIJ hits Magic Killer on Jado! Superman punch by Tama takes out EVIL and he looks for the Tongan Twist on SANADA, but SANADA reverses into Skull End! The ref is back to check, but Loa breaks it up.
EVIL looks for Everything is Evil, Loa looks to reverse it into Apeshit but EVIL reverses again and lands Everything is Evil! EVIL picks up Tama who looks for Gun Stun, but EVIL hangs on and LIJ hits Magic Killer! SANADA covers, but Tama kicks out at 2! EVIL calls for the end, hits Darkness Falls and SANADA hits the moonsault, covers and thats the 3 count and the WIN as LIJ goes back to back as World Tag League winners!
Los Ingobernables de Japon defeats Guerrillas of Destiny by pinfall after a SANADA moonsault to become World Tag League winners for the 2nd year in a row
JAY’S RATING: 3.5 out of 5
This was a good final for the tournament, with both teams delivering good performances and telling their respective stories well. The match did feel a little sluggish at times and so it probably could have been cut down, and there were a couple of communication issues along the way, but at the end of the day it accomplished what it needed to in building for the WrestleKingdom title match, and everyone had chances to shine a bit here and there. As a tournament final I’m always hoping for it to click into that final gear, and this one didnt quite get there for me, which is unfortunate. But with the post-match development of the Young Bucks coming out to make it a Triple Threat at WrestleKingdom, I think that could be the element to make the WrestleKingdom match truly stellar (especially with the Bucks building All Elite Wrestling, I have a feeling that they will want to go out in style).
FROM ROAD TO WRESTLEKINGDOM | DECEMBER 15, 2018
WILL OSPREAY & HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs THE GOLDEN LOVERS
Will and Ibushi start us off. Lots of chants for both sides. Mat wrestling to start, with Will getting the advantage. Ibushi takes over, quick counter wrestling from both, Will trips up Ibushi and lands a big monkey flip. Omega comes in but Will sends him out and does the rope bounce pose. Ibushi back in but Will is ready for him, they stay ahead of each other and stand off. Nice tension-building opening trade.
Tag to Omega, and tag to Tana. Loud “Tanahashi” chants. Lockup, Omega with wrist control, Tana snatches a headlock and takes over Omega. Omega powers up, but Tana keeps things slowed with a tight headlock. Omega gets the break in the corner, tries a shot but Tana evades and gets the headlock again. Tana with a middle rope cross body taking down Omega. Tag to Will, double elbows take down Omega and Will gets an assisted moonsault, covers but only 2. Tana and Will do the air guitar pose.
Will stays on Omega, but eats a knee off the ropes. Omega with a choke using the t-shirt, gets booed and then throws the shirt to the crowd. Tag to Ibushi, who kicks Will in the corner. Ibushi invites shots from Will, hitting ones of his own and firing Will up. They trade shots, but Ibushi lands a hard elbow knocking him into the corner. Tag to Omega who stays on Will in the corner, and then takes him down wkth a hard chop to the chest.
Omega with a big backbreaker on Will, covers but only gets 2. Tana is in to break if needed, and Omega backs him up. Tag to Ibushi who locks Will in a body scizzors. Will reaches for the ropes, Ibushi grabs the arm and applies a choke but Will uses the other arm to get the rope break. Tag to Omega, who continues to isolate Will and work over the midsection. Will tries to fire back but gets cut off again.
Omega with body shots in the corner, a shoulder block and a hard whip across to the corner, weakening Will’s torso. Omega looks for a back suplex, Will flips out, takes out Ibushi and stuns Omega to go for the tag. Omega interrupts the attempt and takes out Tana on the apron. Will gets the handspring enziguri to Omega and gets the tag to Tana who goes right for Omega and lays in elbows in the corner.
Tana whips Imega across and hits a running corner dropkick, and hits the middle rope somersault senton for a 2 count. “Go Ace” chants. Omega looks for a Dragon Suplex but Tana hits the Dragon Screw. Tana looks for the Cloverleaf, but Ibushi lands a kick to the back to break it up. Tana with shots to Ibushi, but the Golden Lovers get the chest kick/Kotaro Krusher combo on Tana and then catch Will coming off the top and dump him over the top to the floor fallaway style. Cross Slash follows to perfection.
Omega hoists Tana and gets You Cant Escape, Ibushi hits the running shooting star but Will grabs Omega on the middle rope and hits him with Cheeky Nandos from the apron, then springboards up to hit a sunset powerbomb with Omega landing on top of Ibushi! What a cool fucking move. Tana and Omega trade hard elbows, Tana rocks Omega but Omega hits a big chop, Tana looks for Sling Blade but eats a Snap Dragon Suplex, but Tana pops up (FIGHTING SPIRIT!) and lands the Sling Blade! “Go Ace” chants.
Tags on both sides, Will looks to spring but Ibushi stops him and looks for the deadlift middle rope German, Will fights off and lands a nice kick to the face and then follows with Pip Pip Cheerio. Standing shooting star from Will on Ibushi, covers but only 2. Ibushi and Will trade, Will wobbles but fires back at Ibushi, but the flurry from Ibushi sends Will back. Will looks for a standing moonsault but Ibushi catches him and looks for the Lawn Dart, Will drops behind but Ibushi turns it around for a bridging German suplex but only gets 2!
Tag to Omega, Will looks to tag Tana but Omega interrupts and knocks down Tana, but gets caught by Will in a stunner. Will has no one to tag and looks for the Os-Cutter on Omega, Omega looks for Snap Dragon but Will lands on his feet, Omega with a big chop but Will replies with an enziguri. Will looks to stay on Omega but eats a V-Trigger, but catches Omega coming back in with a standing Spanish Fly, covers Omega but only gets 2!
Will lines up Omega and lands the Robinson Special, then drags Omega to the corner. Will climbs, but Ibushi grabs his leg and Omega rolls out of the way. Ibushi springs to the top and hits a top rope standing rana on Will, BUT WILL LANDS FLAWLESSLY ON HIS FEET. HOLY SHIT. THAT IS FUCKING ATHLETIC PROWESS. THAT IS UTTER GRACE. THAT IS WILL FUCKING OSPREAY.
Will stares off as Ibushi turns around and cant believe what happened! They go nose to nose and start trading blows. Big kick from Ibushi, Will returns a kick of his own, they keep asking for kicks, the thuds are HUGE, Will collapses from a kick but then takes out Ibushi’s leg and hits a PK to the shoulder! Will looks for the Spanish Fly but Ibushi stays standing, Will transitions into an attempted Destroyer but Ibushi counters out of it and FLOORS Will with a gigantic lariat! GREAT sequence.
Tana in, Ibushi tries a Pele but Tana gets an inverted Dragon Screw. Omega in and lands a Sling Blade to Tana, mocks Tana’s guitar pose and gets a chorus of boos. Golden Trigger attempt on Will but Tana breaks it up, hits the ropes but eats double knees from the Golden Lovers! The Lovers communicate and pull Will over, it looks like for the Golden Shower, but Will pops up, climbs fast and hits a DOUBLE AVALANCHE SPANISH FLY!
Tana to the top as Omega is down and hits High Fly Flow! Will follows with a Shooting Star Press, covers Omega but Ibushi breaks it up at 2! HOLY SHIT WHAT A MATCH. Will fires up and looks for Stormbreaker on Omega, hoists him up but Omega gets behind and hits a Reverse Rana, Ibushi follows with the Golden Bomb and Omega follows that with what I can only describe as a Ganzo Jay Driller. OUCH.
Omega lines Will up against the ropes and hits a big V-Trigger as Ibushi holds Tana. Omega looks for One Winged Angel, but Will counters into a rana pin, and Omega BARELY kicks out at 2! Hooking superkick from Will as he sets up the Os-Cutter, Omega catches him and holds him for Ibushi but Will ducks and Ibushi TAKES OMEGAS HEAD OFF WITH A KICK! Tana and Will hit stereo straightjacket German suplexes, but both Lovers kick out at 2! The crowd is going NUTS.
Kicks from Will to Omega, looks for Os-Cutter but Ibushi interupts, Omega looks for One Winged Angel, Will fights off but Omega transitions into a tombstone and Ibushi springs off the top for an Indy-Taker! Omega covers Will, but Tana breaks it up at 2! Ibushi KOs Tana, and the Golden Lovers line up Will and land the Golden Trigger, they cover and get the 3 count and the HUGE WIN!
The Golden Lovers defeat Will Ospreay & Hiroshi Tanahashi by pinfall after the Golden Trigger
JAY’S RATING: 4.8 out of 5
The buzz I heard around this match before I had a chance to watch it was intense. And it lived up to every bit of the hype. This is a MASTERCLASS in pro wrestling, from in-ring action to in-ring storytelling to overall storytelling to match building for WrestleKingdom to fully elevating Ibushi and Ospreay and so much more. It doesnt matter if you read this after WrestleKingdom – GO WATCH THIS MATCH WHENEVER YOU CAN. The 30-minute time of it flies by thanks to pitch-perfect pacing and precision execution. This match is designed to get people excited for WrestleKingdom, and holy shit did they hit a bullseye. Everyone here performed at the top of their game, and the audience ate up every second of it. The Lovers going over has me further excited about WrestleKingdom, because if Tana had gone over I would have felt more like they were going to keep Omega’s reign going a bit longer. But with the Lovers going in with this momentum, I really feel like they’ve opened the door for the story to go either way, and that’s ALWAYS better storytelling. I should clarify – I think it leaves the main event that much more open-ended. But Will was a superstar here, and it makes me think that much more that his time has come for the NEVER Title, ideally bumping Ibushi on to IC or something more. That being said, I have zero doubt that Ibushi is going to come out looking AMAZING regardless of win or loss – he’s ready for the next bump, and I think everyone knows it. These 4 are book-ending the big show… and I couldnt be more excited. Brilliant work here.