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    Monday, December 28, 2015

    Cafe Puro (12/28/15): The Official Smark Henry Match Card and Predictions for Wrestle Kingdom 10


    Welcome to the last edition of Cafe Puro of the year, and if there was a more appropriate way to end the year, then what better way to go than a detailed preview of the first major show of the wrestling year, and the biggest wrestling show of the year outside the United States: Wrestle Kingdom 10 in Tokyo Dome!

    The 10th installment has one of the biggest line ups ever, with 10 matches in total. And of the 10 matches, eight of these are title matches, which makes this edition of Wrestle Kingdom quite a star-studded affair. And while this year will not have an American PPV counterpart, the show will still be available and live on Monday, January 4, 2016, on NJPW World. And not to worry for the non-Japanese speakers, English commentary will return, provided by the team of Matt Striker, Kevin Kelly, and for the first time ever, former WWE star Yoshitatsu, who will act as translator.

    Without any further delay, here are your matches for Wrestle Kingdom 10 in Tokyo Dome!

    Match #0 (Pre-show): New Japan Rumble

    The New Japan Rumble is a new tradition that started as of last year, and will feature wrestlers who are not booked in the main card. It is basically their version of the Royal Rumble match, and whoever can outlast all the other competitors will be declared the winner. Expect veterans (Taguchi), legends (TenKoji, Liger, Nagata), current stars (YOSHI-HASHI, EVIL), and surprise guests to grace early bird members of the audience. Take note, however, that the winner of last year's Rumble, Yuji Nagata, went on to declare himself the number one contender to the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, so who knows what is in store for this year's victor.

    As for who will win the match, it is really hard to tell and is anyone's guess, with no favorite in mind. Gues we'll all find out who gets the win by then.

    Prediction: Uncertain; it is anyone's game

    Match #1: Four-way tag match for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: reDRagon (c) vs. The Young Bucks (Bullet Club) vs. The High Flyers (Super Jr. Tag Tournament Winners) vs. Roppongi Vice (CHAOS)

    In what is also considered the latest running tradition in Wrestle Kingdom, the show will start with a four way tag team bout for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. In all honesty, this should have been a standard tag team bout between The High Flyers, who won the right to a title shot by winning the Super Jr. Tag Tournament months ago, and reDRagon. However, the situation got complicated when Roppongi Vice claimed that they deserve a shot since they eliminated the champs during the tag tournament, and The Young Bucks have yet to claim their rematch against reDRagon, having lost their titles to them previously. Thus, this match was made into a four-way match to finally end the debate on who is the best tag team in the Jr. Tag division.

    Fans should already know what to expect when these four teams are in the same ring together: bodies will be flying, and fans will be gasping for air! They will set the mood for the rest of the night, and will be an exciting bout that is sure to get people hyped up.

    Interestingly, if recent years are of any indication, it is usually the new kids on the block that tend to win both the Super Jr. Tag Tournament and leaving the Tokyo Dome with the titles, with the Bucks winning the 2013 match, and reDRagon winning the 2014 match. Being said, history is on the side of The High Flyers, Lucha Underground's Ricochet (aka Prince Puma) and ROH's Matt Sydal, who are riding the wave of momentum set by their tournament win. Thus, the smart money is on them winning the match and the titles.

    And let's face it, Ricochet performing in the Tokyo Dome is a scene many fans have been craving for a very long time. That in itself is more than enough reason to check this match out.

    Prediction: The High Flyers become the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions!

    Match #2: Toru Yano and The Briscoe Brothers (CHAOS / ROH) vs. Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, and Tama Tonga) to determine the first NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions

    This match is your standard-fare Toru Yano-outsider-fest of the year, with the resident master of DVD sales teaming with the most decorated tag team in all of ROH, The Briscoes, who will be facing the three members of Bullet Club. And as if the bad blood between Yano and Bullet Club was not enough, the stakes just got higher than anyone anticipated. You see, New Japan made the announcement that they are introducing the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Titles for the first time at Wrestle Kingdom, and this match will determine the inaugural champions!

    Normally, this kind of environment would benefit Bullet Club, with the Fale-Tonga tandem being successful in their own right. However, the very fact that #DemBoys are teaming with Yano immediately swung the odds in the favor of the CHAOS-ROH combination by virtue of experience and accolades. Don't be surprised if the unique tandem becomes the first champs, which should make for a very intriguing scene in New Japan for the coming months.

    Prediction: #DemBoys and Yano become the first champs!

    Match #3: Jay Lethal (c) (House of Truth) vs. Michael Elgin for the Ring of Honor World Championship

    This match is history in the making, as it is the first time that two non-NJPW affiliated wrestlers are competing for a title that does not belong to NJPW. However, considering that we are talking about Ring of Honor, and we're talking about Michael Elgin, whose career will never be the same after winning the love and adoration of the Japanese fans in the G1 Climax and the World Tag League, then it makes perfect sense.

    Jay Lethal defeated Jay Briscoe with his own move, the Jay Driller, to become World Champion (besides being the TV Champion) at ROH Best in the World, while Michael Elgin won the ROH Survival of the Fittest Tournament and beat Moose at Final Battle to cement his slot as the top contender. #BigMike then declared that he wants to win the championship at Japan, where his career was revitalized in ways no one could have expected. And after Jay Lethal successfully defended his title at Final Battle against AJ Styles, the match was officially set between #BigMike and Lethal in front of the biggest audience imaginable for ROH's biggest prize, a match made possible thanks to their amazing relationship with NJPW.

    Jay Lethal has been one of the most dominant champions in the history of ROH, becoming the gold standard of the TV Title and a current World Champion. But Elgin, once deemed an afterthought within the workings of the NJPW-ROH talent relationship, became a new man after his experience in NJPW, adapting a hard-hitting style that is reminiscent of the stylings of Tomohiro Ishii, Tomoaki Honma, and Katsuyori Shibata. Add that to the fact that he is an extremely powerful human being, and you have a machine built from the best of both worlds. And that is why Elgin will leave WK10 as the new ROH World Champion, no doubt about it.

    Prediction: Elgin becomes the new ROH World Champion!

    Match #4: Kenny Omega (c) (Bullet Club) vs. KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship

    Wrestle Kingdom 10 will be the stage of the rubber match between Omega and KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, with KUSHIDA winning the first battle at Dominion (which was featured in our 31 Days of Wrestling), and Omega winning the rematch at Destruction (with thanks to BC interference). This will be a physical battle of chess between the two Jr. Heavyweight greats, with Omega's strength advantage against KUSHIDA's technical prowess.

    With KUSHIDA expected to be face of the division, and with Liger challenging KUSHIDA for the title if he won the belt from Omega, the expectation right now is for KUSHIDA to win, but don't be surprised either if Omega manages to repeat his Wrestle Kingdom success from last year but only by a long shot.

    Prediction: KUSHIDA becomes the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion!

    Match #5: Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows (c) (Bullet Club) vs. Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma (GBH) for the IWGP Tag Team Championship

    It is put up or shut up time for Tomoaki Honma, as he and his good friend since the old GBH days, Togi Makabe, will take on the maestros of the tag team division, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, for the IWGP Tag Team Championship.

    Having won the recently concluded 2015 World Tag League by defeating Los Ingobernables de Japon, GBH is one step further to becoming tag champions in NJPW, the last reign for Makabe in 2009, and a nil record for Honma who has yet to achieve gold in the company. To do so, they will have to go through the greatest tag team wrestler in modern day New Japan, "The Machine Gun" Karl Anderson, along with Doc Gallows, the tandem being a huge part of the tag title picture since 2013.

    If there was any time to pull the trigger on a Honma title win, this is it. Fans have rallied behind the greatest underdog wrestler in the world today for a long time. And despite past circumstances and recent allegations of domestic abuse against Honma, it seemed as though NJPW has enough faith to finally create a Tokyo Dome moment for Honma. Now is the time for a Honma Dome title win.

    Prediction: GBH wins the tag team titles, and Honma will secure the win for the team

    Match #6: Special Singles Match: Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito (Los Ingobernables de Japon)

    While this is the lone non-title match of the main card, this bout will have major singles championship implications, besides being the continuation of a war between two warring sides.

    Ever since Naito came back from his latest CMLL excursion, he became a changed man because of his association with Los Ingobernables in Mexico alongside Rush, La Mascara, Marco Corleone, and former CMLL wrestler (and new WWE signee) La Sombra. Adapting to the theme of the ungovernable faction, Naito became an apathetic person with no regards to the rules and his refusal to have his career dictated by the fans, who continued to jeer him despite being a face. In the process, he and his newly formed spin-off, Los Ingobernables de Japon, had caused more harm to innocent bystanders and disregard to the rules than even Bullet Club themselves. In many ways, they out-Bullet Clubbed Bullet Club.

    Caught in their craziness are Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata, who tried to save Hiroshi Tanahashi in their #1 Contender's Match for Wrestle Kingdom 10 at King of Pro Wrestling. And now, with Shibata busy in his own match, Goto will have the chance to get revenge against Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 10.

    Naito, in all honesty, is on fire right now in both in-ring performance and character development. It is too much of a waste for Naito to lose another Wrestle Kingdom match, especially when he already lost of AJ Styles last year. Goto will get his title match soon, but right now, it's Naito's world and we're living in it.

    Prediction: Naito wins over Goto, will challenge a champion before Wrestle Kingdom ends.

    Match #7: Tomohiro Ishii (c) (CHAOS) vs. Katsuyori Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Championship

    If there is any match in the card that will test the bounds of physical punishment, then this is it. Shibata and Ishii will fight each other once again, and this time, it will be in front of approximately 40,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 10.

    Their first encounter was on the fateful G1 Climax block match between Ishii and Shibata in 2013, the bout highly considered as one of the greatest classics in modern day New Japan, and was close to becoming the Match of the Year at the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards during said year. This was the match that further established Ishii as a main event player, which eventually made him the face of the NEVER Title and the standard of toughness in the company. Shibata laid out the challenge to Ishii during the final day of the World Tag League, wanting to hold a singles title for the first time in his career. And then it was set, Ishii vs. Shibata, one more time for the NEVER Openweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom 10.

    Ishii has already accomplished much of what he can do with the NEVER Openweight Title for now, and it is time for him to do some new things in his career. Being said, Shibata has slowly regained the trust of NJPW and the fans after his abrupt departure to MMA, and it showed with him winning the tag titles last year with Goto. It is high time to give Shibata the chance to run with his first singles belt. At this point, who better than Shibata to give more credibility to the NEVER title in the long run?

    Prediction: Shibata wins his first singles title ever!

    Match #8: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) (CHAOS) vs. AJ Styles (Bullet Club) for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

    And now, the match that is bound to break all the internets. it is a first ever singles encounter between two of the greatest wrestlers walking in this planet today: Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship!

    The King of Strong Style overcame Karl Anderson in an IC Title defense at Power Struggle, but prior to that, Nak previously laid down an open challenge for anyone to face him for the title at Wrestle Kingdom should he successfully defend the title. As if on impulse, AJ Styles came up to Nakamura after the match and willingly accepted the open challenge for the title, attempting to bring the IC back to the BC.

    No doubt about it, Swagsuke and the Phenomenal One are bound to bring the house down at Wrestle Kingdom in a match that greatly complements and upholds both their abilities in the biggest show of the Japanese wrestling calendar. The only other time they faced each other was in a tag team bout in 2008 during a special NJPW-TNA tag team bout. Beyond that, the two wrestlers haven't seen each other since then. That is, until AJ Styles left TNA and made NJPW his new home.

    It took a long time for a Styles-Nakamura dream bout to happen, and it seems as though destiny has a unique way to bringing everything in full circle. Particularly, the chance to leave Wrestle Kingdom as the Intercontinental Champion.

    The biggest question in this match is the condition of Styles's back, which led him to miss most of the World Tag League tour. However, he was healthy enough to recover and face Jay Lethal for the ROH World Title at Final Battle. Any worries over his health should be out of the window at this point after the conclusion of the match.

    As for who would win the bout, to be honest, it is hard to call. These two guys are simply way too good in the prime of their careers, so determining the winner will be quite a toss-up. But for the sake of mixing up the New Japan scenery, an AJ Styles win would be best for New Japan right now, opening a new world of challenges and match ups in the next calendar year of the company.

    Prediction: AJ Styles becomes the new Intercontinental Champion!

    Match #9: Kazuchika Okada (c) (CHAOS) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

    One year ago, at the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 9, Tanahashi successfully defended the title against Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The scenes after the match remain iconic to this day, with Tanahashi celebrating in the ring while Okada leaving the Tokyo Dome while sobbing over his loss. It was the third consecutive year that Okada's fortunes at Wrestle Kingdom didn't seem to go his way, with two losses and his match being relegated to semi-final status after a fan voting.

    Funny how things turn out in a year.

    Okada won back the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Dominion 2015, taking the title away from AJ Styles, and Hiroshi Tanahashi won the 25th G1 Climax Tournament, besting Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals and becoming the challenger to Okada at the Tokyo Dome in the process. And now, it's Okada that is going into the event as champion while Tanahashi is the challenger for the top prize, a reversal of roles from that fateful night.

    And then it was set: a match that can potentially mean the ultimate passing of the torch from current ace to new ace. Okada will now defend the title against the man that bested him in two Wrestle Kingdoms, as The Rainmaker attempts to lift his personal curse while Tanahashi himself will attempt to lift the G1 Climax curse for Wrestle Kingdom main eventers. Particularly, no G1 Climax winner has won the title at Wrestle Kingdom since the idea was conceived back in 2012.

    The match itself is enough reason to check out Wrestle Kingdom this year, as this modern day equivalent to Misawa vs. Kobashi and Austin vs. The Rock may reach its conclusion this time. And with Tanahashi having been the face of Wrestle Kingdom for years, now is the perfect time to step back and give the spotlight to the younger generation, and Okada is ready to become that man. An Okada victory is inevitable, and that should set the tone of the company for the next decade.

    Prediction: Okada will be the only man to retain his title at Wrestle Kingdom, and set the tone to the company's future

    Who are your own choices for Wrestle Kingdom this year? Do you think this year will be better than 
    last year's event? Sound off in the comments!

    Images from NJPW

    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (12/28/15): The Official Smark Henry Match Card and Predictions for Wrestle Kingdom 10 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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