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    Wednesday, January 3, 2018

    Ruthless Roundtable: The Smark Henry Official Wrestle Kingdom 12 Predictions

    By Ardelle Costuna, Lance Tan Ong, Miyann Bruan, and KP

    The biggest show of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s calendar year, Wrestle Kingdom, and its various incarnations, has given wrestling fans some of the best matches in the world annually since 1992.

    With 30,000 seats allegedly sold for the January 4 show, Wrestle Kingdom 12 is expected to continue the tradition and bring more mainstream attention to NJPW after a marquee year in 2017.
    The-Powers-That-Be convened this Ruthless Roundtable to give first-time New Japan viewers an idea of what to expect on January 4, and give our predictions on who’ll start their year right.

    準備 できた? オーケー! いくそ!


    New Japan Rumble

    KP: The New Japan Rumble debuted on the pre-show of WK 9 in 2015 with 12 participants. Even in its inception, it featured surprise legendary entrants, such as Kazushi Sakuraba, the late Máscara Dorada, King Haku, and others.

    While not completely a comedy match, the Rumble is there to warm the crowd up and give them a nice feeling of nostalgia. That being said: the possibility of Dalton Castle coming out with (Young) Boys will be worth the price of admission alone.

    via GIPHY
    [I was busy thinking ’bout boys]

    Miyann: I'm hoping to see Sakuraba (even if it's really impossible). I want Jushin Thunder Liger to win simply because it will make me happy.

    Ardelle: I really have no clue on how I’ll predict the New Japan Rumble since everyone is a surprise entrant, but I can see Katsuya Kitamura being in it. It’s a nice send-off gift for him since he’ll be going to US for his excursion. New ROH World Champion Dalton Castle could also be here (and win the whole thing?) since he isn’t on the card.

    via GIPHY
    [Head is spinning thinking ’bout boys]

    Lance: If Dalton Castle ends up winning the whole thing, then gets a title match against any champion from New Japan, that is all gravy because Dalton deserves all the success right now.


    IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) vs. Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) (c)

    KP: Formerly known as the Tempura Boyz, Sho (Tanaka) and Yoh(ei Komatsu) swooped back into NJPW at King of Pro Wrestling to defeat Funky Future (Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi) to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. They further solidified their team by defeating Super 69 (ACH and Taguchi) to win the 2017 Super Jr. Tag Tournament.

    The Young Bucks, meanwhile, took a break from NJPW this year. Their only major appearances were made to lose and win the titles from Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero and Trent Beretta) and lose them again to Funky Future. Do y’all think they’ll cut Roppongi 3K’s reign short?


    Ardelle: The Young Bucks are one of the best tag teams in this business ever. In NJPW, they are the winningest tag team in the division, with six title reigns. With this said, the Bucks don’t have to prove anything anymore, and they should give the RPG3K their blessing.

    I also personally would like to see some comeuppance after the Bucks beat Roppongi Vice multiple times all throughout these years. While it’s a bittersweet ending since Rocky Romero didn’t do it with his partner Beretta with him, comeuppance is still comeuppance.

    Maybe the Bucks can move up to the heavyweights after this (pretty please)?

    Lance: RPG3K changed the landscape of the division with a title win and a tournament victory. That’s the kind of momentum New Japan could actually want to keep going with, especially considering they are in need of strong teams in a division in need of more presence. The Bucks may have held the fort for so long, but it’s time to give the spotlight to another young tag team with presence.

    Miyann: RPG3K will retain.


    NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship—Gauntlet Match: CHAOS (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, and Toru Yano) vs. Michael Elgin and War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, and Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Togi Makabe) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, and Tanga Loa) (c)

    KP: The second gauntlet match for the NEVER 6-Man titles in two years, this match resulted from Bullet Club ending the legendary (for the NEVER titles) reign of Los Ingobernables de Japon (LIJ, BUSHI, EVIL, Sanada) on a Road to Tokyo Dome show.

    Based on their previous outings, I think either Bullet Club will retain or Taguchi Japan will take it. Taking G.o.D. out of the heavyweight title scene for a while may help refresh it, whereas giving Taguchi Japan a title can keep them in the limelight.


    Ardelle: Before anything else, may I just say that Tomohiro Ishii deserves more than this. I will never get tired of seeking justice for the Stone Pitbull.

    Anyway, I can see Bullet Club defending their titles successfully at the Dome, since it was only a few weeks ago that they won the titles. But with how things are going with them (they never won the tag titles during their *sigh* Destruction trilogy with the War Machine and Killer Elite Squad, and they lost the Tag League), them losing to Taguchi Japan isn’t going to surprise me. Heck, I hope Taguchi Japan wins this because they are the best.

    Don’t @ me, it’s true.

    Miyann: My money is on CHAOS. I think it's still early for Taguchi Japan to win those titles back, I don't think War Machine and Elgin will work (saying this made me cringe twice), I don't like Taichi, and I don't think the Bullet Club trio have the entertainment value LIJ and Taguchi Japan have. 

    Lance: To be honest, there is no real way for me to personally pick a favorite. Last year, it was clear that the LIJ tandem of EVIL, SANADA, and BUSHI would win it, but now, it really looks like it can be anyone’s game. One can make an argument that any of these teams can secure the W (except for War Machine and Elgin, of course, due to reasons related to another company), and that kind of unpredictability can be a good thing. Any match that can keep fans guessing and on the edge of their seat is a great match, and this has it.

    Being said, let’s go SZKG! ICHIBANNNNNNNNN!


    Special Singles Match: Cody vs. Kota Ibushi

    KP: Originally a match for the ROH World Championship, this turned into a special singles match after Cody and his Eminem hair dropped the title to Our Lord and Savior Dalton Castle at Final Battle 2017. Cody reacted to the change by hassling Ibushi; Ibushi, being Ibushi, said Cody losing the belt before the Tokyo Dome confused and intrigued him.


    Ardelle: Let’s face it head-on, fellow Golden Lovers stans. All roads lead to Kenny Omega whatever the outcome of this match will be. How they’ll do it, maybe we’ll find out at New Year’s Dash!, but this is definitely the year when our OTP will finally reunite after years of pursuing different things for themselves.

    I will be rooting for Kota Ibushi in this match, but because I like hurting myself (and Golden Lovers is forever), I can see Cody winning this with the help of Bullet Club shenanigans that will earn the ire of Kenny. My body and heart are ready.

    Lance: Ibushi wins by Kamigoye-ing Cody’s face in, then finally moves on to the Ibushi/Omega NJPW rivalry we never got years ago.

    Miyann: Cody is going to win this.


    IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL and SANADA) vs. Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer) (c) 

    KP: KES came back stronger at the G1 Climax 27 finals once Archer recovered from the herniated disc he suffered in February during New Beginning in Sapporo. The two never quite reached the heights they were promised to reach back in February, but they did beat War Machine and G.o.D. after a series of matches to win the titles in September.

    EVIL and SANADA are, while stablemates, a new team made legitimate by their win at the 2017 World Tag League against G.o.D. Their work so far has been great to watch, in no small thanks to their skills as singles wrestlers.

    Because they dropped the NEVER 6-Man titles, I think EVIL and SANADA are taking this. Having them hold the Heavyweight Tag titles will probably help refresh the scene the way War Machine was able to... before their three-part extravaganza with KES and G.o.D.

    Lance: It seems like the right time for SANADA and EVIL to win some hardware in a time the LIJ are the hottest thing in Japanese pro wrestling. Everyone knows how much I sing the praises of SANADA for being the ace any company needs but doesn't deserve right now, and EVIL has always been a solid player in any NJPW card by earning his spot through hard work. This year’s tag title bout should be hot given the talents involved, but it’s LIJ all the way.

    Miyann: EVIL and SANADA will win the titles.

    Ardelle: This division needs fresh, new blood so badly, so I’m giving this to EVIL and SANADA as well. LIJ are also over AF so I’m guessing WK 12 will be LIJ’s night, with the duo kicking off their haul.


    NEVER Openweight Championship—Hair vs. Title Deathmatch: Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki (c)

    KP: So Goto’s going to lose his hair. Care to explain why Minoru Suzuki’s going to retain the title, and why the hell Goto cares about his hair all of a sudden? Other than the pride thing.

    Lance: If Goto getting shaved is finally going to be the catalyst to the Heavyweight title run he should have had years ago, then he has to lose this. Suzuki has always shone at the Dome, and this should be no exception. And Goto has always been a true company soldier to the end, giving spirited matches for so long. But there has to be a point when Goto needs to be interesting again; and they have a golden opportunity right there with potentially the biggest loss of his career. That alone is a year’s worth of storytelling already.

    Ardelle: I actually have Hirooki Goto winning this at first because oh for the life of me, Minoru Suzuki’s NEVER title reign is one of my life’s biggest disappointments (please don’t kill me), but then Lance’s prediction got me thinking. It’s very selfish of me to have Goto save us from this reign, and be stuck at the purgatory that is the main event-midcard position.

    I like Goto a lot, and I want to see him redeem himself after a quite disappointing 2017. If him losing his hair will make him reach new heights for 2018, then so be it. Give us *sigh* a Minoru Suzuki win.

    Miyann: Minoru Suzuki will win this. I don't want him to lose his tiny hair. Also if Goto loses his hair, we're going to have two underrated bald workers in the promotion. I ain't talking about Gedo...


    IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship—Four-way Match: Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (c)

    Ardelle: Hoo boy this title. Okay let’s start.

    2017 began when Hiromu Takahashi won the title from KUSHIDA at WK 11. Since then, he has successfully defended his title from challengers in a lot of MOTY contenders, such as Ricochet, Ryusuke Taguchi, and his soulmate long-time rival, Dragon Lee.

    At Sakura Genesis, KUSHIDA tried to pursue the title again and challenged Hiromu, but he was defeated after what seemed to be a contender for NJPW’s shortest match ever.

    KUSHIDA was able to pick himself up though, and he won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, which earned him another shot at the Junior Heavyweight title. KUSHIDA got the job done at Dominion, and he was once again the champion.

    Hiromu, on the other hand, started spiralling downward. Good thing he had Daryl with him.

    At the Destruction in Kobe event, Will Ospreay approached KUSHIDA and challenged him for the title, despite losing to him in their four previous encounters. He accepted, and at King of Pro Wrestling, Ospreay made history when he finally defeated KUSHIDA to became the first Brit to win the title.

    But Ospreay’s reign was cut short when “The Villain” Marty Scurll pinned him clean at Power Struggle in what seemed to be a controversial manner, according to Ospreay.


    Phew, that was a mouthful. I love Marty, KUSHIDA, and Hiromu (uh, Will’s fine, I guess), so this is a tough choice to make. But I’m going after what my heart says, and my heart says the Ticking Timebomb Hiromu Takahashi will finally explode after looking like a jabroni over the past few months. What do you guys think?

    Miyann: I have been waiting for this. I want Hiromu Takahashi to win. I can feel the butterflies in my stomach!

    KP: I wanna say that Takahashi gets his retribution for being treated as chump change, but Scurll’s title reign is too young to end this abruptly. Scurll will probably survive another day and hopefully start a program with Kushida.

    Lance: This match is going to rile up the Dome in a big way, especially considering the competitors alone. But if we are to follow the chain of events given above, expect the firecracker that is Hiromu Takahashi to win the match and continue the LIJ momentum!


    IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)

    Ardelle: So the IWGP Intercontinental title is relatively young, but just as prestigious as the Heavyweight title. Reigning champion, the Ace of the Universe, Hiroshi Tanahashi, most recently defended it against Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi in phenomenal matches.

    After Tanahashi defended the title against Ibushi at Power Struggle, Jay White—the former Young Lion coming back from an excursion—made his debut as the Switchblade, and immediately expressed his interest for the Intercontinental title.

    This is a typical brash upstart vs. cocky veteran match, where Tanahashi kept on brushing off White, saying in his interviews that he doesn’t really have so much to gain in this match. White, on the other hand, kept on disrespecting the Ace with his underhanded attacks.


    It is also important to note that since Kazuchika Okada’s debut at WK 6, White’s debut perhaps is the biggest one for a returning Young Lion, where he immediately challenges for a major title.

    This is another tough one for me personally. My heart says the Ace will retain, but White is making a big debut, who obviously has the trust of the NJPW management. And big debuts like this don’t usually fail, so I’m betting on Jay White to win the title off Tanahashi to also give the Ace a well-deserved time off to heal his nagging injuries. Do you guys think Tanahashi will take the backseat for the meantime?

    KP: I’m inclined to agree with the Eastern Lariat podcast: I do think White will take the title off Tanahashi. White taking the belt will give his comeback the kick in the pants it needs and having no titles will give Tanahashi time off to heal.

    The doubt about Tanahashi taking time off is understandable. He chose to work an easy program with Yano in 2015 and won the 6-Man titles after losing the IC title in 2017 instead of resting. But Tanahashi understands the need to give new talents time to shine, and since White has always wanted to wrestle him, I think the Ace will put over White.

    Lance: If history has taught us anything, it’s that the new hotshot star that debuts tends to win the big one in their return match from excursion. For example: Okada in 2012, or more recently, Hiromu last year. Expect this pattern to continue with Jay White winning the match and pulling off an upset over the legend, effectively making a new star in the process.


    IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship—No DQ Match: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega (c)

    KP: When Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega started feuding on Twitter, everyone thought it was for Jericho’s wrestling cruise. (No, really: Chris Jericho's Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea is a thing, and there will be an ROH tournament on it.)


    So it was completely justified for the internet to spontaneously combust after Jericho issued his challenge in November. And after Jericho ambushed Omega at the World Tag League finals. And after he and Omega gave media people a heart attack with the reporter’s notes ruined during their clash at the WK 12 press conference.

    There was no indication that the two would have a match on January 4 prior to this, unless you think that feelers were sent out as early as Omega’s interview on Talk is Jericho in January 2017. What do you guys think of the story they told so far?

    Ardelle: I was so hyped when news broke out that Jericho challenged Kenny for the IWGP US title, but after listening to the latest episode of the Eastern Lariat podcast, I realized that the build actually kind of came out of nowhere. It was also quite puzzling that it went from zero to a hundred that quickly. But hey, they made the most out of what they have.

    Despite my complaints, I’m still looking forward to this match and all the new eyes that will finally see the greatness that is The Cleaner.

    I also have no clue how this will play out afterward, but I always root for Kenny Omega and this is no different. Kenny is the best when it comes to pure, athletic wrestling, but with the no disqualification stipulation, pure wrestling isn't going to cut it. Even with the obstacles, I have faith that Kenneth will get the job done.

    Miyann: Kenny Omega will retain.


    IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)

    KP: If you’re totally blank on who Tetsuya Naito is and why people are going apeshit about his story coming into Wrestle Kingdom, you better watch this:

    TLDR: Naito challenged Okada for the championship at Wrestle Kingdom 8 after winning the 2013 G1 Climax. Their main event spot was bumped down by fans voting for Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental title. Naito lost and after a year of losses, scorn from fans, and lack of support from management, he reinvented himself in CMLL in 2015 and came back as the leader of the Los Ingobernables de Japon.

    And Okada does not give a single shit about any of this.

    The current champ made his scorn known about losing his main event spot to Tanahashi—whom he had a legendary three-match series with—and bragged about taking the title back from Naito after he took it off Okada temporarily in 2016.

    As far as he’s concerned, Naito’s four-year story pales in comparison to the excellent years he’s had in 2016 and 2017. And as the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history and the new ace of NJPW, Okada has all the incentive in the world to end Naito’s story on a sour note.

    Predictions, ples?

    Miyann: Naito will take the title off Okada.

    Ardelle: The build to Okada and Naito’s Tokyo Dome match has been nothing but excellent storytelling inside the ring. You see, Naito is tranquilo, a mindset he learned during his time with La Sombra (now NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas) and his original Los Ingobernables chums in CMLL. Basically, the way of tranquilo is being calm and collected, which will, in turn, get inside the head of the opponent. And it’s a good strategy. Why should you be fired up immediately? A lot of energy may go to waste.

    But Okada—being the fighting champion that he is—wants Naito to be all fired up for their January 4 face-off, even introducing a new submission move similar to the Million Dollar Dream of Ted DiBiase to counter Naito’s Destino. As a result, Okada and his CHAOS cohorts dominated most of their tag team matches leading to the Dome, until the last Road to Tokyo Dome match where Naito was able to deliver a Destino to the champion.

    Now that Okada has surpassed Shinya Hashimoto’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign, it’s only a matter of time when someone will put a stop to the Rainmaker’s dominance in NJPW. I believe WK 12 is Tetsuya Naito’s time and his crowning moment.

    Lance: Back in 2011, when Naito got his shot for the Heavyweight title against Tanahashi, fans were fully behind Naito and were ready to accept him already as a top star. Unfortunately, a sudden injury changed the trajectory of his career, leading up to fans no longer supporting him at the time.

    That’s why his story arc, from the chosen one to becoming once again the chosen one in the eyes of the fans remain one of the greatest comeback stories in pro wrestling history: it felt so organic and legit. And now we come full circle where fans are now behind a Naito Tokyo Dome main event win, a scenario that must happen to end one of the greatest title runs in company history. Expect this match to engage and enthrall the fans, with the right man in Naito finally fulfilling his, ehem, Destino.


    Catch Wrestle Kingdom 12 at the Tokyo Dome tomorrow afternoon, January 4, by subscribing to NJPW World.
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    Item Reviewed: Ruthless Roundtable: The Smark Henry Official Wrestle Kingdom 12 Predictions Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ardelle Costuna
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