The Delco Elbow Drop

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wrestle Kingdom 9 Guide: An Intro to New Japan's Biggest Show of the Year

With Global Force Wrestling presenting New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Wrestle Kingdom 9” in America live on InDemand Pay-Per-View, it will give American fans a chance who have heard about Bullet Club, Hiroshi Tanahashi or Kazuchika Okada to see them first-hand at New Japan’s biggest show of the year.

  I don’t follow New Japan as closely as some do, but after watching a majority of the 2014 G1 Climax tournament, I became a big fan of the product and of many of the wrestlers themselves. But whether you follow New Japan or not, Wrestle Kingdom 9 will be a great show to watch as it’s the company’s biggest show of the year and all the main titles will be defended. Also, legendary pro wrestling commentator Jim Ross will be calling the show along with Matt Striker for the English broadcast of WK9.

  There are a few distinct differences between New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE that new fans will want to be aware of going in.

January 4 Dome Show
  It wasn’t always called Wrestle Kingdom, but the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show has been a tradition for New Japan Pro Wrestling since the early 90s. This is the Japanese version of Wrestlemania and is available in America live for the first time ever this year thanks to Global Force Wrestling.

  Almost everyone in New Japan are part of some faction. Though, unlike American promotions, these faction affiliations aren’t very prominent. You’ll hardly ever see members of CHAOS or Great Bash Heel interfere in matches or accompany other members to the ring for matches.
  In New Japan, the overriding desire to display good sportsmanship means even heels and heel factions don’t generally interfere in each other’s matches. However, Bullet Club eschews those traditions and functions much more like an American pro wrestling stable, which is a big reason why they’ve made such an impact in New Japan. Bullet Club is an all gaijin stable (with the exception of Yujiro Takahashi) and gaijin basically means someone who isn’t from Japan.
  The most important factions to keep an eye on in at Wrestle Kingdom 9 are CHAOS, Bullet Club, and Suzukigun.
  The Global Force Wrestling website has a great write up with even more detail about the factions of NJPW here.

Tag teams
  As WWE seems to be moving away from giving tag teams a prominent role on their show, tag team wrestling is still a very important part of New Japan. The company features two different tag team tournaments each year and several different tag team titles are defended regularly in New Japan, such as the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles, IWGP junior heavyweight tag team titles and NWA tag team titles.
  New Japan stars also regularly team up to form new and interesting tag teams outside of established teams like Killer Elite Squad, The Time Splitters or The Young Bucks. For instance, the team of Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto won the recent World Tag League tournament, after feuding for much of 2013.
  New Japan also utilizes the larger tag formats (like 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 man matches) more often than WWE. I remember listening to an interview with Chikara’s Mike Quackenbush who related larger tag team matches to painting a picture with different colors and why use only two or four colors when you can use more.
  Global Force Wrestling also did a nice write up of tag team wrestling in New Japan and you can read that here.

The Wrestle Kingdom 9 card
reDRagon (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) (c) versus The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) versus The Time Splitters (Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA) versus The Forever Hooligans (Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
-reDRagon defeated The Time Splitters for the IWGP Jr tag belts at Power Struggle on Nov. 8 and recently defeated them to retain the ROH tag titles at Final Battle on Dec. 7. But with the Bucks and Forever Hooligans involved, it will be tough for reDRagon to retain. I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Time Splitters regain the belts here, though it’s entirely possible for any of these teams to win the titles.

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Jeff Jarrett and Yujiro Takahashi) versus Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Tomoaki Honma
-Tencozy (sometimes written as TenKoji) along with tenacious underdog Tomoaki Honma will take on the gaijin stable Bullet Club at WK9. Tencozy are multiple time NWA Tag Team champions and though Honma hasn’t won much in New Japan, his hard-working style and tenacity has endeared him to the fans (he didn’t pick up a single win in the most G1 Climax tournament as a late replacement for Kota Ibushi). Bullet Club is still going strong but haven’t been the dominant force in NJPW they once were. A loss here could really affect their status, despite GFW founder Jeff Jarrett now being attached to Bullet Club.

Mikey Nicholls, Naomichi Marufuji, Shane Haste and Toru Yano versus Suzukigun (Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer, Shelton X Benjamin and Takashi Iizuka)
-Suzukigun takes on a makeshift team featuring CHAOS member Toru Yano and three Pro Wrestling NOAH wrestlers Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste and the current GHC Heavyweight champion Naomichi Marufuji.  Haste and Nicholls are and Australian tag team (TDMK, The Mighty Don’t Kneel) trained by Marufuji and will help Yano as he takes on Suzukigun and former tag team partner, Takashi Iizuka.

Minoru Suzuki versus Kazushi Sakuraba
-This match between two heavy-handed strikers who are also well-versed in submissions will be a knockout or submission only match. Sakuraba teamed with Yano in the recent World Tag League tournament and as he’s facing the leader of Suzukigun, this match is almost an extension of the previous 8-man tag. Suzuki is a no-nonsense badass but Sakuraba is a world-renown MMA fighter, having spent time in the early days of UFC and in Pride Fighting Championships. The rivalry began when Sakuraba came to the aid of Yano after Iizuka turned on him. Both Suzuki and Sakuraba have extensive training in legitimate combat sports and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one looked more like an MMA fight than a pro wrestling match.

Tomohiro Ishii (c) versus Togi Makabe
NEVER Openweight Championship
-Ishii regained the NEVER title from Yujiro Takahashi at the King of Pro-Wrestling event on Oct. 13. I don’t think this match is based on a feud or rivalry but it should be hard-hitting none-the-less. Both Ishii and Makabe are bruisers and will beat the hell out of each other. There have only been 5 NEVER champs and Ishii is the first two-time champ so I don’t see him losing it so soon after regaining it. Aside from Suzuki/Sakuraba, this will most likely be one of the stiffest matches of the night.
(I also looked into the NEVER belt a little bit. NJPW originally created it to be the championship for a new promotion which highlighted younger competitors and outside talent and have it defended exclusively on NEVER shows, but that didn’t really pan out. Now the belt is basically an undercard title for NJPW and has been won exclusively by established guys [Masato Tanaka won a tournament, defeating Karl Anderson to win it, followed by Tetsuya Naito, Ishii, Takahashi and finally Ishii again]).

Ryusuke Taguchi (c) versus Kenny Omega
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
-Taguchi defeated KUSHIDA for the Junior title at Destruction in Kobe on Sept. 21 and subsequently defended it against El Desperado despite constant interference from Desperado’s stablemates in Suzukigun. Kenny Omega recently joined NJPW full-time after several years in DDT. Though in the press conference announcing his jump to New Japan he said he wouldn’t join Bullet Club, he debuted at Power Struggle on Nov. 8 as a member of the gaijin stable, saying he lied at the press conference and he only cares about the money and the Junior title. A funny note about Omega is although he’s fluent in Japanese, he has only been cutting promos in English as a member of the Bullet Club.

Bullet Club (Doc Gallows and Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson) (c) versus Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata
IWGP Tag Team Championship
- Gallows and Machine Gun have held the IWGP tag belts consistently throughout the year after winning them at Wrestle Kingdom 8. They’ll take on Goto and Shibata who are on a hot streak right now after winning the World Tag League tournament. Goto and Shibata actually went to the same high school and have been battling ever since but since ending their feud at Wrestle Kingdom 8 (which Goto won), they formed a tag team with their sights set on Gallows and Machine Gun. They’ve defeated the champs in non-title matches but haven’t been able to unseat them for the gold. Though Shibata was also on a quest to win singles gold this year in the form of the IWGP Heavyweight or Intercontinental titles, Goto and Shibata defeated Gallows and Machine Gun in the finals of the 2014 World Tag League to set up this match. Bullet Club won the belts at the last Wrestle Kingdom – will they leave WK this year with them?

A.J. Styles versus Tetsuya Naito
-2014 was a banner year for Styles. In his first match in New Japan, he defeated Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title and aligned himself with the Bullet Club. But at King of Pro-Wrestling on Oct. 13, Styles lost the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi. Naito beat Styles in the 2014 G1 Climax, which Styles insisted was a fluke, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted this match to prove that fact. But if Naito gets a win over the former IWGP Heavyweight champion, that would have to put him in the running for a title shot in 2015.

Shinsuke Nakamura (c) versus Kota Ibushi
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
-If you only watch WWE, you might think the New Japan Intercontinental title also doesn’t mean a whole lot. And you would be wrong. Nakamura has done an exceptional job of making the title feel important and many hold it in as high a regard as the Heavyweight title. Nakamura is a four-time champion, the only person to hold the belt more than once, and defeated Bad Luck Fale to regain it at Destruction in Kobe on Sept. 21. After defending the title against Shibata at Power Struggle on Nov. 8, Ibushi attacked him, setting up this match. The returning Ibushi was formerly in the Junior Heavyweight title picture but on his return looks to get into IC and Heavyweight contention. (Fun fact: MVP, former WWE and current TNA star, was the first NJPW IC champ, defeating Toru Yano in the finals of an 8-man tournament at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia).

Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) versus Kazuchika Okada
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
-Tanahashi versus Okada is perhaps the biggest rivalry in New Japan right now. Think Flair/Steamboat, Misawa/Kobashi, Hart/Michaels, Triple H/Rock and you’ll start to get a picture of this feud. And that isn’t just lofty praise – it’s been backed up in the ring with some of the best matches of the past decade. These two met several times throughout 2012-2013 in singles matches and produced not one but two 5-star matches in that time. Okada won the recent G1 Climax tournament, guaranteeing him a spot in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 9 against the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. At the time, that man was A.J. Styles – but Styles ended up losing the title to Tanahashi at King of Pro-Wrestling on Oct. 13. Tanahashi is the most prestigious IWGP Heavyweight champion, in his seventh reign, with the most title defenses and most combined days as the champion. But Okada is determined to take his place as the new ace of New Japan. The rivalry will be renewed at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and with a global audience watching, you can bet that Tanahashi and Okada will go all out to deliver a spectacular match.

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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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