wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s NJPW WrestleKingdom 12 Takeaways

January 5, 2018 | Posted by Larry Csonka
NJPW Kazuchika Okada's Kazuchika Okada - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12

WELCOME back to column time with Larry! Today, I am going to share some takeaways from the NJPW WrestleKingdom 12 event. I’ll be looking at my predictions (some right and some VERY wrong), my thoughts on each match, the great wrestling, the questionable at times booking, and close shop on the big show. I hope that you enjoy today’s preview, and feel free to share your thoughts. It’s wrestling, we love it and will disagree. The only rules are “have a take, be respectful of other’s opinions and don’t be a dick.” Also, don’t be afraid of sharing your predictions. Have fun, and always, thanks for reading.

Thanks to all that followed my live coverage this year, it was greatly appreciated.

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MY PREDICTION: The RAMBO is the fun pre-show match, worked under gauntlet/Royal Rumble rules. My pick was that Honma makes his triumphant return and wins. I WAS WRONG

MATCH THOUGHTS: The RAMBO had much more thought put into it than in past years, and due to that, the match had a more cohesive layout and flow than in years past. Overall, the match was pretty good, and more than served its purpose as a pre-match feature. I loved that Chase Owens got some run as a reward for his hard work this past year, Henare debuted new gear, possibly signaling his elevation from young lion status, and the booking of Suzuki-gun, Liger, and Tiger Mask was near perfect, playing off on their issues and matches for the past year. Kakihara, a UFW legend, survived cancer and made the surprise appearance, picking up the unexpected and feel-good win, beating cancer and winning the RAMBO, and then dedicating it to Takiyama. I’ll gladly take the loss on this prediction.

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IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Roppongi 3K vs. The Young Bucks

MY PREDICTION: I felt that Roppongi 3K should have won the match to continue their run and further establish themselves, but with the junior tag ranks so thin and the Bucks being major players, I believe that they will pull the title change to set the teams up for a long feud. I think they’ll have a good and fast-paced match, which could be great if they get the time to do so. I WAS RIGHT

MATCH THOUGHTS: It was worked very differently than expected, but had a good pace and the selling from Matt & Yoh was great, and played well into the finish. They actually broke away from the fast-paced “spotfest” style match and worked more of a Rock and Rolls vs. Midnights formula, it was a refreshing change and showed great versatility from both teams. The closing stretch was really excellent as they also did some great callbacks to the Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice from last year, which I loved. The different match formula also allows them to work a completely different match when they rematch, which I appreciate. While I really wanted Roppongi 3K to win, a long form feud with the Bucks, with them going over in the end, will give us quality matches and at the end of the day, can still cement Roppongi 3K as major players going forward. The Bucks win #7, and can now hang their jerseys in the rafters, Jordan Style as promised.

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NEVER Openweight Six Man Champions Bad Luck Fale, Tanga Loa, and Tama Tonga vs. Taguchi, Juice, and Makabe vs. Trent, Yano, and Ishii vs. Hanson, Rowe, and Elgin vs. Taichi, Iizuka, and Sabre:

MY PREDICTION: With Bullet Club just winning the titles, I think that they keep the belts here to keep some credibility for the stable and to feature them on the smaller shows as champions. I’ll hope for the best match quality wise, but the format could make it rough. I WAS WRONG

MATCH THOUGHTS: This ended up being a good match, and at the end of the day, was focused on making Trent the star of the match, with the comeback and win, getting him his first heavyweight title. I am happy for Trent & Ishii, it gives them something to do for the time being and could make for some fun matches going forward. Trent is so great, Ishii is so great and they somehow make things click with Yano when you think it won’t work. I’m not a big fan of the NEVER trios gauntlet, but this worked and I have no real complaints at the end of the day.

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Cody vs. Kota Ibushi

MY PREDICTION: With Cody losing the ROH title, this opens up the match for more drama. Cody needs a great performance here, he’s likely losing, which is fine because he lost against Okada and received nothing but praise for his work there. But this is all about getting Ibushi a big win in order to heat him up for the eventual well-built feud with Omega later in the year. I WAS RIGHT

MATCH THOUGHTS: This match was GREAT, and early into the show, was the best match of the night and held onto that until the juniors hit the ring later in the show. I will freely admit that I have been critical of Cody, but can easily praise his great work here as this was his best match since the Okada match last year. He worked with great urgency and a nice sense of aggression, while mixing in his usual ballyhoo, and didn’t overdo it this time. His work of the neck was strong and this was a performance I really feel he needed. It was also the most invested a NJPW crowd has been in Cody so far in his run there. This is more of the Cody I want to see; this was a Cody looking to prove himself, Cody mixing in his skill and shenanigans in a balanced, thoughtful and effective way. his was simply a great collaboration and I am happy to see Cody have a high-quality performance like this on a show of this level. Cody had the high-quality performance he needed, and Ibushi got the big singles win on a major stage he needed.

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IWGP Tag Team Champions KES vs. EVIL & SANADA:

MY PREDICTION: At the ages of 30 & 29, EVIL & SANADA are vital parts of NJPW’s future. They will be future main eventers and in time will be two of the guys carrying the company. They have both had times to shine over the last two years, have both had some outstanding performances and are ready to be more. I think that the first step is having them with the tag titles here, and having them go on a long and dominant run with the titles makes a lot of sense to me. This match has mixed potential quality wise, too many shenanigans will obviously hurt it, but if they can play it straight and just go in with a plan and deliver a regular wrestling match, this could be very good. I WAS RIGHT

MATCH THOUGHTS: These four had a very good match, with a great layout that played to everyone’s strengths and had a tremendous closing stretch. This is what they tried to do with the WTL finals, but KES was better in the role than GOD, and delivered here what they wanted backing December. KES were the hated heels, the fans love LIJ so it worked to have them fight from the bottom and have to overcome in order to finally win the titles. KES were killing machines in this match, and showed the kind of fire I have been waiting to see for a long time in this match. If we can get more of this KES moving forward, the tag division will be much better off. The right team won for sure, and I think that this could be the starting point for a huge 2018 for EVIL & SANADA, who most certainly are worthy of the chance and title run.

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Hair vs. Hair NEVER Openweight Title Match: NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki vs. Hirooki Goto

MY PREDICTION: After a completely wasted year, Hirooki Goto needs to win the title back and be given a quality run with the belt. He’s 38, and with the style he works, it isn’t getting any easier on his body and he’s not getting any younger. With Suzuki-gun being barred from ringside, they should have the chance to deliver a quality match here. I WAS RIGHT

MATCH THOUGHTS: This was a very good, dramatic match, worked in a hard-hitting, less is more style. The match was a complete reflection of Goto & Suzuki’s 2017, where Goto was continually owned by Suzuki and only started getting momentum at the end of the year. He had to fight through that all again as Suzuki made him earn everything, including the eventual win. This was completely different than everything else on the show, in the best way possible, and beautiful storytelling. Suzuki was humbled in loss, having to shave his own hair, and you have to wonder how this will change the already unhinged and insane lonely warrior. Hopefully, Goto turns things around in 2018 with a quality and focused run.

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IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Marty Scurll vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi

MY PREDICTION: I understand the negatives of booking the match, but I think that the amount of talent involved here will all come together, and we’ll get a great match. I have a feeling that WrestleKingdom 12 will be a huge night for LIJ, who are already over huge, but will take control of NJPW come January 4th, so Hiromu Takahashi takes back his title here. I WAS WRONG

MATCH THOUGHTS: I’m taking another big loss here, and should have seen the story coming, like a good reader in the comments of my preview column did, praise to you good sir. While there was a lot of trepidation regarding this match (because I feel most wanted a kick-ass match like KUSHIDA vs. Takahashi like last year), I feel that they more than delivered and that they had a great match; it was a complete spectacle, and with the junior tag title match being worked in a more reserved pace and style, it was ok for these guys to cut lose and deliver fast-paced, exciting and highflying action. They clearly positioned Ospreay as the star of the match and completed the story started at Power Struggle, getting revenge on longtime rival Marty Scurll to get back on top of the mountain. I would have loved for Takahashi to win, but I feel he’s going to be the top seed to win BOTSJ this year, and that Ospreay will finally be positioned for a long run, likely through Dominion, where Takahashi finally takes back his crown. This was simply a ton of fun, and positioned perfectly after Goto vs. Suzuki, as they were polar opposites, stylistically.

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IWGP IC Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay “Switchblade” White

MY PREDICTION: I strongly felt that Jay White should win to make his return really mean something and cement him as a new main event guy; the same thing Tanahashi did for Okada & Naito. But with Tanahashi coming off of two WrestleKingdom losses in a row (to Okada & Naito), I think that NJPW will be too gun shy to have him lose again. But considering his injuries; the fact that THEY DO NOT NEED HIM AS A DRAW like they used to, thanks to the fact that Okada, Naito, & Omega are all pulling in good numbers at the live gates. He should lose here, he should lose clean as a sheet in a high-quality match, and White should (in storyline) basically cripple Tanahashi, taking him out for a good 5-6 months so that Tanahashi can get his arm and knee taken care of, and then come back for G1 season fresh and healthy. But the Japanese mentality is to fight through injury and not take time off. And when you add in Tanahashi’s history of not taking time off and the cold feet in terms of having Tanahashi lose a third WrestleKingdom on a row, I think he walks out with the win. I WAS RIGHT

MATCH THOUGHTS: This was a good match overall, but easily Tanahashi’s “worst” dome effort in some time. This was a very paint by numbers Tanahashi match, but without all of the drama and hot crowd. While Jay White worked hard, this ended up being the wrong time. It’s still not a waste of Tanahashi as White gets some dome experience under his belt, and they can grow him from here. While the thought process here was good and losing to Tanahashi is not a horrible thing, I think that having White’s big match at the dome ended up being a mistake. He worked hard, looked good and didn’t do anything wrong, but I feel he would have benefited from a program with someone ahead of Tanahashi, so that fans would have a real reason to care and treat him as a threat, and become invested in him, which they weren’t here. Even if he lost, he should have looked more dominant and threatening to Tanahashi, and he simply didn’t. He also needed a feud to become more comfortable with his new character, which he really wasn’t here. I still think they would have been better off with White beating Tanahashi into submission and winning a shorter match, hopefully, they have something planned for White going forward to help his growth and help his recovery from this. While White’s far from dead in the water, if he was losing, he needed a great effort to make him appear like a real star, and that just didn’t happen here.

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IWGP US Title NO DQ Match: Champion Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho

MY PREDICTION: Jericho was insanely smart in the hype for and set up for this match, turning it from a match with a ton of pressure to be a traditional MOTYC into something more serious, it changes the tone and allows for the match to be something different for Omega, a match where his priority isn’t stealing the show, but instead, he’ll be going for revenge. He’ll be looking to prove Jericho wrong, to prove that he is the true alpha and to prove that NJPW is his territory and that in his territory, business is good. Turning things personal and changing the match to a no DQ match allows for more freedom, for some smoke and mirrors and likely a much better match than a straight up wrestling match. The deeper we get into this feud, the more I think that Jericho in NJPW is more than just the dome appearance. He’s working New Year’s Dash the next day and isn’t working Mania, which makes me believe that despite my original thoughts, that Jericho will win here, setting up a rematch in March when NJPW returns to the US. I WAS WRONG

MATCH THOUGHTS: I made the bold prediction there, and again, I will gladly take the loss because outside of a few (largely small negatives) this was so very great. I hated the rope breaks in a no DQ match, as they started out playing the stip well and then just dropped it. It’s no DQ, you don’t have to break if someone makes the ropes. I also think they went about 5-minutes too long as I feel they hit the peak, ran through it, and then went home. That being said, this honestly blew away every expectation I had. They played with all the tools that they had, and like I speculated, it made for a better match that just a straight up wrestling match. Jericho was motivated, working with purpose and great aggression, and like he had something to prove after all of the hype work he put into the match. At age 47, Jericho put in an absolutely great performance, the best he’s had in years. Bring motivated to show you can still goat a high level. Having freedom and working with one of the best guys in the business was all he needed to succeed. His work as the entitled veteran, looking down on this pretender to the throne was on par, Omega played a great babyface, and they kept the crowd interested the entire time. Had you told me back in 2017 that a 35-minute Chris Jericho match in 2018 would have been pulled off this well, I would have asked you what drugs you were on. Nothing but praise and credit to both guys, but it was great to see Jericho deliver like this on such a big stage and away from WWE. I really hope that this motivates him to do some more with NJPW or other places because I could get into more of Jericho outside of WWE without any handcuffs or restrictions. This is also great for wrestling as a whole. The more that seemingly lifers in WWE can show that they can walk away and deliver elsewhere, get great buzz elsewhere and most importantly make money elsewhere, the more that others may consider their futures, and that influx of name talent, if they are hungry, is great for the rest of the business and for its growth.

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IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito

MY PREDICTION: Tetsuya Naito is red hot right now, as is the LIJ stable. Okada is 30 and has a lot of years left in him, while Naito is 35 and has been banged up with injuries. His shelf life is starting to fade, and now feels like the time to give him a real, extended run with the gold before it becomes too late. As far as match quality goes, these two are excellent, and always step up on the big shows and I expect the same to happen here as both have had a great year. Okada will be working to keep the title and continue to prove that he is the ace, while Naito is still fueled by rage and jealously over being snubbed in the past. His goal is not just to win the title, but also to prove that he is the man and that he belongs on the Tokyo Dome main event. This one is a real toss up, but I’m going with another title change and the big Naito win. I WAS WRONG

MATCH THOUGHTS: While I think that the decision was the wrong call, this was an absolutely amazing main event. Naito was ready, the fans were ready, but NJPW was too gun shy to pull the trigger here, and that’s a shame. Unfortunately, that seems to be the nature of the beast in wrestling, making the right move at the wrong time. Naito is far from dead, but I feel he was at his peak and that now was the time to run with him. It MAY lead to a good storyline, but I feel it’s a questionable business move. But I loved, loved, loved this match. It was absolutely amazing, with a great pace great layout and just tremendous work from both in front of an absolutely electric crowd. The callbacks to their past encounters were played excellently, leading to an absolutely scintillating home stretch. While I may not be a fan of the decision, this clicked all the boxed for a big time main event match for me, and was a hell of a way to kick off the year. It opens the division up to uncertainty, but I’m not completely sure it’s the right call. Bottom line, if the quality of Okada’s title defenses drops, it’s a bad call. If he stops doing sellout after sell out, it’s a bad call. If Naito stop selling tickets and merchandise, it’s a bad call. If he cools off and fans stop treating him like a major star, then it’s a bad call. If all of that happens, it’s a fucking disaster.

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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“Byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye Felicia!”