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  • Connor Ewens

Let's Review: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18

Happy New Year! It's only been 4 days and the wrestling world has came in into 2024 swinging. WWE's great Day 1 Raw special including a huge tease for the Rock vs Roman Reigns. AEW having their best Dynamite in a long time including the debut of Deonna Purrazzo. And now, we have the annual tradition of New Japan's takeover of the Tokyo Dome. This is the first major event with new President Hiroshi Tanahashi at the helm, who is himself wrestling at this event. I fully expect it to be his retirement match so he can focus on the backstage running of the company. As usual it is a long card full of big matches and big names, how will the first major show of the year do? Let's find out. Let's review.


January 4th 2024 - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo.


(Pre-show) NJPW KOPR Right to Challenge/New-Japan Rambo

The King of Pro Wrestling title is defended year long with whoever holds it by year end being named as that years champion. The Rambo match is essentially a New Japan Royal Rumble with the final four competitors winning and getting an opportunity at the KOPR title. You have all of your regular faces in this match; Jeff Cobb, Tomohiro Ishii, Taichi and so on. The rumble format is always somewhat enjoyable, this didn't have any spots really. House of Torture took control of the ring and dominated, Toru Yano's antics were funny as usual. The final four survivors were Great-O-Khan, YOH, Taiji Ishimori & Toru Yano. This was fine. I won't include it in the overall rating.


Great-O-Khan, YOH, Taiji Ishimori & Toru Yano survive (32:40)

**


Bullet Club War Dogs (Clark Connors & Drilla Maloney) (c) vs Catch 22 (TJP & Francesco AKira), IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Championships

As is tradition, the winners of the Jr Tag league challenges the champions at Wrestle Kingdom. Catch 22 had a great tournament, knocking off House of Torture to win and earn this opportunity. 184 day reign for the champs so far. TJP comes out in a brand new persona called 'Aswang', based off a Filipino monster in folklore. His mask look pretty cool and it was something unique. Hopefully this is something he pulls out now and then because it has legs to get himself more over. Purists are probably going to shit on the gimmick as being very WWE-esque. The match was good, a pretty standard tag match to open the show. I would have had a more dominant showing for TJP if they wanted to get this gimmick over. After the red mist and a double team move, Catch 22 win their third Jr Heavyweight titles.


Catch 22 win via pinfall (9:38)

**3/4


Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW Television Championship

Sabre has held this title for a full year as of today, a great first reign for the weird plaster shaped title. It was ZSJ who called out Tanahashi for this match, wanting to defeat the Ace on the grandest stage. ZSJ had to work around Tanahashi's limitations but he worked very well, as did the 47 year old President. After a back and forth on pinfall attempts, the President shocks Zack and gets a pin! Surprising result to me, but this might indeed by the last singles title run Tanahashi has. I just remember he is part of the NEVER Openweight 6-man champion team. This was another good match that I enjoyed.


Tanahashi wins via pinfall (8:53)

***


Yota Tsuji vs Yuya Uemura

These two were young lions together and wrestled in a series of matches throughout 2020. Now, both men have left and returned to New Japan more skilled than before and look to prove who is the better man now. Uemura is a very serious competitor whilst Tsuji oozes machismo. This was slow to start as Yota dominated the pace quickened in the final third. Uemura reverse into a bridging dragon suplex to pick up a hard-fought win. Another good match.


Uemura wins via pinfall (10:57)

***1/4


Kaito Kiyomiya & Shota Umino vs House of Torture (EVIL & Ren Narita)

Kaito is one of the biggest stars in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Shota Umino Umino & Ren Narita had a feud for much of last year, ending with a good tag match and a show of respect. Umino & Narita entered the World Tag League together, but Narita attacked him and joined the House of Torture. For fuck sake. Well there goes Narita's near future hopes being strapped to that sinking ship. Hopefully under new management, the HoT will change into something better, but I am skeptical. Umino rides in on a motorbike, how cool. This is like all the other HoT matches I don't like. Lots of cheating and heel tactics that the referee cannot control or punish. When the faces got a chance to wrestle, this was pretty solid. However, most of this was chocking and cheating. Not too great this. Easily the worst thing on the show. Can the House of Torture BS just end in 2024 please?


House of Torture win via pinfall (7:06)

*3/4


Shingo Takagi (c) vs Tama Tonga, NEVER Openweight Championship

In October at Fighting Spirit, Takagi defeated Tonga for his third reign as champion. After a successful defence against Trent Beretta, Shingo called out anyone to face him at WK18. Tama wants to avenge his own loss. This was a fast-paced back and forth sprint, both men were evenly matched. that mid-air cutter reversal by Tonga was very impressive. Tonga showed his resilience and defeated Shingo with his piledriver finish. We're back to having good matches.


Tonga wins via pinfall (13:46)

***1/2


-Nick Nemeth and Ryan Nemeth, FKA as Dolph freaking Ziggler, make their way out on camera and sit at ringside. Very interesting. I am more than happy to se Dolph mix it up in New Japan.


Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (IWGP) vs Guerillas of Destiny (Hikuleo & El Phantasmo) (STRONG), IWGP Tag & NJPW STRONG Tag Championships

Both of these two champions made it to the finals of the World Tag League. Bishamon won and became the first ever 3 time World Tag League winners. As champions and winners, they got the privilege to choose their own opponents for this event. They scheduled a rematch with their respective finalists, with both set of titles on the line. 214 days as champs for Bishamon, whilst the GoD have been champions for 87 days. This was an average good match. Bishamon are one of the best tag teams in the world and their opponents are not on their level as in-ring performers. I was shocked to see the result, the GoD pull out a huge win to become double champions, continuing the trend of new IWGP tag champions being crowned at every Wrestle Kingdom since 2013. I thought if anyone, Bishamon would have broke that streak. They all worked hard, ELP is fun to watch but Hikuleo is very average. I just don't buy them as a top tier tag team.


GoD win via pinfall (9:47)

***


Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs El Desperado, IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship

Takahashi challenged his rival El Desperado to this match. They wrestled each other at this event 2 years ago, Desperado went in and also left the match as the champion. These two have good chemistry and always have good matches, this was another one of these. It was far from their best though, but I really liked the slow and more aggressive pace at times rather than just lots of running and flips as this division can be sometimes. A pair of Pinche Loco drivers from Desperado secures him the win and his fifth reign as the Jr champion. Another very good match.


Desperado wins via pinfall (14:21)

***1/2


Will Ospreay vs David Finlay vs Jon Moxley, IWGP Global Championship

Will Ospreay went from US champion to UK champion after introducing his own design. Ospreay called out Moxley after defeating his former student Umino. David Finlay responded with an attack and destroying both the US and UK titles. This match will crown the inaugural Global champion. They revealed the design, it looks pretty good if a little small. Ospreay and Moxley have agreed a 5 minute truce at the start of the match to kick Finlay's ass which is funny. Moxley comes out wearing this weird red and black mask and he looks like a B-rate DC villain. Ospreay gets a grandiose entrance, his final Wrestle Kingdom performance before joining AEW. I doubt this will be his last appearance forever, though his entrance really felt like a finale. With Ospreay and Moxley as AEW talents and Finlay still with New Japan, I find the result of this one really predictable. Finlay gets destroyed and put through a table so we can have Moxley vs Ospreay as singles for a while. Of course when Finlay returns and starts attacking, we see the blood start to spill from the Mox. Whilst I am happy Finlay's offence is kept to a minimum because he is easily the weakest in the match, he also felt like a spare part who only got involved now and then to stop Ospreay and Moxley from tearing each other apart. Finlay nearly stole a pin from Ospreay in a great near fall. After they team up again of the Irishman, we see the Bullet Club run out to try help their leader. Ospreay puts Kidd and Coughlin through the table, a hilarious spot as Coughlin is stuck within the table. Finlay capitalises and hits his knee strike finisher to win the title. It was a very enjoyable match, I don't rate Finlay though and I hope he drops the title sooner than later. I think if he went into the Performance Centre he could really improve.


Finlay wins via pinfall (22:17)

***3/4


-Finlay and The Artist Formerly Known as Dolph Ziggler get into it at ringside and need seperated. Hopefully Ziggler just wins the title immediately lol.


Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada

A rematch from their Forbidden Door clash which unfortunately ended in an injury, I am hopeful this can be an even better match than that one. Danielson won their first encounter, I expect Okada to take this one in probably the match of the night. Okada gets his entrance, he emerges in a white robe but when a UV light scans the front and back, it adds colour and design to it. That was fucking cool. Danielson even receives some Yes chants which was cool to hear. As expected, this was a phenomenal battle between two of the best in the world. I think it was a few minutes off being a 5 star classic, hopefully they have a rubber match at some point. Danielson worked the arm very well and Okada sold it excellently. Match of the night.


Okada wins via pinfall (23:24)

****3/4


SANADA (c) vs Tetsuya Naito, IWGP Heavyweight Championship

This is a big marquee match between former Los Ingobernables de Japon allies. SANADA left and joined Just 5 Guys, whilst also winning the IWGP title. It has been a rather weak reign. It started off well but became dull once he entered a rivalry with EVIL and the House of Torture. Naito won the G1 Climax and the world title "briefcase" which is now a silly tote bag. Naito comes to the ring wearing a cool mask that looks like Foxy from 5 Nights at Freddy's. SANADA doesn't even have his own unique entrance music, it is still just the J5G song.


This was your usual epic back and forth Wrestle Kingdom main event. I wasn't too interested at first but it got exciting in the last 10 minutes. Unfortunately we take a trip to botch city, as SANADA keeps fucking up the Destino spot for Naito. The tranquillo one has blood gushing from his eye as he puts down SANADA with a last Destino to win his fourth major championship in New Japan. Very good action, it took some time to get going and it got a little sloppy but still a great match to watch.


Naito wins via pinfall (25:42)

****


-House of Torture attack post match, FUCK OFF. I don't want this bullshit. Old ally SANADA runs back and helps his former stablemate. Naito praises him and then cuts a nice go home promo to end the show.


Overall- 66.5%

A consistently good show overall with only one bad match, of course being the House of Torture. Usually Wrestle Kingdom has numerous matches I'd rate 4 or more stars, but only 2 here tonight. Some may call that disappointing, but at least the full card had enjoyment rather than having a weak show followed by 4 bangers. A very good way to kick off wrestling this year. No MOTY contender just yet though it was close. I hope to see Nick Nemeth do some big things in New Japan in the future. That is all for today. Thanks for reading.


MOTN- Danielson vs Okada





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