New Japan Pro Wrestling started its 2020 year with its annual Wrestle Kingdom. In its 14th year, it has been the home to a lot of recent classic matches and it is safe to say that some of the matches are in the running for Match of the Year already.

The stacked card was split into two nights back to back, which is something I believe WWE should consider doing with WrestleMania. Each night had a respectable amount of time and allowed a lot of the matches to receive a good amount of time.

All the titles were on the line and some were defended on both nights. The two main stories here were (1) crowning the first-ever double champion in the company history on Night 2 and (2) the retirement match of the legendary Japanese wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger.

Unlike my predictions, I gave my grades and thoughts into one long article, rather than splitting them up. Let’s get started.

Night 1

Stardom Special match – Mayu Iwatani and Arisa Hoshiki def. Hana Kimura and Giulia (pre-show dark match)

Grade: N/A

New Japan opened up Night 1 with a historic match as it was the first-ever female-only match in company history. This ended up being a dark match and as of now I was unable to find an outlet to watch it, so I cannot grade it. Still, this was a good way to showcase the female talent Japan has and it may be the stepping stone to showcase more of that talent

Toa Henare, Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, and Alex Coughlin def. Great Heel Bash (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), Yota Tsuji, and Yuya Uemura (pre-show)

Grade: C

This was a simple battle between the American version of the NJPW Dojo and the NJPW Japanese Dojo. A solid opening match that was designed to get people on the show and showcase their abilities. Henare got the pinfall but Fredricks, in particular, got a lot of time to shine here. This was a simple multi-man match to showcase the American talent the company has recruited.

A good call giving the Americans the victory. It shows that the company is very keen on making American superstars in the company.

Tencozy (Hiroyoshi and Satoshi Kojima) def. Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi (pre-show)

Grade: C

This match here was to put four of New Japan’s legends on the card. The match was okay and it looked a little slow at times but it makes sense given the age of these superstars. The crowd was really into it due to the respect the veterans have earned.

Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, and Ryusuke Taguchi def. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke, and Tiger Mask with Noria Honaga as the Special Guest Referee

Grade: C+

While the match itself was nothing special, it was more the entrances and star power in the ring as this was Liger’s one of two final matches of his career. Watching Liger’s entrance and the crowd giving him a standing ovation was great to see. Liger wanted these guys in the match because of the history he’s had with them and helping him become the star he is.

I thought Liger would get at least one victory in his retirement matches but it does make sense as in tradition, the retired wrestler takes a pinfall to start the new era.

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, and El Desperado) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA, Evil, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi)

Grade: C+

A battle between two of New Japan’s top faction, it was an action-packed match with non-stop action. SANADA looked great here, building him up for his title match on Night 2. He looks to be a rising star in the company but ultimately, Sabre Jr. got the victory here to set up his title match.

Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, and YOSHI-HASHI) def. Bullet Club (KENTA, Bad Luke Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, and Chase Owens)

Grade: C

All the bout did was continue the battle with KENTA and Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship that occurred on Sunday. They had limited interaction against each other which made sense to build the anticipation for Night 2. The finish with Goto executing KENTA’s finisher to win was a nice touch to show that he can beat him with his own move.

IWGP Tag Team Championship – FinJuice (Juice Robinson and David Finlay) def. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c)

Grade: C

First off, I liked Robinson’s ring attire. He really has turned his career around in New Japan, showing that WWE did drop the ball on him when he was CJ Parker on the yellow brand. The match itself was okay but nothing crazy.  I am a huge fan of Guerrillas of Destiny and they are one of the best tag teams in the wrestling world in my opinion.

They had a 300+ reign as IWGP tag champions and having FinJuice win here shows that they are high on them and it is good because I personally think that the tag division needs a little bit of an upgrade after a few popular teams left the company in the past year. It’ll be interesting to see where the champions go from here.

IWGP United States Championship – Jon Moxley def. Lance Archer (c) in a Texas Deathmatch

Credit: New Japan Website

Grade: B+

Now we start getting to the good stuff. This match was a nice touch as we rarely see these types of matches in Japan. Chairs, tables, kendo sticks, (including Archer breaking out a plastic bag to cover Moxley’s face), you name it, it was a brawl. It was a nice change of pace, rather than a traditional match, rather a street fight that told a great story.

The selling by Moxley was top notch. The emotion in every spot he took from Archer had the perfect expression painted on his face. That’s how it should be so the people can get behind you. The ending of Archer set up two tables on the outside, followed by Moxley hitting a Death Ryder from the apron to through the tables and not have Archer get up for the 10-count was great.

Moxley is easily one of New Japan’s biggest stars in the company and can the chance to get a lot of American fans invested in the product. He is currently in AEW but it’ll be interesting to see how both companies can agree upon a deal to use him for both shows equally.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – Hiromu Takahashi def. Will Ospreay (c)

Grade: A+

WHAT. A. MATCH. Not even a week into the New Year and this is already in the conversation for Match of the Year. It was amazing and props to Takahashi for coming back to what was considered a career-ending neck injury and put on a show.

The injury told the story here, with every transition between the two left fans at the edge of their seats. If you haven’t seen the show this should be one of the first matches you should watch. Simply incredible.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Tetsuya Naito def. Jay White (c)

Grade: B-

Right after the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match, this match was hard to top but it was still a solid match. Naito was great but give White a lot of credit. He carried the majority of the match and continues to show why he’s one of the best heels in the company (and even in all of pro wrestling).

To some, White should have fun to continue his push but given the story of Naito, it makes sense why he won. There is no doubt that White will continue to be in the main title picture for the foreseeable future.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Kota Ibushi

Credit: New Japan Website

Grade: A+

Ospreay-Takahashi was hard to top but the main event of Night 1 was just as (if not) great as the previous match. It started out slow-paced, setting the tone for how long this match was about to be (ended up being a little over 40 minutes). Okada focused on Ibushi’s neck while Ibushi’s punches and kick’s, with both showing no emotion, and they only cared about winning the match.

Halfway through, the match picked up, with many near falls with no idea of who was coming out on top. Okada ended up winning with a final Rainmaker finisher to move on the main event double-title match. Another classic that is the running for Match of the Year and Okada once again showed that he is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Ibushi is not far behind him and will be in the title scene again this year no doubt.

Now onto Night 2

Night 2

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship – Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil, Shingo Takagi, and Bushi) to win the titles in a Gauntlet match (pre-show)

Grade: C+

Night 2 opened up with a Gauntlet match (as per tradition) so the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag titles. The participants comprised of three members from some of New Japan’s factions that ended with Los Ingobernables de Japon winning the titles.

Not a bad match and it was a good way to kick off the show and get the crowd started. New Japan for some reason rarely has these titles defended (only four times in 2019). The idea of 6-man titles is great with the number of stables in NJPW, so hopefully, we can see these titles more.

Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee def. Jushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano

Grade: C+

This was Liger’s last match and watching him go down the ring for the final time was something special. Liger and Takahashi were mainly involved in the match and having the new Junior Heavyweight champion pinning the legend makes a lot of sense to start a new era.

Thank you Liger!

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – Roppongi 3K (Yoh and Sho) def. Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo) (c)

Grade: A-

This was a great match between the “lower” level tag division. A fast-paced match that set the tone for the latter half of Night 2.

A thought here, with the tag division thinning out, why not combine both tag division. Other companies have done it and why could see some great potential matches between the two. Plus, there is already a surplus amount of titles in the company, they can afford to combine the two (plus you already have a third tag title in the 6-man one)

British Heavyweight Championship – Zack Sabre Jr. (c) def. SANADA

Grade: A-

If you are a fan of technical wrestling, this was perfect for you. Sabre is a master at the technical aspect of wrestling and credit to SANADA for holding his own here. Sabre makes the simple holds that some may seem boring, into something exciting.

Sabre is something different that New Japan needs right now and they should continue to utilize him a lot more.

IWGP United States Championship – Jon Moxley (c) def. Juice Robinson

Grade: B+

A very good match that was completely different than the previous bout. This one was a straight-up brawl between two former WWE superstars.

It really is night and day seeing Moxley (formally known as Dean Ambrose) and Robinson (CJ Parker) perform here. Both these guys are allowed to perform to their straight and not give them scripted stuff that hurts them.

An overall great sight to see and it shows that sometimes, leaving WWE could be a good thing for their career and the global empire is not for everyone.

NEVER Openweight Championship – Hirooki Goto def. KENTA (c)

Grade: C+

Much like with Moxley/Robinson, seeing KENTA turn things around and wash away his time in NXT (known as Hideo Itami) is great to see.

This match was not as great as the previous two matches but it was still good. It is nice to see Goto get his title victory here and it shows that New Japan is high on KENTA and moving him on to bigger things (more on that later).

Jay White def. Kota Ibushi

Grade: A

Another match, another high grade. Both these guys sold for each other’s moves perfect, with the guys showing that wanted to beat each other down. The interference from Gedo with the brass knuckles in helping White win only helps White’s and the Bullet Club’s heel personas.

White looks to be the new number one contender for the IWGP Heavyweight title while it’ll be interesting to see what the plans are for Ibushi after back-to-back losses.

Chris Jericho def. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Credit: New Japan Website

Grade: A-

An old-school wrestling match. Jericho continues to show why he is still the best in the business even after a 20-year career. He and Tanahashi put on a great story here and their mannerisms showed that they wanted to put o a classic.

The crowd was loving this match from the start and with good reason. People wanted Tanahashi to win but this was the right call to put over the AEW brand. This looks like a positive for their potential alliance of working together. Let’s hope we see s future NJPW/AEW show. That would be money just from the announcement.

IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship – Tetsuya Naito (Intercontinental Champion) def. Kazuchika Okada (Heavyweight Champion) in a Winner Take All-match

Credit: New Japan Website

Grade: A-

What a way to end the show. You know how this match was going to go from the moment they both locked up. Okada had the early advantage but the crowd was behind Naito throughout the match. Non-stop action with the guys using their finishers multiple times to try to win.

In the end, Natio hit the Stardust Press and followed it up with one final Destino to get the win and capture the ultimate prize, becoming the first person in NJPW history to hold both Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles simultaneously. It was interesting to see KENTA attack Naito post-match after Naito was addressing the crowd. It shows that we may see a feud between the two shortly and that would be fun to watch.

Overall, a great way to end Wrestle Kingdom 14.

Overall

For my first time fully watching a New Japan show, I can say that this was one of the best pay-per-views I have watched in recent history. It was great from start to finish and I did like the fact that is was split into two-night. A great way to get everyone involved in respectable times while not having the show drag out to six-plus hours.

I am no doubt looking forward to watching more of the product. This is a solid alternative to WWE if you want something different.

Seriously, I recommend you watch either this or any previous Wrestle Kingdoms. The product is great.

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