TOKYO, Japan – The lull before the Royal Rumble every January may seem like dead holiday time for most pro wrestling fans who only follow the WWE, but for others who follow New Japan Pro Wrestling, there’s an electric feeling in the air. That’s because the coming of January means it’s time for NJPW’s WrestleMania show, Wrestle Kingdom 13.
And if you’ve been thinking about dipping your toes in the waters of Japanese puroresu, Wrestle Kingdom is the best time to take the plunge. While the show is deep into the story, all the matches are marquee enough to appreciate on their own without much background knowledge. (Besides, NJPW now offers English commentary, so it’s much easier for gaijin—foreigners—to keep up.)
If you’re thinking about watching Wrestle Kingdom 13—and it’s a long affair, much like WrestleMania is—here are the matches you should go for:
Chris Jericho vs Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
For those who need to latch on to something familiar before diving in, this is it. This is your hook—with Chris Jericho being a familiar face and taking the second-most prestigious championship in all of NJPW hostage for most of the year, the company’s basically guaranteed the attention of many Western fans.
Tetsuya Naito is a man without a care in the world; it may even seem like he doesn’t care about winning and championships. But these two have had a brutal feud all year, starting after last year’s Wrestle Kingdom when Jericho attacked Naito at New Year’s Dash!!, the post-Wrestle Kingdom show. Naito is looking to reclaim the title Jericho won from him at this year’s Dominion show.
With Jericho gaining the upper hand a week before Wrestle Kingdom, it looks like Naito’s ending this chapter by finally beating the Judas tormenting him.
Kenny Omega vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Before Kenny Omega can truly declare himself to be an ace of NJPW, he must go through another of the company’s most legendary aces. (It’s also worth noting that 3 of the top singles titles in NJPW involve gaijin, betraying the company’s gradual Westernization in its journey to globalization.)
Omega already decisively defeated his main archnemesis, former IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, but one of NJPW’s very best in Hiroshi Tanahashi now stands in his way. Tanahashi won NJPW’s yearly round-robin tournament, the G1 Climax, in order to secure his title shot for Wrestle Kingdom 13. While Tanahashi is getting up there in years, he’s still no slouch, so Omega will have to bring his very best just like he did for Okada.
Cody vs Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States Championship
How about two former WWE guys duking it out on Japan’s biggest stage?
You already know all about the man formerly known as Cody Rhodes after the year he’s had, but you may not know or remember the guy formerly known as CJ Parker on NXT. Before securing a spot in NJPW, Juice Robinson’s most memorable moment was inadvertently injuring Kevin Owens in the latter’s NXT debut with a palm strike.
Now the tables have turned: Owens is coming back from an injury and a lackluster year, while Robinson is competing for a NJPW title.
You can say the same for Rhodes’s career renaissance, although he’s already managed to resurrect it a long time ago. If you need something familiar to latch on to, this match is also good for that purpose. I wouldn’t expect it to be as great as the matches which involve the native Japanese or NJPW mainstays, but I believe these two gaijin can hold their own.
Kota Ibushi vs Will Ospreay for the NEVER Openweight Championship
WWE fans will remember Kota Ibushi for his run in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016, while more casual fans will remember the Aerial Assassin Will Ospreay for his viral sequence with current NXT North American Champion Ricochet. And if you’ve been paying attention to wrestling on social media, you’ll probably have seen a sequence between these two go slightly viral for being ridiculously anime. (You can go watch the whole match as NJPW made it free for Christmas.)
The NEVER Openweight Championship is a strictly midcard title, but it’s delivered us some great bouts over the years, and you can expect the same with Ibushi and Osprey facing each other. These two high-flyers never fail to go all out when given a chance to, and if there’s any match that’s got the highest chance of hooking casual fans in, it’s this one.
I mean, if they can go viral before they even have their real match, I daresay you’re going to get another viral moment out of this one too.
Watch Wrestle Kingdom 13 live with fellow Filipino fans! Local wrestling blog Smark Henry is hosting a live Wrestle Kingdom 13 viewing party on Friday, January 4 at Skinny Mike’s Sports Bar in Bonifacio Global City! For only P150, you get a free drink and the opportunity to be a part of the first ever Philippine live viewing party of NJPW’s biggest show! For more info, check out the event page on Facebook! – Rappler.com