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Imp’s NJPW Adventure
Power Struggle and Concerns on The Road to Wrestle Kingdom
AKA I don’t know what it is, I’m Just Not Feeling very “Wrestle Kingdomy” This Year
Even though I’m a relatively big New Japan fan, I tend to zone out of the company after the end of the G1 in August. I genuinely feel like I just need a couple of months break to refresh and come back all excited in time for Power Struggle in November. I did it by accident the first couple of years watching as a result of not really having any idea what was going on, but now I treat the absence as a somewhat therapeutic practice.
However this year I stuck around. Their 2nd US show of 2018 and a damn strong looking King of Pro Wrestling card kept me around in a time I’m normally recuperating from the School of Strong Knocks.
I bring this up because even though I enjoyed both of those shows, heading into Wrestle Kingdom something doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t know what it is, I’m just not really feeling the same level of investment that I’ve felt in the past 4 or 5 years of WK’s I’ve watched. Is it because I didn’t get my refresh? Maybe. Is it because I’m British and given the chance we’ll eventually try to be grumpy about anything? Very bloody possible. However more than likely it’s something about the booking… I can’t put my finger on it, but the devil must be hidden somewhere within the details.
The Top Guys
What Are Okada & Naito’s Arcs?
Nothing is 100% confirmed, but all signs seem to be pointing towards Okada facing Jay White and Naito facing Chris Jericho. Both stories have been slowly brewing for the entirety of 2018, finally coming to a head and arcing towards January these past couple of months. But I don’t what it is, both Okada and Naito are in stories I deem interesting, however I for some reason am not that interested.
Let’s start with the latter, of which has been slowly building since Jericho attacked Naito the night after Wrestle Kingdom. The leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, who talks about being tranquilo and not caring so much, coming face to face with a man who truly does not give a crap. A damn interesting character story, unfortunately hindered by what I call the Lesnar factor: Jericho simply isn’t around enough to truly build something special.
The up side is this has been somewhat remedied by Jericho dressing up in different disguises and attacking LIJ members from out of nowhere. You truly never know when a Jericho sneak attack is coming and it each one has been bloody brilliant. Not forgetting that this is something he’s been able to use elsewhere, being utilised at ALL IN with Y2J dressing as Pentagon Jr to sneak attack Kenny Omega ahead of the Jericho Cruise.
The promo packages have also fit the vicious nature of this Jericho character to perfection, he genuinely comes across as a man willing to do whatever is needed to send that message. Jericho told Naito he’d make him famous and expose him at Dominion, he did exactly that as viciously attacked the tranquilo one before the bell and took his Intercontinental Championship.
This was meant to be Naito’s year, however at Wrestle Kingdom he couldn’t let go of the Stardust Genius and lost the match because of it. He’s been struggling the rest of the year, unable to properly get back on his feet and Jericho has taken full advantage. That said, 2018 has successfully done exactly what it set out to do: rebuild Naito.
The only thing is that means I’m looking forward to Wrestle Kingdom 14 more than I am 13. Long term it all makes sense and Naito will be back in that main event spot, but short term I’m finding myself not as strongly invested in NJPW as I have been in the past.
I’m not forgetting that last year’s WK main event was the result of years and years of build, it took a long time to get to that high point. It makes all the sense in the world to spend a couple of years rebuilding so people desperately want Naito in that main event again. But like I said, even though I find the story of Naito getting back on his feet on his journey to defeating Jericho interesting, I’m just not as interested as I thought I’d be.
Coming off of one of the most legendary title reigns in the history of wrestling, Okada was ever going to be at the same heights this time around. That said, I once again find myself not as invested as I thought I would be when analysing the sum of the parts. I’m a big fan of the kind of angle NJPW have done with Jay White, a man who seemingly didn’t fit in finding a home and eventually screwing over everyone there for his own personal gain.
Hell, even the twist of Gedo turning on Okada and the Bullet Club fully going back to its original detestable heel state has me liking this. The Switchblade character really is a good one and it flowing over into a full on CHAOS vs Bullet Club war has created some real intrigue. There are a lot of strong elements here that have my attention, again on paper I should be loving this arc for Okada.
But once again I find myself looking more forward to what comes after the two’s Wrestle Kingdom clash than I do the thing itself. The potential aftermath of a Jay White win, with Gedo holding him up as the new era and replacement for Okada. Or even The Rainmaker himself walking out victorious, the idea of Omega/Okada/Naito headlining NJPW together for the near future has me all kinds of excited.
Perhaps to me, even though this is a really good story, I just can’t get past White vs Okada feeling like a side story. A struggle for the former champion to overcome just like with Naito & Jericho. A side story in the longer build towards next year’s Wrestle Kingdom, a season arc villain for our hero to valiantly defeat.
Even in that context, I feel like I should still be way more into this storyline than I currently am. It’s led to the Bullet Club being legitimately hateable for the first time since Finn Balor was a Devitt shouting, “Fuck!” all the time. I should be all in on that! The same with the turmoil and eventual unity brought on throughout this whole thing and the same goes for the inner troubles of Okada himself.
All of those things said, this is New Japan Pro Wrestling and the entity valued the most is just that: the wrestling. Come Wrestle Kingdom 13 I’m expecting to be feeling entirely different after once again witnessing a series of unforgettable matches one after the other. It really is arguably the greatest night of wrestling of the year, I’m expecting this time round to be no different. Even if I’m not as invested in the characters and stories as years passed.
The Wrestle Kingdom Main Event
Tanahashi & Omega
Wrestle Kingdom is right on the horizon. Come the day of Power Struggle, these past few years I’ve been as hyped as hell for January come this point. I was never expecting 2018 to match 2017 in that regard, the perfect storm of the match of the generation between Okada & Naito and Jericho’s surprise first modern day NJPW appearance was always going to be almost impossible to match.
That said, there is something ‘off’ about WK13’s main event. There’s a few things I can spotlight, but I’m not even sure I find any of them to really be issues. Like the fact that all three main matches at Wrestle Kingdom are an established New Japan talent versus a gaijin. Except all 3 guys are either former young lions or spent a lot of time learning their craft in Japan, so yes they’re foreign but they’re not exactly alien talents to Japanese fans.
I’m on role, next issue! Tanahashi and Omega have both presented their clashing views on how professional wrestling should be presented, it’s created a really interesting dynamic. However both characters have legitimate points and yet are unable to realise the value in the other’s points. So in the end via the continued arguing they both come off as somewhat unlikable.
I’m currently going into the match really supporting either man, but slightly preferring the potential of stories going forward with Omega as champion. However there is a worry, I don’t know how much stock to put in it but the crowd tonight in Osaka seemed to somewhat more behind Tana than they are Kenny. A bit of a worry considering this is an ‘earning your place’ kind of affair.
But again, I’m sure how much stock to take in that reaction to today’s tag match between Tanahashi & Finlay and the Golden Lovers. In fact, I feel the Japanese fans are more behind the idea of Ibushi getting that rub from Tanahashi than they are Omega. Which to be fair New Japan have played off of perfectly by having Tana outright say he wants to pass that torch to Ibushi and not Omega.
I do like the idea of a level disrespect growing as the two continue to express their ideologies, similar to what made Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ rivalry so intriguing. But that doesn’t change the fact that like with the other two big matches on WK13’s card, I’m actually more interested in the aftermath than I am the thing itself.
The Ibushi factor post Wrestle Kingdom is so damn interesting, in fact the Golden Lovers story is one of the best things going in wrestling and I doubt we’re done seeing the twists and turns to come. I’ve been expecting an Ibushi turn, but what if Omega fails against Tanahashi this January and 2019 becomes the breakdown of the Golden Lovers?
I’ll be honest after writing all this I’m still not sure why I’m not feeling this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, I like the stories, the character arcs and the matches themselves. Jericho vs EVIL was a fantastic main event, Naito vs ZSJ top notch too, but that hype and excitement just isn’t there this year.
You know what, maybe it’s a case of the mysterious, “I’m just not feeling Christmasy this year.”
Oh yeah, as for the actual event that aired today. Roppongi 3K vs Shingo & BUSHI vs Desperado & Kanemaru and Tomohiro Ishii vs Minoru Suzuki were both dope. Watch them! One hectic junior fun, the other a fantastic example of top level strong style. Apparently people within the arena were stunned after Ishii/Suzuki finished.
And as I said, Jericho vs EVIL was a fantastic main event. Highly recommend you check that out (if not for the match then for EVIL’s super cool spinning light shield thing).
What are your thoughts on the road to Wrestle Kingdom 13? The wrestling is still going to be top notch, do you have any concerns? How nice was it to get stuck in to some New Japan after whatever on Earth Crown Jewel was?
Email Imp – firstname.lastname@example.org
Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday with Perfect 10 Wrestling covering Network Wednesdays: NXT UK, NXT itself and 205 Live! Listen here:
Links to Imp’s latest columns:
Imp’s WWE Adventure – WWE Evolution Just Defined The Future
Imp’s WWE Adventure – Saudi Arabia: Should WWE Leave The Deal?
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – King of Pro Wrestling: The Road to Wrestle Kingdom Has Officially Begun!
Imp’s WWE Adventure – I Couldn’t Give Less Of A S*** About WWE Super Show-Down
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Tanahashi vs Okada Episode VIII: The Last Rainmaker
Imp’s Adventure: ALL IN and the List of Pointless Comparisons
Imp’s WWE Adventure: Are You Wrong To Cheer Becky Lynch?
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