After a couple of ok ‘Destruction’ shows New Japan Pro Wrestling return for the biggest annual event between the G1 Tournament and Wrestle Kingdom: King of Pro Wrestling. We’re being treated to four title matches and a briefcase match, but what can we actually expect from the card? Here’s five questions to ask before the show:
What’s the deal with Katsuyori Shibata?
Shibata’s been having a hell of a 2016. Kicking the year off with a couple of match of the year candidates against fellow strong style practitioner Tomohoiro Ishii and a good feud with the elder statesmen of New Japan, Shibata has been unfortunately slowed down in recent times with injuries. He nearly didn’t make it to his title defense against Bobby Fish at Destruction, and now he faces Fish’s teammate and one of the best wrestlers on the planet in Kyle O’Reilly.
We don’t really know how bad the neck injury is, but it is clear the hard hitting NEVER Openweight champion isn’t able to go at his usual pace. And this, coupled with Kyle O’Reilly pitching to make the jump from Junior to Heavyweight means there’s a chance the title might end up changing hands. But with only Power Struggle left as a major show between now and Wrestle Kingdom, it’s just as likely they let Shibata hold on and rest up. He doesn’t need to work the Tag League after all. Even a half-broken Shibata is capable of kicking your ribcage out of your body or cracking skulls, so the match should be pretty good. But hopefully he’s healthy enough to help bring this match to its full potential.
Will we see Naito and Tanahashi build towards Wrestle Kingdom?
The newly minted Intercontinental champion Tetsuya Naito isn’t defending his title at King of Pro Wrestling. Instead he finds himself with his stablemates in Los Ingobernables De Japon against the team of Jay Lethal, Kushida, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Elgin and Naito lock horns again at Power Struggle, but everybody’s salivating at the theoretical Wrestle Kingdom match with the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Of course it’s nothing but mere fan speculation and hope. But a Naito/Tanahashi match co-headlining the biggest show of the year makes a lot of sense. Both guys deserve a big match and there’s no better way to continue establishing Naito’s spot on the roster. The question is, will we see the foundations of this match being laid or will that be held off until Elgin and Naito finish up? It’s not just Naito to watch for though. Kushida and Bushi still have plenty of beef after the Juniour Heavyweight Championship changed hands at Destruction, and Jay Lethal will be looking for revenge after he was forcibly removed from LIJ at a Ring of Honour event. But the faceoffs between Naito and Tanahashi is what everyone will be watching for.
Are we going to be subjected to a second G.O.D title reign?
The Guerillas of Destiny haven’t exactly set the world on fire since the two brothers teamed up earlier in the year. They had an utterly forgettable feud with Makabe and Honma before dropping the titles to the Briscoe Brothers. I thought we were done with them until they reappeared during the Destruction shows to announce their intent to win the titles back.
Here’s the thing. It’d make sense for the tag champs to be in the upcoming World Tag League, and there’s a potential issue that the Briscoes won’t be able to take part due to commitments to Ring of Honour. It can also be said that despite some good showings (their match at the G1 finals with Takahashi and Page was surprisingly good) the Japanese audience haven’t quite taken to the rednecks like they have other ROH names like Michael Elgin. These two factors could lead to a G.O.D reclaiming their titles. I guess we shouldn’t really care, it’s not like NJPW put a lot of stock into the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles.
What’s next for the NOAH/NJPW feud?
At the G1 Finals, a showcase 8 man tag between NJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH turned into an all out brawl. It was a brutal fight (thanks in part to the Shibata headbutt heard around the world) that has lead to a series of promotional matches between the two companies that is set to continue at King of Pro Wrestling in two separate matches. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada is looking to avenge his loss in the G1 tournament to NOAH ace Naomichi Marufugi, and the elder statesmen of New Japan face off against a NOAH contingent led by Go Shiozaki.
It is all kinds of unlikely that Okada won’t retain here. It’s basically a requirement that one of Okada and Tanahashi have to be headlining the Tokyo Dome come January 4, and while it’s possible he could go and regain the title in a rematch at Power Struggle, he’s already played that game with Naito. But NOAH have found some success in the mutli-man matches, and throwing Shiozaki in the mix isn’t just to fill in the gaps. New Japan don’t need the win just yet, and given Shiozaki’s rumoured to get more involved with NJPW getting the win here would be a good way to bring him back into the picture. Don’t expect this one to be pretty, but it should be a fun match to watch building to a potential blowoff to this cross-company feud in the new year.
Will Omega continue to ‘clean’ up CHAOS?
Ah Hiroki Goto, the ultimate bridesmaid of New Japan. He’s had some success but when it comes to the matches he needs to win he always finds a way to fall short. And here he finds himself with another chance at glory as he looks to avenge his G1 loss in the finals to Kenny Omega. If he wins? The January 4 Title match Kenny won at G1 belongs to Goto
It’s an unusual match, since generally the briefcase is only defended against the men who beat the eventual G1 winner. This would have put either Shibata or Elgin in Goto’s spot, but they’re both kind of busy at the moment. Goto did make the G1 final, and he’s a stablemate of the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada who (theoretically) awaits him at the Dome. So it makes a certain kind of sense for CHAOS members to be trying to stop Kenny, including Yoshi-Hashi who fell short at Destruction.
It’s debatable whether or not Hiroki Goto can afford another loss when it matters most, but we know the two can put on a top notch performance. The question isn’t so much will Kenny Omega retain the briefcase, but who will come out to challenge him next? The fans seem to think it’ll be another CHAOS member in Tomohiro Ishii, who is being wasted in a lot of mutli-man tag matches lately. While he too didn’t beat (or even face) Omega during the G1, he does own a victory in that tournament against Okada. And Unless Ishii breaks the code and tries to take the title from within CHAOS, expect him to make an appearance at the end of Omega/Goto to signal his intention of stopping Kenny’s run to the Tokyo Dome.