It's that's time of year again, and I don't mean the holidays. It's close to Jan. 4, which means it's Wrestle Kingdom time for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
If you aren't familiar with the event, it's the name given to the past few annual Jan. 4 Tokyo Dome shows put on by New Japan. Think of it as New Japan's Wrestlemania. It's a tradition that kicks off the wrestling year for Japan's biggest company.
The event has gotten some coverage here in the states lately thanks to TNA's involvement. Both of the Global Impact shows were taken from Wrestle Kingdom events.
Last year we saw Team 3D and The Motor City Machine Guns win tag gold at the event. The heavyweight version of those tag belts played an important role in TNA's tag division this year.
Over the past month or so, I began to wonder about what this card would be like. New Japan had a bit of a down year in 2009.
However, as the matches were revealed it quickly became a show I was quite interested in. I enjoyed last year's version a lot with the big matches from Keiji Mutoh and Hiroshi Tanahashi as well as Masato Tanaka and Yuji Nagata.
The show is a big test for New Japan as it sets the tone for the entire year. Much unlike Wrestlemania which occurs a few months into the year with lots of build leading to it.
New Japan always has to put on a high quality show as attendance at the massive dome has dropped off over the last decade.
So I'm going to give you my match by match preview as well as predictions for all 10 bouts.
IWGP Heavyweight Title - The newest, The strongest:
Shinsuke Nakamura (Champion) vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (Challenger)
At the top of the card, like it should be, is the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Yoshihiro Takayama. Nakamura has been involved with the title for some time now and seemed to be in an everlasting feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi, the No. 1 babyface in New Japan.
With Tanahashi recently beaten by Nakamura in a title match, New Japan had to go a bit outside the box with their challenger.
With Nakamura already dispatching top contenders for the belt in recent shows, New Japan looked to Takayama, who is coming off a great 2009. Takayama held major gold this year, capturing the illustrious All Japan Pro Wrestling Triple Crown.
That win put Takayama as only the second man to win the three major company's top championship belt in Japanese pro wrestling (the other being Kensuke Sasaki who accomplished the feat last year).
Takayama and Nakamura have a history as they met six years ago to the day. Nakamura was a green wrestler and got the major upset over Takayama. Now Nakamura has established himself as a star while Takayama comes into the match a legend of the sport. Hopefully, New Japan plays this up and we get an intense showdown style feeling for this match.
It's been reported that Takayama is leaving All Japan to work in New Japan full time. This could mean a title win or at the very least a major role in the company's 2010.
My only issue is that both wrestlers are historically heels, my guess is that Takayama will be the face as he can be either.
Nakamura has too much heat to be turned and if they try to do it, it would most likely fall flat with the fans.
My prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura. I think they keep the reign going and set up future challengers to give Nakamura a great 2010.
GHC Heavyweight Title - NJPW vs. NOAH Battle Effusions ~Blast~:
Takashi Suigura (Champion) vs. Hirooki Goto (Challenger)
The semi main event continues a theme from last years Wrestle Kingdom with the NJPW vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH matches.
This year, we get a big one as new GHC Heavyweight Champion Takashi Sugiura takes on Hirooki Goto. This match looks to be a title match as well which ought to give it a nice big match feel especially inside the Tokyo Dome.
Goto had an up-and-down year as he won the G1 Climax but failed to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship when he faced off against Nakamura.
Sugiura is a new champion so a win he would certainly go a long way to cement himself as the top guy in NOAH even if I don't and probably won't ever buy him in that position.
My Prediction: Takashi Suigura. It's too early in his run to lose the belt.
NJPW vs. NOAH Battle Effusions ~Radiance~:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Go Shiozaki
If you ask me, this should have been the semi main event, with Shiozaki still as GHC Heavyweight Champion. However that isn't the case but it won't stop these two from having a potentially show stealing match.
Shiozaki has become better than ever over the past year or so after getting a lot of experience in the United States working for Ring of Honor. Tanahashi is coming off an injury earlier in 2009 but seems to have it back.
When it comes to picking a winner it's hard to do as I can see it going either way. Tanahashi probably wouldn't lose too much if he takes the loss.
Shiozaki, though, with a win could really find himself in a good position. It's never a bad thing to go into another promotion and beat one of their top guys on the biggest show of the year.
My Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi. I think NOAH gets their big win somewhere else on the card.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title ~Highest sky~:
Tiger Mask (Champion) vs. Naomichi Marufuji (Challenger)
Marufuji won the right to this match by winning the Super J-Cup 5th Stage just days before Christmas. He's got all the momentum possible behind him leading into this match, whereas Tiger Mask has been sort of bland in his title reign.
Yes he did just win it back from Mistico but he never seems to do much with it except lose it then win it back.
Since the beginning of 2008, Tiger Mask has held the belt three times and when you combine his six total runs with the belt, he has the fourth-most time spent as champion in NJPW history.
Tiger Mask which is the fourth man to wear the mask has had the gimmick for longer than any other man to wear it, seems like he should be stepping to the side and letting the younger guys step up.
Marufuji has really nothing to do in NOAH at the moment as he's already held multiple championships in the company. Marufuji did win All Japan Pro Wrestling's Jr. Heavyweight Championship so it isn't out of the question for an outsider to win in a match like this.
My Prediction: Naomichi Marufuji. I don't think they had him win the Super J-Cup for nothing.
NJPW vs. NOAH Battle Effusions ~Wilderness~:
Togi Makabe vs. Mohammed Yone
This is more or less a throwaway match. Neither man has history with each other to my knowledge and seems to be more of an exhibition match. That being said, I would say that it could be a decent match but I've never been a fan of either man. Yone has been stuck in no man's land inside NOAH for quite a while so maybe a win here could give him a jump start. However, Makabe could use a win to set up another challenger to the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
My Prediction: Togi Makabe. This is a big "either or" situation so I'll go with Makabe here.
Wrestle Kingdom Special 8 Man Tag Match ~The legend never rots~:
Terry Funk, Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Abdullah The Butcher, Toru Yano, Takashi Iizuka & Tomohiro Ishii
This is going to be a fun match if it plays out the way I think it will. It feels very similar to last years "legends" match that featured TNA's Main Event Mafia. I haven't seen Abby or the Funker wrestle in some time so expect their roles to be somewhat limited but I imagine they'll get in the ring and throw some wild punches and kicks at some point.
Picking a winner here is hard because really it's just a special attraction match with no real stakes. Both Terry and Abby have a ton of history within Japan but Terry's team has some legit legends on it in Chono and Choshu. I think that's where the deciding factory comes from.
My Prediction: Terry Funk, Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono, & Manabu Nakanishi
Wrestle Kingdom Special Tag Match ~Blood Stream Blue~:
Yuji Nagata & Akebono vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri & Masato Tanaka
This match is a little puzzling to me as I think you could have done something better with these four men but I still think this could be a good match. Akebono has seemed to have reinvented himself in 2009 as he's become a major part of multiple companies. He's currently one third of Dragon Gate's Open The Triangle Gate Champions along with Masaaki Mochizuki and Don Fuji.
Tanaka and Nagata have a lot of history as they met in singles competition in last years Wrestle Kingdom to cap off one of 2008's best rivalries. Tajiri is no slouch so if given time this could be a very competitive match. As Tanaka is a favorite of mine I hope he wins here and joins New Japan as a regular roster member but that might just be wishful thinking.
My Prediction: Yuji Nagata & Akebono. It just seems like the more likely outcome as Nagata is a popular babyface and the crowd could use a strong babyface win.
IWGP Tag Team Title - 3WAY Hardcore Rules Match ~Victim and Greed~:
Team 3D (Champions) vs. NO LIMIT (Tetsyua Naito & Yujiro) vs. Giant Bernard & Karl Anderson
Oh God... here we go. Last year at Wrestle Kingdom III the stinker of the night was Team 3D's championship winning match. They've been champions for a whole year and I can only think of one time that they defended the belts in Japan in 2009, though I may be wrong. You have two big heavyweight teams and then NO LIMIT who are the former Jr. Tag Champions.
NO LIMIT had an interview lately discussing their time spent in Mexico and seem to have a new very cocky heel persona for the both of them. This could mean a win but the way I see it is that Bernard and Anderson won the tag league this year. Much like the Marufuji situation I would wonder why build them up like that only to have them lose.
My Prediction: Giant Bernard & Karl Anderson
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title ~Amistad combativa~:
Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi) vs. Ultimo Guerrero & Averno
Last year at Wrestle Kingdom III we had a special lucha style match with members of the CMLL roster coming over. This year the match is a little more important as Guerrero and Averno challenger for the Jr. Tag Team Championship. Apollo 55 have been on a roll as of late since winning the belts so I don't see them dropping them here.
Devitt has established himself as the best gaijin Jr. Heavyweight that regularly competes in Japan. He deserves a title belt and with him being a part of a very strong tag team it seems like everything is in place for them to retain. However it should be a very good match with lots of fast paced action throughout.
My Prediction: Apollo 55. They're just on too much of a roll these days especially after both men had a strong singles showing in the Super J-Cup.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling 2010 Beginning:
Super Strong Machine, Wataru Inoue & Mitsuhide Hirasawa vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Koji Kanemoto & Kazuchika Okada
A good way to start the year as the first match for New Japan in 2010 will feature some pretty good wrestlers. Even though I think you could do something better with Liger and Kanemoto, it ought to be a very entertaining match and a perfect way to start the night.
With these guys you don't have to worry about the fans not getting into the first match which will be a great test to how well they'll react to the rest of the night.
My Prediction: Jushin Thunder Liger, Koji Kanemoto, and Kazushika Okada. Give the two biggest names in the match a win to start the year and then push them into something meaningful after the show.